Thursday, October 1, 2015

Best Summer Anime of 2015

Summer has left us again, but at least we had an incredible season!

Wow. That's really all I can say about the past three months worth of shows. Nearly all of them have been a joy to watch, and even the shows I had issues with were still better than average. Traditionally the summer season has been pretty weak with only a few decent titles on offer, but that is 100% not the case this time. I've had the pleasure to watch some classics in the making, and see some shows that I know are probably going to get a second season eventually and continue to entertain me.

Before I even begin talking about this season, just let me say that yes, the Spring Review is still coming, but because Kekkai Sensen has its finale scheduled for this weekend, it makes more sense for me to plow through all of my summer shows now than wait around and take care of two season recaps at the same time. Now we can at least see shows that immediately fresh and if any of them strike you, then you can easily watch them all now on Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, or whatever.

But yeah! We were talking about the summer season. Better just dive right into it then! Here are the six shows that I've watched and my overall thoughts on all of them.

Charlotte was a weird ride to say the least. As one of the most anticipated shows of the season, I decided to watch it to get some teenage drama with some slice of life comedy thrown in. What I instead got was a jumbled mess of a show, but not a bad one. Just a really, really, really, confused show.

The show revolves around Yu Otosaka, a teenager that has the ability to trade bodies with other people. However, he abuses his powers until he meets a group of ability users that search for other users to protect them. See, ability users are manipulated and used by adults (only teenagers can get powers) for various means, so the student council that Yu comes across try to protect ability wielders from being abused and mistreated. However, that's only scraping the surface of this whole plot, because things get weird by the halfway point of the series. Not bad, but weird.

The biggest problem going against Charlotte is that its tone and characters were all over the place. One episode features the characters playing baseball, but then it quickly goes into a deep psychological meltdown, only to become a romance, then gets all sci-fi with time travel before becoming involved with crime syndicates, ending with pretty much the show doing its best Jesus impersonation. It tries to do everything and weave it all together, and while parts of it work, it just becomes too much for the average viewer. If it focused on one of these story routes to go on, then the show would have been fine and could have told a singular, great story. As it is, it's just barely holding together.

The best thing about this show though is it's main character. No matter what the show throws at us, Yu is still an interesting character to watch. He's always teetering on the edge of being an anti-hero, or an out-right villain in some cases. He's great to watch, if only because he has so many shades of Lelouch from Code Geass in him, and you can never have enough Lelouch in your life.

So Charlotte may have been a confusing experience to sit through, but at least it had some charm and personality to it.

Now if you wanted a really confusing ride, look no further than GANGSTA., a series that asked the question "How many characters, plot threads, and elements can we throw at the viewer before they give up?" If Charlotte was a misguided, but still fulfilling mess, GANGSTA. is the genuine article. It showed so much promise in the beginning before spiraling out of control and crashing into the ground. It was almost magical to watch to be perfectly honest, but a bad show is still a bad show.

GANGSTA. revolved around the Handymen, a pair of contracted killers that work for mob syndicates, the police, little old ladies, and anyone else who needed their special set of skills. The Handymen consist of Nic, a deaf "Tag" that has superhuman endurance and strength, and Worick, a smooth talking gigolo with a photographic memory. They eventually rescue a new member named Alex, a prostitute with deep psychological scars, and their jobs eventually lead to a massive gang war between the four families that run the city.

The thing that drew me to GANGSTA. instantly was its visual style. It took a lot of inspiration from classic 1920's crime dramas, and it shows. It doesn't look like any other anime this season and the designs were always were impressive. Unfortunately, everything was doused in greys, browns, and blacks, making it boring to watch. Nothing popped and nothing looked pretty with the exception of the designs.

We also got well over two dozen characters in this series, all of whom made little to no impression outside of our main three heroes. We had Nic, Worick, and Alex, but we also had the heads of the four families, their underlings, various other hunters that exist in the city, new villains that appeared halfway through, some love interests, characters in flashbacks, and even dead characters felt like making an appearance. By the last episode, there were so many characters that we usually spent a minute checking in on each of them and not on our main heroes, or even the main plot for that matter.

