Anime Lookout | Winter 2017

Once again, we’ve dawned upon the winter season, which also means there’s not a lot of anime to watch right now! Yep, though there have been exceptions in the past, much like the winter season of 2016, 2017’s first batch of anime outings is rather lackluster. I’m not sure why this is the case (I’m no expert on why anime air when they do), but it leaves me with few interesting shows to cover, and little to really care about. That being said, there are still plenty of solid offerings this season… In the form of sequels.

That’s right, even though I usually gloss over them, this season I’m covering some sequel premieres! Desperate times call for desperate measures, and boy oh boy am I going to try to deliver a full slate of write ups, no matter the cost. I hope you enjoy the post, and let’s get this show on the road!

acca

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department:

Starting off with one of the most promising efforts this season, ACCA didn’t stick out to me much until I looked at the staff listing, which revealed some incredible talent backing this project. Not only is this an adaptation of a Natsume Ono manga, but it features the directorial work of Shingo Natsume, the man who helped make Space Dandy and One Punch Man the animation spectacles they were. Now obviously I wasn’t completely sold, I couldn’t find a lot about the manga’s critical reception, and I’m actually not the biggest fan of One Punch Man, but even if I tried to nitpick I couldn’t ignore the talent behind this show’s creators. So how is this first episode?

Well, I can happily say that I had a pretty good time with it. ACCA may not be the most visually stunning show I’ve see, or the most gripping, but that’s kind of what I like about it. For starters, I love how the show focuses its creative energies on such a mundane premise. Because, while there are some definite hints of future political intrigue, for the most part the episode is very low key and subtle. Jean’s life as an inspector mostly consists of looking through files, taking long flights off to different territories, and in general being kind of bored. That may not sound like a whole lot of fun, but the key to ACCA’s success lies in it’s presentation and world building.

Shingo Natsume’s direction manages to walk a fine line between being stylish and down to earth. The backgrounds are calm and inviting, and the character designs based off the original designs by Ono are as unique and vibrant as one would expect. Once again, the actual animation is fairly standard, but it definitely has a lot of effort put into it either way.

Meanwhile, the script hammers out some quick exposition and character details with relative ease. With the exception of a few mind numbing “as you know it” scenes, the show manages to be rather good at establishing its setting. I like how it showcases world building details through minor conversations, and seeing these characters go through the motions helps make them feel more relatably human. However, Jean is clearly the star of the show here, with his strikingly simple design and cool attitude carrying a majority of the scenes. His blase attitude and wit make him easily stand out among the cast, but his boredom with his job and love of drinking and cigarettes helps make him feel like more than just another cool guy protagonist.

Overall, I quite liked ACCA. While it could be argued that this episode doesn’t do a whole lot during its runtime, what it managed to showcase was totally my jam. From the interesting setting, to the unique tone, I’m definitely ready to figure out what’s lurking underneath the surface of the kingdom of Dowa.

Rating: 4/5

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

akibas-trip-the-animation

Akiba’s Trip The Animation:

Look, if there’s any anime I could have skipped over for this first impressions post, it was probably Akiba’s Trip. It’s title is a unfunny pun about Akihabara and stripping, and it’s based off one of those video games you see as a Crunchyroll ad before the episode starts, repeating over and over again until it becomes white noise. That last part may be more specific to me, but in general I think it’s safe to say this show isn’t the kind of how brow thing a lot of people are going to care about.

So why did I watch it? Well, there are two major factors to that decision. One, the PV showcased more striking animation than most other projects this season, and two, this is apparently studio Gonzo’s 25th anniversary project (according to this promotional tweet from Crunchyroll anyways). Being someone who’s always been kind of fascinated by the decline of Gonzo, I wanted to see what represented their modern day A game. The results were, well, pretty underwhelming.

Not to say there isn’t anything noteworthy about this anime, but there’s only so much the studio can do to improve on a fundamentally ridiculous premise. Watching our generic protagonist Tomatsu make boring otaku references throughout out the episode, punctuated by some light fanservice and an incredibly awkward kissing scene, isn’t exactly what I’d call a gripping experience. I found myself frequently uninterested in what was happening on screen, and the dialogue began to fade into the background like the buzzing of my computer.

Still, I stand by my previous statement that this show has some rather interesting animation. It’s definitely not on model, but like Konosuba, that’s part of the charm. It’s loose and frenetic, not to mention probably a lot less stressful to animate for the production team. Of course, it helps that the color design is generally nice, and the slippery animation really helps make the action scenes engaging. The jokes here aren’t particularly funny, but the presentation makes it pretty watchable. This may not be studio Gonzo’s best writing effort, but in terms of animation production, it’s easily one of the most visually exciting things they’ve done in the past few years.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that Akiba’s Trip is, at it’s core, an incredibly generic fanservice comedy. I wish I could say I want to watch more, but sadly I think I’ll pass on this one.

