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Dated 31 August 2008: Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. The despicable life of a closet anime fan

I like how Haruka leaps out of a magazine cover in the OP.

I'm trying to catch up on some of the shows that I've missed and even venturing into currently-airing territory again. Somewhat sheepishly, I'm following Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu mostly because it is MAMIKORE.

Haruka and Yuuto
Haruka and Yuuto.

Somewhat unexpectly, it sort of feels like the second season of Narue no Sekai I've been waiting for all these years. Well, except without the whole girlfriend being an alien part. Then again, making the most beautiful and popular girl in school a closet anime fan isn't much different from making her an alien, at least as a practical matter.

Yuuto, Haruka, and Mika
Yuuto, Haruka, and Mika.

Clearly I'm not the only one reminded of Narue no Sekai—there's at least one Narue reference in Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. There are a lot of anime references in Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, to tell you the truth, most of which sail over my head, I'm sure. Besides overt Shakugan no Shana mentions, there are ties to other shows such as naming Haruka's disagreeable father Gentou and casting the same actor who voices famously-disagreeable father Ikari Gendo in the role.

Surprisingly, Mika is not a cockblocker.

Overall, this is not a good show but it is amusing and mildly charming in its own unrealistic sort of way. None of the characters are especially believable, but that's kind of the point in these kinds of shows. Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is unsophisticated, but unpretentious and unassuming as well. Don't expect Monster, but don't worry—it's not Gift ~eternal rainbow~, either.

Dated 23 September 2008: Narue no Sekai 1, Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu 0

Narue is pretty tolerant of Kazu's hobby, all things considered.

Just so you know, the episode-ten-cosplay-cafe episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu falls far short of the standard set by the episode-10-cosplay-contest episode of Narue no Sekai. First of all, the cosplay contest of Narue no Sekai is AWESOME. But more importantly, I can't abide stories that rely on dragging out simple misunderstandings—especially when they could be easily resolved with less than two minutes of conversation.

Chase the dream, Haruka.

Even still, Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is good enough to serve as my low-expectation series this season. I've compared it to Narue no Sekai before, but Nogizaka isn't quite as good, unfortunately. Comparing it to other low-expectation shows I've watched, I'd say Nogizaka is not as good as Tokimeki Memorial ~Only Love~, but better than Da Capo.

Dated 29 September 2008: The End of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu

Nogizaka grownups
Nogizaka-type grownups.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu sure seemed like it ended quickly. I guess that's a good thing where low-brow anime is concerned. Gift ~eternal rainbow~, on the other hand, seemed to go on forever.

Yuuto and Haruka in bed
Yuuto and Haruka finally get in bed.
If you don't know what happens next...
...then you clearly have not watched very much anime.

I guess it's kind of a backwards compliment to say Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is pretty good for a low-expectations series. In fact, the only complaint I have about the show is it didn't focus on Haruka's secret as much as it could have. I sort of wanted Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu to be about secrets the way Love Hina is about promises and bathing outdoors.

Dated 5 October 2009: Looking forward to Kimi ni Todoke

Weren't you in Hyakko, Sawako?

My interest in Kimi ni Todoke originates entirely from a 95-second preview. Before that, I did not even give it a second glance when perusing the many Autumn 2009 season previews.

Sawako doesn't look that scary.

Moreover, I would not have watched the preview had I not been cued by the fansubbing group's name: Mamiko. Curiosity piqued, I was sold on the show within seconds.

Kazehaya and Sawako
Ringu meets Lovely Complex?

Mamiko Noto voicing the lead character in what appears to be essentially Ringu*Com sounds good enough to me. With Kimi ni Todoke, the second season of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, and the second season of Queen's Blade, Autumn 2009 appears to be shaping up to be a MAMIKORE season.

Dated 1 November 2009: This season is MAMIKORE

That is entirely too many ribbons, Lilicia.

As I expected, this season is basically all Noto Mamiko all the time. Among the shows I am currently watching, she stars in Kimi ni Todoke and Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu: Purezza, and has roles in Seitokai no Ichizon and Queen's Blade: Gyokuza no Tsugumono. Additionally, she played a late addition to the fifth season of Major, which I recently finished watching. Technically, Major ended a couple seasons ago, but it wasn't fully subbed until now.

