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Dated 6 January 2012: Season Summary, Autumn 2011

Haruka and Chihaya
Haruka visits Chihaya's spartan apartment in episode 11.

Leading the way by a large margin in autumn 2011 is The IDOLM@STER TV. I am solidly in the camp that believes Idolmaster exceeded all expectations. It doesn't quite win the coveted No Bad Episodes award (thanks for dragging down the curve, Hibiki), and some of the early summer 2011 episodes stumbled in parts, but taken as a whole Idolm@ster performed very well. As much as I enjoyed Hanasaku Iroha in the spring and summer, iM@S is easily my choice for show of the year. Some may argue Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica deserves Show of the Year, but I believe its baggage will prevent it from being as fondly remembered in the long run.

Chihaya
Chihaya alone in her apartment, episode 20.

I am both disappointed and relieved Idolm@ster did not use a Miki + Producer scandal as its final plot arc—disappointed because I have a perverse interest in drama and trauma in my -rama, but relieved because the actual final arc was a great way to end the season that fit very well with the tone and progression of the show over its 25 episodes. Thankfully, it also leaves the door ajar for another 25 episodes.

Chihaya's apartment
Chihaya's apartment, episode 25.

I'm conflicted as to whether Idolm@ster is a harem comedy or not. I have to conclude that it is, but it's a harem comedy the way the original To Heart anime is a harem comedy, and not in the way the insipid ToHeart2 is a harem comedy. Notably, despite more than a dozen nubile girls commanding his attention, Producer is a serious love interest to none of them. Miki might disagree with me here, and although she gives Producer the green light early and often, there is no real romantic or sexual tension between them. All the girls all fond of Producer, but in wholly appropriate ways. The girls want to be good idols for him, but they also want to succeed for their own sakes. Likewise, the girls of To Heart are fond of Hiroyuki as he serially befriends the Hell out of them, but they have their own goals and aspirations independent of him, unlike standard brainwashed harem comedy heroines inexplicably devoted to Potato-kun. Making Producer a part of his idols' lives, but not the center of their attention prevents Idolm@ster from going down a very bad road.

Inori
Inori tries to save Guilty Crown.

It's a long drop from the top spot to the second-best show I watched in autumn 2011: Guilty Crown. No matter how many unique things Guilty Crown may try and no matter what nuances it gives its characters, the package as a whole is wrapped in some of the most juvenile, cliché, and outright ridiculous developments. Still, none of these faults necessarily prevent Guilty Crown from being entertaining. If you have no stomach for a show quite obviously intended for male viewers in their early teens, then you will probably not wish to suffer through another cour of Guilty Crown. I, on the other hand, am quite looking forward to the second half of the show in winter 2012. Hell yeah.

Shaga
You wouldn't hit a girl with glasses, would you?

I almost dropped Ben-to after episode two because I assumed a show based on a fairly thin gimmick would wear out its welcome very quickly. Nevertheless, I kept watching because I was determined to at least learn what Panty was doing in this show. Surprisingly, the characters remained likeable and the premise remained entertaining. The unapologetic Sega pimping helped, too. It was also good to have Horie Yui and Tamura Yukari playing off each other. They make a good duo, and the dynamic is even better in Ben-to than it was in B Gata H Kei.

Ika Musume
They'll all be dead in a couple days anyway, de geso.

Shinryaku!? Ika Musume is not as good as the first season, mostly because it felt like it was playing off the same jokes over and over. The first season benefited from numerous examples of one-upmanship as Ika Musume learned or did something more improbable than the last. There were a few such moments this season, but Shinryaku!? Ika Musume paled in comparison to its brilliant first season.

Conan and Ran
I wonder what Conan saw in the mirror, Ran?

