The end of the Winter 2013 season is a bit of a mixed bag, but the series that finished strong more than made up for the ones that finished not so strong. No Winter series was able to challenge the excellent second cours of New World or Tempest, but Kotoura-san and OreShura had strong final runs that fully validated our sticking with them.
The Unlimited, Tamako Market, and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha had okay endings, while Vividred Operation and Amnesia suffered from comparatively clunky ones, but even a couple poor endings couldn’t undo many weeks of solid entertainment these shows provided through the cold months.
As we close the book on everything below (except for Chihayafuru, which we hope is just getting warmed up), we’re looking forward not only to longer days, open windows, and lower gas bills, but to a Spring 2013 series that brings back two franchises we’ve enjoyed in the past (Oreimo and Railgun), plus a bevy of shows with lots of potential. We’ll also try to be better with spotting Car Cameos going forward!
11. Vividred Operation – Complete (6.417) – We liked the character development, especially the misunderstanding between Rei and the girls getting cleared up…but the Big Bad Alone Boss at the end was dull and underwhelming, and the last-minute restoration of Rei’s world was clumsily handled
10. Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited – Hyoubu Kyousuke – Complete (6.500) – The penultimate episode felt to us like a contrived waste of time, but the finale was much better, sticking with the message that family can save you – even from yourself
9. Amnesia – Complete (6.667) – Things were resolved, but with the aid of lots of magic-talk and explanations, and not quite deserving of all the build-up. We also wanted to see the heroine’s original world, but were left hanging
8. Tamako Market – Complete (7.000) – A sweet, quiet ending in which Tamako finally puts into words her love of her home and her desire to stay. The fact she’s not really a bride candidate rendered the whole Choi/Dera/Prince thing irrelevant, and instead they were simply three more characters touched by the charm of Bunny Mountain
7. OreShura – Complete (7.462) – Strong in its home stretch, OreShura was open and honest about Eita’s predicament, and the untenable, unfair nature of continuing with a harem. His final choice was predictable, but sensible, and it wasn’t a choice devoid of consequences; it deeply hurt the other three girls in the running
6. Maoyuu Maou Yuusha – Complete (7.667) – A somewhat rushed ending that stuffed a lot of things in. Our favorite episode is the one with the young maid pretending to be Maou, standing up to the church. It was a wonderful microcosm of the series and the huge, rich world it built
5. Chihayafuru 2 – 12/25 (7.750 ▼) – About halfway through, and the series still comes up with different kinds of opponents, ways of playing karuta, and always-thrilling matches. We especially like the smaller scenes between Arata and Shinobu, indicating the latter is Chihaya’s rival in love (or something like it) as well as karuta.
4. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – 11/12 (7.818) – We liked how the series made Sasami’s mother Juju a super-evil villain, but then realistically reconciled the two over a couple episodes. We’ll have to wait for the finale to see if her friend Jou still has dark designs
3. Kotoura-san – Complete (8.083 ▲) – In its final episodes it turned down the silly pervert stuff and went back to the dark drama of the first episode that got us invested in the first place. Ends its final arc an episode early so it can tie up loose ends in the finale, including Kotoura and Manabe declaring their mutual love.
2. From the New World – Complete (8.417) – Truly outstanding effort, taking Saki from her isolated village to a ruined Tokyo and putting her thorough a few more circles of hell before defeating Yakomaru with a simple trick. We also loved the epilogue in which Saki marries Satoru and they conceive a child who inspires hope rather than fear
1. Zetsuen no Tempest – Complete (8.818) – It was sad that Aika had to die, but she was committed to playing the role she was given and following the script to the letter. Her sacrifice brought everyone together into what was essentially a family that kept their world from resetting and civilization from being blasted. We’ll miss this one
At the OreDere contest, Chiwa goes first, and delivers a heartfelt confession to Eita. Next is Himeko, who has stage fright and clings to Eita in the back of the crowd; the cameras eventually fall on her as she confesses. Ai is disqualified, leaving Masuzu, who arrives on stage disinterested and depressed. Eita works to snap her out of it, joining her on the stage, confessing to and kissing her in front of everyone. None of the girls win. The next morning Masuzu jumps into bed with Eita and tells him she loveshim. Eita tries his aunt’s advice to get the other three girls to hate him, but he fails with all three, and remains on the battlefield route.
A horrible girl like you could only have a horrible guy like me by your side.
