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Spring 2016: First Impressions April 7, 2016

Posted by navycherub in Anime, first impressions.
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Last updated: April 10th (Flying Witch, Haifuri)

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As you probably know, every season there is a veritable deluge of new anime to choose from. As you probably also know, most of these shows are not worth your time. This has not stopped me, however, from watching just about everything I could reasonably get my hands on since the introduction of Power Ranks on this very blog inadvertently gave me possibly the worst habit of all time.

The bright side is that my bad habit is to your benefit, and I can sift through every single new premiere and let you know if I think they are worth checking our or not. As you’ll see, that will come in the form of a couple paragraphs and a dreaded score. Fear not, though – these scores are more like guides, and each one has a basic meaning attached as follows:

  • 1/5 : I found nothing salvageable about this show. Even if you are a fan of the genre, the studio, or the writer, it is probably in your best interest to give it a skip.
  • 2/5 : At the most, a genre recommendation. There probably isn’t anything special or exciting here, so it is easily skippable, but if you really like shows like this you might give it a shot anyway.
  • 3/5 : Solid attempt at whatever this show is trying to do. Very little or nothing outstanding can be found in this show so far, but it has established a solid base that a decent show can be built from.
  • 4/5 : Great premiere. Captures your attention, keeps it, has the requisite hooks that make you want to come back for more next week. The only reason I can see you not trying this out is if you absolutely hate the genre or something similar.
  • 5/5 : Watch this now. There are little or no missteps whatsoever to be found here; load this show up right now and bask in the glory of what is surely the beginnings of something magical.

Pretty simple, right? So with that in mind, let’s jump into these shows.


Ace Attorney

1/5

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This show exists to sell people games. Now, sure, you can say, “but all shows exist to sell something!” And you’d basically be right. But even the most rote of light novel magic high school anime typically have something – anything! – that makes them feel like they could feasibly exist as a product in and of themselves. Maybe it’s some detailed fanservice, or some animated battles, or whatever. It doesn’t even have to be particularly good – just needs to be there at all. It is relatively rare that a show comes out with absolutely no ambition, no purpose, no feeling whatsoever.

Unfortunately, it had to happen to the otherwise wonderful Ace Attorney franchise. If you’re unaware, this series of games follows lead character Phoenix Wright as he goes from a kid with a kind heart to a solid defense attorney. In the games (well, the first few anyway), you control him, follow along in court, find evidence, and so on, eventually solving the case. And you see that here, in this unbelievably phoned-in episode which takes you through the tutorial case from the first game step-by-step, with no time to stop and smell the flowers.  Evidence flies by, accusations are thrown around, and eventually the true culprit is “revealed” whether you stopped to think about it all or not.

A lot of the time the worth of an adaptation is weighed heavily based on how “accurate” it is to the source material, and I admit that I’ve done some of that myself too. However, this show’s very existence works as a sort of worst case scenario adaptation dystopia work, void of any voice or personality it may have had in order to please the adaptation judges. The trial itself plays out as humanly accurate to the game’s as possible within a 24 minute timeframe. Faces, poses, lines, camera angles, and otherwise any asset that could be lifted directly from the game and pasted without change to the anime has been. There is hardly even animation as long as there doesn’t need to be, almost as if the animators were scared to deviate at all. Aside from the voice acting (which I admit takes the much appreciated angle of being mostly silly and fun), there is no significant difference between this episode and a commentary-less let’s play of the intro trial, perhaps played at 1.2x speed.

As-is, there isn’t much of a reason for this show to exist. Even if you just wanted to see these characters animated, that is almost not here either. Maybe if you have no way whatsoever of playing this game – er, no, even then, I’d skip this. I pretty much expect these video game adaptations to be tame and unimpressive anyway, but Ace Attorney plays it so safe that I can’t really say it’s worth just about anyone’s time.


And you thought there is never a girl online?

3/5

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And you thought there is never a girl online?, or Netoge, as it will more reasonably be referred to, is an amusing distraction that could easily become more. The idea behind the show is appropriately laid out by its title – main character Hideki believes there are no real girls online, but he is about to find out that he is very wrong.

Everything about this premiere is done in service of establishing this premise, and to that end it is successful. Unlike other shows in similar a similar vein, Netoge presents its characters playing their online game in a fairly grounded way. We see inside the game as if it were a fantasy show, but what actually occurs isn’t glamorized. The characters chat while not moving much, such as around a table, or simple brawls take place without many fancy flourishes. At one point Hideki is mercilessly beaten down by a mob of enemies, and there realistically isn’t much he can do by himself. It also helps plenty that we see shots of the game from Hideki’s computer screen, exposing the humble reality of their activities.

The conversations the characters have both in-game and when they inevitably meet in real life add to this sense of relative normalcy. Chats about net etiquette or the initial awkwardness of meeting your online friends happen naturally and without fanfare. If you’ve ever spent time playing games like this, the atmosphere Netoge is aiming for should be immediately familiar.

And it’s good the show is doing so much work to make it feel inviting and normal, because the more obvious wish-fulfillment elements of the show could definitely drive it down into mediocrity. Self-described “geek” and “book girl” Ako is the most immediately problematic part here – her attachment to Hideki is an integral part of the show’s basic idea, but her bouncy attitude and sex appeal drive against the grounded feeling of the rest of the episode. The other major characters also being girls who go to Hideki’s school is also obviously in service of potential harem-esqeue antics here, but luckily their actual actions in the episode don’t betray the rest of the show like Ako does. There is also some light fanservice, but given everything else here, it’s harmless; I’m honestly more shocked it’s so tame. None of these are deal breakers, but they are all potential cracks in an otherwise well-made episode.

