I've decided to share my thoughts and impressions on the recent summer 2011 season anime all at once, since it's easier than writing a separate article for each, mainly because I don't really have enough to say about some of them to merit writing multiple articles and I'm lazy. Before that, however, I'd like to introduce (a slice of) my trusty anime spreadsheet! Because I've watched so much anime, I need to keep a list of everything I watched and up to what point—yes, there's that many and yes, my memory is that bad. You can see some other convenient information I keep in my list, such as the total number of episodes, whether I've finished a series, what type the anime is (usually blank, but I use it for, say OVAs and movies), what day it airs (too lazy to add), what season it broadcast, and my partially objective score for it, from one to ten. The average rating so far is 7.775, which I think indicates that I am neither particularly forgiving nor overly harsh, though personally I think I am too nice to many series. Anyway, let's see what Summer 2011 had to offer! (Disclaimer: What follows is my opinion and thus will be considered absolute truth unless challenged with supported arguments. Such arguments are warmly welcome.)
First, let us get all of the simple stuff out of the way before getting to the interesting shows. Ikoku Meiro no Croisée is about a little Japanese girl dropped into 19th century France, when Japan began to open up to the world. It explores culture shock, many different facets of French and Japanese culture, and about how the girl, Yune, and her caretaker, Claude, deal with their cultural differences. The art and scenery is quite splendid and the story pleasing, though it leans toward slice-of-life.
Nurarihyon no Mago II is the second season (obviously) of the anime adaptation of the manga. It is a good shounen series, with all the tropes that brings along with it. The youkai, Japanese mythological setting of Nurarihyon no Mago is slightly more fresh than the standard boy-out-to-save-the-world setting, and the show is fun to watch, though there's not much originality or depth.
Mayo Chiki! is one of the many standard high school male with female harem series running around lately. Its unique premise is that the protagonist suffers from a rare form of gynophobia that makes his nose bleed when he comes into contact with girls. One day the protagonist discovers that the school's popular girl's popular butler is in fact a girl, and all hell breaks loose, in a manner of speaking. Mayo Chiki! is enjoyable to watch, though with standard character archetypes, humor setups, aesops, and so on.
Nichijou is the odd one of the bunch; I would have personally placed it under the "Interesting" heading, but I refrained due to its sheer audacious use of obscure, almost non sequitur humor. It is hilarious, random, and crazy.
As Mawaru Penguindrum hasn't finished airing yet, I'll leave its review until later.
Dantalian no Shoka is the spiritual successor to last season's (was it last season? my memory is woefully inadequate) Gosick For Gosick's Kujo and his knuckleduster, we are given Huey with his revolver, for Victorique and her mysteries, we are given Dalian with her Phantom Books. Being an almost trope-for-trope copy of Gosick, it certainly doesn't win any points for originality, though it preserves most of the attraction of its source material. Dantalian also has quite a few flaws in pacing, plot holes (in particular, Huey's relationship with the Bibliotheca is incompletely explained only very late in the anime, leaving the viewer puzzled over the many cuts where a young Huey befriends the girl in the Bibliotheca), what I particularly appreciate about Dantalian it its rampant use of symbolic names and its over-arching theme of "forbidden knowledge". This can be seen in the title and eponymous library—Dantalian is the 71th demon in the Ars Goetia, the demon of all knowledge, arts and sciences, and of all similitudes, a fitting title for a library of forbidden knowledge— and in puns and mythological references of many of the Phantom Books.
Dantalian also briefly explores different views of forbidden knowledge as well; while Huey and Dalian seal most of the Books they com across, they have also destroyed a few, while Libricide officers specifically burn them, as the Church burned heretic texts in the Middle Ages (fire, after all, is the universal purifier), whilst Dalian's counterpart, the Bibliotheca Mystica de Raziel—named after the archangel Raziel, keeper of secrets—instead fosters the creation of Phantom Books, of forbidden knowledge. Altogether, this makes Dantalian no Shoka an interesting watch, though you'll have to pay attention to catch all the references.
Usagi Drop is rather unique, even by anime standards. While anime tends to explore a wider range of subjects and issues than other media (especially Western media), a single man raising an adopted girl and their mutual growth is not a recurring theme (to my knowledge) in any medium. That is essentially what Usagi Drop is about: a single man, Daikichi Kawachi, at his late grandfather's funeral meets a girl who turns out to be his grandfather's illegitimate daughter. After a long dispute between the family about the girl's future (which also serves as criticism of Japan's cultural inclination toward passivity), Daikichi decides to raise the girl, Daikichi Rin, himself, wondering how hard it could be.
