Anime Lookout: Fall 2015

Well, it’s that time of year again! Yes, the time of year when hundreds of identical anime blogs post their generic season first impressions, and I’m surprisingly here to join in on the fun. Now let me be clear here, this list is mostly covering good first episodes. Sure, I checked out a few meh ones on here because I need to release my anger and frustration in some way, but for the most part I’m focusing on the shows I think will be the cream of the crop this season… Okay, maybe cream of the crop is a strong word, but they’re at least the one’s I currently recommend trying out. Anyways, let’s get this show on the road!

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The Asterisk War:

Even though anime is a lot more unique and experimental than most western TV animations in terms of genre, every anime season includes at least 1-5 Light Novel Harem and/or Fantasy adaptations. These shows aren’t always the worst, but calling them good or worthwhile is almost never true, no matter how “special” the show tries to be. The worst thing about these shows though is that I don’t think their tropey and generic plots necessarily have to be bad. With enough good writing and artistic ambition, even the lowest of LN trash could be made interesting. Granted it would take a lot of effort, probably more than most studios are willing to put into these productions, but it’s something that could be done.

Luckily for me though, one of these specific shows I decided to check out from this season’s slate made steps in that direction. The story of The Asterisk War takes place in yet another dystopian version of Earth, but this time the catastrophe called Invertia has led to the introduction of superpowered people called Genestella. One such person is Ayato Amagiri, a high school boy who comes to Asterisk City to study at Seidoukan Academy, who upon his arrival accidentally stumbles into the room of high ranking student Julis while she’s changing. She then challenges him to a duel and, well, you can guess the rest from there.

Now, I’m not going to say The Asterisk War is some grand subversion of the genre, after all the plot and characters here are still very much cookie cutter generic. Ayato is the nice-guy protagonist, Julis in the hotheaded tsundere, and Claudia is a combination between the happy go lucky and ojou-sama types. That being said, The Asterisk War has several things that its competition does not, most notably a sense of restraint and consistently good execution when it comes to pacing and animation. Simply put, this episode wastes no time trying to introduce you to things, starting off with a flashback battle, and immediately moving forward into basic world building and Ayato and Julis’ opening duel. This episode is very good at setting up these things without really having it be too clunky, though the short opening monologue is a little forced. It also doesn’t revel in the more tropey scenes, like when Ayato touches Julis’ boobs at the end of their fight. The show knows we’ve seen that kind of stuff before, and quickly moves past it without so much as a second thought.

Another good thing about this show is the animation, which, while not being one of A1 Pictures best efforts, offers enough energetic battle scenes and clean character animation to make things look fun and frenetic. The character designs are also easy on the eyes, though pretty samey when compared to other shows of the genre.

Overall, The Asterisk War succeeds in a lot of ways most other shows in its genre don’t, though calling it a home run would be a bit extreme. The show definitely has its groan worthy light novel moments, but the amount of effort in the execution makes this episode an easy watch. The pacing is fast and breezy, and the constant story hooks are a nice addition to this action packed episode. There’s no guarantee that this show will hold up well in the future, but it definitely caught my attention with this one. Basically, if I had to recommend you a generic light novel fantasy-harem show from this season, this would be it.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Asterisk War is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation:

You know, I had weirdly high expectations for this one. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was pretty cautious when going into this (After all, the plot summaries I found for this show were vague as hell), but something about Sakurako’s Investigation screamed potential. Maybe it was due to the fact that Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi co-writer Takayo Ikami was doing the series composition, or maybe it was that atmospheric PV, but I immediately singled it out as the sleeper hit of this season. Of course, my terrible luck being omnipresent in everything I do, it turns of that Sakurako’s Investigation was not the secret gem I looking for.

Before I dive into the negatives though, a brief plot summary. The story of Sakurako’s Investigation follows main protagonist Tatewaki Shoutaro, a young high schooler living in the quiet town of Ashikawa City, Hokkaido. Since he doesn’t really have much else to do, he oftens hangs out with a rich woman named Sakurako Kujou, an eccentric Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Brennan/Whatever detective character you want her to be type who specializes in osteology. She constantly searches for bones and loves analyzing the skeletons of dead creatures for interesting facts about their past lives, and one day she and Shoutaro accidentally stumble upon a human skull while searching for more normal specimens on the beach (Is this a thing that osteologists actually do). Shoutaro of course freaks the fuck out and calls the police, but as they’re being taken back to the police station, Sakurako stops the car to examine an ongoing crime scene that looks like a double suicide. GASP!

