Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Anime Best of 2013, Part 1: An Introduction

2013 is nearly over, and 2014 is about to start. And throughout January 2014, I will be looking back at this past year of anime and all its highlights (and lowlights).

2013 was a very packed year of anime for me. This year, I finished a total of 57 shows that aired within the year (according to the criteria I list below), meaning I was essentially watching more than one entire 12-13-episode series a week--and that's not counting all the other anime I watched that aired before this year! That is definitely a lot of anime.

For my "Best of 2013" series, I will be specifically looking at shows that fulfill the following criteria:

  • Only TV shows with at least two hours of total airing length (~5 full-length episodes, or 10 half-length episodes) count. No OVAs or movies are eligible.
  • All shows that began airing in 2013 that I have watched a complete season in its entirety are eligible.
    • This includes shows that I did not start watching until after they finished airing but did finish before the end of the year.
    • "Complete season" is determined by whether that season has its own entry on Anime News Network's encyclopedia.
      • Shows such as AKB0048 next stage, for which a previous season aired before 2013, or Silver Spoon, for which a later season is scheduled for 2014 or later, still count.
    • Only shows that aired on TV during 2013 count. Student Council's Discretion Lv. 2 will count as it aired on TV in Winter 2013, despite getting a special NicoNico distribution in Fall 2012.
  • Also eligible are any shows which started airing before 2013 but finished this year and at least one cour (~11-14 episodes) has aired in 2013. This includes the following Fall 2012 shows: Magi ~ The Labyrinth of Magic (season 1 only), The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, and Robotics;Notes.
    • The entirety of the first season of Little Busters! and Little Busters! Refrain will be counted as one show.
    • Not counted under this rule are some shows which finished this year through some select "special" episodes but did not air at least one full cour of episodes this year, such as Girls und Panzer and Saki Achiga-hen: Episode of Side A.
  • Not eligible are the following Fall 2013 shows that will continue into 2014: Golden Time, Kill la Kill, Log Horizon, and Yowamushi Pedal. They will be eligible for the "Best of 2014" entry next year.
In addition to looking at all the anime I watched this year and how much I liked them, I will also be looking at various individual aspects such as animation/art, openings and endings, characters, and other things that interest me about this year. Note that certain individual "best of" lists may have their own eligibility rules, which I will note in those particular lists.

Also, keep in mind that this entire series is my opinion only, and given the kind of crazy person I am, your opinion will differ. And I think that's great! Comment and let me know what your opinions are, because I'm definitely interested to see what others think of this year's anime. Just be respectful of others' opinions, because getting into fights over anime is kind of stupid. (Unless you're Kirino and Kuroneko or something.)

Now, at this point, I might normally say that this is all for now, and to look forward to when I post my first list… but why wait to start the fun? Since this post is an introduction, let's look at anime's best introductions with my Top 10 Opening Episodes of 2013!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Weekly Ramblings 12/27/13 Special Edition: Introduction to Mahjong

In anticipation of next season's Saki - The Nationals series, which Crunchyroll has recently announced that they'll be streaming, I made my way through both the original Saki series and the spinoff/sequel Saki: Episode of Side-A. It's an incredibly addicting series, as exciting as any good sports anime, even if you might not think it would be for a game like mahjong. If you've seen any of the show already, you probably already know whether or not you'll be watching the Nationals arc.

But if you're curious about the show and want to check it out (and both the original series and Side-A are available for streaming on Crunchyroll already), but are hesitant because you don't know anything about Japanese mahjong, this post will be a basic introduction to the game. (And if you're not interested at all in the show itself, but are interested in the game… well, this post is for you, too.)

Japanese Mahjong can get quite confusing, so this post will focus only on some basic aspects of the game, enough to understand what's going on if you decide to go on and watch Saki afterwards.


Basic setup

Mahjong consists of several tiles, including three suits--circles, bamboo, and characters--with numbers 1-9 in each suit, as well as other tiles that are grouped in non-numeric ways. Of any given tile, there are four of that tile total in the entire mahjong set.

