Seasonal Thoughts: Summer 2015 Recap + Fall 2015 Anticipation

Red Oni Blue Oni OreMono End Card

Considering current (and future) schedule, it’s simply unsustainable for me to keep up with all/most of the shows in a given season, let alone write about them on something resembling frequent basis. As far as anime goes, I generally prioritize backlog stuff (which most of the time I’m way more excited to see than the current crop) and only watch a few airing shows that I’m really really interested in; the older you get, the more carefully you have to pick your battles, so to say. However! I do enjoy reading fans’ opinion and discussion of on-going shows, and I can certainly do this kind of seasonal recap post to talk about the few shows that I’ve indeed watched, impressions I got from other people’s reaction to the shows I’ve skipped, and incoming stuff I’m going to see.

So, Summer 2015: it’s definitely an odd duck of anime season. Depending on who you ask, you’d heard that this is either “a generally strong and varied season”, “a pleasant surprise”, or “one of the, if not THE, weakest anime season ever.” I didn’t watch enough stuff to form much of an opinion in this regard, but even if most things I’ve watched (approximately 80% of them) left me generally underwhelmed, I do like the diversity and the fact that you’d get more wildly varied answers than typical if you ask for someone’s top 3 of the season. There’s no relative consensus on the cream of the crop, and I suspect whether your “type of show” is present or not is ultimately the deciding factor on gauging the overall quality of the season. Which… might as well be the case for any given season, but held especially true here.

Rather than the lack of Chosen One deal that everyone could love though, the bigger problem is the increasingly obvious strain of weekly production schedule. Some of these shows started very promising before exhibiting symptoms of Mid-Season Haemorrhage through sloppy animation (very, very distracting in the particular cases of Gangsta and Arslan), rushed pacing, and just overall poor handling of material. This trend looks like it’s not going away anytime soon, sadly, and already this seasonal downtime is marred further by the depressing news of Manglobe’s going under and reportedly poor DVD sales. Not exactly bright times ahead, it seems.

That’s enough doom and gloom for now, here goes my run-down.

 

Personal Impression (Summer 2015)

In total, I’ve finished six shows from the past two seasons; three full Summer series (Gakkou Gurashi, Gangsta, and Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace), one short series (Wakako-zake), and two carry-overs from Spring (OreMonogatari!!, Arslan Senki). Out of this batch, I like OreMono and Wakako the most, Ranpo Kitan is easily the worst, and the other three are all bunched close together as “mostly competent shows that had their moments, but too flawed/not great enough for me to see possible future season/pick up the manga” (for the more numerically inclined, they’re the very epitome of 6/10 show).

Show-by-show final impression, spoiler alert ahead…

Ore Monogatari!! / My Love Story!!

Ore Monogatari Birthday Cake

Damn, I gonna miss these lovable dorks. It’s just a lovely show from start to finish—let down a bit by the relative stagnation of its main romantic couple, but it’s still pretty impressive how it operates within its genre trappings and managed to produce so many moments of authentic, heartfelt, and positive relationshippy takeaways. As good as the refreshingly grounded drama, the comedy’s even better: I, for one, certainly found it a lot more amusing than your typical rom-com anime, as it exudes a charming sense of humor that completely bypassed tired tropes, archetypes, and jokes appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Highlight: The uber-cute confession episode, Ai Sunakawa’s arc, Yukika Amami’s arc, and Takeo’s mom going into labor are all strong contenders, but as the relationship between Takeo and Suna is probably my favorite part in the entire series, the two-parter dilemma in Episode 8-9 gotta take the cake. There’s a significant amount of personal experience involved here, but I’d just say for now that it’s a really beautiful emotional apex that said volumes about these two remarkable male characters and the bond between them.

Lowlight: OreMono never had a particularly awful moment, but there were stretches (especially in mid-season) when the whole Takeo-Yamato lovey-dovey deal veered into being overly repetitive, insubstantial, saccharin. It’s not a crippling problem by the end, but I can see why it had made some grown weary and jumped ship.

