The Best of Summer 2014
Okay Summer is over and the new Autumn season is starting – time to get the usual ritual of picking my favourites of the outgoing season done before getting stuck into first impressions posts!
Summer ended up being pretty fun for me – a few shows didn’t quite live up to their pre-season hype, but there were a few surprise gems that made up for that. I ended up watching 21 shows, which is pretty substantial for the traditionally smaller Summer season – so I can easily pick a top 10 unlike the disappointing Spring season. Ranking was difficult though since I enjoyed different shows for very different reasons…….but here we go anyway!
10. Shounen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49
Shounen Hollywood ended up being one of the shows that surprised me this season. I was fully expecting a stupid fun idol show like UtaPri, but ended up with something a bit more substantial instead. ShoHari can be pretty cynical about the idol industry at times, and while it had plenty of moments of comedy and stupid fun, there are just as many serious moments examining just what it takes of succeed in the idol industry. There are no pyrotechnics or elaborate OTT set-pieces like many shows in this genre, this is a very grounded show that is much more concerned with developing its characters, and that is something it does exceptionally well.
The show suffers from a rather meagre budget, but it makes up for that in the quality of its acting and direction – there are some beautifully framed scenes in this show, which is something I definitely didn’t expect from it. The music is cheesetastic as is typical for the genre, but it isn’t all super polished and that adds a rather endearing quality to the show – the boys are working hard to get their performance up to scratch and things don’t come naturally to them.
The character designs and lacklustre set up turned a lot of people away from Shounen Hollywood, but I’d definitely say it deserves a fair chance and I am very happy it is getting a 2nd season in the Winter!
There is no denying that the second season of Hamatora is much better than the first season – it improves on basically every level. The change in studio from NAZ to Lerche meant the show looked much better and there was more of a cohesive plot going on with the Freemum organisation and Art as the main antagonist. There was still that frustrating see-sawing tone going on with slap-stick comedy following close on the heels of a super-serious episode, but that’s just one of the hallmarks of Hamatora it seems.
Hamatora has loads of very interesting elements and some great characters, but it doesn’t really use them all that well and has a rather lax approach to developing its story. I got annoyed with vital plot points were only shoved in last moment and feel Art’s character could have been much better explored. In fact all the main characters really could have benefited from a bit more development since they’re all a bit barebones even at the end.
Still overall it was a fun show to watch and genuinely had me invested in its world at times. Not entirely happy with the Super Happy Ending, but hey, Hamatora’s goofiness really couldn’t have handled a serious ending to the show. I don’t think I could recommend the series, but I enjoyed it.
8. Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
I could not be more pleased with this adaptation of the Noah’s Arc Circus arc of the manga. The ten episodes we got were pretty perfect for telling the story adequately – the pacing was really spot on since Ciel and Sebastian don’t really spend a long time with the circus troope in real time. Casting was brilliant and even with limited screentime we got to know all the new characters well.
I hope the other arcs of the manga get similar treatment in the future, I’d really love to see the Cruise and School arcs animated!
Barakamon was a show I was fully expecting to watch a few episodes of and then drop – countryside comedy s’life shows generally aren’t my thing. However Barakamon won me over with it’s excellent acting, expressive characters and warm atmosphere – it is the perfect Summer show. I was surprised by how much I looked forward to each episode even though it was generally more of the same fish-out-of-water comedy each week.
Barakamon is a very solid show – it delivers on every front without really excelling in any area. There is really nothing to complain about with it, but I’m happy with the ending and don’t really feel the need for there to be any more of it. Which is a nice feeling in itself really.
6. Free!! Eternal Summer
Second season of cute boys swimming brought us new characters, new character songs, hilarious DORAMA, a trip to Australia, tears and a comprehensive epilogue montage – I pretty much loved it all. Free! is a fun show that panders to its audience unabashedly – I know for a fact that if it was full of cute girls I wouldn’t like it half as much.
KyoAni didn’t skimp on the swimming either – just enough focus on the training and competition aspect of the sport, and their attention to detail does have to be applauded. The studio really are at the top of the game for stellar quality TV animation pity they’re so focused on the cute girls do cute things demographic. I wouldn’t mind watching another KyoAni show full of cute guys – so much eyecandy!
Free! ended on a high note – sorry to see the show end, but I think we got everything we could have asked for from the show.
Oh yes my preferred pairings (because this is important!)
