Version 5.4 ~ Haruhi gave rock and roll to you.

Dated 1 January 2012: 2011's Girl of the Year

Miki and Producer
Consolation prize.

Choosing the Girl of the Year for 2011 shows how views held at the mid-year mark can change months later even without much additional information. As you may recall, the initial front runner was Homura from Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, with Charles and Ran looking to place and to show. However, after another six months of deliberation, I think I may need to reconsider my choices.

Cure Marine
Cure Marine is proof All Stars hazing works.

Going through my initial recommendations, Erika from Heartcatch Precure! does even better in light of how uninspiring the entire cast of Suite Precure♪ has been. Nearly all the Suite Precure♪ characters are all right. (Not Cure Muse. Cure Muse is straight-up terrible.) However, they are so underdeveloped. Even Buki and Miki from Fresh Pretty Cure have more personality than the Suite cast. And the Suite Cures all seem to make such terrible choices. Not that Erika was a sound voice of reason in Heartcatch, but Erika at least had a lot more verve than any of the current crop of Cures, so the things she did were almost always entertaining, even when they were ill conceived. Nevertheless, while Erika certainly makes the Suite cast look bad, it's not enough to win her Girl of the Year.

My copy of Management is twice as thick.

As far as I can tell, Moshidora was wildly unpopular, but I thought it was pretty good. It's rare for a show to get better with every episode. I might be looking at this through baseball goggles (they're like instrument goggles, okay), but Minami from Moshidora easily deserves a Girl of the Year nomination. She doesn't have enough to win, but you can't expect someone to go to the Koshien and win Girl of the Year in the same year, can you? Nobody is that good. Oh, wait. Aoba from Cross Game did that just last year.

Hana and Sasha
Go on, Hana, curse the bitch out.

Hana carried the second season of Seikon no Qwaser through its early lacklustre episodes. Carried it in her ass. [P.S. SPOILERS.]

Who are you going to believe, sweetheart? Me or your lyin' eyes?

Early in the year, it really seemed as if Charles from IS: Infinite Stratos had a legitimate change of winning. I suppose she did, but as I mentioned with regard to the OVA, the end of the series basically threw away everything that made Charles great. Instead, she just became another blushing simpleton in Ichika's harem. How things would have been different if she had been absent from the series' final scene! It could have played out otherwise unchanged, but for a brief cut away to Charles sitting quietly in her room, reading one of those books Ichika keeps around for show, maybe looking up curiously to ask, "What is that racket outside?" Alas, somewhere along the way the writers forgot what made her great. Charles doesn't win.

Makoto, Kotori, Chihaya, Ritsuko, Takane, Yukiho, Haruka, Producer, Hibiki, Ami, Miki, Mami, Azusa, Iori, and Yayoi
Say, do we have any cake?

Based on how much I like The Idolm@ster TV, you might expect one of the 765 girls to win this year. The truth is, I'm not even sure who to nominate. Idolm@ster relies very much on its ensemble cast, and as much as I like most of the girls individually, I like them collectively more. So, the first ever group nomination goes out to Chihaya, Miki, Takane, Ritsuko, Haruka, Mami, Makoto, Iori, Hibiki, Ami, Azusa, Yayoi, Kotori, and Yukiho. They don't win, though. I'm not ready.

It's a good year for horn hair.

Even though I'm still not entirely sure squids are eligible to win Girl of the Year, Ika Musume managed a nomination last year for being pretty much non-stop awesome. Unfortunately, the second season of Ika Musume spent a lot of time, well, treading water for the most part. In fact, I'm inclined to think the Best Girl in Ika Musume II isn't even the title character. Eiko has been a solid straight man throughout the series, perhaps because she doesn't rely on having some broadly painted quirk to define her. Of course, now that I think about it, Eiko's role doesn't even necessarily require a female character. Eiko could have been a teenage boy, and the only real change to the show would be perhaps not having Ika Musume sleep in the same bedroom. Nobody from Shinryaku!? Ika Musume gets a nomination, by the way. Not this year.

Homura and Charlotte
Hey, there's more cake over at Suite Precure♪.

