The Wrap-Up: Spring 2014

 

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If you go about doing a season preview, it is only obvious you also close off on a season review. In The Wrap-Up, all of our contributors get to shine a spotlight on the show they thought to be the very best of the past few weeks, as well as reflect back on the preview to see which shows let us down the most. When you watch currently airing anime, eventually the question will rise which of these shows can rank amongst the medium’s true classics. Regardless of who covered what, this is where we single out the cream of the crop, and decide which shows from the past season deserve to stand the test of time. With the expansion of our anime coverage thanks to the arrival of The Roundup, which is basically The Wrap-Up on a weekly basis, the stakes of this feature should be higher than ever… Well, should be.

Evidently, a show can only be called “the best” when it has been watched in full, so only shows that ended this season can be nominated as show of the season. As this season had virtually no shows continuing onward from last season, this mostly means Captain Earth and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (cue Iro groaning) will have to sit this one out. The same applies for long-running shows, which we, with Euri’s brand-new coverage of cult favourite Hunter x Hunter, now have added to our coverage! Still, if a show’s been going particularly strong (or weak), they do deserve an honorable (or dishonorable) mention. With that out of the way, here are our top picks for the Spring season of 2014, in which we celebrate one outstanding show, but most of all once again lament the sheer lack of anything else. Badly.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time

How this little low budget short managed to steal our hearts for two seasons is one of my favorite anime surprises in recent memory. Saying this is another one of my dumb comedies with heart that I love so much would be doing the show a disservice. Seki-kun’s blend of creatively silly comedy and adorably subtle relationship building made it the highlight of my anime-watching week for as long as it ran.

Honorable Mentions: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior overcame a messy start to become a strong contender, and I’d say it ultimately becomes a deeper, more satisfying experience than Seki-kun by the end of the series. You can’t argue with near perfection though, so the crown goes to Seki-kun.

Which show let you down the most?

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Nanananananana’s Buried Treasure

This was perfect example of a great idea ruined by the format. The promise of treasure hunting adventures on a really cool modern island sounded fantastic, and even the first episode seemed to be setting this series up to be something special. I can’t speak for the quality of the original novels, but the anime adaptation borders on being a train wreck. Characters and plot lines dart in and off the screen like we’re supposed to care, and coupled with the incomplete ending it makes me think this entire anime exists to please the novel fans and no one else.

Dishonorable Mentions: Riddle Story of Devil The Devil’s Riddle has guns, knives, and psycho lesbians and still manages to suck. Maybe I should have taken the horribly localized title as a hint from the start.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Nothing

I’ve been pretty busy this season, and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had time to watch much. Nevertheless, I don’t feel I’m going out on much of a limb here when I say that this was a pretty weak crop of shows to pick from, and that there wasn’t really a must watch highlight among any of them. One Week Friends was cute but totally insubstantial, Mekakucity Actors proved that SHAFT have ridden the Monogatari train into artistic irrelevance, and I’m still not sure why people think No Game No Life is even tolerable, yet alone good. Clearly I missed out in a major way by neglecting to follow Ping Pong: The Animation but I can only judge what I saw, and on that basis there’s nothing really to say.

Honorable Mentions: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is erratic but consistently enjoyable, and moves beyond that for good episodes. Kamen Rider Gaim continues to be the best show of the year bar none.

Which show let you down the most?

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Captain Earth

That first episode was so good that it wasn’t entirely unexpected when subsequent ones failed to live up to the promise. Still, it was truly depressing how quickly Captain Earth shifted gears from interesting character based drama to tacky cliché crap. If that wasn’t enough, it also fell into the trap which has plagued almost all of Bones’ original work – throwing one billion red herrings at the screen and explaining none of them in an attempt to generate some sense of mystery. Instead all I got out was confusion and disappointment.

Dishonorable Mentions: Mekakucity Actors proved that SHAFT are as stylistically accomplished as ever, but have seemingly forgotten how to imbue their shows with even the slightest hint of life.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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The World is Still Beautiful

Wait, I’m not allowed to pick JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? Bullshit! I’ve only watched a couple shows this season, and I had to marathon half of this to even make it eligible. The World is Still Beautiful can’t seem to decide if it wants to be consistently good or consistently “ehhhh”, but I just couldn’t stay mad. It manages to indulge in the genre’s cliches while avoiding much of the usual shoujo bullshit. Even though the whole shotacon angle is weird and creepy the entire run, a strange and heartwarming romance with two strong leads is still at the core of this show.

Honorable Mentions: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders and Marvel DISK Wars: Avengers, neither of which will end for like another three seasons.

