Kaori with violin

Kaori with violin

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso was a challenging show to watch at times, but it certainly had its charms. There is a saying about Ludovico Ariosto, that he loved the characters he wrote about in Orlando Furioso, and thus he watched over them, like a benevolent god. Unfortunately the gods of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso are anything but benevolent; they seem to enjoy tormenting their characters. Watchers of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso should be emotionally prepared for tragedy and drama, but there are some very beautiful moments as well.

Personally, the thing that drew me to this show was the role that music would play. There are shows that purport to be about music in some way, but that don’t take that part of the setting seriously. I can happily say that Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso delivered here. The show included major performances that were built up in previous episodes. Often there is a lot of talking over the performance, either by observers who explain hidden layers in what they are hearing, or sometimes flashbacks are played out, but, in the final episode the music of the performance is allowed to fully command our attention for most of about nine minutes.

Was Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso worth watching? It kept me engaged, even though it could feel emotionally manipulative at times. If the setting of the world of pre-professional musical performers intrigues you, it does deliver. In the end, it probably comes down to your tolerance for teary story lines; if you enjoy being on an emotional roller coaster, this is a good choice for you. If you are looking for light-hearted comedy, this show should be avoided.

Aoi Miyamori of the Musashino Animation company.

Aoi Miyamori of the Musashino Animation company.

Although Shirobako looked, at first glance, like another “cute girls doing cute stuff” show, it turned out to be a great series about the trials and triumphs of working in the animation industry. The characters are entertaining, and the situations might prove familiar to people regardless of the industry in which they work.

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Kaoru Nishimi, a loner, finds himself caught in the midst of an unusual social scene.

Sakamichi no Apollon (Apollo of the Slope, AKA Kids on the Hill) did a good job of weaving in musical performances at critical junctures. This was a show about people finding out about themselves and each other by coming together to play music (particularly Jazz music). Although musical performances were not included in every episode, they were used very effectively to punctuate the dramatic twists in the tale. Even the absence of musical performances felt significant when it happened — typically this was caused by a wrong turn that the characters took that kept them from coming together. Although the various characters had good chemistry, it was in the musical performances that this show hit its emotional highs, so events that prevented a live session were given greater dramatic impact. This was an interesting way of giving the audience a good sense of what the characters were feeling — even if it was frustration, with brief moments of jazz-feuled exhilaration.

The events takes place in the 1960s, and that was worked into the story in unexpected ways. Society is changing, and even if that isn’t the main focus of the story, it is still having an impact on the various characters, or the people around them.

Sakamichi no Apollon did a good job at demonstrating that happiness doesn’t come easily, even when you seem to have everything you could have asked for. Characters make mistakes, but they aren’t the stupid, “we need this to happen for the plot to work” kind of mistakes. They are just human mistakes. People don’t fit together with ease; they step on each other’s toes and need to find ways to work things out, or the fail to, and things fall apart.

I enjoyed watching this series. The music was great. The artwork was appealing. You can read more about the setup in my first impression post, but I don’t want to say more about what happens, as it is a short series, and I encourage you to experience it for yourself.

Kaito Daimon ~ don't worry he'll be back next week for season 2.

With episode 25, season 1 of Phi Brain: Kami no Puzzle (AKA Φ-Brain Puzzle of God) draws to a close. This show started out implausible, turned into some silly fun, and ended with a big showdown that put the future of everything on the line. Sounds like the perfect shounen series, doesn’t it? Somehow Phi Brain mostly worked despite (or, perhaps, because of) a premise based on people seriously battling with puzzles. As with most shounen battle series, there was a fight each episode, but in Phi Brain, the fights are between puzzle givers and the solvers who solve them.

This was not a serious show, but it did tackle some serious themes: the importance of friendship, and the dangers of shutting others out. Oh, and “Puzzles are AWESOME”! Over the course of 25 episodes there were some legitimate moments of tension, not just as the clock ran down and the puzzle of the week remained unsolved, but also as we witnessed various characters (often our hero, Kaito) make some bad decisions. It also managed to work up into an interesting, and occasionally surprisingly dark, final stretch.

What follows is less an episode review, and more spoiler-free final thoughts on season 1 as a whole. Let the Puzzle Time begin!

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Chihaya Ayase ~ cuckoo for Karuta.

