The Stream Monsters in the Attic
by Bamboo Dong, Dec 4th 2012
1 (8) Psycho-Pass
2 (1) My Little Monster
3 (3) Space Brothers
4 (4) Polar Bear Cafe
5 (5) BTOOOM!
6 (3) Blast of Tempest
7 (14) Pet Girl of Sakurasou
8 (11) Robotics;Notes
9 (12) Hunter x Hunter
10 (6) From the New World
11 (9) Magi
12 (7) Say "I Love You"
13 (10) Kamisama Kiss
14 (16) Ixion Saga DT
Psycho-Pass has gotten insane over the past few episodes. Initially, I was sucked in by the premise—I loved the idea of a future society where criminals were apprehended before they did any wrong simply based on their mental states—but now it's just a really dark and twisted thriller, and it's a ton of fun. Akane's fascination with Enforcer Shinya Kogami has turned up an interesting piece of his past. He, too, used to be an Inspector, but the serial murder case he was entrenched in rapidly increased his crime coefficient level. The murder of his Enforcer partner eventually tipped him over the scales, but rather than going for therapy, his continued obsession with the case got him demoted to Enforcer. In true thriller fashion, those serial murders have been popping up again, but our heroes have yet to figure out if it's a resurfacing of the previous criminal, or a copycat.
And what a gruesome case it is. The previous cases in Psycho-Pass were bloody enough, but this one takes the cake in creativity and creepiness. Basically, girls get abducted, and then days later, their bodies are found dismembered and plasticized and used as public art installations. If that doesn't glue you to the show and keep you wanting the next episode, then I guess Psycho-Pass isn't for you. Between the craziness of this current arc, though, and its tie-ins with Kogami's past, it's enough to bump the series up to the upper tiers of my weekly Must Watch list.
Admittedly, Psycho-Pass still has plenty of weaknesses. For starters, despite the most recent revelation about Kogami's past career as an Inspector, the characters in the series are barely developed. Even after seven episodes, Akane is a blank slate. She's uninteresting and forgettable, and her previous role in the show as the moral compass seems to have waned as well. Still, the sheer uniqueness of their most recent cases has me glued to the screen, and I am having a great time with this show.
Behind all of the awkward interactions in My Little Monster, and all the character relationships that border on ridiculous or absurd, there's many a grain of truth about love and learning how to not lose oneself. There's even some points to be made about the difficulties of adolescence. In this group of unlikely friends, there's a lot of insecurity and fear and misunderstanding, perfect ingredients for a dramedy that I think many viewers are able to identify with, despite the outlandishness of some of the character interactions. For instance, someone as transparent and reckless like Haru might not exist in everyone's social circles, but the emotions that his actions bring out in those around him feel earnest and relatable.
For several episodes now, there's been a back-and-forth tug between Haru and Shizuku where he confesses his feelings and she pulls back, despite her obvious confliction regarding her feelings. While this type of will-she-won't-she drives me crazy in most movies and TV shows, My Little Monster has been able to temper that frustration. In part, Shizuku's internal struggles seem genuine, and it helps that Haru isn't completely likeable. Neither of them really are, but the more we learn about them, via interaction and flashbacks, the more we understand their complete inability to function normally with their peers. It's also nice that the series is taking the time to allow Shizuku to figure out her feelings and priorities first, rather than throwing her down the cliched path of lovestruck-girl-in-perpetual-distress.
There's a nice scene in the most recent episode where Shizuku reveals to Asako some of her anger and frustration regarding Haru, and Asako is completely taken aback by this sudden vulnerability. When she tries to help, though, she gets shut down, and this eventually provides the catalyst for Shizuku to confront her fears about falling for Haru. So many rom-coms seem to feature air-headed women that it's nice to have a heroine that feels real. Shizuku is deeply flawed, but instead of letting her growing feelings for Haru send her into a spiral of handwringing, she does her best to keep herself at the top of her priorities list. Maybe that's what makes this budding relationship so easy to champion, and so easy to have patience for. I'm happy to see that this series has remained engaging even as it crosses the midway mark, and I'm eager to see how Haru and Shizuka will continue to change each other.
