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Dated 7 May 2009: Hatsukoi Limited

Yuuji and Ayumi
Ayumi is the strongest.

Through five episodes, the endearing Cross Game is the best show this season, but with four episodes down, Hatsukoi Limited is an unexpected close second. I didn't expect much from this J.C. Staff light comedy, but it is funny and engaging and seems likely to ride high on J.C. Staff's strengths. It also has the best fan service this season if you care about that sort of thing. (Queen's Blade may have the most, but far from the best.) Misaki's Girl Next Door powers are fearsome.

Doba
Doba is the fastest.

Hatsukoi Limited combines intertwined stories of unrequited love. Secondary characters in one episode take the lead in the next. None of them find romance (at least not yet) as the objects of their affection inevitably have their eyes cast elsewhere. School Rumble at its best relied on stories of unrequited love in much the same way, but School Rumble also suffered from an unwillingness to resolve any of the potential romances. The surely hazardous sea of manga spoilers likely renders such speculation moot, but I hope Hatsukoi Limited will not suffer from School Rumble's cowardice by failing to let its stories advance.

Kei
Kei is the tsunderest.

It's still early yet, but there do appear opportunities for genuine romances to develop. Naturally, these potential couples manage to make things difficult for themselves thanks to their own silliness, even though the viewer knows they would be perfect for each other. In this way, with its couples who can't get together, and one-sided hopeless romantics chasing pipe dreams, Hatsukoi Limited leans on many of the staples that make Shakespeare's comedies so entertaining centuries after they were written.

Wait, did you just compare Hatsukoi Limited to Shakespeare?

Well, I wouldn't put it that way exactly, but this is the kind of light romance Hatsukoi Limited feels like. And with J.C. Staff at the helm, it stands a pretty good chance of maintaining the charm and hopeless romanticism that have elevated the first four episodes above any right they have to be. Shakespeare's romantic comedies do rely on many of the same near misses and confounding pigheadedness of potential couples, so I think the limited comparison is valid. It's not like I'm suggesting Gonzo's Kiddy Grade is actually based on Twelfth Night, you know. [Spoilers: Viola and Cesario are actually the same person.]

Kusada and Misaki
Misaki is a sex bomb.

In any case, I know I'm in good company when I say Hatsukoi Limited is excellent. Reactions I've seen thus far have consisted of universal praise. Nevertheless, I've still had very limited success convincing people to begin watching Hatsukoi Limited. I presume this is related to its rather simple synopsis and generally unremarkable description. But like Kannagi before it, Hatsukoi Limited succeeds through brilliant execution. As with Kannagi, Hatsukoi Limited is proof execution can be more important than concepts if the shows are done sufficiently well—and so far Hatsukoi Limited is done very well indeed.

Dated 25 May 2009: The lesson in Hatsukoi Limited

Kei
Miss Kei "Two Years" Enomoto.

Hatsukoi Limited is very much about otaku wish fulfillment, but it executes these moments so well I absolve it from blame. The fan service in Hatsukoi Limited is overt, but sincere. Moreover, the fan service is diffused through nostalgia-colored glasses with thick coats of optimism. This is first love, best case scenario, and J.C. Staff is careful at presenting it to the viewer.

Ayumi
Ayumi in a nurse costume.

You can kind of see it in the ED. The Hatsukoi Limited girls spend the ED dressed up in various fetish-type outfits, but they're clearly wearing costumes. For example, Ayumi wears a nurse costume, not a nurse uniform. The distinction is important because it suggests a certain awareness that perhaps breaks the fourth wall a bit, but at least seems more earnest and honest about its reasons for doing so. It's fan service, but it doesn't pretend not to be.

Koyoi
Koyoi.

Nothing in Hatsukoi Limited through six episodes has been groundbreaking. It relies on old staples, but J.C. Staff executes them very skillfully. He likes her, but she likes that guy. That guy likes that girl, but she likes someone else, and this guy likes this girl. Oh, what a mess. It's simple, but stories of unrequited love are time-tested and proven. And they work well in Hatsukoi Limited.