Miho learns about the cruelty of baseball.

Thus far, Kimi ni Todoke is as good as I hoped. I am glad they established early on that Sawako is aware of how people view her. I was afraid the show was going to be about wall-to-wall misunderstandings. While there are a lot of misunderstandings, most of them are driven by Sawako's social awkwardness and inability to communicate her feelings.

Despite this innocuous screenshot, Haruka II is downright dirty.

The second season of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is not very good, which should not surprise me since the first season wasn't that great either. I'd much rather have a second season of Narue no Sekai, but I don't think that's ever going to happen. I am not as put-off by the addition of Kugimiya Rie as some people, but I am tired of her particular brand of tsundere. The trope wasn't so bad when it was associated with the Naru and Chidori varieties.

Tomoe is the most serious character in Queen's Blade.

I don't know why Mamiko isn't just phoning in her Queen's Blade role like some of the other voice actresses, but she deserves an award for it. I'm not sure if I've enjoyed her work this much since her completely anti-typecast scenery chewing in Dai Mahou Touge (Magical Witch Punie-chan).

Elise and Punie
Punie leg locks the shit out of Elise.

In fact, I nominated Noto Mamiko for her work as Tomoe in Queen's Blade in the 4th Annual Seiyuu Awards. No, I'm dead serious. Queen's Blade is a ridiculous show, but Mamiko plays Tomoe in a completely serious and eminently professional manner. That in itself is somewhat absurd, but it significantly contributes to my enjoyment of this terrible show. I don't know what I'm going to do if, as episode five suggests, Queen's Blade II actually develops a coherent plot and incorporates character development.

Dated 3 January 2010: Autumn 2009 season wrapup

Ascoeur and Q-Feuille
I dropped Kiddy Girl-and at episode nine for trying to add a plot.

By convention, anime bloggers seem obligated to offer end-of-season summaries breaking down the finer points of the shows they watched and presumably covered (hah!) over each three-month block (or cour). So be it.

The short version is as follows: Kimi ni Todoke (12) > Cross Game (38) > Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (38) > Miracle Train [13] > Seitokai no Ichizon [12] > The Book of Bantorra (14) > Queen's Blade II [12] > Sunred II (37) > Fresh Pretty Cure (45), where the number in parentheses represents the last episode watched, and numbers in brackets indicate completion of a series and its total number of episodes. No OVAs or movies are included in these rankings.

I'm calling it: Yano is pure evil.

Kimi ni Todoke veers into melodramatic territory frequently and its reception has grown increasingly polarized. Depending on your stomach for such shows, it's either excellent or unwatchable—at least that's the way it seems when comparing various reactions to the series. I find it excellent. Also, those of you who know Mamiko Noto from interviews, behind-the-scenes specials, and commentary tracks will reasonably conclude both her Shimako-variety and DARK MAMIKO personas (more on that later) are purely products of acting. Evil Miyuki Sawashiro, on the other hand, I'm convinced is the real deal. I'll never look at Puchiko the same way again. Anyway, I'm glad Kimi ni Todoke is getting another cour. It has sympathetic leads and villains I don't hate.

This is as close as you'll get to seeing Aoba tearing her clothes off.

Cross Game and its Mitsuru Adachi storytelling remains as compelling as ever, although it's probably a comment on the state of today's anime trends that I find a simple heterosexual romance to be a refreshing departure from the usual feuds among turbo lesbians and loathsome harem comedy leads. However, if you're familiar with Adachi's staples, you may find Cross Game a little too familiar. E.g., there will be no great happiness for the characters (and Aoba and Ko aren't going to start tearing each other's clothes off anytime soon), but at least one moment of tragedy or despair is assured (as is appropriate for baseball). Despite the sports theme, Cross Game is best as a relationship drama and light comedy, and succeeds because it plays to these strengths.

Al and Ed
"Whoa, look at the size of that cat!"

