Review: Shiki- A Line Drawn in Blood

Synopsis: Sotoba is a small village stepped in tradition and cut-off from the outside world. One day a mysterious group of new residents arrive in the village and around the same time, a large rash of sudden deaths begin to plague the village. What is the connection between these new people and the deaths of the villagers, and can anything be done to prevent them?

The Review

I’ve never been much of a horror movie person, and even less into stories about vampires. Due to my upbringing I was never really allowed to be around much of the former growing up, and the latter tends to be targeted more towards women these days so as a straight dude they don’t hold a whole ton of appeal for me without an interesting hook. All that alongside the problems horror anime tend to have with actually being well…scary and I had plenty of reason to continually put off watching Shiki. I’d heard various degrees of praise for it over the years, and I recalled liking the first episode of it that I had actually watched way back when Funimation had done their initial simulcast of it, but my general aversion to the genre made me wary of whether or not it would be worth my time. However thanks to Aniplex’s shenanigans, Funimation’s rights to the show ended up expiring this year, so faced with the possibility of never being able to see this show again and the fact that the S.A.V.E. edition was going for dirt cheap on RightStuf, I was finally faced with no choice but to tackle my procrastination, Twenty-four episodes later, I can safely that the show was definitely one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had for both better and worse.

For the first half of the show the show follows a pretty straightforward formula. A series of sudden deaths occurs in the small town of Sotoba, and a few of the residents including our three primary human characters, Natsuno, Dr. Ozaki and Seishin, notice that something else seems to be happening beneath the surface. Eventually these deaths are connected to existence of a race of vampires known as Shiki who drain victims of their blood until they either die permanently, or come back as a Shiki themselves. This combined with the arrival of a group of outsiders including a strange little girl named Sunako, leads to a gigantic ,mystery to discover who and who isn’t a Shiki, with a few episodes focusing on a “victim-of-the-week” before leading up to their eventual demise.

 

Compared to a lot of other horror anime I’ve seen there are two things that Shiki does particularly well in it’s earliest episodes. The first is creating a genuinely unsettling sense of atmosphere as we’re introduced to the setting of Sotoba. Horror anime often tends to suffer from a need to feel “spooky” at all times, and trying to maintain a constant level of dread often just ends up coming off as incredibly goofy instead. This show certainly isn’t immune to that effect either, but compared to similar works, it starts off a lot more grounded, and that largely works to it’s benefit. The “isolated village” is an old enough horror concept that even someone as unversed in the genre as I am knows how it works, but the show manages to make it feel real by giving Sotoba a strong enough sense of culture to feel unique while also providing it with enough modern conveniences that it doesn’t feel as though it’s completely cut off from reality. That gives the overall tone of a bit of a timeless feel, which makes the gradual appearance of the Shiki all the more disturbing as they actually do feel like an unnatural part of the show’s world, and the subsequent murders they dish out are much scarier for it.

The second key to it’s success in the first half lies in how it utilizes its massive cast of characters. Sotoba is town populated with a variety of both relateable and strange individuals and the show takes the time to make sure that the audience gets to be familiar with as many of them as possible. From Megumi who despises the town and desperately wants to escape to the city, to the overly-friendly Toru who also harbors a crush on an older woman, each of these characters have their own motivations, and for the most part, feel pretty believable. While many of these characters vary in their degree of likability, the amount of personalities on display gives the series a sense of humanity that other horror anime I’ve come across have kind of lacked, and more importantly, spending so much time with them makes their inevitable “deaths” at the hands of the Shiki hit that much harder. This naturally causes the audience to lean towards the side of humanity in this struggle, and to want to see the Shiki driven out before they fully infest the village.

However as the show heads into its second half, the story begins to undergo a gradual but significant dramatically shift. As Ozaki begins going to more extreme lengths in order to combat the threat of the Shiki, and more of the villagers become aware of what’s going on, the human characters start fighting back, and fighting in earnest. At the same time, as several of the characters we met while they were human are now Shiki, and the show takes the time to explore the motivations of Sunako, who just wants a place where she won’t be persecuted, we begin to sympathize with the Shiki and their plight to live peacefully. It all builds up to a massive reversal in which the humans become the hunters and many of the townsfolk who were kind or at least sympathetic, become vicious and cruel in the wake of exterminating the Shiki, all while convincing themselves that they’re doing this to protect themselves.

 

It’s a powerful allegory for the way in which we can “other” those we deem a threat and it’s one I honestly can’t say I was expecting. The use of supernatural creatures as a metaphor for those who fit out of societal norms is certainly nothing new, but it’s rare to see that subject tackled in such a violent way (Devilman is the closest comparison that comes to mind here) and it’s honestly pretty haunting. While society as a whole isn’t always quick to turn to extremism against those who threaten the status quo, dehumanizing those people creates situations where any degree of excessive force can be justified as something “for the greater good” and, much as in the case with this show’s conclusion, ultimately results in tragedy. It’s definitely not a very uplifting message, (and it broke me to such an extent that I didn’t even want to look another person in the eye for a good few hours after the finale) but it’s certainly a powerful one, and in light of some of the recent headlines in the news, it’s also one that sadly hasn’t lost any of its relevance. 

As should be no real surprise to anyone by this point, I went through this one watching the dub and said dub turned out to be really spectacular. I have a real fondness for dubs that manage to tackle the challenge of dealing with a large ensemble cast as opposed to following a specific group of characters and ADR Director, Mike McFarland, manages to step up to the plate and then some. There’s a ton of really stellar performances in this dub from the actors in the main cast like John Burgmeier as Seishin and David Wald as Dr. Ozaki who do an excellent job of portraying the individual moral struggles plaguing them, to R. Bruce Elliot whose work as the shopkeeper Tomio manages to make the character sound downright bone-chilling during the Shiki hunts, and made him extremely memorable for an otherwise minor character. Every performance in the show is rock solid and a lot of the acting here did a lot to sell me on the story’s eventual descent into tragedy.

Production wise on the other hand, there isn’t a whole ton that stands out here, but there also isn’t anything I’d actually complain about on that front. The animation by studio Daume is relatively consistent, if not particularly flashy, and the music is generally just serviceable with the second ending theme “Gekka Reijin” by BUCK-TICK being the only one that caught my attention. Similarly, the character designs are pretty par the course for an early 2010’s show with the only exception on that end being the excessive amount of 80’s hair that a good fifty percent of the cast seems to have, and that generally came off as more hilarious than creepy. Fortunately Tetsuro Amino’s direction on the series manages to work around these shortcomings pretty effectively and successfully combines with the sound production by Junichi Inaba to create a chilling sense of atmosphere that manages to make even the goofier bits genuinely unsettling, and actually managed to creep me out even when the vampires weren’t on screen.

So having now sat through all of Shiki, I’m now of two minds on my purchase of it. It made good use of its horror elements to tell a darker tale about human nature than would expected at first glance, and it managed to grip me ways that I really couldn’t see coming based on how the first batch of episodes went. At the same time though, while I acknowledge the material is strong, it also managed to repulse me in a way I’ve rarely experienced while watching something, and I’ve never felt quite as awful walking away after finishing a show as I did watching this. I’m glad I watched Shiki and I’ll stand by it as an excellent work of fiction but truth be told, I don’t think I’ll be be taking it off my shelf to give it another run through anytime soon.

Overall: 9/10

Review: Den-nou Coil- Beyond the Looking Glass

Synopsis: Yuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her sister Kyoko have just moved to Daikoku City. After arriving in the city she finds herself getting involved with a group of children who enjoy hacking via use of their “cyber glasses” as well as a mysterious girl who’s also named Yuko but is quickly referred to by everyone as “Isako”. Like most everyone her age, Yasako also enjoys using her cyber glasses, but when she finds herself getting connected to a series of strange incidents involving cyber space, she finds that there may be a lot more to the virtual world than meets the eye…

The Review

I’ve been a dedicated anime fan for some 13 odd years now, and in that timespan I’ve consumed far more shows than I’d honestly care to admit. Even with that though, there’s always been that pesky handful of beloved classics that everyone says is a must-watch, and that I keep meaning to get around to, but sadly rarely do. One of those shows happens to be the 2007 Madhouse series, Dennou Coil, which has long been a well regarded sci-fi series. For many years I pushed it to the wayside as something I’d get around to eventually, and even when Maiden Japan licensed the series back in 2016, I still wasn’t sure if I really wanted to pluck down the cash for a blind-buy. Fortunately though, Sentai happened to have a big sale a while ago, and both halves of this show were available for pretty cheap, so I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it shot. Now that I finally have, it’s time to see if this show really does live up to it’s strong reputation.

Dennou Coil’s primary objective is the exploration of how much technology (in particular virtual reality and the internet) has become integrated into our daily lives, and how much of a separation, if any, there should be between the virtual world and the real one. Given that this show was created in 2006, and by extension, well before the popularization of social media, I was a little worried that a lot of its commentary would feel dated but it actually holds up quite well. Rather than going for a direct approach in how it tackles those subjects, there’s a high level of abstraction to the way it presents technology that helps in allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions to the good and bad it presents. On the downside that approach means that its easy to lose track of those thoughts on technology in light of some of the shows other themes, such as coping with loss, but it works much more often than not, and the series manages to keep things consistent on that end.

It helps that all of that abstraction is gazed at through the lens of the show’s cast of kids. From the obnoxious, but ultimately good natured Daichi, to Fumie who often pretends to act more mature than she actually is, all of the children who make up the show’s core group of characters come off as really earnest portrayals of kids, and for the most part, that makes them all the more charming.  Centering an ambitious sci-fi narrative around a children might seem like a bit of a strange choice, but it’s one that largely works to the show’s benefit as it allows for the series to forgo any massive infodumps about how its various pieces of tech work, in favor of more natural worldbuilding that helps everything feel really alive. We learn about new information at roughly the same speed Yasako learns them from the other kids, and the way in which they all interact with the virtual world makes the series feel almost more like a hi-fantasy at times than a sci-fi with some of the hacking tools feeling more like magic than technology. It does a lot in helping to make Daikoku City feel like a fun and naturally interesting world to explore, and the sense of wonder and exaggeration that comes from how kids tend to view the world really adds to that effect.

The actual overarching story on the other hand is kind of where things are at its weakest. While many of the show’s early episodes are spent gradually easing the audience into the world of Daikoku City, it evolves into a giant mystery concerning the existence of strange virtual entities known as “Illegals” as well as the dangers of older cyberspaces, before ultimately resulting in a giant conspiracy involving several different factions. It’s perfectly functional, but it can get a little confusing as far as who’s working for who and while it does all come together in the end, I was far less invested in the plot than the characters or any of it’s larger themes. Fortunately the story does manage to tie into the latter pretty effectively and in the end, Dennou Coil’s biggest argument for what role virtual technology should have for us emotionally is that it’s basically up to the individual to decide what’s real to them and what isn’t. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking stance at this point, but it’s neutral enough that audiences can come to their own personal conclusions on that, and it works well enough to still help the series feel relevant. Those are more or less the areas a sci-fi really needs to aim at in order to age gracefully and in that respect, Dennou Coil succeeds in spades.

In addition to having aged pretty well as a sc-fi story, Dennou Coil has also aged quite well visually. The character designs by Takeshi Honda are on the cartoonish side, but in a way that lends themselves very well to animation, helping to make the kids feel expressive and energetic in a way that feels more akin to something like a Studio Ghibli movie than a TV anime production. That child-like animation is well supported by the show’s general art direction which maintains many of the muted colors and quite atmosphere that would be typically expected from a sci-fi story, but close enough in look to the character designs not to make them feel like they’re from completely different shows. Those elements combine together well, and it helps to create an effective contrast between the high energy of the kids, and the much more somber nature of the world around them. Music wise the show is a bit more lacking as the score by Tsuneyoshi Saito is solid but not particularly striking, although the opening theme “Prism” by Ayako Ikeda does a great job of helping to set the mood every episode with its quiet and haunting tone.

I decided  to with the English audio when checking out the show, and I have to admit I was really impressed with it. Houston based dubs can be kind of hit or miss for me, but everything here was very smooth. Hillary Hagg and Monica Rial both deliver excellent performances as the leads Yasako and Isako, while others such as Brittney Karbowski and Tiffany Grant do an equally strong job as Fumie and Daichi respectively, with just about everyone in the supporting cast really stepping up to bat for this show. My personal favorite of the bunch though, was Laura Chapman as Specsgranny who had me laughing just about every time she did something wacky while also being able to dial things back whenever the mood got serious. The dub’s script also really helps in setting the tone as a lot of the dialogue is handled in a way that actually feels how younger kids would talk to each other without ever getting to the point where it felt like a distraction, and it did a lot to make the performances from the cast feel more natural where they otherwise might not have. I can’t really speak for how well they compare to the Japanese cast, but if you want to watch the show in English, I imagine you’ll be very satisfied here.

So having finally watched Dennou Coil, I can safely say that it’s reputation is very well deserved. The show has a fantastic sense of atmosphere that really helps to make its sci-fi elements feel wondrous, and its filled with a cast of characters that are all generally pretty fun to hang out with. Although things get a little overly convoluted when it comes to the actual plot, it works well enough that it doesn’t harm any of the other things the series is trying to do, and it does those other things so well that those complaints are more of a nitpick if anything. Even though it’s been long enough that its views on virtual technology could have easily aged terribly, it manages to take a smart enough stance on those views that I’m confident it’ll still feel relevant even after another decade’s passed. I wasn’t really sure what to expect blind-buying this, but needless to say, I feel like I made a pretty smart purchase.

Overall: 10/10

Available for streaming on HiDive

First Impressions- Summer 2018 Anime (Part 2)

It’s a new week, but the wave of summer premieres scorches on. I ended up being unexpectedly busy for the last couple of days which put me a little bit be behind on premieres. As such the remainder of what I end up covering for impressions is gonna be a bit more random than usual so apologies in advance if it seems like I’m late on some of these. Anyway lets get to it!

 

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

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Asobi Asobase

Synopsis: Olivia is a blonde-haired beauty who was born and raised in Japan, but can’t speak any English. Despite always acting serious and as an intellectual, Kasumi is a bespectacled girl with short hair, who also can’t speak English. Finally, there’s the pig-tailed Hanako, who’s cheerful but can’t seem to become a normie. The three middle schoolers end up making a “Players’ Club”?! The ultimately cute, ultimately fun and hilarious teenage girls’ comedy is about to begin!

First Impressions: I didn’t really know much of anything about this aside from some interesting looking previews, so i wasn’t expecting to be nearly as blown away by this as I ended up being. Wacky anime comedies are a dime a dozen and crazy anime faces are also pretty common these days, but this show is practically armed to the teeth with a solid combination of both and had me laughing through the entire premiere. The basic premise involves three high school girls who spend their time trying to find new and increasingly strange ways to pass the time. It’s the kind of comedy that runs purely on how weird it can get and it has that in spades. From pencil stabbing games to putting a swimming pool in their classroom, the things these girls do are pretty bizarre but they’re always funny and it helps that the chemistry between them is pretty great and I’m especially fond of Oliva, who pretends to be a foreigner to mess with her only friend only to have it backfire when she’s threatened into having to teach English. About the only issue I had here was that the episode’s last major joke got a little uncomfortable but it had just the right level of absurdity to it that I was laughing regardless. I didn’t know I needed this show in my life until I watched it, and while I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be nearly this impressive, this one is definitely the frontrunner for the season’s best comedy.