Kudada and Kei
In heels, Kei towers over Kusada.

They aren't all unrequited love stories. There is at least one potential pair with obviously mutual attraction, but their own boneheadedness keeps them apart. That's a time-tested and proven formula too. And it'll probably be the crux of the Hatsukoi Limited climax during its too-short run. I hope it's not really only going to be 12 episodes, because that's a painful "read the manga" tease, although at four volumes the manga sounds too short also.

Doba
Rika wearing a...cat leotard? Hoodie? Pajamas? I dunno.

It's not really enough time to develop all these characters. We know Rika is the athletic one because she has darker skin, short hair, and she wears bike shorts under her skirt. Yet she's surprisingly feminine instead of being pigeonholed into being a typical anime tomboy character. Her eyes, feathered hair, and voice are feminine at least. Chances are, though, the show isn't going to devote much more than episode seven towards developing her character and romantic entanglements. Kei will probably get the bulk of the remaining screentime, if my guess is right.

Yuu and Kei
The Enomoto sisters.

Surprisingly, Kei is DIRTY—at least as measured by the content of her fantasies (such as the one that takes place in an alley!) and her eagerness for trying on racy outfits. She's more of a freak than Kusada. I don't know what the deal is with her baby-faced sister, though.

Nao
Nao.

The remaining characters likely won't get much screentime at all. Nao spent so much of the first episode with her face hidden in her hands I wasn't even sure if it was her or not when that one putz crashed into her in episode five.

Misaki
Misaki.

It'll be criminal to leave open Misaki questions unanswered.

Meguru
Meguru is the American, if you know what I mean.

Like Zyl, I was rather unsympathetic towards Meguru because of her willingness to waste Olympic-level talent. I'll let it go if they just meant the Junior Olympics, but really, non-sports anime are entirely too cavalier when it comes to offhandedly dismissing the rarity of truly exceptional athletic talent. It also didn't help her arc was probably better suited for a half-episode; filling an entire episode made it seem a little too drawn out.

I don't know who these characters are yet
I don't know who these characters are yet.

It's unfair to Meguru, but dragging out a short arc to fill an episode wastes valuable time in a short series considering not all of the characters have even been introduced yet by the halfway mark.

Sleeping Kei
Tiny pictures are the way of love.

Then again, maybe that's the lesson of Hatsukoi Limited: First love is fleeting, as is youth. Enjoy it while it lasts, because all too soon it will be gone. I suppose that's a far better option than suffering though interminable manga and anime that never end.

Dated 1 July 2009: The only problem with Hatsukoi Limited is that it ends

Mamoru, Sogabe, and Kusada
This worked out a lot better in Honey and Clover.

The best show of Spring 2009 is Hatsukoi Limited. A mostly wistful look at first love, Hatsukoi Limited is a textbook example of how J.C. Staff can succeed wildly when it plays to its strengths. It helps that the source material is good, as the anime remained mostly faithful to the manga, and diverged mostly for the better on the rare occasions when there were changes.

Mamoru and Ayumi
It is entirely too early in the morning for relationship traumarama.
Go back to bed.

One sure sign of a successful show is an ending that leaves viewers wanting more. That is certainly the case with Hatsukoi Limited, as 12 episodes are not nearly enough to fully explore the myriad interwoven relationships of the ensemble cast. Even for the characters given the most attention (Kusada and Kei), the viewer only sees a tiny portion of what must be a fairly rich story. Alas, the manga ended early as well, so all the reader gets to know about the various new couples and remaining victims of unrequited love is that (a) some of these characters hit the jackpot and (b) others got completely screwed.

Kusada and Kei
First Love, Best Case Scenario (depending on your point of view).

