2011 So Far – in chart form

We like charts here on RABUJOI. This one plots the ratings of all the anime series we’ve reviewed so far in 2011. We’ve included Summer 2011 series, even though we’ve got 5-6 more weeks of episodes in those seasons. When the Summer season does conclude, we’ll update this chart.

So what do we see? Well, while we deem a 2.5 rating to be “Average”, our actual average is closer to 3.5, which we deem “Standout”. This is because there’s a lot of anime out there, but we try to only watch the best. There are exceptions, of course: the main outlier here is Morita-san wa Mukuchi, which rates just above 2 or “Mediocre” (UPDATE: As of episode 7, we’ve dropped Morita-san :P). There are a lot more series out there we’d probably rank this low or lower, but we don’t have the time or the stomachs to sit through them.

So why do we watch Morita-san wa Mukuchi? Well, it’s only three minutes long; hardly a major investment. So it isn’t that we rate high. We just watch series that regularly deserve above-average ratings. Thus when a truly brillant series comes around – like AnoHana or Mawaru Penguindrum, you’ll see a lot of 4s. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective. We also just like charts. Did we say that already?

2011 So Far

With most of Spring 2011 all wrapped up and the Summer 2011 season starting this weekend, it seemed a good time to line up all the series that have aired this year (excluding Fall 2010 carryovers) and see what’s what so far:

Episode # : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 AVG

AnoHana 4 4 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.955
[C] 3.5 4 4 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.909
Hanasaku Iroha 4 4 4 3.5 3.5 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 3.769
Puella Magi Madoka Magica 3.5 3.5 3 4 3.5 4 4 4 4 4 4 3.5 3.750
Deadman Wonderland 4 3.5 4 3.5 4 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.727
Level-E 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 4 4 3.538
Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.450
Fractale 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 3.364
Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 2.5 2 2.5 3.5 3.5 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 4 3.308
Sket Dance (First Half) 2.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3 4 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.308
Ao no Exorcist (First Half) 3.5 3 3.5 3.5 3 2.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3 3.273
The World God Only Knows II 3.5 3 3 2.5 3 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 2.5 3.250
Tiger & Bunny (First Half) 3.5 3 3 3.5 3 3 3 3 3.5 3.5 2.5 3 3.5 3.154

Weekly Average 3.4 3.3 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.7 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.8 3.520

Stray Observations:

•  Overall, Spring 2011 was a particularly good season. Even if I included the huge Fall 2010 season in the table above, the top three Spring series would still dominate the podium. Quality, not quantity. Summer 2011 has its work cut out for it.

• AnoHana, just an episode shy of perfection, became a personal favorite. [C] came two shy. These two series couldn’t be more different, but both rocked.

• Best Music: Taku Iwasaki. He provided the excellent score for [C], and has also scored Katanagatari, Gurren Lagann, Soul Eater, etc.

• Hanasaku Iroha sagged a bit in the middle there, but its first half began and ended extremely strong. And even those middle episodes had their charms. Looking forward to the second half this Summer.

• At first I didn’t quite know what to make of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, but it quickly found its stride and ended up one of my all-time favorites, despite its relatively modest score.

• Deadman Wonderland has just one episode to wrap everything up. This show deserves a second season. More than Tiger & Bunny.

• Level E and Denpa Onna both involve “aliens” of some kind – and both scored extremely consistent ratings. Moreso if Denpa’s final double episode is a good one.

 In hindsight, perhaps some episodes of Fractale were ranked too high. This is possibly due to the great visuals and imaginative setting, which carried that series.

• I was harsh in the beginning of Kimi ni Todoke’s second season, but perhaps that was just because I hadn’t quite settled back into the romantic futility. As a result, this series had the most rating variation.

• Sket Dance’s only flaw was its opening episode, with its red herring protagonist. Since then it’s been consistently funny and entertaining, so I’m sticking with it.

• I’m also optimistic about Ao no Exorcist‘s second half, but not as excited about Tiger & Bunny‘s. Prove me wrong, Tiger & Bunny!

• The World God Only Knows II took a dip of .167 below its first season. Hopefully, the third season will arrest that downward trend.

• Best Female Seiyu: Winter: Eri Kitamura as Sayaka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Spring: Haruka Tomatsu as Anaru in AnoHana. She was also Megumi in Shiki.

• Best Male Seiyu: Winter: Level E’s “Prince”,  Daisuke Namikawa.
Spring: Tomokazu Sugita as Sket Dance’s “Switch.”

