Autumn Anime Knockout – Round 1 Part 1

As explained in my intro post a day ago, I’ve decided to have a sort of knockout tournament between semi-randomized pairs of Autumn season first (and later second) episodes,  in an attempt to narrow down my viewing to five shows while giving as many shows a chance to impress me as possible. Here are my thoughts on ten of the twenty episodes, as well as the results of their matches. 🙂

Match 1: Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb vs Little Busters

Hidamari Sketch:

Seeded first for a reason, the latest season of Hidamari Sketch is the kind of show that I’d normally pick up without a second thought. Based on a manga series by one of my favorite manga-ka, produced by one of my favorite studios and directed by one of my favorite directors, it is a winning combination that could only really be improved by the addition of Yuki Kajiura’s music and Gen Urobuchi’s writing… but not every series can be Madoka Magica. 😛

Jokes aside… no, scratch that. Hidamari Sketch is a comedy series, and would be nothing without jokes! Being adapted from a 4-koma manga, the gags are short, simple but hilarious more often than not, with a lot of good running jokes as well. The cast of characters are highly likable, with Miyako placing in my 2010 anime harem, a high honour indeed!

Why not put Hidamari straight through and hold a tournament to decide just the other four? Although I said I’d NORMALLY pick it up instantly, I’m having to be more selective this season. And I have to wonder, should I be picking up something that’s only going to be more of the same? I’ve seen three series, countless OVAs + specials, and am up to date with Yen Press’ release of the manga, after all. If a promising enough new series comes along, I might actually be convinced to give that a chance instead.

Little Busters:

So, is Little Busters a promising enough new series? Most of the discussion before it aired centred on the fact that it wasn’t being made by Kyoto Animation, disappointing a lot of fans. But once episode 1 aired, most of the first impressions I read were positive… as was my own. Little Busters wasn’t what I expected from a Key game adaptation – more male main characters than usual, and no hints that any of the female characters we’ve met so far aren’t regular humans (or none that I picked up on, at least). 😛

The first episode was chaotic, moving from epic battles with random objects, to the attempted formation of a baseball team (which seems to be the main focus of the series, at least for the moment), collecting deep and meaningful quotes, and confusing the residents of the girl’s dormitory in a poorly planned attempt to recruit new members. The characters were fun, the production values pretty high for J.C. Staff, and the opening theme is one the best of the year – I can’t stop opening the file and playing it!

Little Busters’ first episode is difficult to fault – again, I’d almost certainly pick up the series if my internet speeds weren’t an issue. But just look at how long it took me to get hold of ten first episodes, I’m already a week behind! Unfortunately, one of these shows has to go. Both are pretty even in terms of comedy and production values; the only areas in which Little Busters! really has Hidamari beat are it’s potential for plot/drama outside of said comedy, and it’s aforementioned catchy OP theme.

RESULT: With very little separating the two first episodes, my existing attachment to the characters and style of comedy in Hidamari Sketch put it through to round 2.

Match 3: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure vs K

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure:

Skipping match two, as I don’t have the first ep of Ixion Saga yet~ My only prior experience of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was the first OVA from the mid-90’s, which was largely aimed at existing fans, and dropped me straight into the middle of the manga’s third arc with virtually no character introduction or explanation about what was going on. Clearly none of those issues mattered that much, as I liked what I saw enough to seed this more newbie-friendly adaptation third overall!

The first episode was relatively standard; a poor guy tries to rob a dead rich guy, only for the ‘dead’ man to come around and mistake the would-be thief for a savior. When the poor guy dies, his son goes to live with the rich guy in order to repay this debt… and this is how Dio Brando and Jonathan Joestar (one of the titular JoJo’s) first meet. Desperate to rob JoJo of his inheritance, Dio goes about making his life a misery, turning his friends and family against him, and harming those who won’t be so turned.

The series is being produced by David Production, who’ve never had the highest quality animation compared with other studios… but who are absolute masters at making the most of what they can produce. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is no exception – it has a lot of style, and is well animated and full of movement when it needs to be (e.g. in fight scenes). This, coupled with the awesome characters, meant that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure did not disappoint.

K:

The main reason K wasn’t seeded was the fact I couldn’t find any written synopses for it before the beginning of the season – just countless trailers that my rubbish internet connection wouldn’t let me watch! The only thing I could gleam from those who WERE able to watch the trailer was that it looked very, very pretty. They weren’t wrong. Sadly though, with such high animation quality comes huge file sizes – I had to get this first episode in 480p, or else it’d still be downloading now.

