Summer 2009 Mid-Season Report Card

We’re about halfway through the Summer 2009 season, so it’s time to see where all the series that I’m watching currently stand.  Number of episodes watched are in parenthesis:

1st Tier

1. Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom (19)

Phantom has shot up to the top of my list as one of the best shows this year.  Good writing, acting, storytelling, music, animation, you name it.  It’s also been unpredictable, which is always nice for a series like this, where it can very easily fall in the trap of everyone knowing exactly what’s going to happen.  This show is finally headed into it’s final arc which will truly determine where on the scale it ultimately ends up.

2. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (5)

Pushing Phantom for the best show I’m currently watching, however, is Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.  It’s also an extremely well told story about what might happen in Tokyo if a magnitude 8.0 earthquake were to hit the region, and so far it hasn’t disappointed.  I think the main reason why I have it at #2 is that at times it seems slightly forced, and the animation quality isn’t as good, but it’s still a very good watch.

2nd Tier

3. Sweet Blue Flowers (7)

The second tier is headed by the new show I’m blogging: Sweet Blue Flowers, aka Aoi Hana.  The storytelling in this show has been pretty solid, if rather slow going.  It’s still a good watch if you’re a yuri fan, however, and while this series hasn’t been one for doing anything particularly explosive all at once, we could be headed towards some interesting times soon.

4. Fullmetal Alchemist (18)

The new Fullmetal Alchemist series is pretty much in the same place in the Summer report card as it was in the spring report card.  Unlike in the spring, we’ve now gotten into episodes which diverge from the first series, and that has made the series more interesting and has started to pull me into this series a bit more, and I”m looking forward to see how things turn out this time.

5. CANAAN (6)

I think the past couple of episodes have helped pushed CANAAN up in the list from where it was probably at to start with.  We’ve started to delve into some very good and interesting character development episodes, while at the same time we keep getting fed bits here and pieces that which will, presumably, all come together towards the end.  Oh, and the animation is also killer in this series.

6. Taisho Yakyuu Musume (6)

Taisho has kind of turned into my guilty pleasure and surprise show of this season.  I keep expecting this show to let me down, but thus far it hasn’t.  It has continued to charge along just fine, and I’ve been fairly interested in where it’s headed.  It certainly has the potential to move up this list even more if it keeps it up as well.

7. Shangri-la (19)

Shangri-la is close to the same place it was in the spring, as far as where it is in the list, though I have bumped it up from the 3rd to 2nd tier for the summer list.  Some of my worries from the spring about it being “too complex for it’s own good” have been alleviated, though I still think it’s still a partial problem for this show.  But I think the plot line and what’s been going on has become a lot more straight forward and easier to understand, which has greatly improved this series from where it was in the spring.

8. Pandora Hearts (19)

Pandora Hearts is yet another series which gets promoted from the 3rd tier to the 2nd tier from the spring to the summer.  While the improvements aren’t as pronounced as they are in Shangri-la, the trend of the seeming improvements in the episodes that I noted in the spring has continued, allowing this show to get it’s legs under it.  While it’s still somewhat a “muddled mess of confusion,” as I put it in the spring, it’s not nearly as bad.

9. Valkyria Chronicles (19)

Valkyria is really the only show from my spring list that has taken a dive once hit got into the summer.  It still remains at the bottom of the 2nd tier as it did in the spring, but it’s much lower in the rankings relative to other shows, compared to the spring.  While I think this series is holding it’s own well enough to keep it out of the third tier (so far), it really seems to have lost a lot of what made it good to begin with.

3rd Tier

10. Sora no Manimani (4)

Sora no Manimani is right on the border of the 2nd and 3rd tiers, but right now I’m sticking it into the 3rd tier of shows.  Some of the astronomy stuff in this show is pretty interesting, but I just haven’t been able to really get into it.  The characters all seem too one-dimensional and dull and the animation hasn’t seemed to be all that great in places either.  This show definitely has the potential to move up, but if it moves more into “romance mode,” as it is threatening to, it’ll probably stay low in the rankings.

