Like a clock running slow, the granddaddy of gimmick posts is once again upon us. That’s right– thin slicing has returned!
Thin slicing is based off of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink, a book about the ability of someone to quickly judge what is really important and what’s not important from a very limited experience. And that’s basically what I do in watching, at max a few episodes, of a weekly anime series and trying to rank all the shows from a new season. And I love all the people who complain, “But you can’t rate a show properly with only an episode!” That’s why it’s called “thin slicing.” Watching more would only defeat the purpose. And I don’t have to be 100% right. Just right enough.
In this orgy of ranking new shows from 1 to whatever, the only guideline I go by is simply, “If I received one episode of all the shows at once, which one would I watch first? Second? Last?” If you had a primitive Tivo and couldn’t record more than 1 show at a time, would you prioritize Minami-ke? Amnesia? Easy Chinese with Ching-He Huang? The ranking is not a quality ranking. It’s a visceral instinct ranking. And, of course, for shows to be ranked high… some will be ranked low. Deal with it. Also, because I have finite time, I might just decide not to thin slice something– especially series that are non-interesting sequels (you should know if you’re in or out on these by now anyway) or if the show is only 5 minutes long. (And that’s probably my least favorite trend of 2013: more 5 minute shorts that are terrible.)
These posts are always interesting to write since the worst shows come up first, and if someone sees show they like so early on, they get offended and tune out the rest of the post. So what if you like terrible anime? I love Code Geass, and it hasn’t affected my life except I put Pizza Hut on my speed dial.
Quick recap from last season: Reality, be rent. Synapse, break. Vanishment, dis waruldo!!!
#16. Cuticle Detective Inaba
ZEXCS, Susumu Nitsukawa
Cuticle Detective Inaba (キューティクル探偵因幡) is just a terrible, terrible show. One, it has way too much going on. Okay, there’s a wolf detective, who quit the police force for mysterious reasons… and starts his own practice that helps the police. There’s a goat that eats money. There’s a lot of furry and S&M references. This show may be better as a yaoi harem furry show. The production values are average at best. There’s a fine line between series action drama and slapstick comedy, and I can’t tell if the show is just blew that line to smithereens. The action sequences are ruined by oddly timed comedy, and the comedy bits are ruined by being too serious. Oh yeah, furries. Gimme back the twenty minutes I spent watching this dribble.
#15. Senran Kagura
Artland, Takashi Watanabe
Ninjas who wear gym shorts and short skirts and have big hopes and dreams is what Senran Kagura (閃乱カグラ) is all about. Plot, character development, and common sense is what it is not about. Pretty much the show is a vehicle to showcase girls that have ample melonpan do things that cause bounciness. If you’re hoping for any morsel of plot, you are out of luck. The show is just 100% nonsensical too… why do ninjas have to train at a secret school beneath the real school? Why do ninjas need to train wearing gym shorts? Why do ninjas need a transformation sequence that make them look like rejects from Sky Girls? Why does one character transform from wearing a school outfit to a school outfit that is unbuttoned?! That is her transformation sequence: she goes from wearing her school uniform to nothing to the same school uniform except it is not buttoned. Now that’s just either inspired fanservice or complete and utter laziness. (Okay, okay, her boots change too.)
#14. Da Capo III
Kazami Gakuen Kōshiki Douga-bu, Ken’ichi Ishikura
Da Capo III is a stuck in 2002 erotic visual novel turned anime that is pretty much living on name alone. The typical Da Capo elements are there: Crescent Island, magical tree, Sakura, incest. I enjoyed the first Da Capo because of legendary meido Yoriko, the second one for Tama-nee, and for the third? It’s atrocious. I tried to find any glimmer worth salvaging, but I can’t, and I’ve sadly watched all of Da Capo up to this point. The animation is piss poor, and if you think Minami-ke hasn’t aged, this franchise hasn’t improved since it’s inception in 2002. The character designs… wow… they didn’t even try. They all look the same except with different hair ornaments. The writing is weak and lazy with no effort given to introduce an uninteresting case. The male lead is total generic typical loser male and makes Da Capo‘s Junichi seem like Tomoya (just to illustrate how far this franchise has fallen since Junichi is not even a homeless man’s Tomoya).