Which show let you down the most?

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One Week Friends

I didn’t even watch this past episode 8 because I could see the gathering storm, and based on everyone’s reactions I made the right call. Even before that, the romanticism from the premiere quickly faded as it became clear that our male lead was clingy and borderline narcissistic. At least there was one good romance show this season…

Dishonorable Mentions: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, which proved that annoying, one-note characters are still the most efficient way to wreck a show; Mekakucity Actors, for being literally nothing; Black Bullet, for being dumb and anime in all the worst ways; Nanana’s Buried Treasure, for the same reason; Captain Earth, for the… uh, same reason; Riddle Story of Devil, for having a stupid title and for reasons outlined above; and The Irregular at Magic High School, for being an even worse adolescent power fantasy than Sword Art Online.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Ping Pong: The Animation

I’ve already written so many words on why anyone and everyone should watch Ping Pong, but I suppose a few more won’t hurt. It is the breakout hit of this season. Nothing compares to the passion and energy of Masaaki Yuasa’s newest work. Just another sports anime at first glance, Ping Pong quickly distinguishes itself from the pack with intricately human characters. In an age where exposition is king, Ping Pong dares to share its story through its striking visuals, letting its viewer draw their feelings off what they see. Ping pong is the medium in which these characters communicate with each other. They don’t need words, it’s their connection through the sport that unites them and tells their own stories.

Honorable Mentions: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel BehaviorGood leads, but annoying supports. Once it learned to lean on the former, it became incredibly enjoyable. Last but not least, Tonari no Seki-kun was a great bit of fun, generating better jokes in seven minutes better than most comedies manage in a whole half hour.

Which show let you down the most?

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One Week Friends

This is by no means saying One Week Friends was a particularly bad show. In fact, it actually ended on a good note. However, this show started off with so much potential that its eventual slide into disgrace was enough to make me disappointed. I shouldn’t have had to hope the final episode would be good, I should have expected it. I thought this would be a unique and charming shoujo romance. In the beginning, it really did a lot to make itself stand out, with an adorable cast of characters and a carefully crafted tale based on the classic Power of Friendship idea. Unfortunately, later in the series it gets bogged down in so many tired shoujo cliches that it trips itself up before trying to make one desperate dash towards the finish line. You know you have a problem with your story when your secondary characters have a more engaging subplot than your main couple. I got spoiled by Golden Time, I was hoping the romance train would keep on rolling, but somewhere along the line we lost sight of the tracks.

Dishonorable Mentions: Captain EarthIt’s such a shame that Bones can’t seem to do anything on their own. Another original mecha story, another complete flop.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

Picking your favourite Mushishi screenshot is like picking a favourite child.

Mushishi: Zoku-shou

How does one start to describe Mushishi? Part pastoral slice-of-life, part medical drama, part occult detective, part gruesome body horror, it is as diverse as the wide variety of bizarre creatures main character Ginko has to deal with on a weekly basis, resulting in one of the strongest applications of episodic storytelling in recent history. The ten new episodes this much-anticipated second season adds, eight (!) years after the original show went off the air, bring nothing new to the table, but why would you fix what isn’t broken? The haunting landscapes and unique storytelling of Mushishi still work exceptionally well, fusing a gorgeous setting with esoteric, sometimes nigh biblical stories about everyday people of all ages, professions and creeds trying to live in harmony with the primitive, unfathomable mushi, who still instinctively screw up people’s lives in unusual new ways every week. Even now, Mushishi is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes tragic, sometimes terrifying, yet always nothing short of riveting.

Honorable Mentions: I will wholeheartedly admit to respectfully uncoupling with Ping Pong: The Animation three episodes in, but on Gee’s recommendation eventually did jump back onto the bandwagon. The overwrought sporting technobabble continues to not be my cup of tea, but the show more than makes up for it with excellent pacing, poignant character development and of course, most of all, Masaaki Yuasa’s splendid directing and strong symbolism.

Which show let you down the most?

You don't deserve her, man.

