Ah, summer time! The time of year when the sun shines down and students are free to relax on vacation. I know I’m enjoying my free time! That being said, even though early July would seem like the perfect time to release a whole bunch of new and cool anime, the summer anime season is rarely ever impressive. They’re never quite as dry as the winter season, but for the most part they tend to lack a lot of pazazz, featuring a few noteworthy titles here and there alongside some relatively forgettable genre shows.
Still, it’s always nice to dig through it all to find the gems, which is what I aim to do with these posts. So with that preamble out of the way, let’s get on with the show!
18if is one of those shows I took a gamble on entirely due to the minor hype for it on my twitter feed. Sure, no one was jumping up and down for it, but people like Kevin from Sakugabooru seemed relatively interested in it due to the supervision of Koji Morimoto, the director of Magnetic Rose. Still, I can’t say I was completely sold on it, mostly due to it being a part of some strange multimedia project involving a mobile game. I know I shouldn’t judge the show off a minor production detail like that, but frankly the only great mobile adaptation I’ve seen is Rage of Bahamut.
Sadly, 18if didn’t really change my opinion on that front, presenting a lackluster opening episode that squanders a surprising amount of potential. Now that doesn’t mean I think the material here is great – the script is passable at best – but there’s something powerful about the idea of exploring a character’s dream world in order to help them fight their psychological hang ups. The show even has the visual ambition to back it up, featuring some dreamlike backgrounds and designs. Where the show fails however is in the final product, because boy oh boy do the staff have no idea what their doing here.
You’d think with Koji Morimoto supervising this thing that the show would turn out at least somewhat visually consistent; I mean he’s worked on theatrical level productions. And yet, almost everything about 18if’s aesthetic is somewhat off. Everything just looks too simple: the surrealist imagery is too normal, the character designs are boring at best, and its attempts to be visually weird just fall flat. Studio Gonzo can, and has produced good work in the past (even with their remarkably lopsided reputation), but they are clearly no longer what they used to be. It’s sad really.
Like I said before though, it doesn’t help that the script isn’t very good either. The concept is there, but the protagonist Haruto is bland, and the Witch’s conflict/backstory is stereotypical high school drama. It was really up to the animation staff to make this show special, but alas, here we are. You tried 18if, you tried.
18if is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.
Moving along to one of the more solid offerings this season, we have Altair: A Record of Battles, a show which contains many of the same strengths and flaws as the recent anime adaptation of The Heroic Legend of Arslan. On one hand, Altair provides a beautiful middle eastern inspired fantasy world, with motivated characters and interesting politics, but on the other hand a lot of this episode is filled with dry exposition. If you aren’t a fan of generals talking to each other about subterfuge and past wars, then this show probably isn’t for you.
Now that being said, even though this opening episode gets the show off to a slow start, there are still plenty of things to appreciate about it. While this easily the worst looking of the three MAPPA productions this season, it’s still filled with some very solid character art and inventive shots. The environments aren’t as detailed as they should be, but I like the use of hawks as shot transitions, and even at its worst it’s never truly ugly. I’m also a pretty big fan of the protagonist Mahmut. He may be pretty standard in terms of goals and backstory, but I have a soft spot for protagonists who fight for the pacifist solution at all costs. Similarly the supporting cast have distinct personalities that could be used to great effect in future episodes.
Like I said before though, the biggest problem with this episode is that it gets a little too bogged down in its set up. There are a lot of elements at play here: the many empires on the continent, the different positions in Turkiye’s government, and the old war that plays a major role in many character’s motivations. It can be a lot to take in, making the potential chemistry of the cast shine less than it should. Still, if the show can lighten up on the overbearing worldbuilding in future episodes, this could become something great. As it stands though, Altair is a relatively solid genre exercise that fails to be truly exceptional.