A mahjong game is officially played by four players (although two- and three-player variations exist). Games can vary in length by the number of rounds, typically indicated by a direction (usually East or South, with East always being the first round); each round consists of at least four hands, such that each player gets a chance to be the dealer once (or more) per round. One will typically see short games consisting of a single East round, slightly longer games with an East and South round (which is called one hanchan), and "full" games of two sets of East and South rounds (two hanchan).

Basic gameplay

During any given hand, each player starts with a hand of 13 tiles. Then, starting from the dealer and going counter-clockwise, each player draws one tile and discards one tile (unless someone decides to steal a tile someone else has discarded; more on that later). The goal is to complete a hand, including the tile drawn (or stolen), that consists of 4 sets of 3 (or 4) and one extra pair of matching tiles. Sets can either consist of three (or four) of the same tile, or a run of three consecutive numbers in the same suit. In addition, the hand must fulfill a certain condition, called yaku, in order to be a winning hand. There are a large variety of yaku, many based on the nature of the hand (such as having only numbers 2-8 or having certain non-suited tiles).

It's important to know that while it is possible to make a set of four identical tiles, called a kan (or kong), the fourth tile is actually not a part of your hand; if you make a kan, you must declare it and then draw another tile, albeit from a part of the wall that is specifically reserved for such draws (called the dead wall), among other things, and is not drawn from normally.

Stealing tiles

To help build a winning hand, players can choose to steal the most recently discarded tile instead of drawing one. There are four times a tile can be stolen, with some rules on each.

A pon (or pung) consists of stealing a tile in order to complete a set of three matching tiles. A pon can be called even if it is not your turn; in fact, if this call is made, the game will continue from the player that made the call.

A player can also steal to create a kan, with the same rule of having to draw an additional tile from the dead wall afterwards.

A chi (or chow) consists of stealing a tile in order to complete a run of three consecutive numbers in the same suit. Unlike pon and kan, a chi call can only be made if it would normally be your turn to draw, stealing only from the player on your left; furthermore, pon and kan take priority over chi.

When making any of the above steals, the set that is completed with the stolen tile must be shown face-up and placed to the side. Furthermore, this turns your hand from a "closed" or "concealed" hand to an "open" hand, which is important as this can potentially drop the point value of your hand or even make your hand no longer fulfill yaku conditions.

Finally, if a tile someone discards allows you to make a complete, winning hand (regardless of if it completes a set of same tiles, a sequence, or finishes the extra pair), you can steal it and end the hand, regardless of whose turn it is. This is called ron. It takes priority over any other kind of steal. More on this later.

Winning points with a winning hand

Mahjong is ultimately a game of points--specifically, of taking points from other players. A winning hand is worth a certain number of points, which are then taken from other players. It's worth noting that the dealer will win more points from the same hand than a non-dealer would, but will lose more points from an opponent's winning hand than non-dealers would.

Furthermore, if a dealer wins a hand, the game moves on to a bonus hand with the players in the same position, and with additional points at stake; if the dealer continues winning, the game continues into further bonus hands, with more bonus points at stake, until someone else wins.

The point value of a winning hand is determined by the base points of the hand (determined by various factors), as well as the han value of the player's hand. Each yaku has its own han value, and if multiple yaku can apply to a hand, those han will stack. Han can massively increase a hand's value; lower-value hands have their point values doubled by one additional han, while hands with multiple han are worth large number of points depending on how many han there are. (Terms such as mangan or baiman refer to a set number of points awarded for a certain number of han.)

(There are some hands that are so rare that they are automatically worth the maximum of 13 han and the maximum total point value of 32,000 (48,000 if you are the dealer); these killer hands are called yakuman.)

Dora are tiles that add one han each, although they cannot count as yaku. At the beginning of each hand, a tile from the dead wall is flipped over as a dora indicator; it's not the tile shown itself that is the dora tile, but the next one in sequence in that tile's suit or grouping. Games can optionally include special red "5" tiles that are also automatically one dora. Furthermore, if a kan is called, an additional dora indicator tile is flipped over for more possible dora. And if a player wins by riichi (more on this later), the tiles under the dora indicator also become dora indicators.

