With the dog days of summer rapidly dwindling, I, as one of TR’s resident anime-watchers, figured it was time to catch up on some of this season’s current crop of anime shows currently available for streaming on various websites.
This season has had its share of duds and winners, the return of one of the biggest anime shows ever, and some surprises! Here, in no particular order, are my thoughts of summer 2014’s anime!
1. Sailor Moon Crystal
Let’s kick things off with a joyless rehash purely meant to mine your nostalgia for ad revenue! While the original Sailor Moon knew full well that it was a low-budget cartoon for children and took advantage of that with colorful designs and imaginative animation, Sailor Moon Crystal is like every other high-gloss remake these days; it hits all the familiar beats of the story, but does so with nary a hint of the verve and energy of the original. The animation is flat and boring, and the new character designs look like they’d be better served for a pervy bishoujo dating-sim PC game than a children’s show.
Pass. Or better yet, just re-watch the original. Or this.
Catch Sailor Moon Crystal streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
ARGEVOLLEN is so drab, dull, and uninteresting that it makes me go ARGE.
There are a billion mecha shows every season that attempt to capture some of the magic of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and which lean on familiar elements: unwitting teens thrust into war, factions with relatable causes that highlight the brutality of said war, etc. But there’s a reason that shows like Evangelion are timeless while we’ll all forget about ARGEVOLLEN in half a second: Evangelion turned the entire concept of “mecha anime” on its head and did so with creative flair, while ARGEVOLLEN and its litany of forebearers – Fafner, Genesis of Aquarion, and Jesus Christ does the list go on – is that it doesn’t have an interesting bone in its boring body.
ARGEVOLLEN just assumes that by giving its characters and landscapes a bunch of silly made-up names that it’ll stand out somehow. It doesn’t. I can’t remember any of the characters’ names, other than I can just spout out nonsense like “Fiblledybib” or “Grunkenshunker” and be mostly correct.
ARGEVOLLEN is tepidly streaming on Crunchyroll.
3. Sword Art Online II
Here we go again with another sequel to a recent anime hit. Sword Art Online was yet another tale about a group of kids battling it out in an online MMO, with the twist being, of course, “IF YOU DIE IN THE GAME, YOU DIE FOR REAL.” Sword Art Online was a thrillingly animated tour-de-force, showcasing the talents of the animators at A1 Pictures. Unfortunately, the story was boilerplate at best, and downright creepy at worst.
So, here’s the sequel. Any better?
Not really, but it’s certainly not any worse. I guess it depends on your opinion of the first season; if, by the end, the implicit incestual overtones (spoiler alert) didn’t drive you away screaming, then more of the wonderfully animated same is probably up your alley. If Sword Art Online didn’t strike your fancy the first time around, like most sequels, Sword Art Online II won’t change your mind.
Also, there’s a villain called “Death Gun” who uses a gun. Presumably to give people the Death.
Sword Art Online II is up for Death Gunning on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
4. Tokyo ESP
Speaking of boilerplate! How’s about a show featuring a motley crew of teenagers who suddenly find themselves embued with powerful psychic abilities sound?
Sound a bit familiar? X-Men much? Yep, that’s Tokyo ESP. If the daily trials and tribulations of troubled teens coming to grasp with their burgeoning supernatural powers is up your alley, then boy, Tokyo ESP was made for you in mind.
Other than that, Tokyo ESP is a show I would describe as “fine.” Perfectly serviceable in all aspects, it features a likeable cast of familiar tropes and themes and executes them without any signature finesse or style. Not to say the show isn’t entertaining, mind you; I watched through the first four episodes without incident. I was mildly curious throughout those episodes to see if the show matured into more than just the sum of its parts, but it never did, and while I wasn’t ecstatic, I can’t say I was underwhelmed.
Tokyo ESP is perfectly fine time-kill fodder. Watch some anime kids use their powers to fight bad guys, watch them struggle with their feelings for one another while also struggling to muster their individual strengths to fight said bad guys, and so on.
Catch Tokyo ESP‘s teenage mumblings on Hulu.
Yet another show I wouldn’t hesitate to throw under the “boilerplate” territory is Aldnoah.Zero, a mecha show in the same category as ARGEVOLLEN. Unlike ARGEVOLLEN, Aldnoah.Zero didn’t make me say “ARGE” as much as it made me say “huh?”
