Anime Lookout | Summer 2016

So you may be wondering why this post is a little later than usual. Well, due to a long vacation in Europe I missed every premiere until this week. Not that I’m complaining, I mean Europe is pretty amazing. Still, I felt kind of guilty considering Anime Lookout is my only consistent post series, so I tried to watch as many shows I could without completely short circuiting my brain. Anyways, I hope you enjoy the post!

P.S. I would probably be complaining about Berserk’s CGI right now, but I still haven’t watched the first season.

91 Days

91 Days:

Out of all the original projects airing this season, I’d have to say 91 Days is the one I was looking forward to the most, though that isn’t saying a lot considering I was also pretty skeptical about it. Sure, the series composer has done good work in the past, the director has a decent filmography, and the prohibition era mafia premise is quite enticing to me as a history buff, but I still couldn’t help be go into this first episode cautiously. After all, original projects are always a gamble, whether they have good staff or not, and it doesn’t help that this is the first major original project from studio Shuka. Luckily for me though, 91 Days completely blew away my light expectations.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about 91 Days during it’s opening minutes, is that the show is very obviously inspired by classic American crime cinema. From the cold text opener, to the intense gun fight kicking off protagonist Avilio’s revenge story, you can immediately tell the show is going for a very classic noir tone. I mean the first episode is called Night of the Murder, that should pretty much tell you everything you need to know about what this premiere. Avilio’s family gets murdered, he starts his revenge plan after receiving a mysterious letter, and he and his buddy Corteo attempt to start a connection with the Mafia that ruined his life.

However, saying that 91 Days is just another noir/gangster story would be selling its successes very short. For one thing, the direction and animation here is on point. It emulates the cold tone and dulcet colors of early noir perfectly, in combination with the beautiful jazzy soundtrack backing the episode’s more somber moments. Those opening ten minutes are a delight if you’re a fan of this style, and the rest of the episode more than delivers with interesting set up. Of course, that’s probably the biggest problem with this premiere.

Even though 91 Days has a lot of potential, and while I was definitely hooked by the series’ visual quality and the little historical facts scattered throughout the episode, I can’t say the anime has completely erased my doubt for the show’s future quality. Still, that doesn’t stop me from recommending this premiere. It may not give too many hints as to the series’ future direction, but the spot on aesthetics and clear dedication from the staff trying to capture this show’s time period makes this an easy watch. This is definitely an anime to look out for.

Rating: 4/5

91 Days is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

Amanchu!

Amanchu!:

Junichi Sato is a master of the slice of life genre. While he may have started off his career with classic magical girl shows like Sailor Moon and Princess Tutu, it’s with his work on Aria the Animation and Tamayura that he really cemented himself as a craftsmen of heartwarming iyashikei anime. And like most Junichi Sato slice of lifes, Amanchu is focused on being one thing and one thing only: Relaxing. So if you’re not a fan of slow, often meandering shows about the beauty of living in a seaside town, well then this anime is definitely not for you. Luckily for everyone else though, there’s a lot to appreciate about this introductory episode.

Firstly, I absolutely love the art design and animation here. Some people will admittedly be put off by the cast’s designs, especially considering how often their faces change into ugly chibi stares, but I personally think they’re really cute. Each character has a unique look, and their personalities are conveyed nice and subtly through smooth and crisp animation. However, the truly beautiful thing about Amanchu is the general tone and setting design, which revels in the quaint beauty of small town architecture juxtaposed with the vast intensity of the ocean. It’s a typical style Sato employs, and it creates a delightfully sleepy atmosphere.

Writing wise there’s not much to talk about. Once again, the show isn’t very concerned about setting up dramatic stakes or complex characters, but that doesn’t mean that two main girls aren’t fun to watch. Futaba’s fish out of water situation is simple and relatable, and her shyness contrasts nicely against the manic energy of Hikari. Their interactions are sweet and endearing, and do just enough to get you invested in their day to day activities.

Speaking of those activities, I’m really looking forward to seeing these two scuba dive in future episodes. It’s something I haven’t really seen before in animation, and the opening sequence (with a beautiful song courtesy of Maaya Sakamoto) makes the prospect of diving into the ocean way more appealing than it ever has been for me in real life. In a way that perfectly sums up what makes shows like Amanchu work. It’s escapism in its easiest and most effective form, taking you to a world where the sea is inviting and the sun is always shining. And sometimes, that’s really all you need.

