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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.)

Dated 5 May 2009: Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ isn't a requiem for a phantom yet

Ein
Ein shows Zwei how much he sucks.

Through five episodes, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~, aside from having a redundant title, is legitimately good, although I can understand why potential viewers may be wary. Even I'm still slightly hesitant at this point despite the fact that I actually enjoyed the Bee Train girls-with-guns trilogy. Nevertheless, Phantom is still better than I expected.

Ein changes outfits
I don't know if Ein thinks Zwei is a potato, but I kinda do.

Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ also has surprisingly copious fan service, as Ein spends most of the time clad in a sports bra when she's not wearing that sleeveless Chinadress shirt with her bra straps showing. I hope fans won't attempt Ein cosplay if they don't have the athleticism to pull it off. Ein has muscle tone befitting someone who trains as much as she does—at least while the animators budget for it.

Ein
Suddenly, Bio Concerto is applied for no adequately explained reason.

From what I understand, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ is based on a game that predates Noir. I guess this means considerable spoilers are just a few clicks away, but hopefully it also means the storytelling will be consistent and better paced than El Cazador de la Bruja, for example. Not that video game to anime adaptations are exactly a recipe for success, but at least by adapting an older game like Phantom we can be reasonably assured Bee Train isn't trying to cash in quickly on some current hot seller. Maybe this means they put a good amount of thought into the conversion, too.

Ein
I don't know what Ein is washing. She only has two outfits.

FUNimation is currently streaming subtitled episodes of Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ for free the same day it airs in Japan. The video quality is about equivalent to the Noir fansubs from back in the day, so it is a pretty sweet setup as far as I'm concerned. There are also many other titles from FUNimation's catalog streaming for free on their site, although as of yet a lot of them are only available dubbed.

Dated 2 April 2008: El Cazador de la Bruja needs more tacos and Girls Gone Mining

Nadie
The "TACOS, TACOS, TACOS" song is the best part of El Cazador de la Bruja.

I like El Cazador de la Bruja the least of the three Bee Train "girls with guns" shows. It's too damn dull. First of all, Ellis takes entirely too long to develop a personality, such as it is. Margaret was spacey in Madlax, but I didn't hate her for it. Kirika was quiet in Noir, but I loved her for it. Ellis is spacey and quiet, but I don't care about her at all.

L.A.
Ellis setting L.A.'s crotch on fire? An under-explored allegory.

Ellis isn't even the worst character in El Cazador de la Bruja. That dubious honor goes to L.A. I have no interest in L.A. besides wishing he would start talking like a normal person. Additionally, Lirio contributes nothing to El Cazador de la Bruja at all aside from making me worry that Gendo Eastwood is a child molester.

Ricardo
It's because of your 'stache, Ricardo.

I did like the winks and nods in El Cazador de la Bruja to its predecessors Noir (which I love beyond reason) and Madlax (of which I'm ambivalent). I noticed Kuwashima Houko and Mitsuishi Kotono's cameos immediately. Surprisingly, I also noticed Kobayashi Sanae's, even though I don't know her voice well.

Iris
El Cazador de la Bruja should have been about mining instead of witches.

Sadly, mentions of Noir and Madlax also remind me how much better the music is in those two series than in El Cazador de la Bruja. This is not Kajiura Yuki's best work by any means. And as much as I like Savage Genius, even the OP doesn't work for me. The ED is good, though. I attribute that to Nanri Yuuka's singing.

L.A.
L.A. eating Ellis' taco? Also an allegory.

The supernatural elements in the Bee Train "girls with guns" oeuvre grow more overt with each installment. Years ago, I observed, "Kirika isn't a ninja; she's a witch." But everything Kirika does is theoretically possible within the liberal rules of anime physics. She is Noir, after all. Madlax has supernatural mumbo jumbo, but remains vague about it long enough to keep things interesting. El Cazador de la Bruja is about witches with honest-to-God magic powers, but they're dull witches with boring powers. [Spoilers: Ellis jumps high.] Maybe Bee Train will make a fourth girls-with-guns series—this time about mahou shoujo with pink Uzis.

Dated 9 March 2008: El Cazador de la Bruja

Madlax and Noir references in El Cazador de la Bruja
Madlax and Noir references in El Cazador de la Bruja.

I've started watching El Cazador de la Bruja to round out the Bee Train girls-with-guns trilogy. It has obvious ties to Noir and Madlax, particularly because it compels suspension of disbelief in the viewer.

Nadie hitchhikes
Nadie tries to hitch a ride.

In that respect, it's not as outrageous as Madlax, but I do have trouble believing Nadie could have so little success as a hitchhiker. Who cares if she's got a gun?

