Glancing Upstream: Summer 2015 Retrospective and Review

Having some good old-fashioned fun in the sun.

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Summer might not have had the most groundbreaking or ambitious of series, but what it lacked in artistry it made up for in pure enjoyment. This season was just plain entertaining, chock full a variety of genres from high fantasy to crime drama to horror to comedy. Well-executed (or awesomely bad) pop fiction was the name of the game, and I was genuinely excited for the next episode of even the lowest-rated series on this list.

That isn’t to say there weren’t some excellent ideas and characters to be found among the batch, mind you. While “entertainment” was the primary focus, many of the top series featured strong character writing, showrunners who knew how to develop unique atmospheres through art and music, and an understated but insightful exploration of social issues such as power imbalances and bigotry.

School-Live and Gangsta dealt with trauma in nuanced ways, and Snow White and My Love Story depicted some of the healthiest relationships in shoujo memory, promoting communication and quietly but consistently challenging traditional gender roles and genre stereotypes. Part of the reason I had so much fun this season was because I wasn’t having to constantly roll my eyes at some trite or harmful characterization, but could just get swept along in a bunch of great (or hilaribad) stories. And that makes this a pretty strong season in my book.

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Series Review: SCHOOL-LIVE! (Gakkou Gurashi)

Talk about never judging a book by its cover.

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Expectations are funny things. I saw the cover art for this one and figured I’d make it ten minutes into the pilot; had my curiosity piqued just enough by the end-of-premiere twist to give it another week or two; continued to watch half-intrigued and half-cynical, convinced that it was always five minutes from shooting itself in the foot and leaping off a cliff… and now here I am at the end of it, writing a full review and feeling pleasantly surprised by the experience.

As I’ve said before, there’s no way to discuss this show in-depth without mentioning The Reveal that happens at the end of the first episode. If you have no clue what I’m talking about and don’t want to have it spoiled for you, then go sit through the first episode (available on Crunchyroll) and come back. Otherwise hit the jump for the happiest surprise of the season.

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My Love Story!! – Episode 24: “My Heart” (Finale & Review)

SUKI DA indeed, Takeo.
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My Love Story took last week off presumably because they needed extra time to animate all the sparkles, but we’re back with not only the finale to our two-parter, but to the show itself. Confessions will be made! Desserts will be baked! Audiences will be adorabludgeoned! And anime’s most charming high school rom-com will come to a predictably heartwarming conclusion.

I’ve shuffled the order of my original Anime Evo post around a bit, so the first half of this one provides a spoiler-free review for any newcomers interested in checking out this series. I’ll let you know when we switch from the review to the episode recap. Hit the jump and prepare your heart accordingly!

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Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 12 (Season Finale & Review)

And so we come at last to the end middle of things.

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Snow White hits its first-cour finale today, so it makes sense to spend the first half of this post providing a mostly spoiler-free review for anyone who somehow hasn’t made this a part of their watch list and is wondering if they should. Short answer: Yes, you should. Long answer: Hit the jump for some glowing paragraphs, and I’ll let you know when we’re moving back into spoiler territory.

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Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 11: “Experiencing…”

Okay, Snow White, now you’re just making the other shows look bad.

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Do I really need to say anything about that one? You watched it. You saw. You know the art was gorgeous and the staging elegant and the music sublime and the characters so wonderful that my notes are like 75% caps lock, underlines, and little heart drawings. I literally wrote “I can’t even” in large block letters at one point. Trying to parse it out and describe it almost feels like I’m cheapening the experience.

But not writing about it means I can’t share this experience with you, and I want to do that. Oh, very much. So hit the jump for some screenshots, gushing, and analysis. But mostly the first two.

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My Love Story!! – Episode 23: “My Spring Break”

If you ever wanted to see me fly into a murderous rage about a fictional character, boy howdy, have I got a post for you!

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I usually put a few hours between watching a show and writing about it because I like to have time to think over what happened, but I’m doing this one immediately because this is a post that needs to be written while my blood is still hot and my eyes still seeing faint shades of red. That isn’t to say I thought it was a bad episode, by the way. I’m not mad at the writing, or at least I’m going to wait until next week’s conclusion to decide how I feel about the story itself. No, my fingers are hammering into these keys because of a new character. His name is Ichinose. And he. Is. The. Worst.

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Snow White with the Red Hair – Episode 10: “Inexperienced Heart”

I’m not sure what we did to deserve so many great shoujo series in a single year, but whatever it was, let’s keep doing it.

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This would have been a marvelous episode regardless of anything else that happened, but coming less than seven days off My Love Story‘s fantastic “The Letter to Me,” it really struck me how lucky we are to have two great shoujo series running simultaneously for arguably the second time in a single year (a relative rarity in the anime schedule these days).

Shoujo (and its more mature counterpart, josei) series have their share of harmful cliches and archetypes, to be sure. But at its best, the genre features an emotionally honest, character-driven storytelling style and a focus on the complexities and nuances of individuals and interpersonal relationships that’s unmatched just about anywhere else in anime. Shows like Snow White remind me why I fell in love with this genre over 10 years ago, and why I keep coming back despite the rough patches along the way. Here’s hoping 2015 is the beginning of a trend and not an anomaly, and we see plenty more series like this one in the years to come.

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