Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer 2014: What I'm Watching (Part 1)

Last year, Summer surprised me with the sheer number of good shows that aired that season. This year, there are fewer shows that caught my interest--a mere 14 new shows--but the quality of those shows looks to be just as high. Three of these I already covered in my YamaHanaBara series... but they and four other shows will be covered (again) in this first part of my seasonal anime preview.

Barakamon

Yes, the little one's a girl.

Seishuu Handa is a 23-year-old calligrapher who has already won an award for his work, but when a high-ranking calligraphy director calls his work dull, he punches the guy in the face... and ends up exiled to an island as punishment. There, he learns to find a new way of life, in part thanks to the rambunctious six-year-old girl, Naru Kotonashi, who has made his home her base.

I have already talked about this show's parallels to Christianity, but let's talk about the show itself. Barakamon is definitely an example of an iyashikei show, a slower-paced slice-of-life show written to be charming and soothing and full of the goodness of humanity. It is also a comedy, full of hilarious moments as Seishuu must learn to deal with a new way of life and a very eccentric group of villagers. Unlike many recent examples of iyashikei slice-of-life comedies, this one isn't focused on cute girls, though Naru (who is voiced by an actual child, like Rin from Bunny Drop) is plenty adorable enough for anyone looking for a dose of cute. So what we have here is a charming and funny slice-of-life about a young adult learning to find his way in life--all in all, an absolutely wonderful show that everyone should watch.

Available on/Licensed by: Funimation

Bladedance of Elementalers
Japanese title: Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance

He got the "sword" element, which is at least cooler than being stuck with "heart".

Kazehaya Kamito is an Elementaler, capable of making a contract with elemental spirits... and unusual in that he is male while Elementalers are otherwise always female. He is enrolled into an academy for Elementalers to help the school win the Blade Dance tournament, where he hopes to meet up with someone. However, he must first learn to get along with Claire Rouge, who is fiery in both temperament and elemental specialty.

So... yeah. This is a fantasy harem series, and a rather generic one at that. There are some hints of a good plot, at least, and Kamito is a bit above average for a male lead. It's also the only new high fantasy (alternate world of magic and stuff) series this season, and as I am growing more interested in the genre... well, I guess I am stuck with this show. Oh well, I don't have that much else to watch. I don't blame you if you don't plan to join me, though.

Available on: Crunchyroll
Licensed by: Sentai Filmworks

Blue Spring Ride
Japanese title: Ao Haru Ride

Time waits for no romance.

In middle school, Futaba Yoshioka and Kou Tanaka had a brief romance that ultimately came to nothing when Kou suddenly disappeared during the summer. Now in high school, Futaba avoids appealing to the guys to maintain good standing with the girls. However, she cannot forget her first love, and when she suddenly meets Kou again, albeit with the name Kou Mabuchi, she can't help but pay attention to him. Kou is now rather cold to her, though, but at the same time can't help but try to help his first love out.

Shoujo manga anime adaptations are getting rarer, and while we had one with The World is Still Beautiful last season, this season's Blue Spring Ride is the first non-fantasy one in a long while (you'd have to go back to Fall 2012 with My Little Monster and Say "I Love You."). Adapted from the manga by Io Sakisaka (whose other manga Strobe Edge is available in the US), this series is so far following very well in the classic shoujo traditions of female-centered character relationships and romances. It's not really doing anything stand-out but with a solid cast of characters with good focus on both the romance and non-romantic relationships, it's a perfect example of good execution making an enjoyable show for anyone hungering for shoujo anime.

Available on: Crunchyroll
Licensed by: Sentai Filmworks

Encouragement of Climb Season 2
Japanese title: Yama no Susume Second Season

Mountaineering Girls ~more aggressive~

Sequel Alert: This is a direct sequel to the first season of Encouragement of Climb, so watch that first. It's only 12 3-minute episodes, so it won't take long. The new season will be 24 13-minute episodes (half the length of a full episode, so the total length will come out to be about the same as a standard 12-episode series).

