Thursday, July 7, 2011

Your Investment Portfolio: Spring 2011 Goldmines

If anime shows could smoke, these would be kickin' with Cubans.
(Astarotte's Toy, you'll find yours next to the Doublemint gum.)

Let's cut to the chase. It's a hard-knock life for anime shows. Unless you have a huge cult following like the powerhouse Shônen Jump machines or the untouchable Doraemon / Chibi-Maruko-chan / Crayon Shin-chan slice-of-life shows, you have the shelf life of a can of beer. It can last a few months with refrigeration and careful storage, but it will eventually skunk.

That's not to say that some shows can be the best of the skunky beers. Of the 30+ shows we reviewed this season, five clearly came out of the vat with the cleanest taste and thickest foam, rich enough to be bottled as a premium lager. After watching these shows, I felt satisfied from those that came to an end and thirsty for more from those that have not.

Get out your glasses, folks—these are your King of Beers*.

(*All apologies to Budweiser, but your beer sucks.)

Part 1: Spring's biggest gainers!
Part 2: Spring's biggest losers!
Part 3: Spring's incomplete deals!
Part 4: Spring's bankruptcies!
Part 5: Spring's best investments!

"You have gain."
This rating doesn't necessarily mean I have confidence in these shows being good or bad; it just means they've improved since the first episode.

"You have loss."
Again, some of the shows that have received this rating are not necessarily bad or going to get worse, but their initial scores just happened to be higher than they are now.

These shows are considered winners, even if they have lost some momentum since the first episode. Good chance they will continue to be good going into the next season(s).

The outlook for these shows do not appear as comforting as others, while those that have ended will likely not get a second thought.

"Open deal."
These shows haven't been seen enough for a decision to be made. Let's agree to deal with them later.

"You are bankrupt."
We've seen enough. These shows deserve to have their Midas Money stolen and their Financial District cards broken.

"You have control."
The best of the best. These shows have had me from Day 1 and will have me on Day 1 of the Summer 2011 season (if applicable).

Still airing on Crunchyroll
Original Rating: 22
Current Rating: 23
Best In Show (Multiple Season)
Best of Spring 2011

I wonder just how much we are underestimating Gintama here in the States. While Viz has pulled the plug on the manga's publication in the US, the franchise has quietly sold over 33 million volumes in Japan (as of December 2010). While the show is no One Piece in terms of popularity, it's hard not to deny the show's overall likability—a news outlet even hypothesized that Gintama was a major reason why wooden swords were selling well in Hokkaidô during the G8 Summit in 2008!

While I tend to agree that the artwork wasn't what sold Gintama' as the best of the season, I'd have to single out the humor that stems from the dialogue. Whoever is writing this material, whether it be Hiroaki Sorachi, the manga's creator, or the staff at Sunrise/TV Tokyo, they need a huge bonus. I can't remember the last time I've laughed so hard from the original untranslated dialogue of an anime show, and the translations (credited to Chris Pai) are some of the smoothest I've come across in ages.

Most of all, I was shocked to see the show transition from a comedy to a drama at the drop of a hat. Even Excel Saga, one of the leaders in gag anime comedies, had a tough time being serious for an episode, but Gintama' managed to shift gears from nonsense comedy to samurai drama splendidly. Perhaps a lot can be attributed to the characters—remove the comic reliefs from the straight-edged characters, and you get a solid arc of hard-boiled episodes.

Nichijô (My Ordinary Life)
Still airing on Crunchyroll
Original Rating: 17
Current Rating: 22
Most Potential (Tie)

"Things we think are cool! Nichijô!"

If there is a common element that has lifted the likes of My Ordinary Life from the rest of the season, it's the unique Japanese style of comic storytelling. I have a feeling that some anime production staffs assume that comedy has to be titillating to get a reaction from the audience; My Ordinary Life is content with making the comedy multi-dimensional.

Initially, I'm sure that many (myself included) assumed that the comedy would blossom from only the friendship between three cute schoolgirls. There certainly is plenty of that between the stern tsukkomi Mio and the "Queen of Baka" Yukko, but it's amazing to see how both were outdone by the stoic, silent comic stylings of their friend Mai. The give-and-take comedy between kid-prodigy(?) "Professor" and her robot creation Nano is gold, but throw in their talking cat, and you have even more material.

The biggest surprise was the confidence displayed by Kyoto Animation's work. This is Lucky Star taken to a fourth dimension, one where the point-of-view and time is toyed with until a funnier perspective is reached. This is Azumanga Daioh to the nth degree, where the absurdity of a principal giving a deer a German suplex is the new norm. Best of all, KyoAni knows that the freshness of the original manga needs to stay animated; between the main story's clips, the show provides animated shorts that are reintroduced every other episode, common enough to keep the bit funny without over-seasoning the dish.

