Monday, April 6, 2015

Best Winter Anime of 2015

Nothing too great, but better than what a lot of people thought it was going to be.

And the first quarter of 2015 is done and with that, the first cour of new anime titles is over as well. This cour, or season, had a generally low amount of anticipation going into it, but I found myself watching more titles than I ever have before, and all of them full length shows at that! If I could describe this cour in a nutshell though, I would say that it was uneven. There wasn't a consistant level of quality between several of the titles that I watched, and because of that my opinion of them decreased. There was really only one title I thought was wholly great from beginning to end, but I'll discuss that later on. Until then, what we have are shows that vary in terms of quality from episode to episode, but they're still good shows in my eyes (most of the time). So sit back as I recount to you the best and worst Winter anime I watched this year in alphabetical order!

Assassination Classroom
Assassination Classroom is a very strange beast to tackle. It's a shonen adaptation, but it doesn't feel like a shonen show. It's a comedy, but it's an episodic comedy with very little continuity between episodes. There is an overarching plot, but it plays a backseat to the characters. And oh boy what a plot it is! So, get this. One day, 75% of the moon is destroyed by a creature named Koro Sensei. Koro Sensei obliterates the moon and becomes hunted by the governments of the entire planet Earth. However, they can't stop him. Koro Sensei is quite literally too powerful to contain and destroy. Koro Sensei eventually meets with the heads of every major political power in the world and strikes a deal with them. Koro Sensei wants to teach students in a prestigious middle school, but he wants to teach the worst students in Class 3-E. The governments agree, as long as the students can attempt to assassinate him during their school year. The student who kills Koro Sensei will become a global hero and earn 10 billion yen, setting them up for life. Koro Sensei agrees and adds the stipulation that they have only one year to kill him. If the students fail to kill him in a year, then he'll destroy Earth anyway.

It's a ludicrous premise to be sure, but that's the main reason why most people watch Ass Class. It has one of the most unique premises of the season, with Koro Sensei being a fascinating main character. We should hate him, but he's so lovable and actually cares about his students. He teaches them good assassination methods and techniques, while also getting to know them and supporting them as a good teacher. He's a monster, but damn it he can teach these kids!

As someone who will eventually become a teacher, I really enjoy the educational philosophy showed in this show. I understand the lessons that Koro Sensei teaches and why he should support his students no matter what. Koro Sensei is by far the best reason to watch this show. The rest of the show however is... not too great. I wouldn't call it bad by any means, but the show has become incredibly predictable and mundane the longer it goes on. The humor doesn't hit all of its marks, and it's tough to get to know all of the students that Koro Sensei teaches. It's trying to do way to much at once, and only getting half of it right. The show tries to show Koro Sensei as a great character, has us get to know the entire 3-E class, be funny, show Koro Sensei's backstory, watch the students fight the morally corrupt principal and school system, and watch the students try to kill Koro Sensei. There's simply too much that the show tries to do, and it fails because of that.

Assassination Classroom is still a good show, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here on out in the second cour, but I have a feeling that this show will mostly be just middle of the road fodder that will be remembered well, but have no impact besides that.

Death Parade
Death Parade, for a lot of people, was one of the standout shows of the season. It was dark, had a lot of great animation, great episodes, and talked a lot about really interesting philosophies and situations. It's like Mushi-Shi, only set in modern times with a stronger focus of ethical judgments and the merit of good vs. evil then quiet contemplation. This is a very thematically heavy show, and I really enjoyed it. I won't go so far to say that it's already an anime of the year contender like some other people, but it was a solid and enjoyable ride.

Our story revolves around Decim, who is a bartender in a Limbo analogue called Quindecim. Two visitors enter the bar and are asked to play a game. The players all have amnesia and forgot how they got to the bar, but all of the patrons are actually dead. While they play their game, the players slowly remember how they died, people they knew and came across, and slowly begin to show their true colors until a winner is declared. Once the game is over, Decim can sent either or both of them to Reincarnation, or the Void, either to live life again or to fade to nothingness. This system has a wrench thrown into it when a nameless woman appears at Quindecim, fully aware that she died and questions who Decim truly is.