(At least follow a typical harem anime scenario. First episode: boy meets end girl. Next few episodes: boy meets poor haremettes who won’t be chosen. Final episodes: some dumb plot that jeopardizes the school or something. End: boy still can’t confess to end girl thus leading to season two where a mysterious new girl– NotChosen– will be introduced.)
(One positive thing about this show: the characters have app phones and text and stuff! The unbelievable part of it: the girls put away and ignore their phones so they can talk to the male character. Only in anime.)
Brains Base, Yoshimitsu Ohashi
Generic otome game turned anime is generic. Amnesia is a quite typical JRPG of yore scenario: heroine losses her memory, gains some sort of mystical sprite ally, and must group with various party members to regain her memory. In a twist of twists, she regains her memory by interacting and being friendly with the male haremettes. Who expected that one?! There’s not much going for this show: bland characters, semi-terrible costume design (Vash the Stampede… is that you?), uninspired fanfic level plot, and a below average animation job by Brains Base (whom we all know could do better). I also don’t understand what the magical sprite character brings to the show. You could literally replace him with a wise-cracking animal familiar, and the show would improve, or, at least, have comedic elements instead of non-stop angst and pseudo-romance (psuedomance?).
#12. Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East
Studio Deen, Mitsue Yamazaki
I have no idea what is going on with Hakkenden (八犬伝 ―東方八犬異聞―): there’s some sort of town destroying catastrophe, there’s a ghost lady in the woods, there’s a dog slash man who is taller than everyone else, there’s a fucking crow that comes out of a boy’s arms and turns into a sword. Someone must have been very high or drunk coming up with this story. In any case, the story is fairly nonsensical with the church attacking itself or something, and seemed to be aimed at a supernatural boy’s love setup. There’s also a dude who totally looks like the white Ohtori.
(Mitigating factor: Studio Deen has upped their animation production to be average or, gasp, above average. And they seem to have found a niche making female-oriented supernatural shows and milking the corpse of Higurashi.)
Dogakobo, Yoshiyuki Fujiwara
The only kudos Good Job Club (GJ部) deserves is their courageous use of known trademarks. They are fleeting, but there are a few glimpses of Twister and McDonalds. The fact that this show is not making up a fake McDonalds and is instead copying the real thing: brave. I can’t wait for when Starbucks and Tim Hortons to show up next. Beyond that, the show is typical bunch of girls, one guy, and one after school club that does… get this… nothing. Yep. Unless you have extraordinary writing or some catchy gimmick, it ain’t gonna fly in this day and age, and this show has neither. The characters are so one-dimensional, you don’t even need to watch the full OP to figure out their stereotypes. The guy is typical loser male lead filler material. Nothing to see here, move along, move along.
(The naming of this anime is terrible. GJ-bu? Seriously? Why not name it, “I Can’t Think of a Name Right Now” instead? Though I think it would be funny if in 2017 I am thin slicing a show named, “I Can’t Think of a Name Right Now.” Kill me.)
#10. Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu yo?
Diomedea, Yasutaka Yamamoto
Our trek through anime with terrible names continues with Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? (問題児たちが異世界から来るそうですよ, Problem Children Are Coming From Another World, No?) as this trend of naming anime literally with sentence descriptions continue. Also continuing as a trend this season? Furries. The first episode of this show could really have been like four with all the crap they tossed in… they completely skipped any sort of cast introduction to throw a bunch of random people into an introductory game. Okay, I get they may want to explain the mechanics of the show. But they fly through that introductory game because they need to go into another game!!! This beginning is like if the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh had Yugi summoning Exodia. Which is kinda what Mondaiji felt like. Pacing issues aside, the animation is below average, the characters are all smug assholes, and they all have game changing powers that might be too powerful. Seriously? A girl starts with the geass eye, one that has no limitations and can be used on animals?