So if I had to sum up my main complaints with the first episode of Sakurako, it’s that this first episode is trying a bit too hard. Right off the bat, our main character Shoutaro spouts off a long poetic monologue about the nature of life and how Sakurako is strange but tantalizing to his curious teenage mind, and we watch this all unfold as the screen is covered in post-processing bloom and saturation effects. Basically, Sakurako is trying really hard to grab your attention in this episode, and while it succeeds in doing that, there are a few ugly downsides. For one thing, that previously mentioned post-processing kind of ruins the show’s otherwise high quality animation. Sometimes the effects work, like when Shoutaro is first meeting Sakurako in her garden, but most of the times it comes off as gaudy, such as the bone analysis scene near the end of the episode.

It probably also doesn’t help that the script could have used at least one or two more rewrites. While the character chemistry is nice, the opening monologues from Shoutaro should have been cut or shortened down, and some things just aren’t explained when they should be. For example, when Sakurako stops the police car they don’t explain how she can do that. I mean when you really think about it, the show hasn’t mentioned that Sakurako has any connections to the police, so why would the policeman stop the car for her. After all, HE’S TAKING HER INTO THE STATION! Sure, later on they mention that her uncle has some connections to the police, but considering they had a whole scene where Shoutaro talked about how rich she was, they could have at least slipped that one plot necessary detail in there before the damage was already done.

In spite of this, I still rather enjoyed Sakurako’s first episode. It was admittedly plagued with problems, but it also had plenty of interesting ideas and I’m haven’t quite lost hope yet. Sakurako, despite her weird bone obsession and pretty bog standard detective archetype, is still fun to watch, and the animation really is good (When it isn’t completely blurred out by the crappy stylistic choices). So I’m going to give this one a few more episodes! Hopefully the show won’t be trying as hard to impress me by then.

Rating: 3/5

Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation – is available for free streaming on Crunchryoll

Comet Lucifer

Comet Lucifer:

Comet Lucifer is a very intriguing show. This is an original project from studio 8bit, and everything from the character designs, setting, and inclusion of mechs makes this series feels like a riff on Eureka Seven and other classic Bones’ mecha shows, which should be a good thing! I mean, I love Eureka Seven and RahXephon… And yet, so far Comet Lucifer hasn’t really had anything that’s hooked me.

Admittedly speaking, that’s pretty understandable. Most mecha shows have a slow starts, but Comet Lucifer’s calm pacing just didn’t really work for me this time around. On one hand, I like how it just jumps into things without having to deal with overwrought exposition, but on the other hand I’m twenty three minutes into this series and I still have no clue what’s going on. There’s some magical girl who is called a Lima I guess, and that seems to be connected to this underground minerals called Giftium and the planet Gift’s government/military, but everything’s a little too under explained to really make any sense. If there is one compliment about the writing that I have, it would be that the characters are pretty interesting so far. They fit into old mecha archetypes yes, but I feel like they have a unique flavor to their interactions in some places; though that may just be me seeing things.

Technically speaking though, this thing is a pretty good visual showcase from 8bit. They haven’t really worked on much besides a few terrible harem shows and the Grisaia adaptations, and here they show off some pretty good background and CG work. The character designs are a little bit weird (What’s with Sogo’s headband?) and the fluidity isn’t extremely impressive; but the final moments of this episode were a nice treat for the eyes, including the surprisingly well executed mech battle.

That being said, I’m still having some difficulty really pinning down whether or not Comet Lucifer is off to a strong start. I like what it’s trying to do, but its biggest problem is that it hasn’t really grabbed me in any way. Sure, the setting is interesting, the animation is nice, and the characters have some potential, but everything’s a little too vague right now for me to form a coherent opinion. Maybe I’ll check back a few episodes from now to see if anything’s improved.

