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Monday, July 11, 2011

My Initial Take on the Summer 2011 Anime Season:

Going in to the summer anime season, I already had a sense of dread and foreboding that the entire season was going to be a wasteland. After watching the first episode of many of the series on offer, that foreboding has been largely verified.

This isn't to say the summer anime season doesn't have a lot to offer. The summer season has a lot of sequel seasons of previous good series (Baka to Test, Nurarihyon no Mago) and carry-over series from the spring (Steins;Gate, Nichijou, Hanasaku Iroha, etc). It's the new intellectual properties I'm worried about. For the vast majority, there is nothing new or intellectual about them.

For starters, what's with this trope about reluctant heroes? If you don't want to be a hero, then don't be one. Do you think it's cool to not want to help others and to not care about the world? It isn't cool. It's awful. And for people with power, there are no excuses for being 'reluctant' to use it to help others. While you're sitting around being reluctant, people are dying left and right. Lelouche wasn't a reluctant hero, the moment he gained power he used it to conquer the world -- nor was Nanoha. The moment she gained power she became an interstellar military agent, helping catch criminals and save children from disasters and keep the peace across the universe. Reluctant heroes are despicable. Don't make them the main characters of your series. Please!

For this reason, we can immediately throw out Sacred Seven. It can't be a good series because the main character is an annoying, stand-offish, reluctant hero rather than someone you could actually admire and care about as the series progresses. I'm sure he has his reasons, he doesn't want to go berserk, he had a tough past, blah blah. I don't care. I want heroes to be heroes, or I don't have the time or the patience to worry about them. Luffy, Naruto, Recca, Kenshin, all of them had tough pasts too, but they all accepted the role of hero and tried to help others with their power anyway. Goku also went berserk, killing his own grandfather, but that didn't stop him from following the path of a warrior and a hero afterwards.

Another annoying reluctant hero is featured in Kamisama Dolls. For some strange reason the heir to a family of robot beastmasters has decided to quit his job and go live a normal life. Only, the job still must be done, presumably with someone with the same select magic lineage that allows you to control robo-beasts, and so the role just falls to his younger sister, who is much weaker and just a tiny girl, a child, a girl, and he leaves it all to her. So she's sent on a dangerous mission to track down and defeat a dangerous robo-beastmaster criminal and is instantly, by all rights, killed right in front of our reluctant hero, who refuses to come to her aid or take over the fight for her. The only reason she lived as the criminal took mercy on her. However, her own older brother didn't take any mercy on her, because he refused to fight in her stead. He left this burden to her, and this inevitable death to her, to a dangerous mission like this or some other dangerous mission she would have to do later. Because of his irresponsibility this innocent is going to die, and he has the nerve to get angry at the criminal, when he's the worst criminal of all.

After all, the criminal at least is killing strangers, but this callous 'hero' is willing to kill his own sister just to avoid his responsibility as a person with unique powers. Leaving someone to die in your place and killing them yourself is the exact same. It's the same damn thing. Suppose you were a soldier in an army, and you were ordered to take a hill, but instead you desert. So another soldier is ordered to take the hill instead of you, and he dies in the battle. Who killed that soldier? The officer? The enemy? No. The deserter. It was your fault for making him do the task you were supposed to do. He died because you ran away. Armies understand the gravity of desertion, that's why the penalty for deserting is normally death. Desertion = murder of your comrades. It cannot be forgiven or permitted. His desertion from his post was even worse, though, because it meant the murder of a helpless, fragile, young girl, his own little sister. There are limits to selfishness. Reluctant heroes are moral garbage.

Idolmaster has lots of cute girls, who seem to have genuine, winsome personalities, but I can't believe such a story can be deep or plot-filled either. A producer is trying to get 13 different amateur idols successful careers by training them to be ever-cuter girls for the public. A great way to feature lots of cute girls centered around a single guy -- but is it a great way to have a plot or a romance? I don't think so. With so many girls, can we really start caring about any of them, with so little screen time devoted to each of them? I doubt that, too.