You know what? Credit where credit’s due, OreShura didn’t screw the pooch on the ending. Eita chose a route, going for his ugly, beautiful, fake girlfriend and making his commitment to her real. This despite extremely moving cases made by Chiwa and Hime, but particularly Chiwa. She, and to a lesser extent Ai, have been sitting back and waiting so long for Eita to notice them, and…then Masuzu showed up. Theirs wasn’t a real courtship at first, but it became one. Years of being treated as a “jewel” have scarred her, but Eita is committed to making her happy, and positive they’re the only ones for one another.
You might say, “wasn’t this the most predictable ending the show could have come up with?” Well, yeah – we said that in our review of episode one:
Our suspicion is that one or the other or both will lose perspective as the fake relationship becomes more real.
But it was also the most logical, sensible, and satisfying way to end things. A harem was unsustainable and unfair to all participants. And while Eita isn’t able to make Hime, Ai, or Chiwa hate him, none of them can claim ignorance about Eita’s sincerity any longer, and that’s proven when all three girls tell him they had a rough night after the contest. That’s because the lying stopped, Eita made a definite choice and stood by it. The choice isn’t easy for either him or us, as part of us remained sympathetic to Chiwa’s case, but ultimately, we think he made the right one – anything was preferable to perpetuating the harem.
Rating: 8 (Great)
With the order exactly as planned with no surprises, Mizusawa begins its semifinal match against Akashi First Girls School. Chihaya is against Ousaka Megumu whom many present believe will challenge Shinobu. She also proves much faster than the last match Chihaya watched her in, and takes the first four cards in a row. Chihaya settles herself, and Oe gives her a supportive pat on the shoulder and refers to a refreshing poem about the last day of summer. Chihaya gets back into the game.
Their last two matches were against eccentric and ultimately weaker opponents, but this time Mizusawa’s facing a serious, dedicated team with a powerful ace, just like them. Ousaka Megumi in particular will not be easy to defeat, as her entire team has dedicated themselves to make her a player worthy of the queen’s crown, after her meteroic rise due in part to beginner’s luck. That said, she’s not much of a character per se; more of a collection of clashing attributes (ordinary, sharp-tongued, popular).
As such, we’re not really sure what to think of her beyond what she shows on the surface, which is, at the end of the day, arrogance. She’s been riding her momentum and wants to be in the final now, never mind how disrespectful or even foolish such a mindset is. Karuta isn’t about shortcuts; skipping an opponent would deprive herself of vital experience. This match is important enough to occupy two episodes of which this is the first, and while the flashbacks can’t entirely avoid the appearance of padding, they’re pleasant enough.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Kenjirou believes the uber-alone to be beyond anyone’s ability to defeat, even the Vivid girls. But Akane refuses to give up, finding Rei’s key washed up on the beach, and deciding to fly to the alone where Rei is trapped inside but alive. The others follow. The alone settles over the Manifestor Core and starts sapping energy. Akane docks with Himawari, Wakaba, and Aoi in sequence to break through the alone’s armor, while the others’ suits fail and they fall to the earth. Before the alone can kill them, Akane docks with Rei to create VividRed, who lands a massive, fatal punch to the alone, destroying it. The five girls reunite but a strange ribbon appears in the air telling Rei her world has been restored. A door appears, and Akane gives her the key. She says they’ll meet again, and after a little time passes, Rei returns.
Once the character issues were resolved, all four girls became BFFs, and the Rei’s misunderstanding was rectified, the series kinda ran out of things we cared that much about. Sure, the Big Bad was still there, but suddenly swallowing Rei last week turned out to be the most interesting thing it would ever do. This week it simply laughs an evil laugh, boasts and gloats, and talks about judging and erasing, and we simply don’t care because the girls will obviously defeat it. Worse, the peril was mired in technobabble; Kenjirou was trying in vain to explain what was happening whan what was happening didn’t really make sense. An event horizon that threaten’s the entire universe? We ask you.
Dispatching the alone did at least require some unprecedented tactics, including Akane docking with all three of the other girls one by one, which gave them something to do. And we knew if Rei showed back up this week, the series would have her dock with Akane too. She’s purple, after all. The resulting Vividred avatar was a successful melange of the two girls’ looks. And she blowed stuff up real good. You’d think that would be all and Rei would start hanging out with the girls all the time, but then, in the most-tacted on last-minute twist imaginable, Akane just blurts out “They’re going to fix it!”, refering to the alone-makers deciding to restore Rei’s world, which we thought was almost as cheap as Aoi secretly hating tomatoes.
So yeah, while the alone thing needed a resolution, we leave this series thinking it ran an episode too long.