How to win (or lose) a hand

There are two ways to win a hand. The first way is by tsumo, or winning from a tile drawn normally. If you choose to win by tsumo (you can choose to not declare a win yet to try to build a better hand), you take points from all the other players, with the dealer paying about twice as much as the non-dealers pay (if the dealer wins this way, everyone pays the dealer equally).

The other way to win is by the aforementioned ron, or by stealing another player's discard. If you choose to win this way, the player you steal from must pay the entire point value of your hand. (Naturally, while this is a cool way to win a hand, it is also the worst way to lose a hand to someone else, hence why playing defensively to avoid discarding a tile that someone else can use to complete a hand is an important part of mahjong strategy.)

Tenpai and riichi

Tenpai is the state of your hand being one tile away from being a winning hand. Expect to hear a lot about players being in tenpai or some number of tiles away from tenpai. Once in tenpai, the tiles needed to complete the winning hand are called waits.

If a player is in tenpai, and has a "closed" hand (i.e. no steals have been made), she can declare riichi. Riichi is a type of yaku, so it can be declared with any combination of 4 sets of three plus an extra pair, even if it does not otherwise have any yaku. Riichi is declared by placing a 1,000-point stick on the table, which goes to the next person to win a hand (and yes, that means you lose 1,000 points if someone else wins the hand) and discarding a tile sideways.

Once a player has declared riichi, she cannot change her hand; any tile that is drawn that does not complete her hand must be discarded. (The exception is if that tile can make a kan from an existing triple in her hand, with the caveat that doing so cannot change the tiles needed to win.) The player must wait until someone else discards a tile she needs, or she draws that tile herself.

Riichi can be dangerous since you no longer have control over your discards and it becomes easier for someone to call ron over a tile you discard. On the other hand, riichi adds one han to your hand's point value (and can add an additional han if you do so on your very first discarded tile, or if you complete your hand within one go-round), and turns any tiles underneath dora indicators into additional dora indicators, which can potentially increase the han value of a hand even more.

Some final notes

During mahjong games, you will frequently see dice being rolled. These dice determine who starts as dealer, as well as where in the wall of tiles players start drawing from, and where the dead wall is.

There are some additional way to get yaku/han, such as completing your hand with the extra tile drawn after making a kan, or by winning off the very last tile drawn in a hand (before reaching the dead wall).

In addition, there are some winning hands that are not of the "4 sets of three + one pair" variety, such as a hand of seven pairs, and a hand consisting of "thirteen orphans" (one each of every "1" and "9" tile, plus one of each non-suited tile, and one more tile of any of these; this hand is one of the yakuman hands).

If all tiles outside of the dead wall have been drawn and no one has completed a winning hand, it is considered an "exhaustive draw". If this happens, players who are at tenpai collectively take 3,000 points from players that are not at tenpai.

Sequences do not loop around, so 8-9-1 and 9-1-2 are not valid sequences. As such, the "1" and "9" tiles, referred to as "terminals", can potentially give you higher-value hands. (Note, though, that if the dora indicator is a "9", the dora is the "1" tile of the same suit.)

If you're curious as to what the non-numbered tiles are: There are four types of tiles with the kanji for "east", "south", "west", and "north". Note that if the dora indicator reveals one of these tiles, the next one in the above sequence (looping back to "east") is the dora tile. However, the tiles themselves cannot make a sequence, and any set including them must be of three or four of the same tile. These tiles can be worth han and count as yaku, if the direction shown matches your position or the current round type (East or South).

Likewise, you will also see tiles that are completely blank, tiles with a green-colored kanji, and tiles with a red-colored kanji. These tiles also form a group for dora indicator purposes, but cannot form a sequence. You must make a set of them out of three of the same tile, but doing so does count as a yaku and adds a han.

Collectively, the non-numbered tiles are referred to as "honors".