Like Assassination Classroom, I really think that Death Parade was severe flaws inside of it, but plays it off a lot better than Assassination Classroom. When you watch an episode, you're going to get one of two types of episodes. You're either going to get an episode that focuses on two random patrons entering Quindecim to play a game, or an episode about the side characters throughout Limbo. If you have an episode of the former, you're going to have a ball and watch some brilliant drama and character moments. These episodes are the most like Mushi-Shi, and are clearly the best. They're short, sweet, but they get across so much details in regards to the patrons and their lives, and seeing where each individual is sent to is always interesting to watch.

The episodes that focus on the side characters and Nameless Girl tend to vary a lot more in quality. I wouldn't call a single episode in the show bad, but I will call several episodes slow or even melodramatic, especially when we start to dive into who Nameless Girl is. My biggest gripe with focusing on the side characters is that most of them just aren't interesting. We eventually find out that none of the residents of Limbo have any emotions or human thoughts, so it's uninteresting to watch them interact with each other. There's no conflict or tension in these episodes because those aren't where the focus of the show lies. The focus lies in examining the human condition and human thoughts/morals/ethics, and it's very hard to do that with people that have no morals or ethics. Even then, when characters do come across as menacing or interesting, like the deity like Oculus, the show doesn't know what to do with them and just has them spout philosophy about the nature of judging human souls. I won't call it pretentious, but it's trying to best to stay away from it.

Still, I really liked Death Parade, flaws and all. While I could work out a pattern to Assassination Classroom and figure out what moments were coming next, I never had a solid idea what was going to happen next here. If you're in the mood for a good mind screw, give Death Parade a shot. You won't regret it.

Koufuku Graffiti 
You know, there's a show coming out this cour called Shokugeki no Souma that has a lot of hype surrounding it. It's labeled as being one of the best animes about food in a long time and that it's going to be a great Shonen anime and a great foodie anime as well. In fact, many people that watched Koufuku Graffiti said that Graffiti was just an appetizer for Souma. Let's make one thing perfectly clear. Based on the first episode of Souma, that show is more aptly getting a greasy fast food burger than going to a southern steakhouse and getting a glorious huge bacon cheeseburger. Koufuku Graffiti is that bacon cheeseburger.

Machiko Ryou lives at home alone. She used to live with her grandmother, but unfortunately she has passed away and Kyou is now always lonely. What's worse is that Ryou used to be an incredible cook, but her taste buds have diminished after her grandmother died. Enter Kirin, a girl her age that Ryou happens to bump into one day. Kirin is going to spend time at Ryou's home when she is studying at Ryou's school, but only for weekends. During the week, she goes back home to live with her parents. And so every single week, the two meet up, cook delicious food, and give Ryou her spirit to cook again.

If you haven't noticed by now, I love good food. Who doesn't love good food? I love to use food analogies and try different types of food whenever I get the chance. Food is great! So when I see an anime that's pretty much just about food and a slice of life environment, I'm sold. Is this show ambitious? No, but not every show needs to completely reinvent the wheel. Some shows just need to be fun to watch and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And that's that Graffiti does. Nearly every episode follows the same pattern; Ryou and Kirin meet up, discuss something about Ryou's cooking or food in general, they develop a craving for it, other slice of life events happen that play into the theme of the episode, and finally, Ryou cooks and the girls eat the delicious food.

Look, this is essentially food porn the food looks that good. The food is immaculate in details and just looks like it'll be delicious. I want to try out several recipes now just based on this show alone. I'm a bit less sold on when the girls actually eat the food because their faces change in just the slightest way to look off putting. Also... look, while it's clearly food porn, when they eat the food it shouldn't actually turn into real life porn. Then again, when the food looks that good, it's really hard to complain about it. This was one of my most anticipated shows of the season and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Don't let the hype of Souma underplay how good this series actually is. Give it a watch right now. Just be aware that you'll be hungry afterwards.

