Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2016

header Mononokean
If we’re going by sheer numbers then this season is already far superior to the last for me – which is actually unfortunate, since I’ll soon have to put all anime and other media to one side for a couple of weeks as the time to move country approaches. That said, I’ve managed to get through all the new anime releases that sounded even remotely interesting, so might as well get at least the first of these posts out while I still can. Just a quick note that all of the following impressions other than for ReLIFE (which was released all at once) is based on the first episode only.

Berserk
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)

Berserk
In some ways I can respect an anime like Berserk. Amidst all these vapid school romances, endless parades of moeblobs, and relentlessly cheerful slice-of-life titles, I imagine it must come as a breath of fresh air to plenty of viewers – especially those constantly pining after the good ol’ days, where MANLY anime had MANLY characters doing MANLY things. Berserk is an unashamed throwback to the late 80s and early 90s titles like Fist of the North Star, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Golgo 13, Bastard!!, Violence Jack, and like I said, I get it. Even in the action genre, Berserk would take one look at the so-called dark and gritty shows of today (coughAttackonTitancough) and burst out laughing. That said, this clearly isn’t my shtick. Not because it’s not pretty (dear god is it not pretty), but because I just don’t have enough raging testosterone for an anime with enough sex and violence, even including all the censorship, to put the likes of Elfen Lied to shame.

Tales of Zestiria the X
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)

Zestiria
Yes, I’m well aware this first episode is in fact episode 0 and supposed to act as a prologue. Thing is, that fact alone already rubs me the wrong way; I’m supposed to be watching an anime, not reading an epic fantasy novel. If an anime even needs an entire prologue episode for the viewers to understand what’s going on, the story is probably needlessly complicated and/or self-important. Both of which seem to sum up most of Ufotable’s work pretty well. Even judging this episode completely on its own merits though, the story is borderline incoherent – it’s far too dense and leaps between scenes and characters so quickly that nothing is given a chance to breathe, the sole reason for my attention being the admittedly stunning visuals. The animation is highly polished, the colour palette strikingly vibrant, the background art absolutely spectacular. Pity about the rest of the show, which is in dire need of a) intelligible writing and b) some story elements that don’t all but scream their JRPG-style genericness.

ReLIFE
Score: 5.5/10 (Dropped)

Relife
It’s not that I disliked what I saw of ReLIFE per se, but I watched 3 episodes of this before being forced to conclude that it was a hugely wasted opportunity. The premise allowed the show to actually say something meaningful about Japanese society and the working culture that surrounds it, or even just about the separation between school/teen and adult life in general, yet I saw little to suggest it was going to be anything other than yet another typical high school drama/romcom – one with all the usual character archetypes, comical misunderstandings and tense love triangles you’d expect. Sure, the odd glimmer of something a little deeper or more complex was there, but the next second it was back to completely ignoring the premise and treating the series like it was any other high school slice-of-life title. In other words, all the actual interesting material was used as little more than window dressing while the standard teen drama took front seat, when really it should have been the other way around.

Handa-kun
Score: 5.5/10

Handa-kun
This might seem plenty obvious already, but don’t go into this series expecting anything at all to do with Barakamon, even peripherally. It’s a spin-off rather than a prequel and other than the character name, Handa-kun is unlike the former title in every way – its more parody than anything else. Which is… fine, I guess? I may end up dropping it, but not because of its lack of connection to Barakamon. No, the real issue with Handa-kun is its fourth-wall style humour, which in this episode drags on for nearly a full 10 minutes before even introducing Handa himself – long after the joke has worn thin. The remainder of the material, although far better timed, is still not quite as funny as the show seems to think it is, and that plus the general repetitiveness of it spells trouble for the rest of the series. I did smile a number of times, mostly at the one-sided interactions between a totally oblivious Handa and his poor teachers, and that OP was ridiculous enough to be entertaining as well. Whether that kind of thing will be enough to keep me watching for 12 whole episodes is another matter.

Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu/The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance
Score: 6/10

Arslan Senki
Admittedly this is a bit of a dull start as it’s essentially little more than a reintroduction to the world and its main players, but I enjoyed the first season well enough. Since this season is only set to be 8 episodes in length, I figure I should be able to sit through it without getting too impatient. Here’s hoping that this time around though, the worst of the pacing issues – and more to the point, the issues with our completely annoying and/or totally useless female characters – are resolved. On the other hand, I could definitely use more screentime spent with Arslan himself, not to mention Daryun, and Narsus, whose characters have shaped up nicely and who, as far as I’m concerned, make up for most of the show’s shortcomings.

Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu
Score: 6/10

Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu
I’m not big on most anime shorts but this could be funny enough, especially as more characters are gradually introduced to a premise that I’ve never really seen done before. On paper it sounds like it has the potential to go incredibly wrong and incredibly quickly, but in reality I think it could do okay; I mean, statistically speaking there’s got to be some guys out there who like BL but identify as firmly heterosexual, right? And I totally understand why buying BL could be something of an ordeal for someone like that, especially knowing Japan’s fairly rigid understanding of gender norms. That being said, this is clearly a comedy rather than a serious attempt at deep social commentary, so who knows exactly where it’s going to go. Either way, I’m interested enough for the moment to keep watching and see.

Days
Score: 6.5/10

Days
I’m really not into sports anime, and to be honest, Days seems almost exactly like every other cliché sports anime I’ve seen before. It’s the classic underdog-becomes-amazing, sheer-determination-conquers-all kind of story, complete with all the hallmarks of the genre. Friendship! Teamwork! Willpower! Sweat, blood, and tears! I’m sure you all know the drill. I can’t tell yet if Days will do anything more than what’s expected of it, but I have no doubt that what it does do, it’ll end up doing very well. All the ingredients are there for the most sincere and earnest tale about soccer anyone could possibly wish for, and with MAPPA at the helm, you bet it’ll look damn good doing it too. Plus there’s a really good balance of seriousness and comedy going on, which helps the non-sports fans like myself get sucked into the story.

Amaama to Inazuma/Sweetness and Lightning
Score: 6.5/10

Amaama to Inazuma
Say it with me now: D’aaww. This is incidentally Amaama to Inazuma’s main strength as well as its main weakness. It’s adorable as hell and it knows it – nobody with a beating heart could fail to be moved by a story about a single dad damn near kill himself trying to create a happy life for his young daughter, just six months after the death of his wife. All with a smile still on his face no less, for his daughter’s sake. The downside of that equation is that the show is sometimes a bit too on the nose, and would do a better job of pounding the right heart-wrenching buttons if some of the dialogue and physical cues weren’t so blatantly obvious. Usagi Drop hit all the right notes because it knew how to tug at the heartstrings without overstepping the mark; it was a remarkably quiet and subtle show. Amaama to Inazuma has undoubtedly got the heart but needs to trust the audience to get it without the transparent emotional baiting. But hey, like I said, adorable as hell, and I’ll keep watching for sure – so long as nobody screws this up by going for the romance angle between the dad and his own high school student, that is. I’d like to believe it won’t, but this is anime we’re talking about here, so…. yeah. Fingers crossed.

Cheer Danshi!!/Cheer Boys
Score: 6.5/10

Cheer Danshi
Going by the synopsis, I was expecting Cheer Danshi to be mildly entertaining. What I was not expecting was for it to be genuinely decent. For a school-centered sports anime, the show feels way more mature than I had anticipated – in part because it’s actually set in college rather than high school (so two thumbs up right away for that), and in part because it’s a great deal more down-to-earth and reflective than any sports anime I’ve seen before. And you know what, that’s something I’m all for. Just because something fits into the sports genre doesn’t mean it has to be continuously upbeat and high-energy after all, and I appreciate Cheer Danshi’s less colourful and more realistic vibe. I’m not saying the series is toned down to the point of being depressing or that it’s lacking in a sense of humour, but it does appear to be more interested in the serious (and yes, sometimes even highly physically/emotionally painful) side of sports, which is usually overlooked as far as anime is concerned. Also, mad props for not depicting any of the cheerleaders – either men or women – as the least bit sleazy or degrading. This show doesn’t seem to be pandering to either gender and that’s both a rare and beautiful thing. (Wataru’s just plain annoying though. I’m hoping he gets more of a supporting than main role in later episodes.)

91 Days
Score: 7/10

91 Days
The story itself may not be particularly original despite being an original series – revenge tales are practically as old as time, and this certainly isn’t the first anime to be set in this time period or revolve around gangsters/the mafia – but so long as it executes its clichés competently, I’m perfectly okay with that. 91 Days feels like it’s going to be more drama than action, so I’m not expecting Baccano! levels of crazy (which no doubt everyone is going to compare 91 Days to at some point, given the team behind it), but it’s already shown it can capably handle both without sacrificing either gritty atmosphere or smooth pacing. I’m a little underwhelmed by the character designs, which are fine in and of themselves but easily outdone by the details of the setting, and it remains to be seen how much of the soundtrack works out. Otherwise, the first episode has me curious in all the right ways and looking forward to seeing more.