One Week Friends

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I honestly wish One Week Friends had just remained the fluff it started out as. It was genuine and properly fleshed out enough to avoid becoming annoyingly vapid, yet as with many anime, the unwritten rulings of crappy 13-episode slice-of-life forced it to delve into drama past the halfway point, with disastrous results. No one likes tired misunderstandings. No one likes a lack of resolution. Yet these are just two of the many clichés One Week Friends is rife with, with most drama feeling incredibly ham-fisted and oddly enough, entirely insignificant, as the show sizzles out near the end, everyone seems to be pretty okay despite the demons they have to wrestle and you soon come to realize that any and all conflict in One Week Friends is caused by the near memetic bad decision making of protagonist Yuki Hase. While he initially stole our hearts with his selflessness and heartwarmingly gentle nature, all of this soon turned into self-centered possessiveness and whiny jealousy. I never bought into One Week Friends becoming a romance, because such a development would make Hase look like a creep who only befriends Kaori to make her fall for him. Yet even though it never gets this far, One Week Friends still ends up displaying all symptoms of the toxic romance anime, from the relentless teasing and forced tragedy to the abusive male lead. Believe it or not, One Week Friends used to be good because it was sincere in its tenacity to be adorable. Sadly enough, it will be remembered for becoming the exact opposite of that.

Dishonorable Mentions: It was an epic tossup between One Week Friends, Mekakucity Actors and Captain Earth, but while the latter two are by far and wide much worse shows, getting incredibly bad incredibly fast, the former grated on me gradually up until the very end. Rife with needless complexity and anime clichés, Captain Earth reaffirmed the notion that Bones cannot write original content for the life of them, and plunged into mediocrity faster than you can say “Salty Dog”. On the other hand, Mekakucity Actors was a masterclass in hot air, an overly self-indulgent, meandering, pseudo-clever and ultimately nonsensical circlejerk about nothing at all. Hey, not even Kagerou Project fans liked it, so I can slam it for all it’s (not) worth. Then again, that might be a bit harsh. We all know what the real worst show of this season was.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Ping Pong: The Animation

As Marlin and I have already elaborated on in the Final Impressions post, Ping Pong was the show to watch this season. Yuasa’s top notch directing, visuals and storytelling were all a joy to behold. It’s a show with so much energy and heart, and while that’s to be expected from a sports anime, Ping Pong goes above and beyond the cliche trappings of the genre and crafts a truly special tale. It never treats us like children and it never resorts to clichéd archetypes. It’s a story that stood on the merits of its own strength and presented it to us viewers in a wholly natural way. Ping Pong is unique in so many ways beyond just its distinctive art style, and if there’s any anime from this season I will take with me in the years to come, it’s Ping Pong.

Honorable Mentions: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders will always be a highlight of my week, even if part 3 is notably more straightforward (and perhaps more clichéd) than its predecessors.

Which show let you down the most?

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One Week Friends

Let me reiterate what everyone else is saying. One Week Friends is not a terrible show. Compared to the many terrible things airing this season, it stands head and shoulders above them in so many ways. It was an anime with some genuinely heartwarming moments and likable characters. Unfortunately, One Week Friends ended up dropping the ball so hard at the finish line, resorting to the tired clichés that plague the romance genre so much. Maybe in retrospect we should have seen it coming, but starting out, One Week Friends just felt so sincere and heartfelt that I think many of us refused to believe it would fall into the same pitfalls. How disappointed I am that we were wrong.

Dishonorable Mentions: The only reason why One Week Friends is up there and Captain Earth is in this section is because in all honesty, I couldn’t really expect too much from a Bones original mecha anime. What started off adequately ended up devolving into some of the worst displays of everything that is wrong with the modern mecha genre. And while I wasn’t excited for it, the premise of Riddle Story of Devil at least grabbed my interest before promptly becoming the stupidest anime this season.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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No Game No Life

Logic puzzles are a common enough thing in anime at this point. I can think of a dozen shows that involve a character or set of characters besting their opponents with a complex set of maneuvers. There are very few that are presented in a manner that is as amusing as what No Game No Life managed, however. I absolutely adore this show, its gamer themes and love for humanity. If you want a more in depth exploration of why I love this show so much, I wrote a review.

Honorable Mentions: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, Black Bullet, Chaika – The Coffin Princess, If Her Flag Breaks, Mushishi: Zoku-shou, and then there are a few others I haven’t been able to dedicate time for yet. This has been a strong season for me. There have been more shows I feel compelled to watch than I have time for. There have also been a few shows that have made their way on to my all time favorites list. I’m going to miss this stuff.

Which show let you down the most?

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Brynhildr in the Darkness

Garbage. I don’t even want to write about how much of a mess this show became in its eleventh hour. It was already marred by pacing issues and questionable production choices before the ending and then it just up and jumped the shark entirely. Bam, Instrumentality out of nowhere. I guess the old dudes in chairs did kind of remind me of Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I never imagined this show would turn in that direction. As dumb as sudden Instrumentality is, the stupid didn’t even end there. All kinds of nonsense takes place, a witch lives for minutes after being ejected, an evil asshole decides to save a witch he has absolutely no motivation to help and then she has to be blown up with a black hole which conveniently resets our heroine back to zero. So how far did this anime progress the story? It didn’t, at all… Unless you count moving backwards as progress. I feel like I’ve been cheated for ever allowing myself to care about this story and its characters.