Future Plan: definitely going to see a hypothetical second season and/or pick up the manga if it’s ever licensed in my country. I cared about these kids a lot.

Wakako-zake

Wakako hokke and younger days

Already wrote a full review here. To sum up, it’s a simple and delightful series with mouth-watering atmosphere and very memorable lead VA performance. It also re-ignited my appetite for the shorts format and compelled me to watch at least one shorts series per season from now on.

Highlight: Particularly like Episode 3 (fish liver; Wakako’s being particularly stressed after being unfairly scolded at work for someone else’s mistake) and 11 (hokke; flashback to younger days and Wakako speaking out her disdain about sharing her food).

Lowlight: None that stuck in mind.

Future Plan: Since the possibility of future anime episode /licensed manga is slim at best, I’ll probably stick at re-watching the episodes every now and then. There’s a live drama adaptation apparently, but it just wouldn’t feel right without the animation, Wakako’s trademark eyes, and Miyuki Sawashiro’s voice.

Gakkou Gurashi! / School-Live!

Megu-nee Alone Gakkougurashi

I was already spoiled on Gakkou’s premise through a season preview, but at the time I still thought it’s going to be primarily slice-of-moe comedy that just happened to have zombies. It’s to my pleasant surprise that it turned out the horror part is taken seriously; there are actual stakes and consequences, and even the comedic SoL part is cleverly justified through the framing of its main protagonist’s delusional mental state. The show’s plenty of clever actually, especially during its first three episodes; great foreshadowing and build-up, cute homages to Stephen King and George Romero, and playful visual and verbal tricks all over the place.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t stay strong. Too much time wasted on dreary humor that failed to work for me at all, the fanservice is wildly out of place, and the level of psychological/emotional realism is shaky at best. It’s still a worthy experiment at genre blending, just not really successful one by my standard.

Highlight: The first episode with its infamous bait-and-switch immediately came to mind, but Episode 3 (the one told from Megu-nee’s PoV) might actually be one of the strongest anime episodes I’ve seen all year. Bittersweet, bone-chilling, and above all, extremely tantalizing; it conjured up a great, darkly fascinating, sense of puzzle and mystery that sadly didn’t persist for the remainder of the show’s run.

Lowlight: Gotta be the swimming pool hijinks in Episode 9, apparently an original anime content. Its purpose and placement made more retrospective sense in light of the “all hell breaks loose” follow-up, but that still doesn’t excuse the camera ogling these kids’ breasts or yet another string of mind-numbingly tedious cutesy shenanigans for a show that really can’t afford to have too many of them.

Future Plan: I’ve been led to believe that the manga’s way better in terms of tonal balance and sequential order (it definitely had less fanservice), but I’m still leaning ‘nay’ for more Gakkou in whatever format; looks like the character I liked the most had already finished her role, too.

Gangsta.

Gangsta Alex B and her lil bro

Lured many through its promise of gritty, character-driven, crime drama alone…. and left me pretty much nonplussed by the end. Gangsta’s basically an awkward amalgamation between seinen (setting, main protagonists, ultraviolence, general feel and pace) and shounen (certain supporting characters, power rankings, romanticization of characters to some extent) elements, with the latter being sub-par out of place material and the former suffering from ineffective exposition, pacing, and overall narrative composition that would’ve made much more sense if it’s a 50-episode series instead of something four times shorter that basically ended with horribly abrupt non-ending, thanks to the studio’s eventual fate.

Credits where it’s due though: the show did have its share of graceful moments, and from what I’ve heard they also made the correct decision of excising the more juvenile parts from the source material. This is just an adaptation that cried out for way more time and resource, both of which Manglobe didn’t, and sadly, wouldn’t ever have.

Highlight: Alex’ singing scene in the end of Episode 8, bringing much needed beauty and reprieve to the residents of Ergastulum, complemented nicely with her nostalgic reminiscence and contrasted with the bloody ruckus happening outside the shelter. Loretta Christiano channeling the spirit of her late father in the final episode is another strong moment, as well as the overall attention on Nick’s disability and sign language. Finally, both OP and ED were good times.