Orange
Score: 7.5/10

Orange
It’s been a while since I’ve seen an anime that’s really managed to hit me squarely in the feels, but Orange could definitely be the one for that this season. I’m wary of many high school-centered romantic dramas because not only do they often struggle to be innovative within an already overloaded genre, but they also all too often come across as overly theatrical or worse, utterly unconvincing. The great thing about Orange is that it feels incredibly genuine, with a pervading sense of bittersweet nostalgia that, wonder of wonders, manages not to cross over into melodrama territory. If I’m going to get emotionally pulled into a story then I need to be able to believe in the emotions that are being expressed in one way or another onscreen; something which has nothing to do with the physical realism of the piece (i.e. time travel) and everything to do with crafting a realistic atmosphere. I’m not saying the premiere was perfect (weird montage was weird), but quite apart from the exquisite cinematography, this show clearly has the potential to deal some seriously heavy heart punches. I can get behind that.

Fukigen na Mononokean/The Morose Mononokean
Score: 7.5/10

Mononokean
I adore stories about youkai but since the last few supernatural comedies haven’t exactly thrilled me (looking at you, Gingitsune/Kamisama Kiss/Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha), I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this one either. But lo and behold, Fukigen na Mononokean’s particular brand of comedy actually seems to be working for me, to say nothing of the gorgeously bright artwork and surprisingly slick animation. (Seriously, was anybody expecting the show to look this good??) Best of all though are our two main characters, who did not rub me the wrong way even once throughout the entire episode – which may sound like an easy goal but believe me, the number of titles I’ve dropped solely because I couldn’t gel with the cast, even though the story itself may have been perfectly decent, is pretty darn impressive. If Fukigen na Mononokean manages to keep up with this kind of fun chemistry the whole way through, and of course stick with that charming atmosphere it has going on, then it could well end up being my other top favourite of the season.

Question of the post: So, what are your top picks and top flops this season? Any show that totally wowed you, either for better or for worse?

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27 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2016

  1. I’ve watched Fudanshi and 91 Days so far. The first one didn’t draw my attention. I expected something funnier, or at least more twisted. The latter seems good, pretty intriguing. I like action, although the chara design and the mafia theme are not really my cup of tea. As for Berserk, I would say Griffith wasn’t manly enough. ^^

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    • I wouldn’t call Fudanshi side-splittingly funny, certainly. More like mildly amusing, which is fine for me given each episode is only a couple minutes. I’m relieved 91 Days seems to be okay, though I agree with you that the character designs seem lacking somehow. Not a major problem for me though, more a minor quibble.

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      • Yeah, it’s good Fudanshi is so short. But it’s a pity it isn’t as amusing as Orenchi no Furo Jijou which I really enjoyed.

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        • I really liked Orenchi as well, yeah – and I agree, Fudanshi isn’t as good as that. I hesitate to compare the two though, since other than both being shorts they really don’t have anything else in common.

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          • That’s why I compared those two 🙂 I think if they make something that short it should be funny or enjoyable as much as possible, not just average.

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  2. I watched 91 Days this morning and was really into that (very disappointed when the episode ended). I also really liked Orange. Though, it is still a bit early to tell.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these shows.

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  3. Oh ReLIFE does say things you want it to say, and it does it superbly in my opinion: https://twitter.com/NaChiKyoTsuki97/status/751428535328251904.

    ReLIFE delves into teenage jealousy, distance from peers due to social anxiety, plus it comments pretty bluntly on workplace relations, sexism/harassment and even suicide. The series is evidently critical of the Japanese social constructs and is willing to showcase it in its darkest instances, all the while having a main character who may be semi-NEET, but has actual adult wisdom to show off, and is just an all round decent guy, wronged by circumstance and his previous workplace’s bullshit.

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    • Actually…I take my first sentence back: horribly worded and utterly out of context from what I was trying to say. I won’t pretend to know what you want from this series.

      But I fully endorse this series and I stand by my other comments.

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      • Fair enough. You’re very welcome to your opinion and I won’t try to change it. I’m not about to change mine either, mostly because I think 3 episodes should be enough for any series to prove its worth in my eyes – although again, it’s not that I disliked what I saw. In fact, in a weaker season I probably would have watched the whole thing just for fun, because it does look to be quite a fun series. However, it wasn’t what I was looking for and given how little time I currently have on my hands, I’d rather only stick with the shows I have more of a personal investment in.

