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.

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