If you've been paying attention, you've already figured out the heavily armed witch killer Homura does not win this year. There were two obstacles in her way. First, Homura is handicapped by my general dislike of SHAFT and Shinbo and the sophomoric fans they attract. Second, Homura's defining characteristic—or at least the one working most in her favor—is her indefatigable dedication. It's admirable, but even Homura can learn a thing or two about tireless devotion from this year's winner: Ran.

Believe it, baby.

Long-suffering Mouri Ran is 2011's Girl of the Year. Ran has always been good enough to win every year, but a relatively weak field for 2011 coupled with an especially good year for Ran puts her over the top. Ran's peculiar similarities to Homura also helped seal the win. I say "long-suffering," but not very much actual in-show time has passed for Ran. Like Homura, Ran is essentially trapped in time, doomed to absorb hundreds of failures, surrounded by death, and never achieving the peace she seeks with the one she loves.

Lifetime Achievement Award.

For over six hundred episodes and more than a dozen movies, poor Ran hasn't been able to catch a break, but thankfully, there was some progress in 2011. This year, Detective Conan was at least kind enough to offer her the Valentine's Day arc, the White Day arc, and very compelling London arc, all of which which combine satisfyingly in ways unexpected for a show as generally static as Detective Conan. Congratulations, Ran, 2011's Girl of the Year.

Dated 19 April 2011: Winter 2011 season summary

The real antagonists in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica are trolls, not witches.

Despite my disdain for SHAFTXSHINBO, Mahou Shojo Madoka Magica (at least what I've seen of it so far, as the remaining episodes were pre-empted due to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami—they're expected to air in a few days) is really good. [Update: The final two episodes did have some surprises. The rating remains unchanged.] Whether it's good in spite of SHAFTXSHINBO because of Kajiura Yuki and Urobuchi Gen isn't so much important as the fact that they took something which I had fully expected to be unconventional, made it so, and still managed to impress. Although I did not enjoy Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica nearly as much as its true fans did, it was still easily the best show I watched from winter 2011, admittedly not a very difficult feat when the runner up probably only placed as high as it did thanks to the Hanakana Distortion Field.

Ichika and Charles
Infinite Stratos needed more Full Frontal Bageena Char.

Infinite Stratos was by no stretch of the imagination a good show, but it was fun to watch. Curiously, it's often the male protagonist that makes or breaks harem comedies, not the bevy of girls themselves. Thankfully, Infinite Stratos does well on both fronts. Potato-kun is mostly unobjectionable, with neither an overpoweringly "strong sense of justice" nor a timid adversion to girls, the two most common flaws of the typical harem comedy putz.

Charles and Ichika
There ain't no way Ichika owns that many books.

Unfortunately, not having those two flaws means Potato-kun needs some other character flaw to be the excuse why he doesn't trophy fuck love all the girls during the course of the show. In Ichika's case, he's a moron. It works out, though, because nearly every girl in his harem is also a moron. This is probably why Charles is so popular, as she's the only girl in the harem who is neither dumb nor crazy. Okay, she did pretend to be a very unconvincing boy for a while, but she gave that up after a few episodes, and the only reason other people bought that act is because the entire school is filled with complete idiots.

Ichika and Charles
What's that fishy odor?

Anyway, Infinite Stratos was an amusing, harmless diversion and was pretty fun until it decided it needed a plot towards the end. Instead of the Final Battle against MacGuffin, they should have devoted the last three episodes to a footrace or an extended game of tag.

This is the best reaction shot of the entire series. [P.S. Spoilers.]

Kimi ni Todoke really took a dive with 2nd Season in my view and dipped below the Detective Conan Line during the middle episodes because it upset the precarious balance of misunderstandings and heartfulness. Basically the entire season dragged out due to terribly painful communication problems. It made me wish the show was about Ume instead, or maybe Yano falling in love with Pin. (It's not a spoiler, okay? It's right there in the OP!) Thankfully, Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season pulled itself together during the final three episodes. Pity the entire season couldn't be that good. Had it been, then Kimi ni Todoke Second Season would have been as good as, well, Kimi ni Todoke First Season.

Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16
Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16.

Somewhat unexpectedly, finishing Kimi ni Todoke S2 makes me wish for a third season of Ai Yori Aoshi—one that follows the manga instead of jumping all over Creation. The final volumes of Ai Yori Aoshi really deserve a lot better than the lackluster impression the two inconsistent anime seasons left behind. They may have to animate Aoi's bra in the series climax with CGI, though. (Ha ha. "Climax.")

Take Fractale easy.

Viewers seem fairly divided on Fractale, particularly with regard to its ending. Much as I postulated when describing my early impressions of the show, the way I see it, there are two camps: Those that care about its pedigree and subsequently chose to watch Fractale critically, and those who just wanted to enjoy themselves because anime is still a hobby. That latter group likely enjoyed Nessa's turbo-genki moments quite a lot more, and even if there might be a Hanakana Distortion Field at work, they presumably enjoyed the show more as a whole.

Phryne and Nessa
How did they end up in the ending to Heartcatch Precure!?

This is not to say Fractale doesn't suffer from a host of problems. Personally, I felt all of the fighting and battle scenes were comically bad, and a lot of things (especially towards the end) didn't make any sense. I was also somewhat crestfallen to learn Phryne wasn't just acting stupid—she really was an idiot. It's because of these problems that I don't rank Fractale higher among the winter 2011 shows. Nevertheless, it was still pretty good overall, and including an audio cameo by Nausicaä herself towards the end to bookend the visual references from earlier in the season was pretty nice, even if I totally missed it.

If you advance this scene frame by frame you can catch
the exact moment Ran's heart breaks. [P.S. Spoilers.]

Detective Conan is Detective Conan. As I mentioned before, Detective Conan is basically my control group when it comes to ranking shows. Each season of Detective Conan is about the same and typically as good as any of its myriad previous seasons. This remained true during winter 2011, although I would like to point out the "Tear Drops" OP totally messes with the heads of Shinichi + Ran 'shippers.

Kumojacky and Cure Marine

The end of Heartcatch Precure! was all right, even though Cure Blossom remained mostly useless. Probably the highlight for me was Cure Marine suckerpunching Kumojacky in the face on general principle before he could launch into an idiomatic, vaguely evil speech.

Cure Rhythm
More punching, less baking.

Suite Precure is decent, but nothing really special unless you care about voice actresses. Koshimizu Ami, Orikasa Fumiko, Toyoguchi Megumi, and Mitsuishi Kotono are all on board. In fact, I should probably check Danbooru for what I'm sure must be copious amounts of seiyuu_joke parody/crossover fan art.

I dropped Freezing not because it was exploitative, but because it was kinda retarded. I can't wait for the second season of Seikon no Qwaser, though. (No, seriously.)

I was intriqed by Ri♡ -Rainbow Gate!- because it was Highlander with card battles, but I think I lost interest after two episodes beause Rio's hair sucks.

Yumekui Merry didn't suck, but I dropped it after the first episode because I wasn't interested. I heard it gets better later, but I still suspect Merry might actually be a boy.

Sister Layer
Cosprayers Line.

I dropped Wolverine after a single episode because it was God awful. Congratulations, Wolverine, you are easily WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS. All you need to know about the show is that in the first episode, a group of people flying around with jetpacks bent on attacking Wolverine with rifles decide to all fly close enough for him to gut them with his claws. Then later on Wolverine breaks one of Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion. Look, I'm okay with his indestructible skeleton and canonical ability to regenerate from a single remaining drop of blood, but c'mon.

Final tally: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica > IS: Infinite Stratos > Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season > Fractale > Detective Conan > Heartcatch Precure! > Suite Precure | Dropped: Freezing > Ri♡ -Rainbow Gate!- > Yumekui Merry | WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS: Wolverine.

Dated 26 March 2011: This season is about magikal girls carrying people (not quite comparing and contrasting Suite Precure with Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica again)

Cure Melody, Hummy, Cure Rhythm, and Souta
Cure Melody, sometimes a magical rod is just a magical rod.

