Rating the Anime of Fall 2014

Since we verge upon the beginning of a new season, it’s high time for me to give you my opinions on the eight shows I watched.  If not for The Banner Saga sucking me into its world, this post would no doubt have been published sooner.  But, anyone with a love for the Viking age, RPGs, and games of frustrating difficulty would be sucked into such a beautifully animated game!  But, let me go on to my ratings.

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8) Akatsuki no Yona – no rating

As you know, I forbear from rating a show until seeing how it ends.  Akatsuki no Yona boasts some great characters, beautiful backgrounds, good fights, and great comedy.  It also engages some interesting moral themes.  However, its vexatious and profuse use of flashbacks would earn it a three star rating if I were to rate it now.  The audience does not need to have complete knowledge of each character’s backstory!  Other than the Blue Dragon’s, they all contain information we’ve gleaned through watching the interaction of the characters in the present.  By resorting so frequently to this device, the writer gives the impression of being far too timid or greatly underestimating the audience’s powers of deduction.

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Despite how the flashbacks slow the pacing, I love this anime, and look forward to more of Yona’s struggle to become a worthy leader, Yun’s sarcastic remarks, Hak’s relentless teasing, and the final battle between Soo-Won and Yona.

 

 

Surprise Hak

Hak is hands down the best male character this season.

 

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7) Inou Battle Within Everyday Life – ★★★½

Kudos to Trigger for making what should have been a dull and forgettable harem story into a fun and sensitive tale of high schoolers with supernatural powers.  A friend of mine has noticed that it did not know whether it wished to be a fantasy, harem, or slice of life story.  I must agree: the story went all over the place.  Many episodes ignored the fantasy elements entirely, and the premise of fairies giving certain people supernatural powers for their entertainment seemed rather thin.  Only the last episode weaved in all these elements successfully.

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Be that as it may, I loved the characters and would watch Inou Battle Within Everyday Life again.  They even managed to make a harem lead interesting!  Though, Hatoko with her placid demeanor concealing a heart capable of great passion steals the show–especially after her rant in episode seven–a rant second only to Kei Kugimiya’s fanservice rant in episode 12 of Majestic Prince.  (Can’t find a link to that on YouTube.  Shikata ga nai.)

 

Don't dare to trifle with Hatoko!

Don’t dare to trifle with Hatoko!

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6) Psycho- Pass 2 – ★★★½

It saddens me that this sequel cannot be rated higher.  The original show came to be my favorite of 2013, after all!  The second season has an incredibly exciting middle but failed to separate itself more sharply from the plot of the first and gave us a dull ending–I almost want to call it a non-ending for how many loose ends it left us.  People want to blame Tow Ubukata for how Psycho-Pass 2 fell flat, but the studio’s wish to create a movie afterwards likely limited Ubukata’s options for the kind of ending he could make.  For me, a satisfying ending to the second season would necessarily have involved Akane Tsunemori toppling the false god of the Sybil System.  But then, the studio could no longer make money on this franchise, could they?

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season.  Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season. Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

However, the element of the show which annoys me the most was the shoddy logic applied to the Omnipotence Paradox.  The very fact that God cannot create a stone too heavy for him to lift proves His omnipotence.  To say that God lacks power because He cannot create a rock which he cannot lift is like saying that a being must be both omnipotent and omni-impotent in order to have the quality of omnipotence–an assertion which is obviously insane.  Though Akane’s solution works well enough in predicting the action the Sybil System eventually takes, that system is not omnipotent–as much as totalitarian systems of government do try to stand in the place of God in the minds of their subjects.  At any rate, I hope that this element of the show harmed no one’s ability to reason logically. 🙂

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5) I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying – ★★★★

Others may be surprised by how high this series is rated here, but the main characters related to me very well.  Also, this comedy caused me to laugh so hard that I nearly fell out of my chair once or twice.  The show also surprised me in the sensitive way it handled the issues facing young people in Japan over whether to marry and have children.  Danna ga Wakaranai  is not as epic or complex as other anime, but it knew what it wanted to accomplish each episode, executed the stories well, and even developed the characters more in 39 minutes than many series accomplish in twenty four episodes.  Who knew a series of shorts could boast dynamic characters?

