2014 Summer Season Half-Point Review.

This season has been a little disappointing for me, I wasn’t exactly expecting another Ping-Pong but I was hoping that there’d be more all round entertainment as detailed in my preview post. Tokyo Ghoul was a pleasant surprise and Terror in Tokyo has been growing on me in recent episodes, but as a whole I’m pretty bored.

I’m not watching much, but lets rank these arbitrarily in order of my least favourite to my favourite anyway based on what I’ve seen so far. So this isn’t my ranking for the season as a whole with the shows that remain unlisted being inferior to these, I’m simply ranking them out of what I’m actually watching.

Aldnoah Zero

Now I’m not going to argue that Aldnoah is the worst show this season or even the worst overall show on this list, but out of the shows I’m actually watching and paying attention to, Aldnoah is the most boring to me. Urobuchi’s involvement seems tenuous at best and it honestly shows, as Aldnoah doesn’t seem like the type of show he would produce despite it being more ambitious than most mech anime, or anime in general. Pretty much all the characters aside from Slaine feel like non entities and the action completely lacks weight both emotionally and thematically, instead the Fate/Zero director chooses to play loud, dramatic insert songs over almost all of action scenes, which are all swiftly resolved by Inaho’s inhuman competence.

This is with exception with scenes such as Slaine’s scene during a post credits scene in episode 3, a well paced and dramatic scene that understood when to be quiet, pause, and let the horror of what he is doing sync in in a fashion juxtaposing the rest of the action previously seen in the episode, which now that I think about it is a very Fate/Zero kind of thing to do.

Unfortunately, however, when it comes to the dialogue I just don’t care and I quite literally fell asleep during episode 4, the action incapable of waking me. The directing lacks flair and atmosphere, the villains feel cartoonish and the protagonists (not just Inaho) feel completely apathetic to what is going around them for no real purpose as far as I can see, as I’d expect teenagers with no combat experience to be freaking out at this point, and if they’re not going to, the reasons why they’re calm need to be fleshed out more. To summarise, I am disappointed.

 

Sword Art Online II

On the one hand, it may seem like a depressing thought to imagine someone who goes into every piece of media preemptively deciding that it’s going to suck. It’s a cynical outlook that lacks excitement and wonder. However, if such a person happens to end up liking what they thought was going to suck, then the surprise can feel like a wonderful feeling in itself. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of someone whose excitement led to a show that ultimately disappointing them. It’s a horrible feeling.

Many non-SAO fans were in the first camp when it came to this second season, after all, the first season disappointed us, and for many the resulting show has either proven their suspicions or led to a minor surprise that in and of itself probably makes the viewing experience more pleasurable. ‘It cant possibly get as bad as Alfheim again!” Granted, a lot of people are tearing the show apart as they were originally expecting to do, but plenty more (myself included) are just happy that it’s at least attempting to improve, however unsuccessfully.

SAO’s most recent episode seems to reflect this trend in some respects almost certainly unintentionally. After the cliffhanger involving Death Gun from the previous week, Kirito is shook up by the encounter and remembers a retconned fight he had with a guild called laughing coffin back in Sword Art Online, which Death Gun used to be a part of. Although he was defending himself and his guildmates from a group of murderers, he still feels guilt over the fact that he killed about two of them by his own sword, which as per that games rules ended their lives in reality, too. Kirito has been doing well in the current tournament, but at this moment the past has caught up with him and it is affecting his judgement, composure in battle, and his gaming sportsmanship.

Kirito (the author) did something horrible in SAO (wrote a bad story that happened to blow up into a pop culture phenomenon, so bad that even he appears to be rewriting it) and despite the fact that it’s all in the past, it’s still coming back to haunt him. There’s nothing much wrong with Kirito being this shook up, it’s a natural reaction that I can sympathise with, but since he never displayed such hang ups in the first season it feels disingenuous, as it lacks continuity with the bland personality we’ve already come to understand as a cipher. The villain of the arc is a part of Kirito’s past that he would rather ignore- the only element of real death in this new virtual landscape from the only prior virtual world that actually killed people, and forced him to kill. The author and Kirito may have been able to justify their decisions in that moment, but now they’re regretting these decisions. What remains from the first season are the current problems of this season. Kirito is still far too powerful. Sinnon is starting to dote on him just like all the other prior girls, and the writing and other small nuances are in all other respects, just phenomenally stupid. Frankly, I’m not dedicated enough to methodically list everything wrong with the moment to moment parts of these episodes, single lines and single details which add to a whole lot of bad anime. But again, the show is trying to improve and the current episodes are still better than anything SAO has ever produced, the small amounts of good writing are actually starting to shine through, and Kirito is actually developing a personality at long last.

