Version 5.4 ~ Haruhi gave rock and roll to you.
karmaburn.com karmaburn.com

Dated 1 January 2013: Announcing the 2012 Girl of the Year

Ami and Mami
Don't try and tell Ami and Mami there can be only one.

Choosing a 2012 Girl of the Year was more difficult than in previous years for two reasons. First, I watched fewer shows this year, so the pool of candidates is relatively small. For example, I encountered regular high praise for characters in Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, but being otherwise wholly ignorant of the show, none of them even got an initial glance. Second, there are numerous eligibility considerations that I had to reconcile.

Medaka
This is not a very deep pool.

Revisiting nominations from earlier this year, I identified Yuuko from Tasogare Otome x Amnesia, Fujiko from Lupin III, Saki from Natsuiro Kiseki, and the unnamed female protagonist from Humanity Has Declined. With the benefit of having the autumn 2012 season in the bag, I am adding Cure Beauty from Smile Precure!, Medaka from Medaka Box and Medaka Box Abnormal, and the entire 765Pro roster from The iDOLM@STER TV.

Chihaya
It was the style at the time.

Here is one of the eligibility concerns I mentioned. Should iM@S characters qualify for the 2012 Girl of the Year contest? The television series concluded in 2011. However, the episode 26 OVA came out in 2012, and there were three additional episodes included with the Shiny Festa PSP games also released in 2012. I never explicitly disqualified OVAs and movies from consideration. (And if I did and simply forgot, I'm retconning that now.) If the Girl of the Year title can be awarded to a group, then shouldn't the BEST GIRL in that ensemble subsequently get a solo award? Not necessarily. Chihaya is the iDOLM@STER BEST GIRL, but I wouldn't call her 2012's Girl of the Year even though I am prepared to nominate Chihaya, Miki, Takane, Ritsuko, Haruka, Mami, Makoto, Iori, Hibiki, Ami, Azusa, Yayoi, Kotori, and Yukiho in a group nomination as I did in 2011.

Yuuko
It's not easy being dead.

Perhaps this is anti-climatic, but the 2012 winner wasn't really in doubt. Yuuko is amazing, but a lot of her appeal comes from the Tasogare Otome x Amnesia manga. She's hurt by the single-cour run of the anime and its disappointing cop-out non-ending to an otherwise good show.

Fujiko and Lupin
Better hope she doesn't punch you in the monkey.

Fujiko seemed like a shoo-in early in the year, but in retrospect I'm disappointed with the unevenness of her show itself. For Fujiko to win in 2012 I'd have to consider her (admittedly outstanding) previously established credentials. This worked for Mouri Ran, last year's winner, but 2011 Ran was exceptional while I can't claim the same of 2012 Fujiko.

Yuka, Saki, Natsumi, and Rin
Saki can't help being better.

Saki from Natsuiro Kiseki? Sigh. Tough call. She doesn't win, but definitely deserves special mention. Natsuiro Kiseki is chock full of wonderful Saki moments, probably appropriately since it really is her show despite being a putative Sphere vehicle for the quartet. We all know who's best. [Spoilers: It's Takagaki Ayahi, even though I love Haruka DeTomaso Pantera.]

Female Protagonist
Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
P.S. Fairies are assholes.

She who shall not be named in Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita? Possibly seiyuu of the year, but not Girl of the Year. She's pretty good, and a worthy nomination, but just doesn't quite have enough to get by her competitors this year. Nakahara Mai really was superb in this role, though.

Cure Beauty
Guess what happens to people who don't get
out of Cure Beauty's way. Go on. Guess.

Cure Beauty? An almost automatic nomination and the only Smile Cure worth a damn, but she kinda makes herself look good by surrounding herself with less capable people. I'm pleased Toei was consistent with her characterization throughout the course of the year-long season. If they ever adopt the Pretty Cure Team-Up idea as a way to manage the huge numbers of mahou shoujo now in play (without marginalizing the older ones as New Stage 1 did), I could easily see her busting heads side-by-side with the early-generation Cures. Cure Peace? Not so much.

Medaka, Naze, and Koga
Medaka is not subtle.

Medaka? Just good enough for a nomination, but that's all. I sure hope Neo Gainax continues churning out her anime so Anshin'in can boat race the competition next year or the year after.

765Pro
Idolm@ster is so good I think I need to buy more Ace Combat planes.

So how about all the iM@S girls? I really wanted to give them the group win, but I can't quite do it for 2012. All right, so who does win? Think about it. Do you really have to ask?

Asuka
P.S. Soryu is still > Shikinami.