And that is the biggest failing of this series; nothing happens. By the last episode, the very last episode, it ends on the worst possible cliffhanger I've ever seen. A war is breaking out, "interesting" character developments happen, and some characters are just milling about doing nothing... and then it ends. No big bang. No villain defeated. No major revelations. Hell, there probably wasn't even a major death in the final episode. It squirted out a finale and never had the balls to do anything. It stayed faithful to the source material in 12 episodes, yet did nothing with it. It happened, it ended, and with no sequel in sight, the series is incomplete with no signs of finishing. What a waste.

There were decent parts of the show though that gave me hope. Nic is a very interesting character and is one of the few proper depictions of a disability in anime. We see him perform sign language and his handicap is never the butt of any jokes. Not only that, but Alex also has a very well done subplot about her withdrawal from prostitution and the psychological scars it caused her. It's all very well done and beautifully executed, but I just wish it could have been done in a show that was much better and more competent than GANGSTA. Just a waste of time.

Gatchaman Crowds: Insight
I never got a chance to talk about the original Gatchaman Crowds, a revival of the seminal Tatsunoko series, so I might as well make my feelings on that series clear before I dissect its sequel. Gatchaman Crowds was a superhero show without superheroes. Make of that what you will, but personally, I enjoyed it. There was a lot of thought provoking discussions in it, and while some of them didn't necessarily work, the over arching themes did. I liked the action when it was there as well as the characters, but if someone said they didn't like the show, I could easily see why. Insight is more of the same, but hot damn does it improve upon the social and political philosophizing that the series is now known for.

Picking up after the original, we now follow the Gatchaman as socially accepted heroes. People like them, they help out Japan, and have to deal with the occasional attacks by the revolutionary group VAPE, who seek to remove the Crowds program from Japanese society (long story short, watch the original). However, an alien named Gelsadra arrives on Earth to study humans and to try and unite everyone in a common cause for world peace. At the same time, a new Gatchaman, Tsubasa, is selected shortly after Gelsadra arrives, leading to a brand new status-quo for the Gatchaman as they try to stop VAPE and continue for world peace.

Gatchaman Crowds: Insight is incredibly complex and makes you aware of it in the very first episode. There is an episode 0, but it's more of an action primer that has you quickly get reintroduced to the Gatchaman and see their new status quo. There is hardly any action in this series as well, with instead a lot more time spent on seeing how the events of the series shape the world. The biggest element of this series is talking about large social issues, how the atmosphere can affect personal decisions, and a savage deconstruction of mob mentality and conformity. In essence, this is the antithesis of the ideals displayed in the first season.

I loved this season, though mostly because of how frustrated I got watching it. The villains were never clear and sometimes just watching an episode was frightening enough. The conformity present in the show is abundantly clear, and its certainly unnerving once the Kuu-sama appear. By the end, I wanted a third season immediately, but it may be a while before that ever happens. Still, this is a show that you need to watch to understand how good it is and to see why a simple text synopsis cannot do this series justice. Just go watch this show, make your own conclusions, and see what people SHOULD be talking about.

Everyday Life With Monster Girls
Imagine a harem anime, but instead of women, the protagonist had monsters that wanted to fall in love with him. Now also imagine that he has zero sexual interest in them and that he's more or less a foster parent for them. Now add in to the equation that most of these girls have the ability to casual kill him due to their monster-like abilities. In a nutshell, Monster Musume is a show where the main character is put into several near death experiences by girls that are trying so hard to love him that they're murdering him.

Normally harem anime are a big no no for me, but I decided to give Monster Musume a chance based solely on its visuals and premise alone. I like monsters. I like comedy. I like pretty visuals. So why not give it a try? What I got was one of the most energetic, eccentric, insane, and downright hilarious comedies I've seen all year. This show straddles the line between good taste so much that I'm surprised nothing in this show was censored. To accurately describe how over the top this show goes is nearly impossible. The main character is nearly drowned by one of the girl's breasts. There is a scene where three seperarate monster girls are receiving simultaneous orgasms in a giant monster fight. There is a character who is fascinated by bondage to the point where she will enslave anyone for her sexual pleasures, only for her voctims to unsurprisingly be reaaaaaaaaallllllllllly turned on by bondage. I swear to God, the shit this show gets away with should be illegal.