Rating: 5 (Average)
Yuusha coaxes the ancient Demon King to leave Maou’s body, which is his property. The Mage goes to the Winter King & Co. with information about a smallpox vaccine, which could be used to end the war. The crazed one-eyed commander attacks the Maid sisters, but the young soldier intervenes and kills him. Onna-Kishi drives away the Central army. Back in the Central capital the leader of the church conspires with a demon general, promising him the Southern Triad he’s about to conquer. Maou addresses her people in the Demon realm, telling them her intentions to begin negotiating a peace with humans, an arrangement the Alliance merchant supports. Maou, Yuusha, Onna-Kishi, the three maids have a celebratory feast, and Maou reflects on the progress she and everyone else has made.
This didn’t really feel like an ending. Aside from a few flourishes and jumping from place to place a bit more rapidly, it wasn’t all that grand. But maybe it wasn’t the episode’s intention to feel like an ending. In fact, it’s the continuation and beginning of far more things than it is the end of. Now reunited, Yuusha will remain by Maou’s side, providing awesome displays of power when necessary, or just a warm shoulder to lean on. She has sown the first seeds of liberalism and enlightenment-style civilization, but many, many challenges lie ahead. Maou is proud of the progress and in awe of the humans who have helped her and themselves. But no one’s under any illusions that it’s smooth sailing from here on out.
The demon realm initially takes her announcement of a moot to mean they’re going to war with the humans, not about to make peace. Rogue demons are in league with the human church, scheming in gilded halls to keep the people down with constant war and strife, undermining everything. And they have honest-to-goodness guns, which is worrying. The vaccine likely won’t go down easy, if the potato incident is any indication. And those are just the obvious bumps along the road, many more could spring up that can’t be predicted. So there’s a lot on the demon king’s plate, but she’s come too far and loves the world too much to give up.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Yoshino is shot in the arm, but not seriously hurt. Hanemura attacks the Genesis pillar, but his blows aren’t strong enough, and the tree viciously retaliates. Samon, Natsumuura and Tetsuma use magic to protect the nearby ships to minimize casualties. Hanemura sinks into the water, but the Sword of Exodus teleports to his location, and he uses it to destroy Genesis once and for all. All the magic in the world goes with it, leaving the Kusaribe clan powerless. Crime, war, and strife returns to the world, but it was not reset. Yoshino and Mahiro watch the goodbye video Aika recorded for them. Mahiro vows to keep working to one day save the world. Hakaze leaves her village and travels to Yoshino.
Everything came together very nicely in the finale to what turned out to be one of the highest-rated we’ve ever watched. That means most of it was gripping, powerful drama tinged with a surprising amount of comedy; a story about grant plans for the world and rival gods that did not forget about little moments between two people, however oddly-matched. Enemies became friends and then family. The hero who saves the world this time (Hanemura) is merely creating the opportunity for it to be saved again (Mahiro). The grief of a lost love is mitigated by all the good that loss did, and by a new potential love.
The final battle with the pillar, Eva-inspired super-weapons and all, was great fun, but the emotional heart of this episode is in the aftermath, in a world with no more magic. It’s striking how cheerful Samon and his men are, for one, but then why wouldn’t they be, the world’s been saved! People get on with their lives, and Aika gives her brother and boyfriend a properly Aika goodbye, complete with one last tease. But Mahiro gets all philosophical, pointing out that while everything came to a very good end doesn’t mean he has to like her means. She lived her life by a script not of her own making (that he knew of) and played her destined role, but he’s going to write his own script and shape his own destiny.
We’ll close with a quote by the initially reluctant but ultimately successful hero:
[This is] a story about those who seemed to have lost something, but were able to gain something by coming together.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Yuriko disbands the ESP Society, and starts a new one with the mission of having fun with Kotoura. Before going out for karaoke, Yuriko apologizes to her for using her. Kotoura realizes that Manabe has never directly said he loves her, and it weighs on her mind. She arrives home to find her mother there, and in the middle of dinner they have it out, and when her mom falls asleep she learns of her tremendous guilt ever since walking out on her. After seeking advice from Moritani and Muroto, on Christmas Eve while with Manabe, Kotoura casually declares her love. Genuinely unaware he’d never done so out loud, Manabe does the same.
Everyone at some point or another wishes they could read the minds of others, but like few other works on the subject, Kotoura-san proves such an ability carries its own set of pitfalls and complications, and makes life more difficult, not less. While telepathy is a supernatural power, this series stayed grounded in reality (aside from that stupid theme park), and was utterly dedicated to painting portraits of likable, sympathetic characters. The attacker arc having concluded last week, this episode had room to breathe and tie up all the loose ends that had accumulated, and ties them up brilliantly, one by one.