Asuka Shikinami Langley. Wait, why? Because Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo came out in 2012, because OVAs and movies do qualify, because a previous body of work may be taken into consideration as a factor, and because this entire contest is rigged. OMEDETOU, sweetheart.

Dated 27 August 2012: The mysterious appeal of Hyouka

Houtarou
I guess this shot is okay considering that David Letterman
used to film part of his show from a monkey-cam.

Hyouka is quite popular even though its mysteries are not profound. However, the mysteries are interesting enough to at least amuse those looking for a hook, although I suspect the show's appeal is mostly due to its characters, not the mysteries themselves. Anyone who claims to like Hyouka strictly for its detective stories is likely new to mysteries in general. So besides the characters, what else is good if the mysteries themselves are mundane? Well, the animation is impeccable from a technical perspective, but even then the direction at times is straight-up terrible the way SHAFT X SHINBO stunt animation is terrible. It sometimes indulges in "creative" framing and different angles that are suppose to be interesting and unconventional. They are, in fact, unconventional in that they break old guidelines of cinematography that I suppose only purists care about these days. Hyouka features wildly framed shots for no purpose other than to be different, and angles that could not belong to any character's point of view are used frequently. (Ironically, Hyouka's own characters attack this very practice during the movie arc.)

Scene from The Godfather
Francis Ford Coppola shot this scene from The Godfather over
his cinematographer's objections. (Get it? Get it? Never mind.)

So despite these flaws, is Hyouka good, as in Good with a capital G? Yes, it is. But is it interesting? Well, not always. Most complaints about Hyouka lament that it is boring or claim that nothing happens; the wacky camera angles that annoy me seem to bother those people a lot less. Maybe that's why Hyouka uses wacky camera angles at times: It expects viewers to find some of its content tedious, and feels a need to goose short attention spans with distractions. But if a long conversation in a cafe needs gimmicks to keep viewers engaged, them perhaps it simply runs too long.

Houtarou
A wall with Houtarou's head in front of it.

Although I can easily see how others might think so, I don't personally find Hyouka dull. After all, I was able to marathon its earlier episodes quickly enough to catch up with the current broadcast without difficulty. So where would I retroactively rank Hyouka now among the spring 2012 shows? Pretty low, actually. I'd say after Lupin III but above Sakamichi no Apollon if I only consider the first 11 episodes of Hyouka. (I'm using the eleventh episode as the cutoff somewhat arbitrarily because the ED changes for the twelfth episode, and because 11 is around half of the show's projected 24 21-ish-episode length.) Admittedly, this low position is mostly because the show uses these early episodes mostly for development and comes across much stronger in its second cour once the character development culminates in a better understanding of the motivations and reservations driving the cast's actions. Perhaps I've been conditioned by the single-cour trend to be less patient with character development.

Satoshi
There's more to Satoshi than genki and purses. There's also envy.

This is not to say that allegations Hyouka develops its characters too slowly are not justified. Yes, we discover Houtarou overlooked a serious flaw in his reasoning because his results-oriented personality prevented him from using a people-oriented approach to solving their problems, but should it take so many episodes to learn this? Maybe it's premature and improper to judge Hyouka at this point, since it seems to be building towards a final payoff, but due to the anime's reliance on external source material, there's a chance no conclusion will be rewarding enough to viewers not already enamored with the show thus far.

Dated 5 July 2012: The End of Natsuiro Kiseki ~Air/My Purest Love for Sphere~

Saki
How do you know she's a witch?

Easily the biggest surprise of the season, Natsuiro Kiseki (A Summer-Colored Miracle) exceeded all my expectations by becoming my favorite show of spring 2012. From the promotional materials and early information, I assumed it would be a simple school comedy slapped together as an excuse to promote Sphere. Sphere, if you don't know, is one of those phony-baloney girl groups comprised solely of young voice actresses caramelized with syrupy J-Pop. Somewhat distressingly, Sphere is actually pretty good. And by pretty good, I mean I can't stop listening to them. Anyway, I don't actually know if Natsuiro Kiseki was designed to be a Sphere vehicle from the start, or if it was merely a coincidence the four members played the four leads, or if there was last-minute stunt casting involved, but the show wasn't something I had any interest in. I wasn't even entirely sure what it was about. Something about wishes?

Natsumi and Yuka
Are you crazy? Don't give Yuka Mountain Dew...err, Boo.