So why am I okay with this show? Because it knows that its over-the-top. Most harem anime exists only to titillate the audience and damn anything else. It's sole goal is to be as shameless as possible, but there's no meat to it. It's not porn, but it's trying to be, but it has limits, so you're just left kinda in a lukewarm zone where you're watching something that should be arousing, but isn't because you know it's trying too hard. Monster Musume goes WAY beyond the realm of good taste to be sexy, but the kicker is that each sexual advance nearly kills our main protagonist. The opening scene of the very first episode involves him trying to escape from Miia, a lamia that is crushing him to death by cuddling with him. It should be sexy, but because we know the protagonist is almost killed because of it, it becomes funny. But it becomes sexy again because in his effort to escape, Miia is attracted to his escape. So it's a perfect balance of humor watching the main protagonist run away while dying, but sexy because of the various girl's reactions.

All six of the monster girls that live with him each have a unique personality that makes all of them a joy to watch. Miia has an inferiority complex, thinking all of the girls are trying to take him away from her, Papi the harpy is an birdbrain, Centorea the centaur is strict about honor but is very easily flustered, Suu the slime has a childlike innocence, Mero the mermaid who is fascinated with death being romantic, and Rachnera the spider with the aforementioned bondage fetish and being the most responsible of the group. They're all a joy to watch and every episode elicits laughs, groans, and me just thankful that such a series can exist.

If you're in the mood for one of the most insane comedies of the year, you can't go wrong with Monster Musume. 

Let it never be said that a genre in anime can get tiresome. I've heard a lot of people bash Overlord this season as being another anime set in an MMO like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, but I don't necessarily think that's fair. Each show is entitled to have its own creative liberties, tone, style, and themes. Just because it's in an overpopulated genre does not instantly mark a demerit against it. In fact, I would even say that Overlord was a breath of fresh air for the genre, if only for a few brief episodes.

The show revolves around a man who we only know as Momonga. He was a player in an incredibly popular MMORPG, but on the last day before the servers shut down, he decides to stay logged on after the servers turned off. He actually becomes Momonga, who is one of the most powerful and evil characters of his guild. Not only that, but the NPCs that served his guild also come to life and serve Momonga now that he is the last guild member there. With a faithful army, overpowered skills, and pretty much God, he decides to do the one thing anyone in the position would do; TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!

I love a good villain story, and Overlord delivered on most fronts. The characters were entertaining, deliciously evil, and touted some awesome fighting powers. Whenever there was a battle, I could guarantee that Overlord would deliver and not only show how overpowered our cast was, but show how good it was to be so bad. It might be a bit corny on the surface by heavily making weird references to the fact that they're in a game, like mentioning opponent's HP and MP, but they were few and far between enough so that I didn't mind it.

What I did mind though is how slow the series progressed. It wasn't as slow as GANGSTA. and it actually had an ending to a first arc, but the show was in no rush to get there. I decided to binge this show after episode 4 mostly because it got lost in the shuffle of everyday life. When I decided to actually dedicate my time to watching it, I couldn't fathom watching a new episode each week. For one arc, which lasted from around episode 5 to 9, barely anything happened except for a singular quest, and even then the quest itself wasn't terribly interesting. It only got interesting at the end when things turned from bad to worse, but even then I wasn't that immersed. I knew that Momonga and his servants would win because they were just so powerful, so no conflict was interesting to me. When the villain of the arc summoned an undead army, I wasn't even phased because Momonga just decimated the forces without batting an eye. That's the problem with having a character that's too powerful. If your character is too strong, the author needs to find some way of making the character struggle and overcome adversity beyond the traditional methods. Overcoming a psychological problem, moral and ethical dilemmas, just something to keep the viewer invested.

Still, I can't deny that watching Momonga and crew being badasses wasn't enjoyable. It wasn't a great action show, and it certainly wasn't a great drama, but there's nothing wrong with showing viewers how awesome and cool the main character is.

