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Posts Tagged ‘Chihayafuru’

Welcome to my third end of the year post. I felt this year might have been lacking in ground-breaking series, but instead offered us many solid and consistently enjoyable works.

Without further ado, here is my personal top 12 of the year.

 

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#12 Log Horizon

This series is weird. Really, really weird. People expected this to be a SAO clone, but SAO played its tropes mostly straight, while Log Horizon does not seem to care about meeting anyone’s expectations. It rejects obvious sources of tension, like actually letting the characters die or face mortal peril. It rejects obvious sources of progression, like letting the characters grow in strength. It is flippant to the extreme, and I can only be curious where it goes from here.

 

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#11 The World God Only Knows Goddess Arc

I will not be be particularly original in elevating the third series of this franchise above its predecessors. It is a series which came this far parodying other titles of the genre, but it has now matured enough to subvert its own premises. If nothing else, this is probably the series with the most thematically fitting ending of the year. I have a hard time imagining a better ending than Keima throwing away the responsibility for the carnage of a hell-and-heaven war left behind him, only to face the smoldering remains of a more personal battlefield. Great stuff.

 

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#10 Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya

I initially dropped this after watching the first episode, but giving the series a second chance was fully worth it. Prisma Illya is a curious series in that it does not even pretend to have any kind of story and rides entirely on its two characters and action sequences.  The action is superb. Miyu is cute and easy to empathize with. It is a very straightforward series, and successful for it.

 

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#9 Hidamari Sketch – Sae-Hiro Sotsugyou-hen

Two episodes presenting a (possible) conclusion to a four season franchise. More than anything else, this OVA is notable among other SoL shows for how it resists the temptation of overwrought drama and manages to remain true to its usual atmosphere while also doing justice to the storm of emotion wreaking havoc in Yuno’s heart. Hidamari-sou forever!

 

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#8 Monogatari – Second Season

I could never call myself a true fan of the Monogatari franchise, but this second season did much to win me over. The lessened focus on Araragi finally allowed other characters to come alive and add variety while retaining the strengths the series has gotten us used to. And Kaiki. Mostly Kaiki.

 

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#7 Chihayafuru 2

The second season was not always as well-paced and directed as the first, but it does not fall far behind either. I am still left holding my breath over the outcome of poem-smacking matches and in awe of the voice performances – including what are possibly my favorite roles by Miyano Mamoru and Kayano Ai.

I did not think we would be getting a second season, but now I hope I can be proven wrong once more. Hoping for a third meeting with this wonderful cast!

 

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#6 Kami sama no Inai Nichiyoubi

It is rare for me to be at a complete loss how to approach a show in terms of its messages and values, but Kami Inai makes a habit of subverting any expectations it builds up in this field. When you think the series is right about to make one moral point or another, the characters throw in the towel and admit they do not actually know what is right and wrong. But then again, that is fitting for a world where the rules are in constant flux and reality, both physical and spiritual, is not as consistent as one would expect it to be.

 

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#5 Kyousougiga

This is like Uchouten Kazoku, except it works. It is whimsical all around, straightforward where it counts. The kind of anime you can show to anyone. And there are gods and buddhas and other divine beings all over the place, so obviously I will have a soft spot for it xD.

 

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#4 Love Lab

Most reviewers agree that with its title and premise, Love Lab has no right to be as good as it is. The key to the show’s greatness is that it combines the strengths of a yonkoma/four-panel comedy with a strong central storyline and constant character and storyline development. This year saw plenty of great slice of life series, but the ability to hook the viewer on the story sets Love Lab apart from its peers and guarantees that even an unfunny gag (and no comedy can please all viewers all the time) is never completely useless.

 

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#3 Railgun S

The Sisters arc was carefully and beautifully executed, but truth be told, it was also something I have seen and read several times over in different incarnations of the franchise. Which means that yes, what really had me smiling fondly at the screen was the Silent Party anime-original arc. I am absolutely in love with the stuff they write for Railgun – the “filler” content for this series has a consistent theme in exploring Academy city and its society, makes full use of all available characters and is full of tongue-in-cheek fun. The final episode of this season is easily one of my favorite episodes of the entire year.