This show fails because of what it has done in the past. I feel this arc is starting to reflect this dilemma with a fair amount of competence, and that makes me interested to see how the show is going to continue, even if essentially nothing about the actual plot, characters, or action interests me in the slightest.

 

Terror in Tokyo

I’m definitely starting to warm to this show as the most recent episodes have finally allowed me to start connecting the dots in my mind. Since episode one, Nine and Twelve have taken on the mantle of ‘Sphinx’ giving riddles to the government for them to solve. This has led to  a very simplistic ‘riddle of the week’ formula to carry the events while the show can get a head start on exploring it’s themes. The problem for me has been that the past and motivations of our two main characters have been kept largely in the shadows, it’s not hard to guess, but the obtuse nature nonetheless made me feel frustrated. The conflict of the riddle solving would be far more interesting to me if I understood even the bare bones motivations of at least one side, unfortunately everything has been on such a slow burn that I’ve found myself thinking about and criticizing the plot more as I watch the show. My only real complaint with the plot however is that Lisa’s arc has felt a little messy- I mean that strictly in terms of events and the order of these events, as the emotional arc has been fine. I simply would have liked this show a lot earlier if she had been living with the terroists starting episode two, instead of having the terrorists seemingly drop everything they promised her in episode one. ‘You cannot go back’. You can only go back safely to your home and your ordinary school life, I guess. With Lisa finally reaching fugitive status, I can finally feel like things are starting to get rolling, which should hopefully let me get swept up in the story so that I can focus on the themes the show so clearly wants me to focus on. This is the true gem of the season.

 

Tokyo Ghoul

Terror in Tokyo is easily the most ‘important’ and interesting show this season, but Tokyo Ghoul is still the show that I have been looking the most forward to each week. So far the villains have been large in number with smaller conflicts that have interestingly elaborated on the different aspects of this world- we see how horrible it is to eat, how horrible it is to compete with other ghouls for food, and the most recent villain shows us a ghoul who uses a mask of sophistication and so-called ‘discerning taste’ in order to justify their gross acts of cannibalism, largely to themselves. The overall villain for the current arc, Mado, shows us a monster who isn’t a ghoul, but human, expertly demonstrating that true monsters are defined by their actions, not by their label. The action has been tense and well animated, and although I know many have been put off by the ridiculous amounts of censoring, it’s something that I can largely ignore, though it is dissapointing. What I like most about the battles outside of the emotional and metaphorical conflicts is that they are always about the sheer terror of the situation and the power of the opponents, and how to survive such battles, as opposed to how one is supposed to win.

Kaneki, too, is a breath of fresh air, a protagonist actually relatable and vulnerable as opposed to the current anime scene filled with Kiritos, Tatsuyas, and Soras. With Kaneki, even if you don’t agree with his choices, the show is very good and marking out why he made those choices, so you can understand and sympathise with him even if your views are different. On the other hand, the only people who will like a Gary Stu are the people who already agree with the Gary Stu’s worldview- nothing about them needs to be made vulnerable or human, because in essence those shows are an exercise in sucking one’s own dick.

Tokyo Ghoul probably isn’t as good as I am making it out to be- to be fair, it is just a very competant shonen, and for all I can praise it for it does lack a certain… gravity, if that makes any lick of sense, that greater media tends to have. Terror in Tokyo, however, is a show that somehow has that gravity, that sense of importance, and by importance I don’t necessarily mean maturity, or grittiness, I simply mean the feeling that accompanies well loved classics, or just simply good shows, of great people perfecting their craft to their best possible ability.

I can’t say that Terror in Tokyo is quite that good, but it certainly has the potential to reach such heights.

 

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