This is all to say that Netoge has deftly chosen its combination of overt strengths and indulgent vices to create the chance for something greater. With its characters, their situations, and their established interactions, a strong character drama that really delves into their insecurities and room for growth could be built here. Much like OreGairu before it, a great version of this show would entail a real interrogation of these characters that lesser shows would leave as stock, used for non-committal drama and easy viewer attraction. At this point (having not read the light novels of course), either route is open for Netoge to take, and the optimist in me hopes it takes the high road.

It is a little weird to say, but the other premiere this season Netoge has the most in common with is easily Joker Game. On the surface they couldn’t be more different, but they share the same structural strengths and weaknesses: both have laid the potential for solid thematic weight, but both could also easily be simple, effective, but unmemorable genre pieces. And, until proven wrong, I’m willing to assume the best, so Netoge gets a hesitant but positive nod.

 


Anne Happy

2/5

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Every show about girls in school needs a gimmick of some sort if it’s going to stand out at all. KinMoza has the Japanophiles, GochiUsa has a cafe, and now Anne Happy has a class full of “unfortunate” students. This could have been taken in an incredibly unsavory direction, and if you read between the lines a bit, it is (the teacher’s little speech about how some people are “born lucky” and others aren’t turns a little too closely toward this). As is expected, though, none of these girls’ problems are serious or debilitating, so it’s actually a clever conceit designed to set up scenarios for the characters to be cute and incompetent without any real effort.

Since there is a whole class of kids, there is plenty of potential for the writers to come up with some legitimately creative and amusing problems for them. Unfortunately, in this episode, we’re only introduced to the usual suspects, minus one chuckle-inducing twist at the end. There is the girl who animals hate, or the girl who gets injured way too easily, or the girl who gets lost all the time. The concept here is right in the strike zone for some really weird stuff to be used, but it’s just about all played safe here.

Which means that, for now at least, Anne Happy is just plain boring. There are some attempts at comedy, but none of it lands, seemingly for fear of breaking out of what people expect from shows like this. The core concept of the show is essentially never used if you stop and think about it, even if the show tries to pretend the gags are playing off of it. The girls are given eggs to keep safe for a day, and that goes as you’d expect from any show – it didn’t have to come from one about this “unfortunate” class. A cat approaches the unfortunate animal girl and her new fragile friend, and that plays out like it could have in any show, too. Everything here is familiar.

That mostly leaves us with a competent, inoffensive girls-doing-things show that, to be honest, doesn’t even reach the average line for the genre these days. These shows are mostly the same, but usually some amount of effort is put into differentiating them. Anne Happy is content being bland.

 


BAKUON!!

3/5

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It’s always nice when jokes actually land. It’s especially nice when they just about all do. Anime comedies tend to have the problem that they aren’t actually funny, but I found Bakuon!!‘s first episode to have avoided this entirely, and it’s an enjoyable experience for it.

The actual concept of Bakuon!! is extraordinarily simple – some girls ride motorcycles, and are varying levels of invested in said motorcycles. Luckily there isn’t actually any attempt to make this idea out to be more than it actually is. Instead, we get a series of fast paced jokes about it all, and they tend to work. Fluffy-haired Amano takes her biking incredibly seriously (on the outside) but actually just wants to be respected by newcomer Hane. Hane is your typical ditzy girls’ club protagonist, but her earnest interest in bikes propels the “plot” forward as everyone else in the show does their thing. There’s also Raimu, who never talks and always wears a helmet, a joke that is basically inherently funny and hopefully will run forever ala Elizabeth from Gintama, and Rin, who is basically just like Amano except she doesn’t like the same kind of bikes (which by nerd law makes them mortal enemies).

It’s all very simple, so execution is key here, and for the most part it is good – comedic timing is not a problem Bakuon!! struggles with whatsoever. Jokes come and go, punching when they need to and never overstaying their welcome. The jokes are all levels of absurd, too, from Amano’s consistently expressive and funny faces to the raunchy bike Hane rides while trying to get her license. That bike is a great example of jokes that aren’t all that funny by themselves but work really well in context. Just about everything that comes out of her “mouth” is simply an unsubtle lewd joke, but between how nonchalantly she says them, how Hane blatantly ignores her comments, and, well, her status as a dang motorcycle, I couldn’t help but chuckle a few times.

There doesn’t seem to be any pretense of this taking itself seriously any time in the future. Amano’s attempts at being inspirational being rejected by the attitudes or lack of attention from characters around her drive this home humorously. That might well be a deal breaker for plenty of people; comedy is incredibly subjective, of course, so if you don’t find the ridiculous conceit of this show to be amusing, Bakuon!! is fine letting you go. But if you do, this is a rare anime comedy with a real sense of pace and timing that you just might want to check out.


Bungo Stray Dogs

2/5

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Between the loud yelling “jokes,” exaggerated comic faces, and one-note cast, Bungo Stray Dogs seems to have hopped out of a time machine that came right from about 2006. There is probably an audience for this kind of show, and I’m sure they’ll love it, but for everyone who went through that time in anime history and moved on, it will simply feel tired.

The show has a pretty basic conceit that works to get its feet on the ground, but not much else. Our main character Atsushi is an orphan but isn’t at an orphanage for various reasons. That means he’s all primed and free to join some sort of quirky magical group – in this case a supernatural detective agency. He meets some “characters” who have personalities such as “wants to kill himself” and “is anal-retentive.” These characters are supposedly based on real-life writers, and the jokes might be more funny in that context, but I doubt it since there are only so many times a guy can say he plans everything out before you’re just not laughing anymore.

Since the episode spends its entire run trying to get you to like these people, there isn’t anything else to even talk about. You can say something about the visual style, which is actually pretty nice but marred by the previously mentioned ’06 design choices. The short action sequence in the episode isn’t impressive, either, featuring speedlines, models floating across the screen (you know, “jumping”), and on the occasion a nice angle or two. You could touch on the few attempts at drama, which feature such amazing lines as “You’ll never find a place where you belong!”.

