Spring 2014 Check-in

Mushishi Hihamukage - -14 Ping Pong - 03 -25 Baby Steps - 04 -30
Isshuukan Friends - 03 -28 Yowamushi Pedal - 28 -39 Hunter X Hunter - 127 - Large 29[2]

Spring 2014 has behaved pretty predictably thus far, and that’s mostly a good thing.

After the disappointment that was Winter 2014, anime really needed a good season both artistically and commercially.  And while it will obviously be a while before we know how it fared on the latter score, this certainly looks like a sizeable step-up in terms of raw quality.  Indeed, the only real consolation about Winter is that the landslide top-seller was one of the best shows for a change – Hoozuki no Reitetsu, the only series to break into 5-figure sales (none of the others came even close in the worst anime sales season in the Blu-ray era).

In reading back through the last few of these check-in posts, it’s inescapable that our perceptions one-third of the way through a season can look very different from those at the end (Fall 2013 is an especially good example of a season where a bunch of shows tailed off later in their runs).  And given that Spring is generally the busiest season of the year, some of the improvement in the amount of watchable series is a matter of simple arithmetic – this is certainly no landmark season like Spring 2012.  But on the whole it does look pretty good, and most of the series that were expected to deliver on the quality front are doing just that.

Without a question, the best show airing is one that long predates this season – Hunter X Hunter.  Equally without question, the most significant attribute of the current anime schedule for me is that it’s the best time for sports anime in all the time I’ve been an anime fan.  We have five different superb sports series, all covering different sports (two are racket sports of a sort, true) in quite distinct styles.  Two of those are carryovers as well – Yowapeda (which has one more confirmed cour but will likely get another season) and Diamond no Ace (which has two more and likely won’t).  But all three new sports shows I’m following have delivered the goods – two I very much expected to and one which has been a very pleasant surprise.  Heck, even sumo series Matsutarou has gotten a lot better after a really rough start.

Apart from that, we have a fairly representative and varied calendar.  No one genre is dominating, and we have the usual cluster of mediocre LN adaptations that leave me wondering why they were so hyped.  The positive spin is that it’s hard to find a major genre or demographic that’s really being shut out – we even have a medieval shoujo fantasy (talk about as rare as the Dodo) and a very good one at that.

On, then, to Spring 2014:

The Elite

Mushishi Zoku Shou
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A+
Comments: It would be hard to imagine another series returning after a long absence with this degree of continuity.  Everything from the visuals to the writing to Nakano Yuuto’s voice is the same – it’s as if we stepped into a time machine and emerged in 2005. Mushishi is one of the great wonders in anime, a perfect adaptation of a great manga and a completely immersive experience.  What a joy to have it back.  There seems no reason to think we won’t look back on these split-cours as every bit the equal of the 2005 classic.

Ping Pong
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: A
Comments: So far, Ping Pong is looking like it has a chance to be my favorite Yuasa Masaaki show yet.  It’s ugly in the way his series usually are, but Yuasa’s style suits the manga material perfectly, and he finds a sort of Wabi-sabi beauty in showing the imperfections of his characters.  There’s obviously great depth in Matsumoto Taiyou’s story, and I see echoes of Searching for Bobby Fischer in the musing on the nature of ruthless drive and ambition in youth sports.  This could be the anti-sports anime sports anime of recent years.


Baby Steps
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A-
Comments: In terms of content, I rank Baby Steps with any series airing this season.  It’s following the course of the manga and so far capturing the essence of why it’s one of the best sports manga ever, and Ei-chan one of sports manga’s best main characters.  It’s not a show pony like Haikyuu, more of a draft horse – but that’s not the reason I’m inching it down a notch.  Simply put, the production values aren’t especially good – they’re tolerable, but not what a series this brilliant deserves.  I can live with that – though I wish I didn’t have to – as long as Baby Steps continues to be this faithful to the letter and spirit of the manga.

Isshuukan Friends
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A-
Comments: This series is what it is, an unapologetically sentimental and warm story that avoids becoming cloying in part by not shying away from the dark side of the emotional spectrum.  I like the judicious use of silence here, and the no-frills nature of the narrative structure.  This show is a textbook example of a series a studio seems born to adapt, and Brains Base was every bit the perfect fit for Isshuukan Friends they looked to be on paper.  Simple, as restrained stylistically as it open emotionally (by necessity), this is one of the best shows of the year so far.