It turns out Natsuiro Kiseki is a situation comedy with a casual acceptance of magic powers. It's regularly funny and occasionally brilliant. Simple concepts executed well by charming characters—that's how Natsuiro Kiseki succeeds. I had no plans to watch it at all until I saw a blog post about the first episode featuring a screenshot of the girls flying in awkward terror. (A Splash Star airborne mahou shoujo insertion, this was not.) Even then, it was a close thing because the first episode had a disproportionate amount of bitching and not enough big-ass-rock mojo. Thankfully, episode two featured Saki and Natsumi stuck together and Rin taking one for the team. I was sold after that. Good physical comedy might not make for sophisticated viewing, but it is fun to watch.

Natsumi
Natsuiro Kiseki also features one-handed backhands.

All the characters in Natsuiro Kiseki work well together and there's genuine chemistry in the group, but I'm pleased Sunrise threw parity to the wind by making Saki far and away the best of the four. Look, Saki can't help being smarter, prettier, more athletic, and basically better in every way than everyone else. At least she doesn't lord it over people. I'm a fan of competent, confident characters who make everything they do look so easy, even if all she's doing is teaching a doubles partner how to keep her head in the game.

Saki
It turns out Saki was a bit of a hellion when she was younger.

Saki easily earns a Girl of the Year nomination, and while I don't know if she'll win, Saki can at least say she earned her nomination while abstaining from vigorous intercourse, coldblooded murder, and casual nudity. Wait, not that last thing. Natsuiro Kiseki has an ensemble cast, and arguably Natsumi is the main girl, but it is Saki's summer, and it's very much Saki's show. It's also Saki's ending, and thankfully Natsuiro Kiseki—unlike Tasogare Otome x Amnesia—has a real ending, and Saki's summer miracles will never get the sequels they deserve, alas.

Dated 29 June 2012: The End of Tasogare Otome x Amnesia ~Air/My Purest Love for Hime Cuts~

Yuuko
An unoccupied classroom, eh?

I can't think of a way to address the end of Tasogare Otome x Amnesia without revealing fairly important spoilers, but I'll try to minimize the damage. Anyone paying attention likely already knows the ending suffers from a serious flaw, though.

Light Yuuko, Yuuko, and Dark Yuuko
I sure hope you figured this part out by yourself.

As you might expect, the anime's ending stumbled because the original manga is still ongoing. This gave the Tasogare Otome x Amnesia anime basically three choices: (1) A non-ending ending, which seems to be the most common cop-out, (2) an original ending after diverging from the manga (Full Moon wo Sagashite did this with amazing success), or (3) a real ending that the original (but still ongoing) manga later attempts to follow or improve upon, as in the case of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga.

Yuuko and Teiichi
Yuuko is not subtle.

Well, the Tasogare Otome x Amnesia anime took the first choice...sort of, but did it in a way that is both better and worse than the typical non-ending ending: It has an original, option-two-type ending which is actually pretty good, but then at the last minute it turns into a non-ending ending, betraying any emotional investment or payoff it might have achieved had it just wrapped things up there. I'm not sure if Silver Link simply chickened out, or if they have hopes for a second season.

Yuuko
Yuuko is not subtle.

I just said the almost ending is "actually pretty good," but it has a few problems too. Yuuko and Teiichi obviously won't get a happy ending together; Yuuko is dead, after all. But no matter how successful Tasogare Otome x Amnesia may have portrayed the romance, it's still difficult to forget that Teiichi is only a first-year middle school kid. He's just not old enough to be making such bold pronouncements about love and still be taken seriously. This is one place where a timeskip would have been appropriate before the bittersweet ending it tried to achieve. Either way, the anime should have left it alone instead of forcing an opening for a possible sequel. It's a stunning lack of commitment to a conclusion that invoked commitment as a major theme.

Dated 23 June 2012: The End of Medaka Box ~Air/My Purest Love for Shounen Jive~

Akune, Kikaijima, and Zenkichi
Unexpectedly, they're not cleaning up after Medaka.

The first cour of Medaka Box ended recently, but with the spring 2012 season coming to an end, I could have kicked this down the road and merely included it with a season summary post, but I feel Medaka Box justifies a separate entry. I enjoyed Medaka Box, but I'm not sure I'll be watching the second season.

Medaka
Medaka is so angry her hair changed color.

Like the manga, the Medaka Box anime undergoes a somewhat jarring transformation from a wacky celebration of Medaka's preternatural talents to a shounen jive block of increasingly surreal battles and one-upmanship. Frankly, through 70-some chapters, I'm tired of the bombastic precocious high school kids challenging Medaka one after another. I sure hope there's a "don't underestimate adults" segment soon to teach them some humility. The mother who looks like she's 10 doesn't count.

Unzen and Medaka
Medaka slugs a kid in the gut.

