And we have video games and anime in part 2, two sections I plan to treat with care in 2016’s upcoming year review of entertainment, but aren’t at their fullest here. Italics for any of my own comments in here. All writing that I posted last year on Buzzjack.com and am porting over here for my archives on this site. Video games at the top, anime about halfway down the page. Not ordered, because I chose not to do that, for the anime it’s in the order that I watched them, not on quality.
VIDEO GAMES 2015
I hope you don’t have a changed opinion of me by the end of this post, I will freely admit that this is where it gets a bit weird with my choice of entertainment but I like what I like and I want to talk about what I like (I had this opinion well before I started this blog it seems). And it’s done with complete knowledge that it’s slightly against the norm and so I’m not too precious about these things. That’s mainly for two of the entries in here, the other three are totally normal honest.
Video games. And one visual novel. Which isn’t really a game but it’s more a game than an anime so I’m squeezing it in here to balance out the sections. I tend to only play games on my PC (well, laptop). As old and battle-worn as she is (just turned 3 a week or so ago), she’s been doing good for me this year. I have really been expanding my Steam library this year to get a few more games in there, I just can’t fit all of them on this laptop so I’m going to be upgrading to a proper PC as soon as I get the time and resources to do so. (which I have done and so I have far more of a gaming breadth to talk about this year) I don’t really console game as it’s not really my thing, I tend to prefer strategy games and they’re only on the PC most of the time. And fortunately when there is a rare shooter or open sandbox I really want to play it’s been ported to the PC pretty nicely. PCs are just better. At everything. So that’s how it is. I’ll be talking only about games that are new to me this year or we’d be here forever. (Key word, new to me this year, hence they can be as old or as new as I like)
Civ V is a game I would have played much more of this year if only it didn’t take an absolute AGE to load up on my laptop. This is why I need a new PC. Oh, and once I’m in the game I’m in there for 8 hours or something stupid and that’s not very good for getting anything actually done. Why is it so captivating? Because you can create your own world in there. A completely huge world. I was playing Civ IV (of ‘Baba Yetu’ fame) up until this year and while that was great, Civ V enhanced the experience even more. In these types of grand strategy games, the more little extra tidbits you get the better and I can spend half an hour just looking at the current status of my empire and all the other empires on the map at the moment. (and at this point I had no idea that Paradox games existed, I hadn’t been spoiled on them yet) From religion (which completely changes its nature each game), to current state of diplomacy, which also can be either exchanging pleasantries with the Polynesians to the English demanding you get out of their seas, all the way up to the Mongolians declaring war on you and running over your cities just like Genghis Khan did in the old days. I should know, my longest games have been as Genghis. I love the way it all changes every game. No game is the same, there are multiple ways to win, and because of that, you never get bored.
It is so satisfying to make yourself a competent player in the world and just eventually, through sheer force of determination, down thousands of years, destroy an enemy because he snubbed a trade deal with you back in 800 BC and you really needed those dyes then and now he will pay for that centuries old mistake.
I used to love playing Total War because the campaign mode was somewhat similar to this but that was hampered by having to go into boring battles and be tactical and all. As will be seen by the end of this post, I’m less good at making fast-paced tactical decisions and instead prefer to play the significant strategic long con (well, it’s not that I’m less good, it’s just strategic stuff I find so much more invigorating). Which I am pretty brilliant at. Macrogaming over microgaming. And the beauty of Civ V is that the battles are always resolved so quickly. An invasion of the Spanish Empire, backed by your strongest allies, can reduce them to begging for mercy in about 40 minutes. Only problem then is you have to see how it all resolves itself later on and you always have to play one more turn.
A game I would play forever and ever if I had infinite time and a faster computer. Seriously. It’s top class.
Just Cause 2
Well, I can occasionally like big sandbox shooters that thrive on wanton death, destruction, lamentations of women and all that sort of incredibly macho stuff that tends to get played on consoles but also conveniently has a lovely PC port for use. The reason I can enjoy Just Cause (the series), I only discovered it this year and Just Cause 3 looks incredible (but not yet played it), is that it does not take itself seriously in the SLIGHTEST. It knows it’s just got the barest excuse of a plot in order for your character to go around blowing shit up, it knows it’s pretty dumb, it knows that all you’re trying to do is simulate a Michael Bay movie, and that’s absolutely fine. It adds a certain charm to it. Like you can go steal a passenger plane and, if you want to, just pick the nearest skyscraper to crash it into, on a whim. If you’re into that sort of thing. I prefer to grab a fast sports car and go pasting passing peasants to the pavement. Or blow up a couple of buildings. Or just parachute around everywhere, because you have an unlimited supply of parachutes that you can quite literally pull out of your arse as well as having a grapple hook that makes your action hero handle travelling in a similar way to Spiderman.