I'd like to see the anime continue for another season by producing new material. Unfortunately, these kinds of scenarios appear to be rather uncommon. There are plenty of instances where a manga begins, grows popular, and gets an anime adaptation that fudges its ending because it outstrips the source material (often diverging dramatically and culminating in unsatisfying conclusions almost universally decried as being vastly inferior to the eventual manga endings), but manga-based anime that keep going after exhausting the source material appear to be rare at best. Since the chances of seeing new, original episodes of Hatsukoi Limited waver between slim to none, I suppose the best I can hope for is the anime's popularity inspiring new chapters continuing where the manga left off. It could happen—if Hatsukoi Limited preaches anything, it's optimism.

Dated 10 July 2009: Spring 2009 wrap-up

Kusada
Kusada finally breaks. Better hang on, kid.

With a few exceptions, most of the shows I watched last season bear one thing in common: very few anime fans from my corner of the Internet (the best and worst of whom can be found at #raspberryheaven) would give them a chance. Even Hatsukoi Limited, which I previously mentioned is the best show from the spring 2009 season, attracted relatively few followers. (Most were too busy watching K-On! and searching for Mio fan art.) Those that actually watched Hatsukoi Limited instead of merely asking, "What's so great about another school romance show?" found a combination of light comedy and whimsical tales of first love so deftly executed I have no reservations naming it the top show of the season ahead of the initial (and already controversial) episodes of the second season of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu.

Yuki
Yuki looks bored, even for Yuki.

Haruhi II still secures second, and will presumably do well during the summer 2009 season, even if (or in my view, especially if) there really are eight episodes of "Endless Eight." That would be awesome, particularly if it drives conventional-thinking fans into sending Kyoto Animation furious letters with death threats which they can include in a The End of Haruhi movie that makes little sense but includes a bitchin' fight scene. (I secretly hope there are 15,514 episodes of "Endless Eight," and that the entire ordeal is somehow Yuki's fault and not Haruhi's at all.) I bet all the people who can't stand "Endless Eight" are the same people who skip OPs and EDs.

Cal and Zwei
Natalie Portman from Leon joins the Phantom cast.

Nobody ever believes me, but Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom is actually really good—good enough to finish third for spring 2009 (and currently lead summer 2009). Bee Train influences are obvious, but this is not El Cazador de la Bruja or Madlax. For one thing, there's a male lead. Moreover, none of the female leads have displayed any signs of lesbianism. In fact, Ein apparently really likes getting oil massages from creepy old guys. Bio Concerto is worth its weight in gold, people. I'm telling you.

Aoba
Aoba, you're not even trying.

A lot of people won't watch sports anime in general or baseball anime in particular. Cross Game is at its best when it's not about baseball, to tell you the truth. I enjoy it a great deal more than Touch and what I've read of H2, but the actual baseball games in Cross Game are not as compelling as the slice-of-life stories about Kou and Aoba.

Goro
You're not exactly facing the Taisho Yakyuu Musume team now, Goro.

Major season five takes the fifth spot. I'm still watching it as there are still unsubbed episodes, but I won't be including it with the summer 2009 lineup. [Update: Advanced to fifth place after episode 120.] Assuming the fifth season is the final season of Major, I have to say this was an excellent series and I really appreciate the epic nature of the show, following Goro from childhood to adulthood. Were I to include all five seasons of Major as one work, it would easily take the top spot. Incidentally, Shimizu Kaoru still leads in the Girl of the Year rankings for 2009. This one is going to be a boat race.

Takako
Takako contemplates the future of Kannagi.

The Kannagi episode 14 OVA is every bit as good as the series. That it only places sixth should tell you just how good the competition is this time around. I hope Kannagi gets a second season.

Cure Peach
There's a storm brewing, Peach-han.

