Anime Lookout | Fall 2016

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year since my first Anime Lookout post! Back then I wrote the Fall 2015 just to get something out on this site, and now it’s become the only consistent series I have (I have a Shelf Review in the works, I swear). A lot has changed since then, school’s gotten more intense, I had a summer vacation in Europe, and a bunch of photos got wiped from my media library (sorry about that). But that’s enough with the sentimentality, we’re here to talk about one thing and one thing only: season premieres!

The fall season has always been one of my favorites, both in real life and in the world of the anime industry. Fall is a time for big industry hits, but unlike the similarly populous spring season, the projects released during this time are a lot more willing to take risks. Shirobako, Kyousougiga, Concrete Revolutio, all of these amazing shows have premiered during the fall in my brief life as a seasonal chart watcher; and there have been quite a few changes in the North American licensing landscape to really help me dig into what this year’s final season has to offer.

Before the Crunchyroll and Funimation partnership that was announced last month, I had always been inclined to pass on Funimation shows that didn’t seem like must watches, but now that everything licensed by them is on Crunchyroll, I have no reason to be restrained. Combine this with Amazon Prime’s new streaming only subscription and Daisuki’s somewhat manageable player, and that means a lot more people have legal access to the show’s coming out this season. And as such, I took the plunge on everything I was remotely interested in! This is probably going to be a long post, so strap on your seatbelts on and get ready to not read this in one go, because you’re about to read a lot of rambling words. Let’s get this show on the road!

P.S. I would include impressions for Natsume Yujincho Go and Mobile Suit Gundam: IBO’s second season, but I’m still trying to catch up. If I do a follow up to this post at the end of the season, you can definitely expect them to be there.

classicaloid

ClassicaLoid:

ClassicaLoid is the kind of show that baffles me on pretty much every level. I mean, the idea of taking classical composers, giving them anime designs, and putting them in a story with two high school students is just confusing to me. Are they doing this for educational purposes? Comedy? Drama? How did this project even get greenlit? Of course, none of that is quite as strange as the staff listing, which contains a wide variety of talented writers and the director of Gintama and Osomatsu-san. Clearly there’s a lot of effort being put into this show, but why?

Well, having now watched the first episode I can’t say I have any answers; but I’m at least glad this was made, because wow, ClassicaLoid is a fun watch. And I’m only saying that semi-ironically! This anime actually has a lot of good points going for it. For one thing, the art and animation are really striking. Each character design is silly and distinct, and I like their thick borders and pastel look. There are also a number of surprisingly well animated moments here, and the whole experience is a generally polished looking affair.

In terms of actual storytelling, ClassicaLoid is less coherent, but it still has some compelling bits and bobs to it. Everyone has pretty good chemistry together, and while Kanae’s sob story is simple, it does have some bite to it. Not to mention the comedic timing here is occasionally pretty on point. It’s clear that director Yoichi Fujita has a lot of experience with comedic timing (I mean he directed a lot of Gintama), and while not every joke lands, there’s still a few chuckles here and there.

So yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I like ClassicaLoid. The main plot and premise are nonsense, but for some reason the staff here really gave it their all, delivering some great moments throughout the episode. If you’re not a fan of this kind of artistic insanity, then I don’t think ClassicaLoid will do much for you; but if you want to see some good animation and comedy then check this out. ClassicaLoid may be a baffling creation, but boy oh boy, is it an entertaining one.

Rating: 3.5/5

Classicaloid is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

drifters

Drifters:

When it comes to genres in anime, I’ll have to admit I’ve never been a very big fan of ultraviolent action shows. It’s not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with them, or that there aren’t any good ones, but I’ve always had trouble getting into gore and guts. I guess I’m a little more squeamish than I’d like to admit. As such, I think it shouldn’t be much of surprise that I wasn’t that into Hellsing Ultimate. Oh don’t get me wrong, the series is a very exceptional entry in its genre (albeit one with an incredibly weak ending), but it just didn’t hook me at the beginning like it should have. Luckily though, Kouta Hirano’s newest adaptation hasn’t had that problem yet.