Blood-C has an annoyingly ugly art style. I also dislike the idea that the same girl who's a master warrior is so clumsy she's always late to school and falling over every five steps. It's annoying. There are too many annoying aspects to this story. Like why the father is making his daughter fight instead of doing it himself. I would at least like an explanation for that. The series isn't totally awful though. The main character has a bright personality, I like when she sang on her way to school, and how she defended her father when others criticized him for being too strict with her. That was really nice. This series might have hope, but then again, the series only has one character really. Can one character carry an entire series on her shoulders? I doubt that, too.

Mayo Chiki and R-15 are just excuses to be ecchi, show off girls, talk about sex, etc. There's nothing to see here.

Mawaru Penguindrum makes no sense. I also dislike that this penguin lord imposed a contract on these two brothers without their ever having even agreed to it. That's ridiculous. How can a story be about a faustian bargain without autonomy, agency, in the bargain? The art style is all artsy, modern art nonsense, too, which is always a bad sign. I guess the only good thing I can say about the series is that it has a healthy appreciation for how good, how happy, daily life, just living, is, and how unfair it is for a young person to die. I also admit that I'm really curious as to what happens next, but that's more because the story is cleverly crafted with psychology in mind, not because the story is actually any good and deserving of my attention.

Kamisama no Memou-chou features another reluctant hero. The actual hero, a real hero, is the NEET detective who goes around saving lives and righting wrongs. She makes a wonderful speech in the first episode, about how a child dies every 3.62 seconds due to poverty, and that child's death was her fault, because she wasn't strong enough to prevent it. Then she said that there were only two things you could do for a dead person, be a writer or a detective. A writer could preserve a dead person's dreams, and a detective could preserve their honor, by making sure justice was done to whoever hurt them. It showed a serious sense of a girl who had worked out her entire life philosophy and chosen a straight course that would abide by it. She sounded smart, moral, and determined. Very clean. Pure. Heroes like that are amazing. I don't like that they randomly add in cute aspects to her character, which smart girls really don't have -- they're too self-composed to act cute, or if they are acting cute, it's with cynical full knowledge that they're doing so, which is the exact opposite of cute. Actual intelligent girls are like Haruhi Suzumiya or Nagato Yuki. One is always in control of everything, and the other is always in control of herself. Neither falls into random relapses of I'm a cute little girl eeek please hug me I'm about to cry blah blah.

And this NEET detective is the best character in the series. All the others are just straight-out unforgivably annoying. No one acts like that in real life. They're all way too over the top, and in combination with this reluctant hero guy who lets himself get dragged around by others but never genuinely wants to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do -- absolutely annoying. I might continue watching it for the main character girl, but that's asking a lot of patience from me.

Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angel is a parody that makes fun of other magical girl series. Unfortunately I won't forgive them for making fun of something I love. Magical Girls are serious business. Nanoha, Pretty Cure, Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, and the feelings of the characters in those series shouldn't be mocked. They are sacred feelings that drive any normal person to tears, they're so heartfelt and earnest. The heroism of magical girls, the sacrifice, the friendship, the determination and their clear view of right from wrong, shouldn't be mocked or parodied by anyone. It's like mocking Jesus. Some things are just sacred. Having fun with some elements of Magical Girls, like Momo did from Xenosaga (also a deadly serious girl who was a true hero), or Magical Girl Kyoko from To Love Ru, is fine. But seriously making fun of magical girls AS SUCH is inexcusable. It's like mocking vestal virgins as such. Magical Girls, after all, are the most ideal girls we can possibly imagine. That's their role. That's why we watch them. They're our closest concept of perfection.

No. 6 is another disappointment. The series has one of the most ridiculous, overdone plots ever -- 'Soylent Green is people!' Supposedly, an ideal society, a technotopia full of high IQ elites and clean streets with nice computers and homes, requires the oppression and slaughter of non-elites in order to function. No, I'm sorry. This is bullshit. All elites have ever wanted is to be left alone. They can create a happy society on their own. They don't need anyone else. We don't need your labor, your body parts, your brains, or anything else. The point is that non-elites are worthless to elites and all we ever want to do is get away from them and never see them again. Until story tellers are willing to tell the un-PC truth that is written in Atlas Shrugged, that elites create everything in this world, that non-elites are just parasites who feed off of them, and that the best thing that could ever happen to elites is if they simply got away from non-elites, to some secret place where they were left alone and could live exclusively with each other, like in Atlas Shrugged, they will never make a worthwhile sci fi.