Haikyuu - 04-17 Soredemo Sekai - 03 -17 Captain Earth - 04 -1

Very Good

Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B+
Comments: No doubt about it, Haikyuu is a winner – a surefire commercial smash that’s awfully hard to resist.  Beautifully directed and featuring fantastic production values from Production I.G., Haikyuu looks on-pace to be the best sports anime from WSJ in many, many years.  So far the success comes more from a likeable directness than any great subtlety or invention, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  With an immensely sympathetic main character and superb sports sequences, this series is a feast of simple pleasures that never fails to satisfy.

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B+
Comments: Like Isshuukan Friends, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii is a classic “horses for courses” success story.  This kind of fantasy setting is a perfect fit for Pierrot, and any shoujo fantasy is a rare sight on an anime schedule these days.  There are some issues here – the pacing has been rushed at times – but the core relationship at the heart of the series is one of the most interesting and engaging I’ve seen in anime for some time.  If you use the basic theory from Ueshiba Riichi (Nazo no Kanojo X) that any romance-themed shounen is like a mecha series where the girl is the giant robot, that makes Livi the mecha in Soredemo Sekai – and that added contrast with most current anime makes this show all the more interesting.

Captain Earth
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B
Comments: BONES being BONES, no doubt about it.  This show seems to be for them what Valvrave was for Sunrise – a pastiche of all their various mecha themes under one roof – except it’s playing it straighter than Valvrave did.  The show I’m most vibing on here is Eureka Seven (the original, not Astral Ocean), and the last ep was full of the seemingly nonsensical linguistic ventures and seemingly endless plot twists with no ready explanations.  I enjoy Captain Earth – it looks fantastic, it makes me laugh, and the characters are more than interesting enough to hold their own.  How much sense will we be able to make out of it in the end?  That’s very much an open question with BONES, so the key is really just to enjoy the ride.

Gokukoku no Brynhildr
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B
Comments: This is the sort of series I could see contributing memes – “It’s just a cold”, “Oppai fee”…  Gokukoku bo Brynhildr manages to balance its dark subject matter with absurdist dialogue and a very jocular tone with great success.  It’s silly, it’s full of asspulls, but I find it extremely entertaining.  Good, trashy anime is nothing to be sneezed at and Gokukoku is delivering it – the key, as usual, being that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This is a classic example of a series that was high on my expectations list being quite different from my preconceptions, but still thoroughly enjoyable. The instrumental OP is one of the season’s best.

Gokukoku - 03 -1 Kawaisou - 04 -1 Kanojo ga Flag - 04 -3


Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou has been squarely on the fence all season, but after the fourth episode – flawed as it was – I’m leaning towards blogging it.  There are the obvious charms here, most notably the truly gorgeous visuals, a combination of great art and clever direction.  I also get the nugget of something interesting in the character-driven plot, but it’s struggling to find its footing amongst the cliches and indecisiveness about whether the show wants to be a screwball comedy or a sensitive drama.  If it follows what I see as its most interesting course – studying the nature of introversion and how it relates to happiness – it could surprise in a good way.  If it leans mostly on heaping abuse on a doormat male lead, it’ll end up as one more anime roadkill that’s quickly forgotten.

Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: Here’s another one that’s in a bit of an identity crisis, not dissimilar to that of Kawaisou.  This series has a strange dichotomy of an almost somber canon plot and extremely zany comedy, though in this instance – unlike Kawaisou – it executes the comedy very well.  Under Watanabe Ayumu Gawoware is generally very funny, with excellent comic timing, and the willingness to be pretty ruthless is sending up LN tropes is very appealing.  Ultimately I think the series will stand or fall in how it’s able to put its various pieces together into a coherent whole, but at the very least I think it’s always going to be good for some consistent laughs.

Hitsugi no Chaika - 03 -5 Knights of Sidonia - 02  -13 Maijin Bone - 02 -11

Still Watching

Hitsugi no Chaika
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C+
Comments: There are definitely things I like about Hitsugi no Chaika.  It has an interesting old-school fantasy premise and for a LN adaptation, it’s amazingly straightforward and lacking in pretense and ponderous and unnecessary exposition.  I even like the cast for the most part, especially a main character who’s an adult ex-soldier and very competent.  It just hasn’t entertained me as much as I want it to.  The whole is less than the sum of the parts, for now at least, though it would be fair to say I still have a reasonable amount of hope that can turn around.

Fairy Tail 2014
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: Not much need be said here, really.  It’s Fairy Tail – you pretty much know what you’re going to get here, and if that’s your thing you’re in good hands.  So far I don’t find the season-opening arc to be one of the series’ best, but the character interaction has always been the main draw here anyway.

