Nisemonogatari 1

Nisemonogatari – Episode 1

I didn’t like Bakemonogatari all that much. I’m usually perfectly accepting of the Shaft/Shinbo combo – Madoka was my favourite show of last year, and I can’t get enough of Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei – but Bake felt overwrought and bloated with imagery for imagery’s sake. Nisemonogatari continues the trend that its predecessor set, and I happen to think that overall this is to the show’s detriment. The best part of Nise, as with Bake, is the sheer quality of Nisio Isin’s dialogue. The man has a gift for witticism and wordplay, so almost everything that is said is at least interesting; there is a very good reason that the vast majority of Bake and Nise is dialogue-centric. At times Isin relies too much on references masquerading as jokes – a reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion might get a chuckle or two from those familiar with NGE, and a few more when people read 8thsin’s translation notes and realise what it was referencing, but it’s not a joke. It’s the same pitfall that video reviewers often fall into, especially those associated with That Guy With The Glasses and those emulating them; references to other works are clever, but not inherently humourous, and thus ultimately add little to nothing to the overall experience of the viewer. When the references are twisted into jokes, however (“float like a butterfly, sting like a butterfly”), they do work, and they make the dialogue just that little bit wittier.

In practically every other department, however, Nise falls down. The animation is at best mediocre and at worst annoying. Whole minutes can pass by that consist of no more than a few still frames. As if realising this, Shinbo inserts unique features like, say, the arrangement of red ladders in the Araragi’s front room into shots. These are postmodern touches that are intended to contrast with the otherwise minimalistic environments, but it’s all with neither rhyme nor reason. Works like Nisemonogatari are devaluing the whole concept of postmodernism, and postmodern literature in particular – it’s no wonder that many a scholar has argued that ‘postmodern’ is no more than a buzzword with no discernible meaning. If you’re going to write something postmodern, then do so for a good reason, not simply for the sake of being postmodern.

The minimalism of the environment seems to carry over to the plot, because nothing of note actually happened in this episode. Sure, we learnt a couple of things – at one point Senjougahara will kidnap Araragi and keep him prisoner, but by the looks of things that’s some way off, and one of his sisters is MIA. What he actually did in the main timeline is leave the house and molest a ghost. Bake was known for its gradual ascent to a creschendo, and Nise doesn’t appear to be bucking that trend. In the end, there’s just something about Nise that irritates me. The lacklustre animation is a part of it, sure, but that doesn’t really account for just how exasperating I found watching this episode. The aim of visual media (along with written media etc.) is to try and fool the brain of the viewer into thinking they are actually experiencing the events that the main character is going through, but with Nise I feel somewhat detached from events, like I’m reading about them in a Wikipedia plot synopsis rather than viewing them.

Kill Me Baby 1

Kill Me Baby – Episode 1

J.C. Staff have got a whopping six shows airing this season, and there was no chance that equal treatment would be afforded to each when it came to doling out their budgets. Something had to give, and that something is Kill Me Baby. Adapted from a four panel manga that began serialisation in July 2008, Kill Me Baby is the story of schoolgirls Sonya, a highly-strung trained assassin, her dimwitted friend Yasuna and Agiri, a laid back ninja. Inspiration has clearly come from the likes of Nichijou – the presentation is practically identical to the Nichijou TV series, filled with short skits and pillow shots between them. The concept itself is quirky, and lends itself to some very obvious jokes (Yasuna slaps Sonya on the back, ends up with broken arm/in headlock/insert injury here, you know the score) – hopefully the first episode gets all of those predictable jokes out of the way and allows the rest of the series to move on to something a little more imaginative.

