Ah! My Goddess (TV)

Good

This isn’t to be confused with the OVA series of Oh! My Goddess, which came before it.  Apparently, Ah! My Goddess more closely follows the manga.  This series contains a blend of three different kinds of stories, which prevents it from being truly great.  As a consequence, most of this anime is fairly plain and forgettable. That said, it’s a fairly laid-back story that’s suitable for easy watching.

Purpose: Decent.  Ah! My Goddess is, overall, a light slice of life comedy with some light romance and a little bit of world-focused plot at the end.  The slice of life-type comedy is fairly simple and plain, without any truly crazy antics.  However, this anime really shines when it focuses on the sweet/romantic moments.  What is surprising is that about 2/3 of the way through, they suddenly transition to a much more serious tone and actually create something that resembles a plot line.  The division of time doesn’t really detract from the series so much as preventing it from reaching its full potential.  Overall, the anime was solidly Decent, but some of the stronger elements managed to barely pull it up to Good.  

Characters: Decent.  The oddest thing about the anime is that much of it was focused on amusing antics, but they didn’t make the characters “spectacularly crazy.”  To be more specific, none of the characters were strong enough to be memorable in any way.  Once the anime settles down into its routine, roughly halfway through, the basic setup is the “nice-guy” and the “nice girl,” coupled with two instigators.  One instigator is designed to try to make the two closer, the other designed to create some distance.

The problem with this setup is that, instead of developing the characters very well, they decided to create other characters to artificially create situations for the main two to react to.  So, for much of the anime, rather plain characters were reacting to new situations.  Thus, much of the character interaction was reaction to other characters.  Now, that setup actually worked quite well when it was just the main two characters since it ended up creating some really sweet or cute moments.  It just wasn’t well suited to everything else.  That said, the last 8 or 9 episodes actually went to create character depth… but in the secondary characters.

World: Good.  This was another category resurrected in the last handful of episodes.  For much of the show, the world was just there to allow some characters do to interesting things.  For that, it was, again, a really plain magical world-setting.  Much of it was a real-world setting with a “cheat code” of magical powers.  In the last handful of episodes, it described some of the greater workings of the world, which served as the basis for a semi-fantasy drama type event towards the end.  The world was full of potential, but not really explored.

Plot: Decent.  The vulnerability of the plot is that it was mostly non-existent.  Normally, that is perfectly okay for slice of life-type anime.  However, the addition of magical powers, both positive and negative, served as a cheat to bypass solid plot-writing.  Thus, the problem and the solution was often magical in nature, yet artificial.  Basically, magic was the plot hole. This created some internal inconsistency, working at odds with the characters.  Thus, instead of acting as steps for the characters’ relationships and growth, the plot served as an aberration – a weird hiccup that sort of forced things along for our characters.  The reason the plot is Decent in spite of this is because (fortunately) the characters were plain enough that it didn’t really affect anything.

Storytelling: Good.  Much of the storytelling was taken up by light comedy.  However, when they actually focused on the main characters’ relationships, they really shined.  Sadly, the setup was often incomplete and the sweet/awkwardly romantic moments came at the tail end of a forced plot.  One other area that is notable is the world-based plot.  It served as a really interesting exploration into character relationships other than the main two.  Once they started doing that, it made everything fall into place and actually paved the way for some emotional investment in both the characters and the overall story.  With all that said, frankly, the storytelling did the best it could, given the setup.

Pace: Good.  Overall, the pace is quite slow.  Internally, however, there are several pace changes that took place, namely when they focused on relationships and then the overall plot.

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Very Good

This is what I had hoped Kantai Collection would be like.  It’s quite similar in concept – girls are the personification of a particular ship of war.  The glaring difference between the two is that this is stronger in every way.  It has a much more serious tone and they actually depict the ship of war itself.  This makes for some really interesting naval battles.  I am a fan of naval combat (or battles, in general… I just realized I sound like a certain Major and his war speech…).  This is a notable anime both for its characters and its action sequences.

