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Dated 20 March 2009: Shikabane Hime is Awesome

Makina is far and away the Best Girl in Shikabane Hime.

Barring sudden reversals in the last few episodes, Shikabane Hime: Kuro is going to be my pick for the best show of this season. I'm as surprised as you. I only started watching Shikabane Hime in the first place because I will try anything by Gainax—and because of its superlovely character design, but let us set that aside for now.

Saki and Rika
Saki and Rika are both token characters, but good ones nevertheless.

I almost rejected Shikabane Hime: Aka in its infancy because it wasn't Gainax enough. From the looks of the early episodes, it was just your standard Monster of the Week action series with some silly, over-the-top fighting and a putz for a male protagonist.

I admit it's hard to take Saki seriously sometimes, though.

But I stayed with it, because there wasn't frankly much else to watch, and it thankfully did not have a whole lot of talking for a shounen show. Or at least the characters kept on fighting while they were talking and left the standing around doing nothing parts to a minimum.

Makina is serious, though. Dead serious.

Plus, Makina's voice sounds more "real" and less "anime." I fully expected her to have a much higher-pitched voice from the character design, but Makina actually sounds like her voice actress might smoke. I really like the qualities of Makina's voice, although sometimes I wish Akiyama Nana and Chiba Saeko had switched roles. The acting is not good enough in some of the early episodes to carry a lead role, although this is not a problem limited to Makina's VA. It turns out much of the voice cast consists of models and idols instead of experienced seiyuu; however, I am pleased to report the acting improves throughout the series.

Shikabane Hime also has a lot of fancy Gainax kicks.

But back to Makina. She was the real reason I kept on watching Shikabane Hime: Aka, and I'm glad I did. Once the Monster of the Week episodes in Aka end, each episode is legitimately interesting. Towards the end of the first season, Shikabane Hime wove enough mystery and suspense to ensure I would stick around for the second part: Shikabane Hime: Kuro. In fact, the end to Aka is FULLY AWESOME. Okay, technically the end to Aka is a clip show/epilogue, but getting to that point is FULLY AWESOME.

Itsuki realizes the magnitude of her mistake.

Shikabane Hime: Kuro has the difficult task of asking me to take Ouri seriously, but I am tolerant so far. It is Makina's ties to Keisei that really carry the show for me, to tell you the truth. Despite this uphill battle, Kuro has been solid. It has earned this season's number one ranking, and I expect it to remain that way if reports of Toradora! declining into overblown melodrama are accurate. I had already moved Shikabane Hime: Kuro ahead of Toradora! after the latter's episode 22, but early reports about episode 24 likely seal the deal.

Itsuki and Takamasa
Any show with gag EDs is probably willing to take risks.

With regard to endings, it is important to remember Shikabane Hime remains a Gainax show, even if only in part. Ergo, a Gainax ending is a real possibility. Quite frankly, I'm hoping for one. Shikabane Hime strikes me as the type of show that could pull it off. There are numerous little gags interspersed throughout the series to suggest it does not take itself too seriously: such as Saki's constant snacking, or the fact that every contractor priest appears to be a cretinous otaku at heart, or how none of the shikabane hime seem particularly concerned about making their 108-kill quota to go to heaven. Shikabane Hime should be able to pull off a Gainax ending at least as well as The Melody of Oblivion did. I certainly hope so. It'll be EPIC.

Don't make me get Makina to punch you in the face.
She'll do it, too, and she's damn good at it.

Oh, and if this post has convinced you to start watching Shikabane Hime, don't be an idiot and start with Kuro just because it's newer. What in Hell is wrong with people like that? Start with Aka. Shikabane Hime is one show. Splitting it up into Aka and Kuro was symbolic at best. It would be like starting VanDread with season two instead of at the beginning. In related news, if you're one of those people who watched Diebuster without seeing Gunbuster first just because Diebuster was new and shiny, choke yourself. And when you wake up, watch Gunbuster. Scheiße.

Dated 12 April 2009: I wanted to say "Deus Ex Makina" in an entry about Shikabane Hime: Kuro

Makina is all about reaction shots. And bare asses. And punches to the face.

It turns out there wasn't a Deus Ex Machina in Shikabane Hime. But it did turn out that Shikabane Hime: Kuro is the best show from the Winter 2009 season. Yes, better than Toradora! (which I ranked fifth among shows I finished that season), and even better than the fifth season of Major. Being a Gainax show (at least in part), there was always the chance the Shikabane Hime ending would zoom in from left field, so I waited until I actually watched the last episode before making this pronouncement. FUNimation's official free subtitled stream beat both fansubbing groups to Kuro 12, so I watched it there.

Makina, Minai, and Ouri
Makina, Minai, and Ouri.

Some people have called the end of Shikabane Hime: Kuro a Gainax Ending anyway, but I don't consider that accurate at all. It's a little unusual, but it's nothing like the ending to The Melody of Oblivion (which was straight FAR OUT) or the ending to Mahoromatic: Something More Beautiful (which was not only FAR OUT, but also enraged many viewers), for example.