Or you could just step back and admit there isn’t really anything here, and hope that this isn’t the show’s best foot being put forward, because it really does look like it could be better. A real hook, or some decent characterization – any kind of solid foundation would make the future look brighter for Bungo Stray Dogs now. As it is, though, it’s just a pair of legs floating along the river.


Cerberus

1/5

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Are you a big fan of generic fantasy worlds? Do you think names like “Dagan Zod” sound awesome? Perhaps you particularly like really tiny swords? If any of these things apply to you, forget everything I am about to say and go check out Cerberus.

For everyone else, I can’t really bring myself to say anything good about this show. The plot so far is pretty clear cut – probably. Evil dragon? Hero killed him ten years ago? Kingdom has poor people? Yeah, all that stuff. If you actually try to follow the details here, though, you’re practically guaranteed to be lost, because there aren’t any real ones. Everything is buried under some of the worst proper noun-abusing dialogue I’ve ever seen. I’m still not 100% sure what a “Dalhalbart” is – a crest of some sort? The guy who killed the dragon? Both? It’s a mystery, but everyone wants it, including our hero, Hiiro, who is not a very good hero apparently. Oh, and neither was anyone else, because the dragon is back at the end of the episode for some reason. Whatever.

Nothing about the production saves this, either. There is basically no animation to speak of. A cute game of “tag” between Hiiro and some kids would have been the sole highlight of this premiere if it was anything more than awkward models bouncing up and down, punctuated by unimpressive stills. Even the music is just sad instead of serviceable, meekly playing in the back of every scene as if it didn’t actually need to exist but someone wrote a score anyway. If Cerberus was a person, I would almost feel bad for it.

But no, in the end I don’t feel bad, because there is really nothing here to feel anything for. I can’t even be amused by the show being terrible or something, because the lack of effort in any part of this show makes it feel like it hardly even really exists. Perhaps that is the answer – perhaps Cerberus is actually the collective dream of a lame show we’ve all conjured together with our collective consciousness. Except that can’t be true either, because it just isn’t interesting enough to be that either.


Flying Witch

4/5

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For the first half of this episode, I was pretty sure Flying Witch was about young adults – say, early 20’s or so. It made sense in my head – main character Makoto was making a pretty big move, and described as a free loader by her second cousin Kei. There is a very cute (yet also disconcerting) joke where Kei convinces his sister Chinatsu that Makoto is her mother for just a moment. A general air of relative maturity yet uncertainty for the future lies on the entire show.

Then we meet Kei’s friend Nao, they talk about school, and we find out they are actually all newly entering high school. At first I was a bit disappointed, but it quickly dawned on me that I was focusing on the wrong thing. It doesn’t really matter how old the characters are – they don’t act at all like anime high schoolers, but just reasonable people instead. So the rest of the episode played out with the same charm, and I came away not amazed, but satisfied.

That’s the kind of show Flying Witch is. Girls on brooms in the sky don’t seem so strange when the world around them is so soft and accepting in the first place. There is no overt drama to be found here, or conflict of any kind really. As a result, the show feels comfortable having fun with its characters in actively harmless situations, letting them enjoy the delicacy of life without worry. In Flying Witch, humor exists to help you feel at home, not to leave you in stitches. In Flying Witch, lovely background art is an end to itself, because everything here is designed to help us stop and appreciate the simplicity of life for a while.

I’m sure this show will have its fans, people who love it much more than I do, and I’m glad it exists because it is really good at what it does. I admit, I’m more predisposed to falling in love with shows that involve loud emotions, and Flying Witch is essentially the opposite of that. I can and do appreciate these kind of stories, though, so Flying Witch ends up absolutely one of the best shows this season, even if it’s not really “for me”. Gotta give credit where credit’s due!


Future Card Buddyfight Triple D

2/5

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I’ll be the first to admit that Buddyfight‘s previous season, 100, was largely a mess. It began well enough, introducing plenty of reason for a variety of card fights and introducing Gao and a few of his friends to the Buddy Police (which is a hilarious concept by the way).

However, as it went on, it became more and more clear that 100 was going to be bloated and take itself way too seriously. After defeating the evil dragon Yamigedo (a couple times) the show could have ended and moved on, but instead we were made to endure even more convoluted and incredibly forced encounters with good-guys-turned-evil, more future shenanigans, and generally a season perhaps twice as long as it should have ever been. As the credits to the final season rolled, many plot points that drove the season forward were unceremoniously discarded, adding insult to injury as the show practically declared that nothing that just occurred mattered at all.

Well, the new season titled Triple D seems to promise a fresh start, and in that respect it has started…alright. Gao is in need of a new buddy since Drum left at the end of 100, and the show wastes almost no time introducing us to his replacement, Bal. Drum was loud and abrasive, matching Gao beat for beat, sometimes to good effect (their friendship was quite believable) and sometimes, not so much (both protagonists being yell-happy energetic kids can wear on the mind quickly). Bal is also a ball of energy like Drum and Gao, but instead of being a child like Drum, he’s a baby. Literally, he hatches from an egg in the first part of this premiere and doesn’t even know what Buddyfight is. Bal is also incredibly annoying because of this and his…”cute”…verbal tick of saying his name as often as possible. Not a great start, but not less irritating than Drum – just a different flavor.

The second half of this episode is a fight between season 1 baddie Gaen Kyouya using the same deck he has used since then and Drum with his shiny new cards acquired from Bal’s egg (is this how cards are born? because that is kinda gross). The fight itself is really boring because Kyouya’s deck is and has always been boring and Gao is of course using only the most simple of the new cards Bushiroad wants to show off.

More positively, the fight involved plenty of color commentary from another new character – an amusing and overconfident zombie named Ozon B – and perhaps most importantly three of the best characters from the show, Baku, Kuguru, and Noboru. If you ask me, Buddyfight’s greatest strength is its quirky yet likable characters, and 100‘s greatest failing might even simply be not using them enough.

