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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thoughts on Blogging + Midway Impressions ~ Autumn 2011

So, it’s that time again.
That time when I inevitably become once again interested in my blog, and vaguely try and revive it, before life piles up around me and I lose the time to write another entry.
Well, over the last couple of months, after basically abandoning the internet, I’ve slowly been rebuilding my various accounts around a number of websites, and with relative success. So, I come to my blog, which has been all but forgotten since I initially started it.

The problem with blogging is, I find, it’s difficult to come up with an interesting variety of things to talk about. My initial idea when I created this blog, was to have somewhere I could give my opinions about the things that interested me.
I’m not expecting many people to read it, and I’d certainly never expect it to become popular. However, some people out there might enjoy reading my posts, and I’m confident I’d enjoy writing them.

The problem arises when I realise that if I want to keep blogging, I’m going to have to come up with some sort of release schedule, otherwise I, being me, will just ignore it for months. Now, the schedule itself is fine, I’m quite comfortably able to write a deviantART journal each Monday, for example. Finding something to write about, however, is not so easy. If I could trust myself to simply write an entry every time I found something worth talking about, then I’d be fine, but I’m not good at that and instead need to force myself to commit to something.

The remaining issue is that, while I could quite easily come up with something to talk about every, let’s say, fortnight, whether or not people would find them interesting, or more accurately ‘relevant’ if a better question. Now, I know I said above I’m not expecting many people to read my blog, but it would be nice to provide posts that people are actually interested in, and if I decided to write a review for something that aired a year and a half ago, would people still care?

Anyway, that’s a basic overview of why my blog has remained as empty as it has, a combination of my own laziness and an apprehension as to whether readers would be interested in what I had to say if I forced myself to have a topic every week? 2 weeks? etc..

That said I will, starting now, try and write a blog entry to go up every other Sunday evening (UK time).
Note: This post is late due to formatting problems with blogspot.
So, in a petty attempt to stay ‘relevant’, this update shall contain my opinions at roughly the halfway point of the current season of anime, as the title of the entry suggests.

I’ve been watching a total of twelve series this season, and I’ve managed, for once, to stay pretty up to date with all of them. I’ll go through them alphabetically.

Bakuman II
[Watched: 6 episodes]

*Minor season 1 spoilers*
Having loved the first season of Bakuman, I was greatly anticipating it’s second season. The first season was involving and exciting, with a strong cast of characters. The goal throughout the first season was serialisation, and the series drew me in in such a way that I was on the edge of my seat every time they had to hear back from Jack. It was an emotional rollercoaster where you never knew what the next outcome would be.

The second season has pulled me in with the same level of investment in the series, but it doesn’t manage to catch that same true excitement. It’s a very good series, and I’m still greatly enjoying it, but with them now serialised it feels like the tension has relaxed, and the passion so evident in the first season had subsided a little.

It has been a solid series so far, but in my opinion hasn’t quite lived up to the first season so far. Luckily we have plenty of time left to go.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai
[Watched: 6 episodes]

Boku wa Tomodachi is as predictable as they come, with a set of characters filling all the stereotypes, brought together for the sake of a harem. If you’ve seen any other harem-comedy series, you’ll know what to expect from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. As far as harem’s go, however, you can certainly do a lot worse than Boku wa Tomodachi. While it lacks in originality, the comedy and characters generally make it entertaining enough for 20 minutes a week. If you don’t like harem series, you’ll most certainly find this generic and bland and not to your tastes, if you’re more forgiving of the genre you may find yourself smiling and laughing most episodes.

The main problem with the series, in my opinion, is that of the two lead female characters, neither is particularly likeable. They each have moments here and there where I think they’re growing on me, but they never do. They feel a lot like Kirino and Kuroneko of Ore no Imouto, but lack any of the charm.

[Watched: 7 episodes]

Chihayafuru is my surprise hit of the season. I was expecting to enjoy it, but not quite as much as I am. Every moment spent with Chihaya and her friends has been a joy for me.

I picked up Chihayafuru because I enjoyed Saki and, while I wasn’t expecting it to be similar to Saki, I was hoping it could invoke the same sort of feelings in me. I loved Saki because it had a way of drawing me in to every match, and made me care about the outcome of every single one. Chihayafuru has that same effect on me, even though Karuta doesn’t appear that interesting. The first time we see Arata play, and in his game against Taichi it genuinely excited me, and I’m greatly anticipating the next time we see him play, especially if it’s against Chihaya herself.

I’ve become quickly and deeply emotionally involved in Chihayafuru. I care about the characters, and truly want to see them succeed against all odds. I look forward to seeing what sort of opponents will arise in the future episodes and the journey the rest of this series takes us on.