As he finds out, raising a child is extremely difficult, Over time, he worries about many different issues of raising a child as a single adult, such as finding day care, buying clothes for a girl (after all, Daikichi never really understood women or children; Rin is just about his least compatible match), and countless other experiences. Among the many questions Daikichi wonders about, one of is a central theme for the series: are the sacrifices made raising a child worth it? Throughout the anime, from the very beginning, where Daikichi's mother chides him for his rashness with, "Raising a child is hard work, you know." to the hopeful ending, Daikichi experiences firsthand the sacrifices a child demands, yet he also realizes that what he gives up cannot really be called sacrifices either. The joy of seeing Rin's smile and all the memories of their time together are not things for which sacrifices are made; rather, they are things in which time and effort are invested to nurture to bloom.
Structure-wise, Kami-sama no Memo-chou is fairly standard, with an arc-based structure where a certain conflict is resolved over a number of episodes, and after everything is resolved, another arc begins, with maybe some hinting at the end of the previous arc and a "culminating" arc to wrap up something hinted at throughout the series. The music, the art, and the characters are all well done, that is to say, average (harsh, I know). What intrigued me enough to list this anime here is simply one thing: the "human element" which Kami-sama emphasizes through its conflicts and its characters. I'll do a quick run-down of examples here, as this article is getting quite long at this point: Alice and the NEET detectives, as, in Alice's words, only two kinds of people can do something for the dead, detectives and writers; Ayaka, her brother, and Angel Fix, all revolving around the symbol of wings, as in human freedom; Narumi and his emotional (some might say foolish and naïve) behavior and ideas; and all of the various problems Alice takes on are ultimately human, emotional problems.
If anything, No. 6 is the anime version of George Orwell's 1984. The beautiful and clean, technologically advanced No. 6 is a superficial utopia which is belied by the omniscient devices citizens wear on their wrists, the ranking by intelligence which assigns citizens to their lot in life, and the disturbing pledge of loyalty government employees make to the city. The dystopian world can be seen more clearly in the world outside of the city, which is filled with ruins and people fighting to survive; No. 6 dumps its trash outside to keep itself clean. In a way, this is a metaphor for the world as it is now; developed countries exploit third-world countries to maintain their appearance, at the cost of the rest of the world. The character dynamic is also very interesting, with the hopeful and naïve Shion and the rational, cynical Nezumi serving as foils for one another. They also instill themselves in the other as well, as Nezumi grows to care for Shion despite himself, and Shion losing himself in a spirit of calculated vengeance when he sees Nezumi hurt.
Other parts of No. 6 are less noteworthy. The art and music are average, and the symbolism in Safu, the elves, the elder in the cave, and the bees I suspect may be very deep, but as of yet I haven't put in the time to pick them apart and thus they seem rather contrived at the moment. However, I think the beauty of No. 6 is that, between the city and the outside, it describes the world, and between Shion and Nezumi, it describes humankind.
Ah, and now we come to this one; what can I say? A deconstruction well done, it trails behind only Madoka currently in my mind. The characters, the music, the plot, the message, even the title are all praiseworthy. Starting with the characters, they are all unique and interesting. Eschewing standard anime archetypes, we have the schizophrenic, paranoid, yet also flamboyant Okabe; the tsundere genius scientist, who actually acts like a genius scientist, Kurisu; the slight airhead, cheerful Mayuri, with her signature "doo-do-doo"; the fat computer nerd Daru; &c, all of them unique, all of them badass in their own way. All of the opening and closing themes perfectly match the mysterious, sci-fi mood of the series. The plot goes from confusing and relatively bright to its dark, deconstructive mood in the second half, deconstructing time travel and fate with glee. The obvious message is "Don't mess with time", but it also shows the pain and suffering time travel can cause, and how it drives Okabe to near-insanity. It also demonstrates memory and its importance to who we are, how we see others, and how significant it is to us humans. Finally, even the title hints at what prospective viewers of the anime can expect: like its predecessor, Chaos;Gate, Steins;Gate uses the semi-colon as its separator, even eschewing the more common colon or period as a separator which eschews the standard space. Like the oft-neglected semicolon in English, the title tells us that the anime will be using the same base techniques as other anime, but to present a more detailed message.
Phew, that was a lot to write, even just briefly touching on only a handful of the anime for Summer 2011. I hope I encouraged some of you to try out some of the anime I suggested here, and perhaps helped you to see them, if you have already seen them, in a new light. I'll be giving my thoughts on the next season as well; please look forward to it.