4th Tier

11. Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 2 (9)

I’m skipping to the 4th tier for this show – a special tier I have reserved for those shows that deserve to be subjected to a special amount of beating.  I think we all know why this show is here.  Nine episodes have aired, but only 4 could really be considered “real” episodes (and that’s being generous).  We wait 3 years for the sequel, and what do we get? Eight episodes of Endless Eight.  This series will almost certainly move up into at least the 3rd tier by the time it’s done, just because we’re actually going to be hitting some new content again, but it’s already fallen into such a deep hole that it’s hard to see how it will end up being seen as anything other than mediocre by the time it’s finished, unless they’re going to give us a lot more than 14 new episodes.

Spring 2009 Mid-Season Report

Since hell month struck right at the start of the season, I wasn’t able to do my usual first impression posts for show that I was watching, so I decided to do a Mid-Season report once I caught up.  As a result, here it is!

Number of episodes watched are in parenthesis.

1st Tier

1. Eden of the East (6)

It’d be hard to rank anything above this at the time being.  This show has everything: music, animation, story, intrigue, you name it.  Eden of the East is definitely not your usual fare, and given that it appears to obviously in good hands as far as writing and production, it is shining brightly as a result.   While the last episode was a tad confusing on the first viewing, there is very little to find wrong with this show so far.

2. K-ON (7)

I believe K-ON was the 8th of 8 shows that I decided to watch at the start of the season, and I picked it for the sole reason that Kyoto Animation was producing it and I seem to like their stuff, even if the premise of this particular show didn’t appeal to me very much.  Well, I’ll say it right now:  Oh please forgive me KyoAni for ever doubting you!  K-ON is everything Lucky Star ever wished it was, and more.  Good music plus interesting and hilarious characters make this a fun show to watch.  And while the characters use most of the standard “moe” characteristics from many past KyoAni series, they seem to be mixed and matched differently, giving the characters some freshness.

2nd Tier

3. Requiem for the Phantom (5)

OK, yes, I know, I’m probably the only person in the anime blogosphere who doesn’t hate BEE TRAIN (though admittedly, I’ve only seen 2, maybe 3, of their shows total), but I’ve so far been digging Phantom.  This series seemed to take an animation quality dip come the 4th episode or so, but the storytelling seems to be rather solid to me.  Sure, there are some issues, but compared to many of the other shows on my watch list, this one is doing pretty good.

4. Fullmetal Alchemist (6)

I kind of have this and Phantom tied at 3rd right now, but I think overall I’ll put this at 4th right now.  One reason is that thus far the series is just going through stories which I’ve already seen before in the first series, which is to be expected.  It is going at a far brisker pace than the first series thus far, though, having gone through the material of about 16 episodes of the first season i only 6 in the second, though we’re only up through about chapter 8 of the manga or so I believe.  There are various other things which I think don’t make this as strong of a series as it could be, but it’s still pretty good so far.

5. Valkyria Chronicles (6)

I didn’t really know what to expect or how much I’d like a show like Valyria.  I have, after all, not really watch any show very much like it before (though I’m sure many have been produced).  However, I have been pleasantly surprised by it so far.  The “courseness” of the animation, while good in concept, could be pulled off better, however.  But as far as the story and characters are concerned, they seem to be well thought out and executed pretty well so far, and it’s one of the shows that I actually look quite forward to seeing more episodes of.

3rd Tier

6. Shangri-la (6)

Shangri-La starts the series of 3 bottom-feeder series for this season.  While I appreciate an anime series which has some (apparent) thought and depth to it, I’m almost wondering if it’s too complex for it’s own good.  We have jibber jabber about carbon markets and bubble economies and the like and after a while i’ts just kind of like “wut?”  Also, while I realize most shows aren’t exactly realistic, being able to create a bubble and burst it in a nation and forcing whole industries to go bankrupt in mere seconds is more than what I’m really able to believe.  I think this series still has some promise if it gets it’s act together, but it has a long way to go.

