Fall 2012 Simulcast Rankings

This series of posts will be similar to the old column from ANN called “The Stream”, which has not ceased and is going to be replaced by a once a month special version of Shelf Life. I will post my personal ranking of the season’s simulcast titles, with a short review of some and a links to lengthier reviews when available. I don’t know how often I’ll update it. It depends on my time and motivation… Doesn’t everything? Without further ado…

Fall 2012 Simulcast Ranking:

Tier 1:

1. Psycho-Pass

Episodes watched: 3 – Streaming on Funimation.

Current Rating: 5 of 5

Set in a distopian near-future where people’s mental states can be read by machines and “criminal intent” is a crime in and of itself, our protagonists are, Akane Tsunemori, is a raw recruit just starting in the Criminal Investigation Department  (CID) and Shinya Kougami, and “Enforcer” who also works for the CID. Akane is a brilliant person who could have chosen any job she wanted based, but chose to go into law enforcement. Shinya is more of an enigma at this point. It is clear that he has a background in some sort of law enforcement, but has been assigned as an enforcer because his Crime-Coefficient is so high that he is considered a “Latent Criminal” and therefore is not allowed to roam free in society. His choices, along with the other Enforcers, appear to be total isolation from society/imprisonment or working for the government by helping hunt down other “Latent Criminals” in order to catch them before they harm innocent people.

Very much in the mode of stories like Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and Minority Report by Phillip K. Dick, with a mixture of cyber-punk sensibilities from authors like William Gibson (Johnny Mnemonic, Neuromancer, Virtual Light), this series, out of the mind of Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero light novel, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica), shows huge promise for fans of distopian future stories, cyber-punk, and psychological thrillers. In other words, people like me! (Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I am a big fan of both Gibson and Dick.) So far, in the three episodes I have seen, the story has built its world and the female lead with style, flair, and a nice attention to detail. The art is extremely well done, from the dark, brooding city backgrounds to the high-tech designer cloths and room decor. The character designs are very reminiscent of another Shounen classic, Hitman Reborn and for good reason, the original character designer is Akira Amano, the creator of that manga.

The music is another strong point, with the in-episode soundtrack doing a great job of setting the mood. The OP, Abnormalize by the indie post-hardcore/progressive rock treo Ling Tosite Sigure is excellent, with a haunting feel to the vocals and a driving rhythm and strong guitar line. However, the real treasure musically is the soulful, yet hard driving Namae no nai Kaibutsu (Monster With No Name) by Egoist, the name of the fictional band from Guilty Crown, which Supercell uses for songs sung by their 2nd vocalist, Chelly. The mixture of soft, moody vocals on the opening lines with the power-pop synthesizers and up beat mid-section, then the abrupt slow down at the end is the perfect way to conclude an episode of this action heavy, yet highly introspective and thought provoking series.

I look forward to two seasons of this offering from the folks at noitaminA and Production I.G.!

2. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Episodes watched: 3 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Current Rating: 4.5 of 5

At first glance, this series seems to be nothing more than over the top, ecchi/slapstick comedy, with many of the familiar tropes of traditional shounen romantic comedy, with some hints of the harem sub-genre. However, by the end of episode 3 it is clear that, while bawdy humor, classic misunderstandings, and fan service are staples of the show, it is not all that it has to offer. It is also clear that the theme is much more the traditional love triangle/straight romantic comedy as opposed to harem, as the love interests of the various characters are exposed for all to see.

The show has a surprising amount of depth in both character development and story concept, considering the apparent frivolity of the basic concept. For a more detailed review of the first three episodes, check out some of my earlier blog posts for episodes 1 and 2 and the excellent and thought provoking episode 3.

3. Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest)

Episodes watched: 4 – Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Current Rating: 4.5 of 5 for each

Taking inspiration from the works of William Shakespeare, this ambitious series could become a complete mess, or an instant classic.  Of special note with this series is the music. The OP, Spirit Inspiration by Nothing’s Carved in Stone, which is entirely in English, is a hard driving, powerful piece that sets the tone for the show well. The incidental music is also very strong. The ED, happy endings by Kana Hanazawa, who also does the voice of Aika, who is featured prominently in the ED animation, is a bit of a conundrum. It is a fantastic song, beautifully sung, but many feel that it doesn’t fit the show and breaks the mood that each episode is prone to end with by the change in tone. I am unsure of how I feel about the song at this point, other than the fact that, as a piece of music considered in its own right, it is wonderful and the singer does a fantastic job with it.  For a full review of the first four episodes, click here.

