First Impressions- Summer 2017 Anime (Part 2)

The summer rollouts are still going steady, and there’s plenty more stuff to go through. I didn’t have much time to check out stuff yesterday thanks to some 4th of July distractions, but it’s time to keep trudging through this season and hopefully find a few more worthwhile entries.

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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Aho Girl

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Synopsis: She is Hanabatake Yoshiko, and she’s an idiot through and through. She loves bananas, and she loves her childhood friend Akkun.

First Impressions: I was dreading to check this one out because it’s premise gave the impression that it could be gross, mean-spirited or some combination of the two. Still I figured it was only right to give it a fair shake and…yeah it was pretty much exactly what I figured it would be. The heroine is an unlikable idiot who’s constantly “reigned in” by her douche of a best friend (who she’s also in love with because anime) and that’s basically the joke. It doesn’t help that much of the comedy is done through slapstick at the former’s expense and while I’m pretty okay with female characters falling victim to slapstick if characters of both genders are considered expendable targets, that’s definitely not the case here, and it makes most of the jokes feel abusive rather than funny. The sole saving grace here is that the comedy is rapid-fire enough that something is probably bound to make you chuckle at least once, but too much of the show’s other aspects bother me for that to make it worthwhile. Definitely a nope from me.

Rating: Bad

 

Netsuzou Trap- NTR

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Synopsis: Yuma and Hotaru have been friends since childhood. It is only natural that when Yuma is nervous about her new boyfriend, she asks Hotaru and her boyfriend along for a double date. But when Hotaru offers herself to Yuma as “practice”, both girls realize that they’re more interested in each other than they are in their own boyfriends. With boyfriends in the foreground but a secret, passionate tryst in the background, will Yuma and Hotaru try to forget what happened between them or have they fallen into a trap of true love and betrayal?

First Impressions: So being perfectly honest, this is probably only the third yuri title I’ve ever checked out (the others being Yurikuma Arashi and Revolutionary Girl Utena though being Ikuhara projects means they exactly conventional genre shows). This is mainly because the general impression I seem to get from this stuff is that they’re generally as fetish based as most yaoi titles are, and I’m just personally only interested in purely same-sex stories if they’re taking the subject matter seriously. However this one happened to come out in a season where I don’t have much of anything I’m particularly excited for so I was willing to check it out. So far it seems to mostly be what I expected in that the concept of the two main girls cheating on their boyfriends is done from more of a fetish angle than a serious one, and the fact that one of them comes off as a but predatory doesn’t help much either. That said, it at least managed to hold my attention for the whole way through, and the fact that it’s being done through shorts (which seems like odd for this kind of show but eh) means that it’s not exactly a gigantic time investment as far as seeing where it goes. I’m not entirely sure how strongly I feel about it one way or the other yet, but I figure it’s at least worth one more episode, and with any luck, maybe there’ll be a chance that it handles it’s subject matter better than I’m expecting.

Rating: ???

 

Tsuredure Children

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Synopsis: To those of you out there who never could say “I love you” — This story is about ordinary highschoolers and how love makes them fired up, shaken, laugh, cry, and hurt. Whether things go well or not, this story of adolescence and romance will show you how they spend their precious youth. Every character is the main character here, and you’re sure to find one you can sympathize with.

First Impressions: I was pretty interested in taking a peek at this one since it’s premise sounded like it had the potential to be a cute comedy, and it certainly succeeded in that area. A series about awkward high school love confessions is something I can certainly relate to (and I’m probably not alone on that one) and when combined with some solid comic timing, it makes for a pretty enjoyable time. It’s possible this could end up wearing thin if done over the course of full length episodes, but the fact that it’s a series of shorts means that it has enough opportunities to try out as many jokes as it can while not wearing out it’s welcome. I haven’t been too impressed with the shorts I’ve seen so far for this season, but this one is a definite winner and seems like a perfect afternoon distraction.

Rating: Great

 

Fastest Fingers First

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Synopsis: Bunzou High School is welcoming its new first-year students. One of them, Koshiyama Shiki, is chosen to participate against his will in an impromptu fast-buzzing quiz meet by the president of the Quiz Bowl Circle. As a quiet boy who loves reading and doesn’t want to stand out, Shiki is overwhelmed, but his classmate, Fukami Mari, is able to hit the buzzer and answer questions before the full question is given. As he watches her, Shiki realizes that there’s a point in each question where the answer becomes certain.

First Impressions: This is another show I didn’t know anything about going in but with a localization title as ridiculous as this one, it was pretty much impossible to resist checking it out. What I ended up getting here is a pretty basic setup for a sports show, but one that’s way more my speed than the awkward sports show/bishie comedy hybrid that was Aoyama-kun. The story of an introvert learning to expand his horizons through a sport is a pretty common one at this point, but to it’s credit that sort of thing almost never fails to strike some kind of cord with me, and the same can be said this time around as the first episode does a fair job of setting up Shiki as a protagonist. Although with all that said, the most interesting thing about this show besides it’s silly title is probably the sport itself as quiz based stuff definitely isn’t something I’ve ever really seen in a sports anime, and it seems like something that could be kind of neat to learn about. My only real negative point so far is that the Japanese voice actress for Mari sounds distractingly amateurish and that could possibly hurt the show later on if she doesn’t improve, but I suppose of this ends up getting a Funimation simuldub I can always watch it that way. Considering that I mostly came into this one just off the title alone, I have to say that this turned out to be a pretty welcome surprise, and if it can manage to stay consistent then this seems like a pretty safe pick for my sports show of the season

Rating: Great

 

18if

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Synopsis: After going to sleep like normal, Haruto Tsukishiro wakes up to discover something unbelievable—he’s stuck in dream world! Here, witches plague the dreamscape and are more than dreamy figments—they’re the trapped souls of young women who’ve rejected reality and are afflicted by the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.” As he searches for a way out, Haruto will face the witches and their terrifying powers.

First Impressions: This show is here to remind us all that Gonzo is not yet completely dead, and this one serves as their second video game adaption in recent memory. Unlike Akiba’s Strip which was more along the lines of zany over the top antics, this one appears to be a bit more on the serious side and feels very transparently like the prologue to some kind of visual novel. Much like Akiba’s Strip though, this mostly just feels like a thing that exists and it didn’t leave me with any particularly strong feelings one way or the other. The premise of exploring a literal dreamworld, and the maniac visual direction that follows are kind of neat, but neither is really enough to overcome how phoned in the execution feels and it doesn’t help that the protagonist is a pretty obvious self-insert and doesn’t display any semblance of personality or motivation. This show also happened to be ahead enough in production for Funimation to put out a same day simuldub for it, and while it’s certainly not one of Funimation’s strongest efforts, it felt totally fine for what it was attached to, and should serve as a good way to stay caught up with the show for those who are interested. As for me, I’m probably gonna end up pressing X to skip unless I really can’t find enough shows to keep up with.

Rating: Decent

 

A Centaur’s Life

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Synopsis: Being a teenager is never easy… especially for a centaur! Himeno is a sweet, shy girl, who like many teens her age, struggles with the trials and tribulations of attending high school. The difference is she’s a centaur; but she’s not alone. In fact, all of her classmates are supernatural creatures, sporting either horns, wings, tails, halos, or some other unearthly body appendage. Yet despite their fantastical natures, Himeno and her best friends-the dragon-winged Nozomi, and Kyoko with her spiraled horns-are down-to-earth, fun-loving teenagers who grapple with issues of life and love in a mostly normal daily school setting.

First Impressions: So between Monster Musume and Interviews With Monster Girls, it’s pretty much safe to say that shows about demihuman or monster girls is a genre that I can totally get behind. That made this show one of the few things from this season that I was really curious about and it didn’t disappoint. While this one is definitely a lot more on the fanservice side compared to Interviews With Monster Girls, it does a pretty solid job of getting across how the different races of it’s world operate without getting too heavy-handed, and it seems like it’ll dive into exploring the same bits of unintentional discrimination as that series did. What’s really interesting here though, is that there’s a few strong hints that the characters are living in some kind of dystopian society that cracks down on anything that could be seen as discriminatory or detrimental to racial harmony which has the potential to either be really fascinating or really gross depending on how the show spins it. Even putting that bit of deeper thought aside for the time being, everything so far seems pretty pleasant and the characters seem likable enough if not particularly interesting as of yet, so even if it doesn’t make full use of it’s potential it’ll at least be relaxing to watch if nothing else. I haven’t been all that impressed with this season’s offerings so far, but show is definitely the first one that’s made me really curious to see where it goes, and that makes it a winner in my book

Rating: Great

 

Chronos Ruler

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Synopsis: The story centers on “Chronos Rulers,” those who fight the time-eating demons that appear when people wish they could turn back time. The Chronos Rulers fight a time-manipulation battle against these demons.

First Impressions: So I didn’t really know much about this one going in but what I did know was that it’s pretty much CR’s only other new action show offering for the season besides Touken Ranbu, and that it’s scripted by good old Hiroyuki Yoshino who has brought us such lovely works as Guilty Crown and more recently Izetta: The Last Witch. With that last factor in mind I pretty much expected this one to be a potential trainwreck going in but I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much of a trainwreck it was going to be. The show gives off warning bells as soon as it’s opening scene as it features an action sequence that looks like it was ripped from a PS2 game cutscene and used some of the most bizarre camera work this side of Hand Shakers. In fact Hand Shakers is a pretty strong comparison for this show’s overall visual aesthetic as it churns out a variety of awkward visual overlays, bad camera motion and bad looking CG in an attempt to look as unique as possible while pretty much failing at every turn. I can kind of understand the desperation though because when it’s not doing that, the show otherwise looks like something from the mid 00’s and barely has much in the way of animation.

That’s not even getting into the show’s actual storytelling which is pretty much just as bad. The main plot is a bunch of nonsense about time stealing monsters, and it’s attempts at being dramatic by diving into the heroine’s loss of her brother or the weird situation of the two male protagonists fall completely flat and just mostly come across as trying too hard. On top of that the show has what’s straight up some of the worst “anime” comedy I’ve seen in a long time, and poorly timed at that as it has a strange tendency to mix it into “serious” scenes and subsequently remove any decent chance at storytelling it might have had. I honestly wasn’t expecting to come across another Hand Shakers level trainwreck in the exact same year Hand Shakers came out but here we are and I’m still in total awe of just how bad this was. However for all the above complaints I can definitely say that I wasn’t bored watching it and it’s for that reason alone that I’ll probably keep up with this as my hatewatch of the season and see how much more ridiculous it can get. I certainly can’t recommend this one in good faith, but if you’re in need of something to mock this season, look no further.

Rating: ALL ABOARD THE TRAINWRECK

In Another World With My Smartphone

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Synopsis: After dying as a result of God’s mistake, the main character finds himself in a parallel world, where he begins his second life. His only possessions are the body that God gave back to him and a smartphone that works even in this new world. As he meets all kinds of new people and forges new friendships, he ends up learning the secret to this world. He inherits the legacy of an ancient civilization and works together with the kings of some very laid-back countries on his carefree travels through this new world.