Rating: 2/5

Akiba’s Trip is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll. It also has a Funimation Now simuldub which premieres thirty minutes after the episode airs in Japan (Yeah, I don’t know why they chose this show either).

blue-exorcist-kyoto-saga

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga:

Honestly out of all the sequels that came out this season, Blue Exorcist’s was the one I cared the least about. I watched the first season a few years ago and found it to be a relatively enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable shonen experience, and my motivation to see more of it was basically zero. In fact, it wasn’t until the day this premiere aired that I realized the last 9 episodes of the original series were anime only filler. Still, in a season where most of the show’s coming out have been receiving lukewarm reception, a continuation of a pleasant enough shonen series sounded like a breath of fresh air.

Luckily, Blue Exorcist’s second season is off to a pretty decent start. It picks up right where episode 16 left off, quickly reestablishing narrative beats and setting up conflict for future episodes. The dynamic between everyone has been sorely strained after Rin’s outbreak during the previous battle, and Yukio is still struggling with his self-esteem. It’s all well trodden stuff, but it’s executed well enough with some nice animation from A1 Pictures.

Really the biggest problem with this episode is how it paces that exposition. The character moments are nice, but the constant reminders of what happened in the previous season seriously slows down the flow of the episode. True, it has been five years since season one, but I get the feeling with a little more editing they could have made this episode more propulsive. Overall though, it’s easily one of the more effective opening episodes this season, though that sadly doesn’t really change my opinion on the franchise as a whole. I may not watch more of it, but for now, I feel content in saying Blue Exorcist is still a pretty enjoyable watch.

Rating: 3.5/5

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

hand-shakers

Hand Shakers:

Ever since I watched the fourth PV for Hand Shakers I’ve had a strange fascination with it. Not because it really intrigued me or looked good, but rather because every aspect of its being utterly baffled me. Why is this show called Hand Shakers? Who greenlit this? What’s the artistic motivation behind these color filters? And, of course, OH GOD WHY IS EVERY CHARACTER MOVING SO AWKWARDLY, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!

Still, it’s not fair to judge a show off of just one PV, so I figured I should give the first episode a shot. I mean so what if the show’s premise is based around people holding hands to activate superpowers? Anything can be good, right?…

I think Hand Shakers might be the worst premiere I’ve ever sat through for Anime Lookout.

Not necessarily the most painful mind you (though it may be that too), but in terms of sheer quality, Hand Shakers has almost nothing going for it. On a technical level I guess you could argue that the animation is good, and you could say the amount of motion showcased in this first episode is impressive. But Hand Shakers is a prime example of how technically good 2D animation doesn’t always equal an artistically sound product. Because holy shit Hand Shakers is ugly.

By the time the opening credits were causing me eye strain ten seconds in, I knew I was in for a horrifying experience, but honestly I found it impressive how the show managed to keep topping its ugliness in successive scenes. As the episode goes on it only becomes more unbelievable that at some point in production people were able to take a look at the crappy filters and CGI chains littering the screen and say, “Yep that’s good to go, here’s our finalized cut.”

When I try to decide what the worst creative decision behind Hand Shakers is, I struggle to find a definitive answer. That’s partly because every artistic decision is bad, but it’s also because none of it coalesces into a cohesive whole. I would love to point at the rainbow color filters and say their lack of consistency destroys any sense of immersion, or rant about how the boob jiggles and character animation look like the work of student animator trying way too hard, or hell, maybe we should just scrap all that and continue to complain about the previously mentioned CGI chains which crowd the screen for forty-five percent of this episode’s runtime. People often talk about the beauty of elaborate visuals, but more than anything else, I think Hand Shaker’s is a lesson in the importance of simplicity. You can have the smoothest motion, a plethora of creative shot ideas, and a willingness to risks, but none of it will mean anything if what appears on screen is nothing more than a void of endless, poorly composited backgrounds.

You know, I really don’t want to be that guy who craps on GoHands’ latest original project (especially since the only other GoHands work I’ve watched is Mardock Scramble), but I have my limit and Hand Shakers is definitely it. The visual presentation is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t help that the story is complete generic light novel dreck too. Please, for the love your sanity, don’t watch this one.