The second season of this show about mountaineering girls sees Aoi and her mountain pals seeking greater heights as Aoi looks to fulfill her old promise to Hinata to see the sunrise atop a mountain. I've talked about the first season here, as well as some of the second season here, and have mentioned how this is one of my most anticipated shows based on the first season... and well, the second season is only getting better. Expect a post from me soon about some more recent episodes... once Crunchyroll puts them up officially (they're currently indefinitely delayed due to contract negotiations).

Available on: Crunchyroll (Season 1, Season 2)

Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!
Japanese title: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Zwei!

Yes, the Japanese and English titles only differ by that 2/Z difference.

Sequel Alert: This is a direct sequel to the first season of Prisma Illya, so watch that first. While it is related to the Fate/stay night universe, it is considered an alternate universe and no experience with other Fate/ series is necessary to understand the story (though you might be missing out on some references).

The new season of the magical girl spinoff of the Fate/ series continues the adventures of Illya as she now has to deal with a duplicate form of her that is running amok. It continues to have the fun of the first season, as it has some fun with the magical girl genre (the first episode has a hilarious transformation sequence, and not because of the transformation itself). That said, expect a lot more yuri fanservice, whether or not that's your thing. All in all, since it's a sequel, you can probably judge your expectation of this by watching the first season first.

Available on: Crunchyroll (both seasons)
(As of now, only the first season is licensed by Sentai Filmworks.)

Free! Eternal Summer

It's going to be another hot summer for muscle lovers.

Sequel Alert: This is a direct sequel to the first season of Free!, so watch that first.

As Haru and his friends prepare for a new year of swimming, they must also face down the question of what they want to do in the future. In the meantime, Sousuke, an old friend of Rin's, transfers into Rin's school and joins the swim team.

If you missed all the hype behind Kyoto Animation's infamous swimming anime, just know that while the appeal of well-toned shirtless guys who are quite... friendly with each other is definitely there for those who like that stuff, the show definitely has an appeal beyond that as a solid, character-centric sports anime. High-quality animation plus a great cast of characters, with plenty of great comedy to go with a solid storyline, all add up to a show that can be enjoyed regardless of gender or shipping preferences. The second season continues in the vein of the first, with one notable difference thanks to the new role that Rin plays in this season, making him an especially interesting character now.

Available on: Crunchyroll (both seasons), Funimation (Season 2 only)
Licensed by: Funimation

Hanayamata

Actual English title is HaNaYaMaTa, but my Shift key and pinky fingers begged for mercy.

Naru Sekiya is an ordinary girl who wishes she can be dazzling like her beautiful friend Yaya. An encounter with the American transfer student Hana introduces Naru to the world of yosakoi dance, which she decides to do with Hana and other friends.

Here's another show that I've already talked about before and mentioned how much I'm loving it. Hanayamata comes from the Manga Time Kirara family of manga magazines, which is also where other classic cute-girls-doing-cute-things shows like K-ON!, Hidamari Sketch, and the recent Is the order a rabbit? came from; however, Hanayamata comes specifically from Manga Time Kirara Forward, which features more plot-centric (and not necessarily all-girls) series such as Dojin Work and Dream Eater Merry. This shows in here as there's a bit more drama and character development than in your average cute girls show, though it's still plenty cute, too. There's some notable staff on board: the scriptwriter, Reiko Yoshida, has worked on many major titles such as Aria, K-ON!, and even Bakuman, and the director, Atsuko Ishizuka, had previously directed The Pet Girl of Sakurasou and No Game No Life, two shows with very... iffy premises that she turned into surprising hits. Combined with Madhouse (who also did No Game No Life) providing some very beautiful animation, and you have a show that definitely has the potential to be one of the best of the year.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Barakamon, Episodes 1-2: Traps for Old Christians

If I wrote more in my introductory YamaHanaBara post about Barakamon than the other two shows, it's because this show is a bit more complex in both its own premise and how that premise ties in with Christianity. Seishuu Handa, the lead character, is no youthful high schooler entering a new world. He is already an established calligrapher, having won an award for one of his works. As far as he was concerned, he had nothing more to learn, even when a high-ranking calligraphy director called his award-winning work "dull". In anger, he punches the director in the face--clearly not a good idea--which results in his being sent to live on an island to give him time to cool his head.