Sidonia no Kishi
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C+
Comments: Here’s another one I really wish I liked more than I do.  There’s all the trappings of a classic, old-school hard sci-fi story here.  But somehow it’s not quite working for me, and it’s a matter of more than just the 100% CGI look (though that is grisly at times).  I find the character interaction very wooden and artificial, and God help us when Sidonia tries to be funny.  In a sense this is reminding me of Shingeki no Kyoujin (which some had suggested it might) in that the overall premise seems better than the execution, but AoT is much better at laughing at itself, and there’s reason to even start to compare the two shows visually.  I’m watching, but I’m still far from hooked.

Abarenbou Rikishii!! Matsutarou
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: I very nearly dropped this after the premiere, which didn’t work for me on any level.  But the series has made a nice comeback, and while the lead is still singularly unlikeable it’s interesting seeing how that plays out.  He’s rude, insensitive, violent, doesn’t give a whit for social status or politeness – and while in the West that would brand you a ruffian, in Japan it effectively makes you a revolutionary.  This is fascinating as a look at a country that even today has elements the West would view as old-fashioned, looking back at its own past of a half-Century ago, and at a sub-culture (sumo) that was viewed as old-fashioned and traditionalist even then.

Majin Bone
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: Speaking of old-fashioned, Maijin Bone plays like it came out of a wormhole from 1982 (and this week it added a character who looks as if he was kidnapped from Rose of Versailles).  There’s certainly nothing revelatory here, but I quite like this series – it’s fun, and Kenn is really spot-on (again) as a classic shounen lead.  I also love the delightfully unhinged ED.  In look, animation and style, this is about as old-school as anime gets.


M3, Kindaichi Shounen no Jikembo, Selector Infectes WIXOSS, Fuuun Ishin Dai Shogun, Mekaku City Actors, Ryuugajou Nanana, Escha & Logy no Atelier, Soul Eater Not!, Mahouka Koukou no Rettosei, Black Bullet, No Game No Life, Kenzen Robo Daimidaler

We still have a few true bubble series for at least another episode.  All of the carry-overs are rock-solid – there will be no drops from that group.    Here’s my take on the schedule as of right now:

Definitely Blogging: Yowamushi Pedal, Tonari ni Seki-kun
Probably Blogging: Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara

Definitely Blogging: Hunter X Hunter 2011

On the Bubble: Hitsugi no Chaika

Definitely Blogging: Ping Pong
Probably Blogging: Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
On the Respirator: Sidonia no Kishi

Definitely Blogging: Mushishi Zoku Shou

Definitely Blogging: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, Captain Earth

Definitely Blogging: Diamond no Ace, Haikyuu!!, Baby Steps, Isshuukan Friends, Gokukoku no Brynhildr, Game of Thrones

Manga: Otoyomegatari, Mix, Chihayafuru

Watching For Now: Fairy Tail 2014, Maijin Bone, JoJo Stardust Crusaders, Abarenbou Rekishi!! Matsutarou

On the Fence: Mangaka-san to Assistant-san to



  1. Z

    For once I'm happy to agree with the ranking for the top two series here. Although Captain Earth is too high and Sidonia too low.

  2. A

    With regards to Sidonia no Kishi, I really think you should try the manga. The show does a bad job of adapting the material and does not capture the charm or intrigue of it. It is a slow burner and it might take a while before it grabs hold of you but if it does it's really an enjoyable series.

  3. Z

    Or go one step further and read BLAME! instead.

  4. c

    On the contrary, I like how the anime adaptation reshuffles scenes and delete uneccesary ones so far.

    Sidonia is Tsutomu Nihei's attempt as a Sci-Fi author to try foray into more popular type of shows nowadays. In this he tacked on some popularly used elements into his usual Sci-Fi worldbuilding; problem is that those do not merge seamlessly, often jarring.
    So yeah, I agree with Enzo that this series is mostly bad at making itself seems funny. The Harem-esque and Romcom-esque beating of The Naive Protagonist ruins the Hard Sci-Fi narrative and actually serves better if the audience view the details of those scenes as Foreshadowings.
    I mentioned a swapped scene – notably about the scene before the Elite 4 sortie…I thanked on how the adaptation swapped the scene with something else.

