Anime worth watching, Spring 2015

I watched a lot of anime last season, most of it unmemborable. Some of it unmentionable. Only two worth repeating. There were a number of disappointments. The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan was worth watching, once, if you are a fan of the original. There’s a good drinking game to be had, picking out the callbacks to the original (“Kyon-kun, denwa“). The ending was a disappointing cop-out, possibly because there’s another three volumes of the manga yet to be written (see episodes 23 and 24 of Shirobako). Everybody else liked the second seasons of My Teen RomCom SNAFU, and Nisekoi. They were reasonably well done, but I thought they overstayed their welcome. So what two made the cut?

Sound, Euphonium:  響け! ユーフォニアム (hibi.ke! euu.fuo.ni.a.mu), perhaps better translated as Resonance! Euphonium. Overall, Eupho is the best anime of the season, and firmly ensconced as one of my all-time favorites. In some ways, it’s a typical sports anime, another going to Koshien series, where the underdog team fights its way to the nationals. Only the sport is high school concert band.

We open with the end of the concert season at a middle school, where the graduating senior
Ōmae Kumiko (our POV character) sees her band take a ‘dud gold’. They won a gold, but didn’t get selected for the nationals. She moves on to high school and joins a lackluster band that decides they really do want to go to the nationals. The rest of the story is about the struggles of the band to come together, the internal politics to smooth out, and the individual relationships to jell.

A girl and her horn

A girl and her horn

As with all good stories, it’s about the characters, and it does a good job of highlighting the personalities and desires and struggles of a good number of the band members, even those that drop out early, or don’t make the final cut. There’s a number of budding romances, some of which are nipped in the bud, and Kumiko unexpectedly finds herself smitten with another girl, trumpet player Kōsaka Reina, and they provide one another much needed emotional support throughout the second half of the season.This not being a romcom or fanservice anime, the relationship never goes beyond mutual declaration, but some of the scenes are emotionally intense, in a quiet, understated sort of way.

Declaration of love

Declaration of love

The studio is Kyoto Animation, KyoAni, which means gorgeous artwork, expert camerawork, and excellent pacing. KyoAni is famous for attention to detail. For example, in episode eight, the one where Reina declares to Kumiko, they’ve decided to walk up a local ‘mountain’ instead of going to a festival. It’s really just a tall, steep hill at the edge of town, with steps and handrails and benches at the top. Reina, who never does things by halves, has dressed all in white, with high heels, as for a date. At one point, the camera zooms in on her feet, and we see that the straps have rubbed her heels raw. Show, don’t tell.

The pain is worth it

The pain is worth it

The sound track is, well, concert band, and very well done.

Our final goal

Our final goal

Blood Blockade Battlefront: 血界戦線 (ke.kkai sen.sen). A literal translation of each kanji is blood.boundary.war.line, and the last two characters are a good example of how two Japanese words can sound alike but have totally different meanings, depending on the kanji.

Gate to the netherworlds opens up inside a bubble enclosing New York City, which becomes overrun with weird beings. Young man sneaks in to make his fortune.

If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere

If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere

Meets up with group of human superheros called Libra, each of whom has a weird power (e.g. Zip can turn his blood into a sword).

The Libra Dancers

The Libra Dancers

Frantic, frenetic hilarity ensues. Monster of the week format, with nonstop action and good jazz BGM. You have to watch each episode two or three times or you miss stuff.

The only way to win is not to play

The only way to win is not to play

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