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The main male protagonist
The main MALE protagonist

This penultimate entry in this blog’s ‘Anime of the Year 2014’ comes much faster than the previous one; no need to wait half-a-year for this. As mentioned in the previous entry, the 4th title for the audition would be Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance, which I have hoped to not suck. This anime has plenty of worrying similarities with Infinite Stratos, which is the cause of my concern in the first place. Whether my concern is misplaced or not, you will only know by reading the rest of this review below.

Story:-
In the fantasy world where this anime takes place, magic spirits exists but can only be used by the members of the fairer sex (just like in Infinite Stratos). Then out of nowhere, our main male protagonist appears, showing off his own high-level demon-busting kneesock-wearing sentient magic spirit (kinda like in Infinite Stratos). He then enrolls into a high school that specialize in teaching how to use those magical spirits, which is full of girls only (definitely just like in Infinite Stratos), and starts to build his harem.

One of the first thing I like about this anime is that its main male protagonist is much better than his opposite number in Infinite Stratos. For example, the former use his head for thinking in greater regularity than the latter, and do have better decision-making abilities too. Plus, the former also has better character development strategies, owing to his secret decorated background that has regressed due to inactivity. If the main protagonist of this anime replaced his counterpart in Infinite Stratos, Infinite Stratos would have been improved immensely, even if that anime’s other problems are not addressed. This makes him the best character in this anime by some distance compared to the rest of the cast.

Another thing that makes this anime better than Infinite Stratos is that it has a superior harem cast. The red-haired main female protagonist for example is actually one of the better tsundere characters I’ve seen in the past few years. Her character strength regressed quite a lot though in the second half of this anime, but she is still a better tsundere than her counterpart in Infinite Stratos.

Considering the limited amount of episodes and storyline (this anime doesn’t even reach the Blade Dance tournament proper – a second season in the works?), the character developments of the harem cast members are uneven at best, unlike the main male protagonist. Only the main female protagonist and also the disowned princess can claim to have any significant character progression to their names, although for the former, her aforementioned regression in the second half of this anime did not help. The other three harem members’ developments are not as extensive as the other two, maybe it will happen in the tournament if this anime has a second season. Infinite Stratos has one even when inferior, so I don’t really see why this anime will not have one.

This anime also actually has a storyline, which is something very lacking in Infinite Stratos. The story in this anime is good too, compared to Infinite Stratos at least. But amongst the other entries in this audition, this anime has the weakest plot, therefore it will not help this anime in this audition at all. This is because, just like the main female protagonist, the quality of the storyline craters after episode 6 or so in this anime. At least there are no presentation problems here; the pacing is spot-on and the flow of the story is flawless. The small amount of humor here doesn’t really connects home, while the fan-service quickly goes stale after a while.

The quality problem of this anime’s storyline can be massively attributed to this anime’s setting. When it comes to the ‘opposite gender exceptionalism in a field’ trope, Infinite Stratos’ ‘mecha suit control’ is better than this anime’s ‘spirit elementals contracts’. Plus, Infinite Stratos’ down-to-earth location also hits closer to home than this anime’s fantastical out-of-this world setting. Too bad the writers in Infinite Stratos virtually made no attempts to put any semblance of plots in it.

The 'final' boss of this anime.
The ‘final’ boss of this anime.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is just average, and where Infinite Stratos wins very handsomely. While the designs for this anime’s main male protagonist is competitive with his counterpart in Infinite Stratos, the same cannot be said for his harem members. The tsundere in Infinite Stratos has better design than the tsundere in this anime for example, and more importantly, there is no one at all here that can match Infinite Stratos’ Cecilia Alcott when it comes to character design. In fact, I still remember that I actually only watched Infinite Stratos because I have seen someone using her picture as a spray in Left 4 Dead 2 multiplayer games.

Voice Acting:-
If Infinite Stratos wins big in character design, this anime instead wins by quite a big margin in voice acting. The voice actress for main female protagonist has done a great job in this anime. Not far behind is the knee-sock wearing sentient sword and also the leader of the knights. The main male protagonist is somewhat lacing in this department.

Music:-
The OST in this anime is good, especially for action scenes. The ED theme is also the same, only the OP theme is just average.

Animation/Direction:-
There are quality problems in both character animations and composition in this anime, but not as severe as in the current frontrunner for the audition as at the time of writing. General animations is good though, and integration between 2D and CGI animation is seamless. Choreography for action scenes is the best between all titles reviewed in the audition to date. The director is also one of those that will rather make themselves invisible with error-free conservative directing techniques, which is a good thing at least for this anime.