Rating: 3/5

Comet Lucifer is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Concrete Revolutio:

Concrete Revolutio is a beautiful disaster. Beautiful in the sense that this is yet another nicely animated show from studio Bones, and a disaster in the sense that this show’s first episode is a seemingly haphazard gumbo of plot ideas and murky thematic ideas. Reuniting the creative staff behind Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) and Un-Go, writer Shou Aikawa has been hyping this one up for the past few months, and now that I’ve seen what the show’s all about, I can safely say I’m more confused about with this show was trying to say than I was before it even aired.

Shou Aikawa has never been the cleanest writer, I mean I love FMA 2003, but his other works aren’t necessarily very laudable or interesting; but the coherency of this work is especially baffling to me. It’s clearly trying to say something about superheroes, I mean the aesthetics and characters would seem to suggest that, but so far we’ve only gotten a weird time jumping plot, and a few basic details to really help us settle in. Not to mention, there’s no consistency in genre here, with mechs, witches, and shapeshifters popping in out of this cramped episode. Really that’s the biggest problem here! The episode has so many strange things in it, but none of them really come together very satisfyingly by the end of the episode, leaving me entertained and intrigued by the end, but ultimately a little bit cold.

Luckily though, this first episode at least succeeds on a technical front, though there are still a few hiccups there that I need to address. Starting off with the positives, the character designs and animation here are typical Bones. Bright, expressive, fluid, and often times very impressive. On the other hand, this has to be one of the craziest looking shows I’ve ever seen. While I enjoy the pop art aesthetic the art design has going here, I have to admit that at times they go a little overboard with the screentones and effects. Everyone looks very stylized, but also sort of messy.

At the end of the day though, I couldn’t help but like Concrete Revolutio’s first episode. Even though the script and art design are a bit haphazard, it’s a technically sound show with plenty of interesting ideas. You rarely see such a strange original project like this, and frankly if I didn’t give this show a few more episodes I’d probably be doing it a disservice. I may not like the rest of it, but I’m definitely riding with Concrete Revolutio all the way to the final stop of its strange journey.

Rating: 3.5/5

Concrete Revolutio is available for free streaming on FunimationDaisuki

Lupin

Lupin the Third (2015):

The great Lupin Arsene III is back, baby! And with his brand new two cour TV show comes a new setting, style, and characters. Now I’ll admit, my previous experiences with the Lupin the Third franchise have been few and far between. I’ve seen a few scattered scenes from the original series, and Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Castle of Cagliostro movie, but otherwise I don’t really know much about the famous French thief. Still, it’s not like I needed to know much here, because even with my barebones knowledge this first episode of Lupin’s new series is an absolute blast to watch.

Starting with the technical side of things, Lupin the Third (2015) is an absolutely gorgeous piece of work. Character designs pop with a sleek retro flair, and the Italian setting is filled with breathtaking backgrounds and vistas. It also helps that this setting is punctuated by musical arrangements which really capture the sounds of classic Lupin hijinx and Italian romanticism. Everything is consistently well animated, and the aesthetics in general give this episode a sense of personality and class you don’t see in a lot of run of the mill seasonal anime.

Of course, it also helps that this series has some new characters and ideas to help make this otherwise typical Lupin heist more interesting. The episode starts off with a bang, beginning with Lupin’s marriage to the rich and cunning Rebecca Rossellini, and it sets up our old character’s chemistry with precision and ease. Afterwards things only get crazier, with Lupin running on the roofs of an Italian city, dealing with Fujiko’s trickery, and a final episode twist that makes Rebecca’s addition to the cast feel like more than just a pointless first episode inclusion.

Simply put, this new iteration of Lupin the Third is a lot of fun. It may not have the daring philosophy of Sayo Yamamoto’s The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, but it definitely delivers classic episodic Lupin in the most stylish and impressive way it can. It may become a little rote as time goes on, but even if I do end up getting bored of its episodic plotlines, the visual execution is enough to keep me hooked. Go check it out if you’re interested!

Rating: 4/5

Lupin the Third (2015) is currently not available for legal streaming in North America

Okada Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans:

Hooray for new Gundam! That’s right, many of you don’t know this, but I’m actually really like Gundam… Granted, I’ve only seen half of Turn A and a little bit of 08th MS Team, but huge franchises like Gundam have always fascinated me. What makes Gundam popular? What makes a good Gundam show? In fact, I’ve become so interested in Gundam that I have a new project for this site based around it.