This was a good year for Detective Conan, particularly with regard to the summer's London arc, but the autumn portion was mostly about par for the course. It was also a good year for Ran, the 2011 Girl of the Year. The many Detective Conan OPs and EDs are notoriously cruel to Ran + Shinichi 'shippers, but the ED closing out the autumn 2011 season offers hints as to the shows eventual conclusion. (Detective Conan can't really run forever, right? Right?) Avert your eyes if you fear my psychic powers lend credence to what is admittedly merely a wild guess on my part: Shinichi will not return to his normal age. Ran will suffer the same fate as Shinichi and Haibara and become a small child again herself. Ran will finally learn Conan's secret and the series will end. I'm counting on anime's penchant for packing OPs and EDs with spoilers to ultimately prove me right. Besides, there's a legitimate way out: The numerous Kaito Kid specials this year have been good enough that I think an outright spinoff is a solid possibility. I sure hope Sawashiro Miyuki is prepared to play a scandalously clad high school ojou-sama witch for the next 10 years.

Saber and Irisviel
Saber and Irisviel both need hats.

Fate/zero is beautifully animated and basically better in every way possible than its horribly flawed predecessor Fate/stay night (except for lacking a Tohsaka Rin old enough to properly boast her trademark sweater + zettai ryouiki flawless combination). Even Saber manages to seem, well, not smart, but at least cool. And I like Irisviel far more than I expected, probably boosted by her fine taste in vintage automobiles. Still, the Fate/zero dialog dumps are so sonorous, and there's so much of it. I'm sure its second half will do better during winter spring 2012 when everyone starts killing each other.

Cure Beat, Cure Melody, Cure Rhythm, and Cure Muse
Probably shouldn't have stood around being useless
while Cure Melody was getting her ass kicked, eh.

Suite Precure♪ surpassed Fresh Pretty Cure somewhere around the Cure Muse arc as the most underachieving iteration of the Pretty Cure franchise, and since then it has done nothing but continue to fall in my estimation. Suite is not quite in freefall, but Lord, it ain't falling up. For over a thousand generations the Pretty Cure were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times. Before they started letting cats and small children into their order. Also, I really hope impressionable young Suite Precure♪ viewers do not grow up thinking Cure Melody's solution is in any way an appropriate solution to resolving a hostage situation. I hope Smile Precure! does better, but its large starting cast and rumors of additional non-human Cures fill me with dread. (Yeah, I guess I'm racist. Speciesist?) At some point, Kaoru and Michiru have got to get tired of getting snubbed by their inexplicable exclusion from the Sacred Order of the Pretty Cure and crash the show to trash the joint and bust some heads the old fashioned way. Got to.

Shana
Go on, Shana. Curse the bitch out.

Shakugan no Shana Final is not that bad. Honest! It's way better than the second season of Shakugan no Shana, okay? Then again, I still rate it below Suite Precure♪, which ought to tell you something. On the plus side, this whole season has been about war, albeit not a very competently executed war. It also doesn't help that J.C. Staff still has trouble with fight scenes. In other news, two of the main characters engaged in sexual intercourse so vigorously one of them required magical augmentation beforehand to prevent permanent injury or possible death from the encounter. True story. [P.S. Spoilers.]

Sena
UNIVERSE!

I dropped Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai after three episodes, but I accidentally acquired a copy of episode nine in a game of chance, so I watched that too. The show is all right—bettter than Shana III at least, but I don't have any interest in it. This is unsurprising because I have no interest in the manga either, having dropped it at least three times since it first came on the scene. I also don't like the anime character designs at all.

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

Shana
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
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 8 September 2011: I am watching Shakugan no Shana II so I can watch Shakugan no Shana III

Shana
Shana is a different person when her hair is on fire.

I am on record as saying the first season of Shakugan no Shana is "great." The problem is I can't remember why. To tell you the truth, I hardly remember anything about the show at all. I know Shana I was one of the backlogged shows I marathoned based on Internet-type recommendations after an extended anime sabbatical. It was highly regarded by people whose opinions I trusted, anyway. To be honest, the only things I remember at all about Shana I anymore are my disdain for the insipid antagonist twins, my amusement that Pyoro from VanDread voiced a loudmouthed book, and something about "TADA NO FLAME HAZE." Things I don't remember include why Shana's personality is so awful when her hair is not on fire, why the voices in (on?) Carmel's head offer taciturn color commentary for everything that happens, why J.C. Staff is so god-awful when it comes to fight scenes, what the plot was, and who any of these people are.

