Check-in Station Year in Review: Spring 2013 (Where the Biggest and Best Come to Play)
Welcome to the wonderful Spring season! The season of juggernauts – literally! The more I heard about this season in previews, the more excited I got. The Spring season was the reason I still looked forward to watching modern, new anime. So without further hype and hyperbole, I’m gonna tell you the story of the Check-in Station’s journey through anime’s Spring of 2013.
There was absolutely nothing I was more hyped for coming into this season than Attack on Titan. I read the manga about a year before it came out. And though I was far from caught up with where the series ended up finishing, I was more than impressed enough to help sell the show to anyone who would listen. And once the series started, it met all my expectations! The strength of this show was translating the show’s dour atmosphere and tone, and its epic scale to animation and a larger audience. The score was amazing, the production quality of the show overall was stellar. And on a week to week basis, the show was exciting and something I looked forward to greatly.
On top of this quality, I found quite a few interesting characters to attach to in this show. While Eren is a hot-headed blockhead, with minimal personality, there was a lot to attach to with other members of the cast. Mikasa was as amazing to watch, as she was stalker-ish, sexy and popular. Armin was one of the few male examples of moe that I cared for, and his intelligence really impressed me at times. Then there’s the classic “cool guy”, Levi. A character who has gotten a massive female fanbase al0ng with respect from male viewers for being the best fighter in the show. And then there’s my personal favorite, Hanji. Oh amazing, special and crazy Hanji! She was my favorite character in the show, and I believe her to be one of the better female characters I’ve seen this year. She’s this strange melding of adorable, creepy, intelligent, smooth and scary that I don’t think I’ve seen much of before.
I’ve heard many complaints about the show’s pacing, the acting and how much of it is just people looking scared and yelling at each other, and how the show is terribly overrated. To me, this just sounds like people who don’t like the show crapping on it because of how annoyed they are with its popularity. What I see is a show, and a force of nature in the anime community that has brought fans together. Every time I see group of cosplayers together, proudly walking around and taking pics in their Recon Corps outfits, I’m happy. Any time I see the Colossus Titan adorn any piece of merchandise in its chibi form, I’m happy. Any time I see fan art of the show’s protagonists – you guessed it, I’m happy! Hell! Even my favorite site for trying out tea, Adagio has its own line of loose leaf tea blends for the show! (I recommend Armin’s mango tea blend.) The show is a phenomenon, and the anime community is better for it.
One of the other main stories of this season was the realization that it was getting THREE brand new mecha series. All three of them would have no connection to another existing franchise, and be fresh starts with all completely unique tones, plots and designs. For a big mecha fan like me, it was an absolute dream. It was the second biggest reason I was excited for this season. Though initially going into it, I wasn’t sure what to think of what was in front of me. It looked quite likely that only one of the three shows would not be crap. With several lean years of mecha in the past, I was more than satisfied with having Gundam AGE, Eureka Seven Astral Ocean and Muv-Luv in 2012. Why was I gifted with this bounty of mecha now? Am I just getting excited over fool’s gold?
It took a long time to find out, but the answer was “hell no”.
My expectations for the three series were that Gargantia would be the critical darling, and achieve classic status. This show was being written by Gen Urobochi, who had achieved critical acclaim and success with the mega hit, Madoka Magica. He had also continued his win streak with Fate/Zero and Psycho Pass also being greatly praised and enjoyed amongst the anime community. The only knock against him was that many felt he didn’t respect women in his writing as much as he should (to paraphrase greatly).
What ended up happening was not quite so stellar though. The show’s early criticisms actually turned out to be its strength. And those that complained about its slow, hippy atmosphere would regret it later when the show took a decidedly more cliche route. I will say it wasn’t all bad though. I grew attached to the crew of the Gargantia. I found the relationships built to be extremely solid. The show did an excellent job of realistically building up the relationships between the crew and Ledo (the fish out of water character). There were huge barriers in language, culture and morals; and what we witnessed was hard work, communication and thought being used to conquer that. It really was impressive.
What was also impressive were some of the heavier sci-fi elements of the show. Great thought and detail was put into this new, recovered home of humanity. It was amazing to see how things had diverged as the space-faring humans who had left Earth ages ago had built a completely different society and coped with surviving in a juxtaposed way to the more primitive humans who scrape by on Earth. And all this was brought together in spectacular fashion in the show’s ninth episode, “Deep Sea Secret”. It is one of my favorite episodes of the year, and one of the better, more touching and heartbreaking reveal episodes I’ve ever seen. It will take time, but I do wonder if it will eventually rank along side such great reveal episodes as those from Madoka Magica, Fullmetal Alchemist, Trigun, TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN and Evangelion. Then there was that crowning moment of awesome by Chamber that actually brought tears to my eyes. So while the show may have had flaws and fell apart in the end as an overall production, it managed to bring some very memorable moments to the world of anime.
