Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978)

Excellent

Captain Harlock is one of the legendary classic anime, created by Leiji Matsumoto.  Airing in the year 1978, it’s an anime that shows its age in terms of composition, tone, and animation.  Even so, the fundamentals of the show are stronger than you’d find in a great many modern anime.  Essentially, it’s a heroic epic that showcases the strength of the human spirit, as exemplified by Captain Harlock.  In spite of its age, the anime still stands at the top of the genre.  They don’t make heroes like they used to.

Purpose: Excellent

The anime falls into the space opera genre, which encompasses grand sweeping galactic struggles as well as commentary about humanity in general.  Of course, it’s an old anime so many may find the animation or pacing difficult to follow.  Overall, Captain Harlock is about a heroic individual, which is a hard to find subject in modern anime.  Contrary to the modern “every-man” heroes, tragic heroes, and over-powered muscle-heads, classic heroes are more about people to look up to.   It’s about a character that’s human, but moreso because of his actions, honor, or otherwise noble demeanor.  Sure, there’s action and tragedy and a startlingly high body-count, but those serve as a means of highlighting the main character’s good points.  If you can manage to survive the generally inconsistent, dated animation, and manage to suspend disbelief, you’ll find Captain Harlock a story about an individual who you probably wouldn’t mind following to the ends of the universe.

Characters: Excellent

This is the kind of anime where a 7 year old (sort of) side character ends up having more character depth than many modern anime heroes.  You eventually learn about the backstories of many of the crew members, including a cat, that end up being a mixture of stories about overcoming tragedy through strength of spirit.  What makes the characters particularly interesting is that, in addition to having their own stories and motives, they serve to highlight the strengths of Captain Harlock.  They have a really strong rapport that makes the crew all feel like a family.  On the opposite side, the Mazone (the alien race Harlock is fighting against) are also developed into fairly complex characters in their own right.

World: Very Good

Perhaps the most interesting part of the world is the “factions” – Earth proper, Harlock, and the Mazone.  Each have a very different set of ideals and morals.  Even so, none of the groups are monolithic, which is such a rarity in most fictional mediums.  In other words, there are differences of opinion and values even within each group.  That aside, lots of things about the workings of the world aren’t really explained.  For example, you’re never really sure what the difference is between a space mile and a normal mile,  or why certain things behave the way they do.  They just do.  But it’s a testament to the story that it doesn’t particularly matter why the Arcadia is an invincible battleship, for example, it’s enough that it is.  Essentially, the world serves its role to enhance the story without really bogging it down in a flurry of basically nonessential fluff.  The world does require some suspension of disbelief, so if you’re the type that likes to have some explanation of the inner workings of technology in anime, then you may find this anime a little difficult.

Plot: Very Good

We have a generally slow-burning overall plot that takes place over the course of the entire series.  In spite of this, it’s fairly episodic in nature and doesn’t generally ride in “plot arcs.”  Fortunately, this means that when the anime gets a little distracted, it’s limited to a single episode or a small part of an episode.  That’s not to say that the distractions are useless, since they often show the mettle of a characters  or end up building or maintaining relationships.  What this means is that the plot points are further apart than you’d find in more modern anime.  It’s more about broader course corrections in the overall theme than managing a tight approach to a resolution.  In that sense, maybe it’s more like navigating though the vastness of space.

Storytelling: Very Good

Some stronger points are able to mitigate some weaker ones here.  The storytelling is really sharp and powerful on its peaks – highlighting courage, heroism, and tragedy.  It’s somewhat weaker in connecting our plot points in a tight, stair-steppy way.  There’s quite a bit of gaps in the explanations of things or the why of things.  I imagine that would be frustrating to some viewers.  Of course, the storytelling style is varied as well.  Sometimes, it’s small, but not subtle, sometimes it has a broad focus, but short duration.  Overall, you get the sense that it’s a grand story, an epic even.  It’s not exactly a warm story, but there’s a lot of warmth to it.  Similarly, it’s not depressing in its tragedy, because the focus isn’t on the tragedy, but perseverance.  In general, the storytelling is about the feel and mood of the anime, and in that regard it succeeds.  What’s really interesting is that, since the storytelling is perhaps more focused on the mood, some of the failings end up falling by the wayside.