(What really bugs me about this show is the character “Black Rabbit” who has blurple hair. She can change it to pink hair, which grants her… uh… slightly faster running? Why isn’t her hair black for the transformation?! Gah.)
#9. The Unlimited – Hyobu Kyosuke
Manglobe, Shishou Igarashi
The Unlimited – Hyobo Kyosuke is a spin-off of Zettai Karen Children, which premiered back in 2008. The basic premise is that espers live amongst us and possess incredible powers that can reshape the world, so, of course, people want to eliminate or harness said powers. Well… isn’t this the setup to From the New World?! People around the world started abusing various esper powers and led to thousands of years of chaos, which establishes the present world of From the New World. Frankly, go watch that show instead of this one. It may have animation hiccups (really, do we need a different animation style every other episode?), but it is much better written. As for The Unlimited, it is just nonsense try hard shonen action. Every season seems to have at least one, like K or Brave 10, and they all seem to be too ridiculous for my tastes.
(Mitigating factor: This show cannot decide if it want to go into a more substantial romance between the two male lead characters. It’s like trying to be a generic shonen action series, but it also cannot deny its remarkably yaoi setup. I can only imagine the various doujinshis that this series will spawn.)
#8. Love Live! School Idol Project
Sunrise (LOL), Takahiko Kyōgoku
I think Love Live! (ラブライブ! Rabu Raibu!) is the first joint Sunrise and G’s Magazine production of a G’s Magazine feature. You know, a long prestigious line that includes Sister Princess and Futakoi. (Oh gosh, who remembers Rin Rin being a 4chan meme?) To put it bluntly, it is weird to see cel shaped CG that looks like it came from Code Geass applied to a high school idol group. The mixing of drawn animation and CG is quite sharply contrasted as the show cuts way too often from “away” shots that are CG to “close” shots that are hand drawn. Just makes things awkward. Also, it’s a basic “bunch of girls try to become to next AKB48” genre, which isn’t very interesting since they are all the same. Ragtag group of tropetastic girls form a band instead of a harem. Ugh. The animation (when it’s not mixing forms) is above average, but the music falls flat. It’s totally uninspired and felt like it was composed at the last minute. If you’re going to do the musical girls genre, you gotta get the music right. That’s one thing K-On! manages to do well.
(The whole premise is that a school’s popularity is dependent on the idol groups that perform at the school? Wha?)
AIC Classic, Masahiko Ohta
We’re in the gooey midsection of thin slicing where these shows can probably go anywhere. Basically, the 8-8 football teams. Kotoura-san‘s defining feature is that it starts with quite possibly the darkest ten minutes of anime ever. I mean… you might have to delve down to furry snuff hentai or Monsanto shareholder meetings to reach somewhere darker. Then when things couldn’t seem worse for our titular heroine, a random cat that she befriends is sent off to a presumable kill shelter. Wow. And, then, instantaneously, she meets the male lead, and a typical happy slice-of-life romcom opening breaks out. I’m not kidding. We go from Kaiji levels of despair to something happier than Hidamari Sketch in seconds. It’s a juxtaposition to be sure. After that setup, the show seems like typical romcom antics with a mismatched couple. Basically, a setup like Yandere Kanojo, Toradora, etc, only done worse.
(I guess I should bring up Hayate the Combat Butler as Hayate’s origin story is fairly grim, but at least that was handled with some comedy with the understanding more comedy will happen. Kotoura doesn’t do that. For all we know, it could be the birth of a mass murderer… which could still happen. Nice boat.)
(Mitigating factor: Greatest emo facial distortion in a long while.)
