Day 5: Rise of Fall
It is my firm belief that this autumn has been on the whole thoroughly excellent. Sure, there have been some pretty bad shows (hi Guilty Crown!!!), but this season has seen me watch more airing anime than at any point in my time as an anime fan. Of the eight series that I’m watching for entertainment value (as opposed to rubbernecking…), I could recommend at least half to any anime fan. That’s not to say that the other half are bad, it’s just that not an awful lot of people are going to take all that well to, say, the modern masterpiece that is Phi Brain. Speaking of which, let’s begin with everyone’s favourite puzzle solving-based anime.
In my preview for this season, I was vaguely optimistic for Phi Brain thanks to its unique premise, but really I expected to watch it ironically for a few episodes then lose interest. And yet, here I am after eleven episodes singing its praises. Obviously I’m not going to sit here and argue that Phi Brain has a deep, meaningful story, but I like Phi Brain for a very good reason: it presents its premise without a single hint of irony. In Phi Brain’s universe, puzzles can literally be a matter of life and death, but no one thinks this is the stupidest fucking thing. The writers have been given this ludicrous plot outline and just decided to have a load of fun with it – hence why we got a whole episode where the three main characters spent almost the whole time in ~!*FABULOUS*!~ drag. I respect any show that sticks to its guns when all it has to work with is the absurdity of ‘puzzles are serious business’. Against all the odds, I really rather like Phi Brain.
I started watching the first season of Squid Girl to fill my time during watches of the awful Macross Frontier in my anime society’s weekly meetings, and thought it was a fairly competent and funny show. One Sunday evening two weeks or so later I sat down and blazed through the rest of the first series and all of the second series that had aired up to that point, and knew that Squid Girl was very, very funny. Episode nine in particular is one of the best single episodes of anime I’ve seen all year – the first segment, wherein half the cast end up playing house with an unknown young girl with some unorthodox ideas of what makes a happy home, is a delight to watch. I hope it gets a third season at some point, because the second season has been brilliant.
Another show that I earmarked as a potential dark horse was Chihayafuru. I’d not seen a lot of enthusiasm for it in previews, as most people were put off by the shoujosei elements and the obscurity of the subject matter – the card game Karuta. The reaction to the manga seemed very positive however, and the PV (featuring no actual anime footage, only selected images from the manga) intrigued me. Chihayafuru is certainly not a classic anime, but so far it’s been heart-warming, and I’ve found myself cheering Misuzawa High on as if I could possibly influence the result of their matches. The romance between Chihaya, Taichi and Arata hasn’t featured as strongly as I thought it would, so I’m expecting to see a slight shift in focus during the second half of the show’s run.
Tamayura ~Hitotose~ was instantly dismissed by a large portion of the aniblogosphere as the latest in a string of shows about cute girls being insufferably nice to each other, and for several weeks I’d stalled on watching it for that very reason, with the only thing stopping me from dropping it being the continued praise it received from a friend of mine. I caught up a few weeks ago, and my, it’s had some wonderful episodes. Sure, if healing anime isn’t your thing then you probably aren’t going to like it, but for a weekly dose of calm and escapism there’s nothing better. Again, this is far from a classic of our time, but it’s a lovely little series.
Un-Go didn’t start off all that well, with an easily-solved mystery that failed to really engage the viewer. But the storyline that ended in episode four was something a little bit special. The current, long-running storyline hasn’t been quite as good as that one, but it’s certainly had its moments. Episode seven is probably my pick of the series thus far, as it created a bewildering, unsatmosphere that perfectly reflected the thoughts and experiences of protagonist Yuuki Shinjuurou in a world specifically designed to confuse and disorientate him. It was a masterful piece of direction, and it is moments like this that have made Un-Go the best that noitaminA could offer this year. Sure, that’s not saying an awful lot nowadays, but it still means something. Just not as much as it used to.
I expected Persona 4 to be very different from what it is. I expected an uber-stylish treat for the eyes which would compromise by way of a storyline that lacked that certain something. Instead, we kinda got the opposite to that. Outside of the OP and a select few fight scenes, P4 isn’t actually all that great to look at. Animation standards have rocketed this year, and shows that would have looked fantastic a few years ago (like this, Chihayafuru etc.) merely look average nowadays. But the story of P4 has really captured my attention, to the point where even the downtime episodes in between dealings with the television world (I’d call them filler but that’s not an entirely accurate description) have been thoroughly excellent.
Penguindrum has really come on in leaps and bounds this season. During the summer I thought it was good, but nowhere near as good as people were saying, but now it’s the show I look forward to most in the week. This last batch of episodes in particular has been excellent, with a massive upheaval in who the villains of the piece are and the relationships between characters. It still occasionally gets mired in showing off its symbolism, but as the series has progressed this has become less of a problem due to the plot focussing more and more on characters interacting with each other rather than introspections. And I think everyone can agree that the show relies far too heavily on the use of flashbacks, but that’s been a problem for the whole run of the series. I’ve really enjoyed Penguindrum over the last few weeks, and it’s a shame that the final episode arrives next week.
So there we have it, the best that autumn had to offer in the humble opinion of yours truly. There’s no way that winter 2012 will come anywhere close to it, but that’s rather to be expected. For the sustained quality of the shows within it, autumn has to have been my favourite season of the year for anime, despite some well-known fiascos and despite my top three anime of the year all being from other seasons. In fact if it weren’t for those three shows, I’d go as far as saying that the other three seasons of the year wouldn’t even be on the same level as autumn. It’s been a good few months.