Pace: Very Good

The pace is clearly something out of another era.  The overall pace probably will feel slow.  On a per-episode level, however, it will probably feel too fast.   It’s a little at odds with itself, but fine overall once you get used to it.

One final note: This review of the classic Harlock contrasts with the most modern iteration, found in the movie Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  I forget where I heard it, but the difference between the two is that the original is an unconquerable space captain, while the modern one is a brooding space pirate.

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Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist

Poor

Shimoneta is a light comedy that requires little thought.  However, the title gives away the show’s premise – dirty jokes.  The entirety of Shimoneta’s material comes from dirty humor – ranging from silly to lewd.  If that kind of comedy is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit.  If not, you’ll probably find that this anime tries your patience at every opportunity.  That said, it’s probably best to think of this anime as a protest against censorship, although you need to know a ton of background for it to make sense.

Purpose: Decent.  This anime’s really a nonviolent protest of the censorship culture in Japan.  Of course, it tries to accomplish this in a very ham-fisted way.  Some of it is actually clever – they appear to be using and abusing the censorship rules to get away with the absolute maximum they can.  In fact, the cellphone that allows them to get away with dirty jokes is always displaying the “leeway” they have left to do blatantly lewd things – a total of 3 minutes of material per episode.  Of course to get why this is a protest, you need quite a bit of context.

The basis of modern censorship of material in Japan comes from the current interpretation of the Japanese Criminal Code, which prohibits the distribution of “indecent” material.  What’s indecent?  Well, no one is exactly sure, so it’s ended up doing some odd things.  The general consensus is that, at the very least, pornography had to be censored.  This created some very odd rules, requiring pixelation of genitalia for “live-action” porn, and some bizarre forms of censorship in manga and other print materials that showed more or less depending on the editors.   Things changed quite a bit in 2004 when, for the first time in 20 years, someone was prosecuted under the law.  A hentai manga artist managed to avoid jail time by pleading guilty and paying a fine.  Of course, he appealed to Japan’s highest court, arguing that the censorship violated the “freedom of expression” contained in Japan’s constitution.  The court actually tripled his fine.  This caused quite a bit of a panic, resulting in a sharp increase in “self-censorship.”  In other words, manga artists and editors were much, much more cautious about what they published.  Actually, many stores even removed their 18+ sections to be safe.   This kind of thing happened again in 2013, which is right between the publication of the Shimoneta light novel and the manga.  Of course, censorship is a society-wide issue, affecting even their news media.  Lately, there have even been discussions about increasing the power of censorship laws in Japan, making things worse.

One other bit of context that’s somewhat tangential is related to the other focus of “sex education,” a theme rampant in Shimoneta.  Right now, Japan is entering a major population crisis.  Far more people are dying than being born, roughly 250,000 people a year.  In fact, some estimates predict that Japan’s population will have shrunk to 87 million people in 2060, with over half older than 65.  Part of it is their work/home life culture making things difficult.  Well over 50% of Japanese men and women under 30 have never been married.  Additionally, children born outside of marriage are quite a rarity in Japan.  Some critics attribute the lack of desire for families, marriage, and children in Japan’s youth today to the so-called “clean” and “pure” (read: heavily censored) environment they were raised in.

Characters: Poor.  The characters do not exist apart from their role in the anime.  Predictably, their personalities are strictly determined by their response to the concept of lewdness.  You have everything from excessive, to neutral, to “closeted.”  Of course, any character development is restricted to incorporation or acceptance of lewdness.  The viewer’s point of entry is the character that goes from “this is terrible” to “oh, it’s fine, I guess.”  In addition to this, the characters are all defined by “reaction catchphrases” – ways of reacting to things that are entirely predictable.  The character with the most social commentary potential, Anna, had any depth negated and then she was used as a rather blunt instrument.  Instead of delicate and nuanced commentary, she became (clearly intentionally) perverted into something of an obsessive lunatic.  She’s the best example of what happened to all the characters to some degree or another – turned into a ham-fisted attempt at social commentary that was, instead, a mere excuse to get away with, well, lewd material.

