Anime Lookout: Winter 2016

Wow, two seasons in a row… It’s a miracle!

That’s right everyone, I’m back for yet another generic aniblog post that covers random episodes from the new season. Exciting, isn’t it? Flaccid sarcasm aside though, I’m going to be quite honest when I say I had basically the lowest expectations going into this season. Besides a few anime with PRESTIGE written on their foreheads, most of the shows I watched this season were entirely on a whim, or for the sake of my lame curiosity (Why else would I watch SANZIGEN’s new show?). As such, I ended watching some real garbage, but sometimes that’s fun.

Considering this is the month my school finals are happening, it’s kind of nice to find an easy release for my frustration. I also went out of my way to talk about the best of the best, so if you’re here just to see what is good, don’t worry! You won’t have to wade through too much crap. Another tidbit I would like to point out is that I won’t be spouting off plot summaries here, so if you want one, click on any of the title links to get transferred to the series’ MAL page. Anyways on with the post!

Active Raid

Active Raid:

Around this same time last year, a little show called Maria the Virgin Witch aired. Directed by Goro Taniguchi, it was one of my personal favorite shows of 2015, featuring a fleshed out cast of loveable characters and a plot and setting that dived into some interesting themes about feminism and religious organizations. And now Taniguchi is back, this time with an original project that seems more in line with his sci-fi roots in Code Geass and Planetes. So going into this I had some decently high expectations, I wasn’t expecting another Maria obviously, but I still had hope!

Luckily, Active Raid is pretty fun! This episode features many glaring issues, yes, but the overall tone and concept seem to suggest this will be a pretty fun Patlabor-esque series. In fact, Patlabor may be the best comparison I can think of for Active Raid, since both have a strong focus on the mundanity of their futuristic mecha-cop societies. Active Raid’s downplayed much less than Patlabor, which can occasionally feel like a police documentary, but the way it constantly pokes fun at main character Asami Kazari’s melodramatic love of justice and ridiculously over the top goals really give the show a sense of routine. These characters are clearly just performing their usual day jobs, even if their day at work consists of fighting minors robbing banks in powerful robotic armor.

My only real complaint with this episode writing wise would have to the exposition. The episode opens up with Asami talking to herself on the train ride to work, and while this does showcase her intense personality, it’s also pretty lazy. Just because you’re dumping exposition in a semi-endearing way, doesn’t mean you’re not dumping said exposition. Otherwise though, things are pretty smooth here. Scenes flow together nicely, and the rapport between cast members is solid and engaging.

Production wise, Production IMS delivers a pretty decent package too. Character designs, while not very expressive, are pretty unique; and the CGI animation from Orange is surprisingly decent. Weirdly enough, the most annoying part of this episode’s presentation would have to be the soundtrack, which is way too bombastic. The trumpets and orchestra never stop blaring their horns from beginning to end, causing a lot of the calmer scenes to be tonally awkward.

Still, Active Raid is off to an intriguing start. There’s no guarantee that it will maintain this level of quality, but I’m definitely willing to stick with it for a few more episodes.

Rating: 3.5/5

Active Raid is available for free-streaming on Crunchyroll

Bubuki Buranki

Bubuki Buranki:

CGI anime suck! Okay that’s an exaggeration, fully CGI anime suck. To this day, I have never seen a show that has successfully looked good entirely in CGI. Some have decent CGI mechs, cars, etc, but not one has had a single good looking CGI character model. It’s hard to really put my finger on why, but if I had to guess it’s probably because there’s too much frame cutting, too little texture, and not enough experience behind the art form. TV anime simply isn’t up to speed yet with western CGI techniques, and even movies like Expelled from Paradise struggle to make things look good on a movie budget (A Toei movie budget, but hey, it’s a bigger budget nonetheless).

Bubuki Buranki’s first shot both wowed and disgusted me. It starts off with a panning shot of an absolutely gorgeous background. A sunset dipping below the skyline over a vast forest and craggy rocks covering the landscape. And then, as if to say, “Fuck you,” the show reveals a young CGI girl awkwardly climbing up the mountain. Hnnggg…

And the worst part about this is that everything besides the CGI is incredibly solid. The backgrounds are amazingly detailed, with every setting screaming personality along with the solid art design. Everything comes together to create a stunning fantasy world. A floating continent, ginormous titans, strange living weapons. All of these concepts are great, and the writing really backs it up with some solid pacing. The characters aren’t particularly amazing, but they have distinct motivations and personalities right off the bat. My only real complaint is that the second half is a little weaker than the first, but overall this introductory episode is uniformly excellent. In any season, including a weaker one like this, Bubuki Buranki would get a solid 4.5 from me…

But that CGI!