Look, it's Cure Rhythm carrying her crybaby kid brother. Dude, don't let anyone princess-carry you. I don't care if you're still in grammar school. That's just embarrassing.

Crying in a rainbow until a girl princess-carries
you to safety? Emasculating ain't the word.

I'm going to digress for a minute to point out there was more crying in Suite Precure episode six than I remember in the approximately 300 previous episodes of Pretty Cure that I've watched so far. I haven't seen this much crying since I quit watching Ookiku Furikabutte (A.K.A. Big Windup). We're talking like Stellvia-level crying. Okay, not really like Stellvia crying. That's not even possible.

Cure Melody
Cure Melody solos a Monster of the Week.

Look, it's Cure Melody totally carrying Cure Rhythm. Seriously, Kanade, you've got to step up. I understand Hibiki is the lead character and all, and she's showing off her brand new attack here, but you had better go aggro next episode if you don't want to be known as Cure Apron, Queen of Cakes. Feel free to punch someone in the face once in a while.

Kyoko and Sayaka
This is really only a spoiler if I tell you it's a spoiler. [P.S. Spoilers]

Look, it's mahou shoujo Kyoko carrying Sayaka.


Dated 3 March 2011: Magikal girls have magical metabolisms, at least in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Suite Precure

Kyoko and Homura
Maybe Kyoko just burns it all off playing DDR.

I was tempted to compare and contrast Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica with Suite Precure since these two magikal girl shows are conveniently running concurrently. You know, something along the lines of how one is dark and unconventional while the other is fun and formulaic. Something like that.

I guess Kanade just makes the cakes and doesn't eat them.

Turns out I'd rather write about how both shows have characters that eat constantly yet manage to maintain their trim figures. Kyoko dares to wear short shorts despite cramming food into her face every moment when she's not fighting (and sometimes even then), but I guess apples and Pocky probably aren't very fattening and she does have a fairly active lifestyle.

I have it on good authority these are delicious in church—sacrilicious, even.

Kanade, now that I think about it, might make cakes all day long, but it seems Hibiki is actually the one that eats them. We do know Hibiki is very active and athletic, but her pushups and situps need work. Who does situps on a bed?

Dated 23 February 2011: Sometime I worry IS: Infinite Stratos isn't really trying

Ichika and Charles
Look on the bright side. Tea brewed that hot probably would have tasted terrible.

Just so you know, the closet transvestite in Infinite Stratos is basically the least convincing boy in the history of anime. And I'm not just saying that because Ichika's harem runs so deep that you can assume any character in a five-episode radius around him is female—even ones that are able to hide their breasts in Flatspace while in "disguise." Also, while I do like dere Yukana, I'm a little disappointed every girl in the school appears to be kinda unintelligent. Maybe it's because the school is filled with the anime science fiction equivalent of dumb jocks.

Dated 10 February 2011: Suite Precure is pretty (go on, say it)

Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm
This is not a Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm bust comparison chart.

So how 'bout that Suite Precure? Well, there was a lot more setup in the first episode than I was expecting. This is not a bad thing, since we still got dual Pretty Cure transformations at the end of the episode (as expected), but I hope all that jazz (don't worry, I'll stop) about the notes doesn't get much more complex too fast. Not that I'm concerned I might not be able to adequately follow a Pretty Cure plot, but more that I'm worried additional complexity might require a lot of action-halting talking scenes.

Kanade and Hibiki
Man, those uniforms must demand a lot of starch.

Still, with a voice cast this rich, it wouldn't be a complete tragedy. I'm pleased to get Koshimizu Ami in the lead role, and pulling Orikasa Fumiko from the grasp of the voracious Bleach-episode singularity is a huge relief. I'm also happy to get Toyoguchi Megumi as, well, anything, really, and casting ol' Ebichu as Hamii was a great idea. (It's actually Hummy, right? There has to be a music pun involved here somewhere.)

The first time we see Ellen Siren, the point of view pans up her stocking-clad legs.