Yep, much to my surprise I actually really enjoyed Drifter’s premiere, in spite of its typical genre trappings. At first I couldn’t quite put a finger on why, but after thinking about it, it mostly has to do with the series’ smart directorial and artistic choices. In terms of actual animation the series is fairly limited, after all Hirano’s designs aren’t exactly the most animation friendly, but I think the strength of this series’ production is its reliance of good shot composition and unique color design. Making the color palette darker would usually be a negative point in any other anime, but here it immediately sets the gritty tone while also obscuring the presence of CGI in battle scenes. Not to mention it creates a striking visual contrast between the show’s environments and bloody action, while also subtly directing the eyes’ to focus on the main character Toyohisa.

If any of these directorial decisions sound familiar, it’s probably because many of these same tricks are employed in the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure anime adaptations. Director Kenichi Suzuki worked on the first three seasons on that show, and with this he once again proves himself as a master manager of limited productions. If Hoods Entertainment had actually tried to animate this traditionally, the show likely would have ended up looking rather clunky, but relying on these simple production tricks makes the show consistently engaging, while also conserving time and resources.

Of course this is all just artistic stuff, so how does Drifters fair writing wise? Well… It’s okay. The visual aspects of this series’ are by far the most interesting part about it to me, but that doesn’t mean the plot isn’t somewhat fun. Sure, it’s stupid, but it’s not like I can’t get behind the idea of historical figures fighting each other in a fantasy world. I mean I like history, and while the explanation for how these figures got into this fantasy world is pretty lame, the how isn’t really all that important here. All that matters is that Oda Nobunaga is here, and he’s going to kick some bloody ass. However, these positive points are somewhat downplayed by the bad comedy. One of the weakest points of Hellsing was its sense of humor, and that is definitely present here too. Watching Nobunaga and Toyohisa shout at each other in chibi form for two minutes isn’t particularly what I would call gut-bustingly hilarious.

Still, there are definitely some positive points to this show. The direction is sharp, the aesthetics are on point, and the plot is silly in all the right ways. It isn’t amazing or groundbreaking, but like Hellsing it has just enough good stuff to make it a pretty enjoyable watch. I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick with this one, but I’m happy to at least give it a few more episodes.

Rating: 3.5/5

Drifters is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Flip Flappers:

Out of all the anime airing this season, Flip Flappers was definitely one of the shows I was looking forward to the most. Admittedly speaking, I wasn’t entirely sure why. I mean when you take a look at the vague premise and promotional art, the series doesn’t really look all that interesting; but as soon as I saw its first PV I was sold. The backgrounds, animation, and art design all spoke to me on a level that I can’t articulate in any way other than, “Damn, this looks great!”

And boy oh boy was I right! While Flip Flappers isn’t as visually impressive on a moment to moment basis as Yuri!!! On ICE, the anime still has some of the best animation and directorial work around, featuring a wide and varied color palette and some expert cuts throughout the episode. The character designs are kind of generic, but they work well in motion, and I love the way the show uses shot composition to convey the two main girl’s emotions and personalities. Having Cocona in the real world be surrounded by bars and boxes may be a little on the nose, but it creates a nice visual contrast to Papika, who’s always up in the air and running around.

However, I can’t say that I’m completely confident in Flip Flappers yet. This episode goes out of its way to keep the story simplistic and dreamlike, but that could potentially create problems later on. It’s not only hard to tell where the series is going, but it’s also is a bit difficult to really get invested in the two leads. On one hand I kind of appreciate this approach, after all, most animator passion projects like this one tend to fall apart to clumsy narratives. But on the other hand, without a real strong hook besides the visuals, it’s hard to say how invested I will be in this series a few episodes down the line.

Still, Flip Flappers’ premiere does have a lot going for it. In terms of pure spectacle and fantasy fun, it’s a really fantastic romp; and if it can add a little more depth to its characters in future episodes, I might really start to love it. For now though, I’m pretty content with what I have.

Rating: 4/5

Flip Flappers is available for free streaming Crunchyroll

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Girlish number:

In a typical situation, a show like Girlish number wouldn’t even be something I’d consider watching. In fact, I wasn’t for a while. I mean everything about it seems engineered to not appeal to me: the moe character designs, Shirobako clone premise, its idol tie in aspect. And then I saw that it was written by Wataru Watari, and I immediately jumped on board.