World: Weak.  You’d think the world would be much more interesting, given the subject matter.  The author didn’t really bother to expand the world in any meaningful sense.  The most we got was a vague “everything is censored” and some of the related silliness.  Of course, that on its own wasn’t enough to merit a Weak rating.  It’s the fact that the anime started racking up internal inconsistencies that weakened the world that was built early on.  Again, the world’s place was little more than an opportunity to present the dirty jokes.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  The best description is things happen.  Episode plots are strictly limited to finding some new way to accomplish some sort of dirty joke or behavior.  It’s wrapped up in the guise of  “lewd terrorism” and a vaguely-stated goal of sex education.  Of course, all of those are little more than an excuse.

Storytelling: Poor.  As a comedy, the humor seriously underperformed.  It’s not just the subject matter I’m complaining about – many anime can use lewd material to get a point across or get some laughs.  Heck, the standard fan-service/harem genres rely on that stuff.  It’s the setup and presentation of the humor that ends up seriously undermining what it’s trying to do.  However, even anime that use lewd humor can work if they have variety.  Sadly, Shimoneta lacked that variety.  Much of the humor is character-specific, relying on a particular character acting in a particular way.  The first handful of times, it’s mildly amusing.  However, by the end, it’s the exact same kind of gag.  What really catapults it into the Poor category is the fact that they try to keep entire episodes afloat with a somewhat singular gag.  They try to throw little bits of variety, without any real effect.  Sadly, much of the “filler comedy” involves Anna’s increasingly obsessive antics.

PacePoor.  Timing of the humor was a serious issue.  The main problem here was that they’d often dwell too long on the gags.  Normally, in an anime that’s a pure comedy, you need to keep jumping from punchline to punchline so it doesn’t stagnate.  Shimoneta instead really dragged out its punchlines, turning it into the equivalent of “get it?  get it?”  Predictably, it stagnated to the point that much of the humor was lost.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Movie)

Poor

Visually, it’s extremely impressive and incredibly detailed.  The best descriptor for the animation is “cool.”  However, it’s quite clear the budget was heavily loaded towards the animation, but not much else.  If you are a fan of the original Captain Harlock, you will find this movie extremely disappointing.  Really, the best way to watch it is with the attitude that it’s a pretty, but mindless action flick.

Purpose: Poor.  It serves well as your average sci-fi action movie.  The basic setup was: here’s some really cool characters, doing cool things that you get to learn about.   The underlying problem was that there really wasn’t a clear goal to the movie.  Instead of a goal, we got little more than a camera following scattered elements, watching from afar.  It lacked any real sort of hook that draws the viewer in.  Several times, they attempted to throw out those hooks, yet they never delivered on what they promised.  This ended up robbing even the pretty fancy and cool action sequences, turning them into an “I’m rooting for the explosions” type of event.  Sadly, instead of an experience that said “wow! I want to join the pirates right now!” this movie was more of “well, let’s not do that again.”

Characters:  Bad.   If you’ve watched and loved the original Captain Harlock, these characters are nothing short of a travesty.  Even putting that aside, they are bad.  At their best, most of the characters are incredibly shallow, falling even below a plot delivery device.  To put it into words, the characters had little to no presence – they acted like mannequins or hand puppets that did some talking and some fighting, but, ultimately, were completely empty and lifeless.  At all points, the viewer was treated as an outsider, learning little, if anything, about the characters.  Even when we got something approaching a character motivation, it was highly one-dimensional and felt like a label, without any real meaning behind it.  The best way to describe the characters is as if you are watching a sport you aren’t familiar with – you see some people from afar, running around and doing things and sometimes the crowd cheers.

