Gather ‘Round The Kotatsu! Anime in the Winter of 2012

So last time there was a new season, I was on a plane crossing the Pacific and preparing for a new life in a foreign land. Things being as they were, I couldn’t really ’round up the troops and do a season review. This time I was also on a plane crossing the Pacific as the new season was starting up, but this time I have less to think about, so in attempt to get more stuff up on this blog and keep the topics fresh, I figure we might as well look at some new shows. It’s the winter, so pickings are slim, but we all managed to talk about something. That said, we do talk about Nisemonogatari twice…

Nisemonogatari (wah)

The time when I studied abroad in Japan just happened to coincide with the first airing of SHAFTXSHINBOU’s Bakemonogatari, a show I was really hyped up for to say the least. Heck, I even have the Blu-ray boxset sitting right next to me now. It’s been just over two years since then: I’m back in Japan, and Bakemonogatari’s sequel, Nisemonogatari, is now being shot through airwaves nation-wide.

Though I have to say, I approached this sequel with a degree of caution. Sequels don’t always tend to go very well (my most recent disappointment being Uncharted 3) and I had heard some iffy things about the Nisemonogatari novel. Up until this point, I had put all of my expectations into the Kizumonogatari movie, based on the novel in the series with the most critical acclaim.

But hey! SHAFT’s still got it! Even after a stinker like Madoka, SHAFT can still throw together something sleek and sexy, and it’s all rounded off wonderfully with Nisioisin’s slick dialogue. Furthermore, given the kind of clout SHAFT has in this industry now, Nisemonogatari has some real sakuga prowess behind it. That said, it’s still SHAFT, so the a heavy use of still money shots to drive things forward is still a constant, but the slightly more sparing use of things like extreme long shots seem less like cost-cutting measures and more for the sake of style than anything else.

Two episodes in, and the show does a great job of throwing you back into Nisioisin’s world of strange people and the even stranger things that happen around them. I do have one fear, however: These first two episodes are rather fanservice-heavy, and while I don’t particularly mind that, they’re walking a fine line. So far scenes of Nadeko’s nubile body in sexy clothes and Hachikuji lifting her skirt while blushing have been sandwiched between or peppered with interesting dialogue, so let’s hope it stays that way.

Nisemonogatari (bonertown)

Has it really been over two years since Bakemonogatari began airing?  Why am I asking you this question when I can Google it myself?  Why am I still asking questions aimed at nobody in particular, forcing my queries into the ether when I ought to spend my valuable time giving my impressions on the show so far?  Okay, fine, jeez, let’s get started.

I enjoyed Bakemonogatari when it came out, which took place over the course of six years or some shit because those last three episodes suffered a metric ton of production delays.  Okay, it wasn’t six years, but it certainly felt that way.  But even with the passage of time the show remained memorable to me mostly due to the approach in direction and composition.  Each head tilt, each dutch angle shot, each colored flashcard, each close-up and wide angle shot made the show sleek and stylish, and the plot (use quotation marks at your discretion) was entertaining.  It’s certainly one of SHAFT’s defining shows.  When Nisemonogatari was announced, I was happy to return to Nisioisin’s wacky ass world of weird ass monster shit happening to cute chicks.

With two episodes already done, I can’t help but feel there’s something amiss.  Yes, the puns, the wordplay, the meta-jokes, the fanservice shots and the wacky cast have returned, and it’s only been two episodes so far, but right now the production and direction feels fairly pedestrian for a SHAFT show. The dialogue and plot and whatnot are still enticing and engaging but the presentation doesn’t feel as sharp or crisp as Bakemonogatari once did.  I don’t know if that’s because Bakemonogatari already set a precedent, or if it’s SHAFT approaching Nisemonogatari differently on purpose or what; all I know is that while the content of Nisemonogatari is still fun to watch, I can’t help but feel let down by the presentation aesthetics.  The elements are there, it’s just not as visually striking as they could be.

Shit, who’d have thought I’d bitch about presentation?  Fuck, why am I asking questions again?

Zero no Tsukaima Final (wah)

It’s the end of days for Kugiyama Rie tsundere-driven shows. I don’t remember seeing her much lately over this past year, and the two franchises in which her acting has been a cornerstone are now coming to an end more than a couple of years after their previous outings. The first one is Shana–which I’ve given up on–and this, Zero no Tsukaima. The last seasons for both of these franchises have “final” in the name, so you know they mean business!!

Now, I’ve always liked Zero no Tsukaima for the T&A, and for the by-the-numbers yet charming characters. Story? Not so much. Light novels are, at the very least, good at creating simple and charming characters, but as To Aru Majutsu no Index proves, they’re rarely good at telling a coherent story meant for adults to enjoy. They are the literature of junior high school students, after all.

What I’m saying is that two episodes in, Zero no Tsukaima F has been heavy on the story, and not so heavy on what I’m interested in. They even had two fight scenes! One per episode! Oh, and they suck by the way. Evirus is totally right about JC Staff and fight scenes: they can’t do them!

But at this point I like these characters enough that I’m vaguely interested in whatever ranobe plot they’ll find themselves tangled up in. And episode two had more completely corny T&A scenes that were right up my alley, so if they continue to throw in more of those, I’ll be happy.