Oregairu is one of my favorite romantic comedies of the past few years, and while I think Hachiman’s characterization in the first season isn’t entirely consistent, that doesn’t change the fact that the cast was incredibly complex and interesting. If Girlish Number could capture even a little spark of that excellent character writing, I would be sold. And luckily for me it did! Girlish Number isn’t an amazing show, but it has a surprising amount of wit and commentary that really fleshes out an otherwise pandering premise.

One of the major positive points of this show is definitely it’s cynicism. Now usually I’m not a fan of cynicism for cynicisms sake, I mean I’m an optimistic guy at my core, but the show really backs it up with some great character work. Chitose is an incredibly entertaining lead, a cute girl with a hidden attitude and great anime faces (seriously her expressions are on point). The opening dialogue immediately sets the tone as confrontational, egotistical, and self aware. The rest of the episode pokes fun at industry trends, such as all voice actors being forced into singing careers, projects greenlight in spite of poor planning, along with several jabs at the story’s light novel origins. Hell, the final scene could be seen as a burn directed at the show itself!

Once again, if this wasn’t backed up with any heart or character it likely would have ended up being insufferable, but all the girls have distinct personalities, the animation from Diomedia is shockingly nice, and the show isn’t afraid to give these girls some pathos. They aren’t just bitchy stereotypes, they’re likable and have relatable issues. I wouldn’t call Girlish Number’s premiere truly amazing, there were a couple of slow moments throughout the episode, but it has enough going for it that I’ll stick with it the whole way through.

Rating: 4/5

Girlish number is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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The Great Passage:

Last season, I talked about how Battery impressed me by being generally low key and character oriented. Its premiere not only surprised me with its subtle direction, but also with the fact that it focused on a main character who by any normal measure would be considered unlikable. It’s clear that it was a return to the programming block’s roots as a network for unique stories, rather than another entry in the Kabaneri or A1 Pictures mystery power hour. And yet somehow The Great Passage has made Battery’s premiere look down right unexceptional in hindsight.

The Great Passage’s opening episode isn’t likely going to be one that grabs everyone, I mean the idea of watching a group of office workers write a dictionary for 11 episodes probably won’t grab your average anime fan. However, the devils really in the details here, and if you’re even a remote fan of great character writing and beautiful, yet restrained visual execution, there’s a lot to dig into here. Starting on a purely technical level, The Great Passage has a few of the best cut animation I’ve seen all season (which is surprising considering this season has also given us Yuri!!! On ICE and Flip Flappers). Each character moves distinctly, with some of the most crisp and emotive character acting I’ve ever seen. The designs here are sleek and expressive. From Majime’s slumped shoulders, to Nishioka’s expressive hand gestures and confident demeanor, every character is filled to the brim with visual personality.

Of course it also helps that this series is backed by some solid writing and symbolic motifs. I really liked how it represented Majime’s insecurities by portraying language as a vast and daunting ocean, and the show’s expert shot composition always enhanced the mood of the given scene. It’s not exactly clear what will happen to these character’s in future episodes, or what the general plot arc will be, but I’m already invested in their struggle due to the show’s strong set up. Without that visual subtlety, I doubt I would be as hooked as I am. Rarely have I seen an opening episode so downplayed and low key in tone, yet so confident and instantly compelling. If you haven’t seen The Great Passage’s premiere yet, I’d highly recommend. The adult drama won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s already shaping up to be one of this season’s many top tier shows.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Great Passage is available for paid streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK and Germany only

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Izetta: The Last Witch:

Izetta: The Last Witch is one of those shows that I would probably be more excited for if I didn’t know the staff listing. When the PVs were first released I was intrigued by the World War II fantasy premise and Maria the Virgin Witch like imagery, but that hope almost completely died out when they announced Hiroyuki Yoshino was doing the show’s series composition. Look, I’m don’t want to be that guy who hates someone based off only one of their works, but those eleven episodes I watched of Guilty Crown were some of the worst episodes of anime I’ve ever sat through. Sure, some people like Macross Frontier and Code Geass isn’t universally loathed, but once you work on something like Guilty Crown it’s hard for people to ever look at you the same again. After all, Guilty Crown was a sexist, facist mess from what little I saw, so a series revolving around women and war time politics could possibly fall into the same trappings.