7. Pandora Hearts (6)

Pandora Hearts is not last for one reason:   The chracters.  I love the characers and I love the character designs.  It’s a pity that they couldn’t actually be featured in, you know, a good show.  The show has gotten a little bit better in the past couple of episodes, so maybe there is hope, but so far the episodes have largely been a muddle mess of confusion, where I don’t really understand what’s going on half the time.  Add to this the sub-sub-standard animation quality (I had read about XEBEC having crappy animation before, and now I know what they were talking about) and Pandora Hearts is quickly becoming a rather forgetable show.

8. Asura Cryin’ (5)

It pains me to put this last since I keep watching it hoping that it will get better, but I think drooling on my pillow while I sleep is better written than this show up until this point.  So we have three factions, which all run different student councils at this school, and they have these Asura things or whatever, and, well, hell if I know what’s going on after 5 episodes.  All I know is that banging Demons is bad and Natsume using his Asura thing might be hazardous for his ghost-girlfriend’s, er, health.  Perhaps the main good point to this story are (some) of it’s characters and what humor exists, but it all goes downhill once it starts getting serious.  And it’s animation isn’t all that stellar either.

Spring 2009 Blog and Watch List

Sorry for not posting in the last week.  That was a combination of the basketball tournament (which took up a good deal of my weekend) and getting into the homestretch of my class (which I usually do on the weekend, but got pushed to my weekday evenings…when I usually do my blogging, thus limited to no blogging for the past little while).

I was initially planning on blogging 2 series for the Spring 09 season, but I think given that I’m probably going to be somewhat slammed with my class for the next month (the final month + oral exit exam for classes I haven’t taken in 3 years), so I think I’m only going to pick up one show to blog.  In my preview, I had 3 shows on my “May blog” list: Eden of the East, Phantom, and Shangri-La.

Now, I’m one who sometimes likes venturing out onto paths that other bloggers sometimes don’t tread on (see: Shion no Ou, Nijuu-Mensou).  Two of the seemingly most highly expected series this season appear to be Eden of the East and Shangri-La which, I presume, will have bloggers falling over themselves to blog it.  As a result, I think I’m going to blog Phantom myself.  My only worry with this show is largely that the only two fansub groups listed as doing it I haven’t really downloaded anything from before, so I don’t know whether they’re of good quality or whether they get things out quickly or not.  So there you have it for my blogging list.

As for shows that I’ll watch, Eden of the East, Shangri-La, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Pandora Hearts were already on my “will watch” list, so I’ll probably grab about 3 shows from the “may watch” list to add to this list.  Out of that list, I guess the most appealing is K-ON, since it was really the only show that didn’t raise some question marks with me, and I guess when I get down to my “may” list, I go from picking shows that look good to picking shows that don’t look bad.  Next on my list is Asura Cryin’.  The preview I saw looked more serious than the “semi-serious” description of the show, and the arrival of what looked like a mecha-like thing put this show into question, but I think overall it looks good.  Finally on my list is Valkyria Chronicles.  This is somewhat iffy to me, but just not as iffy as Summer Storm (highly questionable animation to me) and Tears to Tiara (looks like a fantasy show that is taking itself way too seriously).

So, to roundup, this is what my blogging and watching slate for the Spring season will look like:

Blogging

  • Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Watching

  • Asura Cryin’
  • Eden of the East
  • Fullmetal Alchemist
  • K-ON!
  • Pandora Hearts
  • Shangri-La
  • Valkyria Chronicles

Josh’s Anime Blog Podcast Episode 47

Josh’s Anime Blog Podcast Episode 47Josh’s Anime Blog Podcast Episode #47 is now online! In this podcast, I review the movie Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: The Conquerer of Shamballa.