First Impressions: So from the title alone it was obvious this one would be pretty stupid, and after watching the first episode I can confirm that it is indeed silly, albeit not entirely in ways that could have been fun. The show literally starts with our MC having a chat with God, who apparently accidentally struck him with lightning and now has to bring him back to life in an entirely different world. MC-kun takes all of this in stride and requests only that he be allowed to take his smartphone with him, and God decides to sweeten the deal by giving him the full Gary-Stu package and making him super strong, incredibly durable and able to use all forms of magic that exist in the world he’s being sent to. From there the rest of the episode is pretty much MC-kun using his newfound Gary Stu powers to feel his way around his newfound world, and the entire time I couldn’t help but think to myself that this could have been a significantly more interesting story had MC-kun turned out to be some horrible prick and used his God given abilties for evil. Instead what we got was the usual bland RPG nonsense that tend to come with these lower end fantasy worlds and MC-kun’s main accomplishments for the episode are figuring out the extent of his powers and giving the world ice cream. There’s not really anything of interest to this one when it comes to execution but I guess if nothing else I at least had a good time making fun of the first 10 minutes or so, and it seems pretty harmless if nothing else. I have my doubts that I’ll watch this one any further, but this season’s pretty weak for me as is, so it could end up as a morning distraction if nothing else.

Rating: Decent

 

Magical Circle Guru Guru

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Synopsis: The story takes place in a world gripped by hero mania after a proclamation was sent out for heroes to gather to defeat the demon king. A boy named Nike is half-forced by his parents to go on a journey. As part of his town’s custom, he visits an old witch’s house on the outskirts of town before he sets off. There, he sees a girl named Kukuri who uses a magical circle. The old witch tells Nike that Kukuri is the last descendent of the Migumigu tribe, which can use the magical circles. Thus begins the adventure of the frivolous small hero and the naive magician girl.

First Impressions: So I was gonna skip looking at this one because I’ve gone through a ton of stuff as is, but I felt a strange compulsion to give it a shot. That impulse turned out to be to my benefit because this was probably the best comedy premiere I’ve seen all season. This isn’t to say that the show is particularly amazing since it’s pretty transparently a kid’s show and has all the jokes I’ve come to expect from a kid’s anime, but something about it’s aesthetic just clicked with me and it made me laugh more than any of the other premieres I’ve sat through. RPG parodies aren’t a particularly new thing for anime, but I really appreciated how much this show decided to roll with it from the occasional 8-bit backgrounds, to gags about item equipment and while not every one of it’s gags worked, enough of them did to keep me amused for a full 24-minutes. Like with Fastest Fingers it’s highly likely I’m just giving this one too much credit because of how weal the rest of this season’s been in comparison for me, but dang it I’m probably gonna keep watching the RPG parody for kids. Fight me.

Rating: Good

 

My First Girlfriend is a Gal

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Synopsis: A new school term begins, as does the season of new encounters. As he surveys his class full of couples, Hashiba Jun’ichi’s mind is filled with distress as he asks himself, “Why am I still a virgin?!” Having heard from his friends that the easiest way to fulfill his long-standing desire to graduate from the fellowship of virgins is to kowtow to a gal, Jun’ichi does exactly that and asks his classmate Yukana out. And unbelievably, she actually agrees to date him. What will become of Jun’ichi from now on?

First Impressions: Well I thought I had reached the bottom of the barrel with Chronos Rulers, but that was just setting me up for the actual worst show this season: My First Girlfriend is a Gal. Of all the anime girl archetypes that exist, gyarus are very rarely in the spotlight for whatever reason, and with last year’s Please Tell me, Galko-chan! turning out to be a surprisingly pleasant show, I was all primed up for another series with a gyaru heroine. That was a mistake as this is pretty much just a low level trashy fanservice/harem series, and even by harem show standards this one’s pretty awful. We spend a good 20 minutes with the main character’s friends lamenting that they can’t get a date while simultaneously being perverted douchebags and while that’s clearly supposed to be “funny” I mostly just wanted to see all of them get punched square in the face (and the lolicon jokes didn’t help either). The main character himself isn’t much better as while he’s not openly as much of a prick as these guys, he only asks out the show’s heroine for the explicit purpose of getting laid, and is ultimately rewarded for it. If there’s one saving grace here it’s that the heroine herself actually seems like a pretty alright character, and sees through his crap the entire time, but since she’s clearly just going to end up boning him at some point anyway, it mostly wrings hollow. I’m not even surprised that something this bad made it into existance, but it’s still a wonder to behold something with pretty much nothing redeeming about it. I suppose if you as masochistic as me this might make a decent hatewatch (and even then that’s reeeeeaaaaaallly stretching it) but otherwise, I reccomend not to go anywhere near this one with a 10-foot pole

Rating: H-O-T GARBAGE


And that’s it for me and first impressions this season. I know there’s still a few more premieres left in the season, and I’ll likely check those out, but between other stuff to deal with and My First Girlfriend is a Gal nearly sucking away my will to live, I don’t have the energy to do a write up for every show. All in all this is looking to be another one of the weakest seasons I’ve seen, and quite possibly THE weakest since I’ve only come across a couple of things I genuinely liked but who knows? Maybe something will impress me later on and I’ll feel more positive by the end of this season but until then, stay animated.

First Impression- Summer 2017 Anime (Part 1)

The summer season is upon is, and things have already heated up in regards to the competition between streaming services and where folks can expect to watch stuff. I got pretty riled up about that myself and thanks to they-who-shall-not-be-named, I’ve found myself with a lot potentially interesting stuff to check out, in a season that didn’t seem terribly strong to begin with. Still I’ll try to stay at least semi-positive here, and hopefully I’ll be able to come across at least a couple of diamonds in the rough

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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Fox Spirit Matchmaker

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Synopsis: In a world where Spirits and Humans coexist and can fall in love with each other, the Spirits’s life expectancy being far superior to the Human’s one can only see their loved one dying before them. Even when that human is reborn, the previous memories of his past life is erased from his memory. However, it is said among Spirits that a certain “service” is spreading. This“service” is provided by the “Fox Spirit Matchmakers” who can revive the lost memories of their former lover. When the Spirits lose their lover, they can purchase the “service” of the “Fox Spirit Matchmakers” so that they could attempt to regain their former lover memories and start over a new love story. This story follows a young Fox Spirit Matchmaker who tries her best to restore lost memories and spread love.

First Impressions: At this point I’ve pretty much learned to come into these chinese co-productions with the impression that they’ll be terrible as their track record has been consistently awful. Even so, I never thought I’d come across one quite THIS bad. From the moment I saw the show’s opening theme song I knew I was in for a rough ride since the song they picked, didn’t match the visuals used for it at all, and the show itself is even less incoherent/ Despite having wasted a good 22 minutes of my life watching it, I couldn’t really tell you what it’s even about, but what I was able to parse together involves something about, exorcists fights, yokai clans and a little fox spirit girl whose told she has to marry some 30 year old dude (it’s said in the beginning he’s a teenager but the show’s so all over the place it’s hard to even tell if he was lying about his age) who seems to be your standard jerkhat overpowered protagonist. Needless to say it’s all incredibly stupid, but that last bit elevates it from trash to a gross dumpster fire since I don’t even want to consider all the implications if the guy actually IS 30 (and his inner monologues seem to support that so…eww). With this much nonsense going in, you’d figure it’d at least be a good show to make fun of, but it’s not even hilariously bad it’s just…nonsense. Maybe someday one of these chinese co-productions will be good, but if this isn’t the absolute bottom of the barrel, I’m terrified of how much worse they can get.

Rating: Bad

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu

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Synopsis: The year is 1863 as the tumultuous samurai era is coming to an end, Japan is split between the pro-shogunate and anti-shogunate factions. The fate of the world is threatened as an army of historical revisionists are sent from the future to alter the course of history. In order to bring these forces down and protect the real history, two sword warriors, spirits who are swords brought to life by Saniwa (sage), rush to Edo. The polite and thoughtful Horikawa Kunihiro and the short tempered yet skillful Izuminokami Kanesada, who served the same master, confront the invading army along with a lively gang of other warriors including Mutsunokami Yoshiyuki, Yagen Toushirou, Tombokiri, and Tsurumaru Kuninaga.

First Impressions: This was one of the few hotly anticipated titles of the Summer seasons, and I was of two different minds about it going in. I saw it’s spinoff, Touken Ranbu Hanamaru a few seasons back and the first episode of that bored me to tears enough to drop it entirely and while this one was reportedly going to have a more serious tone, I wasn’t sure how much it would actually gel with me. As of the first episode of this one my feelings are that it’s…okay so far. Visually it’s as impressive as what we’ve come to expect from Ufotable at this point, as their ability to integrate post-production visual effects into animation is still a technique that rarely fails to work, and the actual animation itself is pretty solid. Story wise I’m a little more unsure since this starts off in media-res and while it’s not particularly difficult to follow, a few more plot details would have helped a lot. The basic idea here seems to revolve around time travel which is usually a pretty fun concept when done right, and one of the things that did strike me as particularly interesting about the premiere here is the idea of the characters having to sit back and let certain tragedies unfold in order keep history on the right track, and if they play with that angle enough it could give this show a little more punch than these stories usually tend to go for. I wouldn’t exactly say this one wowed me, but enough of it worked that I’m willing to give it a few more episodes, and since that’s more than I can say for it’s spinoff, I suppose that’s as good a sign as any.

Rating: Good

 

Battle Girl High School

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Synopsis: In the year 2045, the world has been contaminated by Irousu (mysterious invaders who suddenly appeared), and humans find themselves restricted and contained. Standing boldly against these invaders are ordinary girls everywhere, without a powerful army or even weapons. The Shinjugamine Girls Academy is a school for these “Hoshimori” (Star Guardians) destined to fight the Irousu.

First Impressions: So I figured right away this wasn’t going to be my type of thing, but since it’s HiDive’s one and only simulcast for the season, and I recently subscribed to it, I figured I might as well give it a look. It’s more or less what I expected it to be as it’s a series that mixes the “cute girls doing cute things” genre with a few minor bits of magical girl and action stuff tossed in for good measure. Unsurprisingly the focus is more on the “cute girls” bit than anything else meaning that it’s by and large not for me, and the show crams so many girls into the first episode that I’d have a hard time imagining anyone getting attached to them even if this is they’re sort of thing. When all is said and done though it’s perfectly harmless and while nothing about it thrilled me in any real capacity, there was nothing really offensive about this either, and those who do enjoy this sort of thing should likely get some millage out of it. As for me though, it’s almost certainly a pass unless this season ends up being really barren.

Rating: Decent

 

Knight’s & Magic

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Synopsis: A genius programmer and hardcore robot otaku is reborn into a world of knights and magic, where huge robots called Silhouette Knights roar across the land! Now reborn as Ernesti Echevalier, he uses his vast knowledge of machines and programming talents to begin to make his ultimate robot.  But his actions have unexpected results…?! The dreams of a robot otaku will change the world!

