Review of new anime on spring '12

This post is completely spoiler free.

I've been checking out surprisingly many new animes this spring. I'm very picky about my animes, too. I'm the kind of person who's frustrated by animes that support the cycle of fanservice and rely heavily on clichés and prove very little originality on any area, be it narration, character design, music, voice acting, animation itself or overall stylization. Most of anime try to strive out simply by picking some theme in hopes of standing out of immense amount of anime, like Sankarea, which is most average anime of romance and ecchi, except for the zombie theme that made me initially start watching it.

I admit, I kind of purposely look for animes tagged with Intense questionable content. I can even forgive super annoying characters in such anime, because there is always  a chance they'll die violently and world will be better  place with one less moe or tsundere. (screenshot from Sankarea).

Most of the time, I feel like I can tell from first 15 minutes if I can stand the anime at all (sometimes intro alone is enough), if anything of the forementioned aspects manages to pop out during that time, I'll give it a chance. One original or strong point isn't usually enough to satisfy me till the end though. There are plenty of animes that have maybe one interesting character, or the episode is particularly well animated and has appealing in style, maybe at the best, the "idea"– the initial problem – strikes out interesting. It just usually isn't enough, as good animation is combination of more than one successful aspect. Sankarea's greatest stumble proved to be the forced ecchi and fanservice – elements that really diminish the characters and make everyone seem like out of place and out of character.

From the new animes of this spring, I've seen at least 3 episodes of each: Sankarea, Hyouka, Tsuritama and Sakamichi no Apollon. I'm writing this, for I'm fairly honestly surprised that people are hyping so much over Hyouka in particular, and Tsuritama which just to me seems like gliding on the pretty art style, while a real gem compared to them, Sakamichi no Apollon is quietly standing on the background.

Hyouka: shit is coming down.

Let's start with most hyped anime, Hyouka. Hyouka to me seems like prime example on anime that has decent budget and experienced director and crew behind it, same folk that worked on Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-ON and Lucky Star. The thing is though, I really, REALLY, dislike all of the mentioned animes.

They're certainly well-animated and I find the expressions, escpecially body language, very vivid and the art is beautiful. Hyouka is beautiful. But with dialogue, I'm already swaying on the edge. It's not complete copypaste bullshit, but it certainly isn't catchy either. And why's that, is because the characters are incredibly.... BORING. I find myself completely incapable of relating to their feelings and actions, when all of them are like walking white boards. I suppose such characters usually give the viewer a lot of space to relate to them but I simply find myself thinking the creator doesn't bother to define their characters too much, afraid that audience won't be able to identify with them. Quite contradicting compared to how I feel. When you see shit-ton of anime like that, you really start to appreciate characters that are strong and individualistic. Second and quite good reason too to be turned-off by Hyouka is the fact that it's mystery anime, yet the mysteries in first 3 episodes are so easy it makes you feel like an idiot for watching the characters being troubled over them.

Poor guy, I really hoped they'd leave him alone with their mysterious mysteries.

Then there's Tsuritama, that I've tried to squirm forward with. Well. The art, it's very bright, happy and colorful.
The style, I can't argue, it stands out nicely from the bunch.

For the intro and outro, as well as myth within the story, they've used very cute style of illustration.

Overall, there isn't anything particularly wrong with Tsuritama. At the best it's cheerful, doesn't require lot of attentionspan and "just for fun", plus would be if you have knack for fishing theme. Perhaps if you're satisfied with just colorful graphics and fluid animation, you should run off to check out Hyouka and Tsuritama. However, if you're looking for any kind of anime that could offer something less superficial, swift story development and characters that you actually can like for other reasons than cutesy-factor, a real breath of fresh air to me this spring has been Sakamichi no Apollon - Kids on the Slope.

Sakamichi no Apollon - Kids on the Slope.

Kids on the Slope is categorized as "Josei" – an anime/manga for more mature female audience, literally "ladies" or "womanhood" comics/animation, whereas more commonly know "shoujo" is generally comics for girly girls and usually associated with magical girls and school drama.  "Josei" suggests the story themes can be drama, romance and coming of age. Until now, I didn't really even know such category existed, but I suppose it only makes sense, as there is "seinen" (=for young men) and shounen to counterpart shoujo. Such categories are really misleading though, as shounen for example, is widely enjoyed by both genders (for example: Naruto, Bleach, Soul Eater) and I personally think many comics categorized as seinen, such as Naoki Urasawa's Monster and Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira are just excellent comics on their own and have nothing to do with audience's gender.

If you're already turned off by an animation that is mainly about character's relationships to each other and you got the image stuck on your head about 50 episodes of hesitation and slow-motion moments, you can relax – Kids on the Slope is surprisingly fast-paced without making you feel like left behind. Direction is in trustworthy hands, as the director of the series is Shinchiro Watanabe – director of favorite series of yours truly, Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop.

Overly exaggerated expressions are something that I'm happy to see being completely cut out of this animation, giving space to more significant dialogue and thoughts of characters. Overall feel of the narration is pleasantly relaxed and warm, without being boring example of slice-of-life – something is going on all the time. It counts for something that I tend to avoid slice-of-life, since it usually means stuff like "girl who is loved by everyone goes shopping for food, makes dinner for everyone – end of episode". Problem with many relationships stories in manga and anime is that the author is forcing feelings down reader's throat, so it's really nice change to have a chill drama. Atmosphere is perfect for the theme, jazz music.

And wow, am I impressed that the animation on playing instruments is so smooth. It's probably been drawn over actual video footage of playing jazz, but I don't see it as a problem – in an anime where playing musical instruments has a huge role, it'd be horrible to watch stiff and badly synched playing. There's one big name behind the music of this anime as well: Yoko Kanno (Wolf's Rain, Cowboy Bebop)  is the composer of the original soundtrack. Of course, there are also versions of famous jazz tracks included in the anime.

Animation in Kids on the Slope doesn't fall behind in terms of quality compared to Hyouka for example. Art style may remind someone of boy love comics, but it's definately more consistent in facial expressions and anatomy (see: yaoi hands syndrome). Perhaps not everyone finds the characters handsome or beautiful, but I personally approve of all kinds of styles that are less seen in mainstream anime. 

If you enjoy yourself good music, quality animation, swift story development, yet all in beautifully subtle tone, I warmly recommend Sakamichi no Apollon

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