Altair: A Record of Battles is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
Going into A Centaur’s Life, I was actually somewhat excited. I may not be really into the monster girls fad, but the source material has a good reputation, and it sounded like it could be a bizarrely good time. Sadly though, this first episode was pretty mediocre, and not for the reasons I was expecting.
Basically the biggest deal breaker for me with this show has to be its lack of production values. Now I understand that’s a very superficial hang up, and that there are a ton of anime out there with lackluster animation that work entirely due to great writing. However, there’s a big difference between a well written show with average animation and one with barely any visual personality to speak of, and A Centuar’s Life definitely falls into the latter category. Not only are the backgrounds and movement here barebones at best, but the anime lacks any aesthetic qualities of note. The character designs are okay I guess? There’s a scene or two where they actually time the gags?
Really this a shame, because I’m actually a big fan of this show’s strange take on slice of life antics. The premise here is out there, featuring a world where six legged demihumans evolved to become the dominating species on Earth. Some of the best parts of this episode is when the writing delves into the setting’s strangest details, like the parallels between human racial discrimination and the different types of six legged humans, or Hime’s conversation about how she has to exercise in order to be able to wipe her own butt. It’s gross and occasionally over the top, but I like how it fully makes use of its ideas and worldbuilding to deliver a slice of life experience unlike anything else.
None of this excuses the production values though, and while I’m sure some people will be able to get past it and enjoy the material for what it is, I think I’m going to pass on this one. If the manga has better art and comedic timing, then why shouldn’t I read that instead? An adaptation should be more than just a direct transfer of the source material, and if it can’t at least match the original in basic quality, well then frankly it may not be worth the watch. Sorry A Centaur’s Life, but it looks like I’ll be continuing your story in another medium.
A Centaur’s Life is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.
Few things hurt more than a boring Noitamina project. As a programming block dedicated to creating interesting, mainstream oriented hits, watching them produce something that completely fails to leave any impression is always depressing. I mean, even their worst projects tend to at least be watchably bad or unique in some way, but Dive? Well, it’s painfully mediocre.
Say what you want about last summer’s similarly low key sports offering Battery, but at least it had some edge. Takumi was an unlikable but complex protagonist, and that show had some nice visual direction thanks to the involvement of character designer Takako Shimura and veteran director Tomomi Mochizuki. Dive!! on the other hand is a by the numbers, almost textbook example of a fujoshi sports show, albeit without any visual panache to back it up. Despite featuring many similarities with Battery, with both being animated by studio Zero G and based off a series of children’s sports novels, there’s almost no drive to this opening episode.
Our protagonist Tomoki just doesn’t really have a lot of compelling problems. He has a girlfriend, lives a relatively normal life, and besides some club troubles, he seems relatively okay. Normally this would be fine for a sport series, but without any other spectacle to fill in for the lack of a compelling conflict, there just isn’t a whole lot to latch onto. The diving on display isn’t very impressive to watch, and the dialogue is bland and generic at best, featuring a lot of typical anime jokes and the same flashback training sequences you see in any other sports anime.
Also for a show attempting to capitalize on the fujoshi market, the animation and designs here just aren’t all that attractive. Don’t get me wrong, the series isn’t downright ugly, but in terms of pure aesthetics the show is a bit off putting. The facial designs aren’t very good in distance shots, and the musculature is too inconsistent to blend in with everything. It wants to look like Free, but in the end it looks more like All Out.
Still, I can’t say Dive!! is a truly bad show. Its biggest crime is just that it’s incredibly average. The episode hook is lame and ineffective, the animation is passable but not enticing, and the final package ends up being unengaging because of this. If you like this kind of sports drama then I can see some potential for enjoyment here, but for me it’s too uninteresting to really be worth another episode.
DIVE!! is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
You know for a mobile game franchise, Touken Ranbu continues to impress me with the quality its anime adaptations. Last year I was surprised by the pleasant Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru, a shockingly personality filled comedy tie-in that succeeded thanks to some great animation work courtesy of the team at Dogakobo. I may have only watched one episode of it, but it gave me hope for the next, more action packed version. Luckily for me, I wasn’t too disappointed. Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu may not be amazing, but it’s a highly competent production that mostly succeeds due to the talent of studio Ufotable.