First Impressions: Bizarre lack of proper grammar aside, this seemed like it could be one of the more interesting offerings of CR’s summer lineup so far since both hi-fantasy and robots are things that typically gel with me, and combining them together even more so. Even with all that I can’t say this was a particularly remarkable premiere but it’s one that worked out pretty well for the most part. Reincarnation seems to be the hot new thing for LN-based anime lately, and while it’s generally a neat concept, in this case I can’t help but be slightly disappointed we couldn’t have gotten the working adult the MC used to be in his former life as our actual protagonist since throwing that kind of character into a fantasy world with robots would be something of a fresher take. Still, 20 minutes of watching his new self be totally dorky about wanting to ride a giant robot was pretty entertaining in it’s own right and it’s kind of interesting that we actually get to see some of his childhood instead of just jumping immediately to when he’s old to pilot one, and it does more to make his sense of enthusiasm endearing rather than a just a convenient excuse for him to be overpowered later on. Unfortunately all this skipping around means that this episode doesn’t really do much to establish the other characters or the actual setting of the series, but it at least manages to avoid feeling slow, and the 3DCG used for the robots proper seems workable enough (the giant monsters less so but we’ll have to see how that goes I guess). While I can’t really say this premiere did much to elevate itself as a genre thing, I had a pretty good time with it, and even though I’m mostly just in it for the aforementioned genre stuff for the time being, it seems like it’ll be okay enough at that to warrant a few more episodes.

Rating: Good

 

Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun

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Synopsis: Aoyama kun is a hot, young soccer prodigy who plays midfielder for the National U-16 Soccer Team. But he’s also an extreme germaphobe!

First Impressions: So at first glance this seemed like it would be up my alley. Sports shows are generally a pretty reliable source of entertainment and the character designs seemed clean enough to give the impression this would be a semi-polished production. In execution however…I was left feeling cold. Unlike most sports shows the series starts off with Aoyama already being an established member of the team and a presumably skilled player which immediately kills most of it’s potential as a sports show since those are almost always about the progression of the protagonist as a player or the bonds they form with their team. Instead this gives off more of the impression of a gag series with plenty of pretty boys to gawk at, but it doesn’t quite work well on that end either since the episode has but only the one joke about Aoyama refusing to do things that will get him dirty, and it doesn’t really spin that well enough to produce any decent laughs, and it all fell pretty flat for me. On top of those problems it also features some of the heaviest animation shortcuts I’ve ever seen from a sports anime, and while the show at least makes the attempt to disguise them with good visual direction, it’s never quite sharp enough to work, and since the first episode of a show is usually supposed to be among it’s most well-animated I only see this getting worse from here. I really wanted to like this one, but nothing about it clicked with me and by the time I saw myself staring at the run-time I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I guess this might work for folks into bishonen comedies, but I came in expecting a sports show and left with something that felt like a lackluster mesh of those genres.

Rating: Bad

 

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life 

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Synopsis: Yushi Inaba is forced into an awkward living situation at his uncle’s house after his parents pass away. He decides that when he goes to high school, he’s going to live on his own, and finds an ultra-cheap apartment named Kotobuki-so. But it was a monster apartment, filled with monsters, humans, and ghosts! At first, Yuki doesn’t know how to deal with these eerie monsters, but after spending time with these strange creatures his closed heart gradually begins to open…

First Impressions: This one was completely off my radar going in so I had no real clue what to expect here but I actually ended up digging this one. The whole wacky roomates bit is a staple that’s pretty exhausted at this point, and the same can especially be said for wacky yokai stuff, but the execution here was a lot more grounded than I would have expected from it’s premise. While Yushi isn’t exactly a stand out protagonist I appreciate that the first episode actually took the time to dive into his situation and it did a lot to make him endearing. The other residents introduced so far are also pretty likable and while I have no doubt the show’s sense of comedy will get zanier at some point, I’m glad the first episode decided to keep things relatively simple and charming. I might be giving this one too much praise but since I wasn’t really expecting much of anything, it’s hard to complain much about a mostly welcome surprise. While there’s still plenty of room for this one to turn into something a bit more sluggish for now I’m certainly happy to give more of it a go.

Rating: Good

 

Restaurant to Another World

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Synopsis: There is a certain restaurant in the first basement level of a multi-tenant building in one corner of a shopping street near the office district. The historical 70-year-old restaurant, marked by a sign with a picture of a cat, is called “Western Cuisine Nekoya.” This restaurant looks completely normal through the week, but on Saturdays, it opens in secret exclusively to some very unique guests. During these hours, doors in various areas of a parallel world open to allow customers of many different races and cultures into the restaurant.

First Impressions: While I can’t say I was super excited for this show, everything about it’s basic premise seemed like a pretty safe bet for me. I like slice-of-life stories about demihumans and monsters, and I like food, so a show that combines those two elements together is something I can certainly get behind. Right off the bat, one of the single most appealing aspects of this show is how good it makes the food look. Anime about cooking is generally good in that respect but the amount of detail that goes into the look of each dish displayed is enough to leave you feeling totally hungry afterwards. As far as it’s slice-of-life elements go though, the focus is clearly more on the atmosphere than the characters so far, and we’re only explicitly introduced to our heroine halfway through the episode, but the overall aesthetic is enough to compensate so far, and I don’t have too much room to doubt that the show will flesh the cast out later on. For now though, I’m fully willing to admit that I’m just watching this because of how good the food looks, and if that’s to be my crime, I’ll be more than willing to bear it for the time being.

Rating: Good

Review: The Vision of Escaflowne- A Heavenly Vision

Synopsis: Teenage-girl Hitomi is known by her friends for her incredibly accurate fortune-telling skills and is in love with her school’s track team star, Amano. After finding out that he’s moving away soon, Hitomi decides to confess her feelings but gets interrupted when a boy named Van appears from a portal of light, and ends up taking her to strange world called Gaia. Now stuck in Gaia, Hitomi soon finds herself wrapped in a conflict between the powerful Empire of Zaibach and the mysterious giant mech known as Escaflowne, and her fortune telling skills may just prove to be the only key to controlling the latter

The Review

I’ve been watching anime in some capacity ever since I was a little kid growing up in the late 90’s/early 00’s and I’ve been into the hardcore anime scene for well over a decade now. In that time I’ve consumed a lot of anime both new and old, but despite the amount of stuff I’ve seen there’s always been one series that I somehow never managed to get around to: Escaflowne. It wasn’t necessarily for any lack of interest. I’ve heard pretty nothing about good things about it, and it’s been long held up by anime fandom as a beloved classic, but between the weird things I’ve heard about the Fox Kids dub, and the lack of a convenient means to watch it, it remained in my backlog for a long time. Thankfully Funi’s recent re-release and subsequent streaming of the show finally gave me an excuse to sit down and watch it, and it turned out to be quite an interesting experience.

Right out of the gate it’s pretty easy to see why the show has managed to stand the test of time for the last two decades. Fantasy is a pretty common genre for anime, and fantasy with shojo trappings even more so, but the show’s execution is so solid that if it had came out today in the exact same style, you’d never be able to detect even a hint of age to it. The series’s basic premise is a simple one as the story of a girl being transported to another world has been done dozens of times before, but the writing is sharp enough to keep things from ever feeling rote and it stays pretty consistent. Things progress at a very comfortable pace, giving the series ample time to develop both it’s world and it’s characters, and while some of it’s lore can get a little convoluted at times it’s never too difficult to follow and everything about the show’s atmosphere is so well-crafted that’s really easy to get sucked in.

It helps that the show has a cast of very familiar, but ultimately likable characters. Hitomi is a great heroine and one who’s really easy to root for as her strong sense of empathy serves as the show’s core. Van on the other hand is the standard angry prince who’s usually at the center of these kinds of shojo stories but the show does a great job of making his character understandable, and keeps him grounded enough to avoid making those traits unbearable. The best of the bunch though, is Allan who rounds out the show’s primary love triangle as the knightly prince archetype, but is slowly revealed to have the most complicated past of the show’s primary cast, and seeing him have to come to terms with a lot of it is an interesting story all on it’s own. The cast as a whole is fleshed out pretty well, and the story does a fantastic job of giving all of them clear motivations behind their actions, making them all pretty compelling, if not always original.

The show also looks surprisingly gorgeous in spite of it’s age. 90’s animation can be something of a mixed bag in terms of consistent visual quality, but this was definitely one of the stronger productions of the era as the character designs and animation are both pretty impressive in their own right, and work together to give the show a nearly timeless look that holds up really well under the high-definition remaster that was provided for the new release. It also has some fantastic music, with the show’s score having been composed by Hajime Mizoguichi alongside the legendary Yoko Kanno of Cowboy Bebop fame, and while I’m not used to hearing purely orchestral music from the latter, it certainly works here, and feels as though it’s aged as gracefully as the rest of the production. Yoko Kanno also lent her talents to scoring the show’s opening theme “No Need for Promises” with the vocals provided by Hitomi’s Japanese actress, Maaya Sakamoto making for a combination that serves as one of the best anime openings I’ve ever heard, and one that never gets tiring to listen to.

If there’s one thing that was a little strange to me, it’s that for how well structured it is, the show generally doesn’t evolve too much past being a genre thing. The last few episodes toss around a few vague ideas about humans overcoming destiny through willpower, and whether or not humanity’s ability to love is enough to triumph over our base desires for conflict, but these concepts are crammed in so tightly that it doesn’t really feel like they go enough of anywhere to proclaim them as the show’s primary themes. Ultimately though, this is more an issue of me having figured the show would be a lot more profound given it’s reputation rather than an actual complaint. I found myself enjoying the story from beginning to end regardless and it’s not really something that I’d seriously hold against the series since it does pretty much everything else it sets out to, so this is more of a nitpick than anything.

I decided to watch the series through Funimation’s new dub, since I was curious to see how it turned out given all the controversy with their release, and I was really blown away with how it sounded. Sonny Strait’s return to voice directing in the last couple of years got off to a pretty rocky start but this is easily some of the best work I’ve seen from him. Caitlin Glass’s Hitomi does a great job of making the character feel endearing, and I was equally impressed with Aaron Dismuke’s Van as he plays the role of the angry teenager pretty well and it makes for one of the best performances I’ve heard from him since he hit puberty after the original Fullmetal Alchemist dub. I was also pretty enamored with Vic Migongia’s performance as Volken despite the controversy concerning the casting choice, and while I haven’t seen the JP track or the old Ocean dub to compare it to, it’s distinct enough from a lot of his past work to leave a lasting impression, and it did a lot to sell me on the character. Out of the entire cast though, my hat definitely goes off to Sonny Strait himself as Allan as it’s a role that’s vastly different from the wackier characters that he usually plays and he plays it to perfection, giving off a level of grace and maturity that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever heard from him. I was kind of worried that the dub might end up sounding a bit too modern given how a lot of Funimation’s recent dubs have turned out, but everything from the performances to the script meshes perfectly with the show’s atmosphere, and it definitely feels like a lot of love was poured into it.