Having watched it, I really don’t know what to think. A lot of different gangs/organisations, seemingly possessing super powers of some sort, battling for reasons so far unexplained… reminded me of Durararararalah a little. A goofy white-haired character who may have a murderous alter ego (?). A gothic lolita with a mind-reading marble (??). It’s definitely going for the ‘hook viewers with intriguing snippets of a much wider picture, then fill in the gaps (if we feel like it) as the series progresses’ approach.

Picking up K would be taking a gamble, hoping that the story proves as interesting as it appears from this introductory episode, and that it doesn’t turn out to be all style and no substance. That’s a gamble I’d be willing to take if I was picking up my usual eighteen series… AARGH! *shakes fist at router*. In terms of production values though, K’s style, fantastic colours and almost too-fluid animation wipes the floor with everything else I’ve seen so far this season, let alone the fairly static JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

RESULT: This one was pretty much decided for me – having witnessed the beautiful animation of K, I cannot bring myself to watch any more in anything less than 720p, which I can’t really download right now. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure through by default!

Match 6: BTOOOM! vs Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun

BTOOOM!

Excluding Robotics;Notes, BTOOOM! was my most highly anticipated series out of those I knew virtually nothing about. I’d only read a single synopsis, but liked what I read. I’ve always been a fan of survival/high stakes games, such as the anime adaptations of Mirai Nikki and Deadman Wonderland (before it got bad), the manga series Psyren, and (of course) Battle Royale, so more of the same could only be a good thing. A focus on bombs as weapons instead of the usual guns, knives or superpowers is also a nice touch.

I also found myself comparing it to Sword Art Online throughout. In BTOOOM! we have a main character who’s similarly gifted when it comes to online gaming… but in this case, skills and experience picked up in-game will only help if he can apply them to the real world. There are no teleport crystals here, presumably no safe zones, and when a person is blown up, it’s a little more graphic. Our protagonist Ryouta doesn’t seem particularly likable either – which is preferable to the bland, too-perfect Kirito!

The first episode left a lot unanswered. One minute Ryouta is playing BTOOOM! online, and the next he’s fighting for survival in a real-life version of the game. But then, he doesn’t remember how he got there either, so that’s not a problem – we’ll find out the truth as his memories slowly return, or as others fill him in on what’s going on. Aside from some minor pacing issues, my only other complaint is the huge amount of plot armour that allowed Ryouta to survive explosion after explosion unscathed!

Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun:

Unseeded because it was ‘yet another romantic comedy’ – with so many similar-sounding shows every season, you can only really separate the good from the bad by giving them all a go. After watching the first episode of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, I’m relatively impressed. The jokes were funny, the male lead is plain weird, and the protagonists have already kissed – something that many other romcoms don’t manage until the final episode!

The interactions between Shizuku and Haru are unlike any other anime couples.  Shizuku isn’t exactly perfect, prioritizing study and her future over everything, and not caring about anybody else… until she meets Haru. Originally approaching him for her own benefits, Shizuku seems to take pity on him as his passionate, unpredictable behaviour is perceived by others as frightening, causing him to avoid going to school even though he craves friendship. Clearly, the two could learn a lot from each other.

My main complaint about this first episode was its break-neck pacing, bouncing all over the place. A lot happened in a very short space of time. I have no idea how many days or weeks passed between Shizuku’s first visit to Haru’s house to deliver handouts and their kiss scene at the end… is that even important? Probably not, but it still feels weird to me.

RESULT: Mostly because the premise appeals to me more, BTOOOM! wins this one.

Match 7: Shin Sekai Yori vs Busou Shinki

Shin Sekai Yori:

I was able to watch a trailer for Shin Sekai Yori before the start of the season, which made it out to be very well animated, full of action, and creepy. But despite knowing that little bit more of what to expect from this than from any of the other new shows, the first episode of Shin Sekai Yori still surprised me. Sure, it was still very well animated and more than a little creepy… but it was also very slow paced. I didn’t expect to see a more vague, teasing first episode than K, but Shin Sekai Yori offered just that.

The focus is on Saki, a girl whose supernatural/psychic(?) powers have just awakened. She is allowed to graduate from Waki Academy as a result, and is reunited with old friends who received their powers before her, as they attend classes to train and improve these powers. Not sounding overly creepy yet? It’s the things that AREN’T the focus of the episode that disturbed me. Things that are alluded to, hinted at, deliberately kept from both the viewer and the protagonist at this point.