Luckily, the first episode of Izetta has yet to reach that point. Instead it mostly features setup, which delivered through well paced, albeit blunt expository dialogue. Still, not everything is crystal clear. For example, despite going into details about the war’s factions, it isn’t explained why Germania is invading other countries in the first place. Is there a Hitler allegory in this alternate universe? A World War I that caused Germania to go into an economic collapse that eventually led to the rise of fascist powers? At this point it’s not really clear, but like the implied backstory between Izetta and Eylestadtian Princess Fine, I expect there to be more details in the coming episodes.

However, it’s those open possibilities which make the future of this show all the more shaky. Guilty Crown had a pension for under explaining its conflict too, and this episode’s out of place shower shots of Princess Fine reminded me of the infantilized mess that was Inori Yuzuriha. That being said, Fine is already pretty compelling as a lead. While I wasn’t a fan of the way she was treated by the camera in this episode, her actual actions were admirable and showed a strong will and grace you wouldn’t expect from a typical damsel in distress princess. She didn’t just sit back and let her guards do everything, she found escape paths, led political negotiations, and she wasn’t afraid to fight back for her country.

So yeah, the first episode of Izetta: The Last Witch wasn’t awful. The setting and characters still have a lot of potential, the animation and character designs are pretty nice to look at, and while the fanservice stuff felt a little out of place, it was never enough to completely ruin the whole experience. The final moments alone are worth the price of admission, with a gorgeous spectacle of debris and Ghibli-esque magic. Once again though, there’s a long road ahead of this show if wants to win me over. With a name like Hiroyuki Yoshino at the helm, it’s hard to tell whether or not this first episode is a genuine taste of what’s to come, or just another fluke. Either way, I’ll definitely be watching the next episode.

Rating: 4/5

Izetta: The Last Witch is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Magical Girl Raising Project:

Moving on from one potentially trashy show to another, we have Magical Girl Raising Project, an anime which I suspected to be complete garbage almost as soon as it was announced. Look I’m not one to dismiss something purely because it’s a rip off. Sure, it can definitely affect my overall view of the product, but being a good imitation is one thing and being a bad one is another.

But yeah, Magical Girl Raising Project is eerily similar to Madoka Magica… And WIXOSS… And Daybreak Illusi– Okay, there are a lot of grimdark magical girl clones these days. That being said, there are a few unique things in this premiere episode. The major one is probably protagonist Koyuki’s childhood friend, a magical girl loving boy named Souta. SPOILER: He turns into a magical girl. That’s pretty much the one element of this episode that sets apart from Madoka’s many other imitators, and it isn’t even that big of a twist. Still, the dialogue between him and Koyuki is genuinely strong, even though they’re telegraphing his death pretty hard right now. But hey, at least it’s something!

I still think this show is pretty stupid though. The premise here is essentially Madoka Magica but like the Hunger Games, an idea so on the nose that I couldn’t help but make parallels between both properties throughout the episode. The different districts, the main character being an average girl with a pink hair magical girl form, the silent and brooding girl with dark hair, hell even Souta fits into Mami’s archetype. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but let’s just say that Magical Girl Raising Project lacks subtlety.

Say what you want about Madoka Magica, but it’s first episode had some very sleek foreshadowing. The opening moments may have been a big hint about the show’s true intentions, but if you decided to just watch it randomly you’d likely think the weird grim visuals were a mere stylistic choices.

Magical Girl Raising Project opens up with a bunch of girls dead on the floor covered with blood. In comparison one of them is a lot more reserved, don’t you think? That tonal difference, in combination with the fact that there are lot of shows coming out like this every season, and I can’t say I exactly loved this opening episode. Studio Lerche’s animation is nice, although I don’t particularly like the wide eyed character designs; and once again Souta’s character is somewhat interesting. Overall though, there isn’t a whole lot here to make it stand out. It’s not egregiously bad, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to try another episode.

Rating: 2.5/5

Magical Girl Raising Project is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

magic-kyun-renaissance

Magic-Kyun! Renaissance:

Out of all my blind picks this season, Magic-Kyun! Renaissance was definitely the one farthest from my typical ballpark. I’ve never been into idol shows that much, and I’ve never watched one specifically focusing on a reverse harem style set up. So going in I only really had the vaguest idea of what to expect: romcom antics, a slew of pretty boys, and an overall pension for high grade cheese.

It turns out that’s really all I did need to know.