World:  Weak.   There was so, so much potential.  There were extremely cool things happening, but without any sort of foundation to make it consistent.  The problem is: Nothing.  Is.  Explained. While you don’t need a spill session on the finer points of interstellar warp or a explanation of exactly how a super-positron cannon works, you do need to build the world to a point where those things can exist without explanation.  Instead, we have random bits of jargon thrown in and super-weapons that come out of nowhere.  Stuff happened when convenient to do so.  Oops, shields not working?  kay.  Random misfires?  check.  Awesome wheelchair-thingy?  Awesome! (No, seriously.  That was pretty cool.)  I’m not saying that it wasn’t extremely cool or neat to watch, just that the world lacked any sort of consistency.  It was almost more of a sandbox-style game instead of a world governed by its own rules and causality.

Plot:  Bad.   Continuing on this theme of random, this movie lacked any unifying plot to tie disparate narrative elements together.  Frankly, there were more holes than plot and the name of the game was to leap from action sequence to action sequence.   Since the action was the main plot (I think), the subplots were everything in between.   They tried to include too many subplots and give them equal attention.  Even then, they lacked the appropriate, logical steps to make them interesting.   However, the subplots were horrifyingly identical in execution.  They were: give some action, add some little bits of character plots that are unrelated to each other, and then the character the camera is following changes his mind.  Every.  Time.  This ended up creating an extremely jarring mood, that eventually led to desensitization.

Storytelling:  Bad.  Starting off slowly, the movie doesn’t even tell you the names of many characters until over halfway through.  This creates a rather obvious problem on its face because it’s not even telling you that those characters are important enough to warrant a name.  This ends up de-emphasizing many characters and preventing any sort of attachment a viewer might have for them.  Next, they never really clarify any sort of relationships between characters.  It’s an awful place to be, confused as to whether key events are between brothers and sisters, co-workers, friends?   This ended up robbing a great many scenes of a much more potent impact.  It also helped enforce the feeling of randomness on the story – we only get to find out things way after they were supposed to be relevant.  All those things are annoying, but the biggest problem with the storytelling was that it never properly developed anything.  Thus, when the time came, there was no one to root for.  Effectively, all we had were varying degrees of bad/selfish/shallow people that were at cross-purposes.  If done properly, that actually could have been a strong, interesting story.  However, since the storytelling didn’t really carry any weight, there was nothing to make anything compelling.

Pace: Decent.  It never felt like the show was dragging on or even that it was progressing quickly, it just existed.  Actually, we can thank the action for that – it was flashy and spaced at well enough points that it prevented any sort of dragging.  Honestly, the action and the accompanying pace became the only thing to look forward to as the show progressed.

Sankarea: Undying Love (Series + Ep. 13)

Poor

To quote another anime, “What, exactly, is the dark emotion swirling inside me?”  This anime was wholly disappointing, especially in light of the first two episodes.  If nothing else, the writing is notable for knowing exactly how to kill a mood.  Being charitable, out of 13 episodes, about 3 of them were solid.  The reason it’s in Poor rather than Bad is because it seemed redeemable – it had some glimmer, some spark of humanity left within it.  That said, to keep with the zombie theme, my advice is as follows: Aim for the head, that thing is no longer human.

Purpose: Bad.  To be more accurate, the purpose was haphazard at best.  It was clear that the author had several different things he wanted to do with the subject matter, so he tried to throw them all together at different points.  What happened was that different plotlines, character, and world development were taken up and then abandoned when it was convenient, only to reappear later. If they arranged the material differently, perhaps along plot themes, it would have been a competent anime.  As it was, they froze plotlines already in progress to create or attend to other plotlines with a wholly different character and feel.  The final impression was that the anime itself was a zombie – lively at first, but losing pieces as it shambled forward.

Characters:  Poor.  The characters weren’t Bad because they had a small spark – something there that represented potential.  The main problem was the serious lack of consistency within each character.  Many anime mistake mental problems for character depth.  This anime mistook lack of consistency for depth.  The lack of consistency stemmed from the use of plot as a substitute for character development.  In other words, the characters were altered to more closely conform to expected plot trajectories, often ignoring previous development.  This is different from solid development because a good character will be impacted by plot, yet retain consistency even as they change.  For the good character, plot then becomes a part of the character, helping to move that character forward.  For Sankarea, the characters were, instead, wholly part of the plot. The result was that the characters were cannibalized when it was convenient to move to a different plot line.