I was able to look past it for the most part, I mean at least they are trying their best; but this could be a serious deal breaker for many other viewers. Everyone moves like a stiff robot, and the uncanny valley is just too strong. It’s up there with Knights of Sidonia as one of those shows that should get more love, but don’t due to their use of crappy CGI. Will I keep watching Bubuki Buranki? Hell yes! The direction is great, the world is intriguing, and those backgrounds are mouthwatering. How could I not keep watching it!? But that’s only because I’m forcing myself through its rougher patches.

Rating: 4/5

Bubuki Buranki is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

Dagashi Kashi

Dagashi Kashi:

Dagashi Kashi feels like a show stuck between two extremes. On one hand it wants to be generic anime comedy, producing a variety of overreaction and fanservice gags throughout the episode, but on the other it wants to be a low key slice of life show. These two things clash a lot more than you’d think, and in the end I’m not sure what to call Dagashi Kashi. The gags are a little too over the top to gel with the farm town atmosphere, and Hotaru’s character in general feels out of place. Then again, that’s probably the point. I mean she is a wealthy, candy-obsessed girl with a striking appearance, and eyes that make her look like she’s constantly on the verge of either attacking or seducing you. Her standing out should be a no brainer.

In general though, I weirdly enjoyed Dagashi Kashi’s first episode. I went in expecting raucous trash, but when I finished the episode I was happy and upbeat. The show’s tonal inconsistencies aside, Dagashi Kashi is a very comfortable watch. Sitting back and watching these character interact is a lot of fun, and everyone has enough distinct personality to sell the otherwise paper thin narrative here. The show couldn’t even make a full episode out of its content, breaking it up into two distinct halves, which focus on introducing the two main love interests for our milk toast protagonist Kokonatsu, or Coconuts as he is lovingly nicknamed. Gags come slow, and the overall pacing is chilled back, but I can’t deny that it has a strange appeal to it.

That may have something to do with the striking character designs and solid production work from Studio Feel. Last year they proved they could easily handle a more sakuga heavy production with My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU! TOO, and this anime continues to showcase their surprising talent. While the actual animation isn’t all that spectacular, everything has enough personality and polish to really please the eyes. It all comes together to create a good atmosphere and a sense of self that the genre confused writing often lacks. During the episode, I just sat back and relaxed, enjoying the small town candy shop and cafe the show was presenting me.

So all and all, I can’t deny that I actually liked Dagashi Kashi. Like I said before, I wasn’t expecting much from this one. Manic Pixie Dream girl shows usually aren’t my thing, but the serene feel and general lack of abrasive jokes really helped this one stand out to me. I’m not sure if I’ll stick around for long after this, but I certainly am intrigued by what the rest of the series will have to offer.

Rating: 3/5

Dagashi Kashi is available for free streaming on Funimation.com

Dimension W

Dimension W:

So this is probably one of the most hyped shows of the season. After all, this is Funimation’s first effort in being part of an anime’s production committee. I could go into detail about how this saves them money and overall gives them better input into what shows they get to license, but that’s honestly a topic for another post; and it isn’t very indicative of Dimension W’s actual quality. That being said, I’d like to congratulate Funi, because I really enjoyed this first episode!

The premise here is pretty simple, taking place in a cyberpunk-esque world while following the lives of Kyouma Mabuchi, a man stuck in the age of gasoline, and Mira, a strange and highly advanced robot. As you can probably tell from that description, the world of Dimension W isn’t very unique. However, if there’s one setting I absolutely love it’s one that’s built off contrasting elements. The clash between Kyouma’s samurai ways and society’s coil based energy really helps flesh out both the characters and the world. Kyouma is stuck in the past, and as society awkwardly transitions into the future, he’s going to have to learn to accept this new way of life. Combine this with some nice character chemistry and some generally smooth dialogue, and you’ve got yourself a nice opening episode.

Of course it also helps that Dimension W has a really cool aesthetic. When I first saw the PVs for this show I was kind of turned off by the bright colors and flat looking character designs, but in execution everything looks great. The lighting is fun and dynamic, and while some of the more comic book touches to the direction feel out of place, it overall is pretty impressive.