Conclusion:-
7 out of 10.
The weakest entry in the audition so far. The audition will end in the next entry, but I still haven’t made any decision yet on what to watch. Maybe Terra Formars?

Shortlink: https://wp.me/prgSo-G2

The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.
The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.

Another disastrous HDD crash, where almost all of my anime backlog queues are store, means that there are 6 months between the last post and this one. Of course, a handy amount of procrastination, work and other things like games also contributes to the delay. As mentioned in the previous review, the third anime title for the this blog’s much-delayed ‘Anime of the Year 2014’ would be the 4th season in the Cardfight!! Vanguard series, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Legion Mate-hen.

Story:-
Our main male protagonist from the previous three seasons, has mysteriously disappeared into thin air (relinquishing his main protagonist in the process), and the job of finding him now lies with his main ‘love interest’ from the first season. Forming a crack search-and-rescue team consisting mainly of the former main protagonist’s friends, it turns out that the search effort has been complicated by the fact that the former main protagonist has apparently done a heel turn.

The 4th season of this series is definitely the best one, so far, because of various reasons that will be explained below. The first one is definitely the newly introduced Legion Mate gameplay system. where the players can now pair a Level 3 vanguard card with a Level 2 card to achieve various power-ups and abilities. Visually, Legion Mate system is also more impressive compared to previous seasons’ gameplay upgrades like Limit Break or Break Ride.

But what makes the Legion Mate system stands out is, because due to its Level 2 card summoning mechanic, it mitigates the biggest beef I have with the Cardfight!! Vanguard card game in general: reliance on luck when drawing trigger cards. With the Legion Mate system, players can actually deploy some kind of tactics so that he/she can manipulate card compositions at the top of the card’s deck. This can be easily seen in the card battle in episode 192.

The storyline in this 4th season is also the best one when compared to other titles in the series. One major difference this 4th season has compared to the previous three seasons is that I did not apply the sport genre standard handicap here due to the drastically different storyline than the previous seasons. Plus, as mentioned before, the protagonist’s swap is one of the changes happening here; the character in the first screenshot above is now the main character. The previous main protagonist instead has become the final enemy boss, although one with very little airtime. You may think that the lack of airtime for the former main protagonist is a negative aspect of this anime, but unlike quite very many anime out there, the writer has done a clever trick to mitigate this issue, which I will explain later below.

Another change in the storyline that the writer has done in this fourth season compared to the second and the third one in particular, is that there are no overt ‘save the world’ plot anymore. Of course, there is still two planets to save, but at least this aim is obscured, kinda like the way it was done in the first season. As a recap, in the first season, the main male protagonist then (who is the enemy this time) doesn’t even know he is saving the world at that time. Overall, the storyline is pretty solid from the start all the way to the ending, and the only thing you can take away from this anime in this regard is that the plot is predictable.

There is one thing other anime titles, not limited to the previous three seasons of this series, but others too, can learn from this anime, and that would be how to do post-ending episodes. This anime has two of them, and unlike other titles such as Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru or Kore wa Zombie desu ka?, this anime’s post-ending episodes integrates well with the prior final arc. This is the opposite of the former’s final episode that is so out of place; it ruins an otherwise excellent anime title that has an excellent ending arc. It was in these two episodes that the original main male protagonist got his airtime back, as his character developments winds down for the final time while many (but not all) of the loose ends are being tied up. All is done within a perfectly executed time-jump too.

Character developments in this anime that has already reached 4 seasons and nearly 200 episodes is basically non-existent at best. Only the new main protagonist has any meaningful character development here, which makes him the best character in this anime; the character development is a conventional one too just like what the main antagonist has in the second season. The rest of his search-and-rescue team members actually barely has any, and here is what makes this fourth season great: nearly all of them paid dearly for their stagnant character development in the ending arc. The surly white-haired girl, the spiky-haired middle-school brat and also the current main protagonist’s best friend were all booted out from the final arc right before the final showdown. The less said about the main antagonists for the first and second season, the better. Those two are basically just bystanders in the final arc.

The presentation aspect in this anime is also done very well. The flow of the storyline is excellent from the start to the end, helped by surprisingly well-placed recap scenes virtually in all cases. The pacing is flawless too; the director really knows when to keep a card battle long (like the final showdown) and when not to (like the battle where the spiky-haired brat lose in the final arc). The director seems to already get this figured out after 4 seasons. Finally, the stand trigger card has made its reappearance as shown in the second screenshot above, after being missing for the whole 3rd season. And there are no more deus-ex-machina moments in this fourth season.