Rating: Great

 

Music Girls

Synopsis: Haru Chitose, Eri Kumagai, Sarasa Ryuoh, Kiri Mukae, Uori Mukae, Sasame Mitsukuri, Miku Nishio, Hiyo Yukino, Shupe Gushiken, Kotoko Kintoki, and Roro Morooka are the eleven members of “Music Girls,” an idol group produced by Pine Records. However, they’re a third-rate idol group that can’t seem to sell CDs at all. But even though they’re obscure and constantly in debt, the members and their producer, Ikebashi, are all trying their hardest. Ikebashi gets the idea that Music Girls needs a new member—an idol who can light a fire under them so that they can gras

p success!

First Impressions: Well I guess it wouldn’t be a new anime season if there wasn’t at least one new idol show and well…here we are. Idol shows generally aren’t my cup of tea, but I do like Love Live the same as most everyone else, so I’m always curious if anything’ll come along that gives off the same kind of vibe. Far as this show goes it’s…pleasant I guess. These shows are usually pretty inoffensive and this was about in the same vein as what I’d expect from that. We’re very quickly introduced to our cast of idols who all seem to have their own various quirks as well as our lead heroine who seems to be unusually talented when it comes to dance choreography but turns out to be a weak singer. Much of the episode is more or less spent building up to that last punchline, but I was fairly amused by it and it’s enough of a hook that it could potentially do something interesting with that. Production wise it doesn’t look super impressive since the character designs are a little on the generic side, but the dancing animation is pretty decent and they aren’t relying on CG for it so that’s always a plus I guess. Can’t say I was blown away by anything here but I wasn’t super bored, so I suppose there’s that. I don’t see this giving Love Live a run for it’s money and I don’t know if I’ll give it another episode or not but if you’re looking for a new idol show to sink your teeth into, this should probably do you fine

Rating: Decent

 

Phantom in the Twilight

Synopsis: The reverie of a girl who fights her destiny and the “Shadow Guardians.” The stage is modern-day London, in a world where the fears and anxieties of people give birth to inhuman shadows. A foreign student gets embroiled in an outlandish incident as soon as she sets foot on English soil. Seeking help in a city where she knows no one, she wanders into a quaint cafe that has quietly remained open in the dead of night: Cafe Forbidden. It is a place where the guardians of the border between human and shadow gather.

First Impressions: At first glance this seemed like it was going to be the vampire romance show of the season and since those have pretty much never been my thing, my expectations coming in were kinda low. However what I walked away with was quite different as it turns out this is actually a bishonen action show, which is something I actually am a lot more down for when done right, and this seems to be off to a pretty decent start. Ton manages to come off as a pretty likable heroine thus far and her role throughout the episode makes it clear that she’ll get to contribute to whatever crazy supernatural shenanigans happen later on which is certainly appreciate. I’m not quite as interested in any of the actual monster boys we’ve met thus far, but they all come off as pretty okay for the most part, and none of them seem predatory so it seems like this’ll steer clear of the trashier side of shojo stuff. On the downside the show has some pretty limited production values which slightly hurts its appeal as an action show but it manages to do pretty okay with what it has, and the animation was never awkward enough to look super distracting. I wasn’t expecting to like this show at all, but I walked away entertained and curious to see where its headed. Guess it goes to show that you can’t always judge stuff by preview images.

Rating: Good

 

Seven Senses of the Re’Union

Synopsis: Asahi’s life in reality ended simultaneously, when she died playing “Union”, a world-renowned online RPG. The members of “Subaru” went separate ways when “Union” shut down due to Asahi’s death. Six years later, Haruto logs onto a renewed version of “Re’Union” and reunites with Asahi who had died. Is she an electronic ghost? The “promise” the childhood friends made will unfold within the game.

First Impressions: Tired of all those pesky isekai shows? Re’Union has you covered with a throwback to…trapped in the game shows. Well I guess in fairness this is technically more “die in the game, die in real life” than anything since it seems like they can stop playing but you get the idea. Its been quite a while since we’ve had an SAO knock-off and the last one of those I enjoyed was Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions. This seems like a pretty earnest effort to recapture the ol’ SAO magic but honestly too much of the details surrounding the premise left me scratching my head for me to get invested much.

For one thing it’s mentioned early on that the game generally functions on perma-death in that if you lose all your health you lose your game account. Even without the apparent threat of death that’s brought up when a member of the core group is killed midway through the episode, that sounds like absurdly bad game design and I have a hard time imagining anyone would play a game you can’t ever play again if you lose at it. On top of that the whole condition about players requiring some special super sense is also pretty loopy and seems like the sort of thing that would raise alarm bells in real life. It’s kind of a shame those details weren’t thought through very well because I kinda liked the base idea of a member of the group dying young and the others carrying that pain with them into their teenage years. That seems like a pretty solid recipie for a potentially meaningful character drama, and maybe it’ll follow up on that. but with a setting this shoddy I don’t feel terribly confident about those odds. Maybe I’ll give this another go if I hear enough good things about it later on, but this seems like another skip for me.

Rating: Decent

 

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion

Synopsis: In the 13th century, the Mongolian Empire rapidly expands across the globe. Later historians who studied the prophecies of Nostradamus would say that Mongolia was the birthplace of the “Great King of Terror”, Angolmois. And at last, the force of the Mongolian Empire would turn their attention toward Japan… 1274: The Bun’ei Invasion. This story is a fresh look at the great battle that rocked all of medieval Japan: the Mongol Invasion. It shows how the people of Tsushima panicked, struggled, and eventually rose up against the overwhelming forces of their enemy.

First Impressions: About all I really knew was that this was this looked like another historical drama, and since Golden Kamuy wrapped up not too long ago, I was certainly in the mood for one of those. Even having said that, boy howdy I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this strong. Much like Golden Kamuy, it’s centered around an era of Japanese history that anime hasn’t really covered which makes for an interesting learning experience on its own, and also like Golden Kamuy our protagonist seems to be a former soldier and an expert when it comes to fighting. Unlike Golden Kamuy though, this show looks well…good. While I very much enjoyed my time with Golden Kamuy there was no denying the show kind of looked like butt on the production front and it was mostly good in spite how it was put together rather than because of it. In comparison this has some solid, if not overly stellar animation, and the art direction is fantastic with the backgrounds really helping to capture the essence of this being a period piece. The filtered camera lens featured throughout the episode also helps with that a bit, though there were moments where it got a little distracting. All in all I walked away from this quite impressed and while this show wasn’t really on my radar going into the season. I’m totally gonna be watching this one week to week

Rating: Great

 

Lord of Vermilion

Synopsis: Tokyo, 2030. A high-frequency resonance is suddenly heard in a suburban area, and at the same time, the entire town is shrouded in a red mist. All living things that hear the sounds, human and animal alike, lose consciousness. The phenomenon is assumed to be an unidentified virus, so due to fear of a spreading epidemic, Tokyo is blocked off from the rest of the country. About six months later, all the people who had lost consciousness awaken as if nothing ever happened. However, strange incidents start happening on that same day, and the city becomes engulfed by a chain of cruel destinies.

First Impressions: I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into this, but this was the only show left of Funimation’s eventual simuldubs, and compared to some of the other non-sequels they’re doing, this seemed like it might be interesting. I was wrong. At first I assumed this was based off of a light novel, but it’s actually based off of a game, which makes a lot of the premiere’s choices more understandable while also elevating how frustrating they are. The show opens with an awkward flash forward about some inevitable bad stuff that’s going to go down, and while it’s pretty clearly meant to be a hook, the direction is so all over the place that I mostly just walked away from it wondering what I watched. From there we go back in time to be properly introduced to our MC-kun who’s about as interesting as a sack of bricks and aside from his relationship with his step-brother he isn’t really given much to do before the apocalypse happens and he suddenly wakes up 5 months later to Tokyo in chaos. From there MC-kun decides to check on his foster dad, gets stabbed, and gets some kind of nifty new power before the credits roll. In case you’re wondering why I’m doing so much summarizing it’s because there really wasn’t anything else to this and I was honestly pretty bored watching it. This feels like a pretty heavy case of lame video game adaption and in addition to not making me want to watch more of this show, I sure as heck don’t feel interested in checking out the game it’s based on. For what it’s worth the show doesn’t look awful, and nothing about the material really raises any alarm bells but you can probably do better for supernatural shows this season, and I’m gonna be doing the same.

Rating: Bad

 

Grand Blue Dreaming

Synopsis: After moving out on his own to a seaside town, Iori Kitahara makes a college debut he never anticipated. A new chapter of his life unfolds, full of diving with beautiful girls and shenanigans with a gaggle of lovable bastards! Idiot-expert Kenji Inoue and au naturel authority Kimitake Yoshioka bring you a glorious college tale filled with booze-fueled antics!

First Impressions: This was one of the more anticipated shows of the season in my section of the anime interwebs, and while I wasn’t super excited for it myself, I was pretty curious. Thankfully that curiosity was well rewarded as this turned out to be pretty funny. It’s rare to get shows about college age characters in anime rather than high schoolers so it’s always nice when we do, and this show’s brand of comedy is a mix of crudness and absurdity that feels very akin to something like Prison School or Osomatsu-san. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be quite as sharply directed as either of those shows, but the jokes still hit their mark more often than not, and I got enough laughs to be thoroughly entertained throughout my experience with the premiere. Aside from the production looking a bit bland outside of crazy facial expressions my only real hangup is that frankly none of the characters are particularly likeable thus far, but this is the kind of comedy where that isn’t particularly necessary in order to work and I’m sure I’ll warm up to at least one of these nutjobs eventually. In the meantime I’ll be tuning in for more.

Rating: Good

 

Revue Starlight

Synopsis: After receiving a mysterious invitation to audition for a coveted spot with, Starlight, a popular musical revue troupe, star-struck contestants begin honing their talents and competing against each other for a chance of a lifetime. Among the hopefuls are childhood friends, Karen and Hikari, who once promised each other that they would take the stage together. With each contender working tirelessly hard to win, it’s the girls’ passionate dedication to their lifelong dream that’ll truly transform their performances as the curtains rise.

First Impressions: And finishing out my impressions, is the show I was the most…curious about. At first glance this seemed like it was probably going to be some kind of idol thing, and the character designs being more or less in line with what I’ve come to expect from idol shows didn’t really help with that. On the other hand all of the previews gave the impression that it might be something a bit more ambitious than that so it was definitely on my radar of things to check out. As it turns out though, what I ended up watching was stranger than I could have possibly imagined. For the first 15 minutes or so it appears to be something of a typical idol thing with a group of girls attending a music school in the hopes of someday becoming professional actors with the only noticeable distinction being that the overall direction and framing is more in line with that of a classical shojo like say Revolutionary Girl Utena. That framing turns out to be pretty important because the last 5 minutes suddenly goes full on Kunihiko Ikuhara as our heroine finds herself transported to a stage where the other girls are duking out in the spotlight, complete with transformation sequences, heavy machinery and classic European uniforms. It pretty much goes without saying that the show had my full attention after that, and combined with some of yuri undertones sprinkled throughout the episode, gives the impression this really is going to aim for the same brand of madness as something like Utena or Yurikuma Arashi. Since Ikuhara is more or less my favorite anime director by default I’m totally down for something akin to his style, and while it’s hard to say how this’ll end up comparing to his works, I’m incredibly excited to see what else this show has up its sleeves

Rating: Great


And that’s basically it for my summer impressions. There wasn’t really a whole ton of stuff I was excited for coming into this season, but I’ve walked away with quite a few things I’m interested in keeping up with. Hard to say how many of these shows will work out in the long run, but I’m certainly willing to stay optimistic, and even if they don’t, there’s still enough holdouts from spring to keep me going for a while. Till next time: stay animated.

First Impressions- Summer 2018 Anime (Part 1)

Summer’s here, which means, ice cream, heat waves that make me pray for death, and of course a ton of new anime. To be honest I can’t say I’m particularly excited about this season’s lineup since only a couple of things have really peaked my attention, but as is generally the case when it comes to feeling that way, lower expectations means there’s hopefully plenty of room to be surprised. With that in mind it’s time to beat the heat and dive into some new shows

(Also as a quick note, I’m sorry I haven’t really posted anything since the start of the spring season. I meant to have a couple of reviews out but things kept getting in the way. Hopefully having more free time for the summer means I’ll be able to tackle a few of them)

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

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Hanebado

Synopsis: Despite her great potential, Ayano Hanesaki would rather avoid badminton than play it. But, when she meets Nagisa Aragaki, a third year who spends every waking moment perfecting her game, she’s inspired. Encouraged by their coach, Tachibana Kentarou, Ayano and Nagisa will hit the court and rally against opponents and rivals with amazing skills!

First Impressions: Since there wasn’t really too much on my radar in general this season, Hanebado didn’t really catch my attention in previews but sports are generally a pretty reliable genre in anime, and this one is off to a strong start. A lot of sports anime narratives are generally about an individual or a team overcoming obstacles on the way to becoming champions and tend to embrace the positivity of working hard towards achieving a higher goal. This is not that show. Instead it’s more a story of the kind of resentment that can be found when an athlete comes face to face with someone who outshines them in every aspect and the frustration of hitting a wall that seems impossible to overcome. This is all expressed through our heroine Nagisa, a girl who still seems to be reeling in from the shock of being defeated by a natural born talent and has been taking it out on her teammates ever since. It’s certainly heavier subject matter than most sports anime tend to start off with but the direction of the first episode captures that mood pretty well as we see how those feelings affect both her team and Nagisa herself as well as sprouting the seeds of how she might begin to bounce back from it. It helps that the show has some absolutely stellar character animation (certainly unexpected given that Linden Films has a track record for embarrassingly bad looking productions), and some of the badmitton exchanges we see throughout the episode are so fluid, it’s almost impossible to imagine the show will be able to keep it up for very long. I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did but everything about this premiere feels promising, and this definitely feels like something to keep an eye on

Rating: Great

 

Island

Synopsis: Urajima, an island far from the mainland. The people who live there lead carefree lives. But five years ago, the island’s three great families suffered a series of misfortunes, and succumbed to suspicion. The people of the island cut off all contact with the mainland, and began a slow decline. The key to saving the island lies in three girls who belong to the three families. But they are bound by old traditions, and are conflicted. On that island, a lone man washes ashore. The man claims to be from the future, and he begins a solitary struggle to change the island’s fate.