And then, eventually, when you feel like it, you can destroy the things you’re kinda meant to destroy and slowly advance what little plot there is. It’s a game with an enormous amount of freedom in that sense, only just rivalled by the enormity of the open-world map, which, as it is meant to simulate an entire island nation, is actually about that size.
Basically, the one big shooter this year that really got my attention because of its laissez-faire attitude and ability for really bizarre and awesome action moments that have no place anywhere outside a parody.
Yes, I don’t often reveal to people that I play Runescape (to the people I originally posted this to on Buzzjack, if you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I have a Runescape section that I rarely update) mainly because of the stigma that has been associated with it over its long and venerable lifespan. I don’t even play it all the time, there are months where I want nothing to do with it, and then there are months where I get obsessed all over again (hence why my Runescape section on here is currently on a break and will return at some point). It’s a cycle. But the important thing is that the lovably shit game we all played about 8 to 10 years ago is almost completely gone. You can still play that version if you want nostalgia or PvP and many people do, but the near-decade of updates that have gone on since then are why it’s so good now and really does not deserve its stigma of being boring, grindy and only for 12-year olds doing shit-talking PvP in a sea of bad graphics (plus comments about being scammed and someone trimming your armour and buying your girlfriend, as I see on Reddit every bloody time this game gets brought up there). The grind is still there but it’s been eased IMMEASURABLY by years of new training areas and fast XP methods and if you find the right things then there is a lot to enjoy. The kids, well, they’ve all grown up with the game and most people who play it are now in the 18-30 bracket and mostly, play it to have a laugh (this sentence influenced from a clan I was part of last year and the more popular streamers). Some of the content has become quite a bit more mature as a result.
And that brings me on to why I most love Runescape, the quests. I don’t really play other MMOs because I don’t want to adapt to a new system, but I hear quests in most of those are really dull, no-storyline ‘fetch me 30 special items and be quick about it’ quests. And they have paltry rewards. If you have evidence to prove me wrong, let me know, but in Runescape, you can only experience about 30% of the game without doing any quests at all, the majority of them give a reward that you’ll find essential to your playing experience – or they’ll allow you to do a quest that does. And the quests themselves, especially the higher-level ones, but a few low-level new ones too, they’re filled with constantly funny self-referential, occasionally fourth-wall-breaking dialogue with an engaging storyline, a few interesting characters here and there, and a mix of boss fights with varied mechanics and puzzles (and I love solving puzzles). As an example, one I recently did: The Firemaker’s Curse, a high level quest that heavily uses the firemaking skill (generally known as the most useless skill until they started justifying it with a few quests like these), featured a number of characters that you had to keep alive in a rather Doctor Who-esque trapped in cave setting, culminating in a very tense boss fight defeating a vengeful fire spirit through your own firemaking skills. It was an experience. And most of the longer quests are like that. I’ve still got plenty of long quests to do and I’m pacing myself so I don’t do them all too quickly.
There’s a few other things like slaying and boss fights that I really enjoy as well as the whole nature of the game, at this point I know it so well it feels really familiar. When I’m into it I pour so much free time into it it seems ridiculous but I really enjoy it when I do, and that’s all there is to it. Plus the community around it, particularly a few big names, Twitch streamers and the like are really watchable and the years of experience all of them have had with the game makes it really fun to follow their adventures as well as my own.
Football Manager 2015
Oh man, the times I had in the summer with Football Manager. I’m no football fan, I can’t abide watching a full game unless it’s an international finals tournament. The only reason I post in the Sports Forum at all is because so many people follow it that the stats system that has sprung up around the sport is the most interesting and complete in the world. (and even then sometimes I have months where I want nothing to do with football, like I have felt for the last few months, but I’m sure I’ll get back into the stats at some point) And nowhere is that stats system better realised than in the Football Manager franchise. (so many hours I played on this, it was the first time I’d really played FM so I sunk my teeth well into it)
From league tables around the world, to your clubs finances, to your player’s opinions of you, to that point where your star inside forward decides that being promoted from League One isn’t successful enough for him so he forces a move to a club that’s getting relegated from the Championship that season, it’s really immersive, and I’m living proof that you don’t have to be a huge football fan to enjoy doing it. Obviously (as it was my university town) I took Exeter City through a reasonably successful period from now to 2022, I’m not the most skilled so I managed to move them from the constant mid-table League 2 finisher they are now up to a team that is, at the point of my last save, being the Sunderland of the Championship (did I get that reference right?), with nervy last minute saves to avoid going back down. I’ve tried a few other things too, like play with the big boy clubs, simulate a few seasons to get fake players and a different football world in a decade or so, play in far-off nations, and yes, this sort of thing, staring at a spreadsheet and with little knowledge of football tactics, vaguely making decisions and hoping I’m correct, it is quite fun.