Rokka no Yuusha: Braves of the Six Flowers
As probably the most publicized show this season, Rokka had a lot going in to it. It was a mystery series that combined action, drama, romance, and promised an experience unlike any other this season. Indeed, it's been years since I've seen a good mystery told in anime, or even at all, so I was more than willing to give Rokka a try. Your enjoyment of the show will immediately depend on your answer to one simple question: How long can you stretch a mystery out for?

Rokka no Yuusha is set in a world where the land is under the constant threat of the Demon God. The Demon God is revived once ever couple of centuries, and sets out to destroy the human world. He has never truly been defeated though, only sealed away. He is always sealed away by the Six Braves, six warriors chosen by the Goddess to defeat the Demon God. This time, when the Demon God is revived, instead of six Braves being chosen, there are seven chosen. The catch is that one of these Braves is a fake working to revive the Demon God and kill the other Braves. So who's the fake?

Right off the bat, the premise is great. It has elements of The Thing incorporated in it and I love the general concept of not knowing who you can trust when you have to trust your life to someone. It's always a great premise, but Rokka has some issues implementing it.

The best way to really analyze this show and see where its strengths and weaknesses lie is by examining the plot and the structure of the series. I'm not going to give any major spoilers here, but I am going to heavily discuss the pacing, structure, and length of the show in relation to its mystery. You have been warned.

So being only a 12 episode series with 7 main characters, you expect the show to jump right into the mystery. Well, not exactly. The first episode is dedicated to introducing and learning about our main character, Adlet the Strongmeyer, the self proclaimed "Strongest Man in the World". After that, for the next three episodes, the characters are still meeting each other and coming together. It's only at the end of the fourth episode that all seven meet and question which one is the fake. Episode 5 is a discussion about who the fake is, and 6-10 are dedicated to hunting who the group believes is the fake while slowly unraveling the mystery behind the fake and how what they're plan is. Inside all of this we're listening to flashbacks for the majority of the characters and hearing their opinions on one another. Episode 11 is revealing the fake's plan, while the last episode is finally revealing the fake and their motivation. The series loves to draw out its mystery for every cent, and while it is a good mystery, it spreads itself too thin. Too little happens between episode 2-4 and 6-10. In truth, all you really need to do is watch episode 1, 5, 11, and 12 for the series to outright explain its mystery to you. A good series would have spread the mystery more evenly throughout its run.

And yet, I still watched every episode the day it aired. I loved trying to figure out who the fake was and seeing these character fight, bicker, and bond with each other. It was a very enjoyable ride, structure be damned. I do wish though that the series had a bit more to do with one or two characters. The series really focuses on two, maybe three characters and the main characters, leaving the other four in the dust. As a proper mystery, Rokka should have developed all seven equally instead of spending so much time to prove the innocence of the main characters that the series establishes early on that there is no humanly possible way for them to be the villain.

It may seem like I'm coming down hard against Rokka, but I'm honestly not. I loved watching this show and I loved seeing a good action-mystery anime series. We don't get many of those, let alone one that has a 100% Aztec aesthetic. It was incredibly popular here in the States, so you should definitely give it a watch once your expectations have been properly checked.


There's no doubt that GANGSTA. was the worst show of the season. Incomplete and ineffective, it just disappointed me no matter what it did. It had promise, but it just couldn't hold it together. Looking back though, it kind of makes sense of much of a mess this show was, seeing as its production company Monglobe has filed for bankruptcy after GANGSTA.'s finale aired. It's a shame. Charlotte fared better than GANGSTA. out of the sheer merit that I could follow it. It was a mess, but a comprehensible mess.

As for the rest, it was tough saying which show was better than each other, but it really came down to a fight between Gatchaman Crowds: Insight and it's deep sociological philosophy, or monsters orgasming in Monster MusumeOverlord was good, but it didn't necessarily captivate me in terms of plot, and Rokka no Yuusha, while better than Overlord, just didn't strike me the same way that these two shows did. Both are great, but if you have to twist my arm, I would say that yes, Monster Musume was the best show of the season. It had humor, great animation, a great OP and ED, and just made me laugh my ass off every week. Insight was a brilliant anime, but there's just no getting over the power of laughter.



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