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        • I binge watched ReLIFE the day it became available on Crunchyroll so I didn’t really have this problem, but if you watch week by week I can understand your frustration about it being slow to come to the burn. It’s only in episode eleven that we get the true story behind why the protagonist turned NEET and it is brutal, but I can understand if that comes too late.

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  4. I actually loved ReLife, though the story picks up from after 4 or the 5th episode. Initially I expected it to be a typical slice of life anime, but the storyline in the later episodes was very good and unique… It deals with so many different issues at the same time, I’m very happy they have it on Crunchyroll 🙂

    91 sounds and looks amazing, I will give it a go 🙂 Also Orange sounds quite cool too !!

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    • If I had the extra time and if there weren’t already more than enough shows I liked more, I’d probably sit down and watch ReLIFE the whole way through. As it stands though, I think I gave it a fair shot to prove itself, and I just don’t have enough downtime to invest that much in something I only mildly liked.

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  5. I swear every day I open the ‘Net, I stumble upon a new hilariously godawful Berserk screencap. Anyway…

    Tops: Cheer Boys, Re:Life, 91 Days, Mononokean

    Flops: Handa-kun, Arslan, Days

    Handa-kun’s premiere is my biggest personal disappointment. The meta-joke plain doesn’t work, and they better have something else other than the constant misunderstanding gag, as I can see that gets old real fast.

    Not watching Orange, but only because I’ve finished the manga recently (it’s good).

    Arslan… that was fast. Very fast. So fast they had to drop ‘why we’re here’ exposition in the middle of actual battle. I dunno, really doubt we could get many substantial character moments considering the pacing, the number of episodes, and how overcrowded the cast feels like at this point.

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    • Yeah, Handa-kun was… well, mostly a disappointment I guess, and yet the episode could have been so much better if they had just dropped the meta-joke – or at the very least kept it going only for a minute or so as opposed to a whole half episode. I honestly don’t know why anyone would have thought that was a good idea.

      I’m pretty on the fence about Arslan, not just with this particular season but with the show as a whole. There are things I really, really like about it and things I really don’t. Overall I enjoy the show, but man I wish it wouldn’t keep shooting itself in the foot with some of its decisions. I’d say I’m more confused than anything else with the 8 episode thing this season. What a strange number.

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  6. Man. I love that you didn’t drop Morose Monokean or Orange. Those are really promising. I’m excited for Orange. I know I’ll cry, though… Which is sad… But good? And Morose Monokean is just cute.
    I haven’t seen 91 Days (I mean to…I just didn’t get to it yet), but I’m kinda excited. It does look a little like Baccano (for me, it’s the art style. Like a darker Baccano art style. The main dude looks a little like Firo to me. Dunno why.) But I’m excited! Revenge stories are cliche. But can be done well.
    I didn’t drop ReLIFE, though. It did get really annoying, and the MC took a backseat. He’s basically a side character. But certain things were cute. And it was interesting to see the side characters’ perspective.
    Are you going to watch Mob Psycho 100? (Which I have been hyped into basically.)

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    • I honestly don’t think 91 Days looks anything like Baccano (at least, not going by what I saw in this first episode), but I do like it. That, along with Orange and Morose Monokean, are easily my top 3 of the season so far.

      I’ll probably give Mob Psycho 100 a go, but since I already have more than enough titles to watch this season, I won’t really mind if it turns out not to be my thing.

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  7. I’ve no specific likes or dislikes for the season, and will be keeping an open mind as the episodes progress.

    Arslan: Arslan’s only 8 eps because the anime’s sharing the same timeslot as a 4 episode Nanatsu no Taizai TV special, scheduled to air directly after Arslan’s 8th episode. Perhaps that was the only timeslot the production committee could get.
    However this means the anime will likely cover up to the 1st arc of the Arslan novels, which ends in Vol 7 (The anime’s covered up to Vol 5). Its author states Vol 16 will be the final instalment of the novels, which he’ll work on right after his latest book.
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2016-05-20/next-heroic-legend-of-arslan-novel-volume-will-be-the-last/.102264

    ReLife: Having read the manga, I’d say the focus is definitely more on high school inter-relationships between the various characters, and not the exploration of adult/teen life separation you were expecting (unless you count Arata’s POV) . The separation you’d likely want to see would be like something from this manga, Idol Dreams/31 Ai Dream. Here’s a synopsis and review for your perusal.
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/idol-dreams/gn-1/.95448

    That said, it’s interesting to see how some anime sequels can be heavily reliant on sales of the 1st season – Cute Defense Club got a S2 because of its surprisingly good sales figures (the director said he’d only do another season if it sold well).

