Summer Of Excellence: Anime 2015

By now, any regular visitor to this site knows I’m a big anime lover. From my recaps of Gakkou Garashi, to my rewatch of Ga-Rei Zero, to an entire article I wrote about how anime inspired me as a soon to be published novelist, it constitutes a pretty big part of my life.

Which makes it all the more interesting that I rarely watch shows as they air. For the most part, my anime diet is made up of shows that have already wrapped up, which I then marathon and enjoy. It’s very uncommon for me to keep up with things from week to week.

Mostly this is because of how hard it is for me to make time for everything I’d like to do. Between working on two different series of novels that have been accepted for publication, helping my girlfriend of twenty years with her own recently accepted for publication collection of short stories, and a novel she hopes to submit soon after, tending to the cats I have taken in as part of my rescue and rehabilitation work, and work that needs to be done on my fifty year old home, time is not something I always have a lot of.

Seriously, I dropped my part time job a few months back because it was taking up too much of my life, and I didn’t desperately need the money. It’s called priorities. Mine are just a little different than other people’s.

Of course, at my managers recommendation, I took to blogging two different shows to help raise my profile ahead of my book coming out. I’m not sorry for that one, though, as its turned out to be a pretty fun and fulfilling writing exercise each week. However, it does manage to take up a bit of time as well.

All of which leads me to a rather surprising turn of events this summer, as I find myself actively keeping up with not just Gakkou Garashi for my blog, but five other animes as they broadcast. Most of these I came upon due to reviews posted by other anime bloggers I respect, such as Josei Next Door, and the gang over at Anime Evo. Both places I’ve linked for your convenience, and are worthy of your time to visit.

Only the best for you guys. Cause you’re here, and that’s makes you awesome.

Now, I don’t have time to blog all of these shows, which is a shame, as I love each of them. Gakkou Garashi and Ga-Rei Zero are almost more than I can juggle most of the time. Regardless, I did want to give a shout out to these shows, because they are incredibly well done, interesting, and worth at least a mention.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what they are, and why you should be watching them, too.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

Akagami no ShirayukihimeAlso known as Snow White With The Red Hair, this show is a mature fairy tale. Now, by mature, I don’t mean it has lots of graphic violence, sex and nudity. While that is also mature, in this sense, it’s a fairy tale for grown ups. This difference is everything that makes the show great, too.

Shirayuki is a herbalist known for her skill, devotion to her craft, and her willingness to go above and beyond for her patients. She’s also known for her very rare, apple red hair, which draws the interest of the prince, who commands she become his concubine. Shirayuki decides that sounds lame, and bails, crossing the border into the neighboring country of Clairnes. There, she meets a young man named Zen, and his friends, Mitsu and Kiki.

It doesn’t take long before the prince and his men pursue her across the border and attempt to force her back. Which leads to her discovering that Zen is actually the second prince of Clairnes, and Mitsu and Kiki are actually not just his friends, but his bodyguards. Angered by the foreign prince being such a dick, Zen blackmails him into buzzing off and takes Shirayuki back to the capitol to live.

Many of the themes presented in the show revolve around the growing romance between Zen and Shirayuki, and the problems inherent in it. As a prince, Zen can’t really get involved with her, but most certainly wants to, while Shirayuki is doing everything she can to continue her career as an herbalist without doing anything that looks untoward due to her friendship with Zen.

Most of the conflict is based in the difference in their stations, as well, with many in Zen’s circle approaching her as a threat, assuming she is trying to take advantage, or worse, attempting to use her friendship with the prince to their own advantage, or leverage it as a means of controlling Shirayuki, and by extension, Zen himself.

What makes it stand out from other historical romance themed offerings is the way Zen and Shirayuki go about dealing with these problems, and each other. A common mechanic in these types of romances is The Misunderstanding, which leads to either drama, or hilarity. There is none of that here, because Shirayuki and Zen discuss things like rational adults, have faith in each other, and trust one another. Even in the face of disproving nobles, and Zen’s elder brother, the Crown Prince, the two stay true to their friendship, themselves, and each other.

A genuinely mature relationship being depicted on screen, and in a historical romance genre no less, is pretty remarkable by itself. While the writing is utterly amazing, the animation is to be praised as well. Fluid and beautiful, the show is basically eye candy, designed to delight each week. It’s just breath taking, to the point Josie Next Door’s Dee Hogan has taken to calling it scenery porn, something I can not argue.

So, if you’re looking for a beautifully animated, well written, grown up fairy tale, Akagami is not to be missed.

On a side note, as a long time fan of Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail, the preceding descriptive required numerous corrections of the term “fairy tale”. Thanks, Mashima-sensai, for breaking my brain.

Check out Akagami no Shirayukihime at FUNimation.

Ore Monogatari

My Love StoryWhere Akagami is a fairy tale romance, Ore Monogatari, or My Love Story, is a modern day romance, again handled with maturity and thoughtfulness. This has been a good year for mature romance stories.