The interaction of these three characters in this episode is what gives me hope that the writers have their heads on straight again for Triple D. There was an actual sense of fun here, and despite the plot of the episode being obviously phoned in, the atmosphere and comedy were a huge step up from just about anything in 100. It’s also not the worst place to jump in and try the show, if the 75 episode first season is too big a commitment.


Haifuri

3/5

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Talk about a pleasant surprise. Following up on shows like Girls und Panzer and Mouretsu Pirates, Haifuri is the newest in the line of shows about high school girls inexplicably managing adult, military-flavor jobs. In this case, that job is helming famous ships, for reasons which make themselves clear eventually. Also, they have a very big, cute cat, which is important.

I’ll get it out of the way: the first half or so of this premiere doesn’t do the show many favors. I wouldn’t be too surprised if more than a few people lost interest when the episode opened with a stock sequence involving the main character meeting her future best friend through a series of unfortunate events. There is some familiar-feeling bonding and vague worries about the future, and the show generally feels like full iyashikei with a hint of military otaku. That could be a decent show, but the execution of that idea is just uninspired.

Then the second half of the episode comes, and that formula is turned upside down. Suddenly we are thrust into a military sports anime with hints of iyashikei, and suddenly the writing seems much more comfortable in its own shoes. The drama proper is pretty strictly lifted from the intro of many a boot camp story – the newbies are told to go the long way around so that the teachers can take a shortcut and give them a surprise, and our protagonists are forced to find quick solutions to unexpected problems. However, the depiction of this organized chaos is deftly handled so that it is engaging instead of bland or confusing, mostly thanks to a careful economy of dialogue handled by experienced and talented scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida.

It’s not only easy to follow what is happening, it is also a ton of fun, and even someone like me with just about no basis (outside of some Kancolle) for a default interest in this stuff can enjoy it. The episode ends with a small “twist” that actually does more to answer questions than introduce more, which is both a neat way to tie things up without taking real time from the episode and give us some hooks for coming back next week. Haifuri is more than competent right from the onset, and I hope it keeps this momentum up in the weeks to come.

 


Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

4/5

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At this point Shinji Takamatsu has enough solid comedies under his belt – Gintama, Daily Lives of High School Boys, School Rumble, and more – that my interest is immediately piqued when I hear he is on a project. I’ve also read some of the manga for this title and enjoyed it plenty, so when you put those together, this was certainly one of the shows I was looking forward to the most. One incredibly fun half hour later and I am very happy to confirm that any excitement was entirely warranted – Sakamoto is great.

Sakamoto follows a strain of comedy much like another beloved show from a few seasons back, My Neighbor Seki. Much like Seki, Sakamoto‘s humor comes from how too cool for school its protagonist is, but Sakamoto’s adventures so far come from the jealousy of his peers. It’s also – surprisingly? – a full-length show, featuring two skits in this episode and two in the next. Admittedly, his long-form release puts a little strain on the number of laughs Sakamoto can squeeze from its ideas. Half an episode about a guy who doesn’t realize how flat his attempts at winning over girls is doesn’t sound like a consistently funny time.

Luckily, Sakamoto understands this inherent limitation, which is why its protagonist’s ridiculous charisma does so much work to keep it fresh. Any given situation can become a chance for Sakamoto to prove yet again that he is the (cool, cooler) coolest kid on the block. Twice his seat is stolen from him in this episode, and both times lead to fast, effective, distinctive visual gags.

These kind of jokes aren’t typically ha-ha funny. Those are mostly relegated to Takamatsu-isms such as the three delinquents passing a volleyball back and forth while they have a casual conversation. Instead, Sakamoto’s antics contribute to the atmosphere of absurdity that the show thrives on, making it an enjoyable experience all the same – a sword fight with a bee is undeniably amusing, even if it won’t make your gut explode.

Despite its length and the assumed potential of its concept, Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto keeps the funny coming for the entirety of its premiere episode. If you’ve liked anything Shinji Takamatsu has overseen before, you enjoy ludicrous comedies, or you just want consistent funnies this season, you don’t have to look farther.


Hundred

2/5

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Sometimes what you see is what you get. And in this case, you probably see Infinite Stratos, and what you are getting is also Infinite Stratos. From the crossdressing roommate to the armored battles in school, everyone has probably seen some variation of this idea before, and Hundred doesn’t plan on messing with the formula.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world – boilerplate battle school shows are kind of a guilty pleasure of mine in the first place. But, there are bumps here, like an extended “as you know” sequence explaining the concept of Hundreds, Savages, and other proper nouns that you can parse just by looking at it, or the “queen” of the academy reminding everyone that they will die, probably. Luckily these parts aren’t too bad and come between the usual modestly entertaining character introductions and drama set-up, and the concepts in the show seem simple enough that there shouldn’t be too much exposition in the future, either.

Oh boy is the protagonist a huge lump of personality-less nothing, though. He spends the entire episode doing essentially whatever anyone tells him to. You’re my friend? Whatever. Gotta fight that girl? If you say so. Despite having the best Hundred potential ever, and going to military school for the purpose of using his Hundred, he apparently understands literally nothing about it. It’s hard to believe and it doesn’t help at all that he doesn’t speak up for himself either. I will give the show that he has a good small moment that reveals he really loves first aid though. It’s actually the only time he seems happy about anything in the entire episode. Maybe he’s going to school to be a nurse.

Jokes aside, there is nothing to be said for or against this right now. The battle against the drill lady wasn’t even in this episode, so there isn’t any indication of what the action will be like, either. Nothing to condemn, nothing to praise, but it seems reasonable if you’re into this kind of stuff.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

4/5

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There is plenty to be said about the longevity of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It seems like its creator, Hirohiko Araki, is an endless spring of wild ideas and enthusiasm as he pours more and more of his energy into the JoJo world. Luckily for us, the good people at David Production have a love for Araki’s work that almost equals his own, and so we enter the fourth adaptation of this manga.