World: Weak.  The first two, maybe three episodes, had a strong feel for the world.  They even managed to set up the basic zombie part in a way that made it feel believable.  As the anime went on, the world kept becoming more transparent, then inconsistent.  Like the characters, the world became the victim of plot, acting as a substitute for proper development.  Inconsistencies simply appeared and then disappeared when convenient to do so.  Perhaps a good example of this is how the “care of zombies” issue floats around at random.

Plot: Bad. The main culprit behind several of the anime’s weaknesses.  Really, the plot was like a vampire, sucking the life out of everything else to keep on going (pardon the mixed horror genre metaphors).  It’s hard to exactly pin down what the plot was, because there were several different things flying about. You had a really dark, disturbing plotine, a “care and feeding of zombie” slice of life, a high school love triangle,  and a “his family’s secrets” plotline going about. While some combination of any two of these could make a good anime, having all of them in there undermined each other. Strong anime that contain several themes have one main plot theme, and other supporting plot points.  This is an approach that treats the sub-plots as facets of the main plot – you learn more about the main plot even through the other points.  However, it requires recognition of what the main plot is.  In Sankarea, rather than supporting a main theme, each point was treated like a main plot in itself – effectively 4 main plots.  As a consequence they couldn’t spend enough time on each of those lines to make them properly interesting.  Rather, they undermined each other.  Clear evidence of this is how they abandon plot points mid stream to do other things and even leave at least one plot completely unresolved.

Storytelling: Bad.  As I mentioned earlier, the writers really know how to kill a mood.  Every time, after episode 3, they managed to build good moments, they promptly killed it with the interjection of something completely irrelevant.  It was very obvious that they didn’t understand the basics of timing – they couldn’t read the mood.  One of the clearest examples is the use of fanservice.  Both nonsensical and haphazard in execution, it really served little place in the anime.  This goes doubly in light of how disturbing the first two episodes were because it placed the viewer in the awkward place of being almost the same as “Mr creepy.”

On a broader note, the style of storytelling changed wildly, often to the detriment of the anime.  Episodes 1, 2, 9, and 13 (OVA) used character-based perspective storytelling.  Everything else was more about following the characters around, only occasionally hearing their thoughts.  What this did was de-emphasize the characters for much of the anime, instead focusing on their actions.  Episode 10 was almost of a hybrid in this respect – somewhat character-based perspective and somewhat following around.  Thus, episode 10 was only partially competent because, while interesting, it was more of an information/ backstory dump than what should have been character and world development.

Pace: Weak.  Again, the first two, maybe 3 episodes had a really good pace.  Everything else was pretty bad.  Since the plot was in pieces, the pace had to wildly change to try to keep everything together.

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

Masterpiece

At face value, Saekano is still one of the strongest harem/high school drama anime out there.  There’s much more to it though.  While it  certainly could be entertaining for someone relatively new to the harem genre, the more harem-type anime you’ve seen, the more you can appreciate what is done really well here.

Purpose: Masterpiece.  Simply brilliant.  There are three different things going on here – three levels of depth.  The first is its face value – a harem/ high school drama anime.  In this respect it’s extremely strong.  The whole point of the harem genre is to watch crazy personalities bounce off each other, and Saekano doesn’t disappoint.  The second level of depth is its self-aware nature – it points out, calls out, and makes fun of tropes in the genre, even as it unabashedly uses them.  The third layer of depth can be found in the Japanese name 「冴えない彼女の育てかた」, which can be translated as, “how to develop (cultivate, raise) a boring heroine.”  (NOTE: heroine appears in furigana as an alternate reading of 彼女.)  This takes the self-awareness to the next level.  The anime is an example of how to create a fascinating main heroine from a blank slate. There are many points of the anime where they are commenting on the development of the main character, but in a subtle way.  One part of the anime catches the purpose particularly well, (subtitles) “If you make the character as flat as possible, the player gets caught up when the big changes come.  All of a sudden, they’re cute.”  The scene then goes on to describe what happens after, where the “cute” fades and the player is left wondering whether it was there all along or whether he or she was just imagining it.  That is Saekano in a nutshell.  Now, this would be really great on its own, but that purpose actually applies to all the characters.

