I hold 2012's anime lineup in high regard, but when it comes to this particular fourth of the entire year, it's been a terrible disappointment.
It doesn't really matter how bad this summer season was, because Little Busters will change everything this fall, just one month away now. But it's time to sum up the season that never was:
In the end, there were eight watchable shows this season. Everything else was so burdened with flaws that it just wasn't worth the time anymore. In order of how much I was looking forward to each new episode's release, here they are:
1. Smile Precure
2. Hunter x Hunter
3. Tari Tari
4. Yuru Yuri
5. One Piece
6. Sword Art Online
7. Space Brothers
Of these eight, only two shows were originals that started this summer, Tari Tari and Sword Art Online. And of these two, Sword Art Online had a lot of trouble establishing itself, because it cut so drastically between segments of the light novel source that it was impossible for a viewer to keep up with what exactly was going on and why. Hint, don't try to make viewers cry by killing off a character you only just met earlier that same episode. That's like expecting people to cry over the death of the Star Trek crew member wearing red this week.
Nevertheless, there are many things I like about Sword Art Online. It accurately captures the feel and joy of massive multiplayer online rpg's. It makes me smile when I see eps about blacksmithing or cooking professions, because I know exactly where they're coming from. As a huge fan of World of Warcraft, getting to watch the first anime of an MMO that actually captures and celebrates the MMO experience and clientele is a real treat. (By the way, Mists of Pandaria comes out September 25th, are you prepared?) Kirito and Asuna are likable protagonists you're really rooting for from the very first episode. The art, animation, and music is simply gorgeous. Aside from all the continuity gaps and plot holes, it's practically perfect!
Tari Tari was much better. It introduced a dynamic cast of five characters (really six when you count the 'antagonist' vice principal), all of whom were likable, who created a real fireworks display of fun when they all combined together. All of them are interesting, unique, and fully fleshed out people that you feel you could actually meet on the street somewhere. And P.A. Works as usual delivers on the art and animation side, making the show visually breathtaking. Whoever is the creative mind behind P.A. Works, I salute you. First Hanasaku Iroha and now Tari Tari, it's just one hit after another. My only complaint is my easily movable heart, which fell deeply in abysses of sorrow and heights of bliss for series like Natsuiro Kiseki and AKB0048, just never felt moved by Tari Tari. I realize I was supposed to feel various woes at various times, but I just didn't. It never got to me. The drama wasn't dramatic and the humor wasn't as funny as they thought. Tari Tari is a very forgettable series. It's like a perfectly executed mediocre concept. That kind of success will get you into my rankings, but only just barely. It doesn't have any deeper theme like Iroha did, the importance and value of working for people's souls, or AKB0048, the importance of entertainment for people's souls. It just doesn't have anything to say about anything. Like I said, a deeply forgettable show.
All the other good shows this season were known factors and so it only stands to reason they were good this summer too. I'll add some praise to Yuru Yuri though. At the end of season 1 I felt Yuru Yuri had played out all its jokes and it was dead in the water. Any extension to Yuru Yuri would just be repetitive and boring and bad. That turned out to be true of Dog Days -- but it was completely false concerning Yuru Yuri. Season 2 was actually funnier than Season 1, it had even more characterization than before (especially of Sakurako and Himawari, a pair I just adore), and has just struck every chord perfectly. I thought Yuru Yuri would be one of those stories that was forever stuck at 'good' because it was too short and silly a concept to go anywhere, and this season has proved me wrong. Because of that, it really distances itself from similar series like Asobi ni Iku Yo or Chu Bra or a dozen others. Yuru Yuri has some annoying scenes that are simply too distracting to belong, and some repetitive jokes that really have gotten old, but comedy is hard. It's much harder than action or romance or sports, which any writer could write blind and still find an appreciative audience, so when a story is even remotely funny it's just awe inspiring. I have the same respect for Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, and Squid Girl, all of which also have some dumb scenes and overly repeated jokes. Comedy is so good when it works that it's worth all the misfires that don't.
Of course, the funniest show this season wasn't any of those, but rather the aptly named Smile Pretty Cure. But comparing any show's worth to the god like quality of Pretty Cure is hopeless from the start. Pretty Cure is so many light years ahead of all its competition, that any one of its seasons would be higher ranked than anything else currently airing. By the end of this year, Pretty Cure won't just be one good season though, it will be the longest ranked anime of all, surpassing even One Piece in canonical episodes and movies. Uncounted jewels of episodes reside in this 'anime's longest' title, naming the best Pretty Cure characters or scenes in a series this long would be like trying to number the stars in the night sky. Smile Pretty Cure is far and away the best series of 2012, but it's only 30 minutes out of every week, so despite paling in significance, even shows like Yuru Yuri get their small triumphs in Smile's shadow. Even the sun sets and allows the moon to shine now and then. Just so, even Yuru Yuri can be funny once Smile Precure has already aired.
Of the eight shows worth watching this summer, six of them are in my rankings. This is highly unusual. Rather than 3/4, 1/2 of shows being ranked, or even 1/3, is more normal. But the pickings were just so light this season that it may as well have not existed. The most highly featured failures of this season will now be explained:
Whatever happened to Hyouka? Hyouka ends this week at a completely meaningless point, a full month before the beginning of the fall season. To make matters worse, because Hyouka was coming to such a sudden end, the previous two episodes have also been completely pointless one-off short stories. As such, Hyouka isn't really a summer season anime. It's an 'extended-spring' season anime. Like AKB0048, it needed a few more weeks to finish the Juumonji arc, and then it was over. Said Juumonji arc was excellent, but the useless short stories afterwards have just been dull. If only Hyouka had a proper length, perhaps it could have gone into another long and involved story like the school fair was, but because the anime was cut short, unlike the books, the entire story suffered. Thanks a lot, Kyoto Animation. First you cut short Full Metal Panic, then you animate Gotoh's newly written series -- and cut this one short too.
What happened to Ginga E? Well, first the anime took a months long break, then the fansubbers likewise dropped out of fansubbing it (and who wouldn't, when the series suddenly stops like that?), and now it's back airing in Japan, but unavailable to the rest of us. That's a shame, because it was a good series this spring, but has completely failed as a summer season anime.
Who is Imouto? Who knows, the plot just sort of fell apart at some point and was replaced by pointless ecchi fan service.
Did Kokoro Connect? Nope. I got tired of watching things happen to people, heroes of suffering, instead of people deciding their own lives, heroes of action. Every time a story centers around a hero of suffering I tune out and then just turn the show off.
What about the Dog Days of summer? Hint, don't introduce fifty thousand characters and then fail to develop any of them in a 12 episode season. It gets really, really dumb, really, really fast.
A good thing the Mists of Pandaria patch has already come out in WoW. Anime just hasn't cut it this summer. One more month before the fall, and the beginning of Key's longest epic, Little Busters. Until then, go level a panda.