Saki is a token character, but a good one.

Really, the joke's on me, because apparently the final episode of Kuro is actually the penultimate episode. Reportedly, the real last episode will be released with the final DVD. That's something of a relief, because Shikabane Hime: Kuro episode 12 concludes with some unfinished business, leading me to believe it was a "read the manga to find out what happens" ending—a task I was fully prepared to do.

Makina quietly watches over Keisei
Makina quietly watches over Keisei.

Incidentally, none of these screencaps are from that last episode. In fact, none of them are even from Kuro. I've been re-watching Shikabane Hime: Aka because another group is releasing episodes and I wanted to see if there were meaningful differences. I'm really enjoying these earlier episodes a lot more this time around because I'm picking up a lot of the clues and foreshadowing I missed originally.

Dated 21 April 2009: End of season review, Winter 2009

Gainax Kick detected.

The biggest surprise of the Winter 2009 season was the rise of Shikabane Hime: Kuro and the fall of Toradora! in the final rankings during the last weeks of the season. As expected, it was a rather weak season overall, but it had its moments.

Makina has a bad day.

I had fully expected to drop Shikabane Hime after four episodes during the Autumn 2008 season, but I was hooked by the characters (except for Ouri) and the mystery. It helped I was spared the loathsome shounen jive conventions I despise so much.

Goro and Kaoru
I hereby nominate Shimizu for Best Girl of the Year.

The second-best series from Winter 2009 was the first half of the fifth season of Major. Besides being a solid sports anime, it's also starting to delve into relationship drama, although with its own flair, and thankfully without the typical animeisms that plague relationship stories. Maybe it's because the characters in question are no longer in high school, so they aren't expected to act like twits. Whatever the reason, it's refreshing.

Nobue calls these days "weekdays."

Taking the third spot is the first Ichigo Mashimaro Encore OVA. I should probably not include OVAs in these rankings for numerous reasons, but I'm making these rules up as I go along. As for the first Ichigo Mashimaro Encore OVA itself, it was another solid block of entertainment and charm that make the series so enjoyable. Pity the title unfairly carries with it all that baggage it can't seem to escape. You know what I'm talking about.

Suguru and Sachiko
This is the weirdest bathroom. Is it at the end of a hallway?

In fourth is the latest offering of Maria-sama ga Miteru. I didn't care for these episodes as much as the previous seasons, but that's probably because of their Touko-centric nature. On the other hand, these episodes also elevated Touko three positions in the Marimite rankings. Congratulations, Touko. I no longer like you least.

Ami and Minori
Ami is stunned to discover she's the Toradora! Best Girl after all.
And how odd. Minori is usually much more genki.

Everyone else's favorite, Toradora!, only managed to take the fifth spot, despite leading most of the season. As astute readers surely realize, this sudden drop is largely due to the dramatic turn towards the end of the season. Most people who really like Toradora! seem to really like the relationship drama aspects of the final episodes, but I felt they were ham-handed at best. Maybe it's because these are high school relationships in question, but I couldn't help thinking the principals were utter twits. As others have pointed out, this isn't really drama; it's melodrama. And it tastes like high school.

How odd. Shion is usually much more genki.

I'm not a huge fan of Tetsuwan Birdy Decode, but it is pretty good at what it does. Were these rankings based solely on my interest, it would probably place lower in the standings, although at no fault of its own. Then again, if these rankings were driven by my appreciation of Chiba Saeko, it would place higher. So let's just call it a wash, eh.

How odd. Kotori is usually much more genki.

Da Capo If is another OVA ranked entirely on the strength of a single episode. Like with the Ichigo Mashimaro OVA, that's probably not fair, and I should probably exclude it entirely, but I waited a long time for a Kotori route, so I'm going to include it, God damn it. Also, Da Capo If reminds us Horie Yui can really act when she wants to.

Kyon, you know this can't possibly end well.

The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan shorts are genuinely amusing. They pulled away from their Nyoron Churuya-san counterparts with that episode where Asahina Mikuru just starts crying from confusion and never looked back.

Torigaya? and Washizu
Washizu Vision?

Oh God. Asu no Yoichi!. Hey, some of the middle-laterish episodes are all right, and that running gag with Washizu's crony had a great payoff that came completely out of left field. The best part is everyone else dropped this show after episode two, so they have no idea what I'm talking about.

Love is all right for a rookie Cure
How odd. Love is usually much more genki.

Fresh Pretty Cure is fresh. Love is love. Tart is the least annoying Precure mascot thus far. Kaoru-chan probably wants to get into the girls' pants. Easy is the best Precure villain except for that that one movie where Cure White is tempted by the dark side and beats Hell out of Cure Black. Aside from Buki being a sort of useless religious fanatic, this show is all right.

Quit while you're ahead, Tsuruya.

Nyoron Churuya-san needs more variety in its jokes, nyoron.

I've decided Marisa is my favorite Touhou character. Entirely arbitrarily.