It's a premise that, as far as parallels to the Christian life goes, is less about a "new Christian learning what it means to follow Christ" and more about an "old Christian learning that what he thought he knew about following Christ might be wrong". In this post, I will be looking at what the first two episodes of this show have to say about some of the traps experienced Christians can fall into. (As usual, there are minor spoilers after the jump.)

Rambunctious young girls might or might not be one of those challenges. (Source: Pixiv)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hanayamata, Episodes 1-2: New Beginnings

As I mentioned in my introductory YamaHanaBara post, Hanayamata, which is about a girl who steps into the world of yosakoi dance, has parallels to the earliest stages of a Christian's faith. In this post, I will look at the first two episodes in more detail. Naturally, there will be spoilers for said episodes after the jump.

(Source: Pixiv)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

One Week Ramblings: 7/13/14 Summer 2014 First Impressions Edition

Since there's been a lack of notable news this week (just Sentai Filmworks picking up Samurai Jam -Bakumatsu Rock- and Bladedance of the Elementalers), I thought I'd use this post to go through all of my first impressions on the new anime of the season (outside of the YamaHanaBara trio).

Safe (definitely following)

First of all, there's Free! Eternal Summer and Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!, which are both sequels and both following well with their previous iterations, which I enjoyed. So they're both in for sure. And I have already talked about Yama no Susume Second Season, Hanayamata, and Barakamon in my last post and how they are looking to be my top 3 for the season. Beyond that...

Locodol (2 eps.): This show is honestly a bit of a breath of fresh air for idol shows for me. Rather than focusing on all the singing and dancing and personal achievement aspects of the industry, it takes a more intimate focus on helping the local residents and the town itself, creating a charming show that works quite well for me.

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun: Absolutely hilarious comedy, with the bundle of fun that is Chiyo Sakura making it an instant keeper. Definitely my top pick for a raw comedy.

Blue Spring Ride: I have read some of the manga some time ago, so I have an idea of what to expect, which is the main reason why I'm keeping with this one. All the shoujo drama is handled well enough and the show does look like it'll explore some good themes, too.

Sailor Moon Crystal: I have read some of the Sailor Moon manga, so I'm not going into this completely new to the series. (I have yet to see any of the first anime, though.) Anyway, it's all fun and enjoyable like the manga, so it's a lock.

Alive (continuing for now)

For the record, I have 4 open slots left on my final watchlist, as well as 2 wild card slots that I can optionally give out.

Sabagebu! -Survival Game Club-: This show has a great, fourth-wall-breaking sense of humor and some crazy, unconventional characters, plus some solid survival game action. It's all fun, though I'd like to see another episode to make sure it can keep this up for more than one episode. Status: Alive and kicking. Will very likely end up safe.

Terror in Resonance: For an intense, psychological thriller with some disturbing events within, this show does what it needs to to get my interest, focusing on the characters involved and hinting at their various histories and motivations. It should be a worthwhile watch, though I'd like to see another episode before committing. Status: Alive and healthy. Good candidate for another slot.

Invaders of the Rokujyoma!?: A stupid-fun show with few aspirations for greatness. It remains alive largely because it did very little to actually turn me off (unlike the shows below it), and I don't mind having a nice, brainless show on my watchlist (they make great dinner viewings). Status: Alive and okay. May make it to safety simply because others self-destruct.

Glasslip: (2 eps.) It sure looks pretty, but this P.A. Works show's premise has two things I'm generally not a fan of: love triangle drama and a "seeing the future" plot element. The execution is pretty good, but will that be enough for this show to secure one of the last slots on my list? Status: Alive and fighting hard for its life.