Anyways, pointless teasing aside, this new Gundam series tells the story of Mikazuki Augus and his buddies Orgus, Biscuit, Eugene, and Akihiro, who live in an old crappy CGS (Chryses Guard Security) base on Mars. One day they’re personally chosen by Kudelia Aina Bernstein, the naive daughter of famous politician, to escort her to Earth for a diplomatic mission. You see, like most Gundam shows, the Mars city of Chryses is currently in rebellion against the Earth faction, hoping to gain independence from the Earth’s government. However, with the leaders of Earth desperate to stop this peace mission, will the CGS team be able to survive with outdated technology and a scrapped together Gundam, or will they fail to protect Kudelia and lead the rebellion to its inevitable end.

Now what I love about this show is just how tightly scripted it is. Don’t get me wrong, this series is also a great action spectacle, with Sunrise clearly giving their all of the project, but Mari Okada’s script is what keeps this thing intriguing, fast paced, and intensely engaging throughout. Mari Okada has always been a bit of an inconsistent writer, but here she clearly and consistently showcases her understanding of character interaction and depth throughout the episode’s runtime. The characters never stop to spout pointless exposition, and are constantly delivering any necessary world building through naturalistic conversations laced with personality and playfulness. There’s never a dull moment, and I love how each character interacts differently. From the cultural clash of Mikazuki and Kudelia, to the playful banter between Orga and his crew members, everyone feels distinct and memorable.

In the end, it turns out the same team who made Anohana and Toradora can also make a damn good Gundam. There’s still a lot of mystery behind what’s going to happen in future episodes, and the villains and causes of both sides haven’t been made all that clear yet; but otherwise this first episode was on point. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is an exhilarating, well written, and overall great ride. Check it out!

Rating: 4.5/5

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans is available for free streaming on Daisuki, Hulu, Funimation, & Crunchyroll

Osomatsu

Mr. Osomatsu-san:

Mr. Osomatsu was by far the most unexpected surprise for me this season. Sure, I knew that it had the possibility of being good, I mean the staff of the original Gintama TV series are working on it after all, but I didn’t expect the first episode to be this funny. Being the cold hearted bastard I am, even shows that I think are funny don’t often make me laugh out loud, and yet in just 23 minutes, Osomatsu had me audibly laughing at pretty much all of its gags.

The premise of this episode is simple, the Osomatsu sextuplets (From an actual anime that aired during the Showa era) are told that their getting a new anime season in celebration of their mangaka’s 80th birthday. Initially they’re excited, but as Choromatsu (The obvious straight man of this comedy act) points out,  their time has passed and their once popular gags are now uninteresting and dated. So they do what they need to and try to become every popular show in the modern anime industry. They become glossy idols, go to a prestigious academy with a BL system, fight titans, play sports, dress up as Love Live characters, until finally everything collapses and they fall right back into square one.

Now that may sound kind of typical by anime comedy standards, after all most modern light novels have otaku referential humor in their writing and that doesn’t necessarily make them good! However, what makes Mr. Osomatsu stand out is its execution. Perfect comedic timing and direction can go a long way in making and seemingly tired premise hilarious, and with the Gintama staff here each moment packs a real punch. The gags are strong, the different visual styles are fun and fit each joke they’re paired with, and everything is extremely well paced. And besides a drawn out gag during the next episode preview, the show feels very smooth and natural, which really helps this episode become a fun and easy watch. So yeah, you might want to check this one out! You may be skeptical at first, but trust me when I say this is one of the best episodes of anime comedy I’ve seen in a very long time.

Rating: 4/5

Mr. Osomatsu-san is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

One-Punch Man

One-Punch Man:

Out of all the anime that were set to air this season, One-Punch Man was the one with the most hype surrounding it. It’s based off an extremely well liked manga, features a strong action premise, and has one Space Dandy’s main directors heading it with the talented staff at studio  Madhouse. Even though I knew little to nothing about, I was also getting swept up in the sea of pre-release excitement, and luckily for me One-Punch Man definitely met my expectations!