Magic Kyun! Renaissance is not a great show, I’m just going to get that statement out of the way. While the show doesn’t do anything awful, it also doesn’t really have an exceptional points either. The cast of cute boys fit into standard archetypes, and the main girl’s arc is about as hackneyed as you can get. She’s at a school focused on magic arts and can’t produce any sparkles despite being the daughter of a prestigious alumni; what a predicament! If you’re looking for something unique in this original studio Sunrise product you’re not going to be particularly happy.

If Magic-Kyun! Renaissance sounds like your type of idol fodder though, you’ll probably enjoy this show a lot. For one thing, the animation and art design here is actually pretty good. Sure it’s never amazing, you won’t find any cuts of this of Sakugabooru or anything, but the character designs are sleek, the backgrounds are nice, and there are quite a few motifs stolen from Utena, which is always a plus in my book. It also helps that this premiere doesn’t mess around. The show establishes its cast pretty quickly before narrowing in on the main male lead and setting up the conflict for the rest of the series. It may not be an incredibly interesting conflict, but hey, at least the show knows what its audience wants.

Ultimately, your level of enjoyment while watching Magic-Kyun! Renaissance will likely be determined by your tolerance of shows like B-Project and Uta no Prince-sama. If you’re a fan of anime like that, you’ll likely enjoy this episode’s sleek presentation, but otherwise I’d skip it. You’re a fine little show Magic-Kyun! Renaissance, but you’re definitely not meant for me.

Rating: 2.5/5

Magic-Kyun! Renaissance is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

march-comes-in-like-a-lion

March comes in like a lion:

Initially I was excited to watch March comes in like a lion for one very shallow reason: it was going to be directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. Now I understand that some of you are probably scratching your head at that statement, especially since Shinbo’s name has been slapped on almost every SHAFT project for the past decade. However, when I say directed, I specifically mean him making all the creative decisions, doing storyboards, and maybe even directing episodes. It turns out though that this project is definitely not that. Even though the marketing for these series listed him as the main director, the actual credits don’t list him as being involved with the episode in any major capacity.

However, none of that matters, because that definitely did not stop March comes in like a lion from being one of the best premieres this season. In fact, this premiere is not only spectacular for this season, but like another show later on down this list, it may be one of the best premieres I’ve seen all year.

And really this opening episode’s strengths all boil down to two things: excellent character writing and beautiful visual execution. Throughout the first half of the episode our protagonist Rei Kiriyama is mostly silent, remaining speechless even when he’s playing an intense shogi match. Despite this though, you immediately understand his connection with his opponent, his inner psyche, and the monotony of his day to day life purely through shot composition and smart editing. You don’t have to know the exact details of how he and his opponent know each other, you only have to sense the atmosphere and pick up the context of various shots. The animation here may not be immediately impressive, but the visual storytelling certainly is.

This is then followed up with an equally compelling second half, which clears up some details about Rei’s life as a shogi prodigy, while also introducing the three sisters who have entered his life. The tone is much lighter, but it still carries with it a hidden somberness, from the way Rei cries in his sleep, to the sisters offering curry on their Mom and Grandma’s alter. In general, this episode excels at presenting little details without every drawing focus to them, letting the viewer decipher what they mean.

All in all, March comes in like a lion’s premiere is a truly stunning experience. Creating compelling characters is one thing, but showcasing their inner depth purely through visuals and minimalistic writing is something truly special. I can’t say this show will be able to maintain this level of quality the whole way through, but with material this strong it’s hard to imagine it couldn’t. What a fantastic first episode!

Rating: 5/5

March comes in like a lion is  available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

occulticnine

Occultic;Nine:

Occultic;Nine is the kind of show I wish was better than it actually is. The episode begins with a disorienting stream of words and disturbing imagery, with piles of dead bodies floating in a vast body of water. It’s a striking opening, one that showcases a lot of visual panache and immediately sets up a dark and quirky tone… It’s too bad the writing in this show is an almost incoherent mess.

Being another show from the semicolon sci-fi anime brand (though not directly a part of the visual novel franchise, as you could probably guess by its light novel origins), it was to be expected that this episode would have a lot of jargon, but wow, is it insufferable. As soon as the opening finishes, the cast never stops talking, and the editing only gets more and more frenetic, playing with story continuity and ultimately leaving me confused and disoriented. On some level, I get why they did this. After all this is a show about the occult, and as such it makes sense to intentionally obscure what’s really happening on screen. But that never ending stream of character introductions and dialogue? That I can’t get behind.