Sword Art Online II: (2 eps.) I came out of the first season of SAO neither loving the show nor absolutely hating it. I disliked many things about it but there were parts that were admittedly enjoyable. The second season doesn't start with too much to it (though the battle in ep. 2 was enjoyable), but I am hearing that this arc fixes a lot of the problems with the first two arcs, and if it can do that and maintain what was good about the first two seasons, it might just snipe out an open or wild card slot. Status: Alive but crippled. Lying in wait and seeing if it can take out a weaker show.

Tokyo ESP: It's worth comparing this to Terror in Resonance, since they both start with rather disturbing terrorist attacks, but honestly, this show does it all wrong. Too much violence just to appeal to the crowd that likes that kind of stuff, and not nearly enough world-building or character-building to go with it. That said, it seems to be an in media res start, and maybe the actual start of the story is more compelling, hence it does get another episode. But that episode will be judged harshly. Status: Barely alive. Needs a new breath of life to make it.

Persona4 the Golden Animation: This is my first experience with anything Persona4-related, and I'm thinking maybe it shouldn't be. It wasn't that hard to follow, and intriguing enough in its own way; I just feel that right now this is more of a New Game+ run, and it'd be weird to go through that without having gone through the first run-through (i.e. the first Persona4 The Animation) beforehand. One more episode to see if that really is the case. Status: Alive but seriously crippled. May be withdrawn to allow to fight in better shape.

Dead (dropped)

Rail Wars!: Couldn't even make it halfway in. Lack of interest in any of the characters or the story and an excess of bouncing chests lead to an early casualty for this show.

There's not much left for me to try out; only Bladedance of the Elementalers, as well as Jinsei if Crunchyroll picks it up within 3 episodes.

All in all, it looks to be a great summer season.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

YamaHanaBara: Stages in the Walk of Faith

This Summer 2014 season, we are blessed with a trio of shows that not only should be an absolute joy for slice-of-life iyashikei fans, but also provide nice--and rather complementary--parallels on the Christian life. These three shows are Yama no Susume (Encouragement of Climb) Second Season, Hanayamata, and Barakamon. Taking the first two characters of each title and putting them together, I have come up with YamaHanaBara to refer to the three of them collectively. (The order isn't really significant, so I may randomly refer to it as BaraYamaHana or some other order sometimes.)

Yama no Susume, I already introduced in my last post as a story of a girl, Aoi, who, despite her fear of heights, starts getting into mountain climbing along with her friend Hinata. As the second season starts, she's already climbed a smaller mountain and is looking forward to challenging some taller peaks.

Hanayamata features a girl, Naru Sekiya, who's convinced that she's an average girl with no special talents. She spends a lot of time reading fairy tales and hoping that one day a fairy will come and whisk her away to a new world. She then encounters Hana, a transfer student from America who is passionate about Yosakoi dance, and through a series of events, ends up joining her Yosakoi dance club.

Barakamon is a bit of an odd duck in that, instead of being about a high school girl, it is actually about a 23-year-old man. Seishuu Handa is an aspiring calligrapher who, after an incident where he punches an important figure in the calligraphy world, is forced to live on an island for some time to cool his head, and perhaps learn to understand why his "textbook" calligraphy is considered dull. In the process, he gets acquainted with the locals, including the resident rascal, a young, rambunctious girl called Naru. (Try not to confuse her with the Naru from Hanayamata.)

Each of these three shows are great in and of themselves, but what makes them great together is that they can each represent a different part of a Christian's walk of faith.

Naru Sekiya of Hanayamata can represent the new Christian, who for one reason or another has just entered the faith and is unsure of how her life will change. Just like how Naru hesitantly enters the world of yosakoi, so a new Christian may be cautiously taking her first steps into her walk of faith. She may be dealing with insecurities and a tendency to not want to break out of her comfortable daily routine, but one way or another, she has started her walk, nervously anticipating what happens next.





By virtue of her show's being a sequel, Aoi of Yama no Susume Second Season is further along in her walk than she was when the first season started. She hasn't climbed anything higher than 600 meters yet, but she is enthusiastic about challenging higher peaks. As such, she can represent a Christian who is still relatively new to the faith, but after having spent some time on her walk and taking in some spiritual "milk", she is ready to move on to some solid food. The trials that await her will be harder than what she faced before, but with the help of her friends, she is ready to take them on.