Chihayafuru was a wonderful series, and the most consistent series I have ever watched. I have watched bad anime, and anime that has flashes of brilliance, but also falls a bit flat on occasion, but never have I seen a show like Chihayafuru, a show that was absolutely solid from start to finish. If you are wondering if Chihayafuru is worth watching, it is. It certainly is my favorite show of 2012 so far. If there is ever a second season, I will watch it.

If you want a spoiler-free introduction to what this series is about, take a look at my first impressions post. For those who want a more in-depth discussion of this series, I have blogged every episode and even wrote about the first volume of the OST. The rest of this post is specific to episode 25 — the final episode! Don’t read it unless you want to see spoilers.

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Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi are Ashirogi Muto.

Yay, it’s finally over! No, a third season of Bakuman has been announced. Honestly the second season showed significant improvement over the first season in several ways. First, it had some great dramatic moments, second, it didn’t waste as much time on the romances, third, the artwork was definitely improved, and finally, it ended strong. If the series had been more consistently like episode 25, I would probably say this was a pretty good series. Unfortunately Bakuman hasn’t demonstrated the ability to consistently string together entertaining episodes.

When it is good, it is very interesting, because the premise is so unique, and people have told me that the arc that recently ended was some of the weakest material in the manga, so I guess I understand why a third season is forthcoming. I also think it is a positive thing for J.C. Staff to be working on, because it is so unlike their other shows, which have a tendency to be formulaic. I just can’t feel excited about a third season.

Interesting color palette, striking use of framing elements ... Dennou Coil often exhibits an incredible sense of visual style.

There’s a rumor on the ‘Net about an anime called Dennou Coil (AKA Coil — A Circle of Children). In it children fight against cyber-lifeforms using the power of augmented reality glasses, metatags, and “codes”. Dennou Coil, which originally aired in 2007, can fairly be classified in the branch of Science Fiction called Cyberpunk. A common theme of Cyberpunk is the connection between computer technology (including networking) and what we call consciousness. Sometimes this can lead to a fusion of Science Fiction with Horror, after all, a common term for a disembodied consciousness is “ghost”. Dennou Coil follows this theme in Cyberpunk, and the horror aspects are specifically hinted at in the show’s OP, most obviously in the beginning.

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The Devil Baby Rides Again.

Chibi Devi (Devil Baby) is a very short anime (15 episodes x 5 minute each = 75 minutes, or about the length of four episodes of a typical anime). Unlike most of these very short anime, Chibi Devi is not built around a series of gags; it has a continuous story about a young girl who is very alone as the series begins. The aesthetic is VERY shoujo, so expect babies wearing funny outfits and *sparkles*. It also has a maddeningly infectious OP (linked below). I definitely wouldn’t say that it was a great series, but I can’t help but feel that the producers made effective use of their time. I have seen series drag the same amount of content out for 12 full-length episodes.

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When a murder investigation gets tough, the police let school kids solve it for them.

Detective Academy Q (Tantei Gakuen Q) is a 45 episode mystery series that ran in 2003-2004. It is based on a manga by the same author as the Case-files of Young Kindaichi, which I briefly reviewed here. The same author, Tadashi Agi, also wrote the story for Knight in the Area, whose anime adaptation is set to broadcast Winter 2012. Unlike Kindaichi, which has strong Horror and Supernatural elements (but is also legitimately in the Mystery genre), Detective Academy Q is straight Mystery. I’ll discuss the genre issue in depth below.

My summary judgement is that it was a fairly enjoyable watch. It certainly isn’t as polished as I would have liked, in terms of Art and Music, and it had some goofy aspects to setting and characters, but the plot was typically satisfying. Again, I go into my reasoning after the jump. This is, however, a spoiler-free review, so feel free to read on, before deciding for sure whether this is a show you want to watch or not.

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Penguins, Apples, Turtles ... this show had it all.

I haven’t posted anything about Mawaru Penguin Drum in a while, so some might have wondered if I dropped it. No. I have been eagerly watching each week, but found myself perennially at a loss for words.

Normally, especially for a series that I enjoyed as much as I enjoyed this one, this post would be my “Final Thoughts”. I would be summing up what I thought about it, and telling you why I think you should watch it, or at least who might enjoy it the most. But with Mawaru Penguin Drum, I am by no means ready to express “Final” thoughts. I strongly feel the desire to go back and watch the series over from the beginning. In fact this, I think is key to understanding the experience of watching Mawaru Penguin Drum.

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