Not ones to rest on their heels, though, David Production brings us a whole new taste of JoJo flavor with this iteration of the franchise. Every “part” of the manga has its own look and feel as Araki has spent so many years honing and evolving his style of both storytelling and art. David Production has matched this in their own way, and that effort is immediately obvious – the town of Morioh portrayed here is absolutely exploding with pop art colors and aesthetic, featuring round designs and a soft palette.

Even if you are only familiar with JoJo in passing, this comes across as a pretty stark difference from, for example, the generally more neutral colors and square designs that defined the previous season, Stardust Crusaders. It’s an interesting and fun interpretation of Araki’s evolution within the Diamond is Unbreakable manga, whose art begins much like Stardust Crusaders but ends more like what we see on the screen today. In fact, entire character designs are changed little by little over the course of Diamond is Unbreakable, but in a smart decision David Production has employed Nishii Terumi to adapt those designs, giving us a fully unapologetic round and bright version of this town and the characters who inhabit it, embracing where Araki ended up by the end of this run.

It feels pretty different from Stardust Crusaders and company because it is, and making that clear from the beginning lets us know that this story is in the hands of people who understand it (as if there were any doubt). This understanding comes across in plenty of other ways, too. The cold open, showing us some of (relatively) bustling Morioh as someone cooks breakfast and listens to an energetic radio personality while a distinctly 90s-feeling track plays puts us in the mood for this specific setting perfectly – only to be interrupted by the radio going out, and the reveal of a severed arm! Everything you need to know about Diamond is Unbreakable is neatly packaged here, and the show has hardly even begun.

It feels almost unnecessary to talk about the characters or plot here, but this premiere does as good job as any of introducing us to our new protagonist Josuke, his connection to the Joestar family, and the kinds of baddies he will be fighting in the near future. The only potential worry here is that previous hero Jotaro might take away some of the spotlight, but “introducing” him to us through the eyes of Josuke’s new friend Koichi does some work to keep him from taking over the show. JoJo has never really been about the plot so much as the charismatic characters and creative energy, so everything on this front is rock-solid.


Joker Game

3/5

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Delivering us from sequel and generic anime genre piece hell, Production I.G presents Joker Game, a serious show about serious spies who do things seriously. This first episode puts us right into the very specific world Joker Game wants to play with, and with a decent sense of atmosphere and a decently large cast filled with popular voice actors, it is decently successful at earning your attention.

We as outsiders become acclimated to Joker Game’s specific tone through an in-universe outsider, Tomokazu Seki’s first lieutenant Sakuma, who makes sure we know that he definitely doesn’t like spies. The show puts him in the position of seeing our eight spies earn their place in the “D Agency” with some commentary about how amazing they must be since they can accomplish difficult feats yet aren’t from the military like Sakuma is. Then they play (a variation of?) the titular joker game – a game of poker – where he loses and is subsequently told how he lost because he just isn’t as cool or smart as the spies. Some blunt political comparisons later and I guess we’re supposed to think spies are really cool now because they just don’t care about anything, man.

(If you ask me, their game of poker isn’t even all that different from normal poker. It’s still about bluffing and signals and what have you, just in a different form and you didn’t tell one person that you were playing a different game. Ah well.)

This leaves everyone except Sakuma feeling cold and obnoxious for essentially 20 minutes, which just may be the goal here, because by the end of the episode he’s left in a pretty bad situation thanks to a plot laid by surely multiple parties. We’ll learn more about that next time according to both the preview and the fact that this episode is titled “Part 1.” But, overall, I don’t really see a definite hook here.

Why do I feel positive about the show in the end, though? “Possibilities,” I suppose. The characters (except Sakuma) are cold robot people right now, but the solid “twist” at the end of the episode and the concept of the show as a whole leave me willing to believe the show can at the very least be a fun thriller with betrayals, twists, turns, and all that good stuff. Also, the setting and time frame (right before the Pacific War) leave plenty of threads for possible stories. I would also say possible political commentary, but the spies seem incredibly uninterested in that – in fact they seem much more interested in convincing Sakuma that nothing really matters anyway, for better or worse.

Nihilist Spies the Anime isn’t all that engaging, but it sure does carry itself well. The large cast and interesting setting leave plenty of room for improvement, too. As of right now it’s not great, but I’d keep an eye out.


KIZNAIVER

4/5

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I don’t remember the last time I liked a show with such trepidation. If nothing else, Kiznaiver had me on the edge of my emotional seat the entire time, constantly wondering if I liked it or not, endlessly debating myself about if its writing and design choices were loony, genius, or some mess in between. And by the end of the episode, I still couldn’t fully decide on anything, but it left an undeniable impression, which has to be worth something.

OK, that’s all kind of vague, so let’s back up. Without even going into the specifics of the show, Kiznaiver‘s inner turmoil can be summed up pretty well as a battle between its concept and its, well, everything else. One moment a character is seriously lamenting the poor life decisions of a cicada, the next a man with a pink pompadour is butt-bombing bullies belligerently.  Later, the Really Serious Cicada-Sympathizer becomes the comedic relief character as someone with even more obnoxious navel-gazing dialogue steals his throne.* The characters introduced so far are forced to meet each other and humorously abandon the situation to tell jokes instead, but then the Serious Girl takes control of the tone again and everyone is suffering face pain.

That’s just a sample, and I haven’t even talked about the visuals, which are equal parts spectacular and incongruous. Characters fly across the screen in beautiful blurs and emote with visually loud body movements sometimes, and in the very next scene there are screen-filling lens flares or entire shots bathed in blood red. A weird mascot reminiscent of Psycho-Pass or Paranoia Agent plays with children or pushes a character through a hallway with wild movements. The time between seeing most of one girl’s butt and seeing her writhing in shocked pain feels nonexistent.

