As we rapidly approach the midpoint of the Fall season (which also marks the end of the half-season shows), a fair amount has happened. Opinions on series have changed as people have finally gotten the chance to watch them, some over-hyped series did not perform nearly as well as expected, and some lesser known shows came out to surprise everyone with their quality. I wanted to present some short feedback on each of the currently airing series that I've seen, to hopefully steer others either towards or away from them, depending on my impressions.
Blue Drop ~Tenshi-tachi no Gikyoku~:
I have to admit, I picked up this series entirely because Genjo was subbing it, and I was idling in their channel waiting for them to release Ghost Hound. The first episodes didn't impress me much, so I jumped ahead and watched some of the ones that weren't yet subbed by them. Pretty mediocre fare thus far - it's basically "dropped", although I might pick up the last few episodes during a lull or something, since it is a short series. For supposedly being a "shoujo ai" series, there's not much "ai" going on, and all the characters are boring (although they aren't entirely one-dimensional, which I guess is a plus). In addition, the science fiction in this series is... well... typical I suppose is the best word for it? This series fails to impress.
Verdict: do not watch
One of the more hyped series of this season, unfortunately, Clannad began with a whimper and has remained lackluster throughout. While Kyoto Animation does stay rather faithful to the Key source material, it comes at a price. The introductory episodes are complete snooze-fests - each character is introduced in literally a scene that looks to be lifted directly from the game, complete with a setting change that indicates you are on a different path. When Okazaki Tomoya (the male lead) is talking to one of the girls in the beginning, you get the feeling as if none of the previous events actually occurred. That same feeling carries through into the beginning of the "new arc". I suppose that the way the last arc concluded required it to essentially be "written out" of existence, but you'd expect to see at least some subtle hints as to the previous events occurring outside of a blatant, contrived flashback that doesn't really lead to anywhere.
It's not just the structure or the plot of the series that gets to me, it's the characters themselves. Physically, there's really no variance, which I suppose is true for most Key adaptations. The females look like they just had their hair and eyes changed, everything else looks pretty much the same. Also, gigantic irises, and I do mean gigantic, dominate this series, to the point where you have to begin to wonder if Nagisa's family is made up of aliens, with their large, beamy eyes and their antennae-like ahoges. Psychologically, the characters are fairly one-dimensional, and their development is pretty much forced upon them by artificial circumstances or some not-so-subtle hints dropped by the writers, saying "hey, this character has changed, TAKE NOTE OF IT".
Despite these faults, it's not a terribly bad series. It has its share of comedic moments, even if the romance and drama tend to fall flat. However, it definitely does not live up to its hype, or even the hype of the studio producing it. It's a decent watch if you're already a fan of the genre, but it likely won't appeal to anyone outside of its exclusive target audience.
Verdict: watch if you are a Key/KyoAni fan, skip otherwise
This series started out abysmally slow, but has picked up since then. The visuals are stunningly beautiful, and the premise of the plot is quite interesting. It doesn't seem to be as philosophically deep as Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, the previous "big works" done by the creator and director (respectively) of the series, although there's definitely room for some psychological exploration as well as ontological questioning in the second half. The juxtaposition of the different psychological problems each of the three main leads experience against the backdrop of the paranormal events they experience together are proving to be quite the interesting tale, especially with the different ways each of them respond to their out-of-body experiences and the anomalies that they see. The focus in this series is very much introspective - how do the characters deal with being themselves given what's happened in the past, and how does their self-interpretation affect their immediate surroundings, specifically their familial relationships. A word of warning: the series does get pretentiously intellectual at times, although not nearly as much as Ergo Proxy did, especially with its psychological and medical terms. It feels like most of them actually serve a purpose though, even if a lot of the events could have been explained in more laymen terms.
Verdict: an enjoyable, if somewhat overly intellectual, watch
As I mentioned in my previous entry, Ninomiya-kun seems to be going nowhere with its plot or characters. It starts out decently well, or at least as well as an ecchi fanservice anime can begin. Recently, however, it's devolved into boring, nonsensical plotlines with a cast of ever-increasingly annoying characters. The fundamental problem with Ninomiya-kun is that it does not know how to end - it had its moments as a mindless fanservice comedy, but ask it to do anything "serious" from a plot and character perspective, and it fails miserably. If you really want to pick this up, make sure you realize that only the comedy is worth watching, none of the romance.