 

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#2 AKB0048

What can I say? There were some pacing issues, inconsistent episodes and funny CG, yes, but the emotional highs of the series left little time to think about such things. With its unique mix of sci-fi technology, creepy spirituality, conspiracy theories and tough idol business, AKB0048 stands as one of the most unusual anime series of recent years, even as it covers what seems to be familiar ground. Half the cast are either selfish or misguided, and yet it is difficult not to love them for their faults. After all, they are risking their lives and identities for our right to listen to pop music. Yeah.

 

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#1 Symphogear G

There was no way to predict how Symphogear would transform so much in its second season, but here it is. The series threw away all unnecessary weight and just went from one crazy cliffhanger to another. Great music, smart scripting and Yuuki Aoi with an incredible performance as the lead of the series.

If I have any complaints, it is that it is obvious that the creators were ready to end things with this season, and so put in a lot of effort to conclude plot points and deliver messages in the final episodes, which is perfectly fine for almost all series, but not something Symphogear needed that badly. At least not at the expense of its great speed and not with the now-announced season 3 ahead of us. But things ended with Miku saving everyone again, so I can forgive a lot.

Now I am seriously looking forward to S3. It is time to start guessing what crazy title the writers have in store…


2014 is right ahead of us, and there are already tons of things to look forward to! The newest Saki season starts airing January 5th, and I will probably end up posting about the series one way or another.

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Little.Busters!

 

Picking a list of twelve favorite shows for this year’s AniBlogger Choice Anime Awards was quite a challenge. Deciding on the top ten was easy enough, but after that, I ran out of shows I feel really deserved the recommendation. Normally, I would just put in an ambitious-if-flawed series in there and be done with it, but most of the critic bait this year completely failed to hook me, so I will leave Kokoro Connect, Tsuritama, and Kids on the Slope to the people who actually managed to watch them through. There was the passing temptation to recognize the animation quality of such players as Fate/zeroor Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai,but this would be awkward in the presence of series which managed to balance form and content, including one other KyoAni show.

When I was about to give up the two last spots entirely, I finally remembered there is more to anime than regular series. Movies couldn’t help me out in my predicament. Nanoha and Madoka could probably easily make it onto the list, but that’s for next year. The Strike Witches movie was actually surprisingly good, and would have been here had it ended any other way. But there were some OVAs out there to join the fight and give final form to this list.

Without further ado, my Top 12 of 2012.

 

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#12 Tari Tari

Tari Tari is a coming-of-age slice-of-life series in a high school setting, which sounds like a summary of every second anime out there. Tari Tari manages to stand out by being the cream of the crop of the genre. Character designs and animation are just what you would expect from P.A. Works – beautiful and consistent in their quality. But the studio also shows it has learned its lesson from Hanasaku Iroha by producing a better-paced and more consistent series that does not stumble with side stories for characters nobody could care less about. Some of the epic feel is gone with the change from a two cour series to a single cour format, and if you compare Ohana and Konatsu as leads, the former leaves a more lasting impression, but the three female leads of Tari Tari work much better as equals. One last hurdle P.A. Works have to clear is making their male leads half as interesting as the ladies (though Wien certainly had impact).

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#11 Nisemonogatari

I was not exactly crazy about Bakemonogatari when it first came out, but it is difficult to deny that the combination of Shinbou and Nishio Ishin has style. The second season keeps up tis predecessor’s original style while switching focus to some new themes. A rebel among its peers, Nisemonogatari tramples over some the medium’s favorite tropes and themes while remaining an otaku feast in other areas. Nisemonogatari gets on the list for its hot dialogue and the questions it asks about justice and morality.

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#10 Sekai Senjou no Horizon II

I might have enjoyed Horizon more if I were not watching it raw and all, but the series is good enough to get on the list even with some things going over my head. It features the best-animated one-on-one character fight this year (Futayo vs Gin), some breathtaking aerial maneuvers and plot-relevant debating sessions. Of course, achieving so much on such a scale, the series must also suffer from its fair share of luggage – the enormous cast makes it impossible to focus equally on everyone, the fan-servicey character designs can scare people off, and the infodump sessions are already an established part of the show’s style. But it certainly feels like the Musashi crew made a huge step forward in their great journey, and I am eagerly looking forward to another season of their adventures.