Rating: 1/5

Hand Shakers is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

interview-with-monster-girls

Interview with Monster Girls:

If I have to be honest, I’ve never really understood the whole monster girl fad. I have nothing against it mind you, but nothing about it struck me as particularly cute or anything. However, assumptions are deadly, and as soon as I saw Machi the Dullahan girl I knew this show as going to be a blast. It’s hard to describe exactly how this show was able to warm my cold heart, but if I had to pinpoint it down to two things they would be the show’s quality slice of life execution and its unique world building.

The animation by A1 Pictures may not be amazing, but its expressive and filled to the brim with good comedic timing. Meanwhile the many demi-humans throughout the episode provide light exposition on the world that feels funny and cute, rather than forced and masturbatory. Of course, it also helps that these monster girls are very adorable. Unlike the hyper sexualized ladies of 2015’s Monster Musume, the high schoolers here are much more casual in their interactions. There are a few sex jokes here and there, but for the most part everyone is calm and very friendly.

In general, Interview with Monster Girls is a great combination of interesting world building, calming slice of life, and fun character interactions. The show is never too skeevy, and watching Machi lift her head in order to respond to questions is something I want to watch again and again. It also helps that the teacher character here is very respectful, and that his interviews with the girls never veer too far into harem territory (please keep up this trend show, I don’t want to see that). I highly recommend it to any slice of life fan.

Rating: 4/5

Interview with Monster Girls is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

masamune-kuns-revenge

Masamune-kun’s Revenge:

Initially I wasn’t planning to watch this one. The premise seemed kind of MRAish, with the idea of some high schooler trying to get revenge on a girl by tricking her to fall in love with him striking me as kind of sketchy. From an outsider’s perspective, the show just looked kind of mean spirited. Still, a few recommendations caused me to check it out anyways, and while it’s not nearly as bad at the premise suggests, I found myself mostly unimpressed.

Now there are actually a few things I like about this premiere, at least conceptually speaking. I think that Aki and Makabe being unlikable could create a compelling story where both of them have to overcome their faults in order to fall in love, but the big problem here is with how the show frames them. Makabe is clearly supposed to be the character you root for here, but his goals are entirely selfish and unhealthy. It would be one thing if the show acknowledged this and poked fun at him, but besides a few jokes sprinkled throughout the episode, his, “You must be hot in order to control people,” philosophy is never really challenged.

Meanwhile, the framing for Aki is so negative that I find it hard to really care at all about her. The show clearly judges her for being a manipulative popular girl, and as of this episode there’s not much else to her beside that. She’s just that one girl who was a dick to the protagonist when he was younger. To me the key in these kind of romantic comedies is being able to empathize with the main characters, no matter how despicable they are. Not only will this make their actions more tolerable, but it can also help make their actions more comedic. Right now though, I find it hard to really care about either of them.

Still, the ending of the episode does promise a greater focus of poking fun at Makabe, and if they can give a good motivation for Aki’s ice cold nature, then maybe this can become a decent show. As it stands now though, I’m probably going to leave this one behind for greener pastures.

Rating: 2.5/5

Masamune-kun’s Revenge is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

miss-kobayashis-dragon-maid

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid:

If I had to be honest, I didn’t have the highest expectations for this show. While it is true that I’ve really grown to appreciate KyoAni’s work over the past few years, I can’t say I’m a true diehard fan; not helped by my previously mentioned blase attitude toward monster girls. However, much to my surprise, I quite enjoyed Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s premiere episode.

Beginning with the positives, Miss Kobayashi has that typical KyoAni polish you’d expect from the studio. The character designs are clean and inviting, the expressions on point, and the comedic timing is stellar throughout. That latter part is especially important, since this show is attempting to be a comedy. Most of the jokes come from the interactions between the titular Kobayashi and her Dragon Maid Tohru, who have a pretty cute dynamic. Tohru is straight up in love with Kobayashi in a way that is without subtext or vague yuri bait pandering. That may not sound like a big deal or anything, but considering this is the same studio who produced Sound! Euphonium, I found it to be rather refreshing (look I love Sound! Euphonium, but if I had to be honest with myself the portrayal of Reina and Kumiko’s relationship is about seventy five percent male gaze oriented).

My favorite part of this show though, is how it isn’t afraid of gross out humor with the dragon’s strange abilities. I love the beginning introduction where Tohru tries to clean Kobayashi’s clothes with her spit, and her overprotectiveness is the perfect combination of cute and hilariously overblown. None of the show is groundbreaking, but it’s cute fun, and in a season as dry as this that can be a luxury.

