There were quite a few anime that stood out to me last year, which gave me much enjoyment and entertainment, plus impressive production values, but I’m too lazy to go look them all up again and compile them into some kind of a retrospective Top 10 of 2011 list kind of thing. So I’ll let those other bloggers and such do all that troublesome work and I’ll just satisfy myself with looking at their results and seeing whether I agree with their choices or not. Or maybe I won’t even do that at all. It’s too much of a hassle–I’d rather watch more cartoons.
Anyway, if I were to be asked to name a particularly strong entry, off the top of my head, I’d have to pick out Production IG’s Yondemasuyo Azazel-san (either the OVA series or the TV one, both are equally enjoyable), directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, as a top contender. It’s actually a patently hilarious show, filled with crass toilet humor as it was. What’s even better, and more important, was it stayed consistently off-the-wall funny, and never did show a sign of flagging with its powerful drive and energy. Its rather short episode running time–each episode ran for 13 minutes–probably helped the series maintain that unrelenting momentum it had, all throughout its run (13 eps for the TV, 3 for the OVA). The same thing worked to the benefit of other comedy anime with similar running times, such as AIC’s Sunred and Studio 4C’s Detroit Metal City. Comedy anime seems to work more effectively as comparably shorter series, it ensures the comedic energy doesn’t fade as the thing progresses, and the sharper bursts make the material more potent. And even its admittedly crude content didn’t put me off at all–hell, it was the main driving force behind the series’ hilarity. Visually, the series was hyper-kinetic, always active, always zipping and zinging, always loud and rude, and it enhanced the strength of the material, rendering the anime on the whole as rather unforgettable. There’s almost always something to laugh at on screen, or barring that, things worthy of at least a little snort. Damn funny show, it was.
So, with the new year comes the new anime season, the winter one. I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I seem to find that winter seasons are a bit slow and sparse, so there’s not a lot of good stuff on display there. Which is fine and dandy with me, since I’ve got a lot of backlog to plow through, and sluggish seasons are a godsend to a lazybones like me. But still, be that as it may, I was able to check out a few first episodes of newer TV anime here and there, just a cursory check to see which ones I should be able to follow week after week (and maybe even finish). I should at least be able to pick one strong show out of the lot.
With that, I sampled that new show Something-or-other-Symphogear, produced by a studio I haven’t heard of before, Encourage Films (with production assistance by Satelight, apparently). There are some anime I watch without knowing exactly why I’m watching them, and this one fits that bill. Off the bat, I knew it was going to be a show I wouldn’t bother keeping up with or even caring about, but I found myself wading through all 24 minutes of episode 1, regardless. It was standard-fare action, with a pretty conventional setup and ordinary production values–though there are some nice bits of action here and there. But it wasn’t as explosive as you might expect from a first episode. The show itself was a commonplace affair, nothing that stuck out, nothing eye-popping, so I dont’ have much to say about it. Except that it’s not a bad way to kill time. I could expect maybe one or two stand-out episodes, but that’s about all I got for it.
I was rather impressed by that (other) Satelight show, Moretsu Pirates, though. I guess that’s what credible directors can do for a show, no matter the material. If the guy on the director’s chair knows what he’s doing, then he can make anything enjoyable–which was what Moretsu episode 1 was, to me. Tatsuo Sato is a name I pretty much only heard from Nadesico and Cat Soup (for which Masaaki Yuasa did majority of the work, anyway), but he did an impressive job on his latest show. For a pretty lackadaisical and quite standardized action-comedy show, it hit the right spots in terms of pace, content, and presentation. Episode 1 laid out all its cards on the table competently within 24 minutes, making sure to get the right flow, and not cramming in the contents nor omitting too much. It’s also not very high-strung and crazy, which worked to its advantage–in fact, its tone came off as being simple and reserved, not busying itself with whacking you over the head with loud and inane and annoying anime antics. I could see myself watching this show on a weekly basis, no sweat.
There’s also that new JC Staff show (out of how many? I have no idea) called Ano Natsu de Matteiru, directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, who was last active as director of A1 Pictures’ AnoHana last year. In this show he reunites with Masayoshi Tanaka, who also drew up the designs for the prior show, and I think his designs are part of why I watched this new show to begin with. Series composition is handled by a different person this time around, though–instead of Mari Okada, it’s now in the hands of Yosuke Kuroda, who’s got a veritable wealth of experience in the field. Last year’s AnoHana was supposed to be a drama series, and it did succeed at first, but sure enough, as it went on, it slowly slid into sappy melodrama territory, until it almost became an over-dramatic mess at the end. It even became a comedy at times (crossdressing ep, anyone?). That show overshot its mark, badly. By a long shot. But with this change in the writing department, I’m hoping things would be much more different this time.