Rating: 4/5

Amanchu is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

Battery the Aniamtion

Battery the Animation:

Battery, above all else, is a return to Noitamina’s roots. You see, way back at the beginning of the programming block, Noitamina was less known for big experimental projects like Psycho Pass and Guilty Crown than it was subtle character dramas based off josei manga or adult novels. Sure, they’ve had many shows like that since they started to become a bigger enterprise, but nothing has ever really been quite as low key as they’re earlier works. Surprisingly though, Battery seems to be fitting into that mold pretty well, not only because it’s directed by the same guy who worked on House of Five Leaves, but also because Battery is nothing if not restrained.

Right off the bat, Battery establishes that it’s not trying to wow you with any impressive baseball matches or visual spectacle. Sure, the character designs from Takako Shimura are crisp and inviting, but the animation from studio Zero G remains fairly limited. In fact, a majority of the episode is focused on setting up the core relationship between the two main leads, Takumi Harada and Go Nakagura. Most of this premiere is dialogue based, and one of my favorite parts about these conversations is their surprising subtlety. I feel like most anime writers would try to showcase this duo’s personality through big on the nose set pieces, but here their dynamic is delivered through small differences in the way they speak and interact with the supporting cast. Takumi is forceful and brash, but the show never directly says this. You can just tell from the awkwardness in his conversations with his family, and how he tends to distance himself from those around him. He and Go strike a nice contrast, since Go is a much more upbeat and positive personality he is constantly challenging Takumi’s very rigid views on baseball and life.

In general, the major focus of Battery seems to be less about the actual central sport than it is the development of Takumi as a character. From here on out, the show will likely focus pretty heavily on Takumi’s perspective on sports and life, and how Go and his little brother Seiha will slowly cause him to grow up and become a better person. He’s a little unlikable, but that seems to be the point. And really, I kind of enjoy that. Battery may not get your heart pumping or excite you with its first episode, but it’s quiet confidence and lean writing showcase a promising future. This kind of sports drama definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re a fan of more character focused series like Cross Game then you’ll likely love what Battery has to offer.

Rating: 4/5

Battery is available for paid streaming on Amazon Prime

Cheer Boys!!

Cheer Boys!!:

If there was one thing I noticed when looking at this summer’s seasonal chart, it was that this season is full of fujoshi shows. Which is actually pretty great when you think about it! After years of female otaku only getting the occasional reverse harem, they’re finally getting a wider variety of cute and sexy entertainment. From the high class sports cheese of Free and Kuroko’s Basketball, to the idol hamminess of Starmyu and Uta no Prince-sama, there has never been a better time for equal opportunity fanservice in the industry. That being said, like most male fanservice shows, there’s a pretty thin line between what makes a show like this good fun for all or complete trash, and Cheer Boys tries to avoid crossing this line by doing something I’ve never seen before: Being mundane.

Now that may sound like a complaint, but it really isn’t. If anything Cheer Boys benefits from this! By focusing so heavily on these characters everyday lives and realistic dialogue, the show automatically sets itself apart from most other fanservice vehicles. This is likely due to the fact that Cheer Boys is actually based off a true story. I know that sounds crazy, but this entire anime is legitimately a loose retelling of how the first Japanese male cheerleading team formed, which explains the more downplayed tone and earthy character designs. That isn’t to say the show doesn’t have any fanservice, I mean this is a show about hot cheerleading boys, but it is surprisingly restrained. The leads here actually feel like real people with genuine college age struggles. Haruki doesn’t know if he really likes judo, Kazuki wants to find a sport to be passionate about, and Wataru is less of a Rei rip off than he is just an awkward nerd.

Animation wise this episode isn’t too impressive. While the style here immediately cements this show as more grounded, the direction is flat and the animation is pretty mediocre besides the cheerleading cuts at the beginning and the end of the episode. What is more impressive however is the soundtrack, which is filled with bouncy vocals and sleek electronic beats. It really fits the cheerleading focus and I bet it will be great for future matches.

In the end, I found Cheer Boys to be a pretty enjoyable watch. I don’t think I’ll be watching the rest of the series, but it was still impressed by its more realistic tone and characters. It probably won’t do well with the actual fujoshi market in Japan, but I’m glad to see it gaining a following over here in the States and I hope people will continue to enjoy it throughout its run.

Rating: 3/5

Cheer Boys is available for free legal streaming on Funimation.com

DAYS

DAYS:

DAYS is kind of hard to write about. Not because it’s boring or uninteresting, but because what makes DAYS exceptional is so obvious and rote that I feel like pointing it out is kind of useless. It’s well animated, Kounosuke Uda directs with the skill of a shonen veteran, Tsukamoto is adorkable and needs to be protected; really, it’s not hard to see why DAYS is already stealing the hearts of fujoshi and sports fans alike. Then again, in the hands of anyone else, DAYS probably could have felt very trite.