On a pure animation and production level, this series is very nice. The CGI integration is well done, the character designs are attractive, and the digital effects work is top notch. The writing isn’t particularly spectacular, but it remains engaging by establishing a solid driving force. The premise is a little overly complicated and under explained, but the idea of swords becoming humans in order to fight an army of monsters trying to change the past is a compelling enough conflict to keep things interesting. There are even a few surprisingly good dramatic moments that come out of it!
One of my personal favorite parts of the episode was near the middle, when a fire starts in the village the main characters are staying in. When the rookie Kunihiro tries to go out and lessen the damage, Kanesada stops him, forcing Kunihiro to acknowledge that saving people from the fire would be just as damaging as the plans of the Retrograde Army. It’s a dark and effective moment, which plays with the series’ time travel premise in interesting ways. This moment is somewhat undercut a few minutes later when Kanesada saves a little girl, but hey, at least the staff tried to play with some uncomfortable moral implications.
Overall though, I don’t think this is a series I’m going to stick with in the long run. Even as nice and polished as it is, it’s mostly forgettable action fluff. If you’re a fan of this franchise or studio though, then I highly recommend you check it out. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll (and other streaming platforms, I guess).
Okay, before we dive into this premiere’s content, can I complain about this show’s title for a bit? I understand that most people have already joked about its incorrect grammar, but seriously, why is that apostrophe error still in the localized title? Was the production committee really that set on it? Whatever, maybe it will turn out the knights in this story have some sort of “And Magic.”
Anyways, getting to the actual episode proper, Knight’s & Magic is a relatively bland light novel isekai adaptation with a few interesting ideas, but not much else. The premise is pretty simple: one day a skilled programmer and mecha otaku named Kurata dies and is reincarnated as a noble child in a fantasy world with mechas called Silhouette Knights. From there he climbs the ranks in the Knight academy and generally is just the most skilled and powerful kid ever, etc, etc.
Honestly the biggest problem with this show right off the bat is the protagonist Ernesti. While he does have some endearing elements (I mean, I love a good mech as much as the next guy), for the most part he’s too perfect to really be all that compelling. He’s good at magic, has girls fawning over his cute feminine looks, and has very few issues to deal with. There’s nothing wrong with a story having a skilled protagonist, but they’ve got to at least be challenged with some interesting conflict, and right now there isn’t a lot of that.
Still, calling this show a complete failure wouldn’t be fair, because overall it’s a pretty easy to watch. There aren’t really any gross fanservice moments, and the direction and animation here are above average. Director Yusuke Yamamoto has a lot of experience with this genre, so the mecha fights and CGI integration are quite good. Hell, there’s even some nice 2D action cuts near the end of the episode.
That being said, it’s hard to fully recommend this show to anyone but the most diehard of mecha fans. It’s not the worst show airing this season, but it certainly isn’t exceptional either. Who knows though, maybe the protagonist will become less of an audience insert in future episodes. We can always hope for the best.
Knight’s & Magic is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.
Love & Lies isn’t a very smart show. Like its protagonist Yukari Nejima, it’s all heart, no brains. To be honest, when I started this episode I wasn’t very impressed. The premise on this one is absolutely ridiculous romcom tripe, designed perfectly for maximum melodrama. You thought you could ask out the one you love? Wrong! In this world’s dystopian society marriages are arranged… PERMANENTLY. It’s all very over the top.
And yet, I think that might be this show’s strength. In terms of execution and writing, Love & Lies isn’t great. The animation is fairly limited, the character designs are strangely off putting, and the comedy is pretty banal and archetypal. Every scene is like a textbook romance anime set piece, ripped straight from the book and slapped on screen. But wow is it ever entertaining!
