Winter 2011 Anime review

Madoka and Kyubei
Madoka Magica

With two of the more interesting series taking a week’s break,  and the season well under way, it seems a good time to look at what’s good and what’s not.  Confounding one’s fears last year that decent anime was about to be history, a number of the latest series have great artwork, interesting characters, and well-crafted scripts with an ongoing storyline. In general they are far more sophisticated than say the anime of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica is the hit of the season. Many thought this was going to be just an updated magical-girl series, with added magical-trip effects, till in episode 3 the story takes a markedly darker turn. To underline this, #1 and #2 had action playing under the end credits, while #3 onwards have the pounding and distinctly doom-laden ending song. (Those given to re-running episodes will note that it’s previewed at a lower volume during the fight in #2.)  Episode #3 reveals to general shock that being a magical girl can be fatal, and the nightmare continues in episodes #4-6 as further shocking events and revelations continue.  These girls evidently get a huge ‘high’ from the exercise of their powers, and their motivation is not necessarily directed towards the common good.  The cute-faced familiar, Kyubei , urges Madoka and her friend to contract as magical girls with an eagerness more usually met with in drug pushers.  Al in all, a series that leaves the viewer in mild shock at the end of each episode isn’t updating the magical-girl genre so much as demolishing it.
Each episode has a hallucinogenic magical-combat sequence, and each one is totally different. Some think it’s worth watching for these alone.
Halfway through, the eponymous Madoka still hasn’t become a magical girl. Will she? and what will happen when she does?  Is Kyubei evil? What ghastly thing will happen next? We want to know!

Yumekui Merry (Dream Eater Merry) : When the real world and the world of dreams intersect, strange things happen.  Yumeji Fujiwara has always been sensitive to other people’s dreams, even before a strange girl falls on top of him. Merry Nightmare has come from the dream world, and she wants to go back there.  Fujiwara has a nightmare of being in the dream world,  chased by cats.  The dream-world intrudes into Reality.  Fujiwara, a kind-hearted youth, decides to help Merry.  The dream demons want Yumeji’s body as a vessel to access Reality.  Initially, Fujiwara and Merry seek out dream-demons and battle them as a means of finding an exit for her to the Dream World, but the perspective changes.

This series has a warmth to it derived from the characters’ feeling for each other, and the storyline has developing twists and clues that require the viewer to pay attention and remember what happened in past episodes.  There is also some fine artwork in the dream scenes.

Kore wa Zombie desu ka? (Is this a Zombie?) : Daft and hilarious comedy about a schoolboy who is already a zombie as the series starts.  Errm, there’s a Wiki on this series so I don’t have to explain what it’s about… By episode 5 he has a magically powered girl, a necromancer girl, and a vampire ninja girl living at his house, somewhat against his wishes. He does his best to hold his own.

This is very funny, and the girls all have quite distinct and unique personalities. It’s the inventiveness that makes it worth watching. Why does the rather jail-bait Haruna insist on making Ayumu delicious fried egg lunches – with no rice? Why does Yu wear armour and never speak? Will the ninja-girl’s ample bosom poke Ayumu in the eye?

Gothic (ゴシック): Set in an imaginary European country, in 1924. Token Japanese schoolboy meets a tiny, brilliant and bossy blonde girl who solves gothic mysteries.  Not amazing, but can be quite a gripping watch. The setup is an excuse to pose and solve some Sherlock-Holmes style mysteries, invariably solved with brilliant deductions by Veronique. After an awkward start,  Kazuya and Veronique come to care about each other.  The story arcs, involving a death ship and a thief and a missing heiress, are rather fun.

Fractale: sci-fi anime, containing obvious homages to Miyazaki movies and Nadia TV series. Much discussed, much anticipated, but proving somewhat of a disappointment. It fails to convince the viewer that its world is internally consistent, and none of the characters are really likeable or admirable.  Some people are continuing to watch just so they can chuck rocks at it.

Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) : This was widely anticipated as the “quality” anime of the season – another adaptation of a Shimura Takako manga – the other being the delicate drama “Aoi Hana”.  Not for everyone, perhaps, but HM has outstanding artwork, a solid script and tactful storytelling about gender identity, which affects several of the characters in different ways. Can be quite spellbinding in its quiet way.

Level E: Earth is infested with aliens, all here for their different reasons, and the humans are the only ones who don’t know. This is having some good fun with “the aliens are among us” storylines.

Kimi ni Todoke 2 (Reaching You 2) : Eagerly awaited by those who loved the first series of this shoujo romantic comedy. 2011 episode #0 was a recap. In ep #1, it’s chocolate-giving day, and Sawako can’t quite screw up courage to give lovingly-made chocolates to Kazehaya, who hangs about in increasing disappointment.  Give him the chocs already, girl! The characters have moved up one school year but their relationship hasn’t.  Nice, but no need to watch unless you liked the first series so much you want to watch another 12 or 13 episodes of the same.

The rest? Dragon Crisis isn’t bad, and I didn’t pursue the others.