  5. t

    you are still watching the sumo anime? I am surprised…yeah, it's gotten way better since the 1st silly episode, but I still can't shake that feel of "stupidity" in eps 2-4. it's seems like sports will become major eventually but the series insist on keeping an inconvenient atmosphere of foolishness. I guess it will make sense eventually for the MC to develop, but that's a quick way to scare and driving away audience.
    I am still sticking with it due to improvements (though still not enough as I wished) and I hope they can change gears soon to what this series really is meant to be. I saw some kind of buds in last episode, I hope it will go that way.

    anyway, in most things I share same thoughts of this season so far. I don't think too high of CE as "very good", and I am enjoying Kawaisou and Sidonia probably much more than you πŸ˜›

    as for some of your drop list: Ryuugajou Nanana has gotten better. after a fine but "nothing new" premiere, 2nd and especially 3rd were better on a whole. it's much more enjoying and good than meets the eyes in first impression. it kinda reminded me Hyouka
    soul eater not is series of those "fun to watch" type. it has soul eater spirit within it and it's funny and become interesting a bit lately. yeah, maybe a bit too moe or whatever, but in general I really enjoy watching it. even if it maybe due to reminiscence of soul eater, so what? it's still good and made some nice relief in the middle of the week, so I like it.
    No game no life (NGNL) – well, I am still "digesting" it. but it's not a bad one. it has issues, especially the way too strong connection between the 2 MC, the fact they are brother and sister, and their behavior. it's…presented strongly not to my taste. but somehow I can live for now with this anime because… I see NGNL as just a colorful fantasy world with interesting games and in times makes you think and in times it's for fun. and this series isn't meant to be something with deep characters or story…it's for enjoyment. of course, the problems here in times are hard to ignore…

    as for Mekaku city Actors…well I enjoy shaft style. so far, great 3 eps.

  6. M

    Slightly better turn out than expected.

    Ping Pong: A+
    Stardust Crusaders: A
    Mushishi Zoku Shou: A
    Sidonia no Kishi: B (bonus for bear matron)
    Baby Steps: B-
    Abarenbou Rekishi!! Matsutarou: C+
    Captain Earth: C- (Hmmmm)

    Dropped: Dai Shougun, Soredemo, Haikyuu!!

  7. R

    i'd give Captain Earth a C for now. It just lacks something in the character department that would make me get involved beyond my usual penchant for anything mecha (I wish CE had been more of Majestic Prince than Valvrave). Also giving Chaika a C, it is interesting, but not compelling.

    Will be picking up Brynhildr again and probably pick up Isshukan Friends and Soredemo.

    Definitely dropped Wixoss. Will be giving M3 one more shot as part of the three-episode rule.

  8. S

    Is it only me who thinks Baby steps is uglier visually than Ping Pong?

    Other than Baby Steps, I agree with the list completely. A lot of the names on the dropped list are a pleasure to read. I'm sticking with Soul Eater Not for a while longer. It has some good points, similar to Brynhildr.

  9. M

    Ping Pong certainly has a more confident hand behind it and stylistically feels more resolved. I'd never call Baby Steps ugly (Chaika looks way worse imo), but not that special looking either. Maruo could do with a better hair stylist of course.

  10. S

    I'm surprised you dropped Selector Wixoss. It is the only show this season that is keeping me going. I urge you to reconsider it.
    Isshukan friends dropped from n A- to a C+ for me because of that fourth episode.
    Baby Steps is pretty good, but hasn't hit any homeruns with me yet. Still, I enjoyed how they resolved the challenge – using the writer's adage of "surprising yet inevitable"
    Brynhildr dropped because it became fanservice ARMS halfway in the latest episode.

  11. R

    Actually, I don't think I've ever asked this (and if I did I've forgotten the answer) but Enzou, do you ever buy the Blu-rays or DVDs of series you like? Or are you mostly just a casual watcher?

  12. Very rarely. Japanese editions are just too expensive but I do buy licensed shows occasionally if I really, really love them. I also buy the occasional T-shirt, mug, poster, etc. But living on a minuscule income pretty much rules out doing much of that sort of spending.

  13. p

    The season is much better than Winter no doubt.

    I don't know if you've mentioned it before but what are your thoughts on Jojo? I know this season is the second season of it, but have you seen any of it at all?

  14. G

    I have a lot of catching up to do on the season but as of now I'd rate the show I watched a few episodes of :

    No game no life A/A-
    Isshuukan Friends A/A-
    Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara B-
    Mahouka C
    Akuma Riddle C/C-

  15. K

    Excluding Hunter x Hunter and Mushishi, the only shows this season I've bothered to keep up with are the sports titles, kinda surprising since it's the first time I've ever watched sports anime but I definitely got in at the best time. Ping Pong especially, is fantastic.