My only real complaint direction wise is would have to be that the pacing is a little awkward, and there’s a little too much Mira fanservice. This is likely due to director Kanta Kamei’s previous work on slice of life shows like Saekano and Usagi Drop. It’s not necessarily all that noticeable, but the more slice of life touches can feel a little janky next to the obviously action premise. Not to mention, Mira’s character can often be undercut by the overabundance of booty shots. I understand she has a plug in tail, and that is pretty darn cute, but let’s not overdo it okay?

Overall though I actually had a fun time with Dimension W. The episode breezed by for me pretty fast, and I enjoyed a lot of things it did. At this point there’s still a lot of opportunities to squander its potential, but I still recommend at least a quick look. It’s one of the best premieres this season.

Rating: 4/5

Dimension W is available for free streaming on Funimation.com

Erased

Erased:

Holy crap, this was a great opening episode! I mean Dimension W was pretty good too, but this is on a whole nother level. For one thing this show is gorgeously and consistently well animated. A-1 Pictures have been known in recent years for being a shaky studio, but here director Tomohiko Ito really brings his A-game, delivering some thrilling visuals in combination with the crisp and unique character designs. Say what you want about Ito’s previous work (Sword Art Online), but here he definitely showcases the peak of his talents. Each scene pops with just enough flair to grab your attention, but not enough to detract from the down to earth tone.

Yes, I said down to earth. Despite some obviously fantastical elements, everything here is downplayed. This is fitting, since the core story here is a thriller and our main character, Satoru Fujinuma, is a down-on-his-luck artist. He dreams of being a mangaka, but as he grows older he can’t help but regret the past and hate himself for it. Not only does this make Satoru an incredibly relatable lead, but it makes his ability that forces him to fix what are essentially “past regrets” an incredibly poignant addition to the story on a thematic level. What could have easily been a plot detail used entirely as a mcguffin, instead feels like an integral piece to the overall narrative.

It also helps that even with all this nice character stuff, Erased is a compelling mystery all on its own. The plot here is brimming with interesting little details, and I already want to discover who murdered and abducted Kayo Hinazuki those many years ago. What really sold this to me though were the final moments with Satoru’s Mom. First episode death scenes are usually not very well written (Probably due to the fact that characters don’t have enough time to be developed during the span of 23 minutes), but it worked! The way her thoughts drifted to her son and his childhood trauma in her final moments hit hard; and having such an intense moment to kick off the series really got me hooked. I may have no clue where Erased is heading in future episodes, but this opening showcase was enough to make me jump on board.

Rating: 5/5

Erased is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll & Funimation.com

Grimgar

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash:

A new year, a new MMO anime. Yep, just when you thought you might get a multi-season break from the Overlords and SAOs that have been dominating the anime landscape for the past few years, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash shows up (From the same studio that animated SAO weirdly enough). Now I think I can speak for myself a lot of other critics, when I say that this genre is a bit overplayed at this point. I mean .hack did this in the 2000’s already, but that was just one franchise. These new MMO anime are adaptations of almost identical light novel series. It’s a bit tiring, so if you want to stand out you’ve got to have something unique to bring to the table…

Grimgar’s major distinctions seem to be that it’s very well animated and the characters don’t know they’re in an MMO… Well, that’s at least something.

In all seriousness though, Grimgar is actually decent, though that’s probably because of the previously mentioned art design and animation. Director Ryosuke Nakamura of Mouryou no Hako fame is heading the series here, and he brings with him a sense of personality and experience that you don’t see that often. For one thing the character animation here is very distinct, with each character moving organically throughout their beautifully rendered environment. There’s a sense of spatial awareness, and the rough watercolor backgrounds help make this generic fantasy setting feel alive and unique.

Besides the stellar art design though, there isn’t a whole lot to say about this first episode. The pacing here is incredibly slow, taking on a more slice of life feel. It spends a lot of time on character interactions, which would be a good thing, but when Ranta (The Dark Knight) starts blabbering on about girls and boob sizes it kind of ruins the whole appeal. Inconsistencies aside, I like how the show has yet to really focus on the MMO aspects of its world. It could have easily overplayed that piece of the narrative, but instead their ignoring it to make it feel more realistic. I actually felt like I was getting sucked into these character’s lives within Grimgar. I could sense the tension in their fights with the goblins, I could understand the serene peacefulness of waking up early in the morning, and the fear of being trapped in an unfamiliar place.

That being said, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting if it truly wants to win me over. I love the aesthetic and world, but the characters and plot just aren’t quite up to snuff. I’ll likely check out the next few episodes of this for curiosity’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything too great here.

