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.)
I generally haven't been a bit fan of the "two cour shows are better than one" thesis, but if I had to pick my top three shows at the moment, they'd be Nagi no Asukara, Tokyo Ravens, and Kill la Kill.
Spoiler for Nagi no Asukara 23:
As much as I felt it bordered on purple prose territory, I think Tsumugu managed one of my favourite anime confessions. Though I will admit I have a strong Tsumugu/Chisaki bias - they're just so laid back around it each other.
Golden Time is the one carryover that I feel has kind of lost it - the characters and story elements are really interesting, but for some reason the show has started to feel somewhat "eye roll worthy".
As a side note, a friend and I decided to try sampling some Peach Pit shows on the weekend and I ended up breaking out the original Rozen Maiden for the first time in years.
First off, at least based on the first episode, it's not just nostalgia value: it's a pretty good show.
Second, it got me thinking about the reception of the 2013 sequel. I know some posters around here really dug the more mature tone of the sequel - but rewatching the original does really drive home just how much more colour, humour and energy the original had. I'd have to say I came out of it feeling pretty neutral - there's good cases to be made for both shows.
And in turn I'm not that surprised you suspected she was my favourite.
The comparison with Rin and Hitagi is as much about personality as appearance. Between Rin and Hitagi, Satsuki reminds me a lot more of Hitagi - perhaps with a bit of Kamina thrown in. But I think all three are powerful, elegant and have a good mix of "calm and collected" and "fiery". I was also trying to hint- perhaps a bit too subtly - that these sorts of characters a) have a history of appearing alongside cuter characters and b) are probably liked by many of the same people who like those cute characters. Ie. my usual argument that fans have broader and more nuanced tastes than they're often given credit for.
I do agree she's one of the most interesting and nuanced characters in the show.
(Edit: obligatory moe analysis of Satsuki... I'm going to try running through about four different ways of defining moe here. 1) Bloom/"sparkle" (thank you Hanasaku Iroha!) definition: Yes. Wild Rose, anyone? 2) "Intense admiration" definition: Yes, even though she's kind of a fascist. That she's portrayed sympathetically helps here. 3) "Warm and fuzzy feeling" definition: Weak, she doesn't really have a warmer/cuter side like Rin and even Hitagi do. 4) Protective feelings/vulnerability definition: I'm inclined to say weak though this is tricky - she's has a tragic backstory, but she carries it so well that I don't end up feeling the same way as I do for say, Iriya or Kotomi.)
(BTW, while she doesn't really watch KlK, my girlfriend likes Satsuki... my girlfriend's favourite older anime is probably Utena so that may explain part of the appeal.)
By comparison, I find Ryuuko a little too "meatheaded" for my taste. Mako strikes me as similar to a character like Yui* - I like her as a comedic character, but not really my type. (*Actually, I think that if you dropped Eru from Hyouka in Kill la Kill, I think that - social status aside - the result would end up like Mako, but that end result is also more Yui than Eru.) And she actually faces some stiff competition from other KlK characters for the best comedic character spot - Gamagoori would be a definite contender, which might explain part of why people like to ship them.
I like long straight hair though not to the extent that its occurrence on my favourites list would suggest. If I whip up a quick "top five waifu" list, you get Kuroneko, Hanekawa, Matsuri, Azusa (the K-On! one) and Horo. That's what... 60%? Maybe 70% if you give half credit for when Azusa has her hair down. However, I like Azusa and (assuming we're talking her season one look) Hanekawa's regular hairstyles a lot too. And outside that top five list, I also absolutely adore the way Zakuro in Otome Youkai Zakuro mixes twintails and ribbons while still striking an appropriate balance between cute and elegant for her character.
Of the straight haired girls, I probably feel the most strongly about it in regards to Kuroneko. It's tricky to explain, but I supposed I could say she has such a strong "traditional Japanese beauty" look that it would be a shame for her to wear it any other way?
(Wait... I just remembered that I also dig Zakuro with her hair down. Damn it.)
Honestly, no, I wasn't surprised by your choice of favorite character. Satsuki was actually the first character to come to mind for me when I read your latest VM to me. I figured it was probably her or Mako, and in Mako's case, I considered her largely because she seems to be the most popular character in the show in general.
Satsuki isn't that visually different from a lot of other popular, well-beloved anime characters - I've seen some fan-art that mixes and matches her with Akemi Homura, for example. She has that tall, full-bodied, long dark-haired look that's popular in anime. Like Hitagi and like Rin.
I've noticed over the years that a fair number of your favorite female anime characters have long, straight hair going for them - Like Sola's Matsuri and Spice and Wolf's Holo. So I think that this is probably a character design element that visually appeals to you.
And putting visual appeal aside, I myself consider Satsuki the most interesting character in the show. I think she's very well-developed, and has some intriguing ambiguity to her, but also while being very well-defined in some areas.