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is good shounen/mainstream fare without the odious shounen jive conventions one typically finds attached to shows aimed at such audiences. This anime variant, more faithful to the original manga than the first Fullmetal Alchemist, retains the interesting characters and periodic plot twists that made the first series so popular. Really, at this point, Brotherhood is at least as good as the first anime—if not better—and deserves more attention from the crowd that dismissed it early on as a simple rehash of something they had already seen.

There is no escape from the Miracle Train, sweetie.

Miracle Train turned out to be a lot less gay than I was expecting. In fact, homosexual overtones were almost entirely absent, despite the show's outward appearance. Instead, what Miracle Train really seems like is some manner of train gang rape porn. Basically every episode some girl gets on a train and is immediately surrounded by men who won't let her off until they've "solved her problems." Usually the girl offers token resistance, but eventually relents and actually enjoys "having her problems solved" in the end. It's a ridiculous concept, punctuated by copious amounts of train and train station trivia, a token loli, and a talking dog that sounds suspiciously like Athrun Zala wondering what in Hell he's supposed to do this time about the man in the mask. Still, I'm glad I watched the entire series, and the later episodes contained the right mix of seriousness and sentimentalism.

This is really a girl, isn't it? He has a ribbon.

Seitokai no Ichizon was all right even if it relied too much on reference humor. It had good comic timing, amusing characters, and never aspired to be much more than what it was.

Noloty confronts Zatoh
"I want you to hit me as hard as you can."

The Book of Bantorra is worth watching just because it's different. I liked the way the first arc played out, although Ayako Kawasumi's departure from the show is sorely missed. Well, they did bring her back to narrate the clip show in episode 14. Besides that, Noloty deserves to be on the short list of dark-skinned anime characters, Mirepoc has ridiculous-yet-awesome hair, and the strongest character on the show is the woman who is really good at hucking rocks. How can you not like that shit?

Kayoko fan art is goggled.

Sunred II is basically just more of the same. I like parody, but the jokes are becoming a little one-note. At this point I'd rather they just make the entire thing a bachelor-chow cooking show with Kayoko and Vamp punctuated by occasional household tips.

The horns mean Tomoe is serious. Dead serious.

I realize this is fairly qualified praise, but Queen's Blade II is far and away superior to the first season. For one thing, there's a lot less peeing. But the real gem is discovering why Mamiko Noto has been playing Tomoe so seriously all this time. The return of DARK MAMIKO is a welcome surprise albeit one only familiar to those who realized it was her in Dai Mahou Touge and perhaps those who enjoyed the final scenes of her character in the Kara no Kyoukai movies. (Note: DARK MAMIKO is not to be confused with her Ana Coppola Black Custom variant.) But really, Queen's Blade II develops a plot AND character development which is enough to elevate this ridiculous show to at least non-ironic watchable levels, even if the vast majority of its cast—unusually professional Mamiko Noto aside—completely phoned in their roles. Tanaka Rie, for example, was terrible.

Cure Berry, Cure Passion, Tart, Chiffon, Cure Peach, and Cure Pine
Lay off the meth, girls.

Fresh Pretty Cure is treading water and has been mostly lackluster since the end of the Cure Passion arc. Retconning Setsuna into a 14-year-old girl was not unexpected, but still inexcusable from a storytelling viewpoint. The addition of a fourth Cure diminished the importance of Cure Pine and Cure Berry and Cure Redundant. Wait, I mentioned her already. I maintain that Precure as a franchise works best with two Cures—no more, no less.

What about Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu: Purezza?
Dropped at episode eight for being piss awful.

Was Autumn 2009 weaker than most seasons? I'd have to say so. Granted, I didn't watch Darker Than Black II or Railgun, both very highly regarded shows (although I suspect Railgun will be another ephemeral flash in the pan everyone disregards when the next shiny thing comes along), but aside from the refreshing Kimi ni Todoke and the briefly euphoric return of DARK MAMIKO in Queen's Blade II, I can't claim there will be much unique to Autumn 2009 alone that I will remember or recommend without reservation, alas.