At this point I just wish you could skip matches without risking losing most of them (forever my biggest complaint about enjoying this series in the future, the actual matches are so boring, as well as my complete lack of understanding how any of the training outside of matches is supposed to influence stuff), it got very nervy whenever the opposition had the ball at the 90-minute mark and the matches are the least interesting part. Because I’m weird. Or it’s the same thing as with my Total War/Civilization thing, I like being in control at my game overview stats board that when we go into an individual, localised part of that, the match in this case, I just want it to be over so I can carry on manipulating. Also I kinda suck at the whole football strategy thing, I barely know the difference between a trequartista and a false 9, so expecting me to actually come up with moments of tactical brilliance by switching the full-backs to bomb up the wing and lodge in a fast cross to your target man sitting on the edge of the wing with individual instructions to cross kick right into the goal is expecting a little much. So I go by luck. A little. (it was still fun)
Katawa Shoujo (visual novels are halfway between video games and anime, how about we include them in that space – no I’m not a pervert, as my past self will explain. This game kind of changed my life)
Ah, this. It’s both a video game and an anime. Kinda. It’s a visual novel. Visual novels are known generally for being dating sims that involve your POV character ending up doing unspeakable things to the pretty anime girl you decide to chase on this playthrough and as such are only for the perverted. Allegedly. And I’m not denying that Katawa Shoujo doesn’t have elements of this, but I want to talk about it here so I’m getting this part out of the way quickly as it’s by no means my reason for liking it. It does have adult content f***, actual hentai (not really, hentai’s only purpose is titillation (and like, I certainly don’t know the names of any actual hentai so don’t bother me about that) ). So no links to it. But you can turn that off if that’s not your thing, and you don’t lose any of the story’s meaning without it. And the adult content is so well spaced apart that it feels an entirely natural part of the story when it does happen, and you have to play through at least an hour, maybe two hours, of mostly well-written story before you get anywhere near that. It’s not cheap titillation by any means. Even if it was made by people who first conceived of the idea upon 4chan, otherwise the scourge of the internet. The reason is all in the selling point of this particular VN.
Katawa Shoujo means ‘disabled girls’ in Japanese, and while at first glance this may make it seem all the worse, it’s actually given a point to the story, where you, the protagonist, go and positively influence the lives of these people with different disabilities, while they do the same back to you (you also have a disability, conveniently it’s an internal one). It treats each different case very respectfully and I’d say, not knowing many people like this in real life, really given me a lot of awareness in the way a deaf or blind or limbless person lives their life in ways I’d never thought about before. Each main character also has several distinguishing features to their personality that makes them seem more well-rounded… instead of the ‘deaf one’ being the deaf one, she’s competitive and playful, yet also ambitious and business-like, i.e., a fully-fledged personality. It both legitimises the story into something worthy, and it also makes it interesting to follow. I first came in wondering what they’d do with girls of different disabilities and if it was crap, crass or lifeless, I’d have put it down, but it was quite the opposite, the characters feel alive, and like you’d want to be friends with these characters, and, with the exception of a bit of forced romantic dialogue here and there, it’s a very enjoyable read. And when it gets down to the endings, quite heart-wrenching/uplifting/both at once, depending on which girl you choose and which choices you make.
Best Character/Story: All of them have their strengths, and their personalities inflicted themselves upon me while I was reading their stories. Lilly’s story helped my consideration of others and the importance of communication, Hanako’s story is fantastic for aiding with dealing with other people’s introversion, Rin’s came out of left-field and is essentially a tragedy of trying to understand someone who operates on a completely different level of thinking to yours, Emi’s was a bit more straightforward than the rest, but is full of determination, and during the summer holidays when I had time, it got me running every single day. I should re-read hers so I pick it that good habit up again. Shizune, the one who made it into my avatar in the summer, and the first one I read through, had the most effect on me though. She’s very like me, I’m competitive whenever someone mentions the word game, I go serious and yet, you know, there’s a little ‘fire in eyes’ to show I’ll take all comers, but in a friendly fashion, as she does. And her ambition to make the best of herself, it really focused me and I’m only half-joking when I say she was the reason I decided to go on to do a masters, I was still exhausted from third year when I found this game and reading that rejuvenated my ambition. Her love for Risk and other wargames is also completely matched by me. In general, I found myself wanting to fall in love for perhaps the first time too. As opposed to teenage crushes or just adolescent hormones. Though that hasn’t happened yet, and it may be a consequence of maturing, not just this game, but the wonders of sharing a relationship with someone are very well spelled out across the five stories.