Alastor
Alastor needs more scenes.

Despite my current amnesia over nearly all aspects of the show, I trust that my own positive impressions of Shakugan no Shana were reasonable at the time, despite the series' current baggage. Shana and the abusive small Kugimiya Rie-voiced Modern Tsundere stereotype repeated ad nauseum via Louise, Taiga, Nagi, and assorted similar roles has become a bit of a joke. Moreover, nearly every opinion I've seen regarding Shakugan no Shana Second is profoundly negative. Through 16 episodes of Shana II, I can understand why. These episodes have been mostly rudderless filler with tedious exposition and, quite frankly, a bunch of lame stuff going on for characters I don't care about.

Carmel
Carmel is actually a terrible maid.

Usually I try to find some positive aspects of even bad shows, or at least identify specific shortcomings in shows I don't enjoy, but the best I can muster for the second season of Shakugan no Shana so far is "it sucks." It's not unwatchably bad, or even below the Worse Than Cosprayers Line, but Lord, it's not good. It's just not very interesting, and it makes me wonder if it really is substantially different from the first season (which I'm sure I liked), or if I just gave season one a pass because I really liked the first ED—the Takahashi Yoko one. Whatever the case may be, I intend to power through the remaining Shakugan no Shana II episodes so I'll be prepared to watch Shakugan no Shana III, which hopefully will contain whatever it was that made me like the first season, and not be a hot mess that's a complete waste of time, fire hair be damned.

Dated 10 May 2010: I am watching Mayoi Neko Overrun! because it sucks

Fumino
Fumino may or may not want you to have cake.

Why would I watch something that's awful? I watch Mayoi Neko Overrun! because it is bad, but inoffensively bad. Maybe "mediocre" is more apropos than "awful." Mayoi Neko Overrun! does nothing especially well, but it is so by-the-numbers there is not necessarily anything particularly odious about it either. It's an unnecessary show in the sense that its absence from the anime landscape would not be missed, but it is a colorful bit of filler that fits well during hollow moments where one might care for background amusement. Watching Mayoi Neko Overrun! is the anime equivalent of eating a stalk of celery in the afternoon because there's nothing else in the fridge and it makes a nice crunching sound.

Fumino
Breaking from tradition, Female Protagonist does not have a thigh_gap.

But really, Mayoi Neko Overrun! does not have a lot going for it. I don't care about the characters. I don't care about the story or the plot, and I am not even impressed by the fan service. The only thing about Mayoi Neko Overrun! I can positively identify as being something I enjoy is the way Fumino talks. I don't mean I like the sound of her voice. I also don't mean I enjoy her seiyuu's acting ability. I mean I like the cadence of her speech.

Takumi and Fumino
At least he didn't wake her shoving his crotch in her face.

Now, I'm not counting when Fumino does her tsundere shtick (although her "harrumphes" are also nicely done). Haruka Tomatosauce did the by-the-book Kugimiya-type tsundere a lot better when she was voicing Ayame in Asu no Yoichi! It doesn't get any more precise than that. (Ayame was so textbook neo-classical tsundere in Asu no Yoichi! she was even better than Kugimiya Rie herself.) But when Fumino is talking in her normal voice saying normal-type things, there is a nice rhythm to her words, even if they're ultimately empty and meaningless and completely forgettable. Y'know, like beat poetry. It's just good enough to make Mayoi Neko Overrun! watchable when there is nothing else on, and I bet it's even better with some creamy peanut butter.

Dated 22 October 2008: In the grim future of Toradora! and Hyakko there is only war

Taiga
Taiga, tsun-tsun mode.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the current autumn season, the corner of the Internet I frequent was positively abuzz in anticipation of Toradora!, mostly due to its tsundere Kugimiya Rie content. I like tsundere well enough, but I was looking forward to Hyakko quite a bit more, mostly for its slice-of-life wackiness.