So having finally gotten around to Escaflowne, I can say that it was both more and less than what I thought it would be. I came into the series expecting something a lot meatier than a basic genre story, but the execution and visual aesthetics of it were so strong that by the time I walked away from the show, I hardly cared and it was an enjoyable experience from start to finish. There isn’t really anything about Escaflowne that stands out from the stuff that’s come after it, but just about everything in it has aged gracefully, which really speaks to how timeless of a series it is, and with that going for it, I have no doubt that it’ll continue to stand the test of time for many years to come.

Overall: 9/10

First Impressions- Spring 2017 Anime (Part 2)

The spring season rollout is still bearing down upon us, but between real life responsibilities and Persona 5, getting through the premieres might take me a bit longer than usual. Still I’m determined to plow through as many as these as possible so with all that said and done, let’s keep going

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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Kado: The Right Answer

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Synopsis: Koujiro Shindo is a highly-skilled negotiator working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As his plane at Haneda airport prepares to take off, a huge mysterious cube appears from the sky. “It” expands rapidly, and absorbs the passenger plane and its 252 passengers. The cube’s name is “Kado”. A strange being called Yaha-kui zaShunina appears from within Kado and tries to make contact with humanity. Shindou, who has been absorbed by Kado, ends up taking on the role of mediator between Yaha-kui zaShunina and humanity. Who is Yaha-kui zaShunina? What does he want?

First Impressions: This is looking to be a good season for sci-fi anime as there’s quite a few titles from the genre coming out of the woodwork (though thanks to Anime Strike I won’t be watching Atom the Beginning anytime soon). Out of all of them though, this was the one that looked like the one that was gearing the most towards the hard sci-fi angle and while the first part of this two episode premiere helps to establish the main character as an expert negotiator a lot of the material here is mostly procedural stuff and technobabble meaning the actual show itself isn’t really going to kick off till next week. Though what has me the most fascinated about the show so far is that it’s coming from Toei of all studios who are the last ones I’d expect doing a hard-edged sci-fi show, and with the director also being one of the minds behind Gargantia on The Verdeous Planet, I was curious to see how it’d turn out. Of course the most noticeable thing here is that the show is a 2D/3DCG hybrid much like the unfortunate Berserk 2016 anime, but unlike that show the CG here is a lot more passable and the 2D animation, while not great is used well enough to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls that CG stuff tends to run into. As I said before though it’s pretty clear that the actual show itself is still another week off, so aside from the visuals it’s hard to form much of a real opinion yet but I guess that also means it’s at least won the privilege of making want to see what the heck it actually does next week.

Rating: ???

 

Love Tyrant

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Synopsis: A beautiful girl named Guri, who has a mysterious item that forces two random people to kiss and turns them into couples, appears in front high school student, Aino Seiji. Despite being dressed up as a shinigami, she’s actually cupid. Suddenly, Guri tries to kiss Seiji, and then… Unavoidable and uncontrollable. A forceful love comedy that starts with an angel and a kiss!!

First Impressions: So I vaguely recall having skimmed through some of the manga for this way back when and being somewhat amused by the Death Note parodies, so I figured this might be good for a few chuckles. What I actually watched though appeared to be the equivalent of someone on staff hitting the fast-forward button for 24 minutes, because from the everything from very beginning of the episode right through to the end, seems to be a very big hurry to get through the show’s basic set-up and things happen so fast that there’s barely anytime to process one event before it’s moved onto the next. The basic set-up here is pretty much just a harem rom-com with the twist that it’s parodying Death Note in having a notebook that forces people to kiss each other, and while that could be amusing in it’s own right, this first episode runs though the majority of it’s gags so quickly that it’s hard to laugh at them, and the few jokes that do stand out are largely outdated humor about BL and yuri. I suppose this is what I get for relying on my past-self to guide my viewing decisions, but I guess it wasn’t boring at least. Depending on the rest of this season’s outlook it’s possible this might end-up being my go to trash show for the season since I suppose it might at least be amusing to mock but otherwise it’s probably a skip

Rating: Bad

 

Clockwork Planet

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Synopsis: Earth died a thousand years ago, and a legendary clockmaker known only as “Y” rebuilt it using clockwork. Naoto Miura, a failing high school student, encounters RyuZU, an automaton that “Y” left behind, and the genius clockmaker Marie. When the abilities of these three come together, the gears of fate begin to turn. The cycle of failure and success repeats endlessly as the three of them work to repair the endangered “Clockwork Planet” in this clockpunk fantasy!

First Impressions: Continuing the trend of sci-fi shows for the season, we of course have to have one based off a light novel, and Clockwork Planet is the one looking to fill that “void”. The first episode was an…interesting experience, mainly because the show both looks and feels like it stepped straight out of 2007 and somehow time warped into 2017. From such classic tropes as a girl literally falling from the sky to waifu-bots everything here feels like tropes that anime has since improved or moved on from, and even the way it handles it’s few bits of fanservice feels a little outdated (except the finger sucking scene, that was just…weird). Given all that there’s nothing here that’s particularly of note outside of the setting of a world made of gears which is kinda neat if nothing else. On the bright side though, nothing here is particularly offensive either, and if you’re in the mood for a mid 00’s anime flavor with sci-fi thrown in then it’s at least watchable. Even putting aside my own tastes though this one ultimately just feels like it came a decade too late, and I’m not even sure how much of an audience there is for these crusty old anime tropes but I guess we’ll have to see. As for me I’m likely signing off here.

Rating: Decent

 

Tsugumomo

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Synopsis: Kazuya Kagami’s most treasured possession in the world is the obi left to him by his late mother. The scent of cherry-blossoms infused into it helps him through his day – but he never expected it to save his life, becoming a beautiful kimono-clad girl who calls herself an “artifact spirit.” Her name is Kiriha, tsukumogami of the sash, who naturally moves in with him, as he is her “owner.” Throw in Chisato, his bespectacled friend, an overprotective older sister who wants to take baths with him, a busty priestess, a seductive sorceress named Kokuyoura, and Kazuya’s life has just gotten a lot more…interesting.

First Impressions: Speaking of things that somehow hopped on a time machine from 2007 into the present we have Tsugumomo which about as standard as a mid-late 00’s harem show can get. We have our bland blank slate of a protagonist, we have the tsundere childhood friend (who also doubles as the obligatory girl with glasses), we have the raunchy magic girlfriend, and even the onee-san character, who seems weirdly determined to get in her brother’s pants, all wrapped into a pretty generic supernatural setting. Long story short if you’ve seen pretty much any harem show from that time period then odds are pretty good you’ve seen this one, and quite possibly done better meaning that it doesn’t really offer anything of real interest and I personally had to struggle to stay awake through it’s dual episode premiere. If on the other hand you haven’t seen any of those or you’re really nostalgic for them for whatever reason then I suppose you could do worse, and to it’s credit, while the character designs certainly look like something from a decade ago, the production values look pretty decent and there’s even some surprisingly okay looking 3DCG in the second episode. Still, it’s hard to get past the fact that this one’s pretty bland and while I can be pretty okay with dumb fanservice shows if they’re silly enough, the execution here is so sleepy that virtually nothing grabbed me. All in all it’s a definite skip for me, but for anyone else, it’s harmless enough I guess.

Rating: Decent

What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?

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Synopsis: The fleeting and sad story about little girls known as fairy weapons and an associate hero that survived. This is a world after it was attacked by unidentified monsters known as beasts and many of the species in the world, including humans, had been destroyed. The species that had managed to survived left the ground and were living on a floating island called Regal Ele. Willem Kumesh, wakes up above the clouds 500 years later and couldn’t protect the ones who he wanted to protect. Actually, he was living in despair because he was the only survivor. He then ends up meeting a group of girls while starting an unexpected weapon management job.

First Impressions: Well it was only a matter of time  I suppose. It was pretty much inevitable that at some point we’d end up with an light novel based show whose name alone is almost an entire paragraph. I have no idea what why these LN writers have such a weird fixation on trying to fit their entire premise into the title, but I guess it’s amusing if nothing else. So stupidly long name aside, this show seems to be a relatively low-key fantasy fare taking place in a world where some kind of apocalypse resulted in humanity being wiped out and replaced with all manner of humanoid looking monsters. Fantasy settings where humans are uncommon tend to grab my attention by default so I was fairly amused by that aspect of it, but the story itself seems pretty alright too, albeit a bit vague in this opener. Apparently the protagonist ends up taking on a job involving being the caretaker for a bunch of girls who happen to be living weapons, but it takes till the end of the episode to flesh out that premise, so the show mostly just has atmosphere going for it right now. The big thing that grabbed my attention is that the main character was apparently a foster dad at some point, and he clearly sees the girls he’s been put in charge of as just kids which is a somewhat refreshing change of pace from what this sort of premise normally involves, and if it actually does turn out to be fantasy adventures in parenting that could be pretty neat. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this one, and especially with it’s ridiculous title, but it was certainly more interesting than I thought it’d be so I’ll likely stick with it for the time being.

Rating: Good


And that’s it for me and spring titles. Sorry this one took so long to get around to, but the allure of Persona 5 was too difficult to resist. Unfortunately though, between that and the amount of stuff locked behind Anime Strike this season is looking to be a bit weaker than I was expecting it to be. As always though there’s enough potential good stuff to probably last through the next few months, and hopefully it won’t take too long for things to brighten. Until then, stay animated.

First Impressions- Spring 2017 Anime (Part 1)

Spring is here and it’s looking to be a pretty hefty season for anime as there’s a ton a few content coming out of the woodwork as well as a few big sequels. Unfortunately the most recent divide in terms of legal streaming means that some of the stuff I was the most interested in checking out has been more or less cut off from me for the time being, but even with all that gloom in the air there’s still likely to be plenty to watch. Now it’s time to see how much of it’s any good.

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 .


Granblue Fantasy

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Synopsis: This is a world of the skies, where many islands drift in the sky. A boy named Gran and a speaking winged lizard named Vyrn lived in Zinkenstill, an island which yields mysteries. One day, they come across a girl named Lyria. Lyria had escaped from the Erste Empire, a military government that is trying to rule over this world using powerful military prowess. Gran and Lyria, in order to escape from the Empire, head out into the vast skies, holding the letter Gran’s father left behind – which said, “I will be waiting at Estalucia, Island of the Astrals”

First Impressions: At this point mobile game adaptions have replaced magic high school shows as the new thing to expect from every season by default, but outside of Rage of Bahamut, they haven’t exactly had the best track record. However with this one having been produced by Cygames who were the ones behind Bahamut, as well as this series having been planned for a whopping 48 episodes I was kind of curious to check it out. What I ultimately got though was an extremely by the numbers fantasy romp similar to last year’s super forgettable Endride and almost everything in it’s first two episodes feels like a giant checklist of generic JRPG tropes with everything from a amnesiac heroine to a protagonist with a missing dad. It’s only real standout feature at the moment is it’s visual presentation, which while making the characters look more like drawings than an actual part of the world their in, helped to keep my attention more than anything else the show had to offer. The actual animation quality seems pretty solid too for the most part, so if nothing else, the show at least has it’s look going for it. Aside from that there really isn’t anything else of note here but it also didn’t do much of anything that felt offensive either so I may give it a bit more of my time, and hope it’s not another Endride.

