And BAM, we're back. This never gets old.
So there's a lot of stuff to talk about. I've been watching a lot of series with housemates lately and I think it's time to give you all a short summary.
First up, Tegami Bachi recently finished with 25 episodes, including an announcement of a second season. The series is really nice, especially because of the art style - the Amberground world of eternal night is beautifully designed. The story seems to progress a little slowly in the beginning, especially because of several anime-only filler episodes some less inspired than others, but overall it manages to get far enough to make the cliffhanger of the final episode interesting enough. This being one of the series I follow in manga form as well, I can tell you that the story manages to get quite interesting later on - especially the most recent addition (chapter 38) shows that there is quite some potential for depth in here. Filler is unavoidable sadly, because the story hasn't progressed extremely far yet - however the wait until the start of the next season might make the gap big enough so that the anime producers will refrain from putting in too much of that. It's worth noting that the art style seems to work slightly better in the manga - the gaichuu (semi-mechanical insect-like creatures) are CGI in the anime which makes them stand out just that bit too much.
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun also recently finished but we forgot about that at one point and now have exactly half of the series finished - the last 12 episodes may very well sit there waiting for us until summer. Concerning the part we got to, I have to say it caught me by surprise - it's not actually a slice-of-life side-story spin-off as much as it seems to be at first, but actually contains a good story with several elements just short of horrifying. Can't say too much about it right now, but if you liked To Aru Majutsu no Index this series is definitely a recommended watch.
Fullmetal Alchemist 2 is still in full swing (I've stopped calling it Brotherhood because the subtitle simply doesn't make sense looking at the story). Rumours have started going around about the series ending with 63 episodes, which leaves just 9 episodes at the moment of writing. Shortly after, rumours started appearing about the manga ending with 108 chapters, which leaves just 2 more chapters at the moment of writing. To be honest I don't believe the latter - it's simply a count people came up with which would make it so that the anime doesn't end before the manga. I'm not sure what's going to happen but I sure as hell know that the current situation in the manga is not going to be solved in just two chapters - the same goes for the anime but that announcement seems slightly more official. I guess we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime the writer is obviously bringing the story to some kind of end and lots of loose ends are being tied up, with the quality level still impressively high. It really is a masterpiece, and almost mandatory material for any anime/manga loving nerd out there.
Fairy Tail is also still going, currently halfway the Phantom Lord arc in the anime. Comparisons with One Piece are simply redundant, so let's just stick with saying that it's the same kind of adventure, comedy, fun and quality that One Piece offers. Watch the first couple of episodes and you immediately recognize the similarities. However, it's a proper universe in its own right, with a well-defined cast, intriguing storylines and just plain humour. The manga is several arcs ahead and it's probably going to be quite some time before the anime gets to the current Edoras arc, but fortunately the series seems so successful that it may very well get that far. I daresay Fairy Tail will in a few years time be known as one of the big, long-running series, joining the likes of One Piece, Bleach, Naruto etc.
Talking of One Piece, I've started watching the anime with my housemates (who are up-to-date). I myself am halfway the Skypeia arc in the anime, but am up-to-date with the manga so there's no spoilers. I figured I might as well just watch along with the current episodes so that there's less material for me to catch up on.
The truth is, I'm very happy that I decided to start reading the manga, because there's simply nothing about the current anime episodes I like. First of all, it's all too happy. The colours are too bright, the animation too cartoony. Their current environments (trying to avoid too much spoilers here) are simply gruesome, dark and well...reeking of death. The manga's atmosphere is completely destroyed in the anime. Next to that, the filler material is painfully badly written. Lastly, it's almost as if there have been massive budget cuts: scenes are time-stretched to inhumane levels and animation clips are either replaced by a series of stills, or recycled to death. Honestly, there's a lot of fun I had with the anime I watched up to episode 175 (which is as far as I got in Skypeia) and I still want to watch it all if only for the filler, but there's just so much to hate and so little to like about the recent episodes it's despicable. If you're a One Piece fan, seriously, go read the manga.
Moving on, several new series as well. Arakawa Under the Bridge is a downright bizarre series about a guy born into a rich family, destined to inherit the family business and encrusted with a very...interesting life lesson (you'll discover within the first five seconds or so, I believe). He ends up in a communities of weirdos living under a bridge over the Arakawa river (for those who wondered where the name came from). It's a very hard series to describe, and the best way to see if you like it is simply watching the first episode because it pretty much sets the standard. It has elements of slice-of-life (with the episodes themselves being episodic in an almost yonkoma-like way) and some very weird humour which you either love or hate. It may not be the epitomy of intelligent television or unpredictable exciting storylines, in fact quite the opposite of both. But if you can appreciate it's strangely adult-like childishness, it can be a lot of fun.