The characters are nothing to write home about – the three are pretty much expys of Hayate the Combat Butler’s Nagi, K-On!’s Yui and Squid Girl’s Chizuru (minus her menacing edge). They aren’t particularly interesting, and while I don’t find Yasuna quite as annoying as some people might, she does grate very easily. So all things considered I guess it’s a good job that Kill Me Baby is relying on its situations to generate the laughs. Unfortunately, most of the jokes fell flat for me. I got a laugh out of Agiri (or rather, a body double) trying to blend into the wall by using a sheet of wallpaper but neglecting to cover the legs, but Sonya’s quick-fire reactions to Yasuna touching her/greeting her/whatever was only funny the first time. We get it, she’s got lightning reflexes – no need to hammer the point home with the same joke another hundred times.

But the absolute worst thing about Kill Me Baby is the art. I’m not convinced that any money at all was spent making this. It looks terrible. Hell, it would have looked terrible if it had been made to this standard many years ago. K-On!. Lucky Star. Azumanga Daioh. All of these four panel adaptations look a damn sight better than Kill Me Baby. Azumanga Daioh was made by J.C. Staff themselves ten years ago now, and it looks so much better than this. People are drawn like Nendoroid figures, and a startling number of times I thought my media player had broken and stalled playing the video, when in fact the shot on screen was just several seconds of a freezeframe. And this is not the only shortcoming resulting from the microscopic budget. The background music is almost non-existent – obviously one can’t expect to have every single scene accompanied with music, but quite often it’s conspicuous in its absence. I really wanted Kill Me Baby to be good, but it just isn’t. It’s just not attractive enough to look at, it’s not interesting enough and it’s just not funny enough.

(I do like the OP and the ED though, they’re delightfully insane.)

Autumn 2011 in Review

Chihayafuru (1-12)

Chihayafuru

Chihayafuru has been fun. I find myself agreeing with Caraniel, in that it’s not the show I look forward to most on any given week, but I end up really enjoying it when I do watch it. My hope for the second half of the show is that it doesn’t get too carried away with the budding romance between Chihaya and the two male leads, Arata and Taichi. There is so much potential for melodrama there that I’d rather it was kept low-key and played second fiddle to the actual karuta. I’ve no idea how the manga handles things – the latest scanlation I can find covers up to episode ten – so I can only hope it keeps karuta at the forefront of everything. It’s been an entertaining ride so far, so more of the same, please!

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Future Diary (1-12)

Future Diary

Oh Future Diary, how you pain me so. Half of the time, Future Diary is the best show of the season – the other half it’s one of the worst. Gasai Yuno is undoubtedly the most interesting character of the season. I’ve seen a number of blog posts studying her, with some focussing on such minor elements as her eyes. Almost everything that she does can be analysed, either enhancing existing character traits or discovering new components of her character. But then we have the shitty harem ‘comedy’ antics that plague the show, and its curious fixation with characters doing their business – Yukiteru, Yuno and Minene have all been shown taking a whizz for no good reason. Baffling. This show would be utterly brilliant if it had been conceived as a seinen series, but instead the shounen genre’s need for fanservice drags it down.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Guilty Crown (1-11)

Guilty Crown

Oh dear. Guilty Crown has thus far been a massive waste of talent and resources. All the elements of a truly great series are there, and it has a staff roster that should have brought the best out of these elements. And yet here we have one of the worst train wrecks of recent years. The whole cast of characters is just so frustratingly bland (apart from DAN EAGLEMAN of course, but he’s been inconvenienced somewhat with being killed in the latest episode). Even Gai, the leader of the Undertakers, who had started off as a Lelouch/Light-esque figure is now nothing more than a weak parody of the anti-hero authority figure. Guilty Crown has had two half-decent episodes in my opinion (and that’s being charitable), but these have been nowhere near enough to redeem it. The whole thing comes off as a combination of Code Geass’ general plot elements and Macross Frontier’s idol romance – two series I despise with every fibre of my being. I should have seen this coming. I should have seen the Code Geass influences when I first previewed it, but for some reason I decided to distrust my own opinion of that show and say Guilty Crown would be brilliant because of it. And now, when people criticise it for the same things that get on my nerves in Geass and Frontier I’m just left mystified. It takes a serious level of incompetence to make a show worse than Fractale, but by god have Production I.G. managed it.

