2015 is apparently already over. A lot has been going on, but I was never hurting for something to watch every week, whether it was to unwind or to work up some criticism about a subpar show. I actually had to think for a few minutes about my top five, and I feel like more of the shows I wasn’t interested in had some merit to them, so I suppose I can’t call it a terrible year overall. That isn’t to say that anime isn’t still a mistake, of course – the light novels made sure of that – but there’s still a lot to talk about. I made an angry list last year, so this time I figured I’d go with a more long-form retrospective that hopefully didn’t end up quite as acerbic, but, well… read ahead.
I used to like it, but…
UFOtable, what happened? You did such a great job with Fate/Zero, and everyone was so excited about Unlimited Blade Works, especially after the whole DEEN debacle. It’s no secret that I’m way into the Fate franchise, but the long-awaited “proper” adaptation of the famous visual novel was less than ideal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: trying to adapt a visual novel with multiple routes is just asking for trouble. A combination of production trouble, too many episodes to fill, and Nasu’s plain old bad writing meant the show collapsed under its own weight once the second cour began. Adding that to the deluge of creepy merchandise and mediocre spinoffs (or both, in the case of mobile game Fate/Grand Order, featuring dozens of new scantily clad female Servants), the result over the past year was me really coming to terms with what Fate actually is. At least I can pretend the original is still good?
The other big rude awakening around the start of this year was Log Horizon. I loved the first season of that show, and as an amateur worldbuilder I marveled at some of the directions Mamare went with his fictional game setting. Season 2 went in all the directions I didn’t want the show to go, zeroing in on the weirder aspects of the world and putting more plot emphasis on arbitrary character conflicts, often involving awkward characterization for the female characters. Did we really need Nureha’s character to crumble into psychotic obsession with Shiroe, or to be introduced to Shiroe’s (conveniently buxom, curvy, and possessing no sense of personal space) alternate character who has somehow gained consciousness?
I also picked up the first English-language volume of the actual Log Horizon light novel series, and, well… I was less than impressed. The anime staff deserves huge props for taking Mamare’s heavily redundant, on-the-nose, and often disturbingly sexual prose and turning it into a well-paced and relatively clean production (in Season 1, anyway). Plainly said, he’s a bad writer who has good ideas, and needs some sort of pipeline that can adjust his material accordingly. This was true for Maoyu as well: compare its terrible anime with Akira Ishida’s manga adaptation for different takes on essentially the same script. In any case, that single volume Log Horizon will probably remain the only light novel on my bookshelf for the foreseeable future. And speaking of anime adapted from light novels…
Light Novel Hell
I enjoyed Durarara!! (and its superior sister show, Baccano!) immensely in 2010, but its 2015 incarnation / continuation is downright disappointing. It’s become so… anime. The Orihara twins spring to mind first and foremost, being walking cliches of the moe phenomenon and always acting in the most fetishistic twins-are-hot-right-guys way possible. There’s an increasing reliance on what can only be described as teenage fanboy pandering, and I find myself wondering if DRRR!! was always like this and I just never noticed. Has anime gotten worse, or have I just become more discerning? Sadly, I’m inclined to think the latter, but it’s impossible to deny light novel anime have risen in prominence lately.
We saw this coming, but we weren’t prepared. The light novel apocalypse has begun, right under our noses. I mean, we’ve always had bad anime, but recently things have seemed especially tiresome. These shows have been so blatantly formulaic that I even made a bingo card, for cryin out loud. If you need an example, Asterisk War and Failure Knight are the exact same show. Watch their first episodes back-to-back and marvel at how spookily similar they are.
I’ve honestly spent quite a bit of time thinking about why exactly the “LN Mad Libs” formula (as we’ve taken to calling it) is so popular. It’s easy to just write it off as “wish-fulfillment” or “escapism” – since to some degree that’s what all fiction is about – but that just seems so… simplistic, considering the wild success stories like Mahouka and Sword Art Online have found. Then again, maybe it is that simple. Seemingly 90% of all light novels involve a guy with no appreciable social skills being fawned over by 3-6 nubile young women and becoming the coolest dude at [Supernatural-Thing] Academy, which might as well be the dream life of your average 16-year-old kid in high school. I suppose I’m just fed up with media that’s laser-pointed at the demographic of teenagers and puerile adults who wish they were still teenagers. But I guess I can’t really talk, since it’s on record on this very site that I like Type-Moon’s stuff (which is LN Mad Libs as fuuuuuck) and spent a month or so liking Sword Art Online of all things. Live and learn, I suppose.