Seishuu of Barakamon, being the oldest and most experienced, can represent a Christian who has been a part of the faith for a long time, but has for one reason or another come to a standstill in his walk. Like how Seishuu finds himself stuck (physically) on an island and (mentally) with his "textbook" calligraphy, the experienced but stagnated Christian has gotten a bit too much into a certain religious routine, and does not know where he can go from there. In some cases, he may have even committed a major sin, like Seishuu did when he punched the calligraphy director--for Christians, this can include things like adultery, violence, or drug abuse. One way or another, though, he is stuck... but perhaps, where he is stuck, he can find the support to move onwards.

Christians can probably identify with at least one of these three stages in their current walk of faith, and even if you are not at one of those stages right now, it is still good to understand all the stages, as we could get to know people that are in other stages. (Also, Seishuu's stage is one we can and will run into in our walk... multiple times, even.)

In upcoming posts, I will look at the opening episodes of each of these shows and look at what they say about that show's particular stage of faith. Throughout the season, I will revisit these shows for anything else they have to say about the walk of faith. It will be quite the endeavor, but I believe these three shows are definitely worth the time--and your time, if you decide to watch them.

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Hanayamata and Yama no Susume (i.e. Encouragement of Climb) are available on Crunchyroll. Barakamon is licensed by Funimation and should be available on their streaming site sooner or later...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Encouragement of Faith: Yama no Susume and Conquering the Mountain of Fear

Yama no Susume, also known as Encouragement of Climb on Crunchyroll, is a show I mentioned in my best anime of 2013 series as my favorite anime short series ever. And in this newly-starting summer 2014 season, it starts up again, this time with the total length of a full TV series, albeit split into 24 fifteen-minute episodes. If you haven't watched the first season yet, I highly encourage you to do so; with 12 episodes at only three and a half minutes each, it won't take long, so why not?

One thing I especially liked about Yama no Susume was the growth that main character Aoi goes through as she challenges her fear of heights and her social awkwardness as she gets more into mountain climbing. At first, she just wants to live a normal high school life, but as her old childhood friend Hinata re-enters her life and gets her to make good on a promise to climb a mountain to see the mountain sunrise again, Aoi finds herself hesitantly trying to scale greater heights. She starts small with a local hill, moves on to a lesser mountain that's popular among casual tourists, and then... well, that's where the second season will start off.

Aoi's journey is much like that of a new Christian. She is pulled out of her comfort zone by a friend and finds that she has to now face the fears that will hold her back from fulfilling her promise. Likewise, if we, as Christians, are to fulfill our purpose in God, we are going to be put in uncomfortable, uncertain, and even downright scary situations.

Probably the modern age's default reaction to such situations.
In these situations, trying to climb the mountains in front of us alone is a daunting task. However, through faith, we can gain the courage to take those first steps up the mountain. For Aoi, she takes faith in Hinata and other mountaineering friends to guide her through the whole mountain-climbing experience. For Christians, we put our faith in God to guide us into His purpose while believing that He will take care of us regardless of the situation.

As for what the reward of such faith is, let's just say that the view on top of the mountain is quite a sight to behold... but we will never see that view until we reach the top. (Photographs and videos just don't quite do it justice.) We might not experience the full reward of our faith until we are with God in heaven, but until then, we can keep climbing and maybe get some glimpses along the way: encounters with God's love, worthwhile connections with His people, experiences with the beauty of the world He created, and our own personal growth.

Aside from the mountaintop views, it is the last one that Aoi is blessed with. As she goes into the second season, she is no longer the shy, insecure mountain-climbing newbie, but a novice who is genuinely interested in tackling taller mountains with her new friends. That's quite a lot of growth for a girl in the timespan of effectively 36 minutes of anime.