After only one episode, there isn't enough information to really learn too much about the characters, although the villains and their flunkies don't appear too ambitious so far. There are Fresh Pretty Cure similarities here as well, and while Ellen Siren is not as...aerodynamic as good ol' Easy, she's probably going to be a bit more sinister—at least until she switches sides. (C'mon, who doesn't see that coming?)

Cure Melody
The CGI ED doesn't hammer its 3D aspects as much.

The ending credits sequence is another dance-o-matic CGI ED which was fine, but not especially memorable or endearing thus far. "Ganbalance de Dance," this is not.

Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm
That seems like more hair than usual, even for Pretty Cure.

Suite Precure sort of looks and feels like Splash Star set in the Yes! Precure 5 universe. Most of the Suite elements should feel pretty familiar to long-time Pretty Cure viewers. Cure Melody's hair has that same needs-more-conditioner look Saki's has. Additionally, Cure Melody wears—as tradition demands—a battle costume with a Barbara Eden bare midriff. She also enjoys sports, so hopefully the days of dojikko Cures are behind us. All in all, the first episode was not a bad introduction to the series, but episode two had better be filled with wall-to-wall beatdowns.

Dated 16 January 2011: The worst thing about Fractale is all its baggage

Stolen from Nausicaä.

It seems this season is plagued by preconceptions. More than usual, it appears people are making up their minds about certain shows based entirely on early glimpses of information or the pedigree of the staff and cast involved. They decide whether it's okay to watch or enjoy a show before it even airs. For some people, watching the actual shows themselves is almost an afterthought—a mere formality. Fractale certainly suffers from this this. Specifically, the Yamakan baggage (of which I shall not speak, though nearly everyone else seems to have relayed it already), appears to poison some viewers' opinion of the show thus far, or at least their ability to enjoy it.

Stolen from FLCL.

Truth be told, I suffered from this as well during my first viewing of the initial episode, and did not feel especially impressed by it. But let's take another look. What is there to complain about specifically? Are those complaints well founded? Would these criticisms be levied against the show were it, for example, a Studio Deen or m.o.e. production with a staff of unknowns? Should they be?

A bird in the sky
Stolen from Full Metal Panic!

In a season filled with shows criticized for being "generic," Fractale manages to be different and creative despite being very obviously derivative of a number of different properties and conventions. Is it wrong to be derivative? Must every show be entirely original from top to bottom, start to finish? Is any show entirely original?

Stolen from Nadia.

Fractale does a few things very well. For example, its timing is excellent, and while the jokes are not hilarious, they're sharply executed and well punctuated with audio beats and visual cuts the same way Kannagi delivered simple setups extremely well.

Also stolen from Nausicaä.

Is it wrong to do things well if they're done well on purpose? Must every show be an accidental masterpiece like FLCL which, if the director commentary tracks are to be believed, Gainax just threw together practically extemporaneously? The ED is also simple, yet beautiful. Is it wrong to use a W.B. Yeats poem in order to invoke and enhance images of an Emerald Isle?

Stolen from Antiques Roadshow.

This is not to say that Fractale is a flawless show. First of all, only a single episode has aired, so it is largely premature to make any type of hard conclusions one way or another. Second, Potato-kun is doing his best to ruin the show for me. I don't know why anime male protagonists have to follow such ridiculous conventions. I'm starting to think they follow these cliches because they're cliches. It's never-ending. But it's not enough to overshadow the show's positive aspects.

Stolen from Galaxy Angel.

I watched the first episode twice. The second time I watched it as if I had never heard anything about it. I watched it with the eyes of someone who is relatively new to anime, and not someone who has been blogging regularly about it since 2002. You know what? Fractale is great.

Dated 13 January 2011: In re Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica reader reaction

IKnight writes:

Puella Magi Madoka Magica has me stumped too (and magica seems redundant in both versions of the title). It does look like either a joke or a mistake, or it really is meant to read 'Magician's Magical Girl Madoka', which might perhaps make sense if Madoka has some kind of male magician-patron, or something.

At this point I'm just going to assume it's the Latin equivalent of Engrish.