Ore Monogatari revolves around Takeyo Gouda, a giant of a teenager who has a few issues with social interaction. Especially with girls. His often straightforward way of doing things tends to be frightening, what with him being not just tall, but buff as all get out. What makes the situation even trickier for Takeyo is that he isn’t looking for just any girlfriend, but someone who will like him for who he is.

In the past, any girl he liked inevitably liked his best friend, Suna, even going so far as to try and ask him out. Suna always shot them down, but Takeyo has come to believe that love just isn’t something he’ll get to experience. That is, until the day he rescues Yamato from a groper on the train. Tiny though she is, she instantly falls head over heels for Takeyo, but due to his expectations, he assumes she likes Suna, who is doing everything in his power to get Takeyo to see the truth, not just of Yamato, but of all the girls he’s liked in the past, and why she’s different from them.

While it is definitely a teen romance, Ore Monogatari approaches it with a keen eye towards just how powerful teenagers feel emotion, and how difficult it is to navigate romantic relationships at that age. Written with a heavy dose of humor, it’s easily one of the funniest shows on the air, while still managing to be insightful, thought provoking, and at times, downright sad. Never does it abandon it’s wonderful charm, though.

While Takeyo and Yamato manage to avoid many of the pitfalls of teen relationships by just talking to each other, sometimes with the urging of Suna, who gives a whole new perspective on being a wingman, it’s often the hardships of those around them that draws much of the conflict of the series, as the two try to understand, and help, their friends, to varying degrees of success.

At its heart, though, the show is a clever blend of hilarity and genuine heart, as lovable Takeyo struggles his way through his first real relationship with a girl that likes him, flaws and all. For her part, Yamato brings so much cuteness, warmth, and reality to the show, it’s just amazing. As much as this is Takeyo’s story, it’s also her’s, and she shines in every scene, just by being herself.

Of course, enough cannot be said about Suna, Takeyo’s enigmatic best friend. Mature beyond his years, Suna watches everything with an observant eye, determined to help his two friends avoid the mistakes that doom so many other teen relationships.

While not as beautifully animated as Akagami, Ore Monogatari has its own style that brings the charm, sweetness, and sometimes even the naivete of the show to the forefront in a wonderfully realized visual way. It’s just about the most perfect show I’ve ever seen.

As a side note, this show gave me a catch phrase I will use any time I get the chance. “Calm down, Suna!” Just watch the show, and you’ll get why that’s freaking funny as hell.

You can catch it over at Crunchyroll.

Working!!!

Working 3Where Ore Monogatari used humor as the spice, Working!!! has it as the main flavor. While that might seem like stretching the metaphor, Working !!! is also set in a restaurant, so there’s a thing I did.

Now in its third and final season, I happened to get caught up with this one early in the season, and man, was I ever not disappointed. Written more as an animated sitcom about life at the family restaurant, Wagneria, the show revolves around Souta, a high school student who find himself joining the staff through a rather bizarre series of events. Mostly to do with his obsession over small, cute things, and the presence of Popura, who is both short, and adorable, working there.

From Kyouka, the manager, who never does any work at all, to Yachiyou, the head waitress, who always has a katana at her hip, the entire staff is made up of hysterical oddballs, who somehow manage to remind you of someone you knew at some point, especially if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant. There’s Inami, the waitress with such a severe fear of boys, she punches any that get too near, Satou, the head cook, who is almost a perpetual grouch, and Soma, his assistant, who knows way too much about everyone else.

While there is a emotional heart to the story, and long story arcs that run from one season to the next, the beauty of Working!!! is in its slapstick humor. Few shows really understand comedy the way this one does, or will spend as much time as the writers here do setting up a joke, much less evolving it in new and even funnier ways as the show goes on. At every turn, the humor of Working!!! is the main theme, and as a comedy, it’s gold.

As a side note, the two characters of Satou and Popura remind me immensely of myself and my sister, Amber, when we worked together in a family restaurant. There are times where the writers hit a little too close to home with some of the gags, making me wonder if someone in Japan was spying on us. While I’m known for my generally grumpy behavior at work, Amber was a tiny little thing with way too much energy, and I’ve actually seen Working!!! manage to nail some of the goofy things we pulled back then.

It’s a bit eerie, a bit nostalgic, and completely hysterical.

You can catch it over at Crunchyroll.

Overlord

OverlordCompletely different than the others, Overlord is a series I stepped into expecting it to be a bit like Sword Art Online, one of my all time favorite animes. Instead, it takes a radically different approach that has me intrigued from one week to the next.

When full dive VR video games came on the scene, the biggest hit was Yggdrasil Online. Now, though, it is several years old, and its players have all mostly moved on to newer and better games. For Momonga, however, there is nothing else that compares, and as the final shutdown looms, he decides to stay logged on until the last moment.