Rating: Decent

 

Alice & Zouroku

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Synopsis: A group of young girls possesses a mysterious power which gives them the ability to materialize their thoughts. Detained and experimented upon, these youths are locked away in secret until one of them manages to escape. Her name is Sana—a girl with the power to ignore the very laws of physics. When this wilful powerhouse crosses paths with a stubborn old man named Zouroku, his carefully-ordered life will never be the same again!

First Impressions: I didn’t really know anything about this one going in but just going off of most of the preview images I had seen before hand, this looked like it would be a cute slice of life story about an old man and a little girl. Needless to say I was pretty surprised when I actually watched this and it turned out the be a sci-fi show about an old man and a little girl, and one that’s framed along the lines of something you’d see in a live action TV drama from the west. The basic plot beats so far are pretty straightforward as we’re introduced to our two protagonists and the likely government sponsored experiments that surround one of them, but the execution is solid and manages to keep things just interesting enough to keep it from feeling a bit too procedural. It helps that the leads themselves seem pretty endearing so far, and the show does an excellent job of setting up the dynamic thing without feeling like it’s forcing it’s hand too much. I’m particularly fascinated by Zouroku since it’s something of a rarity to have adult protagonists in anime much less an old man, and his down to earth attitude really gives the impression of someone who’s seen enough in life not to be fazed when things take a turn for the strange. About the only real complaint I have here (and one that I imagine pretty much everyone will) is the super dated CG that looks like it stepped out of the backside of the early 00’s, but if the show can cut that down to a minimum it’ll likely be a good time. I’m certainly up for more.

Rating: Great

 

The Laughing Salesman NEW

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Synopsis: My name is Fukuzou Moguro, and people call me the Laughing Salesman. I am no ordinary salesman. The merchandise I sell is the human soul itself. Hooo-ho-ho-ho… All people in this world, young and old, male and female, are lonely. I am here to fill the emptiness in all of their souls. No, I won’t accept a single coin in return. As long as my customer is satisfied, that’s all the payment I need. Now, I wonder what sort of customer I’ll serve today… Hooo-ho-ho-ho-ho…

First Impressions: This is another one that I went into pretty blind, but it wasn’t too hard to guess from the title of the show and the look of the main character what this would be about. In effect it’s basically the shenanigans of a “salesman” who’s pretty obviously Satan or some other kind of demonic entity who “helps” people with their problems only to screw them over when they get too self-indulgent. That’s…pretty much the entire joke of the show and pretty much everything about it’s opening shorts was a clear cut case of what you see is what you get. To it’s credit though it was pretty entertaining and while both ending punchlines were predictable, I still got a couple of chuckles out of it, and it also features what may well be the most stylish looking anime opening this season will have to offer. It’s hard to say how quickly this show’s one joke will wear thin, but it did enough for me that this will probably make for a good Monday afternoon distraction

Rating: Good

Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor

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Synopsis: The Alzano Imperial Magic Academy is located in the southern part of the Alzano Empire,and is among most prominent magic schools in the world, where students can learn the highest forms of magic. All those who strive to learn magic dream of studying at this academy, and its students as well as its teachers are proud to be a part of its 400-year history. Glenn Radars is a new instructor who has suddenly been appointed to teach part-time at this highly respected academy. The previously unheard-of lessons of this man known as a good-for-nothing bastard are about to begin.

First Impressions: *sigh* Ya know I never realized how good we’ve had it the last couple of seasons. While there’s been plenty of ups and downs in terms of quality programming it at least seemed as if Magic High School Light Novel Adaptions had finally been banished to the 9th circle of anime hell, and the industry found other forms of rote material to torture us with. Unfortunately this show has arrived from beyond the grave to hit us with those sad old tropes one last time, and even by the incredibly low standards these shows tend to run on, this one was really awful. The main joke of the show is that the protagonist is a dirtbag and the episode spends literally it’s entire run-time selling us on that fact. I was expecting it to at least at some point pull out the card of him somehow being ridiculously over powered and special (but I can’t imagine that won’t happen later on anyway) which while stupid, would have at least given the episode more than just one thing to work with, but he’s just a shallow, lazy waste of human skin for it’s entirety and while I guess we’re supposed to find this “funny”, I found myself wondering how anyone could tolerate even being in the same room as him. The members of his eventual harem that we’re introduced to here are pretty one-note as well and while the production doesn’t look outright bad, there’s nothing that really stands out about it either. These Magic High School LN adaptions pretty much always function on autopilot but this one is particularly soulless and aside from a couple of okay-fanservice bits I honestly for the life of me couldn’t even tell you what the appeal of this is supposed to be. It’s reminded me how glad I am that this kind of show has been on the verge of death over the last year or so, and if this is the kind of “quality” we’re going to get from the stragglers, I hope they stay that way.

Rating: BAD

 

Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

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Synopsis: The life of the shinobi is beginning to change. Boruto Uzumaki, son of Seventh Hokage Naruto Uzumaki, has enrolled in the Ninja Academy to learn the ways of the ninja. Now, as a series of mysterious events unfolds, Boruto’s story is about to begin!

First Impressions: My feelings towards the Naruto franchise have grown complicated over the years as the last third or so of the manga really went off the rails, and soured my experience. For the most part though, I’ve found myself enjoying some of the post-manga content and the Boruto movie was one of them so I figured that something in the same vein could be pretty enjoyable, and with this one having some solid staff members behind it, I was at least curious to check it out. This first episode more or less did what I expected to as it briefly introduces us to Boruto and the whole inter-generational conflict the show is going for, and while the basic beats of the episode are pretty straightforward as it involves him helping a bullied kid, it;s workable enough not to feel like it’s dragging it’s heels and the production values, while not perfect, already look to be a lot sharper than what Naruto Shippuden had, and there’s some nice character animation on display here. My biggest concern at the moment though has less to do with the content of this episode and more along the lines of whether or not it’s going to try staying behind of the Boruto manga (which as of this moment isn’t even 3 volumes long) or overtake it/go it’s own route ala Dragonball Super. I’m really hoping it’s the latter and I can’t imagine they’d have gone ahead with it this quickly otherwise, but with Studio Pierrot’s rather infamous reputation for filler, part of me can’t help but be skeptical about how well planned out this little venture was. For now though, the show’s off to a pretty decent start, and if it can avoid some of the issues of it’s predecessor (mostly boiling down to over indulgent lore and repetitive themes) it could be a fun ride.

Rating: Great

 

Sakura Quest

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Synopsis: Five young women have one thing in common—the careers they planned for themselves weren’t working out. Job dissatisfaction, trying to make ends meet, and personal insecurities lead each of them to start working at a local tourism bureau where their lives become intertwined. As the girls experience their first year on the job, they learn a lot about their town, their industry, and themselves.

First Impressions: Since I still haven’t quite managed to get around to Kuromukuro, it’s been a while since I’d last seen an original project from P.A. Works and after giving us the sheer brilliance that was Shirobako, I’m more or less down for anything they have to offer. Of course since Shirobako was such a huge hit in Japan it’s not too surprising that this show ends up taking quite a few cues from it rather a story about the animation industry, this one is all about tourism and revitalizing a forgotten town in the countryside. In that respect the basic setup here is pretty predictable as we’re treated to the old tale of a someone from the big city being forced into the countryside and learning to appreciate the quiet life, but the writing’s thankfully sharp enough to keep it from feeling a little too cliche and Yoshino’s struggles in facing constant rejection trying to work her way through the job market feels a lot more relateable than I’d care to admit. The ending twist of the town being the same one as Yoshino’s most prized childhood memory felt a bit too on the nose, but aside from that everything here flows pretty smoothly, and the comedy, while not laugh out loud funny, is amusing enough to keep things from getting slow. All in all it’s a solid premiere and while only time will tell if this show just ends up being Shirobako with tourism, that’s an okay enough proposition to keep this on my watchlist for a while.

Rating: Great

Your Brain on Toons- What Makes Anime Adaptions Work? (Part II)

When Does An Anime Adaption “Fail”?

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Well we since we established in the previous article that an anime adaption succeeds when it’s a decent standalone product and pays some kind of tribute to its source material, then it’s safe to say that most anime adaptions fail when they don’t feel strong enough on their own and/or misunderstand what made the original material work in the first place. There’s a few ways adaptions can fail at that first one. While I said earlier that most anime adaptions wrapping up without much of an actual conclusion isn’t a negative in and of itself (they are meant to be commercials after all) being too inconclusive can result in the opposite of the desired effect, and turn people off from it. Summer 2015’s Gangsta for instance, ended right smack dab in the middle of a story arc without even attempting to give anime-only viewers a decent entry point to jump into the manga, instead simply coming to an abrupt stop and taking the reputation of the series with it. Pacing can be a big issue as well as going through the available material either too fast or too slow (and potentially resulting in “filler” for either scenario) can really take away from a show in the long run. Most notably however, is the issue of an adaption being plagued with bad production values and you need look no further than the negative reactions to the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal and more recently, Berserk 2016, to see how badly they can hurt even established franchises.

Something that often gets overlooked though, is when adaptions get a little too reliant on their source material, and end up isolating new viewers in the process. Video game adaptions tend to suffer the most from this kind of problem, such as the recent Tales of Zestria anime, making the decision to start off with a prologue that frankly wouldn’t make any kind of sense to those not already familiar with the game, and later pausing the story for a couple of episodes to promote the Tales of Bestria game, both of which felt pretty jarring. Even adaptions that mostly function well on their own can still run into this kind of problem, like the rather divisive ending to Clannad: After Story, which loses most of its impact (and frankly doesn’t make any sense) without the game mechanics from the visual novel that helped to lead up to it. While anime adaptions do primarily exist for the sake of promotion, ideally they should never feel like they’re punishing newcomers for not having already read/played whatever it’s based on, and while some can still manage a decent level of success regardless, it’s really hard to win audiences back once that line has been crossed.

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Worse than all of the above however, is running into an adaption that completely fails to highlight or understand its source material. Taken to its most extreme are things such as the OVA, Rurouni Kenshin: Reflections in which the director Kazuhiro Furuhashi created an epilogue to the original manga that not only negated the manga’s ending for Kenshin’s character arc and its subsequent view on redemption, but ran so thematically opposite of those things in favor of tragedy, that it almost feels like it couldn’t have possibly come from the same source and comes off as an utter betrayal of it. There’s also stuff like Rosario + Vampire and the original Negima anime whose manga counterparts both functioned as battle shonen/harem comedy hybrids while their respective anime adaptions removed nearly all aspects of the battle shonen components in favor of making them pure harem comedies, and thus limited some of their appeal as a result.