#6. Vividred Operation
A-1 Pictures, Kazuhiro Takamura
“Missiles couldn’t hit it, but flying little girls can?!” is the greatest line to start a new season since “It’s time for some piracy!” I get the feeling Vividred Operation will either be a paragon of so bad it’s good (Mai Otome) or be just terrible (Symphogear). It walks that fine of a line. I gave those two shows as an example because they’re part of this magical little girls who can summon wonderous weapons to fight for/with them genre. Though Vividred seems to have drawn it’s inspiration from Vandread (the colors and assortment of options), Gurren Lagann (the whole docking business), and Eva (the sorry ass military defense). Then it all makes sense. This show is written by Hiroyuki Yoshino, a seiyuu. This show is just full of anime’s best and worst tropes.
Stuff I like and dislike at the same time: how characters can spend minutes talking about fucking tomatoes during a battle while thousands are dying as ships are being sunk, how a plane took like five minutes to crash, how the grandpa got ejected out of his body and into a stuffed squirrel… let me repeat that: the grandpa’s spirit left his body and entered a stuffed toy squirrel, how during the magical girl transformation sequences, the camera starts on their asses all the time, how the girls must kiss to “docK” which combines them into a single girl of unimaginable power, how ass shots and short shorts dominate this futuristic world, how a futuristic world can be dumb enough to build one power thingamagig and put it in Japan, and, oh yeah, the grandpa decides that little middle school girls are much better suited for his power suits than, oh, military personnel.
(We all know how this is going to end. All four colored girls will combined into the white girl, and they’ll battle the black girl. No racial overtones here! And then the black girl will join the white girl, they merge, and then become Captain Planet.)
#5. Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Suguru
A-1 Pictures, Kanta Kamei
Holy fuck. Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru (俺の彼女と幼なじみが修羅場すぎる, My Girlfriend and Childhood Friend Fight Too Much, OreShura) is a long name. I think I preferred it when harem anime were named after proper nouns like Ramune and Love Hina or concepts like Clannad and Final Approach. You know we’ve gone to lazy places when the anime names just describe the show. Oh. My little sister can’t be this cute. My girlfriend and childhood friend hate each other like how Gollum hates the Hobbiteses. Seems fairly tame version of Cruel Intentions meets Chu2 as the “girlfriend” blackmails the poor male harem lead over his evil diary. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me… is she doesn’t want guys fawning over her, why is she dating one? This doesn’t exactly make horny boys desire her less. Why not just play the lesbian card? I don’t know. The show seems to be quite contrived, and the characters are nothing special. If there’s one thing we can pull from good harem anime, it’s that the male lead needs a personality. And a spine.
(Most of the drama CD cast make it into this show, except for the “girlfriend” Chiwa Saitou and “childhood friend” Aki Toyosaki, arguably the two biggest guns. Not a good sign. It’s like downgrading from Miguel Cabrera to Brandon Inge.)
(OreShura is #5? Ugh. I’m not any happier than you about it.)
#4. Minami-ke Tadaima
Feel, Keiichiro Kawaguchi
The last time we got a Minami-ke series, Obama was being sworn in. And then four years later… we get another one as Obama is sworn in again. It’s almost like clockwork. The good: Minami-ke is still Minami-ke. Haruka is still amazing, Kana is still broken, and Chiaki is still Chiaki. If you enjoyed the Minami sisters in the past, you’ll continue to enjoy them. Thank goodness, there’s no new annoying character (Fuyuki) inserted. Also, the OP still goes “M-I-N-A-M-I-K-E!”. The bad: Feel’s animation production is still trapped in 2008. Okaeri was already considered below average back in 2009, and Tadaima makes me feel like I’m watching Toonami-level of animation quality. But you know what I really hate? The wallpaper-like backgrounds that occasionally pop up during portrait shots. Just hideous abominations that try to mask a complete and utter lack of animation budget. Damn it Feel, let this franchise go to someone who can do it justice, like AIC or A-1.