Starting off with a brief synopsis, our story here follows Saitama, an unemployed business, who one day decides to save a big chinned kid from the supervillain Crablante. Afterwards, he realizes his passion for heroism and trains hard for three years, losing all of his hair and becoming the strongest man in the world. Sadly for him, being super strong turns out to be super boring, since every enemy he encounters (Including a towering steroid muscle man) can be defeated by him with a single punch from his red-gloved fist.

That might sound somewhat boring and repetitive for a superhero story, but in execution One-Punch Man is a perfect storm of fun action, understated comedy, and tight scripting. I love Saitama. His struggle for a feeling of excitement is both easy to relate to and great to laugh at, especially as he dreams about saving the world from terrifying subterranean monsters, only to wake up and realize that even those monsters can’t match up to his strength. It’s an interesting take on the superhero genre, and gives the experience an overall light and easy to digest tone.

It also helps that this show has some great visual presentation and production quality as well. The original manga was always partially defined by its visceral and well drawn art, and the series under the direction of sakuga veteran Shingo Natsume is a joy to watch. The fight scenes are very dynamic here, focusing on intense motion and constant fluidity that keeps the action moving quickly. Sometimes the models can get messy, but that seems to be more of a stylistic choice rather than a budget limitation.

So basically what I’m saying here is that One-Punch Man really is as good as everyone else says it is. From the hilarious antics of Saitama, to the great animation work, this show can appeal both to casual anime fans and hardcore animation buffs. An easy choice for the best premiere of the Fall 2015 season.

Rating 5/5

One-Punch Man is available for free streaming on Hulu & Daisuki

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The Perfect Insider:

Ending this post off on a high note, The Perfect Insider was my second pick for being a potential underground hit this season, and luckily for me this one was actually very intriguing. The basic story here follows Moe Nishinosono, a college student who’s in love with her brilliant, but antisocial professor Sohei Saikawa. Moe often spends her days visting his office, teasing and flirting with him seemingly on a whim, and one day she discovers he has a profound interest in a mysterious girl named Dr. Shiki Magata. Shiki was almost convicted of the murder of her parents, but was let go on an insanity plea, which seems somewhat accurate due to her insistence that a “Doll” killed them instead of her. Not willing to be out done by another potential love interest for Sohei, she interrogates her, and then decides to take herself, Sohei, and a few of her college classmates to the island she lives on. May the mystery of Shiki’s strange personality begin (Along with an upcoming murder mystery, as seen in the many promotional teasers for this thing)!

Now if there’s one complaint that I have with this opening episode, it’s that it’s trying a little too hard to wow the audience. However, while Sakurako tried to impress with visual bombast and ridiculously flowery prose, The Perfect Insider is much more hoity toity in tone, featuring long monologues comparing humans to computers, existential questions, an artistic OP and ED, and this is all made complete with a classic orchestral track to kick off the episode proper. In other words, The Perfect Insider is trying say that it’s smart, and while that definitely appeals to me, it ends up slowing down this episode a lot. It’s basically one long conversation between the cast members, and unless you find yourself interested in said cast, you’re likely not going to enjoy this episode.

Personally I did though, mostly due to the fact that the characters and ideas here are definitely my cup of tea. Contemporary mystery fiction with a speculative philosophical bent is a genre that always gets me, and it also helps Moe, Sohei, and Shiki all seem genuinely multi-faceted even with the limited amount of time I’ve seen them. Sohei Saikawa is antisocial smart ass, whose beliefs are childish and meanspirted, while Shiki is an intriguing child genius with a puzzle like past that makes her interesting from the moment she first speaks. The only one who comes close to being not as interesting is Moe, who despite being the most likable character in the cast, is mostly just a deceptively smart girl obsessed with Sohei and not much else. Still, she has room to improve, and once she stops wanting to get Sohei’s attention I’m betting she’ll become a much more clever and biting character.

Overall, The Perfect Insider was exactly the show I needed to cap off the Fall season. It’s probably one of the most ambitious shows of the season, and while it’s a bit dry in this first episode, it got me hooked nonetheless. Of course it probably helps that presentation wise this show looks really nice. As I said before, the OP and ED are absolutely stellar, and Inio Asano’s crisp, yet modern character designs are always easy on the eyes. Basically, I highly recommend this show to those of you who like strange, artsy anime like this. So far it’s the most interesting show out of every noitamina project that has aired this year.

Rating: 4/5

The Perfect Insider is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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