This week’s Podcast Stats:

Time: 22:28
Download Size: 15.4 MB

Opening theme:
“Virgin’s High” by Mell
Opening theme to Sky Girls

Ending theme:
“Lost Heaven” by L’Arc~en~Ciel
Ending theme to Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: The Conquerer of Shamballa

You can listen to my podcasts in the following ways:

Flash Player: [audio:http://www.joshsanimeblog.com/podcast/JABPEpisode47.mp3%5D

Directly: http://www.joshsanimeblog.com/podcast/JABPEpisode47.mp3

You can also download or add my podcast-only RSS feed to your favorite reader or add my podcast using iTunes.

Enjoy!

Josh's Anime Blog Podcast Episode #34

Josh’s Anime Blog Podcast Episode 34Josh’s Anime Blog Podcast Episode #34 is now online! In this podcast, I re-review the anime series Fullmetal Alchemist.

This week’s Podcast Stats:
Time: 16:29
Download Size: 11.3 MB

This week’s opening theme:
“Ase e no Brilliant Road” by Angela
Opening theme to Stellvia

This week’s ending theme:
“Motherland” by Crystal Kay
Third ending theme to Fullmetal Alchemist

You can listen to my podcasts in the following ways:

Flash Player: [audio:http://www.joshsanimeblog.com/podcast/JABPEpisode34.mp3%5D

Directly: http://www.joshsanimeblog.com/podcast/JABPEpisode34.mp3

You can also download or add my podcast-only RSS feed to your favorite reader or add my podcast using iTunes.

Enjoy!

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie – Anime Review

The Essentials

Fullmetal Alchemist - The Movie: Conquerer of ShamballaName: Fullmetal Alchemist – The Movie: Conquerer of Shamballa, Gekijouban Hagane no Renkinjutsushi – Shanbara wo Yuku Mono
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Episodes: N/A
Released: July 23, 2005
Based On: sequal of Fullmetal Alchemist anime
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Produced By: Aniplex, Shochiku Film
US Distribution By: FUNimation

Major Japanese Cast

Edward Elric: Romi Paku
Alphonse Elric: Rie Kugimiya
Noah: Miyuu Sawai
Fritz Lang: Hidekatsu Shibata
Dietlinde Eckart: Kazuko Katou
Alphonse Heiderich: Shun Oguri
Roy Mustang: Toru Ohkawa
Alex Louis Armstrong: Kenji Utsumi
Winry Rockbell: Megumi Toyoguchi
Riza Hawkeye: Michiko Neya
Rudolf Hess: Rikiya Koyama
Envy/Dragon: Mayumi Yamaguchi
Wrath: Nana Mizuki
Officer Hughes: Keiji Fujiwara
Karl Haushoffer: Masane Tsukayama

Major English Cast

Edward Elric: Vic Mignogna
Alphonse Elric: Aaron Dismuke
Noah: Leah Clark
Fritz Lang: Ed Blaylock
Dietlinde Eckart: Kelly Manison
Alphonse Heiderich: Jason Liebrecht
Roy Mustang: Travis Willingham
Alex Louis Armstrong: Christopher R. Sabat
Winry Rockbell: Caitlin Glass
Riza Hawkeye, Rose Tomas: Colleen Clinkenbeard
Rudolf Hess: Jason Douglas
Envy/Dragon: Wendy Powell
Wrath: Luci Christian
Officer Hughes: Sonny Strait
Karl Haushoffer: John Swasey

Scores

Animation: 10/10 (x 4 = 40 pts)
Story: 9/10 (x 4 = 36 pts)
Music: 9/10 (x 4 = 36 pts)
Coherence/Story Arc: N/A
English Dubs: 8/10 (x 1 = 8 pts)
Gut Score: 9/10 (x 5 = 45 pts)

Total: 165/190 (91.7%)

Review

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie picks up where the TV series left off. Ed is in our world living with it’s version of Alphonse researching rocket technology. Meanwhile, the Alphonse in Amestris continues on his quest to find a way to bring Ed back to their world. Along the way, Alphonse arrives in Lior where Alex Louis Armstrong is helping to rebuild the city. However, suddenly a whole bunch of suit of armor pop out of a suddenly-created hole in the ground and start attacking, but Armstrong and Alphonse are able to beat them back.