35 episodes into Space Brothers, and we still don't know if Mutta has been chosen to be an astronaut or not (although we do know the fate of one of his colleagues). And yet, there's a deliberation to the pacing of this show that makes the wait okay. We've already gotten plenty of chances to see him and his brother as children, and their interactions as adults—whether or not Mutta makes it into space is no longer really the driving force behind this show. That's the beauty of a show like Space Brothers. It doesn't rely on hooks to propel the show forward—its movement is directed by the characters and the natural drama in their lives. It's good stuff, I promise.
One of Polar Bear Cafe's greatest strengths is knowing when to kill a joke and move on. Because of this knack, none of the recurring bits get to old. Penguin's misadventures with the Penkos has been replaced by new gags, like the return of the carnivore characters and newly minted penguin action heroes. This might be my new favorite bit, as the juxtaposition between Wolf and Tiger baking, making confections, talking about their families, and snarling hyper-masculine things is an instant hit. As always, the myriad of characters in the show are colorful and well-developed, and even old characters I previously thought were one-shots like Kangaroo Squirrel get their chance to shine. Polar Bear Cafe is one of the highlights of my week.
BTOOOM! is pure, mindless fun, and it works the best when you try to ignore all of the logistics behind how and why the island survival scenario even exists. With premises like this, the less you know about why the people are on an island trying to kill each other, the better. It's easier to write a good story about human interactions in survival situations, and the fear and mistrust that build between companions, than it is to ever explain why on Earth it would ever be feasible for people to be sent to an island to die. When BTOOOM! tries, it sputters. Evil corporations? Rich people games? All of it is silly and bogus, and the less time the show spends on trying to explain itself, the better.
The actual “gameplay,” as it were, is the selling point behind this series. There's enough people on the island to divide it into “good” guys (very few) and “bad” guys (most of them), and the types of folks that we encounter in this current iteration of the game are variegated. For viewer convenience, I suppose, the bad guys are truly evil (another reason why it's best to not think about the logistics behind BTOOOM! too much—why wouldn't this game have a system built in that selects its participants based on the severity of their friends' judgments?), while the good guys live in a murky gray area that makes them easy to champion. Meanwhile, Sakamoto and Himiko have developed a closer bond primarily because they both liked each other a lot in a video game, but that will surely soon be tested because every character at every turn cries incessantly about how humans can't be trusted.
There may be quite a few anime fans who are unwilling to give BTOOOM! a shot because its premise is too similar to Battle Royale (or for you younger readers out there, The Hunger Games), but it stands on its own quite well. Having to only use bombs makes the fighting system a little more unique, and although it doesn't come even remotely close to having the same kind of social commentary that's in Battle Royale, it at least is trying its best to fill its pages with sociological drama. It's one of the series I most look forward to every week.
Blast of Tempest is good fun, but it does have a couple of bad habits. It tends to get a little long-winded at times, especially when the characters are trying to be profound. Because it's loosely inspired by a Shakespeare play, characters often quote Shakespeare's others works, which is fine in the context of an anime, but silly when you consider that most ordinary denizens aren't going to do this. The end effect is a action thriller that feels bogged down under the weight of its own characters—an unfortunate thing considering the series is already a little top-heavy with its mages and clans and government conspiracies and talismans and Trees of Genesis and Exodus.
One's got to give the show credit, though—it plays a perfectly timed plot twist about the island-stranded Hakase that few could've seen coming. It breathed new life into the series, and now I'm anxious to see what's going to happen in the next few episodes. We also learn a little more about the mired relationship web that connects Yoshino, Mahiro, and Aika, which is about time, since that had been kept vague for a little too long. More than anything, though, it gives us a deeper look at Mahiro and the instability that lays underneath is desire for revenge, and I think it'll provide solid fuel for events to come. Blast of Tempest is a little murky at times, mostly because of its script, but it's really entertaining, and I encourage people to check it out who want a unique story. Plus that twist will blow your mind.