Fresh Pretty Cure ranks seventh, but has moved up quite a bit in the summer 2009 rankings due to the fully awesome Cure Passion arc, currently underway. This is another show nobody but Precure fans seem willing to watch, but the Setsuna/Love friendship really is compelling. Every episode recently has had the kind of OH SHIT moments typically attributed to shounen jive or cheesy Gundam switcheroos. Speaking of shounen jive, Fresh Pretty Cure is very light on the "standing around talking instead of fighting" bits, and when Love cuts loose, she starts out in a normal voice but gets exponentially louder and faster (it's awesome, trust me) until you think she's about to ace someone square in the face. There is too much beam spamming, though, but episode 23 is expected to include brutal fisticuffs, so we're back to the basics. Kickass.

Ana Coppola, Black Custom
Needs more Ana Coppola, Black Custom.

Eighth goes to the second OVA episode of Ichigo Mashimaro Encore. This series also really could use another season. It remains entertaining and funny, and definitely does not deserve the extra baggage that keeps many people from watching it.

Alice
If Alice isn't happy, no one's happy.

Pandora Hearts is good, but weird, so anyone that might watch it probably is watching it already, and no amount of cajoling will convince anyone else to give it a try, alas. I can understand why it doesn't have broader appeal.

Ed
Ed doesn't seem to obsess about his height as much this time.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood would have fared better if it hadn't felt like watching a really long clip show. It should also do better in the rankings this summer as it diverges more from the first anime. Curiously, I'll watch countless episodes of "Endless Eight" but the deja vu sensation of the early Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood episodes really turned me off. Or maybe it's because Brotherhood halved Winry's cup size. Could be.

Mikuru
Asahina's daily life.

The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan got a lot better as the season went on, but it's still not as good as Petit Eva or the various Marimite specials, for example.

Junichi and Kotori
No! Keep your damn dirty hands off Kotori's hat!

The second episode of Da Capo: If came out during spring 2009. Pity it wasn't as good as the first installment. Then again, no Kotori arc is ever going to seem satisfying as long as Junichi remains such a putz.

Tomoe
I'm still amazed Mamiko Noto voiced Tomoe as a straight-up serious character.

Queen's Blade is what it is. I think it would have been infinitely better if Tomoe (the miko character) had—for no discernible reason—gone the entire series without getting naked .

Shuri
Say "cheese."

Asura Cryin' faded a bit, or at least my interest did. I like all the colors, though. [Update: The end of Asura Cryin' got really shounen and kinda stopped being fun at all. Why can't it just be about humping your ghost girlfriend and every once in a while robot fights? I guess I won't be watching the second season, alas.]

Ryoko and Churuya
Say "cheese."

Nyoron Churuya-san started out funny, but got a little tiresome towards the end, whereas its Haruhi-chan counterpart managed to improve and keep me looking forward to Haruhi II.

Chi
"Chi's!"

Good Lord, there were a lot of shows spring season. And I'm not just saying that because I watched a hundred-some episodes of Chi's Sweet Home so I could start Chi's New Address. Even with three-minute episodes, that is a lot of Chi. I could be burned out on all the kittenness, but Chi's New Address doesn't seem as good as Chi's Sweet Home. Needs more bear cat, for one thing. I also keep waiting for Chi to finally age, but for the time being she remains Yotsuba in kitten form.

Tamaki
Needs more Tamaki.

The first episode of To Heart 2 ad plus wasn't very good. It's pretty forgettable, alas.

Mio
I would have kept watching K-On! had it replaced Mio with Yomi.

I didn't drop any shows aside from the following series I previously mentioned: Eden of the East (8) > Shin Mazinger Z (3) > Saki (2) > Valkyria Chronicles (3) > K-On! (4) > Higepiyo (3) > Shangri-La (1).

Yoichi
Needs more Perrine-H. Clostermann.

I should probably exclude OVAs from future such lists. I already leave off movies. Besides, it's not possible to "drop" a movie or a one-episode OVA. Well, I guess unless one abandons it midway. I probably should have done that with The Sky Crawlers. That movie should have had a Strike Witches crossover wherein the 501st Joint Fighter Wing wipes them all out in five minutes and the movie ends. Sheesh. The damn thing felt like it was 15,513 fortnights long. (Yes, I know. Yes, I know that too.)