Sunday, 3 February 2008

Winter 2008 Watch List

Smack dab on the equator, seasons don't really count for much here in Malaysia. Sure we have sweltering heat, high humidity and the prolific rain all year round, but at this time of year elsewhere, low temperatures and freak weather tend to bog down the daily proceedings. The Winter season (generally at the start of they year) is thus associated as a slow time for anime, and not much hype is attached to the titles released at this time of year. Which suits me just fine since I can take this time to compose actual opinions on shows without being giddy over a huge wave of new titles that tend to surge around the Spring and Fall seasons.

Last year's Winter only saw me following 3 titles from that season (In order of awesome, just short of awesome, and meh: Hidamari Sketch, Nodame Cantabile, Tokyo Majin Gakuen Kenpuchou:Tou). This year's pool sees me doubling that number (and with any luck the number will stay this way, since there's only the risk of me dropping one series and picking up one more =P). So here goes, from most enthralling so far to least noteworthy...

1) Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (So Long Mr Despair, Extreme!)

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei pits a schoolteacher who is the epitome of negativity (with a penchant for paranoia and suicide) against the world's most optimistic girl - and her class of dysfunctional (to say the least) classmates. There's the hikikomori, the stalker, the tail fetishist, the bipolar exchange student, the illegal immigrant, the yaoi fangirl, et cetera X (who knows how many more they'll be introducing). This 'Extreme' addition basically carries on from last year's hit (or miss, depending on how well you tolerate SHAFT's crack-like style) dark comedy, and as the name suggests, takes it to higher levels of insanity.

Thoughts (based on 3 eps) : Preference towards the first season's OP/ED (though Kusou Runba's ~RunbaRunbaRunbaRunbaRunba~ is constantly ringing in my head), but other than that, am loving the fact that ZSZS is at least twice the level WTFBBQ of all out schizophrenic proportions the first installment had already achieved. And though SHAFT's latest gimmick (layering multiple chapters simultaneously into one scene) makes my head hurt sometimes reading the multiple subtitles (the scribbles on the blackboard still remain), the show's immensely over the top humour and characters keep the show going strong, despite its tendency to be incredibly erratic (never knowing what SHAFT is going to pull off next is actually one of the reasons I love their work so much, though it also earns them their share of haters =P).

Also kudos to a.f.k. for doing a marvelous job subbing everything SHAFT overloads both seasons of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei with =P

Left/Right: Before/After: Doumu/Asread: Minami-ke/Okawari

2) Minami-ke: Okawari
Another sequel to another of 2007's best comedies, Minami-ke, which tells the tale of 3 Minami sisters and how they both intentionally and unintentionally wreak small-time havoc on one another and the rest of the otherwise innocent bystanders in their lives. Okawari ( = seconds in Japanese) sees a production studio change (and mixes up the casts hair colour for some reason) but otherwise keeps everything else about the show intact to give us a second helping of tough sisterly love, mind manipulation, and gender-bending hijinx.

Thoughts (3 eps): Despite coming from the infamous Cabbage Love production, Minami-ke from last year is definitely a comedy of high calibre, consistent with its epic humour and clever use of recurring jokes. General fears that the production change to asread have been mostly allayed and fans of the original can rest assured that Okawari still packs the good punches. Sure the different hair colours take a little getting used to, but its all worth it just to hear "bakayarou!", follow the legacy Haruka-banchou, and see those Bible Black faces (which make up for the strange blacked out faces of the background cast) once more :D

As for the new neighbour that just moved in, I'm giddy anticipating how and which sister is going to mess him up for life, *snickers*.

3) Shigofumi
Fumika (voiced surprisingly grimly by Ueda Kana) is a postgirl for the dead who is tasked to deliver letters from the deceased (termed Shigofumi) to the living with the help of her snarky talking staff and trusty gun (which doesn't talk btw). The show is episodic in nature, giving us somewhat unorthodox views on death every episode, though there are signs of a recurring overarching plot element regarding Fumika's past and the agency she works for.