This post is a prelude to a series I will be doing this summer, which I call YamaHanaBara. What is YamaHanaBara? You'll find out soon--these next few days are going to be full of posts!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One Week Ramblings: 7/8/14 Anime Expo Edition

It's that time of the year again: time for Anime Expo and all the announcements that came with it. Here are all the announcements, by company.

Sentai Filmworks

Sentai Filmworks was full of announcements this time around. First of all, they have one additional Spring 2014 anime title that they have licensed: Chaika -The Coffin Princess-. The show is currently available on Crunchyroll, and Sentai will provide a home video version later down the road.

They have also licensed the following shows from the newly-starting Summer 2014 season:


  • Akame ga Kill
  • Argevollen
  • Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride)
  • Glasslip
  • Invaders of the Rokujoma
  • Rail Wars
  • Sabagebu! -Survival Game Club-
They talked about some of their upcoming limited edition boxsets, starting with High School of the Dead (including the OVA) coming in November, followed by Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions!; later on, Beyond the Boundary will get the same treatment. Finally, there's the rest of Sentai's planned November 2014 releases (at the moment): Tari Tari, Natsuyuki Rendevous, and Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 will all get Blu-ray releases to go with their previous DVD releases, and Log Horizon collection 1 will be available with a dub... plus, they will release two new licenses from the Fall 2013 season: I couldn't become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job (a.k.a. Yuushibu) and My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy (a.k.a. Noucome).

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Aniplex of America

The only new news here is that on September 23rd, Aniplex of America will release the first season of Valvrave the Liberator on Blu-ray. The show will be available in Japanese with English subtitles (so no dub) with various extras for a store price of $120.

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NIS America

Upcoming releases from this company include the Hanasaku Iroha ~Home Sweet Home~ movie, coming October 14th, and Nyaruko: Crawling With Love! Season 2, coming November 4th. Both are available in their usual Premium Edition subtitled-only Blu-ray release standard.

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Funimation Entertainment

Funimation has three new licenses from the Summer 2014 season to go with their current slate: Barakamon, Sengoku Basara: Judge End, and Black Butler: Book of Circus.

They also announced several acquisitions related to their incredibly popular Psycho-Pass franchise: the Psycho-Pass Extended Edition, which, despite its name, is actually a season-long digest version that is airing this current Summer 2014 season, Psycho-Pass Season 2, which airs this fall, and Psycho-Pass: The Movie.

Finally, some good news for those who are a fan of A Certain Magical Index and A Certain Scientific Railgun but were disappointed that the current home video releases are DVD-only: Funimation plans to release Blu-ray/DVD combos of these shows soon. The first season of Index is coming late fall, and the first season of Railgun will appear in the winter. Moreover, in October, they will be releasing the first part of the second season of A Certain Magical Index on Blu-ray and DVD right from the get-go, with the second part and the movie to follow in later months.

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RightStuf (Nozomi Entertainment/Lucky Penny)

Four new licenses have appeared courtesy of this company. First, there's Space Pirate Mito Seasons 1 and 2, which is actually a license rescue for a title previously owned by Media Blasters, and will be released on their Lucky Penny label with remastered video and updated translations. Only the first season will have a dub; the second season (also known as Aoi & Mutsuki: A Pair of Queens) will be sub-only.

There's also Fantastic Detective Labyrinth (a.k.a. Suteki Tantei Labyrinth), an unlicensed show from 2007, which will be available this fall as a sub-only DVD from the Lucky Penny label. For a very recent show, they have also licensed Yondemasu-yo, Azazel-san, a black comedy with two seasons airing as recently as 2011 and Spring 2013, despite which has not even been streamed legally in the US. The series will be released under the Lucky Penny label sub-only sometime in 2015.

And then, there's one show that's gone unlicensed for a while which I've definitely wanted to be licensed: Yakitate!! Japan! This show is all about baking bread, which the magic of shonen makes it far crazier and epic than it has any right to be. The show really is a joy to watch and I am very much looking forward to this release. The 69-episode series will be released starting in 2015 under the Nozomi Entertainment label sub-only.


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So that's some of the big news from Anime Expo. What announcements are you looking forward to?