The next show I tried was Majestic Prince (also nicknamed MJPR for brevity). A show that I tried only because of my love for the character designer Hisashi Hirai, a man whose work I was intimately familiar with, and who represented the 2000s for me. It was also this man’s work that hurt the show’s popularity initially, as some viewed his work as a character designer dated, lazy and unoriginal. But those people made a huge mistake, as MJPR would end up being the best mecha anime of the year, one of the best anime of the year, and one of the best (if not THE best) mecha anime of this decade. It’s that damn good! It’s that much of a surprise!
I should have written a review of this series long ago. But the words to express its worth escape me, even now. What MJPR does best is bring character development and teamwork up through the narrative in a perfect arc. The show’s worth itself is paralleled through the five pilots who are featured in this show. We see them go from bumbling, selfish f*ck-ups in the beginning, to true masters of their potential and destinies by the end. The show champions teamwork and self incite in a very similar way to a super sentai show, but through animation and anime traditions and tropes.
There are real characters, with long and intimate character arcs in this show. There are real consequences in this series, and a dark undertone of inhumanity, lust and being prey. It really touches on all these subjects as well, and those hope against these things to see what will win. While watching, I marveled at how much deeper the show was willing to dig into the character’s personalities than I had expected from a show I figured would be so boring and vapid.
What also makes this worthy of my praise as a mecha fan is its animation and fight sequences. I never suspected that anything would rival the quality of action displayed in the Gundam Unicorn OVAs, but Majestic Prince is its equal in the category! The show throws fast, viceral, vicious combat animation at the viewers, in some of the most intense fight sequences I’ve ever seen. The battles between Izuru and Prince Jiato are legendary, and need to be shown as an example of how to do a modern mecha fight right. As an anime fan, do yourself a favor and find some way to check this show out.
The final mecha show I checked out rivaled MJPR for biggest surprise of the season. Valvrave has gone through one hell of a roller coaster, not only in the show either. This series has gone from being labeled a horrible and uninspired mess, to “so bad it’s good”, to ridiculous mess, to great show over its run. It’s sunk so low that I wanted to call it the worst show I watched this year, to one of the better endings I watched this year. What I thought would be another crappy attempt by Sunrise to replace Gundam has actually made its own distinct niche in the anime world.
A mixture of Gundam, Code Geass, Infinite Ryvius and several other Sunrise hits all rolled into one, Valvrave started out looking like a messy collage of ideas that only served to entertain by sheer accident and irony. There were so many times when the show would just be torn apart by its viewers based on sheer, basic logic. How events played out made no sense. The details made no sense. The point of all the drama made no sense. The attempts by the foreign military to kill a bunch of civilians, including the high school students made no sense! No one could grasp the need for a space vampire that could also switch bodies. No one understood the episode that ended with rape. NOTHING MADE F*CKING SENSE!
And then as the second season came around, slowly the irony and mystery wore away. We were made privy to the veil that was over this world, the dark veil of the elite and the aliens. And suddenly sh*t finally started to make sense. Aliens rule the world, people wanted special alien power and pseudo-immortality, robots and fairies are involved, and an entire generation of Asian children were sacrificed for this experiment that actually worked. F*cked up, huh?
There are plenty of angsty teenagers in this show, and many of them die brutal, brutal deaths. For you that could be a positive or a negative. It went both ways for me depending on the deaths. But by the end I really did care. By the end, I understood why the students were dying. I understood why robots were involved. I understood why this whole thing would never be able to go down with out lots of dead people. And that’s the key. By the end of the series, there is proper explanation and pay off. You may not like the ending, but it is sufficient. That last episodes would make any Gundam fan proud, and they would enjoy the battles that took place. It’s appropriately bloody, dark and triumphant at the same time.
The characters in this show are a mixed bag, but like I said before, I did care. Cain never ended up becoming the great villain I had hoped for him, but he had great moments. And his final battle speech was something to be remembered. The gall of this guy to try and twist himself to be the good guy and defender of peace… Wow! Haruto annoyed me greatly, but finally became tolerable in the last couple of episodes. L-Elf was likely the show’s best character, and had moments I truly enjoyed.
There were things left unexplained – I never found out why that rape scene was necessary. The show did a terrible job at explaining itself sometimes. And damn it to hell – the show was just incredibly stupid and full of lazy writing. But it did find its proper foothold, in the end.
Finally moving out of the realm of mecha, we’re moving on to the polarizing Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil). Man o’ man did this show catch sh*t from the anime community! The choice to use rotoscope styled animation was divisive and brilliant. I never read the manga, but I could understand the anger of fans who looked forward to one of their favorite works getting the experimental treatment. I will defend the choice though! The rotoscoping did make the show ugly, but it also added character and realism to the production.