The premise is identical to most other sports anime: A high school kid with little skill dedicates himself to soccer after meeting a prodigy, he struggles to improve, etc, etc. Luckily for DAYS though, this adaptation has studio MAPPA on its side, delivering quality animation around every corner. From the thick character outlines, to the nice passing cuts, DAYS looks absolutely great from top to bottom and really captures the intensity of soccer. And all of this great production work is expertly managed by the previously mentioned Kounosuke Uda, a veteran director who worked on the One Piece anime during its first 300 hundred episode. With his distinctly classic shonen touch, each moment of DAYS moves at a solid clip, while also really emphasizing the big plays and character moments.

Of course, it probably also helps that the protagonist Tsukamoto is incredibly likable. His shyness contrasts nicely against his amazing work ethic, creating scenes that just tug at your heartstrings. Watching him run back and forth across the field until the sun has set, refusing to give up until the 100th shuttle run, begs you to cheer for him.

Basically DAYS is a sports anime at its finest. The animation and pacing is exhilarating for those looking for a good soccer match, and the characters are cute and endearing enough to capture the love of female otaku around the world. Above all else, DAYS certainly knows how to cater to its audience.

Rating: 4/5

DAYS is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

Love Live! Sunshine!!

Love Live! Sunshine!!:

Before we even get into the episode proper here, I should probably let you know that I have never watched the original Love Live anime. I’ve seen hundreds of gifs, reaction shots, and semi-serious Twitter arguments over its best girl, but I haven’t ever watched a single second of the idol classic. And it’s not because I hate idols, I mean I love the Idolm@ster, but I’ve just never had a craving for the genre… Except for that strange desire I have to watch those Wake Up Girls movies. Anyways, I figured I should at least try the franchise’s latest offering, especially since it’s one of this season’s biggest premiere.

So how did I enjoy Love Live Sunshine’s first episode? Well, it was certainly energetic, but I can’t really say I found that particularly appealing. Now I’m not saying Love Live Sunshine is a bad show – it’s beautifully produced, the idol music is nice and catchy, and Chika’s character struggle is pretty compelling right off the bat – but man oh man, I could not stand this episode. Throughout its entire runtime there was not a single moment where the creators decided to hold back and just let the audience relax, instead opting to spam the screen with over the top character animation and a constant barrage of new idol girls. If there was comedy then voice actors would shout their lines, and if the animators needed to showcase the character’s personalities then they were animated in the most exaggerated way possible. AND I COULDN’T STAND A SECOND OF IT!

I don’t care how cute your cast is, or how good your production are if you can’t just sit back for a second and breathe. Change your tone, show how these girls act in more relaxed slice of life situations, don’t just have them constantly overreact while performing stupid slapstick. Also goddamn, please have some moments of subtlety! If Chika can get a few seconds to explain her motivations, at least give the student council president a moment where she isn’t the most over the top cockblock in idol history! I understand that this review is coming off as weirdly bitter, but that’s just how this episode made me feel. I wanted to like Love Live, I really did, but there wasn’t a single thing about this episode that worked for me. I guess the lesson I learned from watching is this show is that if I’m going to watch an idol show, I need something that either directly delves into high camp territory or tries for a realistic tone, because Love Live’s intense escapism was definitely not for me.

Rating: 2.5/5

Love Live! Sunshine!! is available for free legal streaming on Funimation.com

Mob Psycho 100

Mob Psycho 100:

Mob Psycho 100 is pretty great. That isn’t exactly surprising considering it’s based off a manga by the same person who created One Punch Man, but Mob Psycho is still seriously impressive. I mean, the show looks gorgeous. Now I know that sounds like a given, after all One Punch Man’s adaptation was also well animated, and studio Bones is known for the incredible polish they put into their work, but I just love how consistently inventive and well directed this show is. You see, even though One Punch Man featured some brilliant sakuga, I’m not going to lie when I say the show was kind of inconsistent. In its downtime One Punch Man could look very grey and flat, and that is simply not the case with Mob Psycho 100. Every shot in this first episode is beautiful to look at, and this likely due to how unique the art style is. I appreciate the staff’s decision to really go all out with ONE’s messy style, and it creates some great fluid animation.

Of course it also helps that director Yuzuru Tachikawa has some incredible talent, using expert shot composition to keep everything looking fresh and lively, while also filling the show with some nice visual motifs. Every shot with Reigen is cold and tilted, showcasing his intense detective persona, while Mob’s shots are always distant and mysterious. And it’s good thing the show is so good at visual storytelling, because otherwise Mob Psycho 100 is currently a bit of a cipher story wise. It’s clear the main joke of the series is going to be centered around the contrast between Mob’s incredibly volatile powers and Reigen’s fake psychic antics, but what anything else actually means is very vague at this point. What does Mob reaching 100% represent? Is it puberty? Adolescence in general? It’s hard to tell at this point.