Back on Earth, we find that the Nazi’s, in preparation to take over Germany via the ultimately failed Beer Hall Putsch, along with the Thule society are attempting to reach Amestris, which they believe to be the ancient fabled land of Shamballa, in order to take it’s power for themselves. (And indeed, the Nazis were in fact interested in discovering Shamballa – having sent several teams to Tibet to find it in the 1930s).

Meanwhile Edwards gets tangled up both with a gypsy named Noah, as well as an aspiring director called Fritz Lang which ultimately gets him entangled with the Nazi’s plot. Edward then must find a way to save Amestris from the eminent Nazi invasion.

The movie is primarily about Edward trying to figure out what the Thule Society is up to while Alphonse attempts to find away to bring Ed back. Unfortunately, both Edward and Alphonse unwittingly enable the leader of the Thule Society – the movie’s title character, The wannabe-Conquerer of Shamballa Dietlinde Eckart – to open the gate. Once open, it is up to Edward, Alphonse, and all of the state alchemists to defeat the intruders.

I thought this movie was pretty good, though given that most of it is set on earth, it is a different type of story than what progressed through the TV series. Sometimes I hate it when people mix a fictional story in the middle of historical events, but I think it worked well in this case, both because it took place during a little known event in pre-Nazi Germany known as the Beer Hall Putsch, and the fact that, besides the events of the story, the history of that event was, as far as I can tell, accurate.

I liked how they had a flashback to a story about Ed and Alphonse at the start to get people reoriented to the Fullmetal Alchemist universe, though admittedly, if you hadn’t watched the series, you probably wouldn’t understand much of what was going on anyway. Like the TV series, the movie has excellent animation quality and good music.

There isn’t much I could find wrong with this movie, though I do think that some of the leftover questions from the TV series weren’t sufficiently answered, and it almost begs for a sequal, even though there probably won’t be one. If you liked the Fullmetal Alchemist series, you’ll probably enjoy the movie. If you haven’t seen the TV series, watch that first, then come back to this.

First Watched: December 2006
Do I Own: No
Do I Recommend: Yes

Fullmetal Alchemist – Anime Review

The Essentials

Fullmetal AlchemistName: Fullmetal Alchemist, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Episodes: 51
Released: October 4, 2003 – October 2, 2004
Based On: Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Hiromu Arakawa
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Produced By: Aniplex, Bones, Mainichi Broadcasting
US Distribution By: FUNimation

Major Japanese Cast

Edward Elric: Romi Paku
Alphonse Elric: Rie Kugimiya
Winry Rockbell: Megumi Toyoguchi
Roy Mustang: Toru Ohkawa
Riza Hawkeye: Michiko Neya
Alex Louis Armstrong: Kenji Utsumi
Scar: Ryotaro Okiayu
Lust: Yuuko Satou
Gluttony: Yasuhiro Takato
Envy: Mayumi Yamaguchi
Maes Hughes: Keiji Fujiwara
Sheska: Naomi Wakabayashi
Izumi Curtis: Shoko Tsuda
Fuhrer King Bradrey (Pride): Hidekatsu Shibata
Juliet Douglas (Sloth): Yoshino Takamori
Wrath: Nana Mizuki
Shou Tucker: Makoto Nagai
Lyra: Yumi Kakazu
Hoenheim Elric: Masashi Ebara
Rose Tomas: Houko Kuwashima
Pinako Rockbell: Miyoko Asou
Greed: Junichi Suwabe

Major English Cast

Edward Elric: Vic Mignogna
Alphonse Elric: Aaron Dismuke
Winry Rockbell: Caitlin Glass
Roy Mustang: Travis Willingham
Riza Hawkeye, Rose Tomas: Colleen Clinkenbeard
Alex Louis Armstrong: Christopher R. Sabat
Scar: Dameon Clarke
Lust: Laura Bailey
Gluttony: Chris Cason
Envy: Wendy Powell
Maes Hughes: Sonny Strait
Sheska: Gwendolyn Lau
Izumi Curtis: Christine Auten
Fuhrer King Bradrey (Pride): Ed Blaylock
Juliet Douglas (Sloth): Lydia Mackay
Wrath: Luci Christian
Shou Tucker: Chuck Huber
Lyra: Monica Rial
Hoenheim Elric: Scott McNeil
Pinako Rockbell: Juli Erickson
Greed: Chris Patton