Thoughts (3 eps): Wow. Am awed - I can hardly recognize Ueda Kana as Fumika AT ALL here, Fumika's low serious tone is a far cry from the usual Kansai-ben or 'girly' voice Ueda Kana employs, which is impressive. Besides that, Shigofumi probably has the first episode to remember of all 6 shows here, with its 'shocker' ending (in retrospect, all the signs were there, but I guess J.C. Staff's involvement dulled my senses. =P Plus the ALI PROJECT OP wasn't featured in the 1st ep) that sets the pace for the episodes to come. From what I've seen so far, it can be expected that every episode will feature a different story, with at least one death, some sort of intriguing development peppered with visual clues to the surprise finish in the end. Yes, I agree it's very Jigouku Shoujo meets Kino's Journey (though both these series I've only watched an episode or two of) in setup. I'd say it's only fair I watch something dark serious to balance off the dark zany of ZSZS, so Shigofumi is a prime pick this season.

4) true tears
One guy + 3 girls + other miscellaneous side characters. Standard formula for your standard harem romance, but keeping in mind that this genre can be further split to "serious romance" to "trashy harem", true tears obviously belongs to the former, thankfully.

Thoughts (4 eps): Despite being a relatively small time production , P. A. Works blows the competition this season away in terms of production quality in true tears. This series is hands down the best thing to watch aesthetically this season (unless you're a Kyoto Animation worshipper very much caught up in Clannad), which is good as true tears doesn't initially grab your attention with its story as quickly as the other series in the lineup. However I believe this is one series that'll reward the viewer as the story and characters develop, and it already shows in the first couple of episodes. Though at first I was only interested in the kooky chicken loving Noe, the rest of the cast is slowly but surely coming to life and adding the necessary conflict to the story. *thumbs up*

(The only down to true tears for me is that I always end up cracking up in laughter whenever they show the scene in the OP of the two guys gaping 'in awe' of the girls - all it needs is drool dripping from the corners of their mouths LOL)

5) Spice and Wolf
Travelling merchant meets Wolf goddess who tags along for a journey through post-medieval Europe-like world(?). Cue nakedness and economics lessons (in that order).

Thoughts (4 eps): I will definitely commend Koshimizu Ami's performance as Horo, the wolf goddess, who is both wise as she claims and a foxy tease of a character (As for Fukuyama Jun's Lawrence the merchant, I'm thinking he must be pretty excited to reprise his role as Lelouch in Code Geass later this year - so am I =P). As for the story so far, it's decent enough, but I'm not exactly as 'sold' on it just yet. Coupled with some inconsistent and relatively weak animation, I'm getting the vibe of 'decent but not exactly memorable' from Spice and Wolf. We'll see if the show proves me wrong by the end.

(But if there's one thing I love about this show, it's is the Engrish folksy ED :P)

6) ~They Are My Noble Masters~
(or KimiAru - shortened from an unnecessarily long Japanese title) Butler comedy of the lowest denominator (fanservice and fetishes being the main focus).

Thoughts (3 eps): Serious viewers will definitely have to give this series a pass. Incredibly low calorie humour which has its LOL moments stemming from the flashy fetishes, but overall screams inferior all round. I know I've definitely seen better, but heck I'm not expecting anything big of this show, and it's either this or Rosario + Vampire + (Yes, yes, we know) Pantyshot...

(I can't believe I'm not watching Hayate no Gotoku anymore but I am this...)

Obviously the show to drop here is KimiAru, and if that does end up happening (subs seem to have stalled lately), I'm thinking of substituting it with Zenryoku Usagi =P I definitely feel a Animal Yokocho-like vibe from it, though I'll have to try it without english subs for now...

Finally there are the shows I'm still following through from Fall 2007: Bamboo Blade, Clannad, Kimikiss ~ pure rouge. But I think I'll leave those for another post for now.

(P.S. This season's "Dropped after one episode" list: Persona-trinity soul-, Rosario+Vampire, H2O, Hatenkou Yuugi)

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