When it comes, he’s shocked to discover that the world has continued, somehow. Further investigation reveals that this isn’t quite the case. Rather, the sprawling dungeon he and his former guildmates built and populated with powerful monsters and NPC’s, has become real in a different world. Even more curious, all the dungeon’s NPC’s have become real as well, seeing Momonga and his former guildmates as Gods who gave them life.

Having become an actual Lich, instead of just an avatar that resembles one, Momonga decides to use the considerable power he suddenly finds at his disposal to become the Overlord of this new world. First, though, he has to learn all about the new world, and what he’ll be up against.

One of the interesting things that keeps me coming back is that this is a fantasy series with a basis in gaming, and has a classic villain type character as the protagonist. Those unique twists alone would be enough to keep me invested, but then the show ups the ante by being actually really well written, with Momonga cast as a thoughtful character, who considers the ramifications of his actions, not just to himself and those who serve him, but to the world at large. Rather than being a terrifying despot, he seems driven to make this world a better place, under his rule, which deviates nicely from the usual set up to stories such as these. While Momonga may yet be seen as a villain by the people of the world he now lives in, there is no denying that he considers himself the hero, and acts with that idea in mind, creating a very interesting set up for future episodes of the series.

After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and no matter how well meaning Momonga’s goals, even he acknowledges that for better or worse, he has become a Lich, an undead creature, and this may well end up being the corruption of his ideals.

The show is pretty well animated, with good character designs, and fluid combat scenes. It’s a little less than friendly to the female characters, and one of the running gags in the show was Momonga making a last minute alteration to the dungeons chief of staff, Albedo, rewriting her program so that she was madly in love with him, something he now can’t undo and kind of wishes he could, as she acts like every love sick stereotype we’ve ever seen.

That aside, the show is pretty solid, paced well, and interesting enough that it doesn’t have to fall back on the sexist gag very often to keep things moving. In fact, when it comes to doing her job, Albedo is very capable and intelligent, something we see more often than we do the love sick stuff.

As a side note, I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of becoming trapped in a VRMMORPG, even sketching some rough outlines for stories I’d like to tell utilizing the concept. Overlord presents one I’d never considered however, the idea of the game being a gateway to another, actual world. It’s pretty interesting on that fact alone.

You can catch it over at FUNimation.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan

The Heroic Legend Of ArslanThe third excellent fantasy series airing this summer, Arlsan easily ranks up there with Akagami and Overlord, while managing to be completely different from both. It also draws on actual history to inform the fictional kingdoms presented in the story, and does a pretty good job of getting the depictions accurate, so it’s got a lot going for it.

Fourteen year old Arlsan is the son of the King of Pars, a Persian inspired nation, that is at war with Lusitannia, inspired by early European nations. Now that he’s old enough, he is to accompany his father, Andragoras, to a battle intended to crush Lusitannia once and for all. However, despite objections from one of his Generals, Andragoras pushes forward on a foggy day, resulting in the complete routing of the Parsian army, his own capture, and the capitol city being captured by the invaders.

Now on the run, Arslan must find a way to survive, stay ahead of the Lusitannians who are after his head, the traitors who helped bring about the fall of Pars, all while raising an army and retaking the capitol, and facing the system of problems with his homeland that helped cause all of this.

As a protagonist, Arlsan is everything you could want. Noble, selfless, kind, and thoughtful, he is aware of his own limitations, and heeds the advice of his counselors, while at the same time, making his own wishes clear. The political pitfalls he must avoid are as treacherous as the military difficulties he faces, giving weight to every move he makes, and every choice he considers.

Surrounding himself with experienced soldiers, strategists, and others who don’t hesitate to tell him just what they really think, Arlsan shows himself to be a wildly different person from his father, and gives hope to those who join with him that he will change their nation for the better. Some, though, don’t like his plans, and actively work against him, making even his allies a thing to be wary of.

Part military drama, part political thriller, part historical drama, Arlsan has something for almost everyone. A smart, cleverly written tale above all else, Arlsan expertly weaves the many elements present in its narrative into a larger whole, combining social commentary with intrigue, large scale medieval combat, and political maneuvering, none of which is ever boring.

The animation is lush, as well, giving weight to everything, from crossing a river, to navigating a snow covered forest at night. Attention is paid to every detail, with an expert eye, not just in the animation, but the writing as well, as even a small move can cause an avalanche of consequences.

As a side note, part of the story involves Arlsan and company visiting a Arabic themed kingdom that neighbors theirs. While it would be easy to cast them as evil, even in Japan, they avoid this and make the nation a fully realized place, with its own customs and political difficulties. It’s a nice testament on how to not let a historical based drama be influenced by modern day thinking.

You can check it out over at FUNimation.

These are the shows I’ve been keeping up with, but hardly all the excellent shows airing this summer season. I’ve seen incredible reviews of others, such as Gangsta and Prison School, that make me wish I had more time to dedicate to checking them out. All in all, we’re having a great season of anime, and with the success these shows are having, it gives hope we’ll be seeing even more like it in the future.

Go check them out, or let me know what shows you’re loving in the comments below.

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