First Impressions: I didn’t really know anything about this going in other than that some of it’s content might be potentially problematic, and sure enough this show opens on what looks like a sex scene involving a loli. Needless to say it didn’t get off to the best start for me, and while nothing else in the episode is mercifully as repulsive as that, what we’re left with is 20 minutes of blandness. The plot here seems to involve our MC-kun having lost his memories and ending up on a mysterious island, with only the memory that he performed some kind of time travel. This seems like it could have been a somewhat interesting setup but it’s kind of wasted on the fact that our MC-kun for the show is a bland pervert who doesn’t really stand out in any particular way and much of this premiere involves him encountering a series of prepubescent looking girls he’s likely gonna bang at some point. There’s nothing truly awful here outside of the opening scene but unless you’re really into time travel mysteries there’s also nothing here that really feels like it’ll grab your attention. It is pretty nice looking as has come to be expected from stuff produced by feel, but nothing else stands out, and the seeds of potential grossness doesn’t leave much room for optimism. Gonna give this a pass.

Rating: Bad

Mr. Tonegawa Middle Management Blues

First Impresssions: I’m a really big fan of the Kaiji anime, and it’s mix of high energy suspense thriller and social commentary about the dregs of society made going through both seasons of the series a pretty memorable experience. Since this was a spin-off staring season 1’s most compelling antagonist I was kind of interested in checking it out, though my interest wined a bit in knowing it’s a gag series rather than a more expanded look at the world of Kaiji. Those woes seem to have been pretty justified in the wake of the show’s premiere which is…passable. I appreciate that it recapped season 1 of Kaiji for any newcomers and is trying its best to be as accessible as possible, but even with that the actual comedy of the show is a bit lacking. While the show does try to maintain the overall style of the previous Kaiji anime adaptions, Kaiji’s sense of humor only really works in that you kind of have to laugh at how utterly absurd some of the reactions can get when the characters are dealing with the insane setups for some of the show’s death games. This doesn’t quite have that and opts for more standard jokes instead which honestly feels like kind of a waste. It’s not awful, and someone else might get some enjoyment out of it, but I can’t personally see much reason to give this a watch unless you’re already invested in the franchise. I’ll see how the rest of the season looks for Tuesdays but for right now this is probably a pass.

Rating: Decent

 

The Thousand Musketeers

Synopsis: The whole world was devastated by the nuclear war. Under the strong rule of the World Empire, people are all suppressed and deprived of their own lives. A resistance team secretly keeps fighting to break the suppression while everyone is forbidden to possess any force of arms. The team arms themselves with “antique guns” that were left as works of art, and the incarnations of those antique guns are called “Musketeers” appear and join the team, as if they responded to the soul of the resistence. In their battles with the incarnations of contemporary guns who represent and are dispatched from the Empire, the “Musketeers” turn their “Absolute Noble” mode to give a powerful boost to themselves, and bring hope to the world.

First Impressions: And here we are with our first fujoshi show. These are always kind of hit or miss for me since my interest tends to depend on if the setting or writing is strong enough to break past the barrier of me not really me the target audience for them. This particular series is highly reminiscent of the Touken Ranbu franchise which featured a bevy of bishonen  who were incarnations of swords wielded by famous real world swordsmen. However for this show instead of sword boys its gun boys, and where as Touken Ranbu involved time travel shenanigans, this seems to be post-apocalyptic in some fashion. While that’s all well and good I wasn’t particuarly big on the first Touken Ranbu anime, Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru, since it was pretty slice-of-life ish and I couldn’t keep track of the chatacters, and this series seems to be following the same kind of tone. The first episode introduces us to a ton of characters, none of whom felt particularly interesting to me outside of some having outrageously feminine looking character designs, and any set up in regards to world building or establishing the setting is mainly sacrificed to stuffing as many characters into this premiere as possible. As you can tell by my rambling I lost interest pretty fast, but like with previous seasons I’m willing to admit when my problem a show is mainly that I’m just not the audience for it, and this is another case of that. I’m sure it’ll find traction with the fujoshi audience and I hope they enjoy it, but as for me, this isn’t something I see myself keeping up with.

Rating: *shurg*

 

How Not to Summon A Demon Lord

Synopsis: An elite but socially-stunted gamer finds himself in another world, inhabiting the body of his character Diablo. But despite his powers, his awkwardness keeps getting in the way–so he decides to pretend to be a Demon Lord and soon finds himself with a pair of slaves: a well-endowed elf and a cat girl. Together, they struggle with everything from interpersonal relationships to diabolical beast battles!

First Impressions: It’s time for our first isekai of the season and it’s a time I’ve kind of learned to dread. Isekai LN adaptions are typically the pits with a few good exceptions, and this one in particular gave me a lot to be concerned about. I knew coming in that this one featured MC-kun enslaving the two key members of his harem as part of the hook, and while it hasn’t yet used it for anything incredibly gross it’s basically a matter of when rather than if, and the recent crop of slave girls popping up as the new fetish in anime is one I find outright repulsive in light of how it always glosses over the fact that well…slavery is awful. Putting aside that soapboxing though there isn’t really much else here to be optimistic about. The series has some of the most ridiculous boob physics I’ve seen in a while and it’s so stacked with busoms that even the big evil endgame monster has giant knockers. It’s pretty jarring to say the least and it doesn’t help that the show’s resident MC-kun is about as boring as expected from the lot, and while his demon lord persona did almost get a chuckle out of me a couple of times, it was pretty swiftly negated when he uses it to “not really” sexually harass his catgirl slave. The nicest thing I can say is that the show looks pretty fine visually if not stellar and the character designs aren’t terrible despite the ridiculous boobs but unless you’re the kind of person who chows down on horny isekai no matter what the quality, you’ll probably be better served elsewhere.

Rating: Bad

 

Banana Fish

Synopsis: Nature made Ash Lynx beautiful; nurture made him a cold ruthless killer. A runaway brought up as the adopted heir and sex toy of “Papa” Dino Golzine, Ash, now at the rebellious age of seventeen, forsakes the kingdom held out by the devil who raised him. But the hideous secret that drove Ash’s older brother mad in Vietnam has suddenly fallen into Papa’s insatiably ambitious hands–and it’s exactly the wrong time for Eiji Okamura, a pure-hearted young photographer from Japan, to make Ash Lynx’s acquaintance…

First Impressions: There weren’t too many things that immediately excited me from the summer lineup, but this was definently one of the few shows I was curious about. I know the manga is a pretty beloved classic both as a gritty crime story and as an actually well done gay romance story. Going by the first episode that reputation seems to be pretty well earned as the premiere is bursting with style and uses some slick cinematic direction to really capture the essence of the show’s urban setting and making it feel like a crime movie. Ash and Eiji also both seem like pretty interesting leads thus far and while we spend more time with the former, the episode paints a pretty good idea of their respective personalities, and helps in giving an idea of what might end up attracting them to each other. To top it all off, the animation in the premiere is stacked as heck and there’s some really good action sequences that I’m almost certain the show won’t be able to keep up. My only concern so far is that some of the material might end up feeling dated since the manga is kind of old by this point but the show does give some indication that it might modernize things a little and I’m curious to see what it does on that front too. All in all Banana Fish had a stellar premiere and while it definently seems too good to have fallen into the hands of Amazon, I’ll put up with them if it means getting more of this

Rating: Great

 

Angels of Death

Synopsis: Most girls that wake up in the home of a serial killer would panic, but not Ray. In fact, her meeting with the killer Zack is actually quite convenient because her only wish is to find a good way to die.

First Impressions: I didn’t really know too much going into this other than that it’s apparently based off of some kind of game (and said game is available in English so I may look it up later) but the trailer certainly had an interesting visual style going for it so I was pretty curious to see what this was about. This first episode is incredibly (and more than likely intentionally) vague on plot as all we know is that our heroine Rachael has ended up in a mysterious hospital after witnessing a murder and each floor of said hospital is inhabited by some kind of crazy serial killer. Yeah, this is pretty nuts, and it certainly seems to know the fact given that we spend a fairly good chunk of the time watching Rachael fleeing from a guy who literally walks around with a scythe and a hoodie. At the same time though, while it would be easy to dismiss it as overly edgy nonsense, the visual direction manages to evoke a sense of dread that actually manages to make a lot of the various scenes throughout the episode feel genuinely creepy rather than silly and I walked away from it feeling pretty curious about what else it may have in store. It’s possible it won’t be able to keep that balance up and’ll end up steering a bit too far into the edge, but it has my attention for at least the next couple of weeks

Rating: Good

 

Harukana Recieve

Synopsis: Oozora Haruka is a high school second-year who’s just moved to Okinawa. Haruka is generally cheerful and optimistic, but there’s one thing she feels insecure about: she’s taller than most other girls. Higa Kanata, her cousin of the same age who meets her at the airport, also has one hang-up: she had to quit her beloved beach volleyball in the past because she was too short. Through some twist of fate, these mismatched cousins find themselves paired up as a beach volleyball team. How will this duo play together in a sport where the presence of one’s teammate is more important than anything?!

First Impressions: Summertime means girls in bikinis and to be honest I hadn’t really looked up anything about the show outside of base level premise so I assumed it was essentially meant to be just that. However while this premiere certainly has a fair deal of “plot” it skews less towards a fanservice show disguised as a sports show and more of a moe show disguised as a sports show. As someone who enjoys more straightforward sports shows,  I can’t say either combination would have caught my attention outright, but the latter has certainly worked out for me in other shows. Far as this one goes though it’s…fine I guess. The four girls we’re introduced to all neatly fit in expected moe archetypes but aside from a pretty serious case of sameface going on, the show at least suggests that there’ll be some drama later down the line for them. Similarly while neither the direction or animation are nearly dynamic enough to make this work as an actual sports show, there’s enough effort put in that it at least feels like it’s trying. Personally though while there wasn’t anything particuarly wrong about the execution here, nothing about it really grabbed me either, and while I wasn’t outright bored, nothing really made me feel compelled to see what happens next. This certainly wasn’t an awful premiere but for right now, I’m honestly pretty sure I won’t be coming back to this.

Rating: Decent

 

Chio’s School Road

Synopsis: Miyamo Chio, a first-year at the completely ordinary high school Samejima Academy. Chio just wants to get through her school life without standing out too much, but for some reason, all kinds of obstacles await her along the path she takes to school. Her long-time friend Nonomura Manana, who’s trying to quit being an otaku; the flawless Hosokawa Yuki, who occupies the top caste in the school; and lots of nameless people about town find themselves in Chio’s path as she employs the (useless) techniques she’s acquired from her Western video games in her daily efforts to get to school.

First Impressions:  Going by the premise, I figured this show was going to end up being a short and thus not really worth the effort of typing about but turns out it’s a full length show after all so here I am. This is yet another series that centers around a core joke, the joke here being the strange things our heroine Chio does on her way to school, and how much enjoyment you’ll end up getting out of this mainly depends on how much the show can really stretch said joke. Going by the premiere though it seems like they may be able to make it work. Chio’s pretty relateable as far as introverted nerds go and the crazy things she ends up doing remind me of some of the more awkward things I pulled in high school when i wanted to avoid talking to people. Not all of the gags here land but when they do they’re pretty solid and it managed to keep a smile on my face for most of its runtime. The only negative so far is that the overall production seems a little limited for this particular brand of zany comedy, but it works pretty well with what it has, and there’s some pretty good faces sprinkled in. Hard to say how this season will end up looking as far as good comedies go but this seems like a pretty solid contender and one that I’ll keep up with.

Rating: Good

 

Planet With 

Synopsis: Souya Kuroi is a high schooler living a peaceful life despite having no memories of his past. One day, however, his town is attacked by one of the mysterious Nebula Weapons. Together with the cat-like “Sensei” and the gothic lolita Ginko, Soya gets dragged into a battle against… seven superheroes who protect the town! What is Soya’s reason to fight? The answer lies in his memories.

First Impressions: Satoshi Mizukami is perhaps one of the best manga authors you’ve likely never heard of. He has an incredibly strong knack for telling incredibly human stories through a very bizarre lens and the two of his works that have managed to make their way over to the west, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer and Spirit Circle, are both manga I consider to be masterpieces in their own right. While none of his manga have managed to make their way over to animation, I was pretty excited to learn that he was helming an anime original project and  it made this my most anticipated show of the season by far. Going by the premiere it is very much in line with what I’ve come to expect from Mizukami’s writing: our story follows the tale of an amnesic boy named Soya, living with a giant cat and a made girl when a weird looking UFO and heroes with giant robots show up. However rather than having to fight the UFO, Soya finds himself opposed to the heroes instead, and they seem to have a connection to his missing memories. It’s as weird as it sounds, but the episode more or less manages to run with it, and it’s already showing traces of Mizukami’s strength at writing characters as we briefly get the backstory of one of the heroes and manages to provide a good idea of what drives him over the course of a few minutes. The only serious negatives I have so far is that Mizukami’s general sense of pacing gets a little jumpy in terms of how it translates into animation, and the production itself is pretty conservative looking. Even with those hiccups though, I’m glad to finally see something Mizukami related get animated, and come what may, I’m totally down to see what brand of weirdness he has in store for this story.

Rating: Great

 

Cells at Work

Synopsis: Strep throat! Hay fever! Influenza! The world is a dangerous place for a red blood cell just trying to get her deliveries finished. Fortunately, she’s not alone … She’s got a whole human body’s worth of cells ready to help out! The mysterious white blood cell, the buff and brash killer T cell, the nerdy neuron, even the cute little platelets—everyone’s got to come together if they want to keep you healthy!

First Impressions: While David Productions is more or less known as the Jojo’s studio at this point, they do in fact do other projects, and this latest manga adaption happens to be one of them. Of course it might be hard to tell watching the actual premiere here though because the director of Diamond is Unbreakable is in charge of this adaption, and there’s definently quite a bit of Jojo’s level absurdity to be had here. The premise of “what if the cells in our body were actually people” certainly isn’t a new concept (we all remember Osmosis Jones for better or worse) but it’s not one I’m particularly a fan of since stuff about the inner workings of the body almost always involves a high level of gross-out humor which I despise. Fortunately instead of focusing on the weird and sometimes gross things the body does to stay healthy, this opts to bit various kinds of blood cells against diseases, and the results are pretty funny. It helps that every kind of cell we meet throughout the episode is framed as a different archetype with a red blood cell being a clumsy go-getter while one of the white blood cells could pass for Jotaro Kujo’s long-lost brother. The comedy itself also relies on the bizarre shonen-esque escalation of how these battles against diseases fare going from massive violence, to bacteria literally being shot out of a sneeze missile. It was a surreal experience to say the least but it certainly kept me amused, and it also looks good enough production-wise that there’s probably not too much room to worry on how much it may have to compromise to sell a joke. I’m generally not a fan of “inside the body” scenarios, but this was fun enough that it may prove to be the exception

Rating: Good

First Impressions- Spring 2018 Anime (Part 2)

Woo boy. The last few days have been pretty busy for me, and that’s kind of limited my time for anime, but just because I’ve slowed down doesn’t mean the premieres have, and there’s still been a hefty amount of premieres in just the last few days with plenty more to come. Going through most of these still seems like a pretty daunting task but hey, I’ve made it this far so might as well keep this train running. Let’s do this.