Talking of yonkoma, Working!! is currently being adapted into an anime. This is one for all the Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star fans out there. The story sets out with a 16-year-old guy accidentally getting recruited for a family restaurant, where he works alongside: a 17-year-old girl a headlength shorter than him, a girl who always has a katana with her for no apparent reason, a manager who also happens to be a yakuza head, a girl who due to her androphobia struggles not to hit every man she sees, a cook who blackmails everyone else into doing his work for him, and several more 'unique' characters. It's a very easy-to-watch series, with humour and charm to make you smile even if you're not in the mood for anything but watching this series. As said before, if you liked Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star, there's no way you won't like this.
Katanagatari is the first monthly anime series I've come across, with hour-long episodes to make up for the longer wait. The story revolves around a boy who was literally isolated from civilization for the first 21 years of his life, the last to know a fighting technique basically known as "swordfighting without a sword". He is recruited by a 'tactician' from the shogunate to retrieve 12 legendary swords. Each of the 12 episodes (probably each based on one of the 12 books of the light novel series it's based upon) revolves around one of these swords, focusing on the owner/opponent and the plans of a group of interested ninjas to interfere. The longer episodes put a heavy emphasis on exposition, with lots of dialogue in some scenes, and slightly slower story progression than you might be used to. (Personally I think the progression and dialogue feel like your average Ghost in the Shell SAC episode, but then played at half the speed i.e. a sane speed.
) The action is well done but is far from the main focus of the series, and the same goes for the dialogue. What is it that makes the series so interesting and worth the longer watch? It's very difficult to explain without getting into spoilers, but the best summary would be: richness in background, abundance of originality and the element of surprise. Watching the first episode alone doesn't give you a good idea of the series - every next episode catches you off-guard and brings worthwhile additions. The unorthodox structure makes this a refreshing watch - however the long episodes full of stuff to take in are not ones you want to watch when you're in a lazy mood.
One series we haven't really watched yet beyond the pilot is Durarara!! There's not a lot I can say about this one because I haven't seen much of it yet, but it seems to be very interesting and we plan on seeing more of it. The story focuses on a guy who moves to Tokyo, and while shown around Ikebukuro by his childhood friend he witnesses several shady things: an information merchant, a gang named the Dollars and an urban legend called the Black Rider (a biker who drives through the city at night without any lights). What the series is going to be about is not very clear, but there's enough in there to make it look exciting, and I can't wait to see more of it.
Then finally, the series that I just finished and brought me to writing here in the first place: Eden of the East. With just 11 episodes it's a short watch, and I watched it in one sitting tonight. The series follows the exploitations of a guy who finds himself naked in front of the White House with his memory apparently just wiped by a weird phone he holds in one hand, a gun in the other. Together with a girl he meets there he tries to find out more about his past, the phone, and the truth behind an event called Careless Monday when 10 Tomahawks hit Japan without claiming any victims. For some reason, I was reminded of Haibane Renmei while watching this series, but when I try to imagine why I have no clue - there's absolutely no apparent similarities between the series. However, the direction has a certain feel to it which I guess is the reason here. The story is simply well-written, not as complicated as you might expect but still satisfying in the end. As 11 episodes might imply, it feels a bit short, but they manage to make it into a quite well-rounded product. There's 3 films based on this series - one summarizing the TV series, and two sequels titled "King of Eden" and "Paradise Lost" respectively. I haven't watched any but am planning to watch at least the first sequel tonight. I'm not sure how to give advice about who would like this, but overall it just feels different and nicely made. Just watch the first two or three episodes and you'll know soon enough.
A note, by the way, about the combination of manga and anime. As I mentioned in this post a couple of times, there are several series which I read as manga in addition to watching their anime counterparts. Why watch in anime form what you've already read in manga form? Most of all, it's because they're different media, and they both have a different feel to them. It hardly bothers me to watch an episode that retreads material of which I already know how it's going to end (except maybe One Piece which does it in agonizing ways at the moment). However, I do want to point out that the order matters - first reading the manga and watching the anime has proven to be the best way. The other way around (which was the situation I had when I started reading the manga series) just feels less interesting and less rewarding. In fact, I enjoy reading the manga more than the anime for most series, simply because it looks and feels more right. Of course, this is all down to personal preference - some people don't like reading manga as much as watching anime and in that case there's no reason to do it (because it should stay fun, of course). There's some anime out there which I plan on or am (re-)reading in manga form, and in the long run I might very well end up doing this for all anime, but for the moment I think I'll stick to the ones which have added value. There's some currently ongoing series (FMA, OP, FT and TB), there's some where the manga goes way beyond the scope of the anime (Shaman King and Rozen Maiden I'm currently reading, Love Hina I finished, I have Ghost in the Shell planned) and there's some which just don't get old no matter how many times you read or watch them (yonkoma like Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star and Working!!).
So, finally finished another humongous bump post. I'll top it off with links to my manga