Underneath the filth and eyeroll-inducing harem clichés and creepy undertones, Pet Girl of Sakurasou is an earnest story about chasing one's dreams and gathering the courage to pick a path in life. It's a shame that it has to have a title that includes the phrase “Pet Girl,” even if it's a misunderstanding that occurs within the show itself. It's even more of a shame that it feels the need to throw in tired harem elements, all the way down to the little sister character who likes her brother a little too much, and the stammered exclamations of “w-w-w-whaatttt???? You're doing [misunderstanding] together?????” These bits don't really add anything to the series, and if anything, I think it chases away viewers who might otherwise appreciate the show's message about working hard and taking risks.
We've since learned a lot more about the residents at Sakurasou. And in fact, we've since learned that most of them are good people, with real problems, and real insecurities, both about their career paths and their relationships with the people around them. Mashiro's day-to-day incompetence (which still bothers me when it becomes hypersexualized) has taken a backseat to bigger things—Sorata has decided he wants to try to become a video game developer, but the learning curve is steep, the competition is fierce, and it's filled with setbacks. His classmate Nanami (who joins the harem) wants to be a voice actor, but without her parents' support of her goals, has to struggle to support herself.
What's refreshing about Pet Girl of Sakurasou is everyone's struggles to achieve their goals. All the characters' roads are cluttered with road blocks and dotted with failures, and watching them pick themselves up (or not) and try to move forward gives the series a sense of sorrowful reality that makes it much more riveting than a generic romp where everyone wins at everything. And even when someone is successful, it's met with pangs of jealousy and resentment, even as loved ones try to be supportive.
Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a show that I almost dropped after the first episode, because I was so disgusted and offended by the sexualized portrayal of Mashiro's incompetence. I'm glad I kept watching though, because it's been a rewarding experience thus far. A large chunk of all the episodes still agitate me, especially with the show's trite harem toolings, but the bittersweet and inspirational moments scattered within make the viewings worth it.
Within the span of two episodes, Robotics;Notes has re-invented itself from a stiff and impossibly boring show about a high school robotics club to a conspiracy show about a government cover-up. While peppy Akiho is still trying to secure funding to build her janky giant robot, a story line that is not remotely interesting in the least, Kaito and Subaru are having much better story lines of their own. Subaru's father is a controlling man who'd prefer that Subaru follow his footsteps in becoming a fisherman, instead of wasting his time playing with robots. The confrontation between the two is sobering, but if anything, the series doesn't drag this out enough. Meanwhile, Kaito has stumbled onto quite the adventure himself. He's discovered a mysterious AI interface that lurks on his tablet—part cute girl, part augmented reality app—that leads him to uncover information about solar flares that will destroy humanity. It's a conspiracy that not only provides a glimpse into the strange time speeding/slowing powers that he and Akiho have, but also hints at something larger and more sinister. Before we know it, suited gunmen arrive to apprehend the club members.
Based on the previous works in this series' family, I expected Robotics;Notes to take a supernatural turn, but I was pleasantly surprised with the route that this series took. A lot remains to be seen about what this conspiracy means for the characters, and how it ties in Akiho's mysterious sister, but one thing's clear—this show has become a lot more interesting now than just whether or not they can clean up a pile of robot scrap. If you've been holding off on this show, now might be the time to jump in.
Hunter x Hunter remains a solid weekly staple for those who don't mind their series long. Still entrenched in their struggles with the Phantom Troupe, our heroes are doing their best to help Kurapika, even as his reputation as the legendary chain user puts them all in danger. If ever there was a show that I wish was one while I was a kid, it's this one.
For as intriguing and weird as From the New World is, it is riddled with pacing problems. It seems to dwell on mundane events for far too long, and rushes through events that are critical or eye-opening. This was true of the first chunk of episodes, where viewers learn for the first time about the truth and history of the psychokinetic users in this world, and the strange, genetically/socially engineered society that our main characters are part of, and it's still true now. After that librarian incident, the kids all get their powers sealed away, only to be embroiled in some mutant rat war that expends far too many episodes. We are stuck watching this cursed rat war for what feels like an eternity, as the kids run from them, hide from them, get help from other rats, fight back, run from other things, and so on. This entire saga seems to only serve one purpose, which is to prod one of the kids into figuring out how to restore their powers. Maybe this rat fight will serve further purposes down the line, but even so, this plot point felt like a traffic jam in an already inconsistent series.