Rounding out the final spot among shows I watched during the Winter 2009 season is the unofficial Touhou doujin anime. Despite all the hype, it was merely adequate, which I guess is pretty good all things considered. I wanted to like it more, but I can't claim it's even as good as the classic Yakumo/Chen bit with the KCY and all.

How odd. Hokuto is usually much more...wait, no she's not.

I also dropped a bunch of shows, but there aren't any additions or changes from the earlier list

Dated 14 June 2009: Summer 2009 preview

Goro, Shimizu, and Miho
Suddenly, a Mamiko appears!

Chances are I'm going to be watching nothing but baseball anime this summer. For starters, I need to finish the fifth season of Major. Presumably, Cross Game will continue airing, seeing as how the manga isn't finished yet either, and neither Touch nor H2 were short series. And now Not Idolm@ster Baseball is here! Err, I mean Taisho Yakyuu Musume.

Akaishi, like everyone else, is way too hung up on Wakaba.

This is not to say there aren't any other interesting shows airing this summer, but I admit the lineup doesn't seem as compelling as summer schedules tend to be. I'm generally disdainful when people complain an upcoming season doesn't look very interesting, because people say that every single season, but maybe it's my turn this time.

I know nothing about Canaan or 428, but it
looks like TYPE-MOON except with funk.

Aside from Taisho Yakyuu Musume, I'll watch Canaan out of general principle because of its TYPE-MOON influences. I'll watch Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-chan!! because it looks terrible. I'll watch the Nodame Cantabile and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei sequels based on the strength of the originals. I'll give Aoi Hana a try because of J.C. Staff, but abandon it if it turns out to be yet another lesbian otaku fantasy. I think there's supposed to be more Kara no Kyoukai and the final episode of Shikabane Hime is due out in August.

Fight Ippatsu! Juuden-chan!! is my low-brow show of the summer.

Chances are there will a show or two that defies all expectations and plays way out of its league. For example, nobody expected much from Kannagi initially. Moreover, nobody hyped Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu during its pre-season, and the latter turned out to be the 800-pound gorilla whose second season doesn't even require mentioning. (Yeah, I'm guaranteed to be watching that this summer, too.) Naturally, I didn't break down even half of the Summer 2009 season; there are other1 resources2 I recommend if you haven't found them already.

Dated 1 October 2011: There is no need to watch Shakugan no Shana II before watching the third season

Shana scenes suck when her hair isn't on fire.

I generally strongly discourage people from skipping seasons. Typically they do it so they can follow something shiny and new and/or watch something at the same time as their friends so they'll have something to talk about. This can lead to very poor decisions, such as watching Diebuster before watching Gunbuster, or watching Shikabane Hime: Kuro without watching Shikabane Hime: Aka. I have less of an issue with people skipping previous Mobile Suit Gundam seasons (at least for series in different continuities) since there are so damn many of them, or skipping previous Macross iterations, although I do insist on people watching the original Cho Jiku Yosai Macross; do not be tempted to lean on Do You Remember Love? instead. Good movie, but really not a substitute for the original series—not at all.

Carmel's head thingy
Carmel's head thingy had the best lines.

But while I feel it is wrong on principle to skip seasons, especially when one's reasons for doing so fall in the "shiny and new" camp, I can make an exception for Shakugan no Shana II. I watched 24 episodes of this second Shana season because I enjoyed the first season and wanted to give the upcoming third season a try. This may have been a mistake. Shana II is every bit as awful as its reputation warned me. Shana II is 24 episodes of tedium occasionally interrupted by insipid fights. It is WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS, I finished Shana II with great reluctance. It was never ever actually BAD in the way Limeiro CROSS or Macademi Wasshoi! were truly bad; it just wasn't ever compelling, or even interesting.

Kazumi has a little trouble with her jeans.

To put things into perspective, the multi-episode climactic battle at the end of Shana II kept giving me flashbacks to the Demonbane anime. Now, Demonbane is by no means good, but I have to say that it was at least more interesting than Shana II. This is especially true of the fights. I've long harped on J.C. Staff and its poor track record when it comes to animating fight scenes (excellent Azumanga Daioh snowball fight notwithstanding), but I remember even the worst Demonbane fights against the shrieking mad scientist to be more engaging than climactic season finale fight scene against the shrieking mad scientist of Shana II. And I'm not just saying that because Mr. Eroge Protagonist from the Demonbane anime had to soul kiss a book every time to make his giant robot go. Well, he didn't have to, probably. He just did. But I digress. Shakugan no Shana II is a horror, and I will be amazed if Shana III requires any foreknowledge of its preceeding season's events. Yeah, I'll still at least start Shakugan no Shana III. It's too late to turn back now. Who knows, maybe the odd-numbered seasons will be good.

Dated 15 September 2013: She's not dead; she's resting

Shikabane Hime manga volume six cover.
Please also translate Macross: The First.

Holy smokes, someone is translating the Shikabane Hime manga again.