Taiga
Taiga, not quite dere-dere yet.

Through the first three episodes of Toradora!, I like the show well enough. I'm glad Kugimiya Rie exercises some restraint in voicing Taiga; that was one of my reservations. I'm also pleased J.C. Staff leans heavily on two of its strengths: characters and tone. The character development is far more rapid than I expected. After three episodes, the Toradora! anime has already churned through several chapters of the manga. (I haven't read any of the original light novels, so I can't comment on their pacing.) This is not to say that the Toradora! characters are particularly complex, but their development is moving along quickly—getting them to where they need to be in a short series yet without seeming rushed.

Minori
Minori, Top Fuel Genki.

The big surprise for me is Minori. Reading the Toradora! manga, I didn't think much of Minori; she was just there as Ryuuji's temporary love interest before he and Taiga inevitably get together. Anime Minori, on the other hand, is TOP FUEL GENKI. Horie Yui cranks up her trademark sweetness voicing Minori about as high as I can stand. You could bake a cake. This is a very anime-type voice, but it works here and gives Minori the kind of charisma she really needs to be a credible love interest. It's no wonder Ryuuji has a crush on her. There's even potential here for Minori to usurp Best Girl status from Female Protagonist if she continues to one-up Taiga, much as Kotori overshadowed Nemu in Da Capo.

Minori
Gotta love a girl who likes baseball enough to bat left-handed.

So how is the Hyakko and Toradora! war shaping up? Well, I've only seen two episodes of Hyakko, but I do like it better than Toradora! so far. I know a lot of people had concerns about Hirano Aya as Ayumi. As far as I'm concerned, this is Torako's show. I.e., it's all Orikasa Fumiko all the time, as Torako and her freakishly-strong sidekick steal scene after scene. (Seriously. Fumiko? She's out of control.) Neya Michiko plays a nice straight man to Orikasa's neo-Miu. I'm confident Hyakko will continue to entertain in a teenage Ichigo Mashimaro sort of way.

Iizuka
Iizuka also bats left, but she's a natural southpaw.

But the war is over. Both the Hyakko Army and the Toradora! Army got outflanked by Kannagi and Nodame Cantabile: Paris (which had a GREAT first episode—especially all the parts with Nodame trying to learn French—sacrebleu). More on that later.

Dated 5 September 2008: Toradora! It's okay if it's J.C. Staff

Toradora! original character designs
I like the original Toradora! character designs.

Against my better judgment, I'm looking forward to Toradora! There's a good deal of hype surrounding this show, mostly involving the tiny hyper-tsundere lead girl, Aisaka Taiga.

Toradora! anime character designs
The presumptive anime character designs, not so much.

Surprising nobody, I'm sure, Kugimiya Rie will voice Taiga. I mentioned how Noto Mamiko suffers from frequent typecasting. Well, Kugimiya Rie is so typecast as the stereotypical tsundere dervish that she banks on it.


Kugimiya Rie GPS demo. (No audio first 13 seconds.)
Don't you dare make any wrong turns.

Looking for a backseat harpy driver who sounds too young to drive? We've got just the thing.

Dated 2 May 2008: The lighter side of Mitsuishi Kotono

Kanzaki Urumi
Back away from Kanzaki Urumi.

Zyl is correct to celebrate the work of Mitsuishi Kotono. I'd like to add that she's also amazing as the Great Trouble Kanzaki in Great Teacher Onizuka.

Kanzaki Urumi
She is displeased.

I'm not a big fan of Kugimiya Rie's school of one-note, bitchy tsundere characters, but Mitsuishi Kotono's enthusiastic tsundere-before-it-was-cool Kanzaki is a joy. Mitsuishi Kotono > Kugimiya Rie. (This is the part where I figure out if I remembered to set Irssi to auto-rejoin. Kugimiya Rie fanboy channel ops are a petulant lot.)