Makoto x Haruka, Sousuke x Rin, Rei x Nagisa, Rin x Rei, Rin x Haru
5. Tokyo Ghoul
I wasn’t quite sure where to place Tokyo Ghoul on the list so ended up just sticking it in the middle. When it was good, it was exceptionally good (that final episode was just perfection), but when it was bad, it was pretty dull. Tokyo Ghoul was at its best when exploring the psychological struggle of its main character – Kaneki’s status as half Ghoul half human leave him in this terrifying middle-ground where he doesn’t know where he really stands. The show gets a bit wobbly when it goes off on a shounen fighting show tangent with no real focus -although I will say that the action was generally entertaining and well choreographed.
The series ends just when it reaches its emotional crescendo with Kaneki making a choice to accept the Ghoul within – it is definitely a high point and makes a real impact as a finale, but I’m left desperately wanting more. All the other plot threads are left hanging in mid-air and we don’t know what affect Kaneki’s choice will have on the rest of the cast. A second season really needs to happen (even if word is that the manga’s ending leaves a lot to be desired).
4. Terror in Resonance
Probably the biggest disappointment of the season. Not a bad show really, but just so much wasted potential! This was the show I was most hyped about and I was interested enough in the first few episodes to want to write – but my interest quickly waned when no strong central narrative presented itself. I desperately wanted to be emotionally invested in Terror in Resonance, but it just never happened and the show left me rather cold in the end.
There was still lots to be interested in though – great animation and direction, wonderful music and interesting motifs peppered throughout the show, but the characters needed further development to make them more emotionally resonant with the audience. We didn’t really get to know anyone all that well – the character I felt for most was probably Shibazaki simply because I could get where he was coming from. The other characters just don’t get the same development despite us spending time with them. Five felt surplus to requirements, Lisa didn’t serve much purpose except as something to serve as a contrast to the boys and the majority of the adults in the show didn’t really seem to have much of a point except to provide window-dressing.
The finale at least got things right – I liked it a lot (although it kind of glosses over what I’m sure was a rather tumultuous aftermath), but there is still that horribly annoying feeling that Terror in Resonance should have been a much better show than it ended up being. Definitely an interesting series, but still disappointing over all.
3. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
This was the show that surprised me most this season – I never expected to enjoy it so much. Nozaki-kun is a brilliant comedy series populated with really fun, memorable characters……and shipping galore! Some episodes were better than others as is the case with most comedy shows, but when Nozaki-kun is on top form it can induce fits of giggles – which is all I really ask of a comedy show.
Production was surprisingly solid on the series too, with some glorious reaction faces and pretty consistent quality throughout. Acting and comedic timing were both top-notch too, which is what made the show such a solid series. I’m definitely going to pick up the manga, but kind of hope there is a second season in the future – I really enjoyed this show!
Aldnoah.Zero has a lot of problems, but I massively enjoyed it – I kind of admire how it constantly attempted to one-up itself – it isn’t quite a trainwreck, but it is certainly heading in that direction. Aldnoah’s major problem is the fact that it won’t allow any character except Inaho to do anything noteworthy – everyone is a basketcase who can’t formulate a plan except for the super calm, competent Inaho. It’s laughable and seriously undermines Aldnoah’s credibility, but at the same time I enjoyed it because it was laughable! It is a real pity that Aldnoah takes itself so seriously, if it was a bit more campy and tongue-in-cheek it would probably be a much better show.
The last episode certainly goes all out in trying to give us an exciting cliffhanger, but because Aldnoah is pretty lax in killing people off properly it just lacks teeth. I’ll be completely shocked if all our main characters don’t show up in season 2. Still all that this adds up to is that Aldnoah.Zero is completely my kind of thing and I really enjoyed it in spite of / because of its many, many flaws. Roll on season 2!
1. Space Dandy 2
Of course it had to be Space Dandy at number 1 – it is just a great series! Every episode of Space Dandy is different and it was a lot of fun to see what new, imaginative spin would be put on the show each week. This second season had some inspired episodes and I adored how the final few episodes tied things up – just pure genius! Of course not every episode was brilliant, but the quality was consistently high for this later half of the show.
Anthology shows like this show off a wonderful array of talent – only Shinichiro Watanabe could have attracted so many talented individuals to this project. I’d love to see something similar attempted in the future, but don’t think we’ll get anything quite as special as Space Dandy any time soon. Great series.
Okay so that’s my picks of the Summer season! Honourable mention to Bakumatsu Rock for being every bit as cheesy and OTT as I hoped. Dishonourable mentions to Tokyo ESP for being dull as dishwater despite its promising start and Sailor Moon Crystal for being disappointingly uninspired and riddled with budget issues.
New season has already started so I’ll have some first impression posts going up shortly – still mostly interested in sequels, but hope there are some interesting shows mixed in with the LN trash.