I think the main things that pushes the show over the edge is how quickly everything escalates. Normally a series like this would take its time with the main character’s confession and first kiss, but here it all happens in the first episode. This is because of the ridiculous plot scenario of course, but it’s elevated by just how overly dramatic it is. Nejima is a bland guy, I mean he goes on nerdy rants about ancient tombs, and yet the way Takasaki dreamily talks about the time he handed her half of his eraser back in middle school is just so ludicrous that I couldn’t help but enjoy it! You know you’re in some truly over the top territory when there’s a dramatic romantic chase in the first episode.
However, there is more to this show than just the melodrama, and while this show mostly succeeds on a fun trash level, Love & Lies’ soundtrack and portrayal of sexuality are surprisingly competent. I appreciate how it isn’t afraid to beat around the bush when it comes to Nejima and Takasaki’s crush, it’s not just some pure romantic snug fest. Sure, it’s juevenille, especially when Takasaki just directly brings sex up right before they kiss, but at least they acknowledge sexual desires exist. Of course none of this would be so entertaining if it weren’t for the previously mentioned score composed by Masaru Yokoyama. The way it captures love and dramatic tension is way too good for the material on display here, and had me hooked into the moment even when I probably shouldn’t have been.
So while Love & Lies may not exactly be great art, it certainly is a highly entertaining romp. Once you get past the bland opening minutes, the show only increases in trashiness, becoming an incredibly enjoyable experience. If Scum’s Wish is a classy, well thought out examination of teenage sexuality, this show is an over the top exploitation piece. That description may be a bit extreme, but honestly the amount of fun I had watching this premiere was quite astounding. My rating for this may not be very high, but I’m definitely watching the next episode to see what crazy heights it reaches.
Love & Lies is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
One of my favorite things about media, specifically with film and video games, is atmosphere. Many of my favorite works of art are highly immersive pieces, ones which aim to completely submerge you in a feeling of mystery and discovery. So for me it isn’t really a surprise that Made in Abyss is easily my favorite premiere of the season. Everything about it seems almost tailor made for me, and while I do have some quibbles with its execution, for the most part this is an exceptionally well made premiere.
Right off the bat, Made in Abyss uses great visual storytelling to get you invested in the show’s unique setting. With little exposition or narration, the story introduces us to protagonist Riko, her motivations, and the general structure of this spelunking society. From there we get some inner monologuing which helps flesh out some more intricate details, leading into a tense scene with a frightening monster animated with sketchy style that gives it a surreal sense of movement. It’s all very well paced, effectively leading the audience into one moment of discovery after another until the episode’s final moments pull back the curtain to reveal some more concrete facts.
If there’s one strength to this series so far though, it’s the impressive animation and art design courtesy of the staff at Kinema Citrus. The level of detail and artistry in this show’s backgrounds and layouts is impressive to say the least. From little details like the orphanage classroom’s vertical design, to the odd details of Riko’s bedroom, the show is dedicated to creating a fully realized and lived in world. This really helped enrapture me, and the strange relics and unknown depths of the titular abyss only further hooked me in. Of course it also helps that the character designs and animation are damn adorable, with bouncy movement and cute faces.
In fact, if there’s really anything that worries me about this show’s future episodes, it’s the show’s dark implications. Even though this was a pretty light first episode, there are hints of a scary and violent future; which is fine in theory! I actually quite like the disturbing juxtapositions displayed in this first episode, but the manga’s reputation for disturbing child torture scenes has me worried. There’s a certain level of grimdark shock value I can put up with, and if the anime doesn’t opt to remove some of the more explicit aspects of the original source material, this show could turn sour very fast.
For now though, I’m content with enjoying the beautiful world being offered here. If nothing else this is a truly fantastic opening episode, well worth checking out as a standalone piece. I highly recommend it!
