Last Sinner beat me to it about why Brynhildr is compared to Elfen Lied... I'll just add this is one reason I'm expecting it to have more substance than it's let on so far.
Wixoss was actually the first new show I watched, and I'm afraid I wasn't quite as positive on the first episode as you. The dread and foreboding was too unsubtle for my taste. This wasn't like Madoka where Kyuubey wasn't up front with the girls and seduced them with the old justice, frills and sweets pitch - I kept wondering what was wrong with the protagonist that she's gung ho about a game so obviously creepy. I think it's going to take the show staking something on her victory to really get me involved.
I did finally get around to samplying Akuma no Riddle and enjoyed it immensely. I'm not normally nearly as big a yuri fan as you, but Tokako and Haru are exactly the kind of "hard and soft" yuri ship that's my favourite (remember, I used to ship Kanbaru and Nadeko!) and it looks like it's going to essentially be them facing off with a bunch of batshit nuts girls in an over the top fashion. Glorious.
I also saw Hitsugi no Chaika today, and like Black Bullet I have to say it's a solid if hardly mind blowing entry into this season's action show pool. One downside: Chaika'smanner of speaking is a double edged sword, it's cute but also makes her come across as rather dumb.
I still have a fair bit of catching up to do with the new Spring 2014 shows.
What I've seen so far is Akuma no Riddle, Love Live! Season 2, Captain Earth, WIXOSS, and Brynhildr in the Darkness. Of these five, Brynhildr in the Darkness is the only one you mentioned to me, so we'll start with that.
I found it unintentionally hilarious. I mean, they present Ryota as the super-practical super-serious guy, but there's something I just find silly about him. I mean, he is a massive risk-taker in ways that are pretty amazing. I read people compare this anime to Elfen Lied of all things, so I have my doubts that this comedy I'm seeing is intentional (so I'm tentatively calling it unintentional). Kuroneko (haha!) is no less silly than Ryuto is, but it's pretty clear she's supposed to be that way. She is amusing.
I have to admit that I'm a bit skeptical of shows like this. Nerdy male lead and strange mysterious "girlfriend" - That's been so done to death in anime it makes incest look like a novelty. They're going to have to do something pretty different with this show to make this heavily used concept work for me. And I suppose the Elfen Lied comparisons could be promising that way.
Akuma no Riddle I enjoy a lot on a shits and giggles level. Having two characters that look almost exactly like Kyouko and Sayaka definitely appeals to me as a Madoka Magica fan (the fact that "Kyouko" eats pocky and "Sayaka" wields blades makes it that much sweeter). Aside from that, the show has the same "crazy cool" sensibility as Dangaronpa, Mirai Nikki, and Umineko - And while that can seem a bit lowbrow at times, I also find it highly amusing. Throw yuri on top of all of this, and this show is the one of the season that will probably get me smirking the most. Worst-case scenario is probably "Guilty Pleasure" but time will tell if it rises above that for me.
While Akuma no Riddle is the show with some superficial similarities to Madoka, it's WIXOSS that captures the spirit of Madoka the best, imo (at least after an episode). So of these shows, the one I most recommend you check out is WIXOSS. It does dark and foreboding really well, imo. I'm not a big fan of the "children's card games" shows myself, but this one may be an exception for me. And hey, it's wrote by Okada!
Captain Earth - To me, it's like an unusual blend of Space Bros. with Star Driver so far.
And you already know what I think of Love Live! The 2nd season looks just as good as the first so far.
After I've watched some more anime shows, I'll give you my take on them as well, if you want.
I know its pretty early on, but have you flagged any potential frontrunners so far?
For me, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii shows the most promise so far. I also thought Black Bullet and Kanojo ga Flag o Orarertara had pretty good starting episodes but I'm less sure they're going to have staying power as they tend towards the guilty pleasure side of my tastes. At the other end of the spectrum, I wasn't a huge fan of the openers for Brynhildr in the Darkness or One Week Friends but I have a hunch they're going to get stronger as they go.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the rhetoric frustrating but I honestly wonder if I should have left that point out. The key point I was trying to drive home was that I think the hostility western otaku sometimes express towards expanding anime's horizons are strongly influenced by their rivalry with other western fans and the insecurities that result from that, and that I think given that Japanese otaku may not be subject to similar psychological factors, we probably shouldn't be asserting they're hostile towards one anime targeting westerns without some solid evidence. I feel like trying to muster my personal experience as evidence just made things messy.