Level E 13

Level E goes out on a lofty note, which is not surprising considering the high level of quality it has sustained. A somewhat inocuous cliffhanger last week instantly comes into play: and more signs that the princess is not who she says she is surface. What follows is an intoxicatingly entertaining and confident story of intergalactic political intrigue and cerebral (and physical) cat-and-mouse.

As per usual, this story never lets you see all the cards it’s holding until the very end, but you’re having so much fun, you don’t have time to scratch your head. Things are always kept nice and breezy, even with the fate of earth on the line, but the lack of serious drama is never a problem. When Prince’s brother – who turns out not to be his brother, but then again, actually is – attacks him with a sword, we see perhaps for the first time what a truly slippery bastard he is.

But that double-twist – that his brother and bride are impersonating imposters to attempt to trick him – is perfectly executed. His brother may not be a match for him, but the princess is at least a match for him in the brains department – and perhaps even someone worth falling in love with. Thus in this final arc, Prince’s whole purpose for being on earth – to find some exploit worth his time and effort – would seem to pay off. And the final twist with the cat…nice touch! Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.500

Level E 12

Wherein Prince’s royal duties finally catch up to him. His extremely conservative, polite, courteous younger brother arrives on earth. He’s a prince to, but he won’t allow his brother to shirk his responsibility to marry the princess of another world, a tradition that goes back generations and maintains peace and galactic balance. He wouldn’t even think of taking his brother’s place as Doguran King; he just isn’t wired that way.

Similarly, the princess, despite never having met Prince, is ready to marry him on the spot, having prepared for such a thing all her life. She loves him deeply, despite the distance between them, and it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t be the woman she is were it not for the encouragement Prince unconsciously instilled in her to be the best damn princess she can possibly be.

Yet again Level E proves it can present us will all new characters and they can be iimmediately deep and interesting. I also find it awesome that Craft is 100% on Prince’s side, because there’s nothing he’d like more than for his more sensible younger brother to take the throne. And the massive alien fleet in Earth orbit lends some nice gravity to the festivities.

Tsutsui and Miho are also in top form trying to be on the Princes side while becoming just as endeared with the lil’ bro and betrothed as we are. This is definitely a tough one: the Prince doesn’t want to be hemmed in by marriage; but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of options with all the political stuff at stake (and all those ships in orbit who came to witness the wedding). The finale should be something. And, oh yes…Craft’s yellow Camaro puts this episode over the top, ratings-wise. Rating: 4

Level E 11

Level E finally returns to the life of Tsutsui and shows the Kisaragi baseball team in action, and hilarity ensues. The show rebounds after an episode that lacked almost any comedy. The whole team is swallowed up by the concentration of one teammate; they end up in a dream world consisting of a baseball stadium.

Naturally, Prince tagged along to see if anything could be done to destroy team cohesion through caustic mutual suspicion, but he fails to entertain himself in any meaningful way, as Tsutsui has a shorter fuse then ever, and is more than happy to toss the blonde Doguran around before he can finish his insidious sentences. The team is a bit stumped about what to do, until a rival team appears, then it’s game on. The goal is no longer to escape, but to play some friggin’ ball.

As most of the episode unfolded in this dream world, there was a really eerie and surreal light and droning sound to the place; it was sold really well as a kind of mind prison for the team. The overzealous captain was good for a laugh or two, and Craft crashing a perfectly good third-gen Honda Stepwgn when he hears that the Prince is involved is also pretty alright. Rating: 3.5

Level E 10

This was one of those episodes I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: was this mermaid-type maiden actually the Prince in drag again? Would some unexpected comedic twist break through all the syrupy sentiment and seriousness? Well, in a word, no.

Prince wasn’t present at all. And even though this episode was played mostly straight, with hardly any laugh-out-loud moments (although Yokota always looks funny, what with his mustache, gut and grey hair), but you know what? I still enjoyed it. Level E tells such good, interesting stories with such regularity, they more than earned the right to do a more serious and dramatic one.

I didn’t even mind the return of the Color Rangers, even though I didn’t expect to see any more of them. The fact that they carry on their duties as rangers shows that Prince’s schemes don’t always end in bitter suffering for others; something good comes out of them, on occasion. The kids’ alien teacher even makes a cameo, helping out in he nick of time, then slinking away just as briskly. Considering she’s a talented assassin, and overly flashy would miss the point, her limited role was logical. Rating: 3

Level E 9

So the big cliffhanger, which I thought was just a joke or misunderstanding (won’t get fooled again…though I will), is that Princess Saki’s human suitor isn’t a man at all. This was surprising, because despite her whelpish voice, she looks pretty masculine, and so far the character has been pretty clear-cut between how the genders are drawn.