Ah, right, episode 1. It was actually a solid watch, with a steady pace, an easygoing rhythm, and nice visuals that’s even blended with little and short dashes of instrumentation and creativity. The story is told tightly, revealing the basic elements behind the narrative while withholding just enough to prevent it from growing boring. What remains to be seen now is how the tone of the show develops over time, whether it remains light and smooth, or if it increasingly grows more dramatic and emotional as the weeks go by. Though I don’t think the latter scenario is going to be that likely. I’ll run through the anime, as shows like this should have a few standout episodes here and there.
Now we go to the last one of the week, Tsutomu Mizushima’s new show under PA Works, Another. Mizushima’s been a bit busy these past few months, having just come off directing Production IG’s Blood-C (aside from Azazel, of course), a series for which they’ve even greenlighted a movie production (which I bet has Mizushima onboard as director again). All along I’d been thinking that somehow Ryosuke Nakamura (Mouryou no Hako) was going to direct this PA Works show for his new project, but turns out I was dead wrong. I was told months ago that Nakamura was in the middle of producing a movie (good for him), so expectations were dashed right then. Too bad, the show seems to be a perfect fit for the guy–mystery suspense thrillers with a dash of horror. And I couldn’t help but think that Another ep 1 would have turned out to be a much better watch under Nakamura’s skilled precision than with Mizushima’s own style.
I’m not taking away anything from Tsutomu Mizushima, though, no. He’s proven to be a highly capable director who knows what it is he wants to do with his anime, and has enough sense to mold his production to the style and skill set of his animators (when he gets the big-time ones) to strengthen the whole thing, but I think he’s somehow overextended himself with Another ep 1. In trying to establish a definite gloomy mood and a disconcertingly dark atmosphere in his episode, the resulting product ended up coming off as a rather heavy-handed episode, and incredibly obvious in its attempt to create the intended effect that it just passes through me. It didn’t feel natural at all, unlike Mizushima’s comedic efforts. The mood and the aura and the atmosphere were definitely there, no problem, but when there’s nothing else propelling the anime, such as an interesting script or competent direction, then the whole thing would end up boring, insubstantial, and lacking in lasting pull. Perhaps a sharper focus on atmosphere was Mizushima’s point all along, but I couldn’t help but feel that he missed the mark on this one. It almost felt like something latter-day Mamoru Oshii might direct, especially when the creepy dolls came on the screen. Just without the basset hound.
It also didn’t help that the designs were glaringly contrasting with the nature of the show, at least in my personal opinion. Not knocking on Noizi Ito here, I know she’s a good illustrator and designer and all, but the characters in Another feel like they should belong more on other high school comedy anime somewhere instead of a straight-up, no-nonsense, serious suspense show. In my view,the people in Another look and feel misplaced in the series that they’re in. You might say the same thing with Ryu Fujisaki’s original designs for Shiki, but both of these anime have markedly different approaches to mood that I couldn’t compare them. Shiki wasn’t as heavy in its seriousness as Another, and it even allowed a little room for some levity in places, although I’m not sure whether they were intentional or not. This sticky contrast between the character designs in Another and the atmosphere it’s trying to establish makes it difficult for me to immerse myself in the show.
Hell, CLAMP themselves drew up the character designs for Mouryou no Hako, but the show managed to pull off establishing a clear-cut mysterious and suspenseful feeling to it despite that fact. That was mostly because the people in that show were distantly removed from the traditional latter-day CLAMP aesthetic, wherein they drew people with extremely long limbs or what people jokingly dubbed “noodle people”, and instead they made their Mouryou designs as closer to reality, I suppose, in perhaps a throwback to their older, circa-1990s, style. Of course, Ryosuke Nakamura’s excellent directing had more than a hand in crafting a masterful anime out of those designs, but I don’t think CLAMP’s role in that show is negligible–no, not in the least. It showed how helpful good character designs are in effectively establishing the basic approach an anime may have, maybe in terms of visual style or tone.
There are a whole lot more TV anime airing right now, for sure, but I don’t think I’ll check them out, as they’re the type of series I know I wouldn’t enjoy judging from the synopses and images alone, no matter how I try. It’s the job of the other anime bloggers out there (god knows there’s a hell of a lot of ’em) to talk (or complain) about them, or to discuss them on Twitter. And hey, winter season is backlog season for a reason.
Ah, it rhymed.
Addendum, because I don’t feel like putting this in another post: There’s also that new Shaft show, Nisemonogatari, the follow-up to their 2009 series Bakemonogatari, but I don’t think I’m going to watch it, partly because I dropped Bake after the third episode, and also because I think this new show wasn’t going to stray too far from the mold established by its predecessor. The first episode of Bakemonogatari was quirky, employed a lot of punch and personality to its stylistic approach, and was generally interesting, but as that series went on, I felt that these deft manipulations slowly turned into mere visual posturing, with the imagery lacking the impact used to have behind them, merely coming off as artistry just for the hell of it. I don’t know why it struck a nerve with me, but it did. So I’m not going to bother with Nisemonogatari, lest I feel the same kind of dejection I felt with Bake.