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

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Gurazeni: Money Pitch

Synopsis: Bonda Natsunosuke (26, single), is a left-handed relief pitcher for the professional baseball team, the Jingu Spiders. He became a pro right after high school and now in his 8th year makes 18 million yen a year, and is not what you’d call a “first rate player.” “I don’t know how many years I’ve got left to play after 30.” “Only a few can become coaches or commentators after they retire.” “Pro baseball players need to make their money while before they retire!” Despite the harsh realities, Bonda always repeats the same phrase: “There’s money buried in the grounds.”

First Impressions: This wasn’t on my radar at all and I didn’t even know it existed till CR announced having it, but I like the sports show formula a lot so I figured I might as well give a shot. However it turns out this isn’t really a sports show, or at least not a sports anime in the traditional sense. Instead the focus of this series is more on the financial aspects of being a professional athlete and the need to stand out in order to have any hopes of retiring on a decent salary. It’s a unique angle to be sure and one told through our protagonist Nanba, a relief pitcher who scrapes by on the lower end of the major leagues. Seeing this from that kind of perspective certainly helps to hammer home how unforgiving the pro sports scene can be as there’s a moment where he pretty much has to send a new player straight back to the minor leagues in order to earn his keep, and it makes for some intriguing commentary. At the same time though, the show is perhaps a little too focused on exploring that financial aspect, and as a result Nanba doesn’t feel all that interesting on his own by the time the episode is through, and slightly awkward CG for some of the in-game scenes isn’t helping this much on the visual front. This is yet another middle-of-the-road premiere for me so whether or not I go any further likely depends on how many other potential Friday shows it has to compete with. For now though, it might be worth taking a peek at.

 

Hinamatsuri

Synopsis: Nitta Yoshifumi, a young, intellectual yakuza, lived surrounded by his beloved pots in his turf in Ashigawa. But one day, a girl, Hina, arrives in a strange object, and uses her telekinetic powers to force Nitta to allow her to live with him, putting an end to his leisurely lifestyle. Hina tends to lose control of herself, wreaking havoc both at school and in Nitta’s organization. Though troubled, he finds himself taking care of her. What will become of this strange arrangement? It’s the beginning of the dangerous and lively story of a nice-guy outlaw and psychokinetic girl!

First Impressions: This was yet another thing that wasn’t particularly on my radar so I wasn’t really sure what to expect here. As it turns out, this is something of an oddball comedy involving a father-daughter dynamic between a yakuza member, and a kooky psychic girl. If that sounds weird, the show is pretty much agrees with you, as it doesn’t waste anytime in establishing that premise, and forgoes any kind of actual setup. Normally that would be to the show’s detterent and it sort of is, but even though it brings our two leads together in a mostly unexplained fashion, the dynamic between them is funny enough that it quickly becomes irrelevant and I got quite a few chuckles over how easily Hina wraps Nitta around her finger and how bizarre her reactions are to basically everything around her. Funny as it is though, this sort of thing only really works when the relationship can be equally sincere and the show works well enough on that angle too,  as Hina’s clearly some sort of bio weapon, and Nitta is the first adult she’s met who doesn’t just want to use her as a tool, which could make for something cute, albiet standard. I sure didn’t know what I’d be getting here but I walked away pretty happy with what I got so this seems like something I might keep up with for a while.

Rating: Good

 

Persona 5: The Animation

Synopsis: Ren Amamiya is about to enter his second year after transferring to Shujin Academy in Tokyo. Following a particular incident, his Persona awakens, and together with his friends they form the “Phantom Thieves of Hearts” to reform hearts of corrupt adults by stealing the source of their distorted desires. Meanwhile, bizarre and inexplicable crimes have been popping up one after another… Living an ordinary high school life in Tokyo during the day, the group maneuvers the metropolitan city as Phantom Thieves after hours. Let the curtain rise for this grand, picaresque story!

First Impressions: This was definitely the most anticipated show of the season by a long shot for most anime fans but I can’t say I was quite as excited personally. While I totally dug the Persona 5 game and its story could translate into an anime pretty easily if handled right, I was pretty skeptical about this due to how the Persona 4 anime turned out. That one also seemed like it could translate the game into a solid anime pretty easily, but it instead focused more on pandering to the game’s pre-existing audience than telling a story, and combined with some of Aniplex’s executive shenanigans resulted in something that while okay on its own, felt like a massive waste of potential. Fortunently this adaption has one thing in its favor and its a change in director as rather than being helmed by Seiji Kishi who at this point has become pretty well known for mediocre video game adaptions, this is instead being helmed by Masashi Ishihama who gave us From the New World, which was an absolutely stellar adaption of the novel it was based on. That difference makes itself pretty apparent in this premiere on the visual front as besides the obvious fact of this being a lot better animated than Persona 4’s anime was, this is a lot more sharply directed, with some solid camera work during the opening heist scene, and some really effective scene transitions that help the episode to maintain a swift flow. Unfortunately I can’t quite say I feel as confident about the execution on the storytelling front as the premiere goes through the earliest events of the game pretty robotically, and hasn’t really done much to convince me the protagonist be Rei won’t made as much of a self-insert as possible in order to pander to the fans of the game. Still its probably a bit too early to judge how it’ll fair on that front and there’s always the possibility it’ll get a little bolder with time. I’m probably gonna end up keeping up with this either way since I well…liked the game, but I really hope this adaption will do enough to stand on its own merits

Rating: Good

 

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

Synopsis: In the world of guns and steel that is Gun Gale Online, LLENN has been a devoted, female solo player. She is obsessed with two things: donning herself entirely in pink and honing her skills with consistent game play. She soon discovers her love for hunting other players (a.k.a. PK), soon to be known as the “Pink Devil.” Meanwhile, LLENN meets a beautiful yet mysterious player, Pitohui, and the two click right away. Doing as she is told by Pitohui, she enters the Squad Jam group battle.

First Impressions: So allow me to preface this with something I’m sure will shock no one who’s followed me on Twitter for more than 10 minutes: I don’t like SAO. In fact I’d go so far as to say I basically despise it as what I’ve seen of it failed to live up to the promise of the show’s premise and the climax of its first “arc” was such a gigantic slap in the face that I refused to go any further. Even so, I was actually pretty interested in checking this out, the main reason being that rather than being penned by the franchise’s author Reki Kawahara, this spinoff was instead handled by Keiichi Segawa, the mind behind Kino’s Journey. Since I actually do like Kino’s Journey, I was curious to see what Segawa’s take on the franchise would be and the result was pretty solid. Right away its easy to tell that this series is being handled by a different writer as where the game world was more of an afterthought and the focus was more on the characters (inconsistent as the handling was in that respect) this instead puts quite a bit of emphasis on the actual game world. While it doesn’t go into outright info dumping in explaining the mechanics, every bit of this opener is obsessed with making Gun Gale feel like well…a game and puts a lot of emphasis on strategizing and making use of the environment to the point where it actually does feel like you’re genuinely watching skilled players at work. Of course that means that if you aren’t particularly interested in the gaming aspect then there isn’t too much to latch onto in this premiere since it seems like the proper character introductions are being saved for next week. But even if you aren’t the execution is solid enough that I think you might at least be able to get some enjoyment out of the spectacle itself. This isn’t quite among the strongest premieres of the season, but it certainly kept my attention and while I almost never thought I’d hear myself say this again: I’m probably gonna keep watching Sword Art Online. Hopefully this time around I won’t regret it.

Rating: Great

 

Devil’s Line

Synopsis: Tsukasa, a college student, is rescued from an attack by a devil, one of many vampires that can blend in among the human population. Anzai, her savior, is a half-devil who exploits his supernatural gifts as a member of a shadowy police task force that specializes in devil-related crime in Tokyo. As Anzai continues to keep guard over Tsukasa, the two quickly forge a tentative bond—one that Anzai fears will test his iron-clad rule of never drinking human blood…

First Impressions: Well it wouldn’t be a full season of anime without a vampire show in here somewhere and well…here’s our vampire show. I’m not really the target audience for these so most of the time I skip over them unless given a compelling reason to do so, but given this was the first show that Sentai Filmworks announced would be getting a simuldu-I mean “dubcast” I figured I’d give this a peek. Given the sheer amount of vampire anime at this point, having a distinguishing gimmick is kind of essential, and in this show’s case the gimmick is that the desire to drink blood is something akin to a drug addition and vampires have to stave off said addiction to live normally. We find out about this through our heroine Tsukasa and one of her close friends who’s fallen so in love with her that he’s gone around raping and killing random women to avoid the urge to do the same to her. That as you might imagine was the point where I kind of had to shake my head at the show, and its attempt to try and make this guy sympathetic didn’t help much either. So…yeah I wasn’t really into this but I figured that’d be the case so it’s not a particularly big deal. It’s a decent enough looking show that I imagine it’s actual audience will be mostly satisfied but now that my curiosity’s been satiated I’m gonna move on.

Rating: Bad

 

Cutie Honey Universe

Synopsis: Cutey Honey is an android created by Prof. Kisaragi. Within her is the ‘Fixed System of Air Elements’, a device that can create anything out of air. The evil organization Panther Claw desires this device. While trying to steal it, they kill Prof. Kisaragi. Now furious, Honey makes a vow to get revenge, and destory the Panther Claw.

First Impressions: Cutey Honey is one of those things I’ve heard about for years but never really saw in context. Having recently been baptized in to the weird mind of Go Nagai through winter’s Devilman Crybaby and enjoying the experience, I figured a new Cutie Honey series would be a good opportunity to dip my toes into the franchise. Sadly I can’t quite say this show was particularly made for newcomers as basically everything about this premiere assumes you know the basics of Cutey Honey and forgoes any form of character or setting introductions and just assumes you already know the details about Honey and her backstory. Since Cutey Honey is basically about as iconic in Japan as most of the big superhero comics are in the states, I can sort of understand the approach but it did sort of suck as someone coming in blind. Thankfully it’s not too hard to follow regardless though what I watched was something. The horny nature of some of Go Nagai’s work is about as well known as their amount of edge, and even before watching this I knew Cutie Honey was among the hornier of Nagai’s works. Even so, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this horny, as it features everything from aggressive lesbians, to clothing damage, and a rather odd instance of BDSM. It was pretty overwhelming to say the least and perhaps a tad uncomfortable in some places, but it certainly kept my attention, and its sort of easy (for better or worse) to see how this influenced authors of later generations. Sex aside, this is solid looking production given Production Reed is a pretty small studio and while its not quite gorgeous, it does have some pretty nice visual direction, and both theme songs are pretty catchy. I can’t really say there was too much in this premiere that appealed to me personally, but it definitely didn’t make me any less curious about Cutie Honey so if nothing else, I may keep up with this for that.

Rating: Decent

 

Golden Kamui

Synopsis: In the early twentieth century, Russo-Japanese War veteran Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto scratches out a meager existence during the postwar gold rush in the wilderness of Hokkaido. When he stumbles across a map to a fortune in hidden Ainu gold, he sets off on a treacherous quest to find it. But Sugimoto is not the only interested party, and everyone who knows about the gold will kill to possess it! Faced with the harsh conditions of the northern wilderness, ruthless criminals and rogue Japanese soldiers, Sugimoto will need all his skills and luck—and the help of an Ainu girl named Asirpa—to survive.

First Impressions: And here we have another highly anticipated adaption and one actually was fairly excited about. I’ve heard great things about the Golden Kamui manga over the last couple of years and very much enjoyed what I read of the first couple of chapters from a while back. Combined with a director who’s already had some experience with period pieces such as Gosick, this seemed like it would have all the makings on a really solid show. As far as the first episode goes though I’d say it…mostly lives up to that potential. The material itself is strong, and while we’re thrown into the whole gold hunt setup pretty quickly, the episode still manages to establish Sugimoto as a compelling if somewhat ruthless protagonist, and the dynamic between him and Asirpa already seems like it could be a lot of fun. The big issue here unfortunately, lies in the production itself. Given that Geno Studio is fairly new, and was more or less built off the corpse of the now defunct Manglobe (whose own productions were pretty inconsistent) I can’t say that I was expecting this to look gorgeous, but I was expecting it to look at least passable enough to get by. It mostly succeeds in that area too (albeit with quite a bit of corner-cutting), but with the unfortunate monkey’s paw of giant 3DCG bears. Like I said with Fist of the Blue Sky, 3DCG usually just gets a shrug from me in most circumstances, but the 3DCG used for the bears is too photorealistic to properly blend in with the painted looking 2D backgrounds, and combined with the thick lined character models, the result is a bizarre looking mess whenever all three elements are on screen at once. Fortunately these bears are disposed of by the end of the episode, and I can at least hope that the rest of the show’s animals won’t look that way, but it is a kind of annoying concern for what’s otherwise a perfectly fine premiere. Luckily the material here is good enough that I’m pretty sure this issue shouldn’t be a complete turnoff to most viewers, but I figured I might as well give fair warning. As for me, I’m gonna keep watching and hoping that we’ve seen the last of those monstrosities.

Rating: Good

 

Stein;s Gate 0

Synopsis

First Impressions: I’ve generally made it my business not to go over sequels anymore when doing these since it seems kind of pointless but this is a unique enough case to make an exception (and to be honest I wasn’t really sure exactly what this was before diving in). It’s been many a year since I watched Stein;s Gate (about 6 to be exact which is actually kind of terrifying) and while I found the first half of the show to be a little too self-indulgent and slow, the consistent payoff of it’s second half made it a very enjoyable watch for me, and turned it into one of 2012’s standouts, even if it wasn’t exactly my favorite show from that year. That said, I’d be lying if I said I ever really wanted more Stein;s Gate. Convoluted as the story was, it more or less wrapped up perfectly and I didn’t really see the need for it to be revisited in any capacity but it seems it made far too much money for one series to be the end so here we are. I hadn’t actually paid attention to anything surrounding this beforehand so I didn’t know if it was a spinoff or a sequel, but it seems that it’s a little bit of both.

This one starts off in the middle of a bad route where Okabe apparently fails to save Kurisu and his continual failure to save her over multiple timelines has caused him to retire from time travel shenanigans entirely. Suzuha however hasn’t given up on her quest, and with the signs of the end times approaching, it seems like Okabe won’t be able to stay out of the game for long. Needless to say anyone coming into this blind, might as well give up as this requires you to at least remember the events of the first half of the show, and since again it’s been about six years since I last watched this series, I myself had to spend about half the episode trying to remember who all these characters were. Even as a “sequel” though, going this route seems strange since well…the story wrapped up nicely the first time. I suppose this is sort of the only way they could do more of it and have it make sense but it does seem like a kind of cynical exercise. Joke’s on me though, because I’m still pretty curious where this is gonna go regardless and exactly how much mileage they’ll end up getting out of this. It seems baffling to me we’re getting another 24 episodes of this but I guess I’ll be going along for the ride.

Rating: Good

 

Last Period: the journey to the end of despair

Synopsis: “I’m never going to give up!! For that reason, I became a Period!!” Evil demons known as “Spiral” -made of souls who died in agony- threaten the people of the world. In order to stand up against Spirals, people founded the “Arc End”. Individuals whose skills are recognized are admitted to Arc End to become “Period” to fight for peace. Hal, who failed the Period admittance test 38 times, was accidentally admitted as an “Assistant Period” in Arc End 8th Squad. Forming a team along with other new members, Gazel and Liese, he is finally able to take his first step towards reaching his goal!