Characters: Masterpiece.  At face value, you’ve got a really strong standard harem setup.  You’ve got the standard otaku nerd/niceguy, a tsundere, the “together” girl, the unashamed flirt, and a really flat foil character.  They really play well off each other in a highly amusing fashion.  The twist on the standard genre is the introduction of the foil – she serves to ground everyone’s crazy personalities.  One other strong point at this level of depth is that the fighting creates and then adjusts the harem “pecking order” based on the events.  In other words, the girls’ perceived standing in relation to each other shifted in a convincing and logical manner.

Where this element really shines is noticing where Saekano’s purpose starts affecting the characters.  Foil aside, the other characters are relatively flat, yet faithful, use of tropes.  The general development paths of the characters are initially fairly standard, but there are events that actually change their development trajectories.  Basically, the events change the nature of the character to add a good deal of depth which, in turn, affects how they interact with the other characters.  Ultimately, they give you reasons to care about each character, so you have the ability to create “Team ____,” the character you ultimately root for.

Of course, the anime clearly wants us to focus on the foil, who they have to constantly remind us is the “main heroine.” The development of this character is absolutely stellar.  She starts out as completely flat and easily forgettable, and becomes someone with a tremendous amount of subtlety, depth, and power within the story. On a personal note, she is shown to be someone who is very genuine, supportive, and confident of her place in the story.  Of all the characters, her handling of the protagonist is the best.

World: Excellent.   The world is always hard to spot in harem anime.  In this context, it’s the settings where the events happen.  However, these settings are important because they can control the mood, the temperament of the characters, and guide the characters’ interactions.  For examples, compare how the characters act in the protagonist’s bedroom, to comiket, to the mall scene.   What happens is that the context tends to have an effect on the characters that can, in turn, affect how the events unfold.  Here, the settings performed that role really well.

Plot: Excellent.  Generally, harem anime plots are the funny situations involving the in-fighting.  However, in Saekano, the various situations had lasting impact on the characters.  The characters changed and developed depending on those events, which altered their interactions with each other.  The result was that the events were ever-changing – even similar plot points had different reactions depending on what had changed between the characters previously.  Thus, each character had an individualized plotline.  The character plots actually served to complement each other really well, because they would highlight something new and different about the protagonist too.  All of the characters had a good bit of growth and development in response to the events that happened.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  This really served several purposes here – it not only tied the plot points together, it also served as solid guidance throughout the story.  They were truly masterful in handling of scene composition and focus.  For example, for the first half of the anime, (and even later) they purposefully used scene composition to de-emphasize and distract you from the main heroine.  The best example of this, and one of my favorite scenes, is in the first event at the family restaurant between the protagonist and the main heroine.  If you watch closely, you will notice how not only is she out of the frame for the most part, but there are plenty of things thrown in there to distract you from what she’s saying.  The effect was that it enforced upon the viewer the idea that the main heroine was both invisible and easily forgettable.

Another example of the stellar storytelling is how much they emphasized subtle movements – tiny details like body language and small facial expressions that conveyed a tremendous amount of information.  In order to emphasize these movements, they often would not show the character’s face so that the viewer would have no choice but to notice them.

Throughout the anime, they managed to keep a tremendous amount of playfulness and sillyness, yet at the same time leaving room for some solid drama.  A great example of the drama, and one of my other favorite scenes, was the fight in front of the old school.  That was a truly powerful scene, both in the subject matter and the raw emotion it conveyed.  We learned a tremendous amount about the characters involved in that event.  What’s more it had a very real feel to it, including its resolution – the characters didn’t really forgive each other, but came to understand more about each other.

One final note on storytelling was the excellent use of fan service as a means of character development.  The clearest example is with the cousin – you learn so much about her personality based on how she’s depicted through the fan service.  The result is that you know she’s a pretty serious, shameless flirt, but also pretty careless, and sloppy in how she goes about things.  With her, it’s a good example of the use of fan service as a storytelling device.  The other example is Episode 0.