Purpose: Very Good.  This is primarily an action-focused anime with a strong amount of character development.  The overall goal for the characters isn’t very lofty and this anime doesn’t really break ground in where it goes, but what it does, it does quite well.  Much of the anime is actually pretty limited in scope to the action and events surrounding the main characters.  Interestingly, the focus shifts to the Fog, the story’s enemies.  Actually, it’s as if the camera is following the “main characters” but the story is about everyone else.

On a broader note, the anime is initially action-focused.  However, the action focus slowly gives way to a character drama.  The character drama adds a great deal of intensity to what’s going on and helps put an extremely interesting spin on the finale.

Characters: Very Good.  The character development was very different from what you’d expect.  Actually, our main cast was relatively flat and un-developed.  The main development came from the Fog, the enemies in the series.  The Fog, being ships of war, make a very interesting and continuous journey as characters.  Essentially, they’re built from scratch.  Once they are distinctive enough characters, the focus then becomes how they interact with each other.  Several characters’ development is extremely subtle and difficult to recognize how the characters have developed, except when directly brought to our attention.

World: Good.  Not a whole lot is explained, but it isn’t really necessary for the story.  By that I mean that it would be really interesting to know all the ins and outs of the world, but it would probably be distracting from what they were trying to do.   As it was, we got to learn enough about the world through the characters interacting with it.  That created a very interesting dynamic between the viewer and the anime.  Everyone else seemed to know what was going on, so the viewer was treated almost like an outside observer.  Then again, this anime wasn’t so complicated that things really needed to be explained.

For the specifics, we don’t know much about the threat facing the world, where they came from, what they are, and why they act.  We don’t know how the societies developed apart from each other.  We don’t know a great many other things.  Not to say that it detracted from the anime, just that what we learned about the world did a sufficient job, but had a much greater potential to grow.

Plot: Good.  The plot is also relatively uncomplicated.  Generally, it was “defeat the enemy.”  That’s perhaps putting it too plainly.  The enemies have to be defeated within the context of some other goal going on.  Thus, their defeat is merely incidental to the main plot.  However, the plot itself shifts focus from world events to character events.  What essentially happens is that we get a very generic overall plot of “deliver the item,” which effectively stalls it out.  Then, in its place, we get the character plots that involve a great deal of inner and relational conflict.  In other words, characters have difficult decisions created by their own turmoil and their relationship to other characters.

Storytelling: Very Good.  There are two main areas affected by the storytelling – the battles and the character development.  For the battles, they were done in a very skillful manner.  Many of the battles had a great deal of cleverness to them.   The cleverness added to the tension by making it a battle of wits, rather than firepower.

The storytelling involving the characters was also quite skillful.  Many of the character developments were quite subtle.  Based on the character development, they managed to build some really excellent character scenes.  The stand-out would have to be the main antagonist of the show.  The way her story is told makes for a really poignant finale.

Pace: Good.  The pacing was solid throughout.  There were some areas that hiccupped slightly, making it feel slower.  For the most part, the action sequences had a pretty strong pacing, which helped keep the tension moving throughout.

Attack on Titan

Weak

I really wanted to like this anime.  In concept, it’s basically a zombie-mecha anime.  The background art was fantastic and the mood music by Sawano Hiroyuki was very strong.  I just wish that the potential that existed was properly utilized.  All told, it felt like they could have been great, but just failed in the execution.

PURPOSE:  Weak.   It wasn’t clear what the anime was trying to do.  In the beginning, it appeared to be world-focused – about humanity overcoming an insurmountable threat.  However, it very quickly tried to make it character-focused anime – more about the effect of the world on the characters and their psyche.  Looking back from the end, it wasn’t ever clear exactly what the anime was trying to accomplish.  One serious problem with the overall purpose is that it kept revisiting the same themes, which essentially stagnated the path of the story.  What happened was that progress that was made both in the world and with the characters reverted to an earlier point.  Without a solid and clear path forward, it tended to make the entire anime stagnate.