[Watched: 7 episodes]

Fate/Zero has, without exception, been outstanding every episode. The set-up to this series was truly phenomenal, taking the viewer carefully through a brief look at each of the main players and giving insight into their motives and plans for the Holy Grail War and it’s reward. Even having watched Fate/Stay Night I had no idea of the politics of the War, its history, the fact that there were even households that expected to have a member chosen by the grail, and could plan accordingly. That masters might examine each other and learn what they could before the War started never occurred to me in Fate/Stay Night even though it seems such an obvious thing to do. It was simple things such as these that were used to foreshadow the War itself. Over the first two episodes, as the masters and servants were introduced and their personalities and relationships established, it became all too easy to find yourself anticipating the coming battles and what twists they would bring.

So far, Fate/Zero has proven to be entertaining, intelligent, exciting and thrilling, and it doesn’t appear to show any signs of slowing soon.

Kimi to Boku
[Watched: 7 episodes]

Kimi to Boku is about as pure as slice of life series come. It truly is nothing more than the story of five boys at high school and their day-to-day lives. Some may wonder where the appeal lies in sich a slow-paced and direction-less show, but the answer lies within the characters of the series. The backbone of any slice of life series is its cast, as without any semblance of a plot there’s nothing else to provide viewers with a reason to come back. Fortunately, Kimi to Boku’s cast consists of a small handful of charming characters. They play off each other well, and although they appear an unlikely group at the surface, the series does a good job of making their friendship seem genuine. It provides a calm, relaxing, easy to watch glance into high school life. If it doesn’t sound like it appeals to you, then it probably won’t; however, if you enjoy slice of life series, then its definitely worth the chance.

Kimi to Boku is a series that revels in its slice of life atmosphere providing soft, unobtrusive music; casual, natural characters and a beautiful art style.

Mashiro-iro Symphony
[Watched: 5 episodes]

Mashiro-iro Symphony provides what you expect from almost any series based on a dating sim. A harem-style series, with story arcs for each girl based on their branching paths in the game. The characters generally tend to be likeable but also fall into all the traps of being from a game, which means they end up being very stereotypical and do little to stray from that, so as to appease the fans of each archetype who want to pursue that character through the game. Mashiro-iro isn’t a bad series, it does little wrong, providing a pleasant setting, a group of characters in which it’s fairly easy to pick a couple you like, a nice score and decent art style. The noteable faults that do exist in Mashiro-iro, however, mainly lie with the tsunderes.

Airi’s story arc makes little sense, she’s completely happy to talk to Shingo at the beginning of the first episode, acting in a manner friendly enough that you’d believe they were close. Her sudden shift in disposition toward him just because he’s one of the male students attending the school isn’t natural, and it seems a fairly poor attempt at trying to provide a tsundere for the sake of having a tsundere character.
Unfortunately the second tsundere character makes even less sense, and Sana’s sudden shift halfway through the series from a friendly, bubbly, pleasant girl to one who has an irrational hatred of boys is so jarring and confusing even the series doesn’t seem to fully understand as moments after that reveal, she’s acting in a perfectly normal way around Shingo.

Other than that, the problem with the series is that is does nothing to stand out, everything is generic and has a ‘been there, done that’ feel, and that will turn off just as many people as a badly written plot or poor characters would.

Persona 4 The Animation
[Watched: 6 episodes]

I’m a big fan of the game this series is based on, although I haven’t yet finished it. The anime translates the plot of the game onto the screen very well, and the story so far has remained faithful. For this, I’m thankful as the game’s plot has been excellent thusfar. What the anime doesn’t manage to capture, whoever, is the same intimacy of character relations and the depth and analysis the characters receive in the game. It doesn’t do a bad job with these aspects, but because the game allows you to spend far more time with these characters, the anime cannot hope to reach that same level. The other aspect it can’t translate as well is the subplots; the social links within the game. During gameplay, expanding social links and following subplots feels very natural due to the way the game plays. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be replicated for TV, as shown by the 5th episode which would appear as filler to most viewers. It’s faithful to the game, but has no correlation to the main plot and seems out of place, and slightly random.

Persona 4 The Animation is a good series, that manages to capture a lot of what makes the game great, however, unfortunately due to it’s pace and that lack of input and involvement from the watcher it falls short of the game it’s based on.