Although while it’s easy to point out the extreme examples, it’s just as important to note that even the “faithful” adaptions can sometimes run into this problem. The Toriko anime for example, was a pretty straight adaption of the manga, and paced well enough to avoid filler for most of its run, but in an effort to make it more kid friendly (and easier to air on children’s networks in western markets), Toei Animation censored and removed pretty much all of the 80’s style machismo and ultra-violence that comprised a big chunk of the manga. The result was an incredibly watered down product that failed to be as cool or fun as its manga counterpart, and it subsequently failed to reach the lofty expectations Toei and Shueisha had for it. A more recent and infamous example of this kind of thing though, would be last year’s Ace Attorney anime which also strived to be a fairly straight adaption of its source material but ultimately lacked much of the charm and Saturday morning cartoon style antics that made the games so fun (and the fact that it mostly looked like butt didn’t help things either) to the point where its best episodes were ironically the ones where it deviated the most from the games. No one really wins when it comes to these kinds of adaptions and while they aren’t always damaging enough to take the popularity of their source material down with them, they generally don’t enjoy much in the way of any long-term success, and can be pretty crippling in the long run.

 

Final Thoughts

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There’s a lot of anime adaptions out there, and a whole lot of good and bad that comes with them. The exact measures by which they can succeed or fail tend to vary depending on the circumstances surrounding them, and while I might have covered the broader aspects of those areas, there’s still a ton of other factors that have to be taken into account in determining how well an adaption will turn out. Still, I think that by taking a little bit of time to understand some of the things that can make these anime work, it’s a whole lot easier to appreciate the ones that actually succeed.


And that’s it for me on this subject. I’m glad I finally got around to writing about it and hopefully someone managed to get a little something out of this. Until next time, stay animated.

Your Brain on Toons- What Makes Anime Adaptions Work? (Part I)

Having been an anime fan for some 13 odd years now, I’ve seen a lot of stuff. This also means that for better or worse, I’ve sat through a lot of anime adaptions and the various debates that come with them. I’ve seen many an argument between how X-anime compares to Y-manga and what it did or didn’t do, with such discussions continuing on as fiercely today as they did when I was a teenager. As for me, my perspective’s shifted quite a bit compared to my earlier days of fandom, and as I’ve started learning more about how the industry at large tends to function, I’ve also found myself pondering a certain question: Just what the heck qualifies as a “good” anime adaption? The answer is a complicated one, and one that I have quite a bit to say about so I’ve decided to do a pair of articles on it. We’re going to be taking a look at some of the key factors in an adaption, and what does or doesn’t work for them so with that in mind, let’s get started.

 

The Purpose of an Adaption

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When looking at the basics of anime adaptions as a whole, it’s first important to point out some of the fundamental differences between them and most adaptions in western media from Hollywood or on U.S. TV. For the most part, when an adaption is made in the west, it’s designed to be its own product. This means for instance that while Batman: The Animated Series and the numerous Batman comics in existence may both have Batman in the title, their overall success is largely independent of each other, and will have little, if any, material properly tying them together. In fact, in some cases the success of said animated version could lead to it having its own entirely different line of comics or merchandise, and its overall survival is dependent on how well it stands on its own.

Anime on the other hand, works pretty differently. Whereas most western adaptions are designed to be mostly separate entities to their source material, anime adaptions are often made with the explicit intent of drawing attention to said source material, with the publishers of the original work usually having a pretty direct hand in the production. This means that anime adaptions in effect, generally serve as a “commercial” of sorts for whatever anime, game, novel, etc. that they were based on with one of the primary goals being to help sell more of it. However it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that anime adaptions aren’t meant to do well by themselves, and under ideal circumstances, their success should result in selling lots of shiny discs and merchandise, the same as any anime-original work would be expected to do. What it does do though, is place slightly less of a burden on the adaption to sell itself, and in turn, lowers the risk of it being a total financial failure. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but the important thing to understand here is that anime adaptions are almost never designed to be standalone works in regards to their source material. With that established it’s time to move onto the biggest question:

 

So What Makes an Anime Adaption “Good”?

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This is the million dollar question when it comes to anime and it’s something I’ve pondered a lot over the years. There are a variety of factors that affect the quality of an adaption from timing to the production staff and it’s hard to get into specifics about all of them, but in terms of broad strokes, it mostly boils down to two key points:

      *Being a decent standalone product

                                *Highlighting the strengths of the source material

Now that first one might seem contradictory given that earlier I mentioned that anime adaptions are pretty much never meant to be completely standalone works, but that’s only under the strictest definition of the term. Most anime adaptions won’t give you a complete story, but giving audiences something of a thematic resolution, or offering a good enough stopping point that you aren’t overtly pressured to seek out the source material usually works out pretty well. A good example of these would be something like winter 2016’s Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, which chose to center the anime around the theme of loss, and while it doesn’t even begin to resolve the long term mysteries surrounding it’s world and how the characters got there, it resolves said theme well enough that while it certainly invites audiences seek out the original novels in order to know what happens next, it also does enough to be more than satisfying on its own. Being a good standalone product can also mean something as basic as having a really polished looking production. The recent adaptions of One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 are both pretty strong instances of this, and while both stories feel like they’ve only tapped the surface of what’s available to them, those shows are so much of a visual spectacle that they’re worth giving a peek regardless, and they’ve both proven successful in attracting an large audience. In short, the basic idea is that while an anime adaption doesn’t exactly need a definitive ending to be successful, at the very least there needs to be enough on display that anyone not already familiar with the original work won’t feel blatantly shortchanged by checking it out.

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The second criteria of “highlighting the strengths of the source material” is where things get more complicated. Many hardcore manga/light novel fans (and I’ve been guilty of this myself quite a few times) tend to take that as meaning that an anime should stick as close to its source material as possible, but that kind of thinking is a bit misguided. Anime is its own medium, and as such changes are pretty much inevitable when translating it over from the original medium of the source material. This also ignores the fact that much like the original authors themselves, anime staff members are creatives too if not more so (something of which gets lost when adaptions are often judged by the studio that worked on them rather than the individuals), and their own influences and biases are bound to affect the material in some way. Even anime adaptions that have been praised for how closely they stick to the manga like the 2011 version of Hunter x Hunter still included a few notable deviations, such as the late introduction of a key character, as well as many of the events in the back half of the Chimera Ant arc being re-arranged to be more cohesive.

That said, being as 1:1 with the source material as possible is usually the safest method for anime adaptions to take in regards to highlighting what works about it, and it’s the one that most tend to go for more often than not. Of course, it’s important to highlight that it may typically be the safest option, it’s not without its own share of risks. It can sometimes result in something that feels like its playing things a bit too safe and can subsequently keep an adaption from reaching its full potential. Some examples would be things such as the infamous first season of Sailor Moon Crystal which felt so slavishly faithful to the manga that it came off as an outdated mess, or more recently, spring 2016’s My Hero Academia, whose sluggish pacing worked well for the first few episodes as it gave more time to the protagonist, Deku’s origin story, but ultimately came back to hurt it for its last third as its first major battle slows to a crawl.

Besides the usual 1:1 method though, there are still a couple of other ways anime adaptions can achieve the goal of highlighting what works. One other way is through the anime staff re-arranging or cutting material in other to focus on the strongest parts of the original work. The most notable example of this in recent years would be the first season of Tokyo Ghoul in which the director Shuhei Morita decided to remove most of the manga’s worldbuilding in favor of focusing primarily on the conflict between humans and ghouls, and Kaneki’s eventual breakdown from being caught in the middle of those opposing sides. While this didn’t exactly go over too well with manga fans who were angry about what got cut out, it provided newcomers with a more cinematic experience that better suited the needs of the medium, and served as pretty effective commercial for drawing new people towards the manga as its sales have gone up dramatically (unfortunately the second season, Root A couldn’t quite follow up on that approach but the less said about that the better).

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Taken to an even larger extreme though, it’s also possible for an anime adaption to forsake the story of its original material almost entirely and still be relatively true to its source by sticking to its core themes, bringing it more in line with western expectations of how adaptions work. As I said before, anime tends to avoid this almost entirely, but there’s a few examples, such as the Gungrave anime taking a by-the-numbers revenge story for a third-person shooter game and turning it into a compelling mafia drama, or more famously, the 2003 version of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime which diverges from the manga’s storyline in favor of its own while still paying tribute to its themes regarding sacrifice and humanity (albeit with very different conclusions on those points).

Having consumed more manga than I’d care to admit, I used to typically lean towards the adaptions that stuck closely to what I first read, but in recent years I’ve gained a lot more appreciation for the ones that go the extra mile in trying to create something that stands out, and I honestly kind of wish more would take on those kinds of risks, if only because those are the ones that tend to be more memorable for better or worse. Of course the success of such adaptions usually requires extremely capable staff members and a smooth production cycle, both of which are luxuries most anime aren’t granted with, and the aforementioned risk of potentially isolating the fans of the original work means that most production committees will steer clear of that approach. Still, it’s important to understand that an anime adaption doesn’t have to necessarily be an exact recreation of its source material to work, and that there’s a few ways to succeed in that area.


And with that we’re done for now. I’ll have the second half up next week where we go into the more painful side of things: when anime adaptions fail.

Part II >>

The Sounds of Dubbing IV- Gintama

 

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Synopsis: Aliens have taken over Edo period Japan, and everything from giant robots to space technology has taken over everyday life. However one day, a young man named Shinpachi Shimura has an encounter with a wavy-haired samurai named Gintoki Sakata, one of the last surviving warriors of the Joi Rebels who fought against the aliens, and one of the few people remaining who still carries the soul of a samurai. Shinpachi decides to work for Gintoki as part of his “Odd Jobs” group of handimen, and together with a strange alien girl named Kagura, the trio gets involved with a variety of increasingly weird characters and adventures.

Intro: When Crunchyroll first announced last year that they were venturing into the world of home video releases and dubs, I was the most curious about Gintama. It always struck me as a show that would be nigh impossible to dub, both due to it’s length, and it’s hefty amount of Japanese culture-centered humor. Sentai Filmworks took a stab at it a few years back when they licensed the first Gintama movie and the results were…less that stellar so I wasn’t too sure how a second attempt would pan out, and even more so when I was hearing suggestions that it would be done through the Canadian dubbing pool, who hasn’t seen much work in recent years. So with all that in mind, it’s time to see if the second time’s the charm


 

Rating Scale

Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but  an overall bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece, Guin Saga)

Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly good but decent enough that if you ignore the existence of the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)

Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is more technically competent in a few areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)

Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)


 

 

Voice Direction

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Even when it comes to comedies, good vocal direction is always an important element to take into account as a stiff performance can make even some of the best jokes fall flat. In that respect, it’s pretty ideal that this show’s ADR Director turned out to be Karl Willams, a long time director at both Canada’s Ocean and Blue Water dubbing studios, and whose work includes some of the talent pool’s most iconic dubs such as Death Note and Inuyasha. All those years of experience certainly show here as he does a great job of handling the show’s comedic timing, helping the actors to successfully deliver on a variety of exaggerated punchlines, and while there’s certainly a few stiff line reads here and there, the actors manage to land their jokes more often than not, and I was pleasantly surprised that the dub had me laughing almost as much as I did listening to the Japanese track.