Parasyte: The Maxim
Ah Parasyte, we meet again. Last time I covered Parasyte, I was complaining how I morally couldn't put it on my best of 2014 list for not being completed. Once it's been completed, I felt like I could then judge it accurately and as fairly as possible. And now, with the full series completed, what are my thoughts about the second half of the show? Well... it wasn't that great. It was still good, but there were a ton of problems, pacing issues, and moments that slowly but surely turned me off from the series. We no longer have an anime of the year contender here folks.

So what went wrong? It's hard to say. Everything was going fine from the last cour, with a sufficient amount of hype and some solid first episodes. But once we reached the middle of the show, problems began to occur. Shinichi began to take a backseat to most of the action. Humans became more present in the fight against the parasites, effectively making him useless. One of the biggest antagonists of the series was killed by humans in a long 3 episodes story arc that had Shinichi do nothing. Even after that, character moments became few and far between and the story became mostly about Shinichi on his own versus a parasite named Gotou, who is essentially unstoppable.

However, the episodes where Gotou were defeated, although a decent change of pace, weren't what made me fall in love with the show in the first place. I loved the horror and the paranoia of who was a parasite and how Shinichi had to overcome every obstacle facing him, but that he couldn't win all of the time. That interested me, but the show instead swapped that out with a big ugly monster in the woods and exposition about the nature of man and how we need to protect the environment.

Yes, Parasyte threw out an environmental message in the last couple of episodes, a message that I would be alright with if it was integrated better into the overall series and not the last four episodes. From episode 21 and on, Parasyte began to religiously talk about protecting the environment and the repercussions it would have against humanity and the parasites, but I never bought it for a second. To me, it just came across as filler for the last few episodes when nothing else would pan out. When all the action died down, instead of giving solid character moments and potentially seeing closure with several characters, it instead became the philosophy hour with Shinichi and Migi. It doesn't help that the finale was essentially half philosophy and half a tense confrontation that while good, did not resolve all of the questions or issues I had at the moment.

It's really disappointing that Parasyte turned out this way. I thought that it was going to be a fantastic show that was a great mix of horror, action, and drama, and it was for about 13 episodes. The second half though took my anticipation and excitement down several notches to the point where I wonder if the whole show was good. Looking back on it all, Parasyte was alright. It wasn't great or world defining, but it was... average.

Yatterman Night
Yatterman Night... I tried, I really tried with this show. Week after week, I wanted it to get better than it actually was, and it just would not improve. No amount of prayer or sacrifice could make Yatterman Night better than what it was. When the finale began to come into sight, it had two episodes that were great, They were intense interesting, and made me care about the story anew. But then... well, let's start from the beginning first.

If you're familiar with the Yatterman universe, this will sound familiar to you. The world has been destroyed after a long age of peace that was ushered in by a superhero named Yatterman. However, once the world was destroyed, there were no heroes left to protect the world. That is until Yatterman reappeared and created a new utopia for the survivors of the world; Yatter Metropolis. Outside of the Metropolis though is a young little girl named Leopard, a descendant of Doronjo, Yatterman's arch rival. However, Leopard, her caretakers, and her mother are really nice and generous people, but they've been exiled for their ancestor's actions against Yatterman. When Leopard's mom dies though at the hands of a dangerous disease, Leopard blames Yatterman for not allowing them to get medicine for her mother's very curable disease. So Leopard assumes the identity of Doronjo, her assistant embrace their ancestor's identity as Tonzra and Boyacky, and they proceed to go to Yatter Metropolis to avenge Leopard's mom's death.

I'm not going to lie, the first episode is one of the greatest anime episodes I've ever seen in my life. It gets the premise across, is tragic, has just enough humor to not always be dark, and the twists and turns the episode takes regarding Yatterman is brilliant and tear inducing. I teared up towards the end of the episode it was that good. And you know what, the following episodes were just as good. They weren't tear inducing, but ti was a refreshing spin on the Yatterman formula.

So what happened? Filler happened. For a show that only had 12 episodes, every episode from 4-9 were filler of the highest caliber. And not only that, they were terribly unfunny, uninteresting, and outright bad. It turned into a shore and punishment to watch at times. Watching really really bad pun laced comedy and very Japanese jokes fail to land is a fate I wish on no man, but Yatterman Night did that for over a month. Each week I prayed that we would return to the territory and emotional depth of the first episode, but it never came. It sort of came back in the last three episodes, but then... then the finale happened.