As a whole, the fourth season is truly a great title to bring the current series to a close. The anime titled ‘Cardfight!! Vanguard G’ seems to be a new series with brand new main characters that takes place after this anime. I for sure will want to watch it in the future.

Character Design:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Music:-
In my review of the third season of this series, I’ve mentioned that its 1st OP theme is the best OP/ED theme across all three seasons. Well, the 1st ED theme of this fourth season has just surpassed it in quality. This is one of the two bright spots for this anime in this aspect, because the rest of the OP and ED themes in this anime are just average. The other bright spot for this anime is that the OST has managed to keep up its high standards brought forward from the first season onwards.

Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!
Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!

Animation/Direction:-
This is where this anime has regressed a lot compared to the previous seasons. For starters, the fourth season still retains the usage of the blurry animation techniques that was deployed in many action scenes in this anime. But the kicker here is the drastic drop of quality in character animations and character compositions, when compared to previous seasons. Jerky animations and deformed characters, especially faces, ruins certain characters especially the surly white-haired girl and the main antagonist of the first season.

General animations are decent though, and so is integration between CGI and 2D animations. The director has really improved in this series’ final season, more than making up to the some messy issues seen in the third season. After all, stand triggers has made their comeback!

Conclusion:-
9 out of 10.
The best Cardfight!! Vanguard title to date, and also the front-runner in this blog’s ‘Anime of the year 2014’ audition so far. I have decided that there will be only 5 titles I will review for the audition, and for penultimate review in the audition, it will be for Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance. I hope it doesn’t suck.

Shortlink: https://wp.me/prgSo-FU

You have to watch this anime to find out whether their wish will come true or not.
You have to watch this anime to find out whether their wish will come true or not.

As mentioned in my last post, the second title I will review here for this blog‘s ‘Anime of the Year ‘ audition for this year, is for the mecha anime series titled Aldnoah.Zero. At least that’s what I have expected when I started downloading this anime this year, but it turns out differently in the end. If you want to know what have changed, then go on to read the rest of the review below.

Story:-
In an alternative version of Earth, the world is under an uneasy armistice for 15 years with a high-tech alien-like human civilization that lives on Mars. As if in cue, the said armistice become invalid in the very first episode of this anime when the princess of the said high-tech alien-like human civilization was assassinated during her visit to Earth. The Martians then invades Earth with their overwhelmingly superior mecha robots, and our typical lackadaisical main male high-schooler protagonist then has to get off his ass and starts the counter attack.

Take the main male protagonist from Hyouka (I watched a few episodes of this anime in Animax), borrows some plot devices from Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince (the princess, the high-tech alien invaders, a world where Microsoft’s Metro GUI actually got popular) and then combine them with a space opera-like storyline, and you will got this anime. As a whole, this anime’s storyline is fairly solid, better even than the first title in this audition. But still, this anime does has some chinks in its plot armor, like two poorly-executed and cringe-worthy events that happens in the last third of the series, amongst others, that will be explained below.

Let’s take a look at the storyline first. Superficially from the outside, this anime looks like, smells like and sounds like a mecha anime title, but this is where you will get it wrong. This anime may have robots in it, but the mechas are merely a minor part of it. The last anime title I have watched that does this is Bokurano, where its mecha is merely one cog in a machine. While the latter leans more towards the dramatical slice-of-life genre, this anime instead gravitates towards a soapy space opera that borders with the seinen territory.

One thing I like about this anime is the fact that its main male protagonist fought the alien invaders that possessed overwhelming technological superiority over Earth humans, merely using a normal mecha machine while aided by comrades that has nothing better either. Even in Bokurano, the children there managed to get themselves a overpowered and deadly mecha of their own. Throughout the series, I half-expected that the princess a.k.a. the main female protagonist will eventually gives him his own Aldnoah activation power, but she didn’t, which is a good decision by the writer.

You are going to spend significant portion of your time watching this anime waiting for him to be relevant. He has too much airtime spent on him for a secondary character. I will not be surprised if he become the main male protagonist for the second season.
You are going to spend significant portion of your time watching this anime waiting for him to be relevant. He has too much airtime spent on him for a secondary character. I will not be surprised if he become the main male protagonist for the second season.

From the start, the storyline branches into separate but equally important sub-plots, with each of them revolves around certain characters. The first one revolves around the main female protagonist (the princess) which then bind the main male protagonist with her. This plot line is probably the closest one to a typical mecha anime such as Majestic Prince. The second one revolves around the princess’ Earthling retainer from Mars which then bind the main antagonist with him. This plot line is arguably the best one in the anime, so far. The third one revolves around the Kaji-like character shown in the picture above which may bind several characters like the female ship commander and also the main male protagonist’s older sister. This plot line consists mostly of character developments, so far. Those ‘so far’ statements exists because this anime will have a sequel next year.