Rating: 3/5

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is available for free streaming on Funimation.com

HaruChika

Haruchika: Haruta and Chika:

I have a pretty weird relationship with P.A. Works. Having only seen three of their shows to date, I can safely say that each one of them has provoked a wildly different reaction from me. On one hand Charlotte was a massive disaster, but on the other Shirobako is perfect and anyone who tells you otherwise is tra– Perfectly reasonable with their opinions, I guess. So yeah, I kind of went into this one not really knowing what to expect. Was it any good?

Eh.

Haruchika: Haruta and Chika (Damn, that’s a poorly localized title) is probably not going to blow anyone’s socks off, but I still kind of enjoyed this first episode. Not greatly mind you. The mystery stuff going on here is already wearing my patience. I mean it probably doesn’t help that I was only in a brass band for one semester of middle school, but deciphering a musical melody for a cheesy love message isn’t exactly the most compelling plot I’ve ever seen. Still, after watching The Perfect Insider and Ranpo Kitan last year, I’ve learned that the mysteries in these shows usually aren’t the main focus, instead opting for a more character focused tone.

Luckily that part of the series fairs a little better. Chika Homura isn’t exactly the most interesting protagonist, often coming off as little too dumb and self inserty, but she’s got some nice spunk and her chemistry with childhood friend Haruta is surprisingly decent. Haruta though is the real standout of the cast, not necessarily because he’s this instantly compelling dude, but because of just how unique he is in terms of anime characters. As the end of the episode suggest, Haruta is in love with the brass band’s music teacher Mr. Kusakabe; which is great! It’s rare to see an openly gay main character in anime, especially in a show as seemingly generic as this one.

Discovering your own sexual identity is a major part of adolescence, and while I don’t expect Haruchika to dig particularly deep into that subject, having a character like this is a success in any medium. The show never paints him with any gay stereotypes either, sure there’s a few lines about him being feminine, but otherwise you probably wouldn’t ever guess! Is this spectacular writing? No. But it is something you don’t see very often, and I appreciate that.

Ending things off with a brief production analysis, I’m actually kind of surprised by how unimpressive this show looks. Oh don’t get me wrong, this show doesn’t look completely awful, but it doesn’t have any of the jaw dropping moments of quality you’d typically expect from P.A. Works. The backgrounds are alright, the fluidity here is barebones, and the character designs are just barely passable. Chika’s character design in particular strikes me as pretty below average, with her multicolored eyes and way too poofy hair standing out as strange eyesores. Still, it certainly isn’t the worst looking show I’ve seen. Like the rest of the show’s content it does just enough to get me interested, and while I’m not sure how long this intrigue will last, I’ll definitely watch at least a few more episodes.

Rating: 2.5/5

Haruchika: Haruta and Chika is available for free streaming on Funimation.com

Myriad Colors Phantom World

Myriad Colors Phantom World:

When looking at the Winter season chart, this show jumped out to me pretty quickly. Not because Kyoto Animation was animating it, but because it was KyoAni show that was based off a light novel harem series. Right off the bat, that very concept sent shivers down my spine. I know Kyoto Animation have their own publishing house now, and they really want to release these anime adaptations to make that sweet sweet cash; but did they really have to adapt this? It has all the hallmarks of a bad series: Archetypal characters, a fantasy high school setting, and a ridiculously bland design for the main character, among other grievances. It was reminding me a lot of Kyoukai no Kanata, the other KyoAni produced light novel trash spectacle released in 2013.

Of course calling Myriad Colors Phantom World complete trash might be a bit of a stretch. After all this is a Kyoto Animation production, and as such it has way better color design, consistency, and visual effects work than pretty much any other show that’s airing this season. But let’s not kid ourselves here into thinking that anything else here is worthwhile, because yeah, this show is really bad.

I never really knew just how samey these shows were, but after having watched this only a season after The Asterisk War, I’m baffled by just how generic these shows  Not only are the baseline premises incredibly similar, but the way it repeats the same plot points in almost the exact same order is hilariously awful. Myraid Colors does have a few legs up on the competition in terms of these teenager’s special abilities (I mean I’ve never seen a little girl suck a bunch of monsters into her mouth, I’ll give it that), but that doesn’t mean much in the face of this thing’s overwhelming blandness. It also tries to do the whole Saekano thing by having the main character occasionally crack jokes about how bad the shtick is here, but like Saekano that only made this show worse.