There’s a pretty big difference between confusing the audience on purpose and being an outright mess, and currently I think Occultic;Nine might be tipping toward the wrong direction. While I was able to get the basic setup (protagonist Yuta runs a supernatural blog, is looking for a story, happens upon the dead body of a scientist who was trying to connect the occult to science), the pacing is so fast that I wouldn’t be surprised if most people didn’t. Director Kyohei Ishiguro may be a great visual storyteller (he did direct Your Lie in April after all), but there’s only so much he can do to elevate a fundamentally broken script.

That being said, yeah, this episode looks really good. The animation is vibrant, the shot composition pretty compelling, and the character designs distinct; though for the latter I’d argue Ryoka’s boobs go way overboard. If it looks like the girl’s back is going to snap in half, please erase your design and start over. I understand everyone has their fetishes, but there is a limit to this stuff.

Ultimately though, it’s hard to tell whether or not this episode will represent Occultic;Nine as an overall product. Like I said before, disorientation is a legit directorial tactic, and if the show slows down from here on out and explains itself, it might become something worth watching… Or it could still a confusing mess. Let’s hope it becomes the former rather than the latter.

Rating: 2/5

Occultic;Nine is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Poco’s Udon World:

In case you couldn’t tell from my write up of last season’s Sweetness and Lightning, I’m a big fan of slice of life shows featuring cute children and father figures. Barakamon was one of my favorite anime of 2014, and while I wouldn’t say Sweetness and Lightning was consistently spectacular throughout its run, watching Tsumugi and Inuzuka cook food and bond with each other was still one of the best experiences I had this year. So when I saw that Poco Udon’s World was a show in that same vein, I was incredibly excited for it.

Sadly, I don’t think it’s quite on the level of either of those two shows. Now let be clear here, I don’t think Poco’s Udon World is bad, but in terms of overall quality there a few sticking points here that drag the whole experience down. To start, this episode repeats itself quite a bit when it comes to emotional beats. The show is constantly reminding us about protagonist Souta’s dead father, and while that plot point is definitely important, a lot of it ends up feeling like stuff meant to pad the runtime. There were several points in the episode where people asked him to reopen his Father’s udon restaurant, and by the last request from two random strangers I was losing my patience.

It’s also kind of hard to tell what role the child character will play in this specific series. Souta’s character arc clearly has to deal with him rediscovering his childhood admiration for his father and udon, but that doesn’t really explain where the tanuki boy fits into his development. Of course it also doesn’t help that the child’s supernatural reveal was kind of clunky. It isn’t until the halfway mark in the episode that tanuki’s were even hinted at, and by then the reveal was only a few minutes away. I’m not saying I need some great foreshadowing for a show as light as this, but they could have at least mentioned it in the opening monologue.

Once again though, there are good points here. This is one of LIDEN FILMS’ best productions to date, featuring some nice watercolor backgrounds and clean character designs; but ultimately whether or not you’ll be interested in this show will likely depend on how much you like this genre.

Rating: 3/5

Poco’s Udon World is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Scorching Ping Pong Girls:

From the director of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood comes a story of hardship, struggle, and sweaty girl fanservice… One of those doesn’t seem right.

Anyways, jokes about that odd directorial fact aside, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is off to a bit of rocky start. I will admit that I’m not really that big of fan of these types of shows, or at least shows with this kind of art style. The cast of Ping Pong Girls all have this incredibly moe look to them, all wide eyes and high pitched voices, and while I know plenty of people think that’s adorable, I can’t say it’s my thing.

Of course even if it was my thing I’d have to take umbridge with how liberally fanservice is used in the show. The core narrative here is pretty simple, dare I say uninteresting, but there are at least some things that could make it a compelling sports series. The core dynamic between the protagonist Kayori and team ace Agari sets up some nice tension right off the bat, and everyone can relate to feeling of losing to someone more talented than you. But once again, a lot this is downplayed instead for constant boob jiggles and the female cast getting their shirts wet to the point of being slightly see through. Combine this with the subpar animation, and you’ve got yourself a bit of awkward experience.