  16. A

    I love that Hunter X Hunter isn't listed with the rest. You've been venerating it so long it doesn't even warrant explaining. A little disappointed that Space Dandy didn't get a chance to be ranked, but then I realized we're nearing the half-way point between seasons. I guess it's such an in-the-moment feast for the eyes and ears that I lost track of time.

    GoT though? I simply don't understand the popular fascination. The production values are great and Dinklage's character is superb, but everything else I think ceased to be remarkable after season one. It reminds me of AoT, though that had far worse characters, if slightly less glacial pacing. Everyone keeps talking about it, but I can't help but feel odd when there are so many better things to watch. And yet, I too keep watching. Maybe it's just that there's nothing else on sans Simpsons on Sunday nights?

    Baby Steps, I'm beginning to feel like I should stop watching and binge on later. I can tell there's something to it, just not enough for episodes to be watched one at time. I've already taken that stance on Yowapeda (though it took me significantly longer to do so). Ace of Diamond, meanwhile, keeps me flustered in that I'm able to go a week without watching an episode, but once I watch one I have to watch the other before doing the same thing two weeks later.

    I definitely get the same Eureka Seven vibes from Captain Earth, but I doubt it will live up to the character growth and perfect mix of storytelling to be wonderfully uplifting of that classic.

    Mushishi… If only it had The Sore Feet Song. It would feel like time travel. I've taken to only watching it right before bed, now. That show puts me in an indescribably relaxed mood with now decade-spanning consistency. How is that even possible?

  17. Well, this is the Spring check-in post – H x H and Space Dandy aren't spring shows. I didn't list Yowapeda or AoD either.

    As for GoT, to each his own – I find it vastly entertaining.

  18. D

    I tried Baby Steps. I liked it up till ep 4, where it started to get unrealistic in terms of how fast Ei-chan was progressing and hinting that yes, he has a lot of super-powered natural gifts as well as a dogged work ethic. When he was diagramming the arc of all of the serves in between shots, that made it ridiculous in a way that his past actions weren't. That wasn't just a slow learner methodically replaying things in his head; that was genius-level perception of a serve speed he had never seen before or played against in the span of twenty seconds between serves.

    I wonder if the anime format really forces this. We have to get him advancing fast enough to keep drama. The scene where he's hitting balls against the wall worked very well, but you can't have a whole series of showing him doing that, to end with him returning those fifty serves. I hope the manga gets brought to the west, because I have the feeling I'd like it very much indeed.

  19. l

    Only ranking Spring 2014 season shows that I have watched. In decreasing ranking and where similar ranked in alphabetical order. Cut-off is C.

    Mushishi Zoku Shou: A+/A
    Ping Pong: A

    Haikyuu!!: B+

    Baby Steps: B
    Isshuukan Friends: B
    No Game No Life: B
    Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii: B

    Captain Earth: B-
    Knights of Sidonia: B-

    Abarenbou Rikishii!! Matsutarou: C+
    Gokukoku no Brynhildr: C+

    Black Bullet: C
    Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou: C
    Hitsugi no Chaika: C
    Majin Bone: C

  20. p

    Yeah, I have to say I'm agreeing with these last few comments about Baby Steps. I can't help but think that you're giving it an A- because you've read the manga. The characters are just pretty bland. The difference between Ping Pong and Baby Steps in terms of dialogue, the art, and especially the characters is pretty vast. Even minor characters in Ping Pong are frankly more interesting than the major ones in Baby Steps.
    I"m going to keep on with it because I agree with the opinions you give on this blog quite often, but that's pretty much the only reason.

  21. Listen, you can think whatever you like, but I certainly don't agree with you. Eichirou is arguably the least bland character I've seen in a sports series since Kitamura Kou, in my estimation. And why compare it against Ping Pong? They're not remotely the same sort of series, apart from having a sports component. If you're only interested in production values, Baby Steps is certainly nothing special. For me, I value character and overall writing far above that and it's only when the visuals are really atrocious (usually involving bad CGI) that it becomes a major issue for me. If you feel differently, that's fine.

  22. H

    Catching up with HxH! Yowamushi, Jojo, Baby Steps for now. Not a lot this season, anticipating the fall. Dropped quickly out of Chaika, Gokukoku, Captain Earth If I feel I've seen better example of something before I can't be stuffed!

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