And the music, I’ll go into the music later, some of it actually made my EOY, but it is some pretty damn beautiful background music, changing in tone to fit the situation and really evoking some strong emotions at times. This also made me really interested in other, more… family-friendly romantic animes. And animes in general. In short, a ‘game’/story that had a very positive influence on my life over the summer and I owe it at least this paragraph.
I’ve really come on with my anime love this year. For a long time I’ve adored the art style and whole aesthetic of it, which is part of the reason my avatar on here has been an anime girl in one form or another for such long periods of time (I think if you hadn’t figured I’m an anime avatar person then you haven’t been paying attention to this blog, I aim to change the stereotype that people with anime avatars are shitheads, because they do make the best avatars). Prior to this, I’d watched ONE anime series in full, back in 2013 – The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzimiya – I don’t know why it took me so long to continue either, probably to do with my lack of knowledge of Crunchyroll (yes, it took me until August 2015 to know that Crunchyroll existed) and the perception that many anime series were insurmountable monsters like Naruto or One Piece (of which I have never seen an episode of either to this day). Now, Haruhi is an amazing series, but as part of its thing is riffing on several anime slice-of-life/fantasy tropes, without the context I guess loving that was like loving all of anime compressed into a very small condensed part (I’m doing a rewatch currently as r/anime is doing that and I’m noticing so many more of the parody bits now! Very worthwhile rewatch, I’ll do a proper post about that soon). I’ve watched so much more this year, and with the knowledge that there’s so much more out there, look forward to binge watching even more in 2016. Anime isn’t a genre, it’s a medium, which is why this is a separate post, and so there are all kinds of different shows I’ve watched. I’ll go through them in the rough order of when I watched them. Each of them stood out to me, and it’s so easy to get obsessed and emotional over anime, moreso than with a TV series, because the animation can use all sorts of facial emotions to make you empathise with the characters better than actors could, the music is GOOD and always right on hand, and they exploit good tropes for maximum emotional impact all the time.
As I expect no one but the few anime watchers we have on here (Buzzjack), and maybe not even them, have seen these series, check these out if you’re interested at all. They’re good. I hope to find even more like them next year. (for reference Haruhi + these counts for every anime TV show I had seen up to the end of 2015)
The Pet Girl Of Sakurasou
Officially the second anime series I watched in full, ‘Pet Girl’ is something more of a slice of life show played a lot more straight than Haruhi ever tried to be, so I guess it was a nice easing back into anime for me (still took me a few months to watch anything else, I was busy with third year work). To an extent, the characters are quite similar to Katawa Shoujo too, which as that spearheaded the charge for me to get back into anime in the summer, meant that I was really milking weird girls in slice of life stories for all that was worth.
In fact, despite the potential creepiness in the title, ‘Pet Girl’ is one of the most normal animes you could come across, there’s no supernatural plot elements whatsoever, one of the few animes where this is the case, I’ve found, and there’s nothing particularly dirty or approaching excessive fanservice that SOME (less enlightened) people might call perverted (my hero). It’s just, at its heart, a simple high school drama that focuses around a number of outcast students. The titular ‘Pet Girl’ is a new transfer student, as they all are, who also happens to be a very famous manga artist, as they all are. She also can’t take care of herself, so that falls to our protagonist, Sorata, who’s your standard male lead who really didn’t want any of this happening to him. Much hijinks ensue. Also in the cast are a girl so weird and bouncy she gets described as an alien, a shut-in who doesn’t come out of his room until the 9th episode and can’t abide women (he lives in the same dorm as 4 of them by the end of the series and has another one obsessively chasing him :’) ) and said obsessive chaser who’s English and therefore makes several back and forth trips to Japan over the course of the series.
It’s a tale of growing up, taking responsibility, and dealing with relationships, and it does that pretty well. There’s an episode at the end I would almost say is its best episode simply as it takes the form of a graduation ceremony looking back at the characters, and that’s the sort of thing that can easily get me emotional. Despite being all shoved together in what is seemingly the ‘weirdo’ dorm, they gel and create projects together – the school is big on the arts and each of the main cast has a talent in creating entertainment, there’s one of: manga, animation, programming, writing, voice acting and video game designing among the main six, and part of the fun is seeing what they come up with.
Best Episode: First Love With An Alien – at this point in the series, 18/24, the relationship between two of the main characters, Mikasi and Jin, is struggling and through the intervention of their friends on a rooftop, several tensions that had been there since the first episode in a very satisfying/emotional way.
Best Character: Ryuunosuke (Dragon) . He’s the shut-in woman hater. And it seems to be more an actual condition than any anti-feminist bollocks. Very watchable character and you can root for him as he gets worn down and has depths etc. Mashiro the Pet Girl comes close just for moments like this:
There’s context to that, I swear.