Still, I wouldn’t exactly call Scorching Ping Pong Girls a terrible show. There are a handful of things that put me off about it, but it has some decent story ideas and it’s never outright offensive. Really, if this looks like your kind of thing then there’s no reason to not check it out. Otherwise I think it’s best to move along.

Rating: 2.5/5

Scorching Ping Pong Girls is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

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Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru:

Nothing about Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru should appeal to me. The premise and mobile game adaptation aspects of its production are usually the kinds of things that make me toss a show to the wayside and never look back. Sure, I’m a fan of Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, but that’s mostly because it had very few similarities to the mobile game it was adapting, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks. The result was a show where you could enjoy it whether or not you knew it was based off a mobile game, and as such it was probably one of most successful tie in anime I’ve seen in the genre (Well, except Love Live, but hey, it’s an idol series). So yeah, I went into Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru with some pretty low expectations, especially considering its basic premise wasn’t far off from the critically panned KanColle.

Still, expectations can be deceiving, and much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed my time with this show’s first episode. Oh don’t get me wrong, the basic concept is pretty silly, and the show really isn’t much more than a sequence of cute sword boys fighting and doing cute things; but there a couple of key points that really put it slightly above the rest of its ilk in terms of watchability. For one thing, the animation here is really nice. Dogakobo have made a name for themselves in recent years as animation powerhouses, but not in the typical clean pristine Ufotable visuals kind of way. No, Dogakobo isn’t afraid to be messy, letting character’s smear and contort, all while still delivering some great cuts of frenetic motion and graceful character animation.

That fact may not seem all that exceptional on the surface, but it actually does a lot to elevate and showcase the cast’s personalities. There are a lot of characters in this episode, and while I still don’t know all there names, the fact that I could at least get a basic idea of their personality from the show’s direction and each character’s body language went a long way in making them at least somewhat memorable. It also makes the few moments of action in the episode a true feast for the eyes. The episode opens up with a fantastic samurai fight, with swinging angles, fast movement, and a lot of subtle detail.

Another thing that works in this show’s favor is, believe or not, the premise. Once again, it’s pretty stupid, but it’s stupid with an edge of cleverness. Unlike KanColle where the ship girls just kind of exist to fight a vaguely menacing force, Touken Ranbu’s boys have a very specific goal that is at least somewhat interesting. I mean I don’t know why there’s an army of people trying to change history (or why they look like demons for that matter), but its clear, concise, and at least is a concept that could potentially be expanded upon into something really fascinating.

However, Hanamaru’s main strength mostly lies in the fact that isn’t all that serious. It may have fights and blood, but it’s clear that this specific series is all about being lighthearted and having snowball fights during a pleasant winter morning. I find it weird calling this show a surprisingly well executed adaptation of weak material, but it really is! It definitely isn’t a favorite of mine this season, but it’s still one of the better mobile game anime I’ve seen to date.

Rating: 3/5

Touken Ranbu – Hanamaru is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

trickster

Trickster:

Last summer I had the misfortune of watching Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace, a terrible attempt to adapt the horror stylings of author Edogawa Ranpo for a modern audience. And since then, to my ever dwindling surprise, I’ve somehow managed to see more anime that try to force Edogawa Ranpo into their plot/themes, and they’ve all had the same problem: tonal issues. Game of Laplace was a mess that managed to be both overly dramatic and comedic, while Bungo Stray Dogs’ action/shoujo comedy mash up created a mixed bag of confusing emotions (also there may have been some suicide jokes in there. It’s hard to remember honestly). Trickster is the latest in this strange lot of Edogawa Ranpo anime, and while its tone manages to be more consistent than its peers, it still is poorly written in a number of bizarre ways.

Now first I’d like to say that yes, this show does in fact look pretty good. The staff at TMS Entertainment clearly put a lot of work into various cuts throughout the episode, and while I think the character art is actually pretty lackluster, there are number of stunning set pieces scattered throughout. It also helps that all these moments are well punctuated by Yuki Hayashi’s excellent score, which manages to be a good mix of catchy pop and sad orchestral strings. It’s really impressive to see the camera spin around protagonist Hanasaki while he aims a grappling hook at a nearby building, and the opening scene’s cool colors and falling flowers make for a some very striking imagery.