It’s basically impossible to really say what Kiznaiver will be like in the future based on this premiere, so the question ultimately boils down to: is Kiznaiver in on the joke? Once again, the answer isn’t clear, but my intuition wants to land on ‘yes’. Despite how Serious Girl Noriko attempts to drive the show, it still takes place in an undeniably Trigger World where things and characters can spawn from the ether and the rule of cool overrides everything. Serious Boy Katsuhira’s attempts at being the brooding nihilist type is never once taken seriously by the show itself, as other characters simply acknowledge him as being ridiculous and (as mentioned above) his shtick becomes a joke in the face of Noriko’s heightened edge. Heck, Noriko’s plan ultimately boils down to “if the world won’t be anime, I’m going to make it anime,” lending some credence to the idea that the script is in on the joke, too.

So right now Kiznaiver is playing with fire. As it stands it has proven it can pull off playing both sides, but it is an incredibly precarious balance. Just about any slip-up of tone versus content versus atmosphere can ruin everything. From where I’m sitting, how the show treats its five characters who aren’t Noriko and Katsuhira from here on out is what will decide if Kiznaiver is a successful experiment or an unfortunate mess. The theme of empathy reminiscent of Kokoro Connect will obviously force them into various kinds of melodrama, but if Kiznaiver can maintain its cast’s likability and fun while also pulling out genuine emotional resonance, I’d be over the moon. It’s not gonna be easy, though. I believe in you, Kiznaiver.

*The lesson here, I suppose, is that everything is relative.

 


Kumamiko -Girl Meets Bear

3/5

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This show is called “Girl Meets Bear,” and there isn’t really anything else to say about what actually occurs in it. There is a girl (Miko), and a bear (Natsu), and they are friends for various reasons. It’s a cute concept designed from the top down to be a cute show, and it is pretty successful at that.

It helps plenty that the show is funny. The scenarios here – Miko tries to convince Natsu to let her move to the city; a teacher?/tour guide? shows some kids around and tells them a story about the bears – are simple; you can parse what is going on and even what will happen next easily. More importantly, they are natural, and they play off of the fact that you “get it” by not trying to pull any rugs out from under you. Instead, the jokes progress like they really would (if bears could talk, anyway) and so the humor works because it never feels like you are being told a joke. You’re just watching a scene between these characters, and the inherent amusement from Miko betraying her own country upbringing or the inherent absurdity of being scolded by a bear work by themselves, no frills.

There is something to be said about how sexual the jokes are willing to be versus the general aesthetic of the show. The lewd jokes work for the same reasons I listed above. Poking fun at how weird and strangely sexual folktales can really be is, as everything else in the episode, funny enough by itself that the show doesn’t have to try very hard to make you laugh. The tonal whiplash between the cute designs and the bear-cunnilingus is certainly out there, but the skit slides into it well, and by the end it just becomes part of the show’s comedic language. It wasn’t what I expected at all, but it still worked, which says something about the general effectiveness of the comedy here.

There isn’t anything spectacular about Kumamiko, but it’s not bad, either. As a leisurely half hour every week, I’m looking forward to it.

 


Re:ZERO -Starting Life in a New World-

4/5

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Color me surprised. I went into this not expecting too much – the normal-guy-in-fantasy-world concept isn’t a terribly exciting one, and the beginning of the double-length premiere featured a lot of hikkikomori Subaru doing the TV Tropes protagonist thing where he obnoxiously points out all of the things he recognizes from manga and games. He eventually meets an Asuna-lookalike and goes on an extended fetch quest for her stolen brooch. Eventually, in the second half of the episode, the show lets the cat out of the bag, and we find out (spoilers?) he has some sort of All You Need is Kill-like ability to go back in time once he’s died, and the plot proper starts.

On paper it isn’t very exciting, but in execution I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. There is a handful of clear reasons for that, too. First of all, despite Subaru’s hikki/main character/trope expert status, he is not actually a bad guy. He spends essentially the whole episode earnestly trying to figure out what to do with his sudden life change, is honest to a fault with the people around him, and generally treats people pretty well. In fact, “doing good for the goodness’ sake” even seems to be a theme here – he and heroine Satella spend this episode doing exactly that, and even when they aren’t too honest about it, the show doesn’t try to convince the audience that its characters are actually all that selfish. Satella likes to claim that she does everything for profit, but this is patently untrue; similarly, Subaru’s efforts to help people are thinly shrouded in a good-deed-a-day philosophy. It’s a really nice reversal of the usual light novel setup where the protagonist’s selfish or perverted motivations are made “right” by their “heroic” actions, and if the show really does have a plan for that theme, I’m all for it.

Even the other characters we see here are pretty likable in their own ways, even if they are only barely introduced here. Felt is earnest and fun; Old Man Rom’s penchant for fairness and mutual protectiveness of Felt are endearing; even the shop owner and his family, who don’t seem too important as of now, are characters I certainly wouldn’t mind learning more about. The outlier here is apparent-villainess Elsa, whose entire personality so far is killing all those people I mentioned liking so much a couple times, but even her situation has some seeds laid to be more complex as the story rolls along.

Of course, not everything here is amazing. The visuals have their moments – there are some seriously weighty and engaging fights with very cool camera angles to be found here, for example. There are also some nice, smaller moments of animation, such as when Satella moves very quickly as she tries to explain that she definitely wouldn’t help Subaru in the future, no sir. However, the world as a whole here is incredibly generic and unimpressive, giving the impression of literally any fantasy world and not a place that actually exists. Also, the crowds are frequently filled to the brim with jarring CG models moving across the streets like unresponsive RPG characters. It gives the town a sense of life, but pay too much attention to them and it quickly becomes distracting.

Overall, I’m impressed. Re:ZERO isn’t for everyone – if you are instantly put off by the concept, for example, I doubt it will win you over – but if you are even mildly intrigued, I’d definitely give it a shot. I don’t know how long it will be able to keep my interest, but I’m ready and willing to give the ride a try for now.


Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3

3/5

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Who knew all it takes is decent staff and a little bit of passion to pull off a solid show? It took Toei two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal to find out, but this premiere seems to be a real reward for those who stuck with that abysmal year of bi-weekly half hour messes. It’s Sailor Moon, for real, and feels so right.

There are plenty of reasons for this, too. First of all, most notably, are the character designs and consistent animation in general. Anyone who watched two minutes of the original Crystal run knows all too well how things can quickly fall apart here. The designs, originally somehow an awkward uncanny valley noodle mess, are now much more clean and vibrant. Not only that, but there are no horribly off-model shots to be found, either. Now I admit, that isn’t impressive in itself, but Crystal Season 3 moves ever forward as the characters are constantly expressive, twisting, turning, and generally feel alive and fun. There is a real sense of joy to be found as this episode clearly puts its best foot forward.

Second, the transformations are great. Last season’s transformations were incredibly ugly plastic-looking CG charades with no soul. The staff is fully aware of that here, since we get a battle in the second half of the episode that is so short that it feels like it is only there as an excuse for them to show these sequences off, extending a hand of comfort to all who were understandably wary of Crystal‘s reputation. Every inner senshi’s transformation is fully and beautifully articulated here, and details are expanded upon absolutely everywhere, even in smaller things such as their poses (Ami no longer looks like she desperately needs to pee). Oh, and the few attacks that are in the episode? Look great, sound great, can’t wait for more.

Finally, the show finally has a reasonable sense of pacing. Things progress at a steady but comfortable speed here, introducing and re-introducing us to characters, letting their relationships feel natural and real, and putting us in the mood for the arc to come. Once again, this is a stark contrast to the first two seasons, which moved at an unreasonable clip, making the already admittedly absurd plot all the more ridiculous and unengaging. I am legitimately excited to spend another set of episodes with these characters, and that is something I don’t think I could have honestly said about any of the previous 26 chapters.

Overall, everything about this premiere just screams “confidence.” Confidence in its characters, confidence in its story, confidence in its production – there is hardly a beat missed here. There is still plenty of time for this to go wrong, but as of right now I am feeling confident in Sailor Moon Crystal, too.


SUPER LOVERS

1/5

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First of all I want to point out that if this show were about Ren living with these dogs, it’d be great. Just look at that screenshot. The dog on the left is looking great, grabbing fish and having a great time. Seems like a good show.

Super Lovers, though, isn’t Ronja-with-dogs, so instead we’re left with a tasteless yaoi soup instead. And how bland it is! Ren and Haru, the main boys here, take the idea of being stock characters to heart. Who needs characterization when you’re kind and have pretty eyes? Why delve into your child abuse plot when you can use it for cheap drama and an excuse for a thinly veiled grooming story? With the looming time skip and awkward transition into, uh, “super lovers,” you’d think this show could pull off something at least enraging. Instead it’s just nothing.

I guess that’s one way to avoid the fall out of your gross premise, but I gotta say, it’s also the most boring way. I was about ready to fall asleep at multiple points during this seemingly endless half hour. Luckily those cute dogs were around to keep me active, but I don’t want to discount the amusingly bad animation (walking cycles? just bounce the character’s torso up and down!) and plot beats you could play Yaoi Bingo with.

If you’re gonna make a show this bad, at least don’t make it this boring, too.


Tanaka-kun is Always Listless

3/5

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Between this and Sakamoto, this seems to be the season for full-length shows made from concepts that scream short-form. And in both cases, this is mostly turning out better than expected. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless only really has one joke – Tanaka is really tired, all the time – but much like Sakamoto it doesn’t try to ride that out for comedic effect all the way through.

Instead, it aims for atmosphere, a listless one if you will, that feels really nice if you’re in the mood for it. Watching Tanaka be lazy and come up with excuses for his laziness is relatable and fun in a fittingly laid-back way. His friend Ohta plays the relative straight man to Tanaka’s easy going ambitions, which means that he is also an embodiment of that pang of guilt you might feel when you know you’re slacking off. It’s a predictable but amusing enough combination, but works better than it might have otherwise because the pair actually has some great chemistry. It’s both legitimately cute and somewhat cathartic watching as Ohta drags Tanaka to class or to a dentist appointment, letting you vicariously play out the inner conflict between your lazy desire and sense of responsibility.

The few real jokes here actually do turn out pretty funny, too, which is always a plus. Given the show’s slow nature, punchlines sometimes seem to come from nowhere, making simple things funnier than they might be otherwise. Also, the voice actors carry some jokes to high levels through their delivery, like one about Ohta scolding Tanaka and a friend for their inappropriate uses of water fountains. The comedy is not at all something you could describe to someone without losing basically everything that actually makes it funny, which is kind of rare for anime, and especially rare for anime adapting manga (usually lending it to more visual gags in general).

To reiterate, you really do have to be in the mood for Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. It’s not an exciting or loud show, by design of course. But it does lend plenty of enjoyment if you are feeling particularly like Tanaka today, or if you need that Ohta in your life to remind you that you need to go to that dentist.

 


Terraformars Revenge

1/5

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The first season of Terraformars‘ reputation precedes itself. Known for many things – censorship, terrible animation, lack of fidelity to the manga, the list goes on – it often seemed like no one had anything good to say. Even an effort to release uncensored episodes early on Crunchyroll didn’t satisfy many people because the show itself was unsalvageable as it was. Personally I liked it from the beginning, but not for any reasons I would list as “good;” its weird campiness, stilted dialogue, flat characters, penchant for wild and crazy backstories (Adolf!), and general obsession with bugs made it an interesting exercise in incompetence. Regardless of my own enjoyment, I don’t really know who that show was made for.

