There is only one way to describe the scope and scale of Heroic Age: operatic. Far from the derogatory connotations of "Space Opera" championed by other anime such as Sekai no Senki (Banner of the Stars), it is a grand yet personal series which is ceaselessly ambitious, frequently breathtaking and always graceful and poised in its delivery. It is as diverged from the trappings of pulpy space opera as can be by excelling at both the intimate moments and the monumental battles.
From Angela's typically vast opening through the orchestral stirrings comprising the bulk of the soundtrack to the tender melody of Ishikawa Yui's closing, even the audio of the series is grandiose, evocative and fitting as battles are fought, lives lost and emotions plucked. The most prominent part of Heroic Age is the epic battles fought across light-years and planets, yet even this is but a small part of the series as it never allows itself to be nailed down to one narrative device, switching seamlessly from a light hearted fish-out-of-water story to the machinations of the deity-like antagonists. The surprisingly large cast of characters are expertly fleshed out and range from fatally stupid to dashingly honourable; Deianeira, the protagonist and a royal princess, is pitched as the prototypical naive leader, however her astute decision making rightly inspires the most indomitable loyalty and by the climax her role as a strong, impassioned woman is unquestionable.
Why would one decide to watch Futatsuki no Kichi when the first season of Zero no Tsukaima is (to paraphrase Yahtzee) a cavalcade of mediocrity? Perhaps it's the simple reason that Futatsuki no Kichi (The Rider of the Twin Moons) improves upon its predecessor in all respects and manages to find its footing in both humour and characterisation.
Gone are the staple characters of the first season, swiftly cast aside and replaced with fresh (female) faces; gone are the tepid attempts at humour now supplanted by copious amounts of fan-service, yuri and slapstick; and gone is the bloodless and pitifully shallow plot, storylines are now replete with pathos the first season couldn't hope to muster. This is not to say that the series is universally excellent, a satisfying conclusion is the most glaring omission, however its new-found confidence makes it far more entertaining and engaging to watch. The increased production values help this along, the animation is still by JC Staff but while characters and backgrounds feel similar, details and flourishes add to the overall feeling of assuredness.
Pure boyish exuberance is the only way to describe Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann; even given its parent company's predilection for unsatisfactory endings the series manages to be satisfying, smart and unique while paying homage to those that have tread similar ground before it. Gurren Lagann is without a doubt one of the most well-rounded pieces of anime to come out in what seems like a long time.
Ordinarily, shows which have such a large emphasis on growing stronger and are top-heavy with action set-pieces, there is a tendency to demean your audience with shallow characterisation or to bludgeon them with a lack of subtlety; this series does none of these things and manages to be viscerally appealing as well as emotionally layered. As with any good story, the core is simple: a coming-of-age for the protagonist Simon. Far from focusing on one aspect of this journey, Gurren Lagann charts Simon's meteoric rise from dirt-scratching child to heroic teenage leader to legendary saviour to wisened elder man; the sense of accomplishment and triumph at each stage is immense and, along with the cast of eclectic characters, tells the more immediate story of conquering insurmountable odds.
Darker than Black presents itself in shades of grey: muted morality and subtle story-telling; it built itself the enviable position of being as complex and involving as you allow it to be, peeling back layer upon layer if you care to look. Unfortunately the series falls short of perfection and in its quest to provide a softly-spoken and adult narrative, it omits to fill in some of the most glaring blanks and leaves some ideas stranded out at sea.
Born from Tensai Okamura, animated by the creative powerhouse, BONES and scored by the seminal Yoko Kanno, Darker than Black was one of those projects gifted with immensely talented people and a head-start on becoming a classic. It arguable fails to achieve that illustrious title shared by so many other BONES productions but only through what it lacks rather than what it has in abundance.