Made in the Abyss is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
Magical Circle Guru-Guru is one of those series which is utterly alien to most western anime fans, but has a long and storied history in Japan. First receiving an adaptation way back in 1994, the original series received a 54 episode sequel series and a movie, with this new adaptation being a part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary celebration. And watching this first episode it’s easy to see why this series was a success back in the day. As a fan of JRPGs, there’s a lot to appreciate about the way this series parodies the traditional formula of games like Final Fantasy I, and especially the original N & SNES Dragon Quest games. Our protagonists Nike and Kukuri fall into stereotypical RPG roles, acting as the naive kids with secret powers who will one day save the world, but their hilarious antics and subversions of those archetypes are what makes the series funny.
Or at least, it’s what should make the show funny. In reality, I found this premiere to be mixed bag comedy-wise. On the positive side of things, the show has a ton of visual personality, featuring some inventive 8-bit sections, a ton of great reaction faces, and many cuts of vibrant animation. However, the main problem I have with the jokes here is that they rely way too much on overreactions, a subsection of anime comedy I’ve never been a fan of. There’s a lot of shouting in this first episode, and while I could appreciate the subtle jabs at old school JRPGs, the tone got a little tired after a while.
It doesn’t really help that there isn’t a whole lot of breathing room here. The whole runtime is pretty much back to back jokes, which would be fine, but considering how loud everyone is it would have been nice to have a few quiet moments here and there. In fact the only time that really happens is over halfway through the episode, when Nike gives Kukuri a flower pin for her hair, and even then it only lasts for a minute or so.
In the end though, I wouldn’t say this opening episode is a failure. There’s a lot to like about it production wise, and it’s clear there’s a lot of talent going into this thing. But depending on your comedic taste, this thing could range anywhere between charming and incredibly annoying, so be cautious going into it.
Magical Circle Guru-Guru (2017) is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.
Back in the early 2000’s, Bee Train set off a trend of so called “Girls with Guns” anime, which usually featured moe girls wandering around vaguely European settings being spies and generally kicking ass to Yuki Kajura soundtracks. Watching this first episode of Princess Principal I couldn’t help but be reminded of those old shows, not only because of the involvement of Yuki Kajura, but also because it features the same kind of dour, contemplative atmosphere as shows like Noir. Now I will admit I don’t have a ton of experience with that genre, but from what I can tell Princess Principal seems to be a pretty solid entry for the most part.
Starting off with the opening moments, this show instantly sets up an interesting setting and cool thriller tone. In spite of the very sleek moe designs, the show is very gritty on all fronts, which is both a positive and a negative. It’s a plus in the sense that it really fits the spy focus of the series, creating an interesting environment where double crossing is common and intrigue is around every corner, but otherwise it can be a bit overbearing. The cynicism on display here is a bit over the top in some regards, especially the constant philosophical conversations about lying. By the end of the episode, it all becomes hard to really care about anything on screen. With every character acting so cold and detached, I began to feel my interest fade
Of course, that’s more of a personal preference than anything else, and if you’re a fan of this kind thing, then Princess Principal has a lot more going for it than a consistent tone. The animation and designs here are pretty well done, with detailed backgrounds that perfectly capture the sci-fi London setting and some entertaining gravity centric fight scenes. There are very few complaints I have about this show’s visual execution, it’s really just the writing that has me worried. I understand this is a show about deceit and espionage, but without any humanity to latch onto, I found this episode to be a bit of a slog. Still, there are hints about these character’s pasts and motivations, so maybe things will get less self-serious in future episodes.
Princess Principal is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
Despite having a killer premise, Vatican Miracle Examiner is a trashy affair. The melodrama is high, the religious imagery is over the top, and the main characters speak to each other like the most stereotypical priests possible. But somehow, in spite of all these negatives, this first episode is quite the watch! Now I’m not defending the show here, it’s still a hot mess in almost every aspect, but it’s at least a fun hot mess.