4. TIE
My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)
Say, “I Love You” (Sukitte Il na yo)
Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita)

Episodes watched: 4 – Streaming on Crunchyroll, Crunchyroll, and Funimation respectively.

Current Rating: 4 of 5

If ecchi romance like Pet Girl isn’t your thing, this trio of shoujo romance series, all based on shoujo manga titles that debuted in 2008, may be right up your ally!

Each unique, they all share some things in common: sweetness, outrageously handsome leading men (in a shoujo manga way), sweetness, and highly likable, strong heroines who are caught in a “fish out of water” type situation, at least initially.

Did I mention that these shows are really, really sweet?

As a fan of romantic comedy who embraced his “inner teenage girl” years ago  (and I mean that in an entirely non-creepy way, if that is possible…) I am enjoying these three shows tremendously. They are all well written, unique in their own way, yet familiar as an old blanket that you like to cuddle up in while you watch a good, teary romance! Each show has its own flavor, though, as I commented in an earlier blog post, two of them share practically the same premise.

They each have their strengths and weaknesses based on their approach to storytelling.

Kamisama Kiss, being a fantasy story at heart, is helped by the wonderful mythology of land-gods and shrines that it gets to present, keeping the story fresh while it introduces the characters and their relationships. However, like all modern fantasy stories that use traditional Japanese mythology, it can seem a bit hard to fathom in spots for the foreign viewer, and some of the supernatural characters seem a bit one or two dimensional and are not allowed to escape from those dimension, at least so far.

Say “I Love you” has a strong sense of realism, with the type of back-stabbing and cliquish behavior among Mei and Yamato’s classmates and the honest approach to teenage sexuality setting the story apart. However, this strength is also part of the show’s weakness, as the characters, including the two protagonists, are not always likable or nice, though Mei is less likely to come across as a jerk than the rest of the cast. The show also has some issues with inappropriate behavior on the part of both male and female characters that push the boundaries of sexism, with more than one situation where a female character is sexually threatened and more than one uninvited kiss or embrace. (To the show’s credit, the reaction of the girl on more than one occasion is to not welcome the uninvited familiarity, but on the downside, that doesn’t usually dissuade the aggressive male from their advances either, though that may be changing as the show goes on.)

My Little Monster has a decent sense of realism in spots, but tempered by an absurdest streak a mile long. The characters are a bit more “day-glow” in hue than the other more dramatic, non-fantasy romance. However, this courageousness, while hilarious in spots, does sometimes fall flat and prevent the characters from being taken seriously due to the “cartoony” feel and the heavy use of super-deformed animation techniques. The show also has similar issues to Say “I Love You” with inappropriate behavior toward the female characters and adds some very questionable word choice, some of which seems to be specifically done for humor, which falls a bit flat on my ears. (Using terms like “I’d do you” and threats of rape as humor doesn’t really set well with me…)

All have well done music, with attractive delivery of their respective OP and ED numbers. The incidental music is also strong for all three. The voice acting is very well done, with especially strong performances by Ai Kayano as Mei Tachibana in Say “I Love You” and Haruka Tomatsu as Shizuku Mizutani in My Little Monster, who also sings the OP. These two are among my favorite voice actresses working today and they do not disappoint in these roles.

If I had to pick one that may break the stalemate, it would have to be Kamisama Kiss, since it has less of a problem with inappropriateness, or the fantasy setting masks any problems in a way that makes it more palatable.  For now, the three are equal in my estimation, though not at all alike in tone, style, delivery, or mood. That is part of what makes them so enjoyable.

Next time – Tier 2

One comment on “Fall 2012 Simulcast Rankings

  1. Pingback: Fall 2012 Simulcast Rankings – Tier 2 | The Zen Of…

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