The opening is by ICHIKO, who from what I can see has only done openings of Zero no Tsukaima shows… oh, and Rocket Girls I guess. While I don’t get into anime music much anymore, hearing her do the opening stimulated some natsukashii nerves. Rie does the ending theme, but the interesting part of that is the animation, which totally rips off SHAFT, just with better production values.

And good god, it’s taken four seasons, but Saito and Louise almost have a healthy relationship! “Almost” being the operative word.

Mouretsu Pirates (Seiya)

Eheh. Eheheheh.Wheeeeeeeeeee

The first thing that struck me about Pirates is that it has some pointless CG, and the CG is bad. I mean it’s bad. It goes without saying that TV-level CG isn’t going to be good, but seriously. This stuff is downright embarrassing. Fortunately, it seems like the production noticed this after the first few minutes, and it isn’t really heard from again.

And right there is the next thing that struck me. The show’s tone is bizarrely inconsistent. At times it gives the impression that it was scripted as a wacky off-the-wall comedy in the vein of Excel Saga or Hare Nochi Guu, but then somehow got animated in a relatively down-to-earth and semi-realistic style. If you were to read a prose summary of the first half-dozen plot points or so, you would come away with an image of a completely different show in your mind. In some ways this is refreshing, as having the show aggressively fling its humor in you face can quickly get exhausting, but at the same time some of the scenes can come across as being incongruously lifeless. The show runs the risk of taking itself too seriously for the subject matter at hand.

I would love to be excited about Pirates just because it has Tatsuo Sato’s name attached to it, but thus far it’s a struggle to see any hint of his style shining through. When it does, it just makes me want to watch Nadesico or Stellvia again (or, more ambitiously, makes me wish that he would make more of either). After two episodes, I’m left struggling to think of a reason to watch a third. It’s just too much of a chore to wade through a comedy that never feels like a comedy.

Another (Seiya)

Why even give them names?You made a doll creepy. Congratulations. You want a cookie?

This show deserves some kind of award for the most ungoogleable title of the season. I’m seeing it billed as a slick and creepy horror show, which seems fair enough at first glance. This alone makes me really want to like the show right from the start, since horror is such a tragically underrepresented genre across the board. Unfortunately…

The actual story is a veritable tour de force of stale Japanese horror tropes. In just one episode, the show immediately degenerates into a game of “spot the cliche”. The only thing that’s missing is the long-haired yuurei woman and you’d have a full-on banality bingo. The core concept, that there’s a schoolgirl who died but isn’t staying dead, is so needlessly derivative that I spent half the first episode just wishing that someone would properly animate some of Junji Ito’s stuff and get it over with. I can’t be the first person to point out that the title has become all too appropriate. Something that once showed so much promise turned out to be just another show.

Now, none of this would be a real issue if it were well done. I can easily forgive a lack of originality if the end result is still somehow captivating, but every frame of Another smacks of wasted potential and poor pacing. The characters are a nondescript mess that don’t even qualify as shallow stereotypes, and perhaps most importantly, the music is a dreary, forgettable afterthought, cardinal sin for a slow-paced horror story.

Now, having said all of that, I have to confess that I intend to keep watching. I honestly can’t explain why beyond some kind of horror-fan masochism, but this is the only non-Nisemonogatari show where I’m legitimately interested to see what’s going to happen next.

3 thoughts on “Gather ‘Round The Kotatsu! Anime in the Winter of 2012

  1. There is something missing from Nisemonogatari… a rather obvious Senjougahara-shaped hole in the two episodes so far, give or take a crazy opening scene in ep01.

    It’s been a while since I thought I could have Chris Hansen knocking on my door for watching an anime, so I guess that’s something, right?

  2. Yeh, I gotta side with Boners RE Nisemonogatari. I was genuinely prepared for it to… not suck, necessarily, just not be as good. I think this is entirely directorial decisions. For one, despite being nowhere near as lazy and disinterested as Madoka’s thrown-together pathetic production was, I do think they (Shinbo, other Shaft directors etc) are struggling to work up the kind of exuberence that made some of their previous works great (and rescued more from mediocrity). The visual style is less consistent, and the upgraded budget means they have less need to try new stuff and when they do it’s pretty flat. Some other problems is how they’re handling the adaptation this time around. I mean, I’m a self-confessed Nisio Isin fanatic but adapting his incredible verbosity takes a deft hand and it seems to me that they’re less interested in making talking heads visually exciting this time around. This might be intentional because I know one complaint levelled at Bakemonogatari was it cut a lot out. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it or will stop, it’s just I’d like them to try harder. We’ll see with time though. Also I don’t get how Senjougahara is related to Mad Men.

    I never really watched Zero no Tsukaima, although I’m assured it’s enjoyable fluff.

    I do agree that Mouretsu Pirates isn’t getting its balancing act correct, but I might sitck it out a bit further to see if it gets any better. Something tells me it might not thoguh.

    And Another is just… dull, and cliche, and pretty dull too. I’m not hugely into J-Horror but I do like it when it’s done well, and Another doesn’t really thrill me.

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