Dishonorable Mentions: Riddle Story of Devil, Date A Live II, The Irregular at Magic High School, and Nanana’s Buried Treasure.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Ping Pong: The Animation

I’ll admit that I could count the number of shows I’m watching on one fully-appendaged hand, but Ping Pong is my favourite of the season, no contest. I picked it up after about four episodes in, and only because I’d seen some great images of the art style. It’s a real shame that there are folks that have avoided this show for that very reason, but if Kaiji and Akagi have taught me anything, it’s that you shouldn’t judge a book anime by its cover art style. It’s not even the ping pong that matters about this show; the best thing about it is just how human the characters are, and how they develop across this short series in believable ways. Kong’s development might be the most obvious, but Smile and Peco steal the show by the conclusion.

Honorable Mentions: I’m probably going to sound biased because I’m covering it, but Hunter x Hunter, particularly during this anime season, has been absolutely mind-blowing. Sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s a shounen show! There’s also JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, which has been a lot of fun. I was more than a little disappointed with the old OVAs that do the manga absolutely no justice, but luckily David Production knows what’s up.

Which show let you down the most?

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Dragon Ball Kai (2014)

As I mentioned previously, I’m not watching that many shows right now due to the winding down of my previous job, as well as moving out and starting this adult malarkey. I have JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hunter x Hunter, Ping Pong and Dragon Ball Kai to choose from, so this kind of sits here by default! I’m actually rather enjoying it, even though I’ve seen it all before, but I was let down a little by the opening animation. I mean seriously, there has to be plenty of kids around the world that will be watching Dragon Ball Kai as an entry point to the series, right? If you’ve never seen the Buu saga, skip the opening, because it abridges the entire arc and spoils more or less everything there is to spoil.

Dishonorable Mentions: I’m just going to mention again that I’m really disappointed in Dragon Ball Kai‘s opening animation. Hold off the spoilers, damn it.

-=-

With the entire crew’s two cents chipped in, the jury’s verdict seems to be that if you watch only one show from the past season, it’s Ping Pong The Animation or bust. After a bit of an unimpressive stint, the noitaminA time-slot for “alternative” anime has delivered another title to remember, with unique art, eye for detail and most importantly of all, an engaging story. Surprisingly, Ping Pong turned out to be more than a classic sports drama with breathtaking visuals courtesy of animation big shot Masaaki Yuasa, providing complex characterization and a splendidly paced plot that mesmerized every crew member who watched it. If choppers and rubbers are even less up your alley than mine, The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, cult favourite Tonari no Seki-Kun: The Master of Killing Time, the second season of Mushishi, and — much to the dismay of some other crew members — No Game, No Life managed to reel in some honours as well. On the other hand, One Week Friends brought more than half of the blog to tears for all the wrong reasons, while Captain Earth, Nanana’s Buried Treasure and Riddle Story of Devil, amongst many, many others, all failed to live up to their promising first impressions.

Speaking of which, summer’s up next, and while that season is by far and wide known as the absolute bottom of the barrel, last season was surprisingly underwhelming for a Spring outing, so who knows? Maybe all the rules have been changed! Maybe nothing will be as we know it? Maybe Sailor Moon Crystal will actually be oozing with production values and fantastic nostalgia? Maybe Terror in Resonance will turn into a high school harem comedy? Maybe Sword Art Online II will finally be revealed to be the world’s most insane piece of performance art exploring nerd culture’s obsession with virtual violence and adolescent male power fantasies? Maybe I’ll actually be able to hear that show’s name without developing spontaneous malignant tumours? Maybe anime will just stop existing all of a sudden! Would that actually be a bad thing? Err, yeah, let us known in the comments, won’t you?

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2 thoughts on “The Wrap-Up: Spring 2014

  1. pretty meh season for me. I ended up finishing three series. Mushishi Zoku Shou was really good. No Game No Life was pretty good too. For some reason I kept watching Mekakucity Actors and it turned out a bit intriguing before it fell flat on its face in the last episode. Idk why I’m still watching Mahouka Kouka… something something Ft. bland op protagonist. I’m catching up on Ping Pong and it’s pretty entertaining though.

  2. I fear I may need to join a Anime Anonymous group. How could I enjoy Mushishi and Mahouka in the same season. If anime disappeared, I guess I would go back to watching whatever’s on television these days, most of which can be summarised as white male lead saves the world.

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