Summary: A lovely, quiet, pleasant watch. It’s pretty easy to watch and if you like anything set in a school or talking about next steps, moving on or anything of the like, then this is a good show. Plus there are LOTS of cats. I should have led with that.
The Disappearance Of Nagato Yuki-Chan
(I’m doing this too much, all she wants to do is a Christmas party in the anime )
So with Katawa Shoujo spearing me on into getting into anime again, I figured it best to start with something rather warm and familiar. A spinoff to my first anime love, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya. In fact, because I’m used to the voices, as much as it pains me to do a disservice to Aya Hirano, the only anime franchise I’ll watch the dub of (I’m forcing myself into the sub as I’m rewatching Melancholy and I’m enjoying it just as much to be honest, and there have been anime I’ve watched dubs of lately). I just like the voices of Kyon and Haruhi speaking English, it feels familiar. Nagato Yuki-Chan is quite a different prospect from the weird main series though, it tries to play a slice of life anime really straight.
Without going into too much in-universe detail, it’s set in the ‘normal alternate’ universe visited in the film Disappearance of Haruhi Suzimiya, where everyone is not a robot or time-traveller or esper or whatever they are in the prime universe. Especially Yuki Nagato, one of my favourite characters in the franchise, she’s been in my avatar a couple of times and she’s adorablz, even more so here as she’s so changed from her normal self. On the whole, it’s nowhere near as good as Melancholy but it’s so interesting to see these characters in different roles, particularly Asakura, who, for reasons that you’ll know if you’ve ever watched the franchise, I was always suspicious of and that made her really good to watch. One failing of the original series was developing characters other than Haruhi and Kyon so this gives them the chance, albeit without any supernatural stuff.
It could have used a bit more universe crossover as well as an acknowledgement that there was another universe, they seemed to be avoiding it, a few subtle references aside, but for what we got, it was very pleasant. Maybe it’d be less good if I was more used to anime but I really love these characters and any opportunity to see more Haruhi getting over-zealous, this time with a really excellent foil in Asakura (who got really underused in the original series but shines here).
Best Character: For pure advancement from Melancholy, it has to be Ryoko (the best thing about this series was that it gave us so much more Ryoko Asakura, always challenging Yuki (and Kyon (and Haruhi)) to be my favourite from this franchise). She’s also been in my sig, she’s still my Skype avatar and I will keep her there for as long as necessary. Completely convincing character to watch, even if she does get a bit concerned sometimes. Haruhi and Yuki are strong as ever and Tsuruya & Kyon both put in good appearances too.
Best episode: Someday In The Rain. Based off an episode from the original series with the same name, this is filled with anticipation; for that feeling of knowing something big is coming to change up the series, it was the most convincing episode I watched.
Also fully getting me back into anime was this series, which I picked up on a recommendation from Brett. I’m trying to make all of these reviews pretty spoiler-free but that’ll have be especially true for this one. Because the first episode is required viewing for any anime fan. Once you see that episode you’re hooked and I doubt it’ll be as good if you know what it’s about before seeing the first episode. But as far as we can go, it’s pretty great. I wonder if it’s trying to satire off Love Live a bit, I’ve just started watching that and thematically the first episode seemed quite similar what with the whole ‘I love my school so much’ thing.
It is a huge load of fun though, I was really hooked waiting for the episodes to come out on Crunchyroll and the characters are very good watching, they fall into the sort of slice of life anime girls whose antics cause me to have the stupidest grin on my face for the entire time I’m watching (mainly when they put on those ‘chan’ faces), it’s impressive they can pull that off given their situation. And that’s all I’m saying about that.
Best character: Kurumi. Well, she’s the strongest of the girls and I always like my strong female characters. She has a pretty good sense of humour. Though Yuki is decent just for being bizarre.
Best Episode: Though ‘Beginning’ is essential to the series, ‘Rainy Day’, near the end of the series is my favourite, for being the point where everything really kicks up a gear approaching the finale. I guess episodes with titles including rain are always good. It’s a powerful metaphor.
Attack On Titan
Well, here’s the one I really recommend anyone who likes their TV series epic and adult and Game Of Thrones-like, but hasn’t really watched any anime before, to check out. It’s also finally something not about girls in highschool. I like that setting as it has lots of storytelling possibilities with a large cast of characters but it’s nice to have a break (and I think most anime fans would be in agreement with me there).
