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It’s been a long time since I’ve actually written much here, let alone anything about anime. I don’t have a plan for this but I think I’ll just ramble about as many titles as I can remember watching over the last few years, or at least the ones that I never wrote anything about on here.

Guess I better clarify that this only goes for completed series and not any of the ongoing shonen epics that have been sucking up my life for months/years on end.

Canaan (2009)
Action series following the exploits of an assassin with extraordinary senses and physical skills. The title character, a tetrachromat who possesses a variety of synesthestic traits, allowing her to sense people and perceive the intent of their actions in advance, is a pretty interesting starting point for a story. Sadly, this isn’t utilized very often in service of the story — even when it is, you’re left with the sense that they’re pretty much making it all up as they go along — or even to make the action scenes much more interesting than any other girls-with-guns series that I’ve ever watched. Admittedly, that’s not very many, but maybe that’s telling in itself. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’d already seen this before. The animation was really well done, at times there were some imaginative effects, and there’s careful attention to detail of scenery as the characters travel the globe and battle it out in some pretty fantastic settings. This was not bad, but it wasn’t very memorable, either.

WataMote (2013)
I tend to have a love/hate relationship with such blatant otaku-bait as this, but I also love socially awkward, dorky girls, so watching this was a no-brainer for me. I was apprehensive at first, because although I loved the first few episodes, I’d had a similar experience with Oreimo before it pulled a bait-and-switch after episode 3 or so. Thankfully WataMote never descends into such self-congratulatory nonsense and remains painfully cringeworthy from beginning to end, turning the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every other high school-themed anime of the 00’s on its head. Some viewers thought it went too far. Others thought it didn’t go far enough! Your milage may vary. Tomoko’s struggle to make friends, establish a charismatic identity for herself, stave off boredom and find a fulfilling outlet for her raging hormones results in failure after spectacular failure, her ignorance of social norms invoking our compassion and no small amount of sadistic schadenfreude. If this makes you uncomfortable, it’s a good sign that somewhere in your wretched soul, there’s still a sliver of humanity left that hasn’t been destroyed by shit like…

Guilty Crown (2011)
Absolutely one of the most derivative, pandering, manipulative series I’ve ever watched. Beautiful animation and exciting action sequences repeatedly build up a sense of promise that this is going somewhere special. Unfortunately, the story falls by the wayside time and time again for episodes that trot out and celebrate some of the most lazy cliches that have plagued anime for the past decade. Maybe if I’d watched this before Persona 4 (which aired a season or two after Guilty Crown), I’d be a little more lenient, but there’s no excuse for the depths that this willingly sinks to over and over again, or the way that fans mindlessly lapped it up without a second thought (the “beach episode” was bad enough, but how this actually happened without viewers storming the studio with torches and pitchforks, I cannot understand). Ripping off themes, tone, tropes and imagery from Evangelion, Code Geass and God knows what else, Guilty Crown copies and pastes lucrative archetypes onto an admittedly pretty canvas, confirming that viewers will gobble up anything as long as it’s emotionally cloying and thematically “epic” enough. Even the central protagonist, who I initially found very intriguing and empathetic, feels like a Gary Stu created to massage the deepest insecurities of its beta male fans. None of these are new complaints. What critics of the series don’t talk about is its constant, unceasing sexual objectification of its female characters, who are — I’m not making this up or exaggerating — treated as erotic objects or fantasy-fulfilling archetypes in literally every scene they appear in. Even when they’re portrayed as “strong” characters of their own agency, as they often are, they do so dressed in a series of fetish-appeasing outfits — school uniforms, swimsuits, rubberized (?) catsuits that fit their slender bodies several orders of magnitude tighter than Evangelion‘s plugsuits could ever compare to — which the camera lovingly lingers on, studying the nuances of impossibly-perfect adolescent anatomy in shot after uncomfortably long shot. They’re also sexually harassed and tied up in scenes that don’t exist for any reasons other than to lovingly linger on their helplessness and vulnerability in particularly nasty and demeaning ways (I suppose these scenes exist to anger and thus motivate our protagonist, the only character whose feelings or dignity is consistently considered in the slightest). There’s a certain kind of routine misogyny that’s all over TV these days, titillating viewers with the imminent thread of rape and sexualized murder, all the while masquerading as a condemnation of said act, and that kind of two-faced attitude about female (dis)empowerment is all over the place here. Even during their moments of independent action and free agency, the female characters are still dissected and ogled by the animators. Heck, the “Gainax bounce” is gleefully borrowed at will and features prominently in one of our heroine’s most dramatic scenes. I lap up fanservice as much as anyone else but the way it was handled here, not to mention to general incoherency of the plot, left an awful taste in my mouth and feels symptomatic of some kind of mental illness pervading the entire anime industry, to say nothing of the fandom that keeps it going.

Sword Art Online (2012)
.hack//Sign (admittedly, the only series in the .hack franchise that I’ve seen) was an often-frustrating series for me, as the plot took a relatively long time to really get going, and characters would repeatedly balk at the chance to interact and produce any kind of meaningful action that would affect any change in the story. But it had its heart in the right place and eventually hit its stride, and by the end, all of the main characters had achieved something that mattered. I mention the series because, justifiably or not, it’s the easiest comparison at hand for Sword Art Online, which begins with a similar premise about strangers meeting in the immersive virtual world of a futuristic MMORPG. The fast-moving plot quickly sucks the viewer into the story, which is immediately more satisfying and pleasing than that other series (which I’ll try not to mention from this point on). Our likable protagonists’ lack of faults or any kind of complexity is perfect for the narcissistic audience this was surely made for. The misogyny of the second half of this series is truly something to behold but you’ll probably be too busy wondering what the point of it all is to be bothered by it. This is never quite as manipulative or pandering as Guilty Crown but still deserves a hearty spanking for privileging style over substance and indulging in a lot of tired and creepy clichés. I can’t recommend this in good conscience but I’ll admit that I enjoyed it in the same way that I’d probably enjoy seeing all those summer blockbuster films that I slag without ever having actually watched.

Accel World (2012)
I couldn’t tell you a single interesting thing about this other than the fact that I really enjoyed it in spite of its reliance on a lot of shonen cliches. Or… did I like it because of those cliches? I don’t feel like I’m ready to work that out just yet. A lot of really pretty animation here, but still not as pretty as…

Space Dandy (2014)
Speaking of hype, few series in recent years have arrived to such great expectations as Space Dandy, which seemed to confuse and offend viewers expecting a more straightforward, plot-driven story without any distracting nonsense like humor or actual science fiction. This is every bit the masterpiece that everyone had hoped, but in none of the ways that anyone was sure to expect. Every episode here stands alongside the best stand-alone episodes of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo and even raises the bar when it comes to its outrageously imaginative storylines and daring visual style, which are never predictable, consistently hilarious, and unexpectedly heartwarming. Did the first episode rub everyone the wrong way? It would be a serious tragedy if we don’t appreciate these episodes or the NEW SEASON beginning in a few weeks. This is the best thing I’ve watched in at least 5 years and never failed to cheer me up from beginning to end. I don’t understand why this was panned as one of the year’s biggest disappointments, apparently. I mean, I can venture to guess but instead I’d rather just recommend it with my whole heart and hope that you give it a chance.