Aldnoah.Zero actually has some pedigree behind it, namely the handiwork of animation studio A1 Pictures (the fine artists behind Sword Art Online) and the writing skills of veteran anime scribe Gen Urobochi (he of Fate/Zero fame). Unfortunately, the result is a scattershot assemblage of used mecha anime parts.
Essentially, the plot involves, yet again, a group of ragtag teenage misfits from warring factions – this time, an alternate history timeline wherein Mars is colonized and wages war against the tyrranical rule of Earthlings. It’s filled with the usual hokum; the protagonist and supposed antagonist have misgivings about the actions of their homeland, and fate has them fight for their territory in a cruel twist of irony. There’s also a heaping fuck-ton of made-up jargon and silly names, showing once again that you just can’t duplicate the success of Mobile Suit Gundam just by jamming a bunch of English consonants together.
Watch Aldnoah.Zero abuse the alphabet on Crunchyroll.
Read on for better anime about assassins, monsters and terrorists!
1. Akame ga KILL!
On the flipside of the boilerplate coin is Akame ga KILL!, which is boilerplate as fuck and doesn’t give a single shit about it. It’s refreshing, really.
The plot: a young lad strides into the corrupt big city hoping to make it big as a soldier and save his rinkydink small town from economic destitution, and instead finds himself knee-deep in a group of assassins scouting for talent as they wipe the landscape clean of scum and villainy.
Did I mention that this show is violent and bloody as hell? Because it is. And it’s awesome.
Cartoonish bad guys who give drugs to poor people get cut in half. Villains with their arms cut off reveal guns hidden in their mouths. Swords the size of living people are used to their fullest extent, gutting and slicing motherfuckers hither and yon.
Akame ga KILL! is like anime comfort food for me. It’s lighthearted, colorful, and as gory as Ninja Scroll. Check it out if you’re in the mood for some fanciful violence.
Akame ga KILL! flows like crimson from the servers at Crunchyroll.
2. Tokyo Ghoul
Not fanciful, but definitely violent, is Tokyo Ghoul. Coming off the heels of the Twilight bandwagon of “secret underground societies of supernatural beings infiltrating typical high-school life,” Tokyo Ghoul features the trials and tribulations of “Ghouls,” essentially ghosts with supernatural powers and spirit weapons, fighting against humans and other “Ghouls” who align themselves with mere mortals.
Nothing much happens in this show to elicit any sympathy within any of the characters, who are about as developed and interesting as a grocery store paperback, but it does offer lots of blood and viscera! Otherwise, seek your entertainment elsewhere.
Tokyo Ghoul haunts the halls at Hulu.
3. Terror in Resonance
If I had to list one specific “Must Watch” anime series of the summer, that title would undoubtedly go to Terror in Resonance, a problematic mystery/thriller from the mind of anime wunderkind Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame.
I say “problematic” without hesitation because, without giving too much away, Terror in Resonance asks the audience, quite brazenly, to watch the misadventures of two literal domestic terrorists. Two young teenage boys, with mysterious pasts of course, who are of brilliant minds and superhuman skills decide they are going to “change the world” and do that by setting off bombs in various buildings.
Granted, the two troublemakers go to great pains to avoid any fatalities with their handiwork, but it is troubling in this post-9/11 world that is America to be fully engaged in a show about, well, terrorists.
It also doesn’t help that the two leads are uber-kawaii bishounen, leading to some troubling fanart.
Anyway. Terror in Resonance somehow manages to sidestep these issues by slowly building an intriguing backstory to these boys – Who are they? Why do they refer to each other by a number instead of any names? What’s up with the childhood flashbacks? – and also through skilled, economical execution. The direction is superb, and all the while, the two boys are hounded by a dogged, disgraced detective who disciphers their riddles and sees through their schemes.
It’s all terrific entertainment, shouldered on top of a rather controversial topic. Kudos to the brass balls of Watanabe to make such intelligent and interesting viewing out of such a hot-button issue.
That’s all the new anime I saw this summer! I’ll probably do another one of these for the fall, so stay tuned!
Previously from Brian Hanson:
The 10 Worst American “Anime” Ripoffs
7 Reasons Why Remaking Final Fantasy VII is a Terrible Idea
Ten Manga and Anime Artists That Nearly Worked Themselves to Death