Finally, a note on overall scoring. In individual matches, everyone starts off at 25,000 points, with 30,000 points considered the "break even" point. At the end of a game, the score of players in second, third, and fourth, is equal to how many thousands of points they are above 30,000 (with a negative score if their score is below 30,000), rounded to the nearest thousand. The first place player's score, then, is the sum of the other three players' scores (which will be negative), except positive. (If at the end of a game, no one is above 30,000 points, the game moves on to another round.)


And it is with that note that I conclude this crash course on mahjong, and invite those of you who are interested to check out Saki (streaming on Crunchyroll), the story of a girl who has always played mahjong to end up with a score of +/- 0…

(For more information, this page has a list of all the different yaku and their hand values, while this page goes into mahjong scoring in more detail. And this page goes even further into the rules of mahjong.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Kin'youbi Mosaic: 12/20/13 Weekly Ramblings

Some quick licensing news. First, Sentai Filmworks has officially licensed the first season of The Familiar of Zero, which aired way back in 2006. It was originally licensed by Geneon Entertainment and released just before they pulled out of the US anime market; it was also released by FUNimation Entertainment when they received the series along with a bunch of other Geneon titles, but have since let the license expire without renewing it due to low sales. Sentai's license rescue will include the dub on the original Geneon release, and they will also release the series on Blu-ray.

The announcement is also notable in that way back in winter of 2012, they licensed the fourth season of this series that aired at that time, but have yet to release it on DVD, likely because they wanted to license and release the first three seasons first. That said, it's worth noting that their press release for their fourth season license said they would release the series as a sub-only DVD, and while current trends make it likely that they will at least release a Blu-ray, it's likely that, unless this first season release does particularly well, seasons 2 through 4 might not get dubbed.

Other licensing news: FUNimation has the home video license for A Certain Magical Index II and the movie for the franchise. Aniplex of America has licensed two Winter 2014 titles: Nisekoi and World Conquest - Zvezda Plot. They will stream the series as they air (possibly on Crunchyroll), and will release the series on home video later.

You can check out all these news in more detail in my new "news" block on the side of the blog.


Want to know about the latest pre-orders available? First of all, check out the "FUNimation New Title Solicitations (Mar '14)" link on the side under News, which includes, among other things, a pre-order for a special Premium Edition of Psycho-Pass.

Meanwhile, while it is not available for pre-order yet, get ready for a special re-release of the first season of anime classic Ranma 1/2 on Blu-ray and DVD. The release is slated for March 25th, 2014, and the Blu-ray release will be a special Limited Edition with an artbox and art book.


I'm at a loss for other things to ramble about. So instead, have a video of the ED of Unbreakable Machine-doll in Dance Dance Revolution:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekly Ramblings: 12/14/13 Special Christmas Episodes Edition

Welcome to this week's special edition of Kin'youbi Mosaic weekly ramblings! You may notice that I've been adding some things here and there to this blog, so check them out if you're interested.

News has been pretty sparse this week, so instead, I'm going to do as other blogs like to do around this time and talk about some Christmas episodes in anime. Instead of doing a "favorite Christmas episodes" thing, which will likely just re-iterate many classic Christmas episodes that others have mentioned, I'm just going to mention four Christmas episodes that I have seen and are particularly memorable.

Spoilers will follow, so read with caution.


Sister Princess, Episode 20

In this episode, the sisters plan a special gift for their brother Wataru. To keep their brother in the dark about it, Sakuya gets Wataru to accompany her and hang out in town up until Christmas evening. What makes this episode memorable is what the present ends up being: the sisters have been practicing a song, which they all sing to their brother. Afterwards, Wataru says that it is the best Christmas gift he has ever received.

Sure, it's a bit cheesy (the song itself is good, though), but it's still cute and memorable. And here's something to consider: if Wataru is so happy about having his sisters sing to him for Christmas, how much more so is God when His children sing to Him for Christmas? (Or any other day, for that matter.)