akb0048 2#9 AKB0048

I have a soft spot for shows that manage to break through my prejudice and prove they can work even if it seems like they should have no choice but to fail. AKB0048 is one such show. Whatever it did, it would be attacked as a marketing ploy for AKB48 (and that’s certainly one of the reasons it exists). Thankfully, the people behind the show took this adversity as an excuse to make one of the most audacious shows of the year. The hilarity inherent in the whole “idols are serious business” theme of the show carries it through the first few episodes, until the characters can make things work on their own. The half-friends half-rivals relationship the girls share makes for some unique plot developments, as the characters’ loyalties are constantly being tested by internal and external pressures. The idea of an entertainment ban/ galaxy-wide cultural oppression is fascinating. And that Chieri-Nagisa scene where one of them silently bemoans that a Kirara never followed her, while the other is thinking about how the Kirara in question never once shone for her, is one of the overall best character scenes this year, instantly establishing tensions that last throughout the entire show. I would like to get at least a glimpse of other entertainment groups apart from AKB0048, just to get away from the idea that AKB0048 are the only victim of the entertainment ban and the only group trying to change things in the DES-controlled part of the universe – here’s hoping that the second season may include something like that.

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#8 Touhou Musou Kakyou

I was a few months late in noticing this gem had come out. Musou Kakyou does not exactly match Maikaze’s promotional videos in terms of character designs or animation quality, but it still marks a visible improvement over the first installment and gets enough things right to make my Touhou-fan’s heart dance. I love how all those characters act pure and innocent while actually being quite mean to each other, how Youmu considers skewering somebody reasonable retribution for getting a watermelon stolen (and the poor communication skills that lead to the misunderstanding!), the random developments that will somehow turn out to be part of a Yuyuko/Yukari master plan… The VA cast is a a treat to the point that I still do not know how they got those people on board (Yuuki Aoi as Youmu and Nakahara Mai as Reimu are just delicious!). One thing I’m left wondering is, how the heck did Tewi of all people outrun Youmu? There were probably some dirty tricks involved there, but the chase did not get animated… Another question would be how many years it will take for the third installment to come out…

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#7 Tamayura Hitotose OVA

Attakai Kaze no Omoide Nanode

A heartwarming OVA much in tune with the rest of the series. For my gushing over the series, check last year’s ACAA entry. Here, let me complain about how unfair Japanese name are instead. You see, Fuu’s name is written like this 「楓」and most often read as “Kaede” (meaning “maple tree”). But Fuu’s father is a huge cheat and changes the reading from Kaede to Fuu, shifting the focus from the basic meaning of the kanji and towards the wind radical (風, fuu) on its right side, changing the meaning of the name from “maple tree”to “the wind blowing among trees”. Í am so jealous the Japanese can do cool things like that with their names >_<.

Saki .Achiga-hen #6 Saki Achiga-hen

Saki is just a mix of all the anime tropes I adore. Beautiful female friendship (®), personality-based superpowers and mahjong as a weapon of choice, it’s difficult to go wrong with that. Achiga-hen does have its share of problems, like the awkward pacing and the writer’s inability to decide whether they want to develop the main characters at all or just focus on the Senriyama girls. The original series would be fighting for the top spots, while the spin-off stops at #6. But with its meticulous attention to detail and epic “battle”scenes, the show deserves this high spot on the list.

『咲-Saki-阿知賀編 episode of side-A』は今年の6位にとどまる。といっても充分高い。どんだけ咲好きか、僕は… 正直なところ、展開が速すぎたり、主人公たちの出番が少なかったり、いろいろ問題のあるシリーズだったけど、やっぱり毎週楽しみにしてた。大将戦も気になるし、最終話早く見たい。本編の第二期も…