First Impresssions: This was another blind watch and one that turned out to be a mostly pleasant experience. From what I can gather this is based off of gatcha game, and rather than going for any kind of serious plot, this is instead more of a loving parody of fantasy games, and one that seems intent on riffing into the nature of gatcha games in general. I’ve personally never played any gatcha games (unless Xenoblade Chronicles 2 counts) and kind of refuse to so i can’t exactly say this concept really appeals to me, but I have enough passing awareness that I got a few chuckles out of those jokes. It helps that its particular brand of self-awareness is more light-hearted than an overhanded parody which makes it kind of relaxing, but the lack of edge also means that it could get pretty boring if you’re not really in the mood for it. Fortunently I mostly happened to be so this premiere hit a decent enough sweet spot for me. I’m not super pumped about watching more of this, but I could always use something simple and quiet so it might be worth a couple more goes

Rating: Decent

 

Doreiku the Animation

Synopsis: 24 people enter a survival game. Each has a device called an SCM (slave control method), which can make their opponent into their slave. Each person has their own reason for participating in the game.

First Impressions: I was a little apprehensive about checking this one out since everything about it’s premise sounded like it would be pretty gross. But like with Devil’s Line this is another one of Sentai’s picks for a dubcast and combined with my morbid sense of curiosity I felt at least a bit compelled to give this a peek. Weirdly enough I walked away from this premiere feeling pretty…okay. Much like with Kakeguri, this show combines games of chance with sexual desire, but where as Kakeguri was actually pretty chaste for how over the top it was, this leans much more into the sex related side of that deal and wants to be taken a little more seriously. That as you might imagine, makes this a considerably less fun show than Kakeguri but it’s first game has some pretty decent direction going for it, and while it’s definitely concerning that said opening game is the result of sexual assault, I suppose I can at least give the show credit for not sexualizing it since I honestly wasn’t expecting even that much. A lot of my feelings here are the result of low expectations but since I was really expecting to be repulsed by this show, the fact that I wasn’t is a reaction I’m still trying to process. It certainly wasn’t over the top enough to make for a fun trash show though, so I’m not sure if I have any desire to give it another episode. For now I can at least say it’s far from the grossest premiere of the season. Looks like Magical Girl Site will hold that crown

Rating: Decent

 

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku

Synopsis: Narumi Momose has had it rough: every boyfriend she’s had dumped her once they found out she was an otaku, so she’s gone to great lengths to hide it. When a chance meeting at her new job with childhood friend, fellow otaku, and now coworker Hirotaka Nifuji almost gets her secret outed at work, she comes up with a plan to make sure he never speaks up. But he comes up with a counter-proposal: why doesn’t she just date him instead? In love, there are no save points.

First Impressions: And finishing out my spring anime impressions we have Wotakoi. It took a while for this premiere to finally be snatched from the jaws of Amazon’s incompetence but it was well worth the wait because it is without a doubt the strongest opener for a comedy out of all this season’s offerings. A workplace comedy between a fujoshi and a game otaku sounded like something that could potentially be a good time but I still can’t say I was expecting it to be quite this well…relatable. I’ve always been a little back and forth as to how much of my nerdy tendencies I feel comfortable displaying at work so I could relate to both Narumi’s desire to keep things on the down-low and appear normal, and Hirotaka just straight up whipping out his handheld during a lunch break as that’s also become a pretty regular part of my routine. So as you can probably imagine, I got a lot of laughs out of those little moments and it helps that both of the leads come off as almost immediately likable and they have a pretty solid chemistry going to the point where their sudden hookup at the end of the episode is equal parts hilarious and completely believable. The show itself is pretty good looking too, and the opening theme in particular has some of the most bubbly character animation I’ve ever seen, and helped to set the mood before I even really got started with this. So…yeah this show’s a definite keeper. It might suck having to battle through the trenches of Amazon for this every week, but if the rest of the show is as good as this opener, it’s a battle I’m more than willing to wage.

Rating: Great


And looks like that’s it for Spring stuff. There’s certainly no shortage of shows this season, and while there aren’t a ton of must watches this time around, there’s enough variety here that you’re almost guaranteed to come across something that gels with you, there’s already quite a few things I’m probably gonna keep up to date with. Time will tell if the quantity of shows here will get to be a little too overwhelming, but till’ then: stay animated.

First Impressions- Spring 2018 Anime

It’s that time of the year again…sort of. We’re technically still a week out from the actual start of the Spring anime season, but since Crunchyroll decided to give out an early preview of one of their premieres, I figured I might as well get a head start on this. This is looking to be one of the most packed seasons of anime I’ve ever seen as just about everything and its grandma looks to be coming out in Spring, and if even half of it ends up being watchable it could most certainly destroy me. Even so I’ll do as many first impressions as I can, and I’m determined to do so even if I’ll probably regret it two weeks from now. Let the suicide tour begin!

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .


Magical Girl Ore

Synopsis: Saki Uno is a high school girl and rookie idol who has a crush on Mohiro, her best friend’s older brother. When Mohiro is kidnapped by demons, Saki hastily makes a shady contract to be able to transform into a magical girl, which transforms her body into that of a handsome man.

First Impressions: I feel as though I’ve been seeing the main visual for this thing floating around the internet for the last couple of years now, with no sign of when it would actually be a thing. Seems as though it’s finally here though, and it’s certainly…something. Magical girl parodies aren’t exactly new territory at this point and Cute High Defense Force Love did just about every gender bender joke with the genre that I could think of, but that series turned out to be pretty funny, and this seems like it’ll do a good job of following in its footsteps. The gimmick of having girls turn into muscular magical boys seemed like it would kind of one note, but the show gets a lot of mileage out of it by playing up to the raunchier side of magical girl shows rather than how Cute High mostly stuck to riffing Sailor Moon, leading to some pretty unexpected jokes and giving it a little more of an edge. On the downside, the animation is a little choppy (though given this was previewed before the official broadcast date it’s possible it could get touch

ed up a little before then) and the extra bit of edge means the show is a little lacking in sincerity which is kind of essential for a proper parody. It’s possible that last one could get fixed over time though, and there’s enough laughs here to make it plenty entertaining in the meantime. Hard to say how much steam this one’ll actually have in the long run but for now, it certainly has my attention.

Rating: Good

 

Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro

First Impressions: Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro is apparently a pretty big deal in Japan, and is considered something of a classic there, but it’s also something that’s never quite made it’s way to the west so I had what to expect from this (other than the hope that it would be decent, if only because Dragonball fandom is so angry over it being Super’s replacement). Having walked away from the first episode, I have to say I was pretty impressed. Horror is an aesthetic anime often struggles with and I sure wouldn’t expect a kids’ show to handle it well, but while nothing here is particularly frightening, the direction exudes a creep factor that a lot of other shows have kind of stumbled on. The yokai designs are pretty simplistic, but the framing gives them a clear sense of menace, and the unsettling feeling also extends to the protagonist Kitaro who comes off as equal parts helpful and distant in his apparent job as a yokai exterminator. Adding onto things is the fact that the actual production itself looks well…decent. Toei shows have gained an rather infamous reputation over the years for being shoddy looking, and Dragonball Super suffered a lot for the early part of its run, but this came out of the gate looking pretty respectable, and the action animation towards the end is nothing to snuff at. On the downside this seems like it could go into repetitive monster-of-the-week territory pretty fast, and that could end up wearing out its welcome, but for an introduction into an unfamiliar franchise this works pretty well, and I’ll certainly be sticking around for a while.

Rating: Great

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

Synopsis: The concept begins with Uma Musume (Horse Girls), girls endowed with excellent running capability, and who aim to become top idols and compete in the national sports entertainment show “Twinkle Series.” Players take the role of both teacher and trainer for the girls in the Nihon Uma Musume Training Center Gakuen (Japan Horse Girls Training Center Academy) and help them make their debut.

First Impressions: So this show has had something of an interesting backstory as it was announced as Cygames second anime project after the success of Rage of Bahamut a couple of years, and had been stuck in production limbo ever since. I was beginning to think we’d never actually see this weird thing, but after all that…waiting I guess, it’s finally here and its certainly strange. Idol shows, moe, and monster girl shows are all varying niches of their own in anime (even if some will tell you otherwise) and while there’s certainly been various mixing of these niches I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a show that actually had the audacity to do all three simultaneously (especially with the addition of being something of a sports show). You’ve got horse girls running late to school with carrots in their mouths instead of bread, you’ve got horse girls training for horse track races, and you’ve even got horse girls putting on extensive live shows with apparently no time to practice choreography. All of this sounds like it’d be a wonderfully wacky time in concept but in execution it’s just kind of cute and not much else. Part of the problem with trying to do so many things simultaneously is that the show runs into problem of trying to juggle too many things at once, and doesn’t get the amount of time needed to properly revel in its absurdity. Thus the end result is a monster girl show that feels a little too much like standard moe, and a sports show that seems to have idols tacked on because, why not? I can’t say anything in this premiere was a gigantic turn-off but in a season as stacked as this one, first impressions are a lot more important than usual. Perhaps I’ll give this another go if Sundays seem light, but I’m not sure if I’ll be going ahead any further with it.

Rating: Decent

 

Kakuriyo- Bed & Breakfast for Spirits

Synopsis: Aoi is a female college student who inherited the ability to see spirits from her late grandfather. She prides herself on her cooking, and one day while feeding some agricultural spirits, a god and the master of the “Tenshinya” appears and takes Aoi away. He says that due to her grandfather’s debts, she must become his bride. Aoi hates this idea and instead declares that she will pay back her grandfather’s debt by working at the Tenshinya.

First Impressions: I wasn’t really aware of anything about this going in, and just glancing at the key visual I kind of assumed this was based off of a shojo manga or an otome game. In  truth it’s based off a light novel series which is kind of neat considering those usually star blatant male inserts, so a female lead is an interesting change of pace. That however is probably the most interesting thing about the show just going off the first episode. While Aoi thankfully isn’t a total blank slate, we’re barely given time to be introduced to her before getting thrown into the show’s premise and the shows premise unfortunately happens to involve her literally being trapped into an arranged marriage she knew nothing about. Given that bit, her ability to see spirits, and her being thrown headlong into the world of ayakashi, this sort of comes off as a discount version of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, but where as the marriage scenario in that was a backdrop thing that’s tossed to the wayside pretty quickly and Chise’s emotional state beforehand help to ease the discomfort a bit, the undertones here give the impression that’s going to be a lot more in the forefront of this show. On the brightside Aoi’s at least not willing to be sold off without a fight, and the show’s already introduced another ayakashi who doesn’t seem to have any particularly creepy motives so hopefully it can at least run with that for a while. As far as the technical front goes, nothing about this stands out particular (kind of par the course for modern GONZO) but it looks decent that nothing there should be an immediate turn-off. While I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the uncomfortable setup the show otherwise seems okay and it’ll probably make the whole thing less creepy as it goes on, but as I said before with Uma Musume, first impressions are gonna be pretty important this season due to sheer volume, and on that front, this show is likely another pass for me.

Rating: Decent

 

Fist of the Blue Sky- REGENESIS

Synopsis: It is just before WWII, Kasumi Kenshiro hides as a quiet, absent-minded professor teaching literature at a small women’s college in Tokyo. Once the 62nd Grand Master of Hokuto Shinken, “God Fist of the North Star,” and known has Yan Wang, or “the King of Death,” who preserved the peace in the “City of Devils.” A fighter of thugs and drug dealers, Kasumi seeks anonymity and a quiet life until the death of his lover, and former brothers, forces him to return to Shanghai to fulfill his destiny and avenge the deaths of his associates.

First Impressions: I’m a pretty big fan of Fist of the North Star, and I’ve always been curious to check out its prequel series, Fist of the Blue Sky, so a new anime adaption seemed like as good an opportunity as any to do so. Having actually watched it through, I mostly walked away with a giant shrug. Part of what made Fist of the North Star an entertaining watch was the simplicity of its setup as Kenshiro wandered a post apocalyptic world, helping the innocent and punching bad guys into play-doh. This looks to be a little more complicated that as we’ve got some kind of conflict between Chinese mafia gangs, and another plot-line involving a mysterious little girl and her bodyguard. While nothing here was super difficult to follow, the lack of a clear focus did make it a lot less engaging than i was hoping, and it takes till the end of the episode for these threads to connect. Of course the actual issue here is the animation which is done courtesy of 3DCG anime studio, Polygon Pictures. 3DCG anime is already something that causes a lot of backlash on its own, and while I’m personally pretty neutral on it and Polygon is generally one of the better studios in that field, handing them a martial arts action show probably wasn’t a good idea. The animation is frankly clunky looking, even by their worst standards, and while that can normally be offset by how CG can benefit fight scenes, there aren’t really any to be had in this premiere so audiences are left with 20 minutes of clunky CG models mostly talking. I can’t say this is gigantic disappointment but I was hoping for a bit better and while my curiosity might compel me to give this another episode, if you aren’t already interested in Fist of the North Star, this seems like an easy skip.

Rating: Bad

 

Gundam Build Divers

Synopsis: The Gunpla Force Battle Tournament is a big event held in GBN once per year. Competing in the final round are Avalon, led by the champion Kyoya Kujo, and the elite 7th Panzer Division led by the cunning Rommel. Starting with Kyoya’s Gundam AGE II Magnum, a variety of Gunpla take to the field to determine which is the strongest force!

First Impressions: Gundam Build Fighters was actually my first real entry into the Gundam franchise (fight me) and I had a blast watching it since it turned out to be the crazy super robot show I never knew I wanted. It’s sequel, Gundam Build Fighters Try wasn’t quite as good, but I have enough love for the concept that I was more than willing to check out this new iteration. So far though this one seems to have dialed things down a bit as where the previous Build shows were a little more over the top, this seems a little more grounded which is slightly disappointing. Equally disheartening is that this seems to be a much rougher production than either of its predecessors as while they weren’t quite on the same level of quality as a full-blown mainline Gundam show, they were still pretty polished, and very pretty looking for kids shows. This in comparison has a lot more off model shots and some notable animation shortcuts, and since this is the first episode where the show is supposed to look at its best, that’s a little concerning. Having said all that I’m here for one thing: to watch giant robots punch each other. In that respect, the episode delivers as the first big fight of the series at least has enough direction going for it to make up for the shoddier animation, and even with my nitpicks, it didn’t take long for me to get swept up the atmosphere of watching these Gundams duke it out. So…yeah I’ll probably keep up with this for a while. It’s certainly no Gundam Build Fighters, and it might not even end up being a Build Fighters Try but so long it gives me the super robot fights I crave, I’ll be lining up to take a big sip of that every week.