There’s nothing so special or unique about Flowers of Evil, that it has to be an anime. This show could very well have been live action and just as well portrayed, conveyed and directed. The choice to make the characters “ugly” and realistic helps drive home these characters’ places in the world. The awkward emotions, dialogue and atmosphere was portrayed almost too well in this series. Those watching the show had to endure long uncomfortable moments where absolutely nothing of interest was going on, but it did work out in the end.
The show wasn’t all about the animation though. The actual story itself had more than enough material for controversy. It also took the rough, lustful moments of the show and made them beautiful and artistic. The best example of this is my candidate for episode of the year. Episode 7 of 13, where a vandalism scene turns into one of anime’s most beautiful moments.
The show did manage to piss me off though. It pissed me off to the point that I ended up writing one of the shortest, most bitter blog posts I’ve ever written. And it’s a decision that I still don’t understand to this day. I wont’ spoil it for anyone who hasn’t, but still wants to watch the anime. But what was done to end the series was the equivalent of having a manga reader blurt out the best parts of the manga to you. The most exciting parts that you hadn’t even gotten to see yet. The anime itself wasn’t that controversial overall in comparison to the sh*t I saw in that final episode. I hate to admit this, but Flowers of Evil has haunted me since that day.
Spring wasn’t without its regrets though. All the excitement of Attack on Titan, the three original mecha series and the mesmerizing production that was Flowers of Evil all came together to take up much of my time and attention. So a perfectly adequate, but unspectacular show like Red Data Girl got left behind. And I never did manage to catch up with Railgun S, despite enjoying getting halfway through the show. I figured I could always come back to that series with no problem. Then there was my inability to find time to keep up with Spacebattleship Yamato 2199 after the stellar start the series had.
Perhaps my biggest regret though was checking out a little series called Karneval. I don’t exactly remember what it was that inspired me to give this show a shot, and even continue it all the way to the end, but I surely regretted. Karneval left such weak impression on me, that it’s hard to explain why I continued to watch it like I did. There is no way for me to justify continuing this show the way I did over other shows like Railgun S or Red Data Girl. I guess I could compliment the show on its wonderful color pallette, but that’s about it. The characters were bland, unimaginative and hardly memorable. The monsters this show routinely featured were horrible. I can’t think of another show in recent memory with such pointless and unremarkable monsters. It inspired nothing, left no impression, and has a safe and secure spot as one of the worst shows I watched this year.
I did manage to find time to dip into the realms of the old and obscure by watching the OVA Kirara, and doing a legacy blog post for my blogging comrade Predederva on his blog. Wild 7 was a unique and exciting experience, and a welcome reminder that I need to watch and appreciate some of the older material, too.
The last bit of business I ended up finishing was the completion of the second season of Rinne no Lagrange. It was a project that had been stalled for so long that I wondered if there was any point. But I figured that I needed to get rid of this show before attempting other backlog material, and pushed through. What I found was that there was really no point in holding out much hope for this show. It really just ended up being a bland and boring version of much more dynamic and deeper mecha series. It felt like K-ON meets RahXephon, and it was a sucky combination.
Closing out this season, I found a lot to be excited about and talk about. It’s not often that you get to see so many series with the potential to make a dent in the anime landscape. And while only time will tell if shows like Attack on Titan and Majestic Prince will go on to be all-time greats and “game changing” juggernauts, I can happily say that this season gave me a lot of great memories. With the Summer season right around the corner, I had no idea that I wasn’t going to be getting any sort of break either.
Spring 2013 Recap
New Anime Series Watched
- Flowers of Evil
- Majestic Prince
- Attack on Titan
- Red Data Girl
- Railgun S
Legacy Series Watched
- Space Battleship Yamato
Finished Series and Movies not from this Season
- Rinne no Lagrange S2
- Wild 7 (guest post)
End of Year Nominations:
Episode of the Year
Character of the Year
- Sawa Nakamura (Flowers of Evil)
- Hanji (Attack on Titan)
- Chamber (Gargantia)
- L-elf Karlstein (Valvrave)
Anime of the Year
- Attack on Titan
- Majestic Prince
Worst Anime of the Year
Worst Character of the Year
- Gareki & Nai (Karneval)
- Check-out Station: Gargantia (the burden of thought)
- Check-out Station: Karneval ep13 (I came here to see action and kissing)
- Check-out Station: Flowers of Evil
- Majestic Prince ep23: I’m the hero… probably
- Check-out Station: Attack on Titan ep25
- Check-out Station: Rinne no Lagrange (don’t mind us, we don’t have anything else to do)
- Check-out Station: Kirara
- Guest Review – Wild 7