I knew Attack On Titan was one of the ones I needed to watch upon seeing all of anime (or all of Crunchyroll) laid out before me so I went right to it and it didn’t disappoint, in fact, I completed it in less than a week. Set in the future, where humanity is living in with some sort of pseudo-medieval technology and within three circular walls to keep out the monstrous titans, huge man-eating monsters that look like humans without the genitals.
Yes, it’s anime, that just means the concepts can be outlandish (let us not speak of that live-action movie apparently). But again, it’s captivating throughout, it’s quality TV for anyone comfortable with a level of gore, and while I figured out what was going to happen episodes in advance (for specificity: that’s referencing the identity of the female titan), it remained enjoyable right to the end of the season. There’s a good team of characters, the technically proficient girl, the guy who’s always second-guessing his decisions, the plucky agile warrior, the cold, aloof one, it’s a great ensemble tackling it and all of that is always essential for me, I need series with lots of characters, always helps elevate a series, I mean, if one character isn’t very interesting, you have 10 others to latch on to and you’re never going to have too much of one character. It still follows the main lead a lot but it’ll at times cut to a scene of someone else risking their lives to take down a Titan or something of the sort and that’s so necessary to break up the episode and keep the appearance of a whole world out there (as well as tenseness because someone could always die especially in this series). Apparently there’s a second season coming out next year and I can’t wait. (oh you sweet summer child, that’s not happening is it. I would have really liked that, I’ve sort of picked up spoilers from later parts of the manga now this wait has been so long. I try reading manga but it’s just not my preferred method of consumption – western comic books never have been either)
Best Character: Hard to say really, Mikasa is obviously very cool, I found myself quite drawn to Annie, and Connie is cool because I always think he’s going to die but he doesn’t.
Best Episode: There are two major stories here, the struggle for Trost and the expedition beyond the wall. As there’s so many episodes, I’m just going to pick one of them and that would be Trost, it’s full of excitement, danger, you don’t know the characters that well yet so it really feels like anyone could die, and as it’s the first time you’ve really seen the Titans in action, pretty incredible throughout all 9 episodes. Which is nearly half the season.
I said in the anime thread that my main problem with this is its plot whiplash. Which is true, but that can also be a strength in that you never get bored while watching it. (I’m one of the people who really liked Charlotte – and as something coming up that I watched this year will prove, probably everything Jun Maeda ever does) While after the first few episodes you begin to think it’s settling into a high school superteam formula (the premise is that people have powers but they all have a pretty severe drawback, for example, the main character, Yu, has a power where he can possess someone’s mind but only for a few seconds, in line of sight, and his actual body collapses on the ground very noticeably), it then switches gear dramatically and starts to take the series in an entirely different direction. It’s a bumpy ride but it’s a good ride all the same and as it’s quite short it’s definitely one that’s easy to get into, it shares similarities with a few Western shows really. An easy anime to get into and one that won’t bore you because after episode 6, pretty much every episode is a completely different prospect and you’ll have to pay attention to keep up with all the rapid developments.
I of course normally love that. At times it got a little TOO much which is only why I said it was a problem but it’s a strong anime anyway, and it’s certainly nice to see an Eastern take on people getting random superhero powers, it’s normally a good premise (see: Misfits, Heroes) and this wasn’t bad at all. (and yes yes yes, the final episode could have been done better and could have been stretched out over an entire other season but I wasn’t too bothered by that, I enjoyed everything else so much)
Best Character: Obviously, she’s been in my avatar for months and she’s now in the corner of my signature too, and also she’s hanging around this EOY wherever I can sneak her in, Nao Tomori is pretty much everything I want in an anime character (and here we have the other reason why I really took to Charlotte – silver-haired anime girls making me fall for them). She’s snarky, in control of herself, doesn’t take any shit, her art style is pretty, she has some cool fighting moves (her power being invisibility, but only to one person at a time), AND, she’s even a huge rock fan – this is actually a story point – so who better to represent me in all honesty (and it’s partly because of her that I really started searching out post-rock tunes, glorious subgenre). At the point she is in the intro – this was the first one I really took notice of the intro, and it’s a great song (Lia’s Bravely You), she makes some very cool watery effects that made it stand out way beyond anything else. Honestly, she makes this anime for me, sometimes it just takes one character to completely change my opinion of a TV series and Nao is that for Charlotte, I mean, it was pretty good anyway but if I hadn’t had her being good in it… my only complaint is that they don’t use her enough. Jojiro comes close for being hilarious with his power (super speed/teleportation but totally uncontrollable to the point where he injures himself every time). Ironically, the J-Pop idol character, who has a power where the dead can speak through her but she’s completely unaware of it (this is used to give her a dual personality with her dead older sister), doesn’t have the name of Ayumi yet someone else in this anime does (because the only person who can be called Ayumi is Ayu Hamasaki obviously). She is my least favourite of the main four but she gets some good time too and her sister is a pretty watchable tsundere so that’s all good.