★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Mawaru Penguindrum (13-24)

Mawaru Penguindrum

Penguindrum’s second half is an improvement over its first, mostly due to not taking itself quite so seriously when it came to the imagery and symbolism on show (at least, until the final episode). Episode sixteen, dealing with Masako’s grandfather, was a real treat because of how batshit insane it was – from “I like my woman how I like my blowfish: stripped by me” to “MISTER PRESIDENT WATCH OUT”. The darker tone it took after this point was much appreciated too – the three episodes before the finale were especially good. Episode twenty-four was a bit of a let-down, as it was mostly an Evangelion-esque extended trip into the land of metaphor. Penguindrum is a good series, but it’s not a great series.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Persona 4 (1-12)

Persona 4

Persona 4 hasn’t been quite as good as I hoped it would. The animation isn’t brilliant, and the sense of style that everyone expected hasn’t really reared its head outside of the OP sequence. Most episodes have ranged from average to good, with two excellent episodes in the shape of Kanji confronting his Hard Gay-esque Shadow and the camping trip in the following episode, featuring some awful cooking and an unexpected confession. I’ve enjoyed Persona 4 on the whole, however. This is due in no small part to the facc that, in my opinion, there have been no bad episodes – every single one has had something good in it, and only a few have something bad in them.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Phi Brain (1-13)

Phi Brain

MAKIOKOSU IT’S A SUPERNOVA, TOBIKIRI SHIGEKI TEKI NA! HIRAMEKI WO AGEMASHOU MISSKEY MISSKEY LA TU MA. YUMA NO NAKA IT’S A SUPERNOVA, WATASHI WA SOU BRAIN DIVER! KIMI HA SAGASHI MOTOMETERU KOTAE NI NARERU MADE!

*AIR GUITAR*

Phi Brain is far better than it deserves to be. The latest episode especially was genuinely excellent, even when setting aside the fact that I’ve been watching the rest of the serious semi-ironically. If you want to watch a series that takes an utterly ridiculous premise 100% seriously, then Phi Brain is for you.

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Squid Girl (Season 2)

Squid Girl

Squid Girl is as great as ever de geso! This series had two amazingly good stories – the one where Cindy teaches the girls how to speak English (“Itadakimasu!” “Eat a duck I must?”) and the one where Squid Girl, Eiko, Sanae and Kiyomi play House with a girl whose ideas of a happy family is a squiddle different from the norm. Both stories fired laughs at an inkredible rate, and made for great episodes overall. The other episodes were all good, apart perhaps from the very last episodes, as the drama in the last story felt somewhat forced (plus, well, Eiko was being a massive bitch). It didn’t do too much damage to the overall standing of the series, so all is well with Squid Girl.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Tamayura ~Hitotose~

Tamayura ~Hitotose~

Tamayura has been soft and light and lovely. For a lot of this season I’d ignored the people – real life and aniblogger friends alike – who said this was one of the best shows of the year, but once I’d caught up I saw what they meant. Pretty much every episode from seven onwards has been wonderful, if not as attention-grabbing as shows like Future Diary or as compelling as Un-Go. Iyashikei isn’t a genre I have much experience with, and if it was a genre I was really hot on I would imagine Tamayura would feature highly on my list of favourites if the reactions of those who frequent SCCSAV’s Iyashikei Sundays livewatch are anything to go by.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

Un-Go

Un-Go

Un-Go had its ups and its downs, but in the end we got a bloody good show. The finale was great. It unravelled a web of deceit and intrigue, revealing twist after twist. The fight scene between Inga and Bettenou threatened to throw the fantastic elements that ruined No.6 into the show, but it steered clear at the last moment and Un-Go’s integrity was retained. As I’ve said before, episode seven and its intentionally disorientating atmosphere was masterfully done, a wonderful piece of direction. It had a couple of poor episodes – the first two stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the rest of the series – but the good episodes are so good that they made Un-Go one of the best series to air all year.

★★★★★★★★☆☆