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#5 Shakugan no Shana Final

A returnee from the ACAA 2011 list, jumping six spots after showing the full extent of what it had in store. Did I mention that I have a soft spot for series that manage to break through my initial dislike for them? I have never seen the first season of Shana, but I did watch the first movie. I remember sympathizing with the Crimson Denizens much more than the Flame Hazes, and I thought this series could not work. But what I thought was the author’s shortcoming was actually part of his plan all along, as what is right and wrong is no longer obvious in this series. The main bad guy crushing the good guys’ morale by showing them their life of hatred and revenge no longer has purpose or justification is a singularity not to be found in other series. The sacrifices the Denizens suffer for the sake of their shared dream made me feel nervous every time it seemed like their efforts would be all for nothing. The Serpent God being all soft-hearted and indulgent when it counted most made me sigh along with Bell Peol. The idea of Hecate being nozomarete kitaru, born through the prayers of others, added gravitas to her self-imposed martyrdom. Sakai Yuuji, an absolute pragmatist but also a man with the biggest messiah complex ever, quickly became one of my favorite characters. Seeing Shana grow strong enough to walk by that fool’s side, but smack him over the head when he really needs it, was yet another pleasure. There were times when the sereis seemed to lack time or budget to spare, but as for the content, it was one hell of a ride.

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#4 Hyouka

I am quite open about being a KyoAni fan so Chuu2 not making it into my top 12 was a huge disappointment, but Hyouka more than makes up for it. Yes, it was a bumpy ride. for the first few episodes, we were not really sure whether this series would be really good or just extremely pretty. Some early Houtarou-Satoshi conversations hinted that the series could pull off something great if it wanted to, but there was no guarantee. But Hyouka was steadily getting better – not through its mysteries, which had their ups and downs, but through its characters. At some point Hyouka broke through the magical barrier where you do not care what the characters are doing, as long as they can bounce off each other. Heck, I even lobed the fan service scenes in Hyouka which revealed the wild, magnetic attraction Houtarou felt for Chitanda despite his conscious desire to avoid anything as troublesome as a romantic relationship. Satoshi and Mayaka were also great as two flawed characters who did not fit exactly into any character stereotype, remaining something of a mystery until the very end. I might be alone in this, but I consider the mountain incident mystery episode to be the best character development episode of the year, casting Houtarou’s personality and choices in a completely new light just by clearing up a seemingly meaningless mystery.

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#3 Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

Let me be honest here – Nakahara Mai is my favorite seiyuu and every minute of this show, with Nakahara at her best and enjoying herself with a sarcastic and morally skewed character, was like a festival. Jintai had the best lead of the year, suicidal bread, biting social commentary, nihilistic faeries, lonely space probes, everything. It was touching when it wanted to be, ridiculous all the time. If there was one weakness to the show, it were those few moments when it was smart without being funny. Still, Jintai was an experience, nothing alike anything that came before it.

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#2 Girls und Panzer

I remember commenting on Yumeka’s Jintai/Hyouka review and telling her the two would be my second and third place shows of the year unless something incredible happened in fall. And then Garupan happened.

This show knows perfectly what it is good at, and makes sure to pack every episode as full of those things as realistically possible. The action scenes are breathtaking, the use of CG top class, the setting and characters completely wacko. Some scenes, like Yukari’s espionage mission and the Katyusha rendition, are simply one-of-a-kind. The pacing is great – the hook at the end of episode one is like a promise that no, this is not just a moe show. Not that there’s shortage of moe for those interested, but Garupan never gets too caught up with just one thing, always ready with another trick when you let your guard down. Can’t wait for the conclusion to the series… and hopefully a second season!

Garupan was very, very close to taking first place, but the foe waiting there was fearsome indeed…

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#1 Chihayafuru

Whoever made this show should get locked up immediately – its pure awesomeness makes it criminal. Nobody in the west cares about the poem-game karuta, but that is not a problem – nobody in Japan cares either, except a handful of maniacs, as the show freely admits. What counts is that you will soon care very much about the dreams, doubts and struggles of those maniacs.

Chihayafuru appeared on last year’s list after airing around a quarter of its episodes, and it only kept getting better afterwards. Chihayafuru passes the “magical wall of character development” I mentioned for Hyouka soon after the karuta club is properly established, with the newer characters no less engaging than the leads. My favorite part of the show might just be the Taichi – Nikuman / Kana – Tsukue final matches, which is saying a lot as I love Chihaya as the lead of this series. The incredible thing is that none of the characters exist separately, their dreams clash, intermingle and affect each other in unexpected ways, revealing new strengths and new weaknesses in characters we already know, providing them with a new direction. Every opponent Chihaya faces gets better development than some leads in other series, having their own goals and backgrounds, and the experience of fighting them remains in Chihaya, shaping her future actions.