The first two subplots are actually quite OK, and both developed nicely up until the last third of the anime. Nearly simultaneously at that time, those two subplots’ quality are marred by two cringe-worth events that definitely will cause the scoring to suffer. For the first subplot, that would be the attempted assassination of the princess and her groveling aftermath. For the second plot, that would be the interactions of that subplot’s main characters right after the retainer was kidnapped.

The actions of the princess at that event makes me cringe inside with her cliché-laden declarations (and the groveling – damn that groveling). Meanwhile, the kidnapping in the second subplot is actually the most important event in the whole series, and it serves to prepare the princess’ retainer for the finale, supposedly using character developments and also flashback storytelling. The biggest problem about this kidnapping event is its execution, which is poor as I mentioned above. The transition of the retainer’s characterization from the start of the kidnapping to the beginning of the finale has not been fleshed out properly. What the transition process need is more airtime so that the main antagonist can do the conversion process properly.

As for the presentation aspects of this anime, I don’t think there is anything to complain about. The pacing of this anime is much better than Majestic Prince, although maybe it has slowed down a little near the end. Contrary to what you may think, this anime does not exactly have any best characters per se, mainly because this anime is such a story-driven title, and its principle characters are merely cogs in the machine that is this anime’s multi-subplot storyline. The retainer is probably the only character here that may and can assume such a distinction, mainly because of the ending.

And oh boy, the ending sure is at least better than what is seen in No Game, No Life and has a cliffhanger-like feeling in it that approach the one seen in the first season of Code Geass. It comes to my understanding that this anime will have a second season next year, which I will definitely watch, and the ending in this anime is set up perfectly. But after watching this anime’s ending, I have some concerns about what may happen in the sequel, and hoped that certain things will not happen in it.

In the ending, this anime first sub-plot has ended when both of the main protagonists died. Meanwhile, the second sub-plot has been completed with the retainer’s burst of character developments finalizing his transition to a certain status as a main character in the sequel (he could become the main protagonist or main antagonist). He does so by ending the first sub-plot indirectly and also eliminates the main antagonist. The third sub-plot was paused at the verge of the final showdown, and definitely will only be restarted in the second season.

My only hope for the second season will be for the writer to resist bringing any or both of the main protagonists back to life. I wouldn’t have had to mention this if not for the fact that the writer of this anime also wrote Blassreiter. An excerpt of my review of that anime 5 years ago:-

The most defining aspect of this anime is its high character churn rate, with many characters dies left and right. That would have been a good thing for this anime, if not for the fact that this anime also revives dead characters more often than the DragonBall series.

The writer better not revive the main protagonists of this first season in the sequel. People who has been shot in the head don’t come back to life, unless as zombies. Even zombies don’t come back to life after getting a head shot. And no, the Aldnoah power cannot bring people back to life, or else the princess’ assassination plan wouldn’t have been conceived in the first place. Trying otherwise will blow a plot hole so big, Mars can fit into the said hole.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is just ordinary, and frankly speaking, the bland designs here is inferior to what is seen in No Game, No Life (which is not exactly that good either) or Majestic Prince. Or even Blassreiter. In an anime that takes place in an alternate version of Earth in our present time, black hairs are quite common though, which is a good thing even when there are aliens and robots in here.

Voice Acting:-
Just like the character design, voice acting in this anime is also ordinary and just about average in quality. While it is hard for me to remember any characters whose voice actors has done any noticeable jobs, at least this anime does not have any bad gigs either. Inferior to No Game, No Life too in this aspect.

Music:-
When it comes the OST, what you can hear in this anime is better than the ones in No Game, No Life at least. But as for OP and ED themes, both anime are just the same (read: none of them are good at all).

Animation/Direction:-
Animation quality in this anime is good and smoother than what you can see in No Game, No Life. This applies to both general and character animations. Unfortunately, integrations between 2D animation and CGI sequences isn’t exactly seamless though. This anime isn’t the place to go if you expect good mecha actions, because choreography for those scenes overwhelmingly underwhelming. The directing is flawless, but quite a little bit on the conservative side.

Conclusion:-
8 out of 10.
Same score as the first entry of the audition: No Game, No Life. The next entry in the audition is going to be the 4th installment of the Cardfight! Vanguard anime series, titled Cardfight! Vanguard Legion Mate.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-Ex