Best Episode: The End Of The Exodus. Episode 7. While the final few episodes are high on drama and twists, and really enjoyable to watch, the best creation must go to this mid-season episode which uses the aftermath of a very shocking event at the end of episode 6 to send one character really down the drain. It’s rare a TV show goes this in-depth on the impact of one event and it’s done so well, and so sad.
Sword Art Online (give me no shit please, in all honesty it was great I watched this early because a) I’ve been able to see the abridged series since and that is awesome b) I was able to appreciate much better anime after it – still have a soft spot for this series and I’m not going to hate it because it’s cool to hate it)
I partly blame Sword Art Online for getting me back into MMOs. But once I’d heard of its premise I was always going to watch it and most likely love it because the premise, getting trapped in a video game and being forced to beat it to obtain your freedom, is actually one of my more common fantasies. I suppose because it means an extended escape from real life and it would be a good way I could show off some proper skill in overcoming a challenge. Other than writing my way to victory in university. (and subsequently writing my way to victory on a blog)
The show itself though, it started out all well and good, and then by the end of the first arc, went in a few directions I wasn’t expecting it to go. For the first arc was pretty tough and all survival-like with a focus on only two characters, Kirito and Asuna. And Kirito is… well, let’s just say that part of the appeal (yes, appeal, I just found overpowered Kirito hilarious by Gun Gale time) of Sword Art Online is that he is completely overpowered, competent and always gets everything right, to the extent that he almost slips into parody territory. The stakes are still high, don’t get me wrong, because of the technology from 2020-something that even Kirito can’t beat but for some reason it doesn’t feel boring, it just means he is able to pull off the most amazing moves and it’s kind of okay. It’s a mainstream anime, you know the main characters aren’t going to fail so they might as well be awesome while they do it.
So yes, the first arc is pretty strong at pulling off the original premise but it’s good that they moved away from that, moved away from Kirito getting the screen to himself all the time, and instead focused on slowly adding to the large harem of girls that play video games that follow him around. Because with one exception, they’re the only other main characters. There is a lot to poke fun at but from halfway through season 1 onwards, there’s also a lot of emotion and variety in the plots that follow, and you get to see a lot more of the real world which is really interesting, how the characters begin to balance their real life with their love of gaming. Part 2 of Season 1 introduces a whole new world and really gives a strong expansion to one character even if it’s perhaps the weakest of the arcs.
Season 2 throws everything up a notch, introduces my favourite character, and gives an arc that’s properly quite tense. If I could give a real criticism to these arcs is that they rely a lot on making the villains rapey bast*rds and… there are better ways to make a villain than have them drooling horribly over their captive (that was my biggest problem with the show, Oberon and then the villains of Gun Gale were awful, awful, disastrously bad villains, I wanted to go past whenever they were on screen). The strongest two arcs come at the end of season 2, there’s a nice, short, friendly, banterous character-building arc which I really enjoyed, and then there’s an arc which, well, the final episode of left me in floods of tears. Because an anime about a video game is able to do that, somehow. (and yes, SAO did do that to me, I think even haters admit that Mother’s Rosario is a good part of that show)
I mean, Sword Art Online is certainly not without its flaws but I really enjoyed it and you could do worse.
Best Character: Sinon! (girl with light blue hair) Her ‘theme song’ is pretty much Eir Aoi’s Ignite (I love that song, it’ll be coming up in the songs section of this) as that was the opening theme to SAO throughout her main arc, and she’s a pretty cool girl in that her favoured combat is sniper, she’s an entertaining tsundere and she just really resonated with me as I was watching her arc, particularly as she kept being standoffish to Kirito which was quite hilarious.
Best Episode: Mother’s Rosario. The finale of Season 2, it finishes off the arc with the same name in perfect fashion, and it also, for an arc that was so focused on one character from the main bunch, really manages to do a good job of bringing it back in with the rest of the cast. And I cried like a baby. So there was that.
Bodacious Space Pirates
I did get around to this in the end, as the last anime series before I got the cut off. It was probably because I was busy at the time but it did take me a while to get through this, if I’m honest. The setting was really quite alien, no mention of Earth at all but a load of interstellar peoples and pirates and highschool girls. There are always highschool girls. And the first few episodes were really quite slow. But once the pirate setting really got turned up, the main character properly gets her own ship and her and her crew go around being pirates and rescuing princesses and getting the crew locked away because of illnesses and having to get her highschool friends to fill in, then it becomes a romp. It isn’t perhaps the best anime, it does go a little slow and the plots are a bit complicated but it was a nice change from lots of others on this list with totally obvious plots, I was never quite sure what was going to happen, where the plot would lead them next because it’s a completely unfamiliar galaxy and so many potential options for what could happen. And the bits where the yacht club began competing for a race with the knowledge that piratey things were happening in the background and the will I had for a couple of the girls to get what they wanted, that was cool.