Rating: Good

 

Legend of the Galactic Heroes- Die Neue These

Synopsis: The war between the monarchical Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance has raged ceaselessly across the galaxy for over a century, with the fleets of both powers having fought countless battles. Currently the conflict revolves around the strategic Iserlohn Corridor, one of only two passages of space through which the two forces can access each other. Here the Empire has built the nigh-impregnable Iserlohn Fortress, whose deadly weaponry has thwarted repeated efforts by the Alliance to capture her. Phezzan, a neutral mercantile state, controls the other corridor. The long war has resulted in an indecisive stalemate, but there are two men from the two worlds who will change everything: Wen-Li Yang, a gifted strategist from the Alliance who wants nothing more than to retire and be a historian; and Reinhard von Lohengramm, a man from the Empire whose ambition knows no bounds. Their loves, struggles, triumphs and failures play across an interstellar stage of intrigue, war and death.

First Impressions: Ever since I decided to pick up Viz’s release of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes novels, I’d been really looking forward to this adaption since if handled properly, could make for a pretty good anime of the year competitor. Of course since then, I’ve burned through a decent portion of the 80’s OVA and when I learned that this version was going to start off with 12 episodes and 3 movies, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive about the possibility of it being rushed. Fortunately, this first episode did a lot to dissuade those fears as it actually covered a lot less material than I was expecting, even under my ideal scenario. This premiere gives us a brief backdrop into the universe that surrounds this series, and the three major powers fighting over it before thrusting us into its first major battle and introducing us to one of our two main leads, Reinhardt. While a lot of this episode mixes between Reinhardt sitting around strategist and occasionally showing the aftermath in the battle itself, it maintains a consistent enough flow to never feel boring and it’s aided by a sturdy looking production. While CG battleships can be something of a mixed bag when it comes to visual execution, they actually blend in pretty well and it allows for the battles to have the sense of scale I had envisioned when I read the first novel. It also looks like it’ll hold up pretty well in terms of music as while competeting with the orchestral score of the 80’s OVAs was always going to be something of a losing battle, this makes a pretty solid effort, and the opening theme is something that’s probably going to be stuck in my head for a while. On the downside the other lead of this show, Yang, somehow ended up getting robbed of screentime for the entire episode, which is a little annoying on a personal level since he’s the best character, but hey I guess it just means he’ll get to steal the show next week so there’s that. I realize nothing I’ve said here is particularly helpful to newcomers so I’ll just say that if you’re in the mood for big space battles, and pretty boys (as well as some well timed political insights) you’ll be in for a good time. Go give it a watch

Rating: Great

 

Lupin the 3rd Part V

Synopsis: In the new series, Lupin III will travel to France — the home of his grandfather and namesake, Maurice Leblanc’s master thief character Arsène Lupin.

First Impressions: So in many respects, this one was actually my most anticipated show for this season. Lupin the 3rd pt 4 was my first entry into the franchise and I was blown away by how stylish and consistently fun in managed to stay over the course of its 26 episode run. Since this latest iteration has the same director, it pretty much goes without saying that I was really excited to check it out, and having the theme being centered around technology is an interesting take for a franchise that’s been around as long as this one and its off to a rip-roaring start in that respect as Lupin trying to work around the constant visibility of social media is a neat setup for his thieving shenanigans. Interestingly it does seem as though this version actually does hold some kind of connection to pt 4 as well as possibility some of the earlier incarnations, but much like the others this is pretty standalone and requires no previous knowledge to be able to jump in and have a good time. It’s a good thing too because in much like pt 4 before it, this is a really nice looking production and in addition to some slick animation, this premiere features what is quite possibly one of the coolest car chases I’ve ever seen on a TV animation production schedule. Sadly I kind of expect this to fall under the radar given the amount of bigger franchises and new series it has to compete with this season, but for what it’s worth this is hands down the best premiere I’ve seen thus far, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Rating: Excellent

 

Tokyo Ghoul: RE

Synopsis: Haise Sasaki has been tasked with teaching Qs Squad how to be outstanding investigators, but his assignment is complicated by the troublesome personalities of his students and his own uncertain grasp of his Ghoul powers. Can he pull them together as a team, or will Qs Squad first assignment be their last?

First Impressions: I really like the Tokyo Ghoul manga, and while people were pretty divided on its original anime adaption, I had a lot of respect for how it handled the material, even if the execution was murkier in Root A. Having said all that, I can’t say I was particularly excited for this. I’ve only read a little of the Tokyo Ghoul: RE manga and I’d normally be more than happy for an easy opportunity to see more of that material, there’s quite a few things holding back my optimism. For one thing, the anime diverged pretty heavily from the manga with its final episode, and while that normally wouldn’t be too big an issue for what’s just supposed to be an adaption, this is keeping in step with the manga’s continuity instead, meaning the anime’s ending is more than likely going to be retconned and it’s going to leave any anime only watchers seriously confused. My other point of contention is that for all its speedbumps the first anime series held up well on its own thanks to the efforts of its director Shuhei Morita who ended up being replaced for this iteration. For the most part the first episode hasn’t really done much to dissuade those fears. The obvious retcon is already in place, and the visual direction has been dialed back a bit from horror vibes to something a little more shonen-y. The bright spot here is that the material itself is pretty good. Whereas the first series focused on the perspective of the Ghouls, this one instead focuses on the perspective of the investigators that hunt them, with one of said investigators being Kaneki who seems to have somehow lost his memories. Its an interesting enough hook to keep things engaging and while I can’t say I’m super invested in the mystery surrounding Kaneki, I’m at least curious to see where it goes. All my groaning aside, I’m invested enough in TKG that I was probably gonna watch this even if it sucked, and while I still can’t help but feel a little irritated at how muddied the whole situation surrounding this show is, hopefully the actual material will be solid enough to ease those frustrations

Rating: Good

 

Real Girl

Synopsis: Hikari Tsutsui is a high school boy who is satisfied with the virtual girls he encounters in anime and games. He does not have many friends and he lives in his own world. One day, when he is stuck on pool cleaning duty, he is approached by Iroha, a “real girl” who is showy and popular with boys.

First Impressions: I’ve been hearing a few interesting things about the manga for a while, so I was somewhat curious about  the anime adaption for this. A romance between an otaku and a “normal” girl seems like it’d be pretty standard fare for anime at this point, but somehow or other it kind of isn’t (well at least without some kind of harem or power fantasy clause) so it makes for an interesting setup. The premiere is largely focused on getting us into the headspace of the male lead Tsutsumu who kind of strattles the line between annoying and sympathetic in his self-deprecation, with just enough of the latter to be fairly likeable. While the circumstances leading to him getting involved with Iroha are kind of contrived even by anime standards, the emotional circumstances of him coming out of his shell over the course of the episode are mostly believable enough to compensate, and the dynamic between the two of them is kind of cute. Unfortunently the show is held back by a pretty lackluster looking production as it’s noticeably ugly looking, and while its not totally devoid of direction, there isn’t quite enough of it to make up for the empty backgrounds and off model character shots. This made it a pretty uneven premiere to be sure, but I walked away with just enough interest that I kind of want to see where this is headed, so unless it gets flooded in the wave of other shows this season, I’ll probably give it another episode or two.

Rating: Decent

 

Tada-kun Never Falls in Love

Synopsis: Mitsuyoshi Tada, who has never known love, is taking pictures of the cherry blossoms in full bloom when he meets Teresa Wagner, a transfer student from Luxembourg. Upon arriving in Japan, she got lost, separated from her travel companion. Mitsuyoshi helps her and brings her to his grandfather’s coffee shop.

First Impressions: While this probably isn’t one of the more anticipated anime originals of the season it was one of the ones I was the most interested. Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun was a pretty fun shojo comedy so a series with pretty much all the same staff carrying over seemed like it’d be a good time. Although whereas Nozaki-kun was mostly a comedy and it’s romance angle was part of the punchline, this looks to be a little more sincere on the latter front while still carrying over a quick paced sense of humor. The result is mostly plesant and I got a few good laughs out of it. While none of the characters particularly standout so far, the show makes them likable enough, though between the two leads, Teresa is probably the more compelling of the two even if I kind of wish they were stalling on the obvious “twist” that she’s some kind of royalty. I can kind of do without the annoying best friend character but aside from him this seems like it could be a cute little romcom and it was certainly a plesant premiere. There’s no shortage of big shows this season but if you’re in the mood for something a little more low-key, this may do you fine.

Rating: Good

 

Megalo Box

Synopsis: A desolate land stretches out from the city of poverty. A motorcycle speeds recklessly, blowing clouds of sand and dust. The rider is the protagonist of this story – he has neither a name nor a past. All he has is his ring name, “Junk Dog” and a technique for rigging MEGALOBOX matches with his pal Gansaku Nanbu, which they use to support their hand-to-mouth lives. JD is bored, resigned, and unfulfilled. Yuri has been the reigning champion of MEGALOBOX for the past few years. He has the skills and presence of a true champion. This is a story of JD and his rival, Yuri.

First Impressions: And here’s yet another anime original that I was kind of curious about. The only thing I really knew about this going was that it’s supposed to be some kind of anniversary project for the boxing manga classic Ashita no Joe, while also apparently being it’s own thing (unless it involved robotic boxing arms and no one told me). It’s certainly a strange prospect to be sure, but the end result led to a pretty solid premiere. This seems to be continuing the recent trend of throwbacks to the grungy 90’s OVAs aesthetic as every aspect of this show oozes that sense of style, from the jazzy soundtrack to the artstyle that seems to be deliberately filtered to make the show look less modern. That 90’s vibe also applies to the show’s protagonist as well since Junk Dog is the sort of quiet tough guy who’s basically designed for folks who grew up on those kinds of anti-heroes and his struggle between trying to get by and his aspirations of becoming a real boxer seems like the perfect setup for a classic slum underdog story. Sadly it looks like it’s going to be another episode until we can see if the show has the animation and visual direction fully needed to match its boxing elements since we hardly get anything here, and while I wouldn’t expect full on Hajime no Ippo levels of action choreography, getting even a couple of intense matches could make for a fun treat. So far this show is mostly an exercise in aesthetic but it happens to be an aesthetic I’m down with so until the show gives me reason to think otherwise, it’s probably gonna be a safe watch for this season.

Rating: Great

 

Dances with the Dragons

Synopsis: Jushiki, a system for reproducing natural phenomena and paraphysical acts such as the creation of matter, allows humans to wield a power which they once feared as “magic.” Its mastery has brought advancements to all fields of life, while facilitating the extermination of the once-rampant “Dragons” and “Others.” Gaius and Gigina, two combat-type jushiki wielders, run an office in a chaotic frontier town called Eridana, and make a living using their art to solve problems and collect bounties. One day, a dragon-hunting job falls into their laps. But the job is just the start of a plot that goes far deeper…

First Impressions: So I didn’t know much about this going in other than it was apparently an LN adaption and that it has a pretty wacky title. What I walked away with was an…experience to say the least. Infodumping and light novel adaptions basically go hand in hand at this point and I normally just roll my eyes at the technobabble but this episode opens up one of the most incomprehensible pieces of exposition in recent memory and doesn’t get any easier to follow from there. By the end of the episode the only things I was really able to piece together is that our heroes are a pair of bishies who fight dragons and in addition to apparently having a hot elf girlfriend, one of them has what is hands down the most unfortunate light novel name I’ve ever seen: Gayus (the jokes almost literally write themselves). There’s also some kind of political craziness going on behind the scenes but the show doesn’t really offer any real clarity on it nor does it really do a good job of really introducing us to our leads aside from the whole hot elf GF thing. On the positive side it is quite pretty looking and the action animation is solid but I can’t say anything else about it seemed particularly appealing. It might make for a fun trash show but aside from that I’d say give this one a pass

Rating: Bad

 

Your Brain on Toons- Why The Promised Neverland is NOT the “New Death Note”

So I’m a really big fan of The Promised Neverland. It’s a pretty unconventional manga for something running in Shonen Jump, with its stellar artwork and equally strong storytelling making for an exciting read from week to week. However as it continues to grow in popularity and attract new readers, there’s been an ever increasing tendency to directly compare it with another unconventional Jump manga: Death Note. Given that Death Note is pretty much a cultural phenomenon at this point, and the manga is a series I still hold in pretty high regard (even if I don’t necessarily enjoy it for all the same reasons I did when I was 13) it’s not a totally unflattering comparison, but the deeper and deeper I get into Neverland’s run, the more it starts to feel like a pretty shallow one. Normally I’d just lay out the differences in genre and call it a day but that would be boring, so instead I’m here to talk about why TPN isn’t necessarily the “new Death Note” some people have claimed it is.

Before I start diving into the differences, it’s only fair that I point out some of the similarities first since it’s not like these comparisons are happening for no reason. Neverland’s writer, Kaiu Shirai has noted Death Note’s author, Tsugumi Ohba as one of his inspirations (alongside Naoki Urasawa of Monster fame, and Jojo’s Hirohiro Araki) and it’s pretty easy to see where that influence takes root. Both series employ “battles of wits” that are conveyed with all the intensity of a traditional battle manga, and both also share a love for being heavily detailed and analytical when it comes to conveying information. This gives both a pretty high level of appeal for those who are into those kinds of scripted layouts, as well as for anyone (like me) who prefers their shonen to have a clear sense of direction since the attention to detail means that both series have to be planned out pretty well in advance in order to work effectively. That however, is where the similarities end.

Thriller v.s. Thriller

 

We’ve already established that both series are “mind game” thrillers of a sort, but despite a few of the similarities I mentioned, the way in which they each choose the execute those elements is pretty different. Like I mentioned in a previous article where I briefly compared the two, Death Note starts out with Light having access to a notebook that can kill people, and by the time he comes across his rival L, he already has a pretty clear knowledge of how it works. This setup means that Light generally has to use his knowledge of the Death Note and it’s limitations to lure L and any of his other “opponents” into scenarios where he can easily dispose of them. Thus, most of the suspense in Death Note, comes from discovering just how far in advance, or how elaborately he or any of the other characters have planned ahead (all those “just according to keikaiku” memes exist for a reason after all).

Neverland in comparison, takes almost the exact opposite approach. Since it’s also a bit of a mystery series in addition to being a thriller, Emma and co, start off with almost zero knowledge of the rules and nature of their world. This means that rather than coming up with complex schemes, the characters are constantly on the search for new information and their wits are demonstrated not in how well they can plan ahead (though there are a couple of occasions where that factors in), but in how well they can piece together what they know, and how quickly they can learn from and adapt to unfavorable situations. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but as far as any direct comparisons go it means that whereas DN basically builds itself on long-term planning, Neverland is almost entirely unsuited to that approach, and is actually at it’s best as a thriller when the characters have to act from moment to moment.

Thriller v.s. Fantasy

 

I brought up the differences in genre earlier, and while it isn’t exactly the defining factor separating these two, it is a pretty big one. Death Note, in essence, is a thriller series with some horror and fantasy elements. The Promised Neverland on the other hand, is a dark fantasy/horror series with thriller elements. On the surface that might not seem like a particularly big contrast given that the same basic elements exist in both series, but that difference in priorities, makes them pretty different as stories.