Level E has pretty much the same character design as Bantorra, which I listed as my favorite series of last year. It wasn’t my favorite because of the character design. Most costumes just looked overwrought and silly, while their figures were dolllike and their gazes glassy and cold. That’s okay, because with both shows, the shortcomings of the design and animation are completely overshadowed by their merits.

With Level E, those merits include an uncanny ability to mislead, fool, and entertain with charmingly bizarre stories and effective comedy. An anime about an alien maiden who will wipe out the human race if she mates with one needn’t be overdramatic and serious; in fact it’s better of not being so. Yet, far from being innocent and oblivious of the effects of their reproduction, the Macbac actually takes a great deal of pleasure in watching the races die out. Being in love is like sinking your teeth into your prey, and such.

Considering the Macbacs’ sinister motivations, I’m 100% behind Craft foiling their plans, even if it means stooping to the Prince’s convoluted, illegal scheme of cloning Mikihisa to trick the Macbac. After all, we’re talking about the preservation of humanity here. Makes you grateful not all aliens want to wipe us out, and have the power to prevent others from doing so. Rating: 3.5

Level E 8

Level E switches gears from the Color Rangers to a new and potentially more dangerous scenario: an alien princess has come to earth to find a human mate. Only problem is, when she finds one and they reproduce, a virus will be transmitted which will quickly spread to all males, rendering them sterile and eventually rendering the human race extinct.

Craft and his two underlings must ensure this doesn’t happen (Prince is in the jungle somewhere, watching bugs mate for some reason…that in and of itself is funny). So Craft meets her in a remote and isolated winter resort. What he wasn’t counting on: a guy who was just turned down by a friend he wanted to be more than a friend with meeting eyes with the princess. It’s love at first sight, and the shounen won’t let anyone come between their love. That can only mean one thing: SNOWMOBILE CHASE!!! Wait, what? Okay, sure, why not?

The romance is a problem for Craft, because he’s part of the Earth Defense Force, and if he doesn’t defend the smitten kid from the cute and innocent foreign princesss, humanity is doomed. His attempts to dissuade both of them throughout the episode are as ineffective as they are hilarious. I imagine if there was ever a Men In Black anime, it would be something like Level E: interesting missions in which the world is always on the line, but the show is never too stern or serious about it. Rating: 3.5

Level E 4

After the introductory arc, Level E takes a brief detour, apparently delving into the lives of four high school dudes who witness a girl being eaten alive by a classmate. After being referred to an “eccentric” researcher by a drug-adled acquaintance, and after said researcher uses their fear of death to handsomely extort 1 million yen each from them, they learn the truth: their bogeyman is an alien; one of only three of his kind on earth, and back home, they eat the female to reproduce. Hence he wouldn’t attack males. It’s a bodily function, like hunger or thirst.

That’s wacky enough, but it’s played straight all the way through, and with a rougher, more hand-drawn animation style than we’re used to. Of course, that leads to the ultimate conceit of this episode (spoilers ahead!): it’s just a pitch by Prince for an anime intended to facilitate the revealing of aliens on earth to the human race. Oh, and the whole operation to organize this pitch takes place in Tsutsui’s flat, much to his chagrin!

This was yet another great story within a story, leading the audience on with a fairly compelling sci-fi mystery, then pulling the curtains to reveal that it was all going on in Prince’s imagination. The producer he meets with warns the premise is too dark. Looking at the lineup of shows this season, a dark premise requires lots of boobs (re Freezing)… fortunately Level E dives into dark places but always comes up for air, and is always good for significant laughs. Rating: 3.5

Winter 2011 Season Preview

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for – among other things – fewer series to watch. Fall has been fun, but keeping track of so many shows (and not able to let any go) has been taxing. For Winter 2011, only eight shows have piqued my interest so far, but even that may whittle down if a couple aren’t up to snuff. So without further ado, here’s what’s on tap during the snowy time:

Kimi no Todoke Season 2 – Production I.G. – January
Freezing – ACGT – January
Infinite Stratos – 8-Bit – January
Fractale – A-1 – January
Yumekui Merry – J.C. Staff – January
Rio – Rainbow Gate! – Xebec – January
Level E – David / Pierrot – January
Puella Magi Madoka Magica – SHAFT – January