So I would have fallen in love with those characters, whatever it were they did.
But of course it is impossible to remain indifferent to the portrayal of karuta in the show. Very often, portrayals of even relatively complex sports find themselves running out of ideas on how to keep up the feel of progression throughout their run and end up relying on the “faster! stronger!” formula. Chihayafuru never seems to have this problem, revealing step by step how karuta is a game of speed, detecting sounds, memorization, positioning of the cards, positioning of the body, timed breathing, psychological warfare, observational skills, endurance and even argumentative skills. All of this is presented in an easily understandable and believable way, meaning that you will never look at the ‘silly sport’ the same way again.

Chihayafuru rarely uses cliffhangers, but to me, almost every episode ending felt like a cliffhanger. The need to know whether on the next day the characters wake up stronger, ready to learn from their mistakes, is incredible.

Can’t wait till January.

 

Other ACAA 2012 entries to check out:

http://angryjellyfish.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/acaa-2012-ajs-top-12-anime-of-the-year/

http://organizationasg.kokidokom.net/2012/11/27/kuukis-ani-blogger-choice-awards-2012/

http://organizationasg.kokidokom.net/2012/12/19/geniuss-second-take-in-the-aniblogger-choice-anime-awards/

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This is my 2011 Anime Top Twelve listing for Anibloggers Choice Anime Awards (ACAA). Thanks to kiddtic at Kidd’s Anime Blog for organizing this, and I hope everyone has fun predicting the results.

It is a given that everyone’s list is going to be subjective, and this one is no exception. The criterion I decided to use to the decide the ‘best’ series is ‘impact factor’. Am I going to remember the series a year from now? What about five, ten years?

There is more than one way to make a series memorable. The obvious one is to make something innovative or even revolutionary. Another is to make something that is good enough to become synonymous in the viewer’s mind with the genre it represents. But a few twists in an otherwise average series are often enough to make it stick in memory for a long time.

This criterion is not the same as enjoyability, nor does it even necessarily reflect the quality of the series that follow, but it lets me answer the question: “what series do I want people to hear more about?”

Honorable mention: Kami-sama no Memo-chou

For the whole ten minutes that Kamimemo was not either riddled with fillers or otaku checklist fanservice, the series managed to ask some tough questions about those too weak to keep up with the system. The neet detective Alice confesses that what crushed her spirit and cut her off from society was the feeling of responsibility for every death in this world, deaths that she cannot prevent. Reviewers of the show were often outraged at her words, calling her attitude nothing more than hubris. But can the girl endlessly cursing her own powerlessness really be accused of too much pride? Or is it just that some ideals are just too great, never meant to be held by simple humans?

Honorable Meniton: Usagi Drop

Cute and as inoffensive as it gets. The series that took some themes that couldn’t possibly be interesting and made them fun to watch every week. Its only shortcoming is the lack of some outstanding, memorable scenes or a climax point. Still, this is a rare title that can be recommended even to people who have little to no connection with anime.

Honorable Mention: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

The show that tried to kill us all with cute overload. But it also introduced a deeply flawed male lead, who can neither heal his trauma nor change his jagged personality overnight. As it was slowly revealed, the characters all had good reasons for their attitudes and behavior, rewarding viewers with small surprises every episode. And although the series is set in France, it is actually interesting how the creators portrayed the Japanese customs of the olden days – sometimes showing appreciation, and sometimes a more critical view.

Main List:

#12 Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji – Hakairokuhen

Watching Kaiji on a weekly basis is suffering. The second season has horrible pacing issues to begin with, but waiting a whole week to see our main character sweating for twenty minutes in front of the same pachinko machine he was agonizing over last week is not what most people consider fun.

And yet the fact remains that Kaiji is one of the more unusual anime series out there. This is a tale of a good-for-nothing man who falls to the pits of hell because he was too naive, and yet stands a chance of crawling back out only because of his faith in the good heart of others. Forever balancing on the thin line between hope and cynicism, Kaiji is an anime experience not to be easily forgotten.

#11 Shakugan no Shana Final

I’m not your usual Shana fan. I’ve never seen the first season, and the first movie had me cheering on the antagonists until the very end, giving me little reason to support who I felt to be dull main characters. And now, the third season is setting me up for a similar experience.