Dated 5 January 2008: Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino

www.gunslingergirl.com splash page
Pinocchio, Triela, Henrietta, and Hilshire.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a little wary about Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino because it has a different voice cast and animation studio. The character designs depicted on the official website are also a little different compared to the first season as well as the manga. Henrietta and Rico look downright freaky, although Triela and Claes are not as changed.

Triela
Triela. Shot a guy because of PMS. True story.

My guess is that the second season's 13 episodes will focus more on Triela and Pinocchio and likely conclude with the events from volume five of the manga. I hear there will be a two-episode OAV following the Il Teatrino DVD release. Presumably that will feature the introduction of Petrushka, the 16-year-old cyborg girl assassin version two-point-oh, arousing interest for further OAVs or a Bee Train third season (more on that later).

Claes
Claes. Best megane shtick of all time.

Somewhat curiously, the general mood along the ol' blogway seems to be one of trepidation, but not due to technical concerns—from uneasiness with the subject matter. What in Hell? Do y'all watch anime? How are brainwashed cyborg little-girl assassins in any way creepy? Relatively speaking, I mean. It's you people who are standing in the way of my glorious Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha prequel about Fate Testarossa roughing up deadbeats and collecting Jewel Seeds for her mom.

Henrietta
Henrietta. The ostensible first-season lead character.

To be honest, I do have one problem with the Gunslinger Girl premise: There is no need for the Social Welfare Agency's assassins to be brainwashed cybernetically-enhanced little girls. Nearly all of their missions seem like the kind of thing regular ol' special forces teams could handle—doubly so when you consider that one of the recurring aspects of the Gunslinger Girl-verse is the girls' poor marksmanship. Even the element of surprise kinda goes out the window once word gets out that little girls carrying violin cases for no particular reason are probably out to kill you, especially if you're a terrorist or an inconvenient government official. For the really tough jobs, it seems like they would save a lot of money by just sub-contracting Noir.

Rico
Rico. Develops a personality and occasionally acts cute in the manga.

Speaking of Noir, if Il Teatrino turns out to be an unmitigated low-budget disaster, it's going to take me a long time before I stop wishing animation production had been assumed by Bee Train. Even Bee Train-wrecks have some totally bitchin' moments on occasion at least.

Dated 11 May 2005: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle

I'm a sucker for alternate universe stories, but I have mixed feelings about the new Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle anime, based on CLAMP's fantasy manga starring characters based on older versions of its Cardcaptor Sakura characters, and similarly revised versions of characters from some of its other series as well.

Sakura
Sakura

On the one hand, the animation is pretty as all Hell, and HDTV raws are available, and I hear the story itself is entertaining, at least in manga form. On the other hand, no one from the voice cast of Cardcaptor Sakura returns. The different voices are really jarring—at least as much as the visuals in To Heart ~Remember My Memories~. I do still enjoy To Heart: Type R, and I'll probably keep watching Tsubasa Chronicle, but it does have a very tough act to follow.

Shaoran
Shaoran

I love the music in Tsubasa Chronicle, thanks to the fine work of Yuki Kajiura, but I don't like the different voices. Touya's voice is the least objectionable, followed by Tomoyo's (Maaya Sakamoto does an acceptable older Tomoyo in addition to singing the ED), but Yukito's voice is completely different. Also, I swear original Cardcaptor Sakura 10-year-old Shaoran has a deeper voice than the older Tsubasa Chronicle Shaoran.

Tomoyo
Tomoyo. PRINCESS Tomoyo, that is.

Oh yeah, in keeping with what I understand to be CLAMP's new character designs, everyone looks extremely tall and skinny—way beyond "willowy" and all the way to freakisly elongated—but I'm okay with that.

Sakura
Sakura, far from home

The plot? Sakura's in trouble and Shaoran is trying to save her. And there's universe hopping involved, which some people have compared to Sliders. Overall, it's interesting enough, but not especially compelling. I think it's still too early to decide the show's merits, but it's an interesting idea at least; we'll just have to wait and see about the execution.

Dated 17 March 2005: Yuki Kajiura and Tsubasa Chronicle

Speaking of Yuki Kajiura, she is reportedly on board for the Tsubasa Chronicle anime, which is damn good news even if the series is regrettably not retaining the same voice actors from Cardcaptor Sakura.

I guess it's just as well. Tsubasa Chronicle doesn't have a prayer at being as good as Cardcaptor Sakura, so by lowering viewers' expectations from the outset, perhaps it will be better received.

And look, Bee Train! Oh wait, that could really go either way.