Summer 2014 Anime: First Impressions Part 1

It’s not often that I find myself watching more anime in a winter/summer season than I am in spring/fall, but here we are! I stuck to five series in the spring: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Mushi-shi Season 2, The World is Still BeautifulCaptain Earth and Haikyuu! (I tried Ping-Pong and found it wasn’t for me.) And yet, I find myself following a lot more in the usual drought that is anime’s summer season.

Granted, many of these are continuations of spring series; Jojo’sCaptain Earth and Haikyuu! are all soldiering on for the next several months, at least. But there were also a number of new summer series – or sequels of previous series I enjoyed – that intrigued me. Let’s look at some first impressions.

I’ll be starting with the second seasons/reboots, and get to the brand-new stuff in a future post after I have two or three episodes to discuss.

FREE! ETERNAL SUMMER: Episodes 1 and 2

Haru (right) and Sousuke, a new rival for Rin’s affections?

Like a lot of anime viewers who are attracted to men, I had a blast with Kyoto Animation’s effort last summer to even the fanservice playing field a bit. I deliciously drank up both the sexist fanboy tears over its existence, and enjoyed the hell out of its homoerotic ab monsters, as they shed their clothes and glistened with pool water. Free! is far from ground-breaking television, but it does what it’s trying to do pretty well. Its characters are simple but never feel stereotypical, and are always entertaining and fun. And its storylines may be well-trod ground for anime about school clubs, but they’re written and directed well-enough that you’re drawn in anyway. Plus, it has the top-notch visuals one expects with any KyoAni effort. Needless to say, I was more than ready for season two this year.

The first episode makes it clear this new season is a show for existing fans, with many shot-by-shot visual references to the series premiere. I still found myself enjoying it, but wondering where the show was going. Well, with this week’s episode, now we know: The series introduced two fun new characters, a cute but somewhat mysterious boy from Rin’s past named Sousuke; and departed Samezuka captain’s energetic and even more girl-crazy younger brother. The former seems to be setting up for fresh tension between Rin and Haru now that Rin’s softened a bit, and both give us reasons to care about the Samezuka team beyond merely being the Vocal Adrenaline to Iwatobi’s New Directions, if you will. (Yeah, I haven’t watched Glee in a few seasons, either.)

SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL: Episode 1

Gaze in wonder at them pretty backgrounds. Ignore that Usagi’s hair kinda looks like tentacle spaghetti.

You could say I’m a pretty dedicated Moonie. I’ve read the entire manga, seen most of the old DiC English dub and I’m now making my way through the original anime as it gets released by Viz on Hulu. I’ve even seen the infamous live-action series. (I don’t think it’s quite deserving of said infamy, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) I’ve written endless posts for Autostraddle and now, Bitch about its feminism, and how its queer characters helped me come to terms with my own sexuality.

So you could also say I’m pretty well-prepared to review this first episode of the reboot series of Sailor Moon Crystal, and yet, in many ways that extra level of familiarity is a handicap more than a helper. I’ve seen this first episode’s story so many times, in so many forms, it’s hard to talk much about it on its own. So let’s instead talk about the presentation of this first episode, and what it indicates about the different beast this reboot might be.

Sailor Moon Crystal is a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood type of reboot; it faithfully follows the manga plot where the original anime diverged (albeit, not as much as in FMA’s case). It’s clearly inspired by the manga’s art style in its character designs, which were my least favorite things visually about this series; they look clunky and misplaced given the modern high-quality of all the other visuals, especially the backgrounds. More interestingly, the tonal and character-focus differences between the two main versions of Sailor Moon are already clear from this first installment. As I said in the Bitch article, there’s less camp and visual gags here than in the original anime, and the music is more dramatic, replacing the sleazy jazz of the old series. Usagi is also at the center of the story, with Tuxedo Mask merely looming imposingly in the background rather than saving her as he did in the previous anime.

It’s a little less fun than the old series, but should be just as, if not more, epic in its action-adventure with the eye-popping visuals. And the darker manga plot should reward adult fans of the series as much as the silliness of the first series did. Regardless, I know I’m too much of a Moonie not to stick with this one.

SPACE DANDY SEASON 2: Episode 1

SO MANY DANDIES!

Space Dandy is a series that I’ve always wanted to love more than I do. It’s a sci-fi parody show from one of my favorite anime auteurs, Shinichiro Watanabe. Its particular brand of sci-fi parody is cut from the same cloth as others I already adore (more on that in a moment). It already has a top-notch English dub airing at the same time as the Japanese version, something I love and hope to see more of as a dub fan (especially dubs from Funimation, like this is). So why does it feel like it doesn’t always land for me? Why, sometimes, am I glued to the TV, whereas other weeks it feels more like a fun background distraction while I get some writing done? Luckily, the show is episodic enough that that doesn’t matter too much if one doesn’t grab me a particular week. It effectively reboots itself the next week just fine.

All that said, this first episode in the new season shows some pretty strong promise for the show going forward. It’s a similar idea to the Family Guy “Road to the Multiverse” episode, except, of course, good, and not loaded with tired references. This week, when Dandy contemplates switching careers (which…about time, bro), he finds out that there are versions of his crew (him, Meow and QT) in every universe with differences in occupations and species, but from the same basic molds. It leads to the kinds of zany hijinks you would expect when they get all jumbled up in each other’s worlds, and endeavor to find ways back to their proper places. It includes some references (mostly to other anime, like Attack on Titan) but the real pull of the episode is looking at how all the different versions of these characters bounce off each other, and their madcap attempts to each get back home.

Space Dandy‘s episodic parodic nature makes it seem more like an American adult animated comedy than a Japanese one, which is why I’ve always thought it should have an even bigger U.S. audience than it already does. Its brand of affectionate sci-fi parody seems more indebted to classic Futurama and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than most other anime. But it has enough wit and craziness, and memorable characters, to charm you even if you don’t get the references, to anime, sci-fi clichés or anything else. All that means it’s the best pick this season to bring in non-anime fans, and luckily, they can check in anytime they want. This strong season opener suggests that there’s never a better time than now.

Up in Part 2: Terror in Resonance, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Love Stage and possibly more!

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One thought on “Summer 2014 Anime: First Impressions Part 1

  1. Pingback: Mixed Feelings About Sailor Moon Crystal | Rose's Turn

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