Still, that doesn’t stop Mob Psycho from having a propulsive opening episode. The opening alone is filled with enough amazing animation and character to fill an entire show, and I’m already pretty hooked into seeing where the series will be going in future episode. Mob Psycho 100 may not be showing all of its cards just yet, but if it can keep up this level of entertainment week by week, then I’m definitely on board.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mob Psycho 100 is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

Orange

Orange:

Now before I start gushing about this anime, I should make it clear that I am very biased toward Orange. Not only do I own both of the North American omnibuses, but it’s one of my favorite manga. While I will admit the material isn’t perfect, I wholly believe that Orange is a story very worth experiencing. In its five volumes of content, Ichigo Takano tells a beautiful tale of regret and depression, all while keeping it relatable and enlightening for its teenage demographic. The story was powerful enough to move me to tears, in spite of its occasional melodramatic antics, and I was ultimately impressed by how well the manga handled it’s challenging themes. If I were a parent I would definitely show Orange to my kids.

That being said, I was slightly worried going into this adaptation. Don’t get me wrong, Hiroshi Hamasaki is a good director, but he has a very specific style that I couldn’t even imagine working with Orange’s material. To my surprise however, that production decision was probably one of the best ones they made, because Hamasaki brings a unique flavor to this adaptation that could have easily been opted out of by a less skilled director.

For one thing, Hamasaki’s typical desaturated color scheme adds a nice layer of realism to the show that immediately sets the tone as more serious than your average shoujo adaptation; and the same can be said of the show’s editing, which involves a lot of quick cuts and dream-like transitions. Normally these kinds of choices would be distracting, but here it helps accentuate the story’s core themes of time and loss. As Naho moves through her days at high school, you can feel her life slipping by, with moments after school passing by in blurs of smiles, and sports festivals disappearing into reels of exciting highlights. And then finally all of this culminates in a moment too beautiful to forget: Kakeru standing under the setting sun, comforting Naho as she realizes her new feelings for him.

Admittedly speaking, I can see how this first episode will confuse and annoy people. The pacing is bizarre, the actual animation is only slightly above average, and the episode doesn’t do the greatest job at explaining the narrative proper. However, what it does do is expertly establish the series’ mood and characters. That little bit of dialogue at the end about Naho wanting to remain passive sent shivers down my spine, and I loved how perfectly the show captured Kakeru’s connection to her. Their relationship never felt overblown, and the same can be said of the other cast members and their conversations. So if you didn’t completely enjoy this first episode, I urge you to stick around. The story may start of slow and deceptively simple, but the emotional journey is very worth it. I could not be happier with this first episode, and I hope that the show can maintain this level of quality in the months to come.

Rating: 4.5/5

Orange is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

Planetarian

planetarian:

Despite being one of the main progenitors of the visual novel boom in the early to mid 2000’s, I really don’t have much experience with Key. Maybe it’s because I got into anime after most of their adaptations had already been produced, or maybe it’s because I’ve always had a generally bad impressions of visual novels to begin with, but the closest I’ve gotten to watching a Key anime is Charlotte, which doesn’t really count. However, I was instantly intrigued by the buzz I heard for Planetarian since I discovered it on the seasonal chart. I mean cute robot girls are what I live for, and I’ve always been a big fan of sappy sci-fi romances, so this show seemed to be tailor made for me.

And luckily for me I was right! Planetarian might not be my favorite show of the season, but as a piece of of heartwarming science fiction it nails the fundamentals. I mean that opening scene alone perfectly nails the kind of tone this show is striving for, seeing the world through Yumemi’s eyes as her friends and creators leave her behind in order to save themselves. It’s heartbreaking right off the bat, and the rest of the episode does a good job at establishing the relationship between her and the grumpy soldier protagonist. It isn’t groundbreaking stuff sure, but it’s simple and sweet, making it perfect for a 5 episode ONA.

In terms of production values, Planetarian is actually pretty solid. Weirdly enough this is directed and produced by the same team that works on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and while this series doesn’t have that show’s crazy aesthetics, they more than nail the show’s sort of dated early 2000’s look. One look at Yumemi gave me flashbacks to those clips I’ve seen of Clannad, with her big eyes, overdesigned outfit, and generally cute appearance. Still, none of that typical visual novel baggage is really a problem here, likely due to the fact the original Planetarian visual novel doesn’t contain any story choices. The story is condensed and focused, and for a show with a goal as specific as this one, that’s really all you need. A must watch if you’re looking to have your heart strings pulled this season.