The iDOLM@STER, Episode 24

There's a lot going on in this episode taking place around Christmastime. The girls of 765 Pro have been drifting apart due to their increasing workloads, which has been depressing Haruka, otherwise the cheerful one that always lifts up the moods of the other girls. Things have gotten particularly bad right before this episode, as during a rehearsal for a musical she's in, she nearly falls into a pit, and the producer, in saving her, ends up falling in himself and ends up hospitalized. All this, combined with her fellow idol Miki calling her out for being selfish in wanting everyone to rehearse together, causes her to break down as she loses sight of why she became an idol, and quits the job.

Thankfully, through a series of events, she decides to go back to being an idol--and at the same time, her best friend, Chihaya, has assembled the other girls of 765 Pro to all give a public message to Haruka about how much they miss her and how they are sorry for not realizing what she was trying to do--and at the same time, they announce the New Year's concert which they will all be participating in.

Again, it's pretty cheesy stuff (all of the entries in this post are, kind of; I guess I just like that stuff), but still a nice moment, especially as it comes at a very pivotal moment in the series.


Chocotto Sister, Episode 1

On the other hand, Chocotto Sister, an unlicensed little gem, has Christmas as the starting point of the series. In the first episode, Haruma Kawagoe, a single college student living alone, gets a surprise visit on Christmas morning from Santa Claus, portrayed in this show as a biker chick riding an airbike (definitely one of the more… unique portrayals of Santa in anime). And the Christmas present? A little sister!

Sure, Haruma asked for a little sister for Christmas… about twelve years ago. And sure enough, the little sister he received is about 12 years old… Santa explains that it takes some time to prepare a little sister, as it's not like preparing a toy robot or something…

The rest of the episode has Haruma slowly growing to care for his new sister (in a familial way, mind you), whom he names Choco. It's all rather cute, if a bit cheesy (again). What is particularly memorable here is the flashback scene where the young Haruma asks for a little sister for Christmas; as it turns out, his mother was due to give birth to a sister, and Haruma was anticipating that and says how he will care for her. However, his mother ends up having a miscarriage, and ends up unable to make any more children. Disappointed, Haruma actually goes and prays to God, asking Him to provide the little sister his mother cannot. Who knew that God would hear his request and fulfill it, even if it takes several years for it to happen? And thankfully, despite Kawagoe's initial protests that his current situation is not conducive to taking care of a little sister, he still willingly takes up the responsibility.

The whole thing is also reminiscent of God answering prayer… on His own time. Has God ever answered a prayer that you had prayed a long time ago? Or perhaps He answered it in a way that was not quite what you were hoping for, but has resulted in your growth?


Pokémon, Episode 39/66*: Holiday Hi-Jynx

Yes, I'm going there. This episode of the Pokémon anime is the first Christmas-based episode in this series, at a time before Delibird became the designated Present-deliverer. In this episode, Jynx is the one that delivers presents, and when Team Rocket try to steal Santa's presents, Ash and company stop them. In other words, a pretty typical Pokémon anime episode… except for a number of things.

First of all, while this episode was initially supposed to be episode 39, the previous episode was the ill-fated Porygon episode that got banned for supposedly inducing seizures in children; as such, the show was re-scheduled in America to be episode 66, leading to some inconsistencies (this episode still has Ash's Charmander, despite it having evolved into a Charizard in episode 65.

Second, the show was pulled off the air for a long time after some critics called out the Pokémon Jynx for being a racist portrayal of the old "blackface" stereotype. While the episode has returned back to the rerun rotation, this criticism has ultimately led to Jynx's design being changed to have a purple face instead.

Third, the episode features a Lapras that can speak the human language through telepathy, which is pretty rare in the anime (and notably, the Lapras that Ash has during the Orange Islands arc does not have this ability).

Finally, this episode has an interesting case in which the dub script arguably is better than the original Japanese script. In both scripts, Jesse (Musashi in Japanese) is out for revenge against Santa, as his Jynx actually took a doll from her. As it turns out, the Jynx was just going to fix the doll. The change is that, in the Japanese script, Musashi had simply moved away, so Jynx could not find her (kind of a silly thing for a Santa that supposedly knows about children all over the world); the dub changes it so that Santa could not visit Jessie the next year because she stopped believing in him, which arguably is better reasoning.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hall of Fame Induction: Hidamari Sketch

In my Anime Hall of Fame series, I highlight shows that I enjoyed a lot and think are worth trying out. Click the "stardf29's Anime Hall of Fame" tab at the top of the page to see a list of all the inducted anime series so far. More anime series will be inducted over time, and this post will be updated with any new information for this series.