The finale to Yatterman Night is one of the worst finales I've ever seen in any form of entertainment. While the first half is good and provides closure for several of the characters, the second half is a mess. Animation is reused constantly, as in the same five second shot was reused FOUR TIMES in one fight scene, the animation was sloppy, characters just randomly appeared and reported around with no regard, it sloppily included footage from the opening badly, and dialogue was thrown around with no regard for the actual context of the final fight. It was a truly awful, ugly mess. It says a lot when that episode is by far the worst episode of the series. It was so bad that the production company came out and publicly apologized for the quality of the last episode. It ruined a series that had the potential to be something good.

Yatterman Night is not only just a bad show, but it's a bad show of new proportions. It's bad in a way that only true brilliance could make. It had the groundwork there and had several unbelievable episodes, but everything came tumbling down. It could never be rebuilt or salvaged. It just was a disaster that could have been something great.

Yuri Kuma Arashi
And finally, we have a show about lesbian bears.

...Yeah I don't really know what else to say about Yuri Kuma Arashi.

The biggest problem with Yuri Kuma Arashi is that a lot of people are going to judge the show as a fan service ridden, soft core porn by the end of the first episode. It doesn't do itself any favors. It tries to be incredibly symbolic and uses an artistic style to justify its heavy lesbian undertones, which some people may be turned away from. However, the first episode is not indicative of the overall show. As a matter of fact, Yuri Kuma is a beautiful, artistic, and funny show about the importance of love, friendship, and society as a whole.

Each episode is paced very slowly, but a lot of content is packed into each episode. The series revolves around the relationship between Kureha, a girl who hates bears, and two bears named Lulu and Ginko. Their interactions and the secret relationships and history is what keeps the series going. No matter what, the series revolves around love, and the emotional roller coaster that these characters go on in search of love and the perils of living their every day school life is interesting to view. Every character has their secrets, and bears are a plenty in this show.

If I'm being very hazy about the plot, it's because the show is purely defined by these characters and their relationships. There are bears, there are girls, and most of the bears want Kureha because she is one of the purest girls in the entire school, making her even more delicious to eat. The best praise I can give this show is the catch all phrase "In Ikuhara we trust." Kunihiko Ikuhara is an anime director that has made some of the best anime in the past decade, nearly all of which revolve around sexual identity and gay rights/ equality. All that you need to know about Ikuhara is that he has directed a majority of the episodes for Sailor Moon, and completely directed Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum. If you like Ikuhara, you'll love Yuri Kuma Arashi. If you want something weird, surreal, but pleasant and thought provoking, then I will always recommend Ikuahara to you. Yuri Kuma Arashi is a must see.


Yatterman Night unfortunately is the worst show of the season, undeniably. I had so much hope for the show based on its first episode, but it quickly lost my love and respect almost instantly. I had to debate whether or not Assassination Classroom or Parasyte is number 4, but I'm ultimately going to give it to Parasyte. Parasyte had a lot more good willing riding off of the previous season, and since Ass Class has another cour to go, I'm going to be generous and give Parasyte the higher spot as a good signing off point. Death Parade was also a tough one to rank, but it had enough great episodes the warrant a number three spot. So that leaves Yuri Kuma Arashi and Koufuku Graffiti  for the best show of the season. Both are great, both are smaller shows, and both have strong female characters. It essentially comes down to Ikuhara... or food porn. Ikuhara... or food porn. Though it's really close, I'm going to give Koufuku Graffiti my best anime of Winter 2015. It's so rare for me to enjoy a slice of life show that is simple, elegant, and beautiful to watch. The food shown in the show is to just die for! And while Yuri Kuma Arashi was just as close, I'm still a bit lost on some of the themes and elements that the show introduced and what some of its messages actually meant. It was a bit too confusing for a few too many moments for me to put it at number one. So there you have it; Koufuku Graffiti is the best anime of the season.



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