Best Character: Lynn. As the clever vice-president of a club with a load of tech knowledge and stuff, this was probably an obvious one if you’ve been following my favourite character lists. And she turns out to be a lesbian, which I was impressed by as I don’t often see LGBT couples in anime. I suppose when the galaxy seems to have a huge shortage of men (other than Marika’s crew) this might be the necessary option. Marika herself comes close for being almost as competent and San-Daime isn’t far off for being ridiculously girly… for a male chief engineer.
Best Episode: A Return From Eternity. Finishing off the first half of the season pretty nicely, it has a good amount of threat for a series that elsewise is fairly comfortable for a space series about pirates, it really brings out the two princess’ characters rather nicely and yeah, good climax.
And finally… I watched and finished Love Live as I was doing this so I snuck in a commentary on it later on in the process, I’ll just put that in here now.
So, where to begin with the most manly television series you could imagine. So manly in fact that I think over the entirety of the two seasons, there were absolutely no adult male speaking roles, two kids getting the barest of speaking parts, and only one background appearance of a guy that I noticed, that being the main girl’s father showing up in a couple of scenes. In Love Live’s world, everyone is a girl. The highschool students, the teachers, the media personalities. Although, to be fair, that may be who it’s marketed to. Apparently (from what I hear from Brett (an anime fan on the same site as me, who runs a blog called The Metaphorical Boat – it’s about music rather than anime but if that’s your thing go check that out) and anime fans across the internet) this is absolutely huge news in Japan and I can see why, it’s hitting a similar button to Glee when it comes to combining music and television, with a couple of differences – a) no covers, these are all original songs that go on to become chart hits in Japan and b) and the songs don’t take over the episodes, the whole thing is actually a multimedia project, as such I’ve only heard some of the songs, they’re good J-Pop, nothing I’d go out of my way to hear but it’s fun to occasionally see the characters break into song. And given that music heightens emotions, it really helps that part of enjoying, I cried once they finally reached the end of their journey.
Oh and another thing, their group is called μ’s. Pronounced ‘Muse’. (it’s funny because the rock band Muse is one of my favourite bands ever) And there’s nine of them. I wonder what Muse, and to a greater extent, 9MUSES, have to say about that. It’s based off Greek mythology of the nine muses so that’s another plus (and a post I saw suggested that each of the girls has a pretty clear parallel in the ancient muses which is a strong concept to start off the series with).
I took from this the anime, I may pick up the songs later but it’s the anime that really hit me in the feels. It’s one of those TV shows where everything is (mostly) light and fluffy and everyone’s working together to help one another become successful school idols (Babymetal but without the metal, or just Japanese teenage popstars). As I’m currently watching The Walking Dead alongside this (on Season 3 now), it’s quite the necessary contrast. That’s not to say there’s no conflict, there was quite a bit of intriguing conflict in the first season, that’s toned down as the characters focus on their goal (winning this music competition called Love Live) in the second season, but on the whole, it’s great to watch as the different personalities play off each other in mostly happy ways.
Best Character: Kind of what I wanted to talk about. You see, Umi Sonoda (currently in my signature failing to play Old Maid right) is now my waifu. In as far as I’d allow the ironic sense of keeping waifus (i.e. I don’t normally do that sort of thing but I really like Umi) (context: neckbeards claim to have a fictional anime girlfriend, waifu being Japanese for wife) because she’s one of those anime characters who really really resonates with me and keeps me watching this medium. I was watching the anime trying to hang onto her every line. Her personality is that she’s the most competent one of the group, organised, determined, knowing what needs to be done in order to reach her goal, and yet she’s also quite shy, being dragged into this by her friends, easily embarrassed. And she’s the group’s main lyricist. I can see so much of myself in her that I was cheering whenever she got a bit of focus. And she’s responsible for the best moment in the anime, and I think I’d say that even if I wasn’t so much a fan of her character. Most of the rest of the girls are varying shades of ‘happy/cheeky/slightly lazy anime girl’ and that’s cool, I like that but Umi really stands out for being the driving force of μ’s.
Best Episode: Friends. The penultimate episode of the first season, it’s one of the few with a real sense of drama and conflict. Because it ends with previous mentioned best moment Umi stepping in and slapping Honoka (main girl) out of the state she’d talked herself into for leaving the group just because Kotori is going to study abroad. The only time the end of the episode left me with my jaw hanging open because I never saw that coming from such a light piece of entertainment.