Yet, despite being completely different from top to bottom, I have no idea who this sequel was made for, either. Just looking at the two side to side makes differences wildly clear. Once grizzled and heavy character designs have now become soft ab-less blobs. The grays and browns and ugliness of the atmosphere have been exchanged for much brighter colors. Once bloody brawls have been replaced by comparatively pacifistic rumbles. Regardless of how silly the premise is, its execution undeniably rides on these cockroach monsters being uncompromisingly brutal so that this conflict has any immediate weight, and all of that is gone. Oh, and where there were once basically no jokes, we now have plenty of them, all terrible, and featuring comical faces that betray the self-serious nature of the original show.

OK, so Terraformars Revenge isn’t for the people who just wanted an intensely violent bloodbath. Is it instead an attempt to soft-reboot the franchise to earn new fans who were put off by the original season? In that respect, there are plenty of mixed signals being sent in this premiere, but the end result is “even if it is, it fails.” The episode begins exactly where the first season is left off, implying a direct continuation. We then get an incredibly lazy retelling of main character Akari’s backstory and motivations, told from the perspective of a Michelle who is essentially an entirely new (much worse) character now.

Rewriting characters and retelling backstories feels like a reboot move, but then any time the characters talk about their current situation, with squads spread out over Mars and more specifically Adolf’s death, anyone who hasn’t watched the previous season would be simply lost. The end of the episode throws us back into the political subplots on Earth, too, with no re-explanation. Combine this with the decent amount of legwork that would need to be done to catch new people up on the various plot movements and twists of the first season and its prequel OVAs, and you’re left with a barely half-hearted attempt to keep new people not just invested in the show but even aware of what is happening at all.

So, not for anyone who found something to like in the original show, not for anyone who skipped that one but may like the new one’s aesthetic and feel. Big face-smashing monsters, but no gore in sight. A convoluted plot that would require essentially remaking the first season to cover, but only the slightest damn given in even reintroducing one character. Entirely rewritten characters, tonal shifts and whiplash across the board.

I ask once more: who is this for, again?


Twin Star Exorcists

3/5

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On paper, there is really nothing extraordinary about Twin Star Exorcists. A thousand shounen manga have started with some variation of this same first chapter. Normal boy isn’t successful with girls (but he has a childhood friend who likes him). He has some connection to magic, or whatever. There is another girl who is also related to the magic. They fight a thing, and it turns out the kid is pretty good at using the magic-thing-whatever.

Basic stuff, not very exciting after a couple runs, but Twin Star Exorcists is a great case study in why execution is everything. All of the plot beats here are familiar territory, but the show seems aware of this, so it moves through them at a decent speed. Instead of focusing on that, we get some extra time with exorcist girl Benio as she goes about her day fighting demons and generally being an exorcist girl.

Those fights are really the highlight of this episode. The sense of style here is good, with screen-filling attack names, streaks of color blasting against the red backgrounds, and monsters being slain with fist-pumping animation. It’s actually kind of exciting to watch her (and later protagonist Rokuro) lay waste to these things, and I’d be pretty impressed if the show kept any amount of this momentum going forward. Outside of the fights the characters move with similar care. Typical jokes are given a bit more weight with careful use of body language, and sequences such as “Rokuro tries to help but falls on his face” happen quickly enough to actually land.

The writing here isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, and I get the feeling we haven’t actually gotten to the meat of the show yet, but it’s a pretty nice package overall. I want to see a bit more of Rokuro and Benio, I want to see more striking exorcist battles; Twin Star Exorcists seems like a comfortable and competent good time.

 


Ushio and Tora 2nd Season

2/5

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As part of a planned break and continuation, 90s shounen manga adaptation Ushio and Tora is back for one more cour of crazy youkai designs, mild harem antics, and cute tsundere Tora moments. Perhaps most significantly, these 13 episodes promise to complete the story begun in the first 26, bringing us hopefully to a final confrontation between Ushio and the menacing Hakumen no Mono.

To that end, this “premiere” wastes no time getting to the meat of things, at least superficially. We see Ushio contemplating the little time he has left before he has to finally deal with Hakumen no Mono, hanging out with forever-crush Asako, when suddenly she doesn’t remember him anymore. At this point you’d think Ushio would be aware enough of his situation to get that something weird is going on, but instead he enters full creepy mode and follows Asako and chases her into her home. He is then stopped by Asako’s parents, who follow along in the illogical-and-maybe-dangerous footsteps of Ushio. Instead of being a little worried that this kid they and their child don’t recognize (any longer, anyway) barged into their daughter’s room, they feed him and laugh about how Asako probably just dumped poor Ushio, who proceeds to sulk until Tora finally shows up.

OK, I’m being a little pedantic here. The show makes it pretty clear as the episode goes along that they still have a guttural feeling about their memories of Ushio, but this sequence is just so awkward and padded out that I can’t help but feel like it was a waste of time. This is made worse as Ushio and Tora meet up with Saya who informs them, again, that no one remembers Ushio. She also provides plenty of other new revelations – Mayuko is related to Jiemei! the spear is going to be destroyed! – that take up the bulk of episode’s second part, eventually ending on a small skirmish and character reintroductions to get us the ball rolling again.  It’s all clearly setup for the story to end itself cleanly, but as setup goes, this is mostly boring and goes on a bit too long.

It’s not all bad, though! There is some nice and/or weird visual stuff to be found here as usual – pretty stuff like the blossoms falling around Ushio near the beginning, strange stuff like the double-blade-youkai-thing flying through space-time to find Hakumen no Mono’s weakness. Also, the character animation in this episode were pretty expressive, especially by Ushio and Tora standards. In particular, a cute scene between Asako and Mayuko as they discuss Ushio in vague terms (since they can’t remember him and all) is a highlight with plenty of smooth movements and funny faces. I’m not confident this level of artistry will stick around, but it is a nice thing to have for now at least.

Overall, this is a pretty solid attempt at a show that hasn’t impressed all that much in the first place. Fans of the show will be happy to have it back in rotation for the next few months. Unfortunately I can’t be as positive about anyone else; if you dropped it last go-round or you simply weren’t interested at all before, there isn’t anything here to convince you otherwise.

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