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    • Going by what I’ve heard from viewers who’ve now seen the whole thing, ReLIFE doesn’t even really explore much of the adult/teen life separation even counting Arata’s POV. Which is fine, the series is perfectly decent from what little I saw of it – just not of any particular personal interest.

      I do find it interesting that Cute Defense Club’s first season did so well. I’d heard about its success before the announcement of season two and don’t begudge it its success, although frankly I found the series only mildly amusing at best (and even then only for a couple of episodes).

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      • It’s because of Cute Defense Club’s success that I’m puzzled why anime like Hataraku Maou-sama still haven’t been greenlighted for a 2nd season. The Blurays and source novels sold well, so I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t want to make more.

        I’ve checked out Zestiria – I think one of its issues is that the anime’s storyline is designed to primarily appeal to those who’ve played the source game and intimately know the plot’s details. Even the latest episode preview is designed to look like a conversation scene from the game, complete with dialogue boxes and 2D character sprites.

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  8. I agree with your assessment of Amaama to Inazuma but you didn’t mention the one character that I found different and endearing: Kotori. There is just something about the way she’s animated and voiced that I really like. She just seems realer to me than the average anime teen. Her shyness and sadness come though very strongly and her umbrage at her mom embarrassing her (as only a mom can do) had me LoL.

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    • I’m honestly not the biggest fan of Kotori. I don’t dislike her or anything like that, but to me the heart of the show is most definitely Tsumugi and her dad. In comparison Kotori just doesn’t do much for me.

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  9. Lots of thoughts!
    Ok, so I can’t quite bring myself to be a big fan of Morose Mononokean as of yet. I guess I’m just really tired of the youkai of the day set up these shows tend to have. I can see why you enjoy it though. The relationship between the leads is chill. I guess I’m just exhausted with this genre. I’ll probably still finish it as it’s not bad, parse. It just not super interesting to me.
    Interesting points on Sweetness and Lightning. I honestly never thought about there being a creepy romance thing in it as that didn’t seem to be where the show was going, but yeah. I, like you, hope it never goes down that road. It’d ruin it for sure.
    Arslan… man, this season is only slated for 8? 8?! The hell? What kind of number is that? I mean, I guess I should be grateful as it means I can easily keep up with that…. Still… 8? So weird. They’re going to have to reeeeally kick it into high gear fast if they wanna get good marks from me then. I had some real issues with how season one left off. In addition to there being a LOT left to do, their female cast sucks rocks. I’m honestly not sure they can pull it off. Especially with the first episode being, as you said, kinda a recap. That gives them only 7 episodes to get stuff done. I don’t see how that’s going to work…
    As I’ve said on my blog though, I’m definitely going to try out Cheer Boys on your recommendation. Seems like an interesting take on a genre. I just hope it’s not tooooo laid back. I’ve had my fill of those shows from last season.

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    • Fair enough about Morose Mononokean. I wouldn’t say I’m exhausted with the genre myself, but that might be because I’m pretty picky about it. The more I like a genre the higher I place my standards. Also I just don’t have the time now to watch shows I don’t wholeheartedly enjoy, and so I haven’t actually watched that many recent past youkai-centric shows, or at least not more than a couple episodes.
      I don’t think Sweetness & Lightning will go the romance route, because if nothing else the OP doesn’t make it seem like it’s interested in that at all, but I’m still a little wary. I’ve definitely been burned in the past with that.
      Yeah, the women of Arslan Senki don’t inspire a lot of confidence. On the bright side, I do quite like the storyline going on here with the king having escaped and now ordering Arslan around – smart move in terms of writing and it allows for a ton of new stuff, setting-wise. It breathes some new life into the show for me.
      I do hope you enjoy Cheer Boys. I don’t think it’s too laid-back, and it’s certainly a refreshing take on the sports genre. Loving the university setting as opposed to high school for a change, and there’s some great relationship dynamics going on with the cast.

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      • Fingers crossed for Sweetness and Lightning!
        Ugh, Cheer Boys is only via FUNimation’s site right now and their player is soooo buggy. I was hoping after a few weeks they’d stream on Hulu too (that happens pretty frequently), but it’s already been near three weeks and no such luck. Here’s hoping they’ve fixed some of the worst issues in the last few months!

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  10. Pingback: Anime Taste Testing: Summer 2016 (Part II) | OTAKU LOUNGE

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