Speaking of that opening scene, that’s where the problems really start to rear their head. For one thing, damn is this anime edgy. The monologues about death, our albino best friend Yoshio Kobayashi trying to stab himself in the neck with a shard of glass before shouting about how he just wants to die; it’s all a little bit too angsty. You’ve also got a smattering of adult characters who try to add a comedic touch, but mostly end up looking stupid and immature. Watch as Akechi makes gross sex jokes, and marvel as a later scene suddenly wants you to be invested in some barely explained police drama.

There is really only one thing about this episode that works writing wise, and it’s the scene of dialogue between Hanasaki and Yoshio placed in the middle of the episode. Not only does this scene contrast their personalities well, but it gives you a sense as to why Hanasaki would even be interested in a guy like Yoshio in the first place. He’s a thrill seeker, but he’s also likable in a roguish kind of way, unlike Yoshio who gives off a bit of a “crawling in my skin” affectation. Still, at least that moment shows some potential rather than none, and if Trickster can cut back on it’s edge factor a bit then we might get a hidden gem later on down the line. Currently though, I wouldn’t say it’s worth your time. There are plenty of other anime that handle this kind of teenage angst better.

Rating: 2/5

Trickster is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

yuri-on-ice

Yuri!!! On ICE:

Finishing off this seasonal post on a very strong note, we have Sayo Yamamoto’s latest TV directorial effort Yuri!!! On ICE. Now I will admit, there is definitely some bias in this write up. Even before I had watched a single TV series directed by her, I was a huge fan of Yamamoto’s work as an OP and ED animation director, and my experience with Michiko and Hatchin only strengthened that love. Even though Michiko and Hatchin was a very flawed show, her skills as a creator shined through in the anime’s gorgeous sense of style. The best way to describe Sayo Yamamoto’s directorial vision is sensual. She wants you to see the character’s move and feel alive on screen, and that can be seen in her deliberate animation direction and framing. And even though these characters are often sexy, it never veers into exploitative territory. Michiko may have been a hot women wearing some very low cut outfits, but she’s still respected as a person by the show’s cinematography and writing.

Yuri!!! On ICE has this kind of great visual characterization in spades, and that combined with the amazing skating animation and beautiful backgrounds make this by far the best looking show of the season. There wasn’t a single moment in the episode where I ever saw a drop in quality, and when the final third of the episode entered a 4 plus minute skating sequence for both Yuuri and Viktor, I was utterly hooked. Each movement was so graceful, and the expressive character designs aren’t afraid to stretch or exaggerate their features. It rides the perfect line between realism and cartoonish fun.

Of course, only talking about this show’s visual strengths would be selling its writing short. At it’s core Yuri!!! On ICE is a pretty simple story, but that simplicity works wonders in execution. Moments like Yuuri crying in the bathroom really tugged at my heartstrings, and it also helps that the show was never afraid to crack a joke or two to lighten the tone. That being said, a major reason it works so well to begin with is because of its ability to create a compelling whole with the show’s direction. Watching Yuuri and Viktor skate the same sequences was a great way to contrast their personalities through body language and color palettes.

Basically what I’m trying to say here is that I really love Yuri!!! On ICE. I understand that some people will be turned off by the show’s homoeroticism, but frankly I think it would be ridiculous to skip out on this anime for such a petty reason. The writing is light but effective, the animation and direction is stellar from beginning to end, and I can’t wait to watch the next episode. Yuri!!! On ICE’s premiere was truly born to make history.

Rating: 5/5

Yuri!! On ICE is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

______________________

Anyways that’s a wrap up on this latest slate of premieres. Things started off pretty weak, but by the end there were enough good premieres to surpass the previous two seasons. With shows like The Great Passage, March comes in like a lion, and Yuri!!! On ICE, I have no doubt that the upcoming months will be a really fun ride. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in January.

Current Watch List (Including Sequels I didn’t cover):

  • ClassicaLoid
  • Drifters
  • Flip Flappers
  • Girlish number
  • The Great Passage
  • Haikyu!! Karasuno vs Shiratorizawa
  • Izetta: The Last Witch
  • March comes in like a lion
  • Occultic;Nine
  • Sound! Euphonium 2
  • Yuri!!! On ICE
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