Scores

Animation: 10/10 (x 4 = 40 pts)
Story: 9/10 (x 4 = 36 pts)
Music: 9/10 (x 4 = 36 pts)
Coherence/Story Arc: 8/10 (x 2 = 16 pts)
English Dubs: 8/10 (x 1 = 8 pts)
Gut Score: 9/10 (x 5 = 45 pts)

Total: 181/200 (90.5%)

Review

Fullmetal Alchemist is a story about the Elric brothers, Edward and Al, who, after their mother died, attempted to bring her back to life using alchemy. However, attempting to resurrect the dead is one of the forbidden taboos of alchemy, and for good reason. The devastation that resulted included the body of their mother returning as a soulless glop of flesh and Edward losing an arm and leg and his brother Alphonse losing his entire body, with Edward having to bind soul to a suit of armour.

As a result of this, the two brothers set out on a quest in an attempt to find the philosopher’s stone – a legendary substance in the alchemich world which is supposed to allow one to transmute anything – even humans – in an attempt to get their bodies back. On the way, the two brothers learn more about alchemy and the philosopher’s stone than they ever wish they knew, and have to ultimately face up to the sins of their past.

The apparent goal of the two brothers – and thus the plot-line – shifts throughout the series, though that is probably to be expected of a 51-episode series. However, it never does so without reason, and there are very few episodes that occur in isolation from other episodes. Also, there appears to be a fair amount of foresight in the planning of the series, with events occurring as early as the first episode dictating events that occur far later in the series.

The story itself is compelling, with several turns and plot twists. It rarely gets boring, and always keeps you wondering what is going to come next and what the brothers are going to discover next. The cast of secondary characters are also compelling in their own right, making one care about the stakes that each of them ultimately face as well.

Overall, I would rate the story excellent and the coherence of the story over 51 episodes as above average. Animation is fantastic and the music is pretty good as well. It’s hard to find a weakness with the series except for two, somewhat minor things: the first is, taken in isolation, the ending of the series is left wide open, with several plot lines left unresolved. However, one must take into consideration that the story is continued in the Fullmetal Alchemist movie. The second item is that the series may have drug on a little too long. They may have been able to cut out 5 to 10 episodes if they really wanted to, but it’s not a really big deal.

Fullmetal Alchemist is definitely a series that a great deal of anime fans, regardless of their preferred genre can enjoy, and I would definitely recommend it to just about anyone.

First Watched: June – December 2006
Do I Own: Yes
Do I Recommend: Yes

I'm in Fantasyland! (and long-ass series land too!)

I appear to suddenly find myself in the middle of watching several long anime series at the moment, despite the fact that I wanted to restrict how many long series I’m watching at the same time. Also, I’ve found that several series I’m watching or just finished are more in the fantasy genre.

Long series I’m currently in the middle of include:

– Fullmetal Alchemist (52 episodes + movie)
– Fushigi Yuugi (52 tv episodes + 13 OVA episodes over 3 releases)
– Magic Knight Rayearth (49 episodes over two seasons)
– Kaleido Star (51 episodes + 3 OVA episodes)

Of course two and perhaps 3 (Fushigi Yuugi, Magic Knight Rayearth, and perhaps Fullmetal Alchemist) could be considered fantasy series. On top of this, I just finished Legend of Himiko which is also in the fantasy genre.

So, at first it was largely sci-fi anime (DNA2, Chobits, Last Exile, Angelic Layer – if you could call it sci-fi) then it was romance comedies (Ai Yori Aoshi, Fruits Basket, The World of Narue, His and Her Circumstances) and now I’ve moved into fantasy.

It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.