Saki is referred to as the last from her academy to graduate, yet she remembers there being others there who had yet to ‘receive their blessing’. What happened to them? Before her own graduation, Saki overheard her parents discussing the possibility that it might never happen… and her mother, completely hysterical, exclaims that she ‘doesn’t want to lose another child’! It seems that life sucks for you in this world if you don’t receive these powers fast… or if you’re not particularly good at using them.

Busou Shinki:

The whole premise of having mini robots/figurines battling it out is one that has proven successful in the past – I liked CLAMP’s Angelic Layer, as well as Kunihiko Tanaka’s Ichigeki Sacchu!! HoiHoi-san. So while Busou Shinki’s synopsis didn’t leave me expecting a masterpiece, I thought that perhaps it might turn out to be a bit of fun, especially if the battles were well animated. Well… the battles WERE nicely animated… and short, and far from the focus of this first episode.

Instead, we got to see three of these Shinki figurines unpack their human ‘master’s belongings and generally (try to) tidy up the house while he was away. One of them even wore ‘Maid Costume Armour’ for the occasion. They find what looks like a love letter among these belongings, but unfortunately it gets blown out of the window. They give chase, but when the envelope falls down and flattens another Shinki, they get into a fight… which is brought to an abrupt end once their respective masters return home.

Of all the first episodes I’ve seen so far, Busou Shinki is the only one that strikes me as a little bit bad. Not AWFUL, but the kind of thing that I’d only ever pick up as a guilty pleasure, if at all. It’s not particularly funny, and the characters lacked depth, simply living to serve their master. Not even the sudden, unexplained appearance of a fourth Shinki in the master’s house is enough to make me give this another chance, as Shin Sekai Yori ended with far more intriguing questions left unanswered.

RESULT: Any of the nine other episodes mentioned in this post could have beaten Busou Shinki hands down, Shin Sekai Yori just happened to get the lucky draw.

Match 9: Magi vs Kamisama Hajimemashita

Magi:

Seeded mostly because of its Arabian Nights theme and inspiration, which I’ve not seen much of in anime before, Magi focuses on the mysterious chibi Aladdin, his powerful djinn Ugo, and Alibaba, a young man who dreams of getting rich quick by conquering one of the many dungeons that cropped up all over the world fourteen years prior to the start of the series.

This being a shounen series, the first episode was action-packed, the protagonists were very likable, and the bad guy (Budel, a merchant who prioritized profit over the safety of his slaves and employees) was made as unlikable as possible. The plot seemed simple and straight forward enough, though at this point we know little about Aladdin, Ugo or the dungeons which they’ll no doubt be heading into in the next episode.

Over all, Magi greatly exceeded my expectations, offering what was probably the most well-paced, hard to fault and just plain fun introductory episode out of the nine looked at so far! The spectacular animation and lovely character designs were just icing on the cake. In order to knock it out now, Kamisama Hajimemashita would have to prove nothing short of epic.

Kamisama Hajimemashita:

Another romantic comedy which first had to prove to me that it was better than the rest, Kamisama Hajimemashita scored points early on with a hilarious intro, providing background info on the female protagonist Nanami. Due to her father’s debts she ends up homeless… until a chance encounter with a mysterious bishonen, who kisses her on the forehead and gives her directions to his ‘home’, telling her she’s welcome to the place!

Hilarity ensues when Nanami arrives at the building, only to find it is an old, neglected shrine! It turns out the earlier bishie was the local earth deity, and in kissing her on the forehead he actually passed his seal (and all the duties that go with it) onto her! Unfortunately, the shrine’s resident fox familiar Tomoe refuses to accept her, and retreats to the ‘other world’. With little idea of how to go about her new job, and also wanting to make up with him, Nanami follows after him… but it’s a dangerous place for a human!

The comedy in the first half of the episode, followed by supernatural horror in the second half meant that there was never a dull moment in Kamisama Hajimemashita. And once again, Nanami and Tomoe ended up kissing in the first episode (even if it was just to seal a contract)! My main criticism would be that despite their best attempts to make it seem original, I have watched similar series in the past, and could see it falling into more generic territory in later episodes.

RESULT: Both were better than expected, but Magi is safely through, and could be the one to beat in Round 2.

After five out of ten matches, there were plenty of surprises… but not as far as my predictions of which series would go through were concerned. The other five matches could be a while, though, as I’m missing over half the required episodes! 😮

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