(The ugly: Not enough Hosaka, not enough floatation devices, not enough Mako-cakes. Also, Haruka is turning more and more into Belldandy where she’s getting too perfect and less of a comedic foil. Dammit, what happened to the Belldandy that threw food and called Urd a “cow”?)
#3. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
ARMS, Takeo Takahashi
Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (まおゆう魔王勇者, MAOYU) is the spiritual successor to Spice and Wolf, and it couldn’t have a better cast: Horo~n and Lawrence (or Kallen and Lulu) as Demon King and Hero. Just an excellent pairing. And then toss in Takahashi, the director of Spice and Wolf, and Chiwa Saito as the Meido, this show is stacked, like Demon King’s useless meat. Then I heard ARMS was the studio, and that I remembered I eviscerated ARMS in the past… well… Maoyuu is pretty damn good. It has the proper historical and economic discussions that are a bit more macro-oriented than Spice and Wolf, good production values, and charming characters. The show is in good hands, and the source material will shine. I even like how the characters don’t have real names but instead job descriptions, though the fact Hero won’t indulge in a Demon King rump roast is grating… it’s like watching Tenchi Muyo again.
(I originally didn’t like the animation style as I preferred the style of one of the many manga adaptations, but it’s growing on me. Who knew that plot and meat would keep my attention more than animation style…)
#2. Tamako Market
Kyoto Animation, Naoko Yamada
Is it weird to rank so highly a show that, fundamentally, should have a core audience of middle school girls? It’s like a genre that is totally forgotten: straight up shoujo, something that appeals to young girls without being older (yaoi, otome game, josei) or younger (7am genre) and has production values for an AAA show. Tamako Market is that rare show that hits the sweet spot and probably the best example of this genre since Cardcaptor Sakura.
There’s only one studio that can go toe to toe with Kyoto these days, and it’s Shaft. When they are on their game, they are just as good in a totally different way. While Kyoto impresses with traditional art styles done well, Shaft pushes the envelopes and either does it fucking well or fucking terribly. I’m not sure which one Sasami@Unmotived (ささみさん@がんばらない) is, but I’m leaning towards, “well.” The show has all the Shaft embellishments: the head tilts, the detailed backgrounds, the questionable architecture, the random fanservice, Chiwa Saito, the lack of a finished ED in the first few episodes, the art style changes (which go from watercolor to industrial to traditional), and the multiple faces (seeing Sasami do an Araragi cartoon face throws me out of the show a bit). Anyway, as I wrote before, the show is basically Haruhi Suzumiya if Haruhi knew she was Haruhi.
What Does A-WAR Think?
1. [8.03] Chihayafuru 2
2. [6.91] Kotoura-san
3. [6.27] Minami-ke Tadaima
4. [6.22] Haganai Next
5. [5.78] Maoyuu
6. [4.35] Tamako Market
7. [3.97] OreShura
8. [3.97] Love Live!
9. [2.40] Sasami-san
10. [1.97] Vividred Operation
Data as of 2/3/2013, and I collected the data after I finished writing the thin slicing portion of this post. One thing about this early in the season is that we’re basically getting a collective thin slice of everyone’s opinions. I’m not surprised at the sequels (Chihayafuru, Minami-ke, Haganai) doing well since you’re either in or out of them by now. All three shows are within 0.5 points of their preceding shows, and Chihayafuru is second highest ranked josei series behind Nodame (8.5-ish, depending on how we want to treat Paris). More interestingly, Sasami-san is getting slammed globally for not making any sense. I suspect its scores will see steadily increase as the season progresses, much like Chu2 last season. The rest of the series… I think they’re in a good place. Kotoura-san seems like a standard school life romcom, and only a nice boat ending would justify the current score for it. Overall, it seems to be a quality season with choices for most tastes as josei, shoujo, shonen action, Shaft, harem, economics, and harem genres all have decent entries this season.