Score: 4/10 (Dropped)
For all my own love of the water, I don’t like this. A sports anime has to have a pretty major draw card in order for me to invest, and frankly, I don’t think Dive!! brings anything much to the table. Every single character comes across as a self-centered jerk, and possibly even more importantly for a show of this type, it just doesn’t look good. At all. The artwork is plain and the character designs plain ugly. To be clear, I’m not looking for a bunch of manservice here – I’m saying that if you’re going to tell a serious story (and I detect zero trace of irony or self-deprecation coming from this show, or indeed any sense of humour whatsoever) depicting a bunch of middle and high school guys with obviously muscular physiques, you better do at least a passable job of it. These characters have bodies that are clearly meant to be ripped, yet their arms look like twigs and their waists are apparently suffering from being permanently corseted. I spent most of the episode trying not to laugh, and the way everyone stood, with their backs arched and their chests out while clenching their hands like they were posing for a superhero comic, didn’t help matters. Neither did the terrible voice acting, by the way. And with nothing in either the character or the visuals department to make up for the writing, which is average at very best, unoriginal and dull the rest of the time, I see no reason to watch any more of this.
I had a dream last week that Princess Principal was the undisputed best show of the season and I was all like, “See? I told you guys.” Thankfully, I told people no such thing. While Princess Principal certainly isn’t the worst new anime out this summer, it’s a long way from being the best. It’s quite a ways out from being good, too. I have a bit of a soft spot for spy and assassin stories, and as bad as Princess Principal sounded on paper, I thought it could end up similar in tone and story to, say Gunslinger Girl (which also sounds creepy as hell but is actually pretty damn good) or Requiem for the Phantom. However, I will readily admit that dressing characters up in goth loli outfits (which also just so happen to be their school uniforms, OH JAPAN) doesn’t generally spell a classy anime title. Neither does a story that’s too dumb to take seriously but seems to want me to do so regardless. Granted, the camera doesn’t leer over this cast of teen and prepubescent-looking cast of girls anywhere near as much as it might have, and there are one or two legitimately okay scenes here. The background music, courtesy of Kajiura Yuki, is also unsurprisingly good. These things do little to elevate Princess Principal as a whole though. Let’s not let our low standards get the better of us this season.
Konbini Kareshi/Convenience Store Boyfriends
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)
Despite the plot being about as bland as it sounds on paper, I probably would’ve stuck around for a while if it meant seeing the show doing everything it possibly could to get around blatant trademark use. We’ve seen some pretty great examples of that in anime before, so I can’t help but feel I’ve been cheated out of some potentially hilarious moments. But hey, maybe Lowson or Not Lawson or whatever this totally fictional konbini chain is called just doesn’t have what it takes to chase after those lofty comedic heights. Unfortunately, since Konbini Kareshi doesn’t exactly have much to recommend it in terms of story or cast, and since the budget is clearly extremely limited, I can’t imagine even slice-of-life fans would find this a particularly gripping series. It’s not that it’s necessarily unrealistic – I’ve witnessed plenty of people here in Japan, from students to office workers, use convenience stores as a meetup or even hangout spot – but compelling it sure ain’t.
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)
This studio almost always produces anime that look great, but with writing that in turn almost always fails to match it. In particular, the stories tend to be needlessly overcomplicated, or the cast filled with one or two annoying and pointless cast members too many. The action, while fun to watch, is usually let down by pedestrian scripting, which often goes in for a lot of exposition and/or dialogue that adds absolutely nothing of value to the plot or characterization. All of these things hold true for Katsugeki Touken Ranbu. The plot has the potential to be cool… if only the story were a simpler time traveler one instead of the cast also being made up of anthropomorphic bishounen swords. The cast itself has the potential to be decent… if only one of the leads wasn’t stupidly whiny and insecure (and the random mascot character not there at all). The emotional impact of them being unable to stop bad things from happening since they’re meant to stop just the historical inaccuracies has the potential to land a solid punch… if only it wasn’t being constantly undermined by their inconsistent decision-making. Basically, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu is fine apart from literally all the details. If you’re looking for some good-looking action (and/or hot anime guys in costume) and nothing else, the show will probably satisfy you. Otherwise, I’d say it’s completely mediocre.