I'm sure there's some tortured logic, like there was in Matrix, why a superior group requires the presence of their inferiors. "Humans are batteries!" But it's unbelievable because it has no relation to real world politics. In the real world, elites have no use for non-elites and wish they would all just drop dead tomorrow. Then they could be free of their parasites forever. They live in fear of non-elite crime and bullying, they have to pay massive taxes to support the non-elites who can't support themselves, and then they aren't even given the respect they deserve and instead are cast as villains in stories like No. 6. It gets tiresome. It gets really tiresome. The only villains in this world are the parasites, the bottom feeders, the sub-humans who have massively overpopulated what should have been an eden for the top 1%. Among the top 1%, there's no such thing as crime, divorce, child abuse, drugs, alcohol, cheating, unemployment, poverty, disease, drunk driving -- etc. These are all problems caused by losers who can't get their acts together, who are themselves ugly and make everything else they touch or live around ugly too. If only they didn't exist, the world would already be perfect. We'd already be living in heaven, a flawless world, without them mucking it up. The joke that it could be the fault of elites that non-elites are having tough lives, instead of their own fault for being such basket cases who lack any sense of self-control or future-planning, isn't funny and has never been funny. It's a blood libel and I reject it completely. non-elites should count themselves lucky that we treat them with such ridiculous kid-gloves as it is. Free health care, free food stamps, free HUD housing, the taxes that pay for everything, inventions they're allowed to use that they never could have invented themselves -- they are the most spoiled pampered brats in history. But still some wisecracker thought it would be cool to write a story about oppressive high IQ elites keeping the common man 'down.' Bullshit. Just once I'd like to see an anime that properly respected elites instead of demonized them. Oh wait, they made that: It was called Brittania, from Code Geass, and the Abh, from Crest of the Stars. Go figure.

Itsuka Tenma no Kuro-Usagi is probably just an excuse to show off girls' bodies. It seems to have a plot, but that plot is whiplashing so frequently and inexplicably about that God only knows what it might be. Losing your memory of your beloved, then dying in a car accident, then resurrecting as a zombie, then regaining your memory, then meeting your beloved after nine years, only to have her die in front of you, in one episode? Okay, there's something wrong here. I suspect the girl will magically survive as a zombie too. Heck, maybe everyone in the story is a zombie that can't die, and stabbing is just a method of greeting in this world, like, "hey, how's it going? stab." But when a series is this unrealistic it's a real turn off from wanting to pursue its excuses any further.

Double-J is too short and doesn't make any sense. I admit it is pretty funny though.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisse was extremely confusing. The whole episode everyone spoke Japanese, but we were never told whether they were in the story speaking in French, where the story is set (1800's Paris), Japanese, or a mixture of French and Japanese. Because of this huge confusion the entire episode made no sense, the dialogue of the characters made no sense, and the situation made no sense. The girl was very cute and the art was very pretty, whether it was the costumes people wore or the cityscape. The characters seemed likable enough too. But the plot seems lacking and it's really rude to the viewer to be so confusing as an introductory episode. I'm willing to watch more but the series could've easily been better if it had been considerate enough to explain who was speaking what language at any given time. So dumb.

Yuru Yuri was great. The girls were cute, the jokes were hilarious, and the situation was eminently believable and charming. It does annoy me that there's yet again an over the top lesbianish girl in the group who tackles and molests the other girls against their will -- I'd consider that a crime and send her to prison if I had my way, just the same as if a boy did it -- but I'm willing to look the other way for the sake of the other characters and what great jokes they make. Kanamemo had this same problem, the whole series was spoiled by the lesbian sexual molester, even though the series was at its heart very touching, funny, and memorable. But every ten seconds of Kanamemo where you can avoid the lesbian action, there's five seconds where you can't. I suspect the same will be true of Yuru Yuri, which will ruin this series too.