And yet, every time I want to give up on this show, they pull out some new bell or whistle that pulls me right back in again. Last time it was that utterly creepy librarian story, this time it's a two-year time jump where we learn that some sinister truth is (still) lurking amongst the community elders. Turns out, the kids weren't successful at all in keeping their power loss/retrieval a secret, but as with most of the things in the series, we don't really know what all creepiness this entails. Surely, this will all be revealed in a data dump later.
I find From the New World to be fascinating, but every episode feels like rolling a dice, with each die face deciding if an episode will be boring or not. If it could spread its weirdness out a little better, it'd have a shot at being one of the top series this season.
I'm having more fun with Magi than I ever would have expected. There's something comforting in how linear and straightforward the series is. It's like reading an adventure novel written for early teenagers (of course, the source manga is published in Weekly Shonen Sunday), without any of the meandering and time-wasting that journey stories sometimes devolve into. Then again, the series is still young, but my hopes are high for the time being.
Despite how straightforward it is, though, it's not shallow in the least. The main character may be a young boy, but the messages that the series espouses are thoughtful ones, and issues of betrayal and poverty and class warfare are often brought up and examined. It's also not black and white in the least—for instance, while there are thieves who steal from the rich and redistribute the wealth amongst the poor, not all of them are good people. And there are plenty of “bad” guys who are plenty good in their own ways. In short, Magi is energetic and well-written, and while it's perfect for older kids and young adults, it's also perfect for adults who want to feel like they're back at storytime again.
Compared to some of this season's other romantic offerings (I'm referring to My Little Monster, specifically), Say, "I Love You". is a little more tame and a little more re-tread. It hasn't revisited the creepy undertones of episode four, where Yamato is weirdly condescending to his new girlfriend Mei, but it has settled into more familiar rom-com territory. Now that Yamato's been scouted to be a part-time model (of course), he's been spending much more time with fellow model Megumi, a cute girl who quickly falls for him (of course). Even though there's nothing between them, at least from Yamato's side, Mei feels left in the dust, and she's quickly swallowed up by heartbreak and insecurity.
For those who enjoy romance stories, Say, "I Love You". is a lot like settling into that worn, comfortable groove on a couch. Not much about it really sets new trends or breaks the mold, but it's easy to watch. The two main characters are relatively likable, and even though all the mean girls and mean boys at the school feel more like caricatures than real people, they provide enough rote drama to keep things moving. I find that I don't really care about Yamato and Mei's relationship, but it's a good way to kill some time every week.
While Kamisama Kiss remains cute and heartwarming, my flame for it has waned a little as the series goes on. It's slowly stagnated over the last few episodes, and its once-sharp humor repertoire has grown a little stale. In part, the crush that Nanami has for Tomoe has taken over the show like a fungus, to the point where the episodes feel like they've fallen into a rhythm. Inevitably, something occurs in which Tomoe begrudgingly shows that he cares for Nanami more than he lets on, while Nanami does something sweet and unconventional that showcases just how great of a deity she is. In the obligatory beach episode, Tomoe gets captured by some water god, but Nanami steps back in time to try and rescue him. It's all very cute and charming, but it doesn't really doesn't amount to anything. At the end of the day, its take-home message is that love has no boundaries. This is great and fine, but in an already cluttered simulcast season, something like Kamisama Kiss just isn't going to rise to the top. It's sweet enough to keep watching, but I'm not holding my breath for anything earth-shattering.
Ixion Saga DT is a funny show, but it strafes a little too close to that shady area of comedy where real jokes are replaced with subculture references. Although even non-gamers might find the show enjoyable, a lot of its non-slapstick gags are written towards gamers, cutting corners in the way that only nerd reference humor can. There's an extended gag where Kon is mistaken by a group of people for a god. Naturally, he uses it to his full advantage, basking in the gifts and special treatment that he receives. When they ask him to tell the history of the world, though, he spits off a list of game consoles, which is only funny in that, “Yeah! I get what he's talking about!” kind of way. It's like those genre parody movies that pop up on the big screen every couple of years.