Because I know Kyoto Animation can do better. It’s not a case like Amagi Brilliant Park, which I can at least respect the kind of niche it’s filling; because frankly the world already has too many light novel harem fantasy adaptations! I understand that sometimes you need to milk that cash cow, but after Sound! Euphonium this one’s kind of a kick in the face.

Rating: 1.5/5

Myriad Colors Phantom World is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

Prince of Stride

Prince of Stride: Alternative:

Prince of Stride: Alternative is dumb. I mean this anime is basically the definition of cheesy and extreme, taking the high campiness of Free’s first season and combining it with the crazy color palette and direction of Atsuko Ishizuka at Madhouse. That may sound bad, especially if you’re not a fan of Ishizuka’s previous works (No Game No Life, Hanayamata), but in execution it honestly isn’t.

Like a lot of modern day fujoshi hits, Prince of Stride is very much in the vein of Kuroko’s Basketball and Haikyuu!! Cute boys with archetypal personalities participating in a high octane sport, along with their surprisingly cute female manager. This one actually takes it a step further than most, probably because this series’ particular sport is parkour, but also because it’s based off an otome game. Yep, there’s going to be romance in this one! But luckily, this first episode doesn’t really dive into that. Instead it focuses on forming the club and just having a good old time. A scene that stands out to me in particular is the match at the end of the episode, which is fast, tense, and in general a really fun watch. Seeing everyone jump around the school is a lot of fun, even if it is just simplistic fun.

However, the animation and character designs here are not impressive. Despite this being a Madhouse production, the animation here isn’t very exceptional and everything looks very simplistic in terms of shading and detail. Ishizuka’s typical love of bloom lighting and bright colors actually does a lot to help this series though. She’s been in the directing game for a long time, and it shows. Every shot is filled with personality, and it really helps elevate an otherwise generic and blandly produced opening episode.

As I said before, Prince of Stride: Alternative is dumb. And that’s okay. Right now this is a perfectly passable genre piece, which will likely please anyone looking for a goofy fun time and hot, eye-catching boys. It may not be for me, but it certainly isn’t a waste of space.

Rating: 2.5/5

Prince of Stride: Alternative is available for free streaming on Funimation.com

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is the kind of anime that’s going to turn off a lot of people. Mostly because it’s a slow atmospheric piece built around subtle character drama, but also because its central focus is so alien to western culture. The theater art called Rakugo is something I had never heard of before this show, and I’m going to be quite honest when I say I still don’t really know what it is. From what I can tell, it’s a one man show where a story teller portrays multiple characters through a narrative that usually has a funny and moralistic ending. However, even though I don’t know much about the art form, the show is so excellently made that it made me want to know more about it.

This is because Rakugo’s cast and character writing is great. I was skeptical going in, because even if this thing is based off a highly praised josei manga, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good when it’s put into the hands of Jun Kumagai. In case you don’t know who this is, Jun Kumagai is probably one of my least favorite writers in anime. Not only has he worked on the terrible anime adaptations for the Persona games, but he also helped write Psycho Pass 2, and he wrote the worst episode in Terror in Resonance. That’s not a particularly good track record, but luckily for me it turns out adaptations like this might be his secret talent. After all, a manga is much more simple to narrow down than a 70 hour RPG, and this episode flows by with precision and ease.

The cast here is incredibly likable, with Yotaro’s struggle to find his own artistic voice particularly relatable to me. However, saying he’s a best character would be a lie, because everyone so far is brilliant. From Miyochiki’s struggle with her desire to be a rakugo performer in spite of her gender, to Yakumo’s smart, inviting, yet harsh demeanor, everyone’s very interesting from the get go. You can feel their passion for the art of rakugo, and the strong direction and shot composition really enhance the already stellar material.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this is a really good looking show. Studio Deen doesn’t have a particularly good track record, often being sighted as one the worst anime studios working in the medium, but they’ve really brought their A-game here. Shinichi Omata, director of the strangely decent Sankarea, has a strong grasp on what makes a shot look great, with every frame feeling very purposeful. Before this episode, if you had told me that one of my favorite premieres this season featured a 10 minute scene where a guy literally just sits and performs a monologue, I would have laughed. But I was hooked! Never before has 10 minutes of theater monologuing flown by so quickly and with such intensity. Technically speaking this episode is a combination of two previously released OVA’s, but with such strong direction I find it hard to believe that even this show could ever look truly awful.

In the end, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is really worth a look for anyone craving a unique and impressive character drama. The appeal here is definitely niche, but the execution is so strong that I can’t not recommend. It’s at least worth one try.

Rating: 4.5/5

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s