Hidamari Sketch

Don't worry; these girls' souls are perfectly safe in this show. (Official art for season 4.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kin’youbi Mosaic Returns! 12/6/13 Weekly Ramblings

NaNoWriMo is over and was a success! I have 50,000 words of story written (with much editing needed, mind you), and you can head over to my “normal” blog, Frank Sun of Hawaii, to read some early chapters as well as learn how to read more.

Unfortunately, NaNoWriMo has come with the side effect of horribly falling behind on this season’s anime. I’ve been able to follow five shows as they are airing (GingitsuneOutbreak CompanyNon Non BiyoriLittle Busters! Refrain, and Yowamushi Pedal), I’ve seen some episodes here and there of the others… and I’ve still got about 3-5 episodes of each of the other shows to watch. Yep. Good thing my holiday schedule is coming up, which gives me time to take care of various things…


If there is one short series (that is, a show with 2-5 minute episodes) that I highly recommend watching, it is Yama no Susume, available on Crunchyroll by its official English name Encouragement of Climb. It tells the story of a girl who has become afraid of heights, and who meets up again with her childhood friend, a girl who loves hiking and mountain climbing, and how the two of them get back into climbing. It’s a cute, charming little series that is also a bit educational if you want to learn more about mountain climbing. It’s only 12 episodes (13 if you want to look for the OVA) at three and a half minutes each, so if you have some time, why not check it out?

The reason I bring up this series is that a second season has been green-lit… and it will consist of a half-year (about 25 episodes) of 15-minute episodes; that is effectively a full series! I can’t wait for this, and it is easily one of my most anticipated shows of next year.

And if you like cute girls shows, you'd be a fool to miss this. (Official key visual for 2nd season.)


A new anime project has appeared on Kickstarter, looking for your support. Kenji Itoso, who has worked under folks like Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, is looking to produce a 30-minute film called Santa Company. The film imagines “Santa Claus” as a large corporate company with three departments—a home security department, a reindeer-raising and navigation department, and an e-commerce department—that on Christmas work together to deliver presents to children. The story itself seems to focus on Noel, a 12-year-old girl who stumbles into this company and her adventures with the folks that work there.

It looks to be a cute, family friendly Christmas special, and Itoso plans to have it finished by Christmas 2014 to show to children in the Fukushima area who were affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Kickstarter itself would produce the film in Japanese with English subtitles, which would be available on DVD and Blu-ray as well as with digital downloads. Stretch goals include Finnish and French subtitles, a Deluxe Blu-ray/DVD version, and an English dub.

It’s hard to say how good this will end up being, but a child-friendly Christmas anime would be nice, and the art is good, so I’ll be supporting this.


Finally, if you’re looking for some anime to gift to your friends—or yourself—check out RightStuf’s Holiday Sale. They have lots of titles at incredible discounts, and every day they will add more titles to that list. Some things to note:

-          Orders of $49 or more qualify for free shipping. Keep in mind, though, that free shipping does take longer (3-10 business days) and depending on when you order, you might not get the item until after Christmas. Also, orders can take about 2 business days to be shipped.
-          The process is the smoothest for delivering to the same address as your billing address. If the shipping and billing addresses are different, you will probably have to deal with some extra steps that can delay things.
-          Sale items cannot be further discounted through coupons or the site’s Got Anime? membership discount.
-          Some sale items come in limited quantities, and will go fast once they are put up for sale.
Of course, there are sales elsewhere and you can always check out other sites like Amazon, which is perhaps better for faster gifting. Still, RightStuf is another option, and a solid one with their low prices and good customer service. And even if you do not plan on buying anime for anyone else, it might not be a bad time to buy some anime for yourself…