First, Yuriko does what she believes is necessary by prostrating herself before Kotoura for the selfish agenda she pursued for most of the series. But from Kotoura’s POV, she’d already apologized every time she looked at her, and whatever Yuriko’s intentions, Kotoura made found a place where she could be herself thanks to her, so there was good in her bad. Moritani has a weight of her shoulders, and perhaps most surprising was that Kotoura’s mom showed up of her own accord, and Kotoura learned things about her mom reading her mind in one night that erased years of misconception about her. Their cathartic pillow fight and reconciliation is a highlight of the episode.
It would’ve been the highlight, but for the loosest end of the series, which was left until the end: the verbal confirmation of Kotoura and Manabe’s mutual love for each other, and the official start of their romantic relationship. We like Muroto’s quick but sage advice to simply let it slip out naturally and avoid overplanning, as planning breeds overthinking, and as he points out, Kotoura has a knack for self-destruction. We love the simplicity, warmth, and sweetness of their declaration. It was what we’d been waiting for. It was the perfect way to close the year’s top dark horse; a series we hadn’t even planned to watch this Fall, but were very glad we did.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Prince Mechya Mochimazzi arrives at the shopping district and everyone assumes it’s to “collect” Tamako, who still goes to school, but her mind is preoccupied. Finally, she decides to politely decline the offer, but Mechya tells her she was never a candidate; Dera confused Tamako’s smell with that of the flowers the florist stocks. The Prince and Choi return home, but Dera stays until New Years, after which he plans to leave without saying goodbye, but falls asleep in a bouquet Mochizou orders for Tamako’s birthday.
One thing this series has made abundantly clear is that the Bunny Mountain shopping district is a wonderful place to grow up, live, work, and play. There’s never a dull moment, and just about every day has a festival atmosphere. Another thing made clear is that Tamako loves this place very much, and everyone in it. She has that big medal to prove it, along with the love of everyone else right back at her. Which is why despite knowing next to nothing about the outside world, she declines the offer. It turned out to be a misunderstanding anyway, but Tamako didn’t know that at the time she made her not trivial decision.
Frankly, we couldn’t see her anywhere else but the district. Perhaps one day she’ll pick up on Mochizou’s feelings, return them, get married, and they’ll grow old running the mochi shops, training their children to do the same. Happens all the time; absolutely nothing wrong with that. One thing this series lacked was a district character who had actually been in the outside world and came back. Something tells us that while people may stop by for extended visits, like Dera and Choi, ultimately this is place you either leave or stay. And Tamako doesn’t want to leave. She’s never felt lonely or restless here. It’s where feels she belongs, and it’s more than enough world for her.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
By using the Turtle Team’s 38(t) as a chock and the Duck Team’s Type 89 as a turret block, Ooarai is able to defeat the Maus. They then proceed to split up the remaining Black Forest tanks. The M3 is able to take out an Elefant and Jagdtiger before they’re white-flagged, while the Leopon Team’s Porsche Tiger blocks the entrance to an office courtyard where the two flag tanks face off. Miho plans one last all-or-nothing maneuver, and her team carries it out perfectly, destroying Maho’s Tiger and winning the day.
We pretty much knew this series would end with a bang, but Girls und Panzer really outdid themselves in its final week, with outrageous tactical maneuvers, serious David-v.-Goliath action, and of course, the sweet taste of victory against the most insufferably arrogant of opponents. The methodical Maus takedown was just an appetizer. The first-years mastering narrow alleys to take out far larger, stronger opponents, along with that final showdown between Nishizumi sisters made this a joy to watch from start to finish. Plus, lots of guns go boom.
What was so satisfying about the win was that it wasn’t all that far-fetched; Ooarai lost all their tanks but their flag, and that last shot could have gone either way. Miho’s and Ooarai’s big win means more than just bragging rights. Ooarai Girl’s School was on the edge of the abyss, and the win saved it from shutting down. Miho’s sister admits total defeat, which couldn’t have been easy considering she’d been conditioned her whole life not to do so, and even Miho’s mom can’t help but applaud her wayward daughter. Auf wiedersehen, Girls und Panzer: you delivered exactly what your title promised, and then some.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Ukyou chases the heroine around the burning church with a knife, but keeps changing back to his gentle, caring self, who tells her her death in this church started everything. He wished she could live, and Orion’s creator, Neil, granted his wish by sending him to worlds where she was still alive, but only one of them could live in whatever world they ended up in. He stabs himself to stop the evil him from killing her. She ends up in limbo, where Orion explains what happened. Neil thanks her for restoring his powers. Neil in turn will restore her memories and let her return to her original world.