Part of this is because of the show’s high camp value, which manifests due to a combination of tryhard horror visuals and intense choral music. This anime is at its best during its most ridiculous moments, when suddenly a woman spreads her arms outward to reveal her stigmata, rose petals flying forward onto the screen, all while a young boy’s choir wails in the background. It isn’t subtle, but that’s kind of the appeal.
Really, the main problem with the show on the whole is that it doesn’t dive into this intense atmosphere enough. The worst moments in this episode are when it tries to exposit, leading to minutes of easily cuttable dialogue that could have been conveyed through just a few shots and facial expressions. If the show decided to go on a more visual track and let the audience become embraced in a cavalcade of over the top religious themed horror, then this would be a much better premiere on the whole.
As it stands though, Vatican Miracle Examiner certainly isn’t the worst show you could watch this season. It may be pretty dumb, but there’s a charm in its dramatic stares and Italian name drops. Often times the best garbage is the kind that tries the hardest.
Vatican Miracle Examiner is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
Last fall, I wrote a post covering the first volume of the Welcome to Ballroom manga, and my opinion on its content hasn’t changed since then. If you’re wondering if the story here is any good, or how well this anime adapts it, the answer is pretty simple. While the actual story here is somewhat generic from a structural standpoint, the writing here mostly succeeds due to tight execution and a solid premise. Dancing isn’t a sport often explored by any medium, so seeing the hard work put into so accurately displayed both on the page and in this opening episode is refreshing. Having gone to an art’s school, I find it ridiculous that more people don’t talk about the grueling work put into this art form.
Anyways, while the episode’s script adapts the material very well, covering the first chapter with relative ease, the main thing I want to applaud this adaptation for is the way everything animated everything. There may not be a ton of sakuga moments throughout this episode, but the level of polish here is outstanding for a TV production. Character designs are expressive and on model, the dancing is vibrant, and while the exaggerated proportions take awhile to get used to, they ultimately only help convey the constant movement of the sport on screen. Motion heavy sports can be tough to get right, so it’s nice to see focusing on them entering smooth sailing right off the bat.
Honestly, the only thing I can find to criticize about this premiere is the lack of a strong hook. Although the direction and animation here is awe inspiring, there isn’t a whole lot of excitement story wise to grab a new audience. It’s mostly just set up and character building, which is fine by me, but for others it may be a deal breaker. Still, the show hasn’t even began to reach its best material yet, and with the introduction of a rival character things are bound to become more exciting. If you haven’t already checked this episode out, please do. You won’t regret it!
Welcome to the Ballroom is available for paid streaming on Amazon’s Anime Strike Service. You’ll have to have a Prime Account in order to access the subscription.
And that’s it for this roundup of summer shows! I’ll have a bonus post coming up a few weeks down the line, but until then I think I can pretty safely say this is the weakest season I’ve seen in awhile. Very few shows here are ones I think I’ll stick with all the way through, and while I found temporary enjoyment in the trashy antics of Love & Lies, there’s no telling how long the hate watch fuel will last. Still with titles like Welcome to the Ballroom, along with a good selection of carry over titles from last season, it’s not like the options here are nonexistent.
On a more topical note though, I’d like to briefly touch upon a little detail some American fans might have noticed. In case you couldn’t tell, Amazon’s Anime Strike service really went all out this season, picking up some major titles for streaming. Now I don’t advocate piracy, but I have to admit that Anime Strike is a terrible product that is actively ruining simulcast accessibility. I could complain a lot about the service’s double paywall, but honestly its biggest problem is that it’s incredibly low quality. The subtitles are occasionally mistimed, PR is almost nonexistent, and the lack of reception to fan feedback is ridiculous. So if you have complaints about Amazon’s attempts to edge in on the anime simulcasting industry, please keep being vocal! Even if Amazon won’t listen, it’s important to keep this discussion going. We won’t create change without fighting for it.
– Definite Pick Ups:
- Made in the Abyss
- Welcome to the Ballroom
- Altair: A Record of Battles
- Magical Circle Guru-Guru
- Love & Lies