Phi-Brain: Kami no Puzzle
[Watched: 6 episodes]

Phi-Brain has been an interesting series so far, taking a standard shounen hero and plot structure and applying it to a world of puzzles. While it doesn’t suddenly make the series seem unique, it keeps it fresh and entertaining, the puzzles and setups are often interesting, and the variety of motivations for the puzzles set keep it from being monotonous. Prior hints of a larger story are starting to surface now with the introduction of a character, and so it’s hard to know exactly where this series will go from here. For me, I feel if the puzzles get more challenging, the stakes get higher and story becomes more defined I’ll enjoy it from here on out.

Shakugan no Shana III
[Watched: 5 episodes]

I’m a big fan of the original Shakugan no Shana, and while the second season didn’t quite live up to the first, I still enjoyed it. Shana S then proceeded to get me excited for Shana III and I’ve been awaiting it’s arrival for some time now. This being the final season, the story starts pretty quickly and doesn’t currently look like it’ll give us the same story arc structure as the prior seasons, presenting us with a primary antagonist and a satisfying plot twist from the very beginning. However, despite the high stakes and what should be a thrilling series of events so far, I’ve found myself unable to get drawn into the series. It appears to have returned to the darker feel that the first season provided, but I felt was distinctly lacking in the first series, and the story so far has been fairly interesting. But, I’m not as involved as I thought I’d be. I expected to find myself eagerly awaiting each episode and watching it the moment I could, but I’m not.

I don’t think I’m disappointed with the series, it’s just not as easy to get into as I thought it would be.

Shinryaku!? Ika-Musume
[Watched: 6 episodes]

It’s hard to know what to say about Shinryaku!? Ika-Musume. It’s much like the first season, the characters are the same, the setting is the same, the style is the same and the humour is the same. I enjoyed the first season a lot, I loved Ika and the supporting cast was strong, the stories were short but entertaining and the humour appealed to me. The second season is strong in all the same areas, and so I’m enjoying it just as much. If you liked the first season, the second season provides more of the same and little else.

Tamayura ~hitotose~
[Watched: 6 episodes]

Those few of you who read my top 10 anime of 2010 will know that I greatly enjoyed the 4-episode Tamayura OVA. It had a flavour of ARIA about it that hooked me, with it’s utopian setting, it’s cast of likeable characters and it’s uplifting & positive themes set firmly in the guise of photography. Tamayura ~hitotose~ follows much of this, and it’s in the series credit that it does so, however, it loses a little something that the OVA had. The idea of photographs capturing and preserving moments of happiness is explored far less. It’s shown a lot, many times we see Potte with her camera out and the moments she saves in her pictures, however, it’s rarely talked about. Now, arguably, this is because the OVA has already done this, and so the series no longer needs to otherwise it’ll start to feel a bit samey. However, the problem with losing this is the themes the show stands for, memories and the happiness they can hold, becomes far less prevalent in the full series.

While this is a shame, the series as a whole is good and what you expect from such a series. Slightly quirky characters, living in a beautiful area living out their day-to-day lives. It’s not for everyone, but what it does it does extremely well.

[Watched: 5 episodes]

Following Gosick and Kami-sama no Memochou, UN-GO continues the recent increase in detective series, which for me is more than welcome. I enjoy series like UN-GO, I find the main characters interesting and like following the trail of clues that leads them to a mystery’s conclusion. UN-GO’s ‘defeated detective’, like many detectives, seems unremarkable at first, but is quickly proven to possess a very sharp mind and, to the viewer at least, a likeable temperament. His partner Inga is where the series starts to get interesting. Even by episode 5 we don’t know much about Inga beyond a few brief mentions of backstory, what makes Inga a strong addition to the series, however, is the ability to ask someone a single question to which they must respond truthfully. The mystery style of the series, then, often will come down to ‘what will the question be, and who will be asked?’, and while on the surface this could appear a copout, the deductive reasoning that leads to this question is always well explained. It’s set in a post-war future, though what war hasn’t been explained in much detail, which allows for occasional plots driven by a sci-fi idea, but a number of cases stick to a more ordinary case.

As UN-GO progresses it may grow in need of a more substantial plot, but for the time being, at least, it’s an interesting series with a few notable traits.

All in all, I am enjoying this season. There are a number of series that are really standing out to me, and while most have faults, I’ve found myself enjoying everything I’ve picked up. If I had to pick a personal top three, I might say Fate/Zero, Chihayafuru and Bakuman II, though don’t read too far into that.

As for blogging, I will genuinely try and be more consistent from now on. I may not be on time with every entry, but I do hope to get out a new post at least every 2 weeks. I’ll continue to talk about various topics, and if they provide to be uninteresting, I’ll work to try and improve that.
It would be nice if anyone could leave feedback, just to give me some few pointers on areas where I could improve, but I doubt anyone will.

Regardless! If you’re still here, thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!

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