Lowlight: Err, besides the whole non-ending thing, let’s go with Episode 9 and the awful fight sequence there. Power rankings nonsense, introduction of awfully designed villain character, and most importantly, janky and sloppy animation throughout. Action scene is never one of the anime’s forte in the first place (with Nick vs. Doug in Episode 3 being literally the only one that’s halfway decent or memorable for the right reason), but this particular example was just painful to sit through.

Future Plan: Even without external issues (Manglobe’s demise, original author’s infrequent publications), I don’t see myself subscribe to more Gangsta. A bit of a shame, since I really thought the setting and principal characters carried great potential, but the way the narrative’s developing with generic superpowered conflict, I’m not much enthused for it anymore.

Arslan Senki /Heroic Legend of Arslan

Arslan Etoile

Arslan wrapped up its introductory arc fairly satisfactorily (just like Gakkou), and I got some positive impressions from Yoshiki Tanaka’s general plotting, its Western Asia-inspired setting, and its occasional channeling of Suikoden-esque (my favorite RPG of all time!) elements. Thing is, I have problems with it that goes beyond the oft-mentioned animation issues (mostly notable in large battle scenes with crude CGI and sameface soldiers): plenty of narrative shortcuts, simplified conflict, and one-dimensional writing of characters, causing it to lack the depth and complexity it really should’ve had. This felt to me like a defanged/streamlined version of the source material, and that makes it some distance short from being a truly exemplary work of its genre.

Highlight: Gieve’s introductory episode, with his mercy kill, musical performance, and dungeon escape representing the series’ high points in many aspects.

Lowlight: Alfreed, after witnessing her father and entire clansmen got slaughtered, is practically defined as a comedic relief through her juvenile clinging to Narsus.

Future Plan: Volume 1 of the manga just got published here, which is a bit tempting, but in the end my lukewarm feeling toward Hiromu Arakawa’s particular approach made it hard to justify adding what would be a lengthy investment to my already loaded plate.

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

Ranpo Kitan ED Image

Welp. This was the one show I anticipated the most before the season, and it had let me down so damn hard. It tried so many things (off the top of my head, you could classify it as murder mystery, ero guro horror, re-imagining of Edogawa Ranpo’s narrative elements, social commentary, and outright parody), which is fine and dandy, except that it didn’t freaking work at any of those things. Occasional bursts of stylistic flair aside, this is really a horrible first impression for me from the infamous Seiji Kishi-Makoto Uezu team.

Highlight: Sayuri’s Mikazuki is a great ED, showcasing insanely addicting tunes and distinct vocal, as well as evocative lyric and visual direction that conveyed Laplace’s primary theme far more effectively than the actual goddamn show ever did.

Lowlight: Lots of options here, but let’s go with the shameless pedophile voyeurism joke in Episode 6, just right after a stretch of episodes where the show exclusively butchered little girls.

Future Plan: As bad a gateway as this was, I do plan to track down and read Ranpo’s works at some point. Also, a very critical review of the show coming soon.

 

Secondhand Takes (Summer 2015)

Tidbits from the street on shows I’ve skipped and how (un)likely it is for me to eventually see them. Not a complete listing, just those that’s at least a bit relevant to my interest (sorry, Bikini Warriors).

Gatchaman Crowds Insight: This actually was one of my planned watch for the season, but I had to push it to later date due to crowded personal schedule and the desire to re-watch the first season beforehand. Well, I’ve certainly seen plenty of screen caps and wildly varying opinion on it, enough to suggest that the second season has become even more overtly political and divisive. The first season of Awesome Hajime & Her Armored Friends is a bit messy hodgepodge of ideas, but I do like its eclectic mix of flair and earnest tackling of topical themes, so I eagerly look forward to see its controversial continuation and form an opinion of my own. Preferably before the year ends.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime: Effusive warm praises from certain trusted corners had led me into placing this on my backlog. The way people talked about the atmosphere and slow burn feel of it somewhat reminded me of Moribito (a masterwork, by the way), except shoujo and with primary emphasis on romantic relationship. Actually, that didn’t sound like Moribito at all… still, I plan to watch it during the next downtime—should be just in time to follow through with the split second cour in Winter should I end up liking it.