Rating: 3.5/5

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

onihei

Onihei:

Masao Maruyama is a pretty great producer. Over the years he’s brought us a ton of great anime, from the classics at 2000’s Madhouse, to the modern day experiments of MAPPA, the man has never been afraid to take risks and bring new voices to the medium. So when I heard Onihei was going to be the first show from his new studio M2, I knew I was going to have to watch, especially considering it was based a relatively well regarded series of novels.

Unfortunately, Onihei is a bit of an odd duck when it comes to quality. On one hand it features some rather interesting ideas and solid pulp writing, but on the other its animation is mediocre and the first episode here just kind of meanders. From the announcement of the mystery novel source material, I knew Onihei was going to be a relatively episodic experience, but I feel like the story they chose to start the whole shebang was bit strange. It’s not really the most exciting fair, and while it’s a good tone setter, it feels very much like a low budget historical drama.

That being said, the niche it occupies is rather unique in terms of anime. I like how the show is already exploring the black and white nature of thieves and samurai in a way that doesn’t feel forced. The conflict of the story here ends an ambiguous note, which helped it stick in my mind longer than it otherwise would have. Of course, the real standout of the show here is the series’ protagonist Heizo Hasegawa, the leader of what is essentially a group of samurai cops. He’s immediately charismatic, and I like how the episode is able to hint at his caring nature through little details like his adopted daughter and tryhard biological son.

Like I mentioned before though, the animation here is shockingly bland. Composition and design wise it’s okay (though the detailed character models do take a while to get used to), but in terms of fluidity and overall aesthetics it’s a pretty lukewarm. Throughout the episode the staff uses a bunch of weird visual effects and touch ups that left me scratching my head, including a bunch of terrible looking CGI backgrounds. Characters occasionally have this weird blur effect when they move, and the use of the film grain filter feels haphazard at best. It’s not an ugly show, but it feels rushed and amateurish.

In the end though, I can’t say I hated my time with Onihei. I may have walked out of the experience more confused than I entered, but I think that’s only helped hooked me more. It will take a few more episodes to really sell me, but if you like this kind of mystery samurai vibe, then I’d say it’s worth a try.

Rating: 3/5

Onihei is currently available on Amazon Video’s Anime Strike service. You’ll have to pay for both Prime and the extra subscription in order to gain access.

scums-wish

Scum’s Wish:

Scum’s Wish is a bit of weird one for me. On one hand, I admire its blatant focus on the types of strenuous sexual desires that come with adolescence, but on the other I find that focus to be a little melodramatic. Which is strange, because if I had to be honest, Scum’s Wish is a pretty well executed work. It takes a lot to make a premise as skeevy as this somewhat believable, and yet the show manages to do a lot right with its framing.

For one thing, the show never tries to glorify the two main character’s and their surrogate relationship. It’s clear that the show empathizes with both Hana and Mugi, but it’s also aware that what they’re doing is a terrible way to solve their problems. Instead of confronting their issues head on, their using each other as tools in order to satisfy their selfish desires. Even the character’s acknowledge this, admitting that they would never go as far as sex. The future arc this couple is pretty clear from the get go, especially with their ultimatum that they’ll break up if they fall in love with each other, but it’s a compelling set up nonetheless. Like Flowers of Evil or a less depressing Inio Asano work, what makes Scum’s Wish work is its uncompromising, yet empathetic view of self-destructive people and their habits.

However, as much as I’m impressed with Scum’s Wish’s character writing, I have to admit I find some of it to be too focused on shock value. Look, I’ve never understood the appeal behind the teacher student taboo; it seems like a gross situation no matter how you look at it, so I’m disappointed that it’s one of Scum’s Wish’s main plot threads. Similarly, I hate how Hana calls Narumi onii-chan, even though they aren’t blood related; it feels like a ploy to make me gasp out loud. Once again though, I will compliment the show on at least giving some extra context to Mugi and Hana’s crushes.

Even with my nitpicks though, I have to admit this a pretty solid first episode. The story is daring and intriguing, and the animation from studio Lerche is surprisingly nice. There isn’t a whole lot of movement, but the subtle character gestures and beautiful color design help make this show an easy sight for the eyes. I also like how it portrayed the more sexual scenes, the director wasn’t afraid to get close and personal with its shot composition. While I’m not in love with it, I’m definitely sticking with this show for the long run.

Rating: 3.5/5

Scum’s Wish is available for streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike service. You’ll have to pay for both Prime and the extra subscription in order to gain access.

showa-genroku-rakugo-shinju-2

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories:

I don’t think I’m going to surprise anyone when I say that out of all the anime airing this season, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju’s second season was the one I was looking forward to the most. While I didn’t give its premiere last year the highest score on my winter first impressions list, it quickly became my favorite show of 2016, jumping up in quality with each subsequent episode. There’s a lot I could say about its masterful first season, from its beautiful direction and tragic character writing, to the way it kept building of previous plot points to reach new dramatic heights. In pretty much every respect, Rakugo Shinju’s first season was everything I wanted from a prestige anime, and the second season seems to be continuing that trend.