Of course it’s also important to take into account that Gintama is a series that can often be as heartwarming or dramatic as it is funny, and the ability to switch between those moods on the fly is also pretty important when it comes to a successful dub. It’s a little harder to get a read on how the more dramatic areas of the show will be handled from what’s currently available, but just going off of the finale to the Genderbending arc, it seems like the direction’s certainly there enough for that too, albiet not quite as much as with the comedy. Given that the dub’s starting off so deep into the material it’d feel a little unfair to expect too much right out the gate, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it’s direction, and it looks to be in good enough hands that it’s likely to improve with time.

 

Scripting

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Of all the aspects of a Gintama dub, I was the most intrigued/worried about, it was probably the dub script. As I mentioned in the intro, Gintama is a pretty culture-specific comedy, and while it’s certainly no stranger to mocking popular Western media in the same way mocks a lot of Japanese media, it usually leans towards the latter, and trying to translate around those jokes always seemed like too big a task to make a dub feasible. While as of this moment, I’m unaware of who the main scriptwriter for the dub was (or if wasn’t some kind of group effort by some of the crew at Crunchyroll), it seems as though the decision was made to leave pretty much all the jokes as is, and instead rely on the high energy of the vocal performances to help sell the comedy. It’s a pretty understandable approach since Gintama wouldn’t really be itself without it’s bizarre sense of humor, and it’s one that works in some ways, and falls flat in others, as a lot of the slapstick and references that seasoned anime/video game fans would get, are still just as funny in English, while some of the occasional wordplay puns like the ones in episode with the Japanese history lesson, sound a little on the awkward side. A bit of looser scripting might have helped with the latter a bit more, but speaking honestly, I can’t really think of around that without completely changing the jokes involved, so in the end this was probably the right call. The scripting’s certainly not perfect, but there was pretty much never going to be a perfect solution to this area of the dub, and as I said regarding my One-Punch Man review, the issue of a dub script being too faithful is a far better one to have than it being too loose, so I can certainly live with the lesser of the two evils.

 

Casting

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While not quite as big a hurdle as the dub script, the casting was another area where I was really curious to see the results. Not only has Gintama been around long enough that anyone familiar with the show is probably pretty attached to the Japanese cast, but said cast is comprised of some of the best actors that side of the industry has to offer including names like Tomokazu Sugita, Rie Kugimiya, Akira Ishida and god himself Norio Wakamoto. Living up to such a strong cast was always going to something of a tall order and one made harder by the fact that Canada’s talent pool isn’t as established as they used to be in their prime. Fortunately though, Karl Willams and the fine folks at Crunchyroll, managed to put together a pretty nice looking cast of Canada-based veterans.

Micheal Daingerfield (Inuyasha: The Final Act’s Sesshomaru, Mobile Suit Gundam 00’s Johann Trinity) seems to have been an excellent choice for Gintoki as he does a solid job of getting across the character’s crass attitude and sarcasm while also managing to nail down his rarely seen serious side in a few scenes. Cole Howard (Law of Ueki’s Kosuke Ueki, Kingdom’s Xin) is an equally strong choice for Shinpachi as he gets his straight man antics down pretty quickly, and while his exaggerated retorts don’t always hit their mark, his delivery is strong enough for the punchlines to get their message across. Jocelyne Loewen (Boys Over Flowers’s Sakurako Sanjo, Megaman NT Warrior’s Yai) on the other hand is the weakest link of the main trio so far, as her voice sounds a little too normal compared to Rie Kugiyama, or even Luci Christian’s brief take on her in the movie’s dub since Kagura doesn’t really sound the same without her accent, and while Jocelyne Loewen’s performance is good enough to get a few laughs across, it doesn’t quite feel like she has the character down yet.

The rest of the cast is a little bit more of a mixed bag. Some like Andrew Francis (NANA’s Takumi Ichinose, Infinite Ryuvis’s Airs Blue) and Janyse Jaud (Inuyasha’s Kagura, Shakugan no Shana’s Margery Daw) feel like solid choices for Sakamoto and Tae respectively, and nail their quirks down pretty well, while others like Marlie Collins’s Tsukuyo and Vincent Tong’s (Death Note’s Tota Matsuda, World Trigger’s Souya Kazama) feel a little underwhelming, and seem to still be in the process of feeling out their characters. Of course as with the voice direction it’s more than a little unfair to compare these guys to actors who had been playing their respective characters for over 250 episodes by this point, so I certainly wasn’t expecting anything near the level of the performances by the Japanese cast, but even with that in mind, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, it did feel as though the actors were getting a better grasp on their characters with each passing episode (some faster than others) so there’s a strong chance that with a bit more time, this cast could really go a long way in making the characters their own.

 

Final Thoughts: Dubbing Gintama was pretty much always going to be something of a thankless job, and with one failed attempt already in existence, it seemed weird that Crunchyroll of all companies would be the ones to try again. However, this second attempt managed to greatly exceed my admittedly low expectations, and the dub turned out to be pretty funny. While I’m not totally in love with all of the casting choices so far, the majority do seem to have been well thought out, and I don’t have too much doubt they’ll get better with time. This certainly isn’t in the same league as the Japanese track, nor do I think anyone was really expecting it to be, but it’s definitely a much better attempt than the last one we got, and one that’s probably worth your time checking out if you’re either a newcomer to the series, or just curious to give it a listen.

Rating: Good

 

 


And that’s it for the Gintama review. Feel free to let me know what you thought about the dub if you’ve seen it and if you’re curious about my general metrics for critiquing dubs, you can take a look at that here. Till next time.

Review: Voltron Legendary Defender Season 2- Building on Success

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Synopsis: Long ago the leader of the Galra race, Emperor Zarkon began his conquest of the universe, and the extermination of the Alteans. The only force capable of stopping him was a weapon known as Voltron, but it was sealed away along with the Altean princess, Allura. 10,000 years later, a group of young space pilots from Earth stumble upon one of the robot lions that form Voltron, along with Allura but soon discover that Zarkon is still alive, and has already seized control over most of the known universe. Now these pilots must become the new Paladins of Voltron and use it’s power to defeat Zarkon once and for all.

The Review

At this point it more or less goes without saying that the first season of Voltron: Legendary Defender was a massive success. It managed to pull off the extremely difficult task of being both appealing to the nostalgia of the old fans while, creating a lot of new ones, and it’s brought the franchise the most amount of buzz and popularity it’s seen since the 80’s with the original series. Of course with all that success also comes the risk of things potentially falling apart at the seams, and given how badly the staff’s previous series The Legend of Korra ended up imploding on itself, I have to admit I was bit afraid of this potentially suffering the same fate. So with all that on it’s plate, does this season do a great job of living up to the first?

Fortunately the answer is a resounding, yes. The season kicks off, pretty much exactly where the last one ended, and despite the roughly 6-month gap, it feels like the show never really left. The strong mix of action and comedy that made a lot of the show’s first season work is still in full effect here, and the chemistry between the paladins remains as strong as ever. None of this should be too surprising since, production-wise, this second season was originally meant to just be the back half of the first, but I’ve seen plenty of similarly produced shows where that approach backfired, so I’m glad to say that this series is still as fun as ever.

Of course, while the second season manages to maintain pretty much all of what made the first work, it also manages to throw in a few welcome improvements. One of my biggest issues with the first season, was the Galra felt a little too one-note as antagonists, and were vastly in need of some fleshing out to keep from come across as too generic. This is largely addressed here in the form of introducing a rebel Galra cell working against the empire, which helps to add some much needed shades of grey to the overall conflict, while giving the second season a slightly heavier tone than the first. It also helps in making the stakes of the season a lot higher, as much of it is spent building up to a big confrontation with Zarkon himself. Although while it’s obviously way too early in the show’s run for that to actually go as planned, it manages to throw in a few good curve-balls (especially regarding the fate of a certain character), and the season finale is about as wonderfully climatic as giant robot shows get.

Though while this story stuff is all well and good, the real appeal of Voltron lies in it’s fun characters, and this season manages to outshine the first in that area too. As much as the first season did a great job of making all of the Paladins endearing, Keith in particular felt like a bit too much of a blank slate for his supposed importance to the story, especially given that he’s known as the protagonist in all the other franchise incarnations. Thankfully he’s given a lot more to work with here, and a fair chunk of the season is spent both exploring his origins, and setting him up for a future leadership role, helping to turn his character around significantly. Allura also benefits from a bit more focus as her hatred for the Galra clashes pretty heavily with the need for an alliance with the Galra rebels, and both Allura and Keith’s respective character arcs end up tying pretty heavily into the season’s larger conflicts.

The animation, also manages to step things up from the first season as the animators from Studio Mir continue to go all out in their homage to the “sakuga” style of Japanese animation. There’s a ton of really fantastic action sequences sprinkled throughout the season, making for some surprisingly intense fights, and the 3DCG for the robots still does a great job of mixing well with the show’s 2D animation, for some solid mecha battles. The final showdown of the season in particular is really something to behold, and stands as some of the best action choreography I’ve seen from the mecha genre in quite a while.

There was a lot for Voltron’s second season to live up to, and I’m happy to report that this one managed to be even stronger than the first. Everything from the stakes, to the character writing is doubled down here, and it all results in a fun ride from start to finish. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few hiccups, as much like the first season the comedy can some times be hit or miss, and it does occasionally cut a bit too much into the serious aspects, but for the most part these are minor gripes, and nothing that’s really manages to slow down the show’s momentum. All in all, the second season does pretty much exactly what it needs to in terms of building on the first, while sticking to what made it work, and given that it more or less ends on the same type of obnoxious cliffhanger, I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for a third.

Overall: 8.9/10

First Impressions- Winter 2017 Anime (Part 2)

It’s time for round 2 of the winter anime season. I’ve already burned my way through a few things, but there’s still plenty more to go through, and a lot more potential suffering to be had so let’s 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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elDlive

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Synopsis: “Mumbling” Chuta Kokonose doesn’t have many friends. In fact, the only conversations he has anymore are with voices inside his head. Little does he know that this voice doesn’t mean he’s crazy. It just means he has an alien living inside his body!

First Impressions: Once upon a time I was a huge fan of Reborn, and while the final parts of the manga soured things for me, I still feel enough fondness for it, that I’d be more or less willing to check out anything else Akira Amano put ot. That’s where this series comes in, and having set my expectation levels somewhere around moderate, I more or less got what I figured I would here. There’s nothing particularly standout about the storytelling here as it’s all pretty by-the-numbers but mostly entertaining, and the tone hearken’s back more towards Amano’s gag series routes than the action heavy material from the later parts of Reborn, although that could certainly change given Chuuta clearly has some sort of ominous backstory. The one major feather in it’s cap though is some solid visual direction as the show has some really nice scene transitions, and while the color pallette isn’t exactly mindblowing, it feels lively enough to match what this is going for. I was pretty much going to watch this one either way, but for right now it seems like a moderately good way to spend Sunday afternoons

Rating: Good

 

Idol Incidents

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Synopsis: The story is set in a parallel Japan very similar to the modern Japan we known today. Increasing income divide, creeping environmental pollution, unsolvable garbage problems, childcare waiting lists being disputed while those directly involved aren’t present, repeated cases of corruption… Japan’s government, entrenched in its own vested interests, can do nothing about the abundant problems and discontent throughout the land. Now, at long last, idols are taking a stand to rescue a nation with no way out! The Heroine Party, the Sunlight Party, the Starlight Party, the Bishoujo Party, the Wakaba Party, the Subculture New Party, and the SOS Party: idols from these seven idol political parties who have become Diet members representing each prefecture will crash through the sense of stagnation that surrounds Japan with their song and dance! They will bring back the people’s smiles and envelop Japan in their shining aura!

