Peeking out from behind the firewall–thoughts on the Winter season

It’s pretty much as I expected. I can’t normally access my own blog and I’ve been too busy to really care. But I have no problem bittorrenting, and with the extra time the recent holiday gave me I’ve been catching up with the new shows. And I can’t resist reappearing briefly and giving my thoughts on them.

BTW, for anyone who’s curious about local interest in anime in my part of China, I’ve only encountered one person who’s even heard of it. My cable account is limited, so I can’t say I’m seeing all the available media, but the only anime I’ve seen on TV is a couple episodes of Naruto, and that was from a hotel. The animation they do have is all for children, though was an odd public service commercial about home fires that used South Park-style characters …

Moving along …

The recap episode to Kimi ni Todoke was one of the stranger ones I’ve seen. To watch it you’d think that Kurume was the main character, a lonely, flawed girl, desperate in love, and that the shy, gangly, long-haired thing who popped up later was just the latest of her rivals. It was an unexpected and elegant way to reintroduce the series. Alas, since then the show has continued to showcase our would-be lovebirds second-guessing themselves into an impasse. All through episode one I muttered “Just give him the damn chocolates,” but no, it was all hesitation and agonizing mind games played upon oneself. But Yano and Yoshida are moving in to break things up, and there’s that blond guy, so maybe the show will be out of its rut soon.

Beelzebub is an agreeable enough series. I like the banter between Oga and Furuichi. The baby makes cute noises. I like the energy. It’s executed well. But I’m tiring of the routine.

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? is NOT executed well. They had great potential in hand when amiable Ayumu absorbs some powers and so becomes not only a zombie but a magical girl. Adding Sera, not only a ninja but a vampire ninja(!), should have made it even better, but they’ve botched every attempt to cash in.

I’m watching Level E because it’s a good comedy, not because the Prince is the most annoying main character I’ve seen in a while. Though it’s fun to see not only his friends but his enemies grit their teeth over his antics.

Gosick’s story arcs pull clues out of their ass half the time, but the series works well enough for me to keep watching. Kazuya is a typical bland male lead, but Victorique manages to overcome her stereotypes with well-voiced bored and sarcastic comments.

I’m a little surprised I’m still watching Infinite Stratos. Maybe it’s because I’m amazed how far they can take harem and tsundere stereotypes without making it completely dull. And by the way, can we get a tsundere out there to NOT say “It’s not that I (did something nice) because I like you or anything.” It’s getting annoying. Maybe I like Ichika’s predicament of being the only male at the school, or his growing confidence inside his IS. Or maybe it’s because they’re finally getting to an actual story arc.

Dragon Crisis is even more routine than Infinite Stratos. The first story arc especially. But the second one promises to be more interesting as George, the dragon hater, seems to develop a thing for a dragon …

Then there are shows I find interesting.

Yumekui Merry, I suppose, is another routine series. About half of every episode has to do with horsing around and bonding, slowly introducing the demon of the week so we can get to the battle, but sometimes it’s all about the presentation. The show has an eccentric soundtrack which often relies on nothing but a piano, plus arty battle scenes, and a generally darker feel than many such shows have. Merry, especially, has a stronger sense of melancholy than you usually find in such a series. You could call her a tsundere, too, except when she has a moment to thank Yumeji for taking her in, she does so, shyly, but sincerely, and with a smile. A moment so rare these days for such a character that it took me completely by surprise.

I won’t be the first person to complain that the middle-schoolers in Wandering Son are too mature for their age. I don’t care because we still get plenty of moments where they behave like children, and others, more interesting, where they’re trying to figure out what this thing called puberty is doing to them. Four episodes in and I’m not sure where the story is going, or if there’s going to be one at all. I sit back and watch the kids interact (I’m particularly fond of Makoto’s asides), try to figure out who will quarrel next, and wonder what middle school would approve of a genderbending play for their festival. As for the lead characters’ cross-dressing, that’s almost a minor point in the show to me.

Fractale started out as an innocent romp. Then came the gunfire. It’s hard to say whether the temple or the rebels are in the right—the former use mind control and the latter shoot innocent people. It’s our hero Clain who must make that decision. So far his his instincts and decisions feel real; in fact, most of the characters, when not in comic stereotype mode, act like human beings. The show is keeping its secrets secret for now, making me interested in what will happen next. It’s the best sheer adventure series of the season.

But for me, nothing else this season comes close to Puella Magi Madoka Magika. It’s not enough that it’s turning the innocent magical girl concept on its head, with girls actually dying, or know they will eventually die on the job, fighting amongst themselves for grief seeds and territory, all thanks to a cute little mascot who may actually be closer in spirit to Bokurano’s Dung Beetle (Well, Kyube might not be twisted, but he’s pragmatic). It’s also the direction and the resonance the of the visuals. Watching the girls in normal life, at that weird school, I half expect Senjougahara or even Yuno and Miyako to stroll by (not surprising considering the director and character designer). This is disconcerting enough, but when the threat appears the show looks like no other magical girl show I’ve ever seen. Cutouts of butterflies, mustaches on white blobs, human organs, child’s drawings, all breathing and dancing and flying to a thumping score and strange noises which together make the scenes feel not like a magical girl fight, but a bad dream. I find the whole thing irresistible; just about every night I go back to rewatch bits of it.

Of the continuing series, Star Driver, Bakuman, and Index II roll along at their own speeds. The first two have fallen into routine, while Index has tossed off one incomprehensible story arc after another, only to redeem itself with a throwaway episode that made me realize that no matter how inane the plots get, the show is loaded with eccentric, fun characters that I like to watch in action.

Right. Back behind the wall, for now …

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