Not all of the humor in Ixion Saga DT is like that, though. Even in that same episode, the characters make some killer remarks about religious fanaticism that are laugh-out-loud funny. And of course, Kon himself is so goofy that it's hard not to smile when he does something. Ixion Saga DT maybe is a little too outrageous and slapstick for my tastes, but I could easily see how others would enjoy its energetic brand of humor. If you like video games and referential humor, you might do well to check out this series.
Now that Kirito is no longer in the SAO death trap, I really find it hard to care about what happens next in the series. Because he's the hero of this male wish-fulfillment story, I'm going to just assume that he eventually saves Asuna, and I can happily move on with my life. Even him no longer being in Sword Art Online makes the stakes much lower. Who cares if he dies? He'll just respawn the next time he logs in. Oh, he has to fight some bad guys? Well, the worst that happens is he has to replay a level. The only thing still at stake is that Asuna is being held captive by some super creepy dude, which is something we can surmise will get sorted out sooner or later, thanks to Kirito's mad video game skills.
Add to the mix this other girl (we think it's his sister, but of course she's not actually related to him) who is madly in love with him, and it's just one more card in this fragile house of teenage fantasies. As far as I'm concerned, my interest in this show nose-dived once it rinsed its hands clean of the death game premise. It was fun while it lasted, but now it's just rambling, and I think my time would be better spent following new shows.
I've learned one very important thing amongst the hours and days and weeks-worth of anime that I've watched over the years, and it's that action does not equal entertainment. Say what you will about summer blockbuster popcorn flicks—just because things are exploding does not automatically make it a good time. Code:Breaker is filled with death and destruction (and even secret labs full of bloody experimentation slabs and organ harvesting chambers!!), and yet I can't seem to bring myself to care about any of it. This seems to stem from two major things: One, the characters are impossibly generic. Sakura is as cookie-cutter as they get, from her relentless commitment to justice to her status at school as the girl that everyone adores; the various Code:Breakers are all different flavors of the same item, except with different powers. They're all bland and aloof and vaguely handsome, and of course they're all clustered at Sakura's high school. Two, when the characters aren't fighting things, or meeting new Code:Breakers, they're all doing hokey comic relief. Look, there's some weird kid reading smut in the middle of the hallway! Look, that teacher's doing something wacky!
Ultimately, even though the series is trying to throw in twists and turns like new bad guys and evil, shadowy corporations, everything feels like something that already exists. From the generic power users to the Girl Who Wants Justice, Code:Breaker brings nothing new to the table. Even the good vs. bad designations in the show feel lazy, especially since the series is keeping everything purposefully vague. If it's meant to be a hook, it's not working. There are no fish biting in this pond.
Beautiful as K is, and stylish as all the characters are, it's worn me down. There are just too many Kings in the castle. Every episode feels like it introduces yet more super secret power-using Kings. By the time they trotted out some guy in an airship, I had just about had it. K doesn't feel like it plays by the rules. Watching K is a little bit like playing a boardgame with a child, where rules are invented as you go along. If a rule is broken, the child says, “Oh, it's okay in this case, because I said so.” Except with K, it's a matter of bringing out new powers or new plot twists, just to write its way into a new twist.
Our Colorless King has spent the last few episodes trying to understand why he's been framed for a murder. He went back to his school where he was certain there was evidence that he was at the festival the night of his murder, thus exonerating him. Except now we've learned that he may not even be whom he thought, because of powers unleashed on him by the transforming cat girl who follows him around. Now it's all about this other evil Silver King in the sky, who luckily also has enemies in the form of other different colored Blue Kings—enough! Everyone's fighting everyone, there are twists galore, but quite frankly, none of it is interesting. K is an absolute mess. There is too much going on, there are too many characters, and quite frankly, I've had enough of it. It's a beautiful show, but visuals alone aren't enough to carry a poorly written show.
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