In that respect, Death Note’s first and utmost priority is to be an entertaining thriller. While it does offer some musings regarding Japan’s views on capital punishment and vigilantism, most of that comes off as a byproduct how well constructed its thriller elements are rather than being the actual point. It’s also not particularly interested in exploring its fantasy elements either, as much of the lore surrounding the Shinigami realm from which the titular notebook originates is mostly just there to serve as a mechanic for how the rules of its thriller elements work, and matter so little to DN as a story that they could easily be swapped out for something else, and barely affect much of its goals. That heavy focus on thriller elements also carries over to how DN functions as an actual narrative since the basic setup for Light and L’s “battle” means that the story could only really end one of two ways (and made it pretty clear early on which of those two ways it leaned towards), so aside from having a couple of wrenches thrown in, the actual story of Death Note is more or less built on an inevitable outcome, and the most of the enjoyment comes from how crazy and elaborate each of its various setups are, rather then where they all ultimately lead.

Neverland, again, is pretty different in this respect as contrary to a lot of the buzz surrounding it: it’s a dark fantasy/horror first and a thriller second. The suspense thriller elements aren’t completely inconsequential, and they do add a lot to its appeal, but they primarily exist to move the story forward instead of being the actual point. Much like how Death Note’s fantasy elements barely affect any of what it actually does, Neverland’s “mind game” thriller elements mean so little to its long term goals, that it abandons them almost entirely after the first story arc, and it very frequently handles its big revelations in a way that would that would be detrimental if it were only interested in being a pure thriller, but make perfect sense in the service of telling a larger story. Instead its focus is on exploring its fantasy setting, and the nature of said setting is directly tied to it’s core themes regarding hope v.s. nihilism, which are ultimately at the heart of Neverland’s goals rather than just being subtext. The lesser focus on thriller elements also allows for Neverland’s story to have a broader sense of scope, and while it still has a pretty linear focus in spite of that, the extra flexibility gives it more room to go into the things it wants to say, and makes the story’s ultimate destination, a little harder to predict in the long run.

Emma v.s. Light 

 

And now we’re down to the last, and perhaps most definitive thing separating these two: their protagonists. While that may not seem like it’d be as big a deal as anything plot-related, the elements that define a protagonist often reflect the values and ideals of the stories they’re attached to, and its there where you can really see how DN and TPN contrast. As far as all that’s concerned, Emma and Light Yagami are basically polar opposites, and so much so that they’d probably loathe each other on sight.

The elements that define Light as a character are his intelligence, arrogance, the ability to manipulate others, and his belief that the world is better off without those who he views as a hindrance. Seeing as Light is technically the villain of Death Note, its easy to make the argument that we’re supposed to hate every aspect of his character, but while it pretty much goes without saying that three of those four traits are bad news, (unfortunately not enough for some, but that’s a whole other debate entirely) the audience is at the very least, meant to be in awe of his intelligence and how effectively he can prioritize logic over emotion. The appeal of those final elements more or less carries over to the majority of Death Note’s cast in general, as personality traits are largely secondary compared to how “cool and smart” the individual characters are, with those who prioritize rationality being the ones who pull ahead, while those who are more emotional are generally dunked on.

Emma on the other hand, is generally defined by her empathy, willpower, and her desire to never abandon the people she cares about, even when it would be considered the “smart” thing to do. She’s certainly no fool, and her ability to read people is generally considered to be an asset, but her sense of compassion is at the core of what makes her a compelling character. Under the same token, while the story isn’t shy about challenging her idealism, it’s also continually shown to be in favor of it, and Emma is very much at the heart of everything the series wants to convey. All of this more or less puts Emma in direct conflict with the things Death Note values, as her emotionally-driven behavior is the kind of thing it looks down upon. Of course, Light wouldn’t exactly be at home in Neverland either, as pure rationality and putting oneself ahead of others aren’t stances it’s in favor of, and so much so that the character whose world view most closely coincides with that ends up having to realize how shortsighted that sort of thinking is in the long run.

Final Thoughts

So…yeah Death Note and The Promised Neverland are two different beasts. Both share a love for battles of wit and being heavily detailed, but their overall execution, characters, and themes, put them in pretty stark contrast with each other. There’s definitely things to appreciate in both series (as well as things in DN I kind of wish people didn’t appreciate), but as far as any direct comparisons go, it’d be nice if people could find a better point of contrast for Neverland than Death Note, because in spite of what’s been said it isn’t really the “new” Death Note. If anything, it’s the anti-Death Note.

Review: Made in Abyss- Gaze Into the Abyss

 

Synopsis: Riko is a young cave raider who dreams of exploring the depths of the giant chasm known as the Abyss like her mother did. However only being ranked as an apprentice level raider-or “Red Whistle”- means that she has a long way to go before her dream can become a reality. Her fate suddenly changes when she comes across a mysterious boy named Reg, who has a body that seems almost mechanical. Reg claims to come from the depths of the Abyss, and when Riko discovers a letter from her missing mother claiming that she’s waiting for her at the bottom, Riko and Reg embark on a journey to reach the bottom together.

The Review

Horror has always been a bit of a tricky area for anime to traverse. There’s certainly no shortage of creepy stuff in anime, and I’ve come across more than a few things that kept me up at night, but anime is such a uniquely bizarre visual medium to begin with, that most genuine attempts at horror come off as cheap shock value, or worse yet: goofy. Much like any good horror film, horror in anime only ever really works when it can catch you off guard or present something familiar in a way that feels disturbing. Very few shows have been truly successful in that respect, but last year’s Made in Abyss stands out as one of anime’s best examples of how to do horror right.

The beginning of Made in Abyss starts out simple enough, as we’re introduced to our protagonist Riko: a plucky young girl who dreams of one day exploring a giant chasm known as the Abyss, where all sorts of unknown creatures and phenomena reside. After one day receiving a letter from her missing mother saying that she’s waiting at the depths of the Abyss, and coming across a mysterious “robot boy” named Reg, Riko and Reg embark on a journey to reach the bottom, and learn more about Reg’s past along the way. On the surface, this comes off as a simple, but fun setup for a big adventure story not unlike something you’d see in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, and for the first few episodes it sticks to what you’d expect out of that formula. The first levels of the Abyss are lush and vibrant, and while the beasts that reside in them can at times be dangerous, there’s never a sense that the duo can’t overcome the danger, and the world it presents feels majestic, making the audience feel naturally inclined to want to see more of what lies beyond, much in the same way Riko does.

 

However as Riko and Reg head deeper into the Abyss’s depths and receive a startling revelation about Riko’s connection to it, a gradual, but very noticeable change begins to happen with the show’s atmosphere. The once colorful and intriguing world of the Abyss becomes dark and isolating, and the beasts that reside within become more and more dangerous as the feeling of security that initially surrounded our leads is suddenly stripped away. By the time the season heads into its final act and the duo encounters a threat far bigger than they can handle, the show pulls out all the stops in depicting just how unforgiving the Abyss truly is, including everything from the most visceral depiction of pain that I’ve ever seen in animation, to a character backstory so disturbing, that it left me with a chill in a way that almost no other anime has really managed to do.

With such a dramatic shift in tone from the season’s first episode to its finale, its easy to imagine this going off the rails pretty quick, but it manages to stay consistent and engaging from beginning to end. Even when the story begins to dip into some pretty bleak territory, it maintains the same spirit of perseverance and curiosity it began with, while also providing an infectious sense of charm in both its characters and atmosphere. While a lot of these elements are shifted more towards a horror perspective than the more adventure shonen one that it starts out with, these moments of dread always feel like a natural evolution, and the show never seems like it’s forcing its hand. All of this helps to make for a much more powerful experience than would be expected at first glance, and for a story that I’m already eager to get back to when the next season arrives.

 

As effective as the show’s storytelling is though, something like this can only ever really work when it has the right visual style to match and director Masayuki Kojima and the staff at Kinema Circus have achieved this in spades. While the character designs for most of the show’s human cast are almost purposefully cute and cartoony, the backgrounds of the Abyss feel more like something out a classic fairy-tale, going from vast and colorful, to hauntingly beautiful which allows each of its various environments to feel both fantastical, and very much lived in throughout any given scene. This same level of detail is also carried over into the designs of the creatures that live in the Abyss as each of them manage to feel like the sort of mix between wondrous and dangerous that can only ever be encountered in nature, even when the beast themselves look pretty out there. It’s all kind of magical to behold in a way, and all of this fantastic art direction is supported by an equally fantastic musical score courtesy of composer Kevin Perkin, who always manages to find the right track to fit just about any moment in the show and helps to elevate even some of its most simple scenes into effective tools for capturing its incredible atmosphere.

If there’s one negative point I’d have to give against the show, it would be its occasional moments of sexualization for its pre-pubescent leads. From my understanding, this is more an issue of the source material than anything the anime is doing intentionally, and it’s clear that the staff tried their best to tone this down as much as possible, but there’s still more than a few lingering shots and crude jokes that made me feel kind of uncomfortable. Given the show’s generally positive reception, I imagine this won’t be a deal breaker for most audiences, and its thankfully never  played up enough to outright kill the experience. Still it’s there just enough to be noticeable, and it’s kind of a shame since the show otherwise feels pretty accessible to a more general audience than typical late night anime.

It’s a rarity for anime to ever truly get horror right, but Made in Abyss really managed to pull it off. Between its likable characters and incredible sense of atmosphere, there’s a whole lot to enjoy here, and its last few episodes managed to give off a sense of dread that I’ve almost never experienced in an anime before. While its unfortunate penchant for sexualizing the kids is something I wish was gone from the show entirely, it hits hard on enough levels, that it feels almost impossible not to get swept up in all of its charm and mystique. I certainly enjoyed my time traversing the Abyss, and with another season on the horizon, I’m looking forward to the chance to dive in once again.

Overall: 8.9/10

Available for streaming on Amazon Video

Review: Devilman Crybaby- Cry For the Devil

 

Synopsis: Akira Fudo’s life is forever changed when he finds himself reunited with his childhood friend, Ryo Asuka and taken to an underground party called a Sabbath in the hopes of summoning a devil. After getting possessed by one of these devils himself, Akira finds himself with a powerful new body, but still manages to retain his human heart. Now living as a “Devilman”, Akira works with Ryo to hunt down other devils, and to keep their existence from being exposed by society at large, but can there really be such as thing as a demon with a heart?

The Review

It’s been a couple of years since Netflix first announced their intent to add their own exclusive anime to the service, and the first of these has finally arrived in the form of Devilman Crybaby. Crybaby serves as a brand new adaption of Go Nagai’s classic Devilman manga, and one brought to life through critically acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa, who has brought us such works as The Tatami Galaxy (still waiting on a physical release there, Funimation) and Ping Pong the Animation. Go Nagai is unquestionably one of the most influential manga authors to have ever been in the industry, and Yuasa has consistently been one of the most visually creative directors I’ve seen in anime, so needless to say that I was pretty eager to check this out. What I ultimately walked away with though, was an experience that both for better and for worse, was one I certainly won’t forget.

While I’ve ever actually had the opportunity to read the original Devilman manga, much less any of Go Nagai’s works in general, I do know that he’s had an almost infamous reputation for graphic content, and it certainly shows in this series. Right out of the gate, the show is an unapologetic storm of crazy ultra violence, and equally insane sexual imagery that feels more akin to a late 90’s OVA, than a modern anime production. Whereas it would normally be expected for Yuasa to tone down some of this material to make it more palpable for modern audiences, he instead chooses to do the exact opposite. Yuasa fully embraces the overly sexual nature of Nagai’s work to the point where he actually ramps up its intensity, and the result is equal parts fascinating, and understandably overwhelming. Make no mistake: this series is about as hard of an R-rating as it gets, and its easy to see how Netflix was an ideal platform for this project, because there’s absolutely no way it would have made it onto Japanese television as is.  What keeps all of this from coming off as cheap shock value however, is that much of this imagery is framed as horrific and savage, rather than cool or stimulating, and that framing ultimately has a clear purpose, as it gradually becomes apparent that the series has quite a lot to say, underneath it all.

 

The show’s first few episodes are its most straightforward, as Akira finds himself transformed into a demon, and works with Ryo to both fight off other demons they come across, and to keep any involvement with them secret. As it progresses further though and we’re given more time to spend with the rest of the show’s cast, it begins to show an almost surprising amount of humanity. Some of it’s strongest examples come in the form of a Miko Kawamoto, a girl whose spent almost her entirely life hiding in the shadow of her friend Miki, and wants to be acknowledged by both her and the rest of the world as her own person, or a group of young rappers who are generally viewed as troublemakers based purely on their appearance. The show does it’s best to make you empathize with these characters and ends up placing a lot of importance on the power of empathy itself, arguing that underneath our individual differences, we are all capable of love, and that love should propel us to reach out and care for each other.

And then, as the show heads into its final act, and the existence of demons is exposed to humanity at large, that argument begins to shift. Hatred and discrimination quickly takes over, and while the importance of empathizing with each other remains as significant as ever, those voices of hope quickly die out in the face of overwhelming violence and cruelty. All of this ends up resulting in an ending so bleak that it’s hard not to walk away from it feeling uncomfortable, and Go Nagai’s ultimate message here seems to be that humanity will never be capable of placing love over hatred until the latter destroys us. As someone who does generally believe that the ability to love and empathize with each other can over come our baser tendencies, I certainly can’t bring myself to agree with this view point, but the presentation here is effective enough that if nothing else, I can at least respect it.

As I said before, Masaaki Yuasa, is one of the most visually inventive directors in anime and his aesthetic is all over this show, but his style can be a little polarizing to general audiences. The production by his studio Science Saru, provides a mix of 2D and flash animation, that manages to deliver on some impressive looking cuts, while combining them with  his signature flat art style, giving the series a distinctive look, that while slightly goofy at times, generally helps in selling the show’s graphic imagery. Kensuke Ushio’s soundtrack for the series is equally impressive, as its mix of orchestral and techno music gives the series a sound that matches it’s 90’s OVA aesthetic, and the decision to include a few pieces of Japanese rap, not only helps to make the show feel more unique but allows it to better express its ideas. However the real crowner for the show’s music definitely has to go to it’s opening theme, “MAN HUMAN” by Denki Groove, an instrumental piece that manages to be equal parts catchy and haunting, and never fails to set the mood for the series’ heavier moments (even if Netflix’s autoplay feature insists on making you skip it).

The english dub for the series was handled by SDI Media, and it serves as a pretty good match for the material. Despite being a couple of octaves higher than Kouki Uchiyama’s performance, Griffin Burns is a solid match for the overly empathetic Akira, while Kyle McCarley makes for an equally impressive Ryo, making every ounce of the character’s twisted attitude a delight to listen to, and allowing the two performances play off of each other pretty well. The rest of the cast is also pretty solid, with some standout performances from Doug Erholtz  as the sleazy reporter Nagasaki, and Cindy Robinson as the temptress, Silene, with the only major outliers being Dorthy Fahn as Taro, and Anne Yatco as Miki’s mother, as both sound a little too much on the stiff side.  It’s hampered down a little by some multicasting for a lot of the bit parts, but all in all,  if you’re looking to check out the show in English, you should be in for a good time.