Rating: 3.5/5

planetarian is available for free legal streamimg on Funimation.com

ReLIFE

ReLIFE:

ReLIFE is one of those shows were I’m almost more fascinated by how it was released than the actual show itself. It would be easy for me to just make this blurb about how much I love Netflix style release schedules, and how I think they encourage more interesting fan discussion, while also allowing audience members to watch certain shows at their own pace; but that would be ignoring just how surprisingly good ReLIFE is. When I first heard about the premise a few months back, I immediately became skeptical. I was worried that this show would just be another nostalgia goggles look at high school filled with lame gags and some stupid age reduction narrative tacked on, but I was very wrong.

Sure, ReLIFE isn’t the best looking show, the animation here never really goes beyond passable, but the direction and writing here is on point throughout the entire episode. Protagonist Kaizaki Arata for one doesn’t try to romanticize high school life, and neither is he some crazy hikikomori archetype. He just feels like a normal guy who happened to hit a rough patch in his life and stumbled into ReLIFE out of necessity. And when he finally does become a high schooler the situation is always played for laughs, contrasting the freedom of adulthood with the more rigid social structures of high school. It makes for some great comedy that’s backed up well by good timing, clever transitions, and a solid cast of voice actors. While most of the supporting cast is a mystery, I’m already interested in them due to their strong sense of personality, and the little hints here and there about the ReLIFE project make sure the whole premise feels integral to the overall experience.

Basically what I’m saying is that ReLIFE may seem generic, but that doesn’t really matter because the show is so well executed. This could have easily just been a lazy gag series, but instead the show immediately establishes a good ground work for smart characterization and fun satire. I would definitely recommend this one, and I can’t wait to marathon it over the next couple of weeks.

Rating: 4.5/5

ReLIFE is available for free legal streaming on Crunchyroll

sweetness and lightning

sweetness & lightning:

Ending this post on something more adorable, we have Sweetness and Lightning, a show which I have been excited for ever since it was announced. I had already had experience with the source material due to previewing the manga’s first chapter on Crunchyroll’s simulpub, and my good impressions of this future production were only improved by the show’s very cute PVs. It probably also helps that I finished K-On! last month and haven’t been able to stop craving slice of life anime since then; so thanks Summer 2016 for giving me 5 too many in return.

Anyways, I’m just going to be right upfront and say that Sweetness & Lightning is easily my favorite premiere of the season. Rarely do I come across a show that so perfectly captures a sense of simplistic beauty like this one does. Sweetness and Lightning isn’t going to amaze you with fantastic insight into the human soul or a complex narrative, but it doesn’t need to. All it does to capture your heart is focus on the amazing fun and joy that can be found in eating great food with the people you love. Tsumugi and her Father’s struggle is instantly compelling because it revolves around such basic concepts of family and food, and this is only helped by the stellar child voice acting and character animation that really bring Inuzuka’s young daughter to life. Her mannerisms, speech patterns, and personality are all incredibly on point, making her an easy comparison to the likes of Naru from Barakamon, or Rin from Usagi Drop.

Basically what I’m trying to say here is that Sweetness and Lighting is really worth your time. Like I said before, the narrative isn’t complex, but that’s what gives the show its charm. Watching this family bond over a simple dinner of pot rice, while they both are still recovering from the loss of Tsumugi’s mother is instantly heart wrenching. This first episode almost made me cry, which is high praise considering very few anime can make me do that. I’m not saying Sweetness and Lightning will keep being this amazing quality throughout its run, I mean it’s hard to top an episode this fundamentally great as this one, but if it keeps focusing on these timeless themes then it can’t really fail. A stunning slice of life, and stunning experience overall.

Rating: 5/5

sweetness & lightning is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

And that’s a wrap! I’m actually surprised by how decent this season ended up being, because besides Orange and Sweetness and Lightning I had no expectations going into these premieres. I ended up with some bad ones sure, but I also found some real gems, which is really all I want from these Anime Lookout posts.

Now with all that out of the way sentimental introspection out of the way, I just have to recommend Thunderbolt Fantasy! I know it’s not an anime, and that some of you probably hate Gen Urobuchi, but it’s on Crunchyroll and it really is quite a blast. Seeing puppets violently slice each other with swords and hilarious special effects over epic Hiroyuki Sawano music is an amazing experience unlike any other, and it also probably helps that it features one of the most hilarious self-decapitations in any medium ever. So go my children! Take my blessing and watch those wuxia puppets! You won’t regret it.

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