Rokka: Braves of The Flowers: Very few things I like more than whoddunit mystery and psychological game, and apparently Rokka is Mafia/Werewolf: Fantasy Anime Edition. I also like what I’ve seen from the setting and visual, including the—yeahIknowthatsaliteralbunnygirl—character design. Grumblings about lethargic pacing, eventual decline of animation quality, and annoying main character did give me significant pause, but as it stands, this is another show of the season with some chance of being watched eventually, just after the above two.

Working!! (3rd season): I had watched the first couple of episodes from the first season, and it just didn’t work out for me. Long-time fans seemed to really enjoy this third/final cour, but considering how I had grown wary of the characters and jokes after just 40 minutes, looks like I’m not going to share that feeling anytime soon—if not ever.

Ushio & Tora (carrying over): I didn’t have much interest in the series when it’s announced, then fellow Generation 90s dudes raved about it and I tentatively placed it in the backlog, then finally most I heard recently was about its dated repetitive nature and all the damsels in distress so I took it off again. Barely knew you, U&T!

Jitsu wa Watashi wa / Actually I Am… : watched some amount of the first two episodes, skimmed random bits of the manga, and I actually kind of like the cast and overall feel. Just couldn’t find the time, especially in the same season where OreMonogatari! aired.

Overlord: watched a single episode, kind of liked the melancholic beginnings and set-up. It made me want to see/read a story about a bunch of adult friends forced to grow out of their MMORPG-ing (or other communal hobby, really) and drift away as a result—this show’s made it clear very quickly that it’s not really going to be that, so I dropped it. So did many others apparently, since I’ve heard practically nothing about it since the premier.

Himouto!Umaru-chan: also watched the first episode and also dropped, albeit for different reason. I’ve actually read a lot of the manga beforehand, and I liked it, but not nearly to the extent that I’d invest more time to see the same stuff animated—fun OP notwithstanding. What I’ve heard from those who stick with the anime do line up very neatly with my own opinion of the manga: it shines when it’s about the heart-warming sibling dynamics of Umaru and Taihei, and significantly weaker whenever it strays away from those two.

Classroom Crisis: Seems like poor man’s Twin Spica or Planetes—that’s still a compliment, by the way. Anyway, even those who liked it had numerous misgivings about its overall composition, so I think I’ll continue to skip.

Dragon Ball Super (carrying over): I don’t need Flash-level animation to decide that, as much fondness as I have for the original manga, it doesn’t look like a wise decision to watch a new season for a series that’s probably already way beyond its expiration date.

Prison School: Adaptation of an award-winning manga despite its exceedingly thrashy content, and a change of pace for Akira Hiramoto after the likes of Me and The Devil Blues, which assuredly ranked way higher in terms of brow elevation. Those factoids and the awfully fascinating way fans of the show trying to explain its bizarro appeal made me think a sneak peek (probably at the manga) in unforeseen future might be warranted.

GATE: Entertaining demon girl kickassery, bogged down by predictable jingoism and probably a host of other things. Made me want to replay Super Famicom’s Shin Megami Tensei more than anything.

Charlotte: Not even the biggest Jun Maeda apologist could love this one, it seems.

 

General Anticipation (Fall 2015)

The line-up is kind of similar to Summer in terms of overall high diversity and relative lack of consensus must-watch—excepting One Punch Man of course, which could as easily be a critical and commercial darling as it could be a victim of its hype. The first thing I’ve noticed is the abundance is detective/mystery shows: The Perfect Insider received the baton from Ranpo Kitan as the next noitaminA mystery show, there’s another season of Kindaichi, A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet seems like a soft procedural with possible dash of psychological suspense, and shorts series Tantei Team KZ presented a cute scenario with a girl leading four boys in a juvenile detective club. Can’t watch all of them, but this is a trend that I approve of.

