Sunday, April 6, 2014

Best Winter Anime of 2014

For those of you who are unaware, I like to watch anime in my spare time. While I do keep up with some TV shows (Hannibal FTW!), I mostly am relegated to watching shows online and streaming them. That being said, while I could stream shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, I'm much more inclined to watch anime. Anime is a weird beast in terms of television, since there are few shows that have legitimate seasons. Most likely, an anime would get only one season of 12-13 episodes and that would constitute its run. Some shows expand their run to twice that, and even fewer shows have multiple seasons and arcs. Anime is very condensed and each show will usually run for 3 months before ending. It's with that in mind that we take a look at the best and worst anime of this past winter that I have watched. Even if you don't watch anime and don't "get it", it's still fine to read it and see if anything would motivate you to taking a look at something that you normally wouldn't see. I've seen five anime this winter, and we're going to talk about them all!

Space Dandy
Out of all of the anime this past season, this is the one that people most likely saw. Having an exclusivity deal with Toonami allowed Space Dandy to be solely aired on the block with no streaming, which is definitely a major boost in views for a program that I love. For those who are unaware, Space Dandy is the most recent anime from Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of anime such as Samurai Champloon and Cowboy Bebop, which is often regarded as being the best anime ever. To say this had high expectations is an understatement, and everyone was pegging Space Dandy to be a great show, if only for its director and pedigree. What we get isn't inherently bad, but is most definitely weird.

Space Dandy is an anthology comedy revolving around the crew of the Aloha-Oe, an egotistical bounty hunter named Dandy, an out dated but level headed robot named QT, and a lazy good for nothing cat alien thing named Meow. Together, they hunt the universe to find new life forms that no one has ever seen so they can make a profit off of them. Because it's an anthology series, each episode has no connection to the previous one, and each other them has completely different tones of humor. Some episodes aren't even funny, but they're still interesting to watch. Each episode also has a distinct sci-fi flare to it, some that's easy to comprehend, while others make absolutely no sense whatsoever. In short, because of it's nature, some episodes hit and some episodes miss. It's funny at times, dark at times, smart, goofy, confusing, and interesting, but there's no guarantee if any of that will be good until you watch it. If you see an episode that sounds interesting to you, I say watch it. It's very hit or miss, but there are some genuinely good episodes like episodes 2, 7, and 13. Give it a watch and see if you like it.

Wrap your head around this idea. What if aliens invaded Earth, and the only people who could stop them are people possessing the DNA of great historical figures that they summon to transform their bodies into weapons. Interested? Well that's what I was after the first episode of Nobunagun, and action anime that has such an over the top concept that I love it just for that alone. Our main character, Shio Ogura, is a normal Japanese school girl (overused concept I know), who is the decedent of Oda Nobunaga, a violent and powerful military leader. When the aliens, known as Evolutionary Invasion Objects, invade and attack her class when they're on a trip, she is able to channel the power of Nobunaga and summon three giant Gatling guns to kill them, all while being aided by people with the DNA of Jack the Ripper, Sir Issac Newton, and Gandhi. And that was just the first episode! And it was awesome!

However, as the series dragged on, that potential slowly lost focus and became a much more watered down experience. The action was still prevalent, but it shared space with tactical planning and characters who only served as to flesh out the cast. There's a total of twelve or so characters that are heavily featured, yet I can't really say if any of them have ever done anything important. Also, because the show is only thirteen episodes, it feels very rushed and wraps up its ending on essentially a cliff hanger. The day is saved, but for how long? Who cares! Happy ending! It leaves so many questions unanswered, and because the series is based off on an ongoing manga, it may be a long time, if ever, until we get some proper resolution. That, and the series has some... uncomfortable moments in it that made me roll my eyes and be a bit creeped out, like the old man who took pictures of Shio in a bikini, the two side girls who are insanely attracted to Shio, and the giant squid that felt Shio up for an uncomfortable amount of time. This is how you take such a killer premise, yet flush it down the drain with odd decisions and being taken away from what the series does best; kill aliens with the power of history!

Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill is awesome, let's just get that right out of the way. It's fun, action packed, funny as all hell, and just an over all good time. It's the biggest anime of last fall, and it continues its run into winter to finish of its 24 episode series. And oh me oh my, what a finale it was. In this case alone, I won't discuss the plot of the second half of the series for obvious reasons, but the basic premise is that a girl named Ryuko Matoi is searching for her father's killer, which leads her to a place called Honnouji Academdy, a placed ruled by the despotic Satsuki Kiryuin. Bearing half of her father's greatest creation, the Scissor Blade, and a sentient uniform, Senketsu, also designed by her father, Ryuko takes down all of Honnouji Academy to get a shot of Satsuki, who may or may not be related to her father's death. In order to do that though, she has to tackle the entire school and their super powered residents, all powered by Goku Uniforms that increase their strength ten fold.

If that premise sounds interesting, it really is, and the run has been great so far. It's streaming on Hulu and chances are you've heard people somewhere talking about how awesome the series is. Just do me this favor then. Look at this clip from the very first episode, the legitimate first few minutes of the first episode, and tell me that you wouldn't want to see this show. I rest my case.

World Conquest Zvezda Plot
Zvezda Plot is a... weird show. It's billed as a mad cap comedy about a group of people that want to take over the world, led by the charismatic 4 year old Kate Hoshimiya, but it comes across more as a group of misfits that have no where else to go joining together to create a world where they can belong. They don't fit in or belong in the world, so they'll take over the world so they can have a place they belong to. It's a unusual concept to be sure, and I was hoping that the show goes and follows that idea, but instead it just is a standard goofy comedy with a fairly interesting premise wasted. That's not to say the show is bad, but its wholly unremarkable. There's goofy fighting, cute creatures, awkward love scenes, and just moments that a person would expect from a normal 10-12 year old oriented show.

The show actually does excel at giving its characters sympathetic pasts and relationships, which furthers the idea that they have no where to go, so they join Kate's idea of conquering the world. Each person has a past that makes them unique, and by the end each has their own distinct personality. That being said, if Nobunagun's problem was that it spent too much time explaining itself than showing what we want to see, Zvezda tells the audience nothing about the overall threat of the series and expects us to just roll with it. By the halfway point of the series, an evil government group is introduced that has strange black smoke that isn't part of our world, but no more detail is put into it than that. Very few things are explained about the general plot of the series, and several moments are just swept under the rug and not explained, when all we want is for them to be explained. The characters sell this show, the humor is serviceable, but the plot leaves something to be desired.

Witch Craft Works
In the beginning, I wasn't sold on Witch Craft Works. It had a nice enough concept, but it gave off the vibe of being a harem anime, or an anime where there's one guy with a massive amount of girls fighting over his love. I stuck with Witch Craft Works though and by the end, I was sold on the show. It revolves around Honoka Takamiya, a standard high school guy who is dragged into the world of witches in his town. There are two factions of witches in his town; Workshop Witches, who keep the town running and make sure no harm comes to the citizens, and Tower Witches, who function as guns for hire in a sense. All the while, Takamiya is protected by a girl named Ayaka Kagari, who is stronger than him, knows more than him, is more popular and stable than him, and essentially has very little emotions except for the idea that she love shim and will protect him no matter what.

If this sounds like a concept you've heard before, I guarantee it is not. Takamiya is referred to constantly as being a princess that needs saving and essentially always gets in the way when the witches are fighting each other over control of the town. It's a refreshing take on the damsel in distress that I had a great time watching for its 12 episode run. Adding onto that is the supporting cast, which is huge, but each character feels like the belong in the show. They serve as some truly great comic relief and are too likable to be called annoying. Plus the magic shown in the show serves for great action scenes, like when there's a dual between a giant robot bunny and a giant teddy bear. If you want to watch a show that feels like a breath of fresh air with a bright and colorful aesthetic, this is your show.


Because of it's nature, I would say that Space Dandy occupies the middle spot for these five, mostly out of the idea that it's very hit and miss for each episode, which is fine. As for worst show, I would unfortunately have to give it to Nobunagun, a show that I had pegged for being a great action series, but instead lost its steam after the first two episodes and instead left me feeling longing for its action scenes. Edging it out for second worst show is World Conquest Zvezda Plot, which while I did enjoy it more than Nobunagun, it left me wanting to see it take a different direction with its world conquering ideals. As for the best show, it easily goes to Kill la Kill, yet I feel that's cheating a bit since Kill la Kill was a continuation of its run last year. So while I do think that Kill la Kill is the best show of the season in the long run, the best original show of the season goes to Witch Craft Works for its fun take on the damsel in distress and for having some fun magic in the show. For easy reference, here's the rankings of this past season in the world of anime!



Here's for next anime season!

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