CHARACTERS:  Decent.  Most of the characters were cardboard cutouts.  Generally if you look at the characters, there was very little in terms of complexity or even growth.  The main characters suffered from “king of the pirates” syndrome, where they often and loudly told us their only driving goal.  That goal didn’t take on any depth or substance throughout – it was an oft-repeated tagline that represented a singular, yet shallow purpose.  In the main group, only Armin had something approaching solid depth of character.  He  was learning, improving, and refining his view of the world.  That said, Levi was a superbly done character.  He had great depth and subtlety to his personality.  The way he was developed mirrored the overall theme of “becoming inhuman to save humanity.”  Yet, he was never a “bad” guy.  There was obvious internal struggle and many very human moments.  Sadly, Levi wasn’t given nearly enough screen time.  Aside from these, the only character that hinted at something interesting was the general, but they didn’t really explore him.

WORLD:  Decent.  Again, here we have hints of some really interesting things going on both inside and outside the walls.  However, there wasn’t enough there to really explore those aspects.  As it was, the world was tiny – most of the anime was done behind the second wall and you had a tiny glimpse behind the third.  There was really nothing done to expand the world beyond the walls.  For the viewer, they too were off limits.

PLOT: Decent.  As it was, it was fairly standard, but done in a fairlycompetent fashion.  There was a solid and logical progression of events that drove both the world and the characters.  However, there were some issues with the plot.  As is fairly common in related genre, they dwell far too long on angst and use it as a substitute for solid plot. Angst usually resolves with a decision that changes the course of the character.  In this case, it was a temporary course change, since they often regressed back into more angst.  When the same plot point comes up again and again, it loses the impact of the characters’ internal struggle, and negates forward progress made.

STORYTELLING:  Bad.  There was a great deal of filler in this anime.  Often, it was a scene completely unnecessary to what was going on or even yet another jaunt in fearful angst.  Compounding this problem was the way scenes were ordered.  There were quite a few scenes that would have been appropriate or even strong if placed at a different point.  As presented, it often rendered those scenes unnecessary or, worse,an obstacle to the progression of the story.  Particularly jarring was “the big reveal,” which was treated as though the viewer should have have seen this coming, even though those pieces of information were not really presented to the viewer.   Most galling is that this anime seems to be fixable through proper cutting and editing.

Sadly, the poor use of storytelling continues with their use of violence.  Normally, violence is a highlight that propels the story forward.  However, the violence in this anime didn’t really do anything.  It really was there for little more than the shock value. You can only see someone getting eaten or stepped on so many times before it loses its impact.  Even more, the fights were shockingly dull.  Mainly, the fights lacked cleverness or uniqueness.  Only the last handful of episodes displayed more varied and interesting combat – the kind that should have been seen throughout the anime.

PACE: Bad.  The pacing and tempo of the anime was wholly crippling. For most of the anime, every time they managed to build solid tension and plot momentum, it very quickly stalled. Worse, it tended to stall for several episodes at a time.  This contributed to the stagnation because they built to an important point, but then delayed the payoff for too long.  The lack of appropriate pacing presented a huge obstacle to character development, the use of violence as a plot device, and prevented the creation of atmosphere.  For the characters, they dwelled too long in places they shouldn’t have, and reverted progress made.  As a consequence, almost all the characters were little more than cardboard cutouts.  Violence itself was a victim of this stalling.  Many solid, violent scenes that progressed the plot were then “punctuated” by long sequences of talking or running.  During these sequences, additional violence was the simplistic “squash the squishy” type, which gets old, fast.  The same complaints mentioned above hamstrung the creation and maintenance of the mood.  Most galling, the anime showed that it was capable of maintaining solid pacing and tension, mostly in the last handful of episodes.