Pace: Excellent. They managed to keep quite a strong pace up throughout.  This meant that it never seemed slow as we were always moving forward.  One of the most interesting choices that affected pace was the placement of Episode 0.  Onsen (Hot Spring) episodes are a staple of  harem anime, but usually serve as a throwaway episode and break in the action – it’s really just the characters playing around.  However, in Saekano, it was re-purposed as the pre-first episode, introducing the tone and nature of the anime.  This prevented it from breaking the pace halfway through.  Moreover, it sort of accelerated the pace by giving the viewers a roadmap of where the anime was going.  Re-watch Episode 0 after you finish the anime and it really puts both the pace and the purpose into sharp focus.

Selector Spread Wixoss

Very Good

This is the sequel to Selector Infected Wixoss (SIW).  This anime continues the story and strongly builds upon it.  The basic story is about a magical-girls type card game.  Make no mistake, it’s much better than it sounds (I admit, I was very hesitant to watch it after hearing the premise of the anime).  If you liked Puella Magi Madoka Magica, you might find this interesting for its darker, heavier themes.

Purpose: Very Good.  The anime adheres to the broader purpose set forth in SIW.  This anime delved much more into the world itself and the reasons behind the world.  Though there were some minor distractions on the way, they mostly kept towards that goal.  The distractions, amusingly, came in the form of somewhat unnecessary indecision of the main character.  That said, it was important because it marked a transition period as it changed its focus from the SIW characters to the cards.  It was accomplished very well because this anime is most notable for how they blended world with character and used the intersection between the two to reach the conclusion.

Characters: Good.   The characters were relatively the same as the end of SIW.  They were continued in a solid, consistent manner.  However, there wasn’t really too much growth or development on their part.  Generally speaking, they were deep enough that they really didn’t need to be expanded upon here – it was sufficient for what they were trying to do.  What was particularly interesting is how the cards, ordinarily part of the world, became more character-like as it progressed.  Interestingly, that was where most of the character development focused in this second season.  Again, development for these characters was strong enough that it got the job done, but wasn’t deep enough to make them particularly special.

World: Excellent. This was where the main focus of this anime was.  SIW didn’t really delve too far into this area, so there was a lot of room to explore.  The world was driving everything going on here and was really a very important character in the story.  One of the really interestingly done aspects of this world was the balance that it achieved between explaining the reasoning behind everything without going too far – they explained enough so that it was a reasonable and interesting explanation without going into the minutiae.  Often, anime will take that step too far and try to explain everything, which can sometimes harm storytelling by damaging the overall mood.  As an aside, I’d generally consider the cards to be a part of the world, even though they became characters in much the same way that the world did.  However, they were such an integral part of the story, they really served as the bridge between character and world.

Plot: Very Good.  Well done overall.  In broad terms, the beginning and end plot points were somewhat weaker than the middle.  While not ever bad, the plotlines were relatively straightforward and didn’t really twist things in an unexpected fashion.  The beginning plot did seek to accomplish some things by stalling the main character growth to set the stage for expanding the world. Really, the middle is where most of the changes in world and character happened.  During the middle, the viewer learns the most about the world and the characters because those plot points reached “critical mass” where the world really started to take on a character of its own.

Storytelling: Very Good.  Flashbacks and backstories were the strongest points of the storytelling here.  They managed to convey the impact of some rather difficult situations in a skilled manner.  Some of the strongest moments involved characters realizing the full weight of the world weighing against them.  On a different note, the anime also had a superb use of character design to emphasize what they were trying to accomplish.  Another strong aspect of the storytelling here was their use of violence to punctuate and highlight the drama going on.  The violence generally came in the form of the battles.  They were handled in a very skilled manner, neither getting bogged down in rule recitations nor in drawn out special attacks.  They were almost like a visual depiction of the conversation, argument, or struggle going on between the characters.

Pace: Very Good.  Again, beginning and end were the slowest, but never really slow.  Aside from that, no real complaints.  They generally lingered on the plot points as long as they needed to.