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Each week, I found myself looking forward more to this show than any other anime with the exception of Akame ga Kiru.  An accomplishment which reminds me of Tonari no Seki-kun.

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4) Madan no Ou to Vanadis – ★★★★

Were it not for the creator’s obvious love of medieval history, this show would have merited a slightly lower rating.  It had many problems, ranging from certain scenes displaying poor CG animation to Tigre transforming from a dynamic and interesting character to a dull harem lead.  His archery became boring to watch too as every arrow never failed to find its mark–there needs to be some uncertainty to create suspense!  Also, the hole in the center of the knights’ helmets annoyed me to no end–almost as if they placed a bull’s-eye on their helms for Tigre to hit!

Tigre with Bow

 

 

Nevertheless, the characters, intrigue, and battles made up for these defects.  If only they had improved on Tigre’s character, this show might have been better!

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3) Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – ★★★★

This show could have become a classic.  It had plenty of originality and great characters.  The only show more quirky than it this past season was Shingeki no Bahamut.  Resorting to a deus ex machina for the ending is probably what keeps me from giving it a slightly higher rating.

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever.  But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever. But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

 

But, it did boast some great characters.  If I were to create a top five characters list for this season, Akari and Frederica would both find themselves on it.

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Red Chaika was not so bad either, but Akari and Frederica stole the show.

 

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2) Akame ga Kiru –  ★★★★

As an aficionado of the manga, I started watching this show hoping to see a masterpiece.  However, the anime suffers from a grave defect: it does not adapt the story convey the mood of the manga in the medium of anime.  When reading the manga, one does not have the impression that it means to be The Game of Thrones of manga.  It is more like the series Combat!! (probably the best WWII TV series ever made), where the fortunes of war may turn against any particular character but the deaths always come out of the blue.  A hundred death flags do not pop up before a character kicks the bucket!  Also, the manga is much grimmer, though there are certain parts of the manga which I was happy not to see again.

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But, not fitting the story to the medium seems to be a ubiquitous problem.  Studios feel like success is sure as long as they don’t deviate from a successful source.  Occasionally, this is true, as with manga like Inuyasha and Rurouni Kenshin, but these are exceptions to the rule.  Gokukoku no Brynhildr failed because they thought that they could animate the manga panel for panel.  The writers of Akame ga Kiru were forced to deviate from the original source for the last several episodes, and the results were rather pleasing–especially the last two episodes.

Akame's Warning

For all that, Akame ga Kiru was a lot of fun to watch.  The voice actors were well chosen, and certain fights were great.  The fight between Akame and Esdeath has to be one of the ten best anime swordfights I’ve seen.  The ending was also more satisfying than most other shows.

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1) Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis – ★★★★½

Here’s the only show from 2014 to earn four and a half stars from me.  Shingeki no Bahamut boasts a shocking amount of originality for an anime based on a card game.  Despite the heavy use of pagan symbolism, many of the show’s themes convince me that this was a Christian fairy tale.  My dear readers have already perused one article linking the show to the Christian worldview, and I have another in the works.  The first draft of the upcoming article even mentions two works by C. S. Lewis–one fiction and one non-fiction.  Fans of C. S. Lewis are welcome to guess which two works these are.  One of them happens to be perhaps the least popular work he wrote after his conversion.

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This anime excelled very well on all levels.  It just lacks some nebulous quality which prevents me from giving it a full five stars.  You’ve truly deprived yourself if you have not watched this show!

Yes, that's Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.

Yes, that’s Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.

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Fantasy, Vikings, and Gunslinging: Manga Reviews!