Old Is New Again
2015 has also been a good year for revivals of old franchises. Namely, Yatterman Night, Digimon Adventure Tri, and Mr. Osomatsu. Marlin and Jel would probably put Gatchaman Crowds onto this short list too, but I didn’t watch that. I said everything I needed to in Yatterman Night‘s Final Impressions post, but it bears repeating that its finale was one of the most downright heroic climaxes of the entire year. The original Yatterman theme starting up to lay the beatdown on the bad guy was an incredible moment, even though us western fans still haven’t seen the properly animated version. Apparently nobody cared enough about that show to track down the BD box.
Digimon Adventure Tri is the most blatant nostalgia bait of the revivals, and it’s also the most recent franchise, aimed towards people like me who watched Digimon Adventure as children. It plays as out as just more of the same, which isn’t a bad thing. Digimon as a franchise has already gone through a retooling or two, so returning to its original form feels comfortable rather than desperate (though since it’s Toei we’re talking about, there is definitely some desperation going around). I was surprised at how easily the show made me feel like a kid again, recalling plot and character beats from 15 years ago and remembering just how much I love the cast. Even as a kids show, I think the original Digimon Adventure holds up to this day.
Mr. Osomatsu is still running into the start of 2016, but it’s already proven itself with its willingness to get emotional, and not always with a punchline like the hilarious bait-and-switch ending of “ESP Kitty”. The “Jyushimatsu Falls In Love” skit, wherein Jyushimatsu falls in love (didn’t see that one coming, did ya?) is a stand out. He’s the goofiest of the show’s characters, making it all the more surprising to see his suicidal love interest portrayed respectfully. Reading between the lines of that episode gets dark and rather uncomfortable, but it all serves to create very cathartic conclusion to one of the year’s best episodes.
Mecha shows, am I right?
I’m as into mecha as ol’ Gee-Man, but it feels like it’s been a weird year for the genre. That’s probably because this is the year I started getting into Gundam: I watched Gundam Build Fighters and 08th MS Team last year, and this year I’ve watched G Gundam, the original Mobile Suit Gundam compilation films, 0080 War in the Pocket, GBF Try, Reconguista in G, and Iron-Blooded Orphans is airing as I write this. I have a real, informed opinion on the new Gundam show. How weird is that? To me, Gundam has always been that franchise that everybody knows about but nobody’s really watched, but now I have an understanding of why it’s endured for over 35 years.
That doesn’t mean Gundam can’t be a trainwreck, though. GBF Try was a plain disappointment, a sequel that failed to live up to its predecessor in every way. Sunrise somehow made a show entirely about buying toys even more grossly commercialized by tripling the amount of new robots, meaning almost none of them got the screentime to shine. Conversely, Reconguista in G was the beautiful, wonderful sort of trainwreck, and the first Tomino-helmed Gundam since 1999’s Turn-A Gundam. It’s a bizarre and borderline-incomprehensible adventure, filled with great ideas and boasting a cast full of hilarious bumbling. I plan to rewatch the show from scratch soon, because I’m convinced it’ll actually make sense once I’m not trying to drunkenly puzzle together who’s who and what’s what. Perhaps Tomino truly was a genius all along.
Comet Lucifer has only just aired, but damned if it isn’t another glorious shitshow. There’s a distinct feeling that the show is being written on the fly, cobbled together with any random ideas the staff could come up with. Roman’s got a garish spherical robot with a rotary phone in its leg? Sure! Kindly Do Mon is a grizzled war hero along the lines of Big Boss? Throw it in! The pretty baker down the road is a double agent for the mysterious council? Absolutely! I wouldn’t be surprised if the production team was told the day before the premiere they’d only get half of the episodes they needed, and they’d have to rewrite from there. The result is remarkably similar to Eureka Seven, but a fourth of the length and without its head up its own ass. I haven’t had this much fun watching something with my friends since… well, since Reconguista in G.
Aaaand I suppose that’s all I have to say about this past year. If nothing else good comes of anime, at least my critical sense has improved from watching and discussing so many weekly episodes. I really appreciate that doing this blogging thing has given me an actual opinion on all this dumb shit rather than just accepting or dismissing every show like I used to. There are honestly a lot more shows I wanted to talk about here, but there just wasn’t enough room for me to gush about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or grumble about my mild dissatisfaction with Blood Blockade Battlefront, among other things. Here’s hoping that 2016 turns out even better.