Which leads me to the only two series I can actually endorse as worth watching from anyone who doesn't have herculean patience: Ro-Kyu-Bu and Usagi Drop.

Ro-Kyu-Bu is going to be pretty shocking to the inexperienced anime viewer, as it has elementary school girls in maid outfits and groping each other in the shower, and a high school boy grabbing a blushing elementary schooler by the shoulders, but if you can just look beyond that you'll see an actually moving series. The main character girl is someone who loves basketball, but she can't play it because none of the other girls around her are as motivated. She finally escaped this hell when she was approached by a friendly blond girl who asked if she could become 'that good' too. The girl went and found other teammates until they could form a 5 man girl's basketball team and play together, thus achieving the basketball-loving girl's dream, only to have it threatened by the boy's basketball team in the same school that demanded all the basketball facilities for their own exclusive use, because they were 'serious' about basketball. Sorry, but there's no one more serious about basketball than our main character, who breaks into tears when she thinks about having to stop playing. In the midst of this injustice, a high school boy hired as a coach enters, deciding to lead the girl's team to victory over the boys so that they can maintain the girl's basketball club. It's a great plot. It's a great reason to care about what happens. And one of the scenes I love most is the blond girl demanding the coach make them better as fast as possible, while not explaining why -- but the reason is her infinite concern and compassion for her friend, who she can't bear to see parted from the basketball she loves. A girl who thinks so thoroughly about others is a true best friend.

As for Usagi Drop, I knew it would be good before I even saw the first episode, and it was obviously good by the end of the first episode. I don't agree with the art style, but oh well. All can be forgiven when there's such a wonderful plot. A 30's something bachelor who works but is still single, keeping a messy house and not having any real point to his life, finds himself attending his grandfather's funeral, wherein he learns the grandfather had a daughter at a very late age, whose tramp mother has long since run off. The girl is maybe 8 years old, I'm not exactly sure. But she's amazingly observant, intelligent, cute, quiet, and well behaved. She's a dream child. Nevertheless, everyone else in the family treats her like a burden and a disgrace. Only this 30 year old sees the good in her, sees how sad she is, and how hard she's trying to keep it together. The foil of this girl to the 'other' girl her age, who's whiny, loud, lying, violent, with no sense of propriety, basically a devil child, but oh so common and so impossible to prevent no matter how you parent them, is really striking. The bachelor who clearly isn't interested in women and children has good reason to feel that way when you look at a kid like that. Who wants one? But when he simultaneously sees our main character girl, the answer is evident: I want one. He wants This girl for a daughter. A daughter like That would be an amazing life companion. His ability to help her really would give meaning to his life, because she's Worth it.

Maybe we should just raise all kids in orphanages by robots until they're 8 or so, and we can see if they're angel children or devil children, and Then we could adopt them into our homes. That would certainly make parenting more rewarding. I can't imagine how anyone could put up with the other girl in the story, or the girl from Umineko that just wouldn't shut up no matter what you did to her. Children should have a warranty where you could return them to God if they don't behave, that would be a huge relief all around. . . But for now, we can all bless our lucky stars that in the world of Usagi Drop, a perfect child has found the perfect parent for her, and both of them will make each other live happily ever after. What a great start. What a great idea.

Ro-Kyu-Bu or Usagi Drop is going to be the best anime of the season, but I'm actually leaning towards Ro-Kyu-Bu. The feelings in that series are so passionate and so lifelike, you immediately start taking sides and start cheering for our heroes to win. Caring about what happens to a story's characters is the most important feature of a story. Without that, nothing else matters. Ro-Kyu-Bu has delivered that in spades.

But even Ro-Kyu-Bu probably won't make the top 100. It's too sexual for its own good, which spoils it. Plus the high school coach is another reluctant hero which is really annoying, even though he drops that obnoxious behavior by episode 2. I just don't like it existing at all. So in the end, the entire summer season is a wash. What a waste! Oh well. Baka to Test and Nichijou are still great. And there's always the fall season coming up next. . .

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