Continuing from where episode 13 left off, and ten years after the events in the first episode of season one, this premiere episode doesn’t waste anytime recapping things. Yotaro’s intro Rakugo scene isn’t the most graceful way to remind the audience of what happened in the previous season, but it’s hard to care when the performance itself is so captivating. Even with such a minor scene we can see the growth of Yotaro as a performer, as his style becomes closer and closer to that of Sukeroku’s. Of course the real meat of this season gets introduced afterwards, and like the first season it’s a fascinating mix of a historical period piece, subtle character drama, and a meditation on a dying art form.

Yakumo is at the point where he’s given up on life, living out his last few years content to be praised by his followers as the last true rakugo performer. In comparison Yotaro and Konatsu are a bright future for the medium, with them mirroring Sukeroku and Miyokichi from the first season. Meanwhile, Yotaro’s meeting with author Higuchi represents the way forward, with his offer to write new stories being a call back to Yakumo’s request to revitalize the medium.

These allusions could easily become heavy handed, but I appreciate how Rakugo is able to mix its themes with compelling character drama. You could really take your time and examine these moments in terms of what they mean thematically, or you could just sit back and soak in the drama of the scenario. Either way, the show offers a satisfying and thought provoking experience that makes you wonder where everything’s going. Combine this with the nice animation from Studio Deen and Shinichi Omata’s skilled direction, and you’ve got yourself one hell of package. This is the kind of anime that deserves way more attention than it gets. It’s mature, beautiful, and entertaining all at the same time. I missed you Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, and I’m glad to finally have you back.

Rating: 4.5/5

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll

urara-meirocho

Urara Meirocho:

Ending things off on a bit of a low key note, we have Urara Meirocho, a slice of life with nice background art and atmosphere, but not much else. Look I wanted to like this show, I really did, but while JC Staff does a good job at making the labyrinth town of Meirocho look pastel and inviting, the actual comedy and characters on display here are average at best.

Really my major complaint here is with the fanservice, which is ever present from minute one. Chiya is a girl who grew up in the wilderness, and as such her gimmick is acting like an animal. This results in a terrible recurring gag where she shows her belly when she apologizes. On its own this would fell unfunny and tacked on for some flaccid fanservice, but it’s made worse by the fact that it gets repeated several times throughout the episode on other characters. I understand the core appeal of shows like this is too be cute and make the audience squee at the cast’s moe appeal, but frankly I think there’s a definite balance that’s missed here. Flying Witch definitely had fanservice, but it also had great moments of relaxing magical moments and characters who were enjoyable to watch without having them show their shining stomachs.

Once again, Urara Meirocho does have some pretty nice backgrounds, and its focus on a magical fortune telling town is unique, but I can’t say I was impressed by this premiere. There’s a lot of pointless fanservice and yuri schtick that goes nowhere, and in general I can’t see this series going anywhere truly spectacular. I don’t expect a lot of depth from my iyashikei, but I least want some nuance, and Urara Meirocho doesn’t have that.

Rating: 2.5/5

Urara Meirocho’s first episode is available for free streaming on The Anime Network.com. You will need a premium membership for subsequent episodes.

———————-

And with that we’ve made our through yet another winter season. Sadly, this one went about as badly as I expected, leaving me with a much smaller slate of shows than last time around. But hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I do have a very large backlog after all, and what few shows I do have are pretty dang good. I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and I’ll see you next season!

Current Slate:

  • ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department
  • Interview with Monster Girls
  • Konasuba – God’s blessing on this wonderful world! 2 [I tried to do a write up for this one, but I wasn’t satisfied with the final product. All you need to know about Konosuba is that it’s solid, and I recommend it if you’re looking for an above average light novel comedy]
  • Little Witch Academia (TV) [Once it’s on Netflix… I wish I was watching it right now]
  • March comes in like a lion [Continued from last season]
  • Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
  • Scum’s Wish
  • Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories

 

 

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One thought on “Anime Lookout | Winter 2017

  1. ACCA, Little Witch Academia, Scum’s Wish, the continuing March, and of course Rakugo Shinjuu all made it onto my slate too, along with Onihei. It’s considerably fewer shows that normal given that we’re still around the 3-episode mark (there was a loooot of crap to discard straight away this time around), but maybe that’s for the best – quality over quantity and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

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