Even with Yuasa’s general track record when it comes to interesting content, I was still pretty amazed at just how much was packed into this, and it made for one heck of a wild ride. While the show’s conclusion might have been a little too nihilistic for me, there’s no denying it’s powerful, and while I may have came in expecting mostly just violence and sex, what I walked away with was a much more human story than I could have possibly imagined. Devilman Crybaby is not an easy show to watch, both for it’s graphic content and its final moments, but it is undeniably a work of passion, and that passion shows. From it’s incredible direction, to the heavy hitting nature of the material itself, this show was quite an experience, and while it left me with a lot of mixed emotions, it’s one I’m ultimately glad I saw through to the end.

Overall: 9.5/10

Available for streaming on Netflix

 

First Impressions- Winter 2018 Anime (Part 2)

The wave of new anime continues as the Winter season hits it’s second week, and more premieres are coming down the pipeline. So far it doesn’t seem like this season will test the limits of my sanity, but there’s still plenty more to check out, so might as well get started

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

  • All series synopsis from Anime Planet                                                                                      ———————————————————————————————–

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

Synopsis: Nishikata is a middle school student who has suffered humiliation due to being teased by Takagi, the girl who sits next to him. Since then, he has vowed to one day do the same to her and succeed in teasing her.

First Impressions: So this is a show I was a little more aware of going in, but I also wasn’t sure how much it was going to grab my attention. It’s premise is essentially based off of one joke and since I’m already kind of rooting for Nishikata to eventually succeed in getting one over Takagi, it’s hard to say how much mileage the show is going to get out of that one joke for me. For what it’s worth though, this premiere was certainly cute and the dynamic between Nishikata and Takagi works well enough that I’m hoping the two of them will eventually be more honest about their obvious crushes on each other even if that’s probably not going to happen here. It also managed to get a couple of chuckles out of me so, I might keep going if there isn’t much else to watch on Mondays, but since I’m not currently sure if this will actually be able to maintain my interest for a full 12 episodes, I’m currently on the fence with it.

 

Basilisk: The Ouja Ninja Scrolls

SynopsisThe battle for succession that continued for three generations of shogun in the Keichou era culminated in a gruesome battle of ninja arts between the Kouga and Iga clans. Amidst a rain of flower petals, a man and woman who had decided to live for love were separated once again, beautiful in their transience.

First Impressions: Of all the sequels coming out this season, this one is the weirdest. The original Basilisk anime was a manga adaption by Gonzo, and was essentially if Romeo and Juliet was about ninjas and the feud between their two families escalated into a battle royale. Needless to say that show ended pretty violently, so I was really surprised it got another series, and this already looks like it’ll be a similar setup. The main difference this time though (aside from the more generic character designs) is that the Romeo and Juliet ninjas of this story happen to be siblings which is uh…more than a little questionable (and no the weirdness of it being acknowledged by the other characters doesn’t make it any less so) and this first episode is largely just setup as it’s dedicated to showing off the various powers of these soon-to-be-dead warriors. I can’t exactly say that there’s anything in this premiere that would really be enticing to newcomers, and the actual character introductions here are pretty weak, but watching ninjas fight to the death again is bound to be entertaining if nothing else, so if my Mondays stay light, this’ll probably make for an decent distraction.

Rating: Decent

 

  • After the Rain

Synopsis: 17-year-old high school student Akira Tachibana is a girl who barely expresses herself. She harbors a secret crush on Masami Kondou, the 45-year-old manager of the family restaurant she works at part-time.

First Impressions: This was a title that I was kind of interested in checking out, but was also simultaneously very apprehensive about. While I wasn’t sure about the exact details behind it, I knew coming in that the basic premise was about a high school girl’s attraction to a middle aged man, and it’s not exactly a scenario that I imagine most folks are comfortable with, myself included. Having said that though, this first episode sure made a for a strong case in the show’s favor as it does a fantastic job of getting us into Akira’s headspace purely through her actions as we get an immediate feel for how isolated she feels thanks to an as-of-yet explained event, and the way in which she goes about dealing with her crush is equal parts cute and down to earth. Kondou himself comes off as pretty likable for the amount of time we spend with him, and the overall direction of the show feels downright pleasant, as it’s packed with solid character animation, and some shots that were so gently framed, I seriously forgot this was a WIT production. Of course, none of this really negates the fact that the show’s premise is a hard sell, and I’m still kind of worried about exactly what direction it’ll go with this, but this was such strong premiere that uncomfortable scenario aside, I’m willing to go along for the ride.

Rating: Great

 

Marechen Maedchen

Synopsis: Hazuki Kagimura is a normal girl who is usually alone. With her relationship with her new family not going so well, she retreats every day to the world of stories and books. One day, after school, one of the library’s bookshelves sends her to another world with a magic school, where she meets Shizuka Tsuchimikado. She finds out that girls (called “mädchen”) who attend the school are selected by old fairy tails and folk stories to wield their magic, and are taught how to wield it in the school. The school has girls who are chosen by such stories as Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, Issun-boushi, Der Freischütz, Shuten-douji, The Little Matchstick Girl, The Gigantic Turnip, Arthurian legends, and The Ramayana. Hazuki herself is chosen by the Cinderellastory. She begins her new life at the school to become a magic user, and be friends with Shizuka.

First Impressions: This was another title I was vaguely aware of coming in, and one that I was interested in checking out. The idea of a magical girl show based on fairy tale heroines sounded like a fun premise, and it was easy to imagine what kind of crazy ideas they could run with it. Unfortunately the show I actually watched, turned out to be a pretty boring waste of 23 minutes. While “isolated losers with no friends” is a pretty common staple for main characters, Hazuki is quite possibly one of the single blandest anime protagonists I’ve ever encountered. Nothing about her personality comes off as particularly exciting or even endearing, and her obsession with books feels more like a wacky anime trait than an actual part of her character, and since that IS supposed to be one of the defining factors of her character that we’re given here, there’s not really much of anything to go on. To make matters worse, in addition to our ultra boring protagonist, the show is pretty bland looking too, with the character designs being pretty cookie cutter, the visual direction virtually non-existent, and the OP theme having some of the most embarrassingly lazy clip-show animation I’ve ever seen for an anime opening (and given Magus Bride’s second opening for this season is also a lazy clip show, that’s saying a lot). I guess if you’re REALLY interested in the show’s supposed premise (which it doesn’t even elaborate on much in this premiere) it might be worth sticking it out longer, but I’m slamming this book shut.

Rating: Bad

 

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody

Synopsis: “Satou,” aka Ichiro Suzuki is a programmer in the middle of a death march. He was supposed to be taking a nap but somehow wakes up in another world… What lies before him is what looks like the menu screen of the game he was working before his nap. He’s at a complete beginner stage at level 1. However, he had three “Meteor Showers” which could level a whole map. Suddenly, a whole group of lizardmen appears in front of him. In order to survive, Satou uses Meteor Shower, his level jumped to 310 and he became extremely wealthy. Whether it be dream or reality, Satou’s journey was now beginning.

First Impressions: After a couple of seasons worth of absence,  a new “trapped in a video game” has decided to grace us with its presence. This one apparently stars a 29-year old man, working a thankless job as a game designer, and if that seems too realistic for a light novel protagonist, rest assured that he’s only a grown adult for the first 9 minutes of the show, after which he’s transported into the game he was working on and becomes 16 again, with all the in-game powers of a demi-god. I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed that the show didn’t actually decide to follow through on staring an adult protagonist (he still sounds like an adult when he’s thinking to himself, but it’s just not the same) but the show actually does seem to have a trick or two up it’s sleeve. The biggest point in its favor so far is that rather than having the main character be insanely overpowered purely for the sake of a convenient power fantasy, he has in fact become SO overpowered that a test of his powers nearly kills him, and he seems to actually be something of a danger to his new environment since he can casually shrug off dangers that would be disastrous for anyone else. I have no idea if the show is going to actually follow through on this idea, and I’d be very surprised if it did, but the novelty of it was more than enough to keep me entertained the entire time. It’s also a pretty decent looking show for what it is, and I really appreciate the use of darker colors in the MC’s real-world life to establish how much his job sucks. I’m probably giving this more credit than it deserves, but this was certainly an amusing enough premiere and I’ll likely keep going with this until I get bored.

Rating: Good

 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

Synopsis: At first glance, the city of Fukuoka seems like a peaceful one, but under the surface, crime is running rampant. The city’s Hakata ward is home to the professionals of the underworld: professional killers, detectives, informants, professional revenge seekers, those skilled in torture, and more. And according to urban legend, even a “killer of professional killers” exists in the city. When stories of the men in the underworld are told, a “professional killer murder” appears.

First Impressions: When I was checking out the lineup for this season, I didn’t give this one too much thought aside from its weird title, but this one could turn out to be interesting. It’s been a little while since we’ve had a “carnival of killers” show, and this premiere is largely about establishing all the different assassin factions based in this one city, and giving us the circumstances that allow the show’s two leads to meet. By far the most interesting thing about this premiere was how it managed to tie the individual factions  together, and it could make for a fun Baccano-esque scenario, though I certainly wouldn’t expect this to be anywhere near as strong as that show was. Aside from that, I can’t say anything here was particularly impressive, but the show seems to be a lot more grounded than the premise would suggest, and I appreciate it’s more casual take on the seedy underworld of it’s setting rather than reveling in how dark it can be. Visually it’s a pretty by the numbers show, but it looks passable enough, and the music has a nice jazzy-vibe that fits aesthetic of the show. This certainly isn’t the most exciting premiere this season, but it more or less does what it needs to, and there’s enough potential for me to stick with it for a while.

Rating: Good

 

Hakyu Hoshin Engi

Synopsis: A once thrived kingdom, In—now governed by an evil hermit, Dakki, and her party—is in a chaotic status with its people suffering Dakki’s oppressions. Seeing this, The Hermit Band took it seriously and planned a “Hoshin Plan” which is assigned to an apprentice hermit, Daikobo, who gathered partners, captured and sealed all evil hermits, and planned to establish a new kingdom. On the other hand, the strongest and an In- royal hermit, Bunchu, stood up against Daikobo to protect the old kingdom with all his might. Thus, the death battle among invincible hermits begins…

First Impressions: Of all the new shows coming out this season, this was probably the one that intrigued me the most. Ushio & Tora turned out to be a really excellent shonen throwback, so the idea of another classic shonen getting a revival seemed like something right up my alley. Sadly, though I’d have to say that this premiere is a mess. While my familarity with the manga only stretches as far as a handful of chapters I read way back when, I knew coming into this that it came to a grand total of 23 volumes, and since this is only slated for about 24 episodes, they were obviously going to have to cut a lot of material. Given that Ushio & Tora worked out well despite having to do the same thing, I wasn’t too worried about notable pacing issues, but it seems that rather than cutting out material to fit the story within the show’s episode count, the staff chose to do the exact opposite of that and are rushing through the plot at breakneck speed in order to fit in as much as they possibly can.

That approach works about as poorly as it sounds as this first episode moves a mile a minute, and things happen so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in any given scene, and it gets to the point where I almost couldn’t tell who was talking with who. It’s a real shame, because the material I was able to piece together seemed interesting enough, and the show actually looks like a very polished production with gorgeous backgrounds, and some color visual direction, but things move so quickly that the show doesn’t give enough time to appreciate any of it. Sacrifices were to be expected when it came to the amount of material the staff had to compress, but this premiere felt like it should have been spread out into 2 or 3 episodes, and if it’s coming out of the gate this troubled, I’m scared how the rest of it’ll turn out. I might give this another episode out of sheer curiosity, but I can’t imagine either new or familiar audiences being happy with this, and this feels like it’s going to be a project under siege.

Rating: Bad

Killing Bites

Synopsis: Killing Bites are underworld duels between human-animal hybrids. One beast who knows no fear will fight in this animalistic world full of fear and insanity. This ultimate battle of the beasts will shock you to your core!

First Impressions: All I really knew about this one coming in is that it had something to do with furry girls and ultraviolence, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised this was on the trashier side of things. The first minute of the show features attempted rape, and things don’t really get that much more wholesome from there, as the actual furry people duels teased in the show’s premise are on the gruesome side of things, and since Amazon seems to have the uncensored version available for streaming, it’s literally full frontal when it comes to fanservice. In any other season this might be my go to choice for trashy entertainment, but since Devilman Crybaby was filled to the brim with ultraviolence and sex while also being ya know…good, I feel kind of spoiled now, and this felt a lot more shruggy than it probably otherwise would have been as a result. This is another one where I honestly can’t say whether or not I’ll give it another episode, but I guess if you’re in the mood for crazy trash, this is the place to look this season.

Rating: *Meh*

 

Darling in the Franxx

Synopsis: Set in the distant future, the land is ruined and humanity establishes the mobile fort city Plantation. Pilots produced inside Plantation live in Mistilteinn, also know as the “birdcage.” Children live there knowing nothing of the outside world or the freedom of the sky. Their lives consist of battling to carry out missions. Their enemies are mysterious giant lifeforms known as Kyouryuu, and the children pilot robots called Franxx to face off against them. For the children, riding the Franxx proves their existence. A boy named Hiro is called Code:016, and he was once known as a prodigy. However, he has fallen behind, and his existence seems unnecessary. Not piloting a Franxx is the same as ceasing to exist. One day, a mysterious girl known as “Zero Two” appears before him. Two horns grow out of her head.

First Impressions: And ending out my first impressions for this season, we have what was probably it’s most anticipated show. Studio Trigger shows tend to get people excited, and generally for good reason, but for one reason or another I ended up not paying too much attention to this in terms of previews and came in completely blind. That may have been for the best as this premiere is certainly solid, but moreso in flash than substance. 2D mecha animation is something of a dying breed these days, but this show is out to make as strong a case for it as possible because it comes roaring out of the gate with some awesome looking robot designs, and equally cool looking monsters. The animation here is spectacular, from the action to the character movements, is incredible and really feels like it’s hearkening back to Gainax’s most acclaimed mecha shows like Gurren Lagann and Eva. As far as the actual story itself goes it’s…kind of hard to say how it’ll go thus far. We spend most of the episode in Hiro’s headspace as we learn that he doesn’t like the feeling of being another cog in the apparently messed-up system that governs the world he’s in but the exact details behind his current isolation are a mystery, and the exact details of the show’s premise go largely unexplained (though with the amount of unsubtle sex metaphors making up some of it’s terminology I can make a few guesses), making the visual flair it’s strongest hook. Fortunately that’s a pretty strong hook. and while it’s hard to say if this’ll actually cover any new territory as far as mecha stories go, it at least seems like it has a story to tell. I wasn’t quite as blown away by this as would generally be expected of new Trigger things, but it certainly looks cool, and there’s enough potential on display that this a pretty easy recommendation if you’re looking for something big to get excited about this season besides Devilman.

Rating: Great


And that’s it for my Winter impressions. Aside from my disappointment with Hoshin Engi, I have to say that so far this seems like it could be a pretty decent season. There’s some pretty comfy shows to check out this time around, and a couple of things that seem like they could have some serious potential. Of course it’s hard to say if any of that will stick, but hey if it doesn’t, Devilman Crybaby has ensured that there’s at least one show from the season that’s bound to stick everyone’s heads for a while. Until next time, stay animated