First Impressions: From high strung comedies to action shows, idol shows have been inserted into just about everything at this point, so idols fusing together with politics was pretty much just a matter of time. On paper this sounds like a wonderfully dumb premise as it seems like something that could generate a lot of comedic mileage. In execution however, it’s a pretty standard idol show, and the politics hook just comes off more as awkward than funny. From the characters, to the tone, everything feels too safe and cookie-cutter for how potentially funny it could have been and while it’s not exactly short on visual gags, it really needed to be executed in a manner as over-the-top as possible to really work. There’s hints of that towards the end as we get a Love Live esque musical number towards the end, but it’s enough to elevate the rest of it, and nothing here really grabbed me. Still it’s an idol show and a fairly harmless looking one so if you’re into that sort of thing this might work out for you, but I’ll probably end up skipping this one unless I’m really starved for Sunday shows.

Rating: Decent

 

Gabriel Dropout

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Synopsis: An angel at the top of an angel school has descended to the human world! However, she has already acclimated to the life of the human world so much that she ends up leading a self-indulgent life, skipping school all the time and being absorbed in online games. Gabriel soon forgets about her original goal to make human beings happy and has turned into a lazy and hopeless angel, or a “sloppy angel” in short. Amazingly, she swears to continue to fully enjoy the pleasure of various entertainments of the human world.

First Impressions: I wasn’t originally planning to watch this one originally, but today was light on premieres so I figured I’d give it a shot. This turned out to be a pretty wise decision on my part, as this one actually turned out to be rather enjoyable. Anime having fun with classical archangels and archedemons isn’t a particularly new thing as we got The Devil is a Part Timer a couple of years back, and while this certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll be nearly as clever as that, it’s seems like another okay take at the concept. Archangel Gabriel turning into a NEET seems like kind of a weird thing, but having her be the snarky one seems rather appropriate, and I got a few laughs out of Satan being a chunni since that seems like a gag that’s a lot truer to form (not sure what’s up with Raphiel being a sadist, but I don’t recall everything about the Archangels so it’s possible there’s something in the stories to go along with the joke). Nothing here was too mindblowing, but it certainly made me laugh more than some of the other “comedy” premieres I’ve sat through this season so that counts for something. For now this seems like a solid watch, and I’m curious to see how much mileage it can get out of it’s premise (I’d certainly be curious to see what it’s versions of Micheal and Lucifer are like)

Rating: Good

 

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department

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Synopsis: “ACCA” is a giant unified syndicate residing in a kingdom split into 13 autonomous regions. ACCA was formed back when there was threat of a coup d’etat, and it has continued to protect the peace of civilians for almost one hundred years. Jean Otus, the vice-chairman of the inspections department at ACCA headquarters, is one of the most cunning men in the syndicate’s history with the nickname “Jean the Cigarette Peddler.” Whimsically puffing his cigarettes, he wanders through the 13 districts, checking to see if there is any foul play afoot. Meanwhile, Jean is monitored by gazes, threatening rumors, and… snack time. Jean’s quiet everyday life slowly gets swallowed up into the world’s conspiracies!

First Impressions: As the director responsible for bringing us Space Dandy and One-Punch Man, Shingo Natsume has made quite a name for himself in the last couple of years. Given that this series is carrying over some of the staff from the latter, that made this one a potential darkhorse for the season and one that I was pretty eager to check out. However if like me, you were coming into this expecting a sakuga-fest ala Natsume’s previous titles, this…definently isn’t that. Instead what we get here is a somewhat low-key spy show ala last year’s Joker Game, and much of this first episode is spent giving us a rough idea of the protagonist’s personality and setting up the various procedural work that’s to be expected in this kind of show. Unfortunently that means this is pretty lacking in the excitment department, but at the same time this premiere doesn’t make much in the way of any notable mistakes, and exhumes just enough confidence and style to work as a competent genre piece. The last few minutes of the episode suggest things might get more thriller-esque later on, but I’m not exactly holding my breath on that, and it feels like it’ll probably keep things more on the slow, methodical side. All that said, this show’s genre is one that I’m usually pretty happy with, and while I wasn’t exactly thrilled by what I watched, I was certainly intrigued, so for now I’m willing to see where this goes.

Rating: Good

 

Hand Shakers

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Synopsis: Tazuna is a high school student, living in Osaka, who loves to fiddle around with machines. One day, he receives a repair request from an university laboratory. He accepts the request and ends up meeting a girl named Koyori, who has been bedridden for a very long time. Suddenly, Tazuna and Koyori get pulled into a whole different world called “Ziggurat”. In this world, there are Hand Shakers, two people who touch hands and create the Nimrod. Their goal is to defeat other Hand Shakers in order to gain an audience with “God”, who will grant them wishes. Protect with your own Hands!

First Impressions: So out of the new shows this season, this was one of the ones I was the most curious about. While GoHands’s previous series, K: The Animation, was a pretty big exercise in style over substance, I enjoyed it’s first season quite a bit, and figured that a series by mostly the same people could at least be fairly entertaining. Sadly though, it turns out that this show is bad. Like REALLY bad. So much so that I was getting PTSD flashbacks to last winter’s Divine Gate, and that’s something I never wanted to experience again. Much of the episode is spent as one big “how we got here” moment in an attempt to add clarity to it’s super awkward opening scene but somehow manages to come out as even more confusing by the end of it. About all the show really manages to establish is that the protagonist has some weird obsession with fixing things, and that he has some sad backstory involving his dead sister that’s now being projected onto some white-haired loli. Aside from that, most of the episode is just one big overly-long fight scene and it feels like an absolute mess.  The minimal explanation wouldn’t be too much of a deal breaker normally, as K’s first episode was pretty similar in that respect, but it’s script was just grounded enough to follow, where as this is all over the place.

Further adding to the show’s sins is that it’s also horrendously ugly. GoHands’s weird obsession with bright filters has always looked a little jarring, but this show looks like a spectacularly technicolor-ed mess, and the “dynamic” camera angles that are clearly meant to make the action look more bombastic just come off as obnoxious (the hefty amount of 3DCG doesn’t help either). To make matters even worse, said camera angles are also used rather skeevisly for boob jiggle fanservice, which comes off as downright gross in regards to one of the female characters who spends every scene being abused in a way that’s clearly supposed to be “sexy”. Pretty much everything about this is one big NOPE, and while I certainly wasn’t going to be surprised if this one ended up being a stinker (K’s second season was kind of a letdown), I sure wasn’t expecting anything this horrible, and of all the bad things I’ve sat through so far this season, this one’s easily the worst. Stay far, far away from this one.

Rating: BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD

 

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

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Synopsis: Miss Kobayashi is your average office worker who lives a boring life, alone in her small apartment–until she saves the life of a female dragon in distress. The dragon, named Tohru, has the ability to magically transform into an adorable human girl (albeit with horns and a long tail!), who will do anything to pay off her debt of gratitude, whether Miss Kobayashi likes it or not. With a very persistent and amorous dragon as a roommate, nothing comes easy, and Miss Kobayashi’s normal life is about to go off the deep end!

First Impressions: Kyoto Animation is synonimous with high quality productions and solid content, but every now and then they tend to dip into the anime well and put out a low-key light novel adaption that ends up with better production values than it probably deserves. This season that distinction goes to Dragon Maid, which is an odd but mostly un-funny comedy about a lesbian dragon maid who decides to work for an office lady after the latter invites her over in drunken stupor. What ensues is a solid 23 minutes of gross out humor, boob jokes and lots of over-excited yelling, none of which managed to get a giggle out of me the entire time. My standards for anime comedies usually aren’t too high, but nothing about this one clicked with me, and I spent half the episode waiting for it to be over. Since this is a KyoAni show, it pretty much goes without saying that it looks good, and there’s some nice stuff on display here from the how the maid girl’s dragon form is animated, to some of the visual gags, but none of it’s really enough to change the fact that the comedy didn’t work for me and nothing about it left me curious for more. Of course everyone’s taste in comedies are different so maybe this one will work out well for other folks, and I don’t want to be too hard it since it’s not as though it’s attempting to be anything more than a low-end comedy, but this one’s a definite skip for me.

Rating: Bad

 

Chaos;Child

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Synopsis: Shibuya, 2015. In a city recovering from the “Shibuya Earthquake” which devastated it six years ago, Takuru Miyashiro, a student at the newly built private high school “Hekiho Academy” investigates a series of serial killings known as “The Return of the New Generation Madness” as part of his work for the school’s newspaper club…

First Impressions: Looks like it’s time for yet another semi-colon show, and unlike Occultic;Nine which was apparently just a light-novel adaptation, this one’s the real deal. It also happens to be a sequel to Chaos;Head which was the first of these to come out and easily the weakest of the bunch. This is supposedly due more to poor choices made by the adaption than anything else, but it still left something of a bitter taste in my mouth, so you can probably imagine my annoyance when the first 20 minutes of this 47 minute long premiere turned out to be a literal recap of Chaos;Head. Unfortunently the new material here hasn’t done much to engage me either, as none of the main characters really do too much to make themselves endearing here, with the focus instead being almost entirely on the mystery that the show’s setting up. Nothing about said mystery really did too much to make me feel like it was worth sticking around for, but offers just enough suspense to keep things from getting boring. For all these complaints though, it’s far from the worst thing I’ve had to sit through while going down the list of winter premieres, and none of it’s choices have struck me as particularly awful so far. In a stronger season I’d probably give this one the boot, but since there’s nothing else really competing for it’s attention on Thursdays, I may give it a couple more episodes and see if things improve.

Rating: Decent


And that’s it for me and the winter season. There’s still a couple of small premieres left and a few things I didn’t cover, but none of them seem like things that would appeal to me so this is probably as good a cut off point as any. By this point I’m used to jumping the gun on declaring a season to be weak, only to later eat my words and find enough enjoyable stuff to get by, but for the first time in a while I feel confident enough to say with absolute certainty that this is a really weak season. Usually I can find at least one or two non-sequels that feel compelling but so far the sequels (which I didn’t cover here since I felt they’d be redundant this time around) really are the best this season has to offer. Surprisingly though I don’t feel as frustrated by this as I’d expect since not having too much stuff to keep up with means I can finally tackle more of my massive backlog pile, but weak seasons tend to affect everyone, including the industry so in that respect it’s disappointing. At any rate I’m pretty much done here, and until next season, stay animated.