The main character joins forces with the main bad guy – they both want to change the world for the better! The antagonists get a tearful reunion with their master – poetry and metaphors fly left and right to describe the anguish of the time they spent apart. The one time the main bad guy’s second in command ignores his orders, he quickly and decisively stops the insubordination… and compliments the unruly subordinate for their loyalty and proactive approach, calmly explaining why following the original plan is a better idea. Even the bit villains have more personality than their heroic counterparts…

This show is going to become very, very painful once the truly interesting characters start dying of like flies.

#10 Rou – Kyuu – Bu!

A series detested, quite rightly, for its fanservice approach to elementary school girls. Other than that small ‘detail’, it is probably worth mentioning that the sakuga of the characters’ faces at times brings to mind the infamous twisted faces of the first season of Higurashi. Past episode three or four, the amount of novel content squeezed into a minute of the anime more than doubles, meaning that any semblance of plot is also lost. Suffice to say, this anime is quite bad.

But it still manages to have better characters than most anything out this year.

The basketball baka Hasegawa Subaru, who can honestly think of nothing but the ball and the goal. But the basketball he meets in reality cannot match his ideals – and when his dreams and ambitions fall apart, he realizes he has nothing left to cling on to.

The basketball baka Minato Tomoka, who forgets about everything the moment her hands grip the ball, when the soft-spoken shrinking violet gives way to a merciless competitor. But she is sane, sane enough to realize that a place to be is more important to her than her ambition, even if tearing her fingers away from the ball proves as painful as peeling off skin.

I’m not sure if anyone wants to see a second season with the same quality and approach to fanservice, and I don’t expect the novels to ever get translated, so I take this time to give a single salute to the original author, Aoyama Sagu.

#9 Fate/zero

Great production values, Urobuchi Gen’s story, Kajiura Yuki’s music and the director of Hourou Musuko, Fate/zero has it all to become a legend.

And yet the anime adaptation of Urobuchi’s novels struggles with consistency. It has difficulty with establishing its characters, and Aoki Ei doesn’t handle the epic fight scenes too well, trying to copy the presentation of a novel instead of using the strength offered by a visual medium. As with any adaptation, stuff gets lost in the transition, and its up to the staff’s skills and guts to take risks to make up for those shortcomings. This time around, Ufotable is not entirely successful, and the anime that could be great ends up being merely good.

That said, the epic scale of this series and the unique storytelling that Urobuchi offers cannot be denied. This series can only be fairly judged once it completes its run next year. I give it a high 9th place in expectation of what is to come, but cannot rank it above the consistent series that follow.

#8 Chihayafuru

It’s always a blessing to have a show that’s merely good at its worst, and a true pleasure at its best. An unusual mixture of josei-style romance and a sports manga, Chihayafuru does more than well enough on both fronts.

The karuta genius Wataya Arata gets a romantic head start by inspiring our main character during her childhood days, but his main rival Taiichi seems more real a character with every episode that we watch him struggling to overcome his faults. Karuta itself, a sport that most westerners will never once play in their lives, seems attractive enough in this portrayal. The tactics and ability required, the teamwork and the hard work, all of it is presented in top-grade fashion matching the classics of sport anime.

With a cast of quirky characters and a good balance of the romantic and the intense, the serious and the humorous, Chihayafuru is simply great entertainment.

#7 Mirai Nikki

Having watched the first two episodes of the show, I thought the idea had a lot of potential. I decided to take a look at the original manga… and I ended up reading all through it in two or three sittings.

The original author can’t draw to save his life. He can’t write a proper story, either. But he has guts, much more of them than anyone should be allowed. The twists are ridiculous to begin with, but they seem crazier with every chapter anyway. When the final chapter comes, the ludicrousness has long gone through the roof, reaching the distant stars.

But it kind of makes sense. And it’s hell of a lot of fun.

The anime turns the manga drawings into something more consistently resembling human beings. And it gets a competent director. The biggest ass-pull moments get cut out and the transitions between scenes start making sense. The adaptation is on its way to significantly surpassing the original material, as rare as that is. I’m looking forward to seeing some future scenes animated, while those of you who have avoided spoilers can still expect a whole bunch of twists ahead. This series might not be as intellectually engaging as Death Note nor as consistent in its psychoses as Denpateki na Kanojo, but the fact that it attempts both is entertaining enough.

(Continued in Part 2)

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