We’ll be honest, we were dreading both the possibility that this would go on for another slow, deliberate season, or worse, the ending wouldn’t be told until who-knows-when in some future film of OVA. Fortunately, neither happened, and we got a definite end that competently explained the mystery of the heroine’s predicament, Ukyou’s full role, and the real reason Orion was by her side for most of her journey. Most of these answers are delivered rather matter-of-factly through exposition, much of it either happening while Nice Ukyou peeks his persona in or by Orion in the checkered limbo when the cycle finally breaks. We’re somewhat conflicted with regards to whether all the explanation at the end works (the pop-up monitor Orion uses to show
recaps flashbacks is pretty silly).
On the one hand, we liked the idea of a wish gone wrong, Ukyou causing far more trouble for himself and his lover just because he wanted to see her again, and worlds that don’t like people who aren’t supposed to be there. On the other hand, neither Orion or Ukyou really earned the emotional resonance this episode was trying to peddle, the four other dudes are completely abandoned and while we really wanted to see just a smidgen of the heroine’s world, the end did not provide. Finally, the big NEIL reveal…just didn’t do anything for us. When weighing the pros and cons, this is a fittingly good but not great finale to a good but not great series.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Saotome plans to change the future in which espers revolt by using a hypnotized Yuugiri to assassinate New York’s new pro-esper mayor, starting riots and causing anti-esper sentiment to spread. Hyoubu penetrate’s Saotome’s elaborate lattice of illusions to get through to Yuugiri and break her hypnosis. His use of Unlimited causes his power to go out of control, but Andy and Yuugiri won’t abandon him: Andy uses his eye to stop the power overload. Hyoubu tracks down Saotome and erases his memories. Andy sets off on his own, but is made an honorary member of PANDRA.
If this is the end, it isn’t such a bad one.
Whoa, there, Hyoubu: we’ll be the judge of that! The finale ends in New York City, pretty much the last place you want ESP bombs like Yuugiri or Hyoubu going off, unless it’s your intent to cause mayhem. Saotome has clung to life just as Hyoubu has so that he can change the future he saw. He thought the survival of humanity required the subjugation of espers. Not surprisingly, his ethos loses out, thanks to Hyoubu’s persistence and Andy’s magic eye. Everyone else sits this out, with only token scenes of farewell, but the focus on Hyoubu, Saotomne, Andy and Yuugiri was as good a place as any to end things.
To its credit, this series doesn’t go longer than the twelve promised episodes, and manages to bring everything to a satisfying close. Hyoubu is ready to finally give in to the grim reaper, but his family stops him. He lives on to realize a future of equal rights for espers. One could say the doomsday Saotome warned is still in the cards, but screw that old man; his alternative future that curbs the freedom of an entire people wasn’t a future worth saving. Maybe a revolt has to happen if equality is ever going to be a reality.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Nishida thinks they should stick with the same team for the coming match against Shoyo, and gets angry when Tsutomu doesn’t protest. Chihaya decides to leave him out, realizing that Tsutomu is more tired from scouting other teams than Tsukuba is from playing matches. As he and Hanano rest, the rest of the team beats Shoyo, using Tsutomu’s data. Their next match is against Akashi First Girls, and Tsutomu is able to discern their makeup from Hanano’s notes. The two teams’ orders are exactly as suspected, suggesting Akashi has utmost faith that their ace can defeat Chihaya.
We have been watching March Madness, and one interesting moment in particular was when the cameras turned onto a solitary, bookish chap wearing a team t-shirt, pencil and pad in hand. This was the team’s Desktomu: observing and collecting data on every aspect of the game. While what Tsutomu is doing isn’t strictly SABRmetrics, it is another instance of a trend towards using statistics to gain an edge – great or slight – in sports that have traditionally gone without. It’s evolution that both irks purists and excites those interested in a sport’s future. And in team Mizusawa’s case, it hasn’t let them down yet (though that doesn’t mean it’ll always work perfectly, or at all).
Porky projects his past self on Tsutomu when he tells him he’s fine sitting out the next match, but what he fails to realize is that Tsutomu does have the drive; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to wrench vital data from the last team that lost to Shoyo; data even Nishida must use to win. A teams weaknesses can be hard to pick out in the heat of a match, but Tsutomu does the team’s homework, and they plan their strategy accordingly. Even Hanano’s seemingly superficial notes are detailed enough in their superficiality for Tsutomu to create basic personality profiles. But there’s one big difference that unathletic kid at courtside and Tsutomu: Tsutomu can play the actual game, and in the next match, he will.
Rating: 8 (Great)