I have a low tolerance of shounen jive in general, so I don't expect to last long during Medaka Box season two. Even the amount of yappin' during the Unzen arc climax of the first-cour finale got on my nerves. This is a shame because Medaka herself and her menagerie of followers are rather charming, and I would be interested in seeing more of Medaka's aggressive benevolence instead of the upcoming endless wall-to-wall battles.

Dated 13 June 2012: Upotte!! ends and AKB0048 begins

G3 and M14
Upotte!! should have focused more on the battle rifle high school.

Upotte!! is much less tasteless and much more informative than the first episode and initial viewer impressions might have you believe. In those respects, it's sort of like Chu-Bra!! only with rifles instead of brassieres. Notably, the befuddled human teacher has a much smaller role in the series than I expected.

(more…)

Dated 17 May 2012: Medaka as the second coming of Haruhi

Medaka
Not pictured: Medaka's box.

Honestly, I don't think there are that many examples of people equating Medaka with Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu's titular character, even if I did say this season's Medaka reminded me of 2006's small god. However, enough people have made the comparison to invite disagreement among those opposed to simplistic conflation of the two. But is Medaka like Haruhi or not?

Haruhi
It's best to keep small gods appeased.

On the surface, it seems the comparisons arise from similarities between Medaka's preternatural prowess at practically everything and Haruhi's, well, omnipotence [P.S. Spoilers], but perhaps the ease at which viewers draw these comparisons is indicative of something else entirely: There is a dearth of capable, confident, assertive female anime characters in leadership roles. This is not to say there aren't any, and I'd venture anime in general contains more of such heroines than other media or genres, but I'll also claim the "moé-ification" of anime has forced female characters to have at least one "adorable" weakness, like Ouran Host Club's Haruhi's fear of thunder. Even Perfect Girls are not immune: School Rumble's Yakumo is afraid of dogs and Amagami SS's Tsukasa is, well, kinda crazy.

Medaka and Zenkichi
Not pictured: The Sea of Galilee.

Comparisons are also natural because Medaka and Haruhi can both seemingly do anything they want, and do it extraordinarily well. As NovaJinx (supra) notes, Medaka is seemingly perfect, while even Haruhi had faults. But faults aren't necessarily weaknesses, are they? That's the key, there: Neither appear to have weaknesses, let alone "cute" moé ones. I submit that capable, confident, assertive female anime characters lacking silly weaknesses are so rare that when two of them appear in the same decade it's inevitable they'll get lumped together.

Rias and Issei
You're better off making a contract with Rias than with Kyubey.

Okay, what about Rias Gremory? Two problems: (1) I don't think anyone took High School DxD seriously (I sure didn't), and (2) Rias did not impose her will on others indiscriminately. Haruhi, on the other hand, is one pushy broad. A sweetheart nonetheless, but yeah, kinda pushy. And Medaka? Oh, you will submit to Medaka's benevolence. Just lie back.

Dated 28 April 2012: Tasogare Otome x Amnesia is better than expected

Yuuko
Torrid fan service!

Tasogare Otome x Amnesia made a good first impression because Yuuko, this season's resident ghost girlfriend, is remarkably charming. It also helps that the male lead is not another potato. Ironically, I can't remember my first exposure to Amnesia. At some point, maybe a year ago, I added the RSS feed for its manga releases to my aggregator and downloaded many of the early chapters. However, I read none of them and cannot remember how I came to hear about Dusk Maiden of Amnesia in the first place. After a couple amusing episodes, curiosity got the better of me and I did something I never do: I read the source material past the available anime. (The manga benefits from numerous sight gags and extras currently absent from the anime, possibly biasing my overall opinion of the show more favorably than other viewers.)

Teiichi and Yuuko
Awesome reception!

I'm caught up with the current manga releases of Tasogare Otome x Amnesia, and while its male lead does suffer later from some of the unassertive, indecisive behavior compelled by the Otaku Virtues, his relationship with his ghost girlfriend remains acceptably free from tiresome problems that plague most school comedies. I say comedy, but Amnesia is a drama as well, and arguably a drama first. The mystery surrounding Yuuko's death (and life) drives the serious portions of Amnesia while Yuuko's flirting and mischievous irreverence keep the comedic aspects engaging. Through 33 chapters, the character count for Tasogare Otome x Amnesia remains small, assuring large doses of the extremely fetching Yuuko in each installment. Is "fetching" too old fashioned to say anymore? Hopefully it's okay to use the term to describe a Girl of the Year candidate who has been dead for over half a century. (Let's be honest, though, nobody is defeating Mine Fujiko for Girl of the Year honors barring a huge upset.)