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.
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)
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)
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.
Score: 5.5/10 (Dropped)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.)
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.
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
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?