I don't remember having any problems with Refrain's ending tone wise, but for me it fall's victim to the same problem I have with most Key stuff - the way the supernatural elements in the story function always seems somewhat contrived in a way that bugs me a lot more than, say, the underwater physics or lack thereof in NnA. Or the physics in Steins;Gate for that matter.
(BTW, I do sometimes wonder if Steins;Gate's writers were familiar with an older VN I've played. If so I'm fine with it, as I don't feel they "ripped off" the VN in question - but if they didn't borrow some elements from it, there are some big coincidences.)
Oh, by the way, I agree with your generally negative reaction to people talking about a particular anime show (be it Space Dandy, Kill La Kill, or anything else) "saving" anime.
What exactly does anime need to be "saved" from? I do think the overall balance of anime could maybe use a couple more westernized shows from time-to-time, but acting like anime needs to be downright "saved" is just silly to me. Some seasons are better than others, but looking at the past few years in total, they've been pretty good, in my view.
Those who hate moe and still don't accept it are people that really need to get over it, in my opinion. It's part of anime for a reason, and it's something that gives anime a distinct flavor. As you and I have discussed before, good luck finding something like Clannad in western entertainment. And I think that moe is a big part of the reason why. Having moe in anime means we get something truly different than what our own backyard produces, and isn't that sort of overall variety something to be cherished? That's how I view it, anyway.
Don't get me wrong, there are certain otaku tastes I sometimes sigh and roll my eyes over (the incest trope definitely being tops amongst them), but otaku tastes in general is also what makes anime so nicely distinctive. Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad. In this case, I think it's worth it on the whole.
Your Kill La Kill/Nagi no Asukara comparison is pretty inspired.
Yeah, that's a good comparison - Satsuki is to Ryuko what Tsumugu is to Hikari. In both cases, I prefer the more cool, calm, and collected character (though the more hot-headed character is good at pushing the plot forward).
As for NnA's ending - I was largely fine with it. I was just thinking back to the last anime ending I watched that was like this one - Little Busters! Refrain. For whatever reason, LB!'s tonally similar ending resonated more with me, probably because the second last episode led up to it well.
For rating NnA-style endings...
Spoiler for Spoilers for Steins;Gate, Mai HiME, Little Busters!, NnA:
In rating these four "entirely happy" endings, I'd go...
Steins;Gate >> Little Busters! >>> Nagi no Asukara >>>>>> Mai HiME
I'd also put the NnA ending ahead of the non-LN Key anime endings I've seen. The NnA ending didn't feel like a downright asspull to me, but it did feel just a touch too convenient to me. No big deal, though.
I agree with you on Tsumugu/Chisaki - So at least you're not alone there. I found the Tsumugu/Chisaki/Kaname dynamic more interesting than the Hikari/Manaka/Miuna dynamic. And yeah, the maturity difference probably played a role there.
Spoiler for Nagi no Asukara episode 26, plus some Key stuff:
It's interesting how you found Nagi no Asukara's happy ending felt arbitrary. I actually liked it, despite not liking the role supernatural elements played in some other shows like Kanon and Clannad.
I think the difference is it felt like Nagi no Asukara used its established supernatural mechanics to go where it wanted to go. Whereas Kanon and Clannad built supernatural mechanics to get where they wanted to go. Interestingly, one Key work where this is not the case is Angel Beats - what happened to Kanade at the end was so, so obviously intended as a last minute tearjerker, but it didn't bug me because what happened to her made a lot of sense in light of the established rules.
I'm also going to express what is probably going to be a very, very unpopular point of view on this show among our close peers on this board: that I like the show far more because of the increased focus on Chisaki and Tsumugu in the second half.
Hikari is a well written protagonist, but he's not really a character who I can get behind - he's too brash and bull-headed for my tastes. Whereas I don't dislike Hikari, I genuinely like Chisaki (who unlike some posters, I'm pretty sympathetic towards) and Tsumugu. Among other things, I find them quieter and more mature than most of the cast. Hence I cared a lot more about the outcome of the show in its second half than its first, which made it more enjoyable to watch.
(I'm actually reminded of how I like Satsuki more than Ryouko in Kill la Kill and how that cause me to take a fair greater interest in the later episodes than the earlier ones.)