Here’s some reviews of the manga I’ve been reading recently.  The first part will contain three manga and the second part, which will be written this weekend, three more.  All of them may be recommended without exception–unless you can’t endure fanservice.  Then, I won’t recommend Zero-In to you.

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The manga Superior and its second part Superior Cross were delightful to read.  This series had great fights and the plot some nice twists.  Yet, the most appealing things about this fantasy are how the mangaka, Ichtys, works in a Christian worldview, how likable and dynamic the characters are, and the often gut-wrenching situations in which the characters find themselves.

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Of particular interest is the Demon Queen, Sheila.  She starts off as a rather bloodthirsty, callous, ruthless character with a sense of humor.  After running into Hero, who has a strong sense of justice and made a vow not to kill anyone with the sole exception of the Demon Queen (He’s like Kenshin Himura, but less cool), Sheila falls in love with him, managing to keep her identity in the dark.  This allows her to tag along with Hero and his company.

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This series is rife with Christian symbolism and theology.  They quote Scripture on a few occasions.  That neither humans nor monsters are ontologically good or evil indicates that all rational creatures possess free will.  At the same time, several characters confess to having a wounded nature (very Catholic there)–particularly Sheila in the very powerful ending to this series.  One scene basically shouts the concept of doffing the old man and putting on the new.  If Christian manga are of interest to you, you can’t let this one go without reading it.

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Vinland Saga is a favorite of mine.  (The image in the header gives that away.)  Unfortunately, they release chapters at a snail’s pace.  The drawing style feels more like Prince Valiant than manga, even though there are certain characters who definitely have a manga-ish appearance.  All the weapons, armor, and backgrounds are beautifully done.  (Maybe that’s why it takes so long for the mangaka to write chapters.)  The characters range from being lovable to despicable.  Overall, the story is quite compelling, even though certain parts can be too drawn out, especially around chapter 80.  Until around chapter 54, the manga is a true page turner, and the pace slows down a bit afterward.

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The first section of the comic deals with the antagonism between Askeladd and our hero, Thorfinn.  Askeladd leads a company of Vikings on raids, Thorfinn included, and is the one responsible for the death of Thorfinn’s father.  In exchange for good conduct on the battlefield, Thorfinn is allowed to duel Askeladd and try to avenge his father.  The comics take a very interesting plunge into history when this company is assigned to guard Prince Canute, the man who would become king of Denmark and Britain, during a war with Britain.  Askeladd and Thorfinn must protect their charge against all enemies, hostes et inimici.  (Forgive my indulgence in Latin.  Hostes = enemy of one’s country.  Inimici = personal enemies.)

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This series stands out among manga for a variety of reasons.  It shows a very interesting conflict between Christians and Pagans–reminiscent of Tokugawa period Japan.  Some of its views of Christianity are inaccurate (a corpse is not the highest symbol of Christian charity!), but it shows this religion in a favorable light, especially when compared to Viking paganism.  I also enjoy how historically accurate and unusual the characters all are for manga–as a matter of fact, some characters relate much more to figures found in sagas than those in Japanese manga.  Though, I am disappointed with what the mangaka did to King Canute’s character–even though it makes the story more compelling.  (Canute was a good guy from everything I’ve read.)

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You have no idea how hard it is to find decent pictures of this manga–and by decent, I don’t mean well done!

Here’s a fanservicey, action-packed shounen for you: Zero-In.  Again, we have a series with very likable characters and the cool and absorbing action draws in the reader.  It feels a little like Gunsmith Cats: an almost perfectly entertaining series if you can ignore the scenes of nudity, especially a few which go further than that.  Zero-In concerns a privately owned Japanese police company called Minkei.  Our two main characters are the experienced and powerful Mikuru and her love interest, Kou.  (I cannot see Kou as much of a lead, but this series falls in the harem genre.)  The plots tend to be episodic, and many interesting characters are met along the way.  Overall, this manga excels in providing the reader with great fun–if only they would translate the chapters faster!  (I’m very close to reading it raw, which I find a bit time consuming these days.)

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