Tiger & Bunny
Still airing on Viz Anime
Original Rating: 21
Current Rating: 22
Most Potential (Tie)

Hey, have you all been wondering what's been going on with Masakazu Katsura, the mangaka who redefined both the superhero genre and the panchira in seinen comics like DNA2 and Shadow Lady? While he has been taking his time with ZETMAN serializations in Young Jump, he obviously has not lost his creative juices, serving as the chief character designer for Tiger & Bunny. Perhaps that's why some of the characters seem so familiar (particularly the female ones—Dragon Kid reminds me of Video Girl Ai) and the sense of justice feels like it came from Batman.

While the story does have the sense of a Lethal Weapon, its tag-team of Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks Jr. unable to see eye-to-eye most of the time, I also get a great sense that this is a superhero version of Cowboy Bebop. The background art is pretty spectacular, and the computer-generated machinery surprisingly does not interfere with the regular animation. The structure of the story is placed well, episodic adventures building up the rivalries and teamwork, only for a serious villain and nefarious crime syndicate to disrupt the games.

The other evidence Tiger & Bunny could continue to do well next season? The plethora of original "Tiger X Bunny" artwork out there. Ladies, prepare your yaoi paddles.

Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san.
(You're Being Summoned, Azazel-san.)
Original Rating: 15
Current Rating: 18
Best In Show (Animated Short)

Azazel-san had me snagged from the first episode and held me in a headlock the entire way. I mean, who wouldn't love watching a show where gruesome demons from the other side of darkness turn into fuzzy Sanrio rejects once they are summoned to the human world?

While the animation isn't exactly five-star, it's the creativity when it comes to parody and jocularity makes the show a hoot to watch. The mockeries of Sazae-san, Comiket and...whatever series the pointy-haired school kid's supposed to be from in Episode 7...are solid, and the Disney-Demons are brilliantly inept at their crafts. Perhaps it's all this ridicule that makes the intentionally-bad animation good (Heta/uma? - Ed.)

In particular, this is a series where the lack of integrity is significantly noticeable, and that frees up so much clearance for the voice actors to drop all pretenses and act like immature brats. Hiroshi Kamiya's calming demeanor fits the savior-faire of the penguin-like Beelzebub, only to dissolve once he craves animal feces. Yû Kobayashi gets to display her talent for split-personalities as the mermaid Undine, but this particular role allows her to do so with a violently jealous streak. In the end, it's the lovable horndog Azazel (played by a jolly Masaya Onosaka) that steals the show, guaranteed to get a pitchfork to the head for being a sexual deviant.

Original Rating: 18
Current Rating: 21
Best In Show (Single Season)

I had been concerned that streaming services had been turning a deaf ear to the noitaminA titles being offered lately. While Crunchyroll did pick up the critically-acclaimed Wandering Son last season, Funimation took its time before it pounced on the inferior Fractale. This season, while Funimation was content with [C] - Control, no one budged on AnoHana. It was the first time since streaming started overseas that a noitaminA title was left in the cold.

Funimation, Crunchyroll, Anime Network—you guys seriously dropped the ball.

While there may not be much to the bottom line of the story—a group of childhood friends helping their childhood friend pass on after death—the execution of the story turned a coloring book into a Picasso. The staff behind the straight-to-animation project have a terrific twosome, as director Tatsuyuki Nagai (Honey & Clover II) was reunited with his scriptwriter, Mari Okada (GOSICK). While it's usually the animation studio (A-1 Pictures, who are hardly a slouch themselves) or voice actors that get the credit, Nagai and Okada are an exceptional team when it comes to depicting raw emotion, having composed the tearjerking comedy Toradora! in 2008.

With the script and plot in capable hands, the story produced more tears than an onion field, and the characters, although hardly original on their own, were some aggressive studies in regression. The death of one child cause the other five to build walls around them, both figuratively and literally, forcing all six to wallow in the past. The last episode of AnoHana is one that will likely stick in the back of your mind like the last episode of Toradora! and produce a lump in your throat that may never disappear.

Best of Spring 2011
  1. Gintama'
  2. My Ordinary Life / Tiger & Bunny
  3. AnoHana
  4. Steins;Gate
  5. Blue Exorcist
  6. [C] - Control
  7. Hanasaku Iroha
  8. Deadman Wonderland
  9. Azazel-san
  10. Kaiji Season 2
Worst of Spring 2011
  1. The Qwaser of Stigmata II
  2. Health & Phys Ed for 30-Year-Olds
  3. We, Without Wings
  4. Bridge to the Starry Skies
  5. Dog Days
  6. Aria the Scarlet Ammo
  7. Battle Girls: Time Paradox
  8. Astarotte's Toy!
  9. Hen Zemi
  10. A-Channel
One final note: isn't it amazing that every show in the "Worst of Spring 2011" list is a one-season show? Am I the only one impressed by that? No?

No comments:

Post a Comment