Another prominent theme of this season is classic franchises getting new installments; Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack, Gundam, Garou, and Lupin. All these new shows seem to be newbie-friendly in the sense that it doesn’t require encyclopedic knowledge of the established lore or anything like that. I’d probably hold off on Lupin for now, as I wanted to see Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro and get more feel about the franchise before I feel comfortable attaching myself to a full series.

Shows I’m probably going to watch to completion…

Insider Black Jack

I’m confident that Everything Becomes Freeza: The Perfect Insider gonna end up better than Ranpo Kitan, if only because it’s such a low bar to clear. It’s certainly more of a direct adaptation rather than nonsense re-imagining at the least; the source material is Hiroshi Mori’s well-acclaimed novel (and a part of series, but this particular one could certainly be treated as a stand-alone story if one’s inclined) that apparently has been adapted into literally every single media besides anime. The premise read like a classic whodunit mystery to me, while the promo material strictly focused on the three principal characters (probably the crime-solving team) and indicated that there’s going to be a lot of figurative visual flair in the proceedings. It got even more promising as I spotted a couple of familiar names in the staff: Toshiya Ono (composition and script; writer of Gatchaman Crowds and Tsuritama) and Inio Asano (character design; author of Solanin and Oyasumi Punpun).

Young Black Jack is an adaptation of recent manga by the same name, brought to the screen by veteran director Mitsuko Kase, whose storyboarding resume included the likes of City Hunter and Glass Mask, while also being the first female director to ever helm a mecha anime. I’ve read the original BJ manga, and while it may not be one of Tezuka-sensei’s everlasting masterpieces, it’s a darkly entertaining ride throughout. This prequel series should hopefully channel the spirit of the classics while being a solid work in its own—the distinct lack of sidekick/mascot character Pinoko could be considered a good start by those who couldn’t stand her.

Shows I’m giving at least a testing whirl…

Collage Sakurako Gundam Garo 

Could see myself sticking with at least one of these. With Sakurako, the apparent need of yet another male high-schooler as a viewpoint character and the titular character’s (who sure reminded me of this lass. Let’s just hope the show she’s in end up being much more interesting) companion could be its Achilles heel, but I’m wishing that the skeletal structure of its (seemingly episodic) mystery is solid enough and the apparent romantic sub-plot (at least I hope it’s not the main plot) has enough of a dark streak to keep it interesting. Both conditions seem like a fair bet at this point.

It’s been a long while since I last watched a Gundam series (a significant amount of Seed, as well as the final two episodes of X for some reason), and Iron-Blooded Orphan seems like as good as any time to jump right back in. Silly judgmental fans already went into apoplectic rage/snobbish disdain at the announcement of the staff, particularly with the melodrama-leaning (as she’s perceived by the mass) Mari Okada as screenwriter. Yeah, as if Gundam’s never been melodramatic at all. Anyway, the scavenger hunt-esque part of the premise seems promising, character and Gundam design looks okay, and it already has some delicious That’s So Gundam names on board. Mikazuki Augus. Orga Itsuka. Eugene Seven Stark. Biscuit Griffon. Biscuit freaking Griffon.

The most recent animated Garo (Hono no Kokuin) seem to be relatively well-regarded, and while I know next to nothing about the franchise, Guren no Tsuki’s with its promise of jidaigeki action and stand-alone continuity seem like a good introduction as any.

The shorts…

Collage Kagewani Kowabon

The two shorts I’m most interested in are both horror-themed, which is pretty appropriate considering the month and all. Kagewani (lit. Shadow Crocodile) seems like a mutated crocodile slasher ‘fantastic beasts and where to find them’ type of deal, while the roto-scoped Kowabon I’m a bit more excited about thanks to its wholly unsettling preview. Both will utilize a more experimental type of animation, and shared the same writer in Hiromu Kumamoto (who had penned another horror shorts Yami Shibai, which I’