Verdict: not entirely terrible, but only watch if you need some mindless laughs
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai:
One of the carry-overs from the previous season, Higurashi Kai has turned into quite the thrill-ride. The same murder that created the "Nice Boat" incident also affected the airing of Higurashi Kai, forcing it, perhaps, to cut down on the violence shown in the later episodes that occurred after the incident. Because of this, Kai is no where near as gory as its predecessor, but it converts that violence into a fast-paced roller-coaster plot that is quickly pushing the entire series to its climax. On its own, Kai probably would not be generating the excitement it is from me, but it's the prospect of finding out all the answers posed during the first season, as well as finally getting to see events reach their conclusion that constantly drives me to eagerly anticipate the episodes every week.
Verdict: must watch if saw the first season, pick up the first season if you're in the market for a good, violent mystery.
Kodomo no Jikan:
Another show that I picked up since Genjo was subbing it, this one didn't actually turn out to be that bad, for what it's worth. A fairly amusing comedy about a grade-school teacher and the nine-year old girl who's in love with him - decent setup, decent execution all around in this series. The humor does get a bit on the awkward side, what with the sexual humor surrounding a group of three nine year olds and all. Due to this, the aired version of the show actually loses a lot of its humor to censorship, to the point where sometimes, you can't even guess at what's going on. Basically, expect to see a lot of this:
Despite the heavy censorship, it's still a decent watch, although it's honestly probably worth it to wait for the DVDs just so you don't have to put up with the obtrusive censorship.
Verdict: funny, but need to wait for DVDs to get the full humor
Probably the best show of the season thus far, I made a little blurb about Minami-ke on my old blog over at MAL, where I said that "it manages to excel in its humor by providing one situation after another that will just leave you rolling on the floor laughing". I stand by my statement after having seen episode 10 of this delicious series, where they ramp up the gender-bender humor and introduced a female character who wants to be a boy. In addition to the hilarious situational humor brought about by these girls' everyday activities, the nuances of each individual character are also fleshed out, making for character humor just based on the expression on their face, or their reaction to a given event. Overall, this series is worth picking up, not only because of its humor, but because of its simplicity, which is something that is missing in today's shows, who have entirely too many contrived plots and situations.
Verdict: the closest thing to "must watch" this season, pick this up as soon as possible!
Mobile Suit Gundam 00:
In the same entry that I plugged Minami-ke, I also bashed Gundam 00, criticizing it for essentially being an unimaginative reinterpretation of Gundam Wing, which itself was not really a good show. In retrospect, I may have been overly harsh: thus far, this series shows more promise than Wing and SEED both did, and really has the potential to go places in terms of breaking through the old mold that all previous Gundam series have essentially been cast in. Hopefully, they will properly flesh out the characters - while I'm already somewhat annoyed by the very, very clichéd schizophrenia of Allelujah Haptism, the maddened ravings of Tieria might actually be good, and sets him up as a possible future villain. If they can pull off a proper Gundam civil war in this series, excitement will definitely follow.
Verdict: obviously watch if you are a Gundam fan, but might be worth picking up if it gets better - keep an eye on this series's development
Admist the spew of new shows this season, Moyashimon, or Tales of Agriculture, really stands out as a sleeper hit. The premise is interesting, if a bit odd - a student enters a school of agriculture in preparation for taking over the family business. Oh, and he can see microbes. With the naked eye. What's interesting is how this series uses the opportunity of an educational show about microbes and takes it much further. One of the more delightful aspects of this show is its purposeful comparison of urban and rural agricultural life, by setting this college in the middle of urban Tokyo, even if a hint of the city at large around them does not exist at all. In effect, the addition of the visible microbes helps to transport the (most likely urban) viewer to this rural world, by presenting something blatantly out of the ordinary and meshing that with the subtle differences in the two cultures and how they live. Other than that, it's just a damn fun program: educational, with a sense of wit and humor, especially the almost cynical sarcasm of the main lead Sawaki towards his ability to see otherwise microscopic organisms. This series is definitely on the rise, as more and more people are becoming aware of it. Definitely watch it.
Verdict: another "almost" must watch - combines humor and education in a good way!
Well, there you have it, the midseason report on a few, select series. I'll be coming back and visiting these at the end of the season, so maybe we'll see how my verdicts turned out, and if the full-season shows (Clannad, Ghost Hound, and Gundam 00) can either turn themselves around in the second half, or continue to build upon the foundations already laid down during the first half.