Hitorijime My Hero/My Very Own Hero
This wasn’t a good premiere per se, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and actually not even bad in its own right now that I think about it. I’m pretty wary of anything labeled as BL these days – mostly because the usual hallmarks of the genre (i.e. rapey advances and general molestation) aren’t something we need to see yet more of – but so far at least, Hitorijime is completely devoid of these tropes. In fact, the opening episode was so chaste that I’m not even sure I want to label this a BL title at all. The relationship between our main couple is at this point entirely platonic; not even intensely bromantic, but just an ordinary friendship. I don’t know whether to be thankful or disappointed about that, but the point is, this episode was decidedly un-creepy, and that’s definitely something to be thankful for. On the production values front, things are about average. The artwork is unoriginal but by no means ugly, and the animation and music just quietly do their thing with nothing noteworthy either way. TL;DR anyone watching Hitorijime without having first seen the genre/synopsis could be forgiven for assuming it’s just your run-of-the-mill, high school slice-of-life show. Having zero familiarity with the source material, I have no idea if that’s going to change later on down the track, but again, for a BL series this was a refreshingly decent start, albeit not an especially exciting one. I don’t mind sticking around for another episode or two to see how things shape up.
Shoukoku no Altair/Altair: A Record of Battles
I don’t quite know what to make of Altair yet. For every good point in this premiere, there was a corresponding bad one to balance it back out. It’s great to see another historical fantasy series not set in either Generic Europe or Generic Asia, for example, yet there was little to no serious effort at world-building aside from decking out the cast in outlandish costumes. There wasn’t any heavy-handed exposition to wade through, and a lot went on in terms of story in just over twenty minutes, yet inexplicably the episode seemed to drag on for way longer. The plot in and of itself should have been interesting and sometimes even was, but it was also surprisingly lacking in subtlety and kept jumping around from scene to scene, with no apparent care for just what happened in between times. Overall, this show is a potentially intriguing mix of historical fantasy, political drama, and mystery-adventure, but at the same time it feels either unable or unwilling to fully commit to any of these genres. Also disappointingly, the visuals are clearly not up to MAPPA’s usual excellent standards – maybe because alongside the ongoing Bahamut: Virgin Soul, MAPPA has two other shows airing this season plus at least one more currently in production, so resources are stretched a little thin. I’d say Altair is deserving of at least one more episode, if only to see exactly what kind of series it wants to become, but this premiere was an incredibly mixed bag for me.
Ballroom e Youkoso/Welcome to the Ballroom
This is basically a shounen sports anime but with ballroom dancing instead of soccer, baseball, or basketball. As such, most of the usual genre tropes are here, from the copious drops of youthful, sparkling sweat to the dramatic, swooping camera angles. Sudden discovery of motivation! Hot-blooded determination! Hard work conquers all! Etc. etc. It’s all about as intentionally over-exaggerated as it sounds, especially since ballroom dancing is by its very nature rather grand and theatrical anyway. That’s not really my cup of tea, but it is nice to see more sports anime looking outside the conventional high school box. And while I’m not a big fan of the character designs here – there are a lot more lines than usual in order to highlight physique and posture, and the necks in particular seem awkwardly long, almost giraffe-like in a few shots – I can understand where the emphasis is coming from. I don’t know that I’ll be watching a whole lot more of this, but it’s a matter of personal taste rather than a reflection of the anime itself, which honestly seems very competent. I recommend people at least give this one a shot.
Made in Abyss
This, right here, is exactly the kind of title that the anime industry needs to see way more of. As it stands though, it’s very unlike any other series airing this summer, or indeed any series that’s aired over the last several seasons. Its particular brand of storytelling and world-building puts me in mind of Nahoko Uehashi’s novel-based anime Kemono no Souja Erin, and the post-apocalyptic setting a tad reminiscent of some of Miyazaki Hayao’s earlier works. However, the plot, the characters, and the universe they inhabit are all unique enough that I can’t think of any really solid comparisons – and that’s a fantastic thing. Even the fact that the character designs look like they’re nearly all permanently stuck in chibi mode can’t put me off the writing, which is serious enough thanks to the setting but certainly not lacking in an understated, charming sense of humour. The story is being neatly told without the use of much exposition, and the cast is lively and entertaining. Again, the character designs do make me question exactly how old these guys are meant to be – the main trio look no older than 10, if even that. However, if they are all actually meant to be around that age then it works as an impressively strong but unspoken reinforcement of exactly the kind of world these people inhabit, if young child orphans have to be “Cave Raiders” like their parents and act like capable and resourceful adults in order for them/their society to live and thrive. I have no idea where this story is headed, but I’m excited to see more; it’s by far the best new show of the season thus far.
Question of the post: What were the best and the worst premieres of the season for you? And as always, are there any shows you’d deem an absolute must-watch that didn’t make it onto this list?
*I’m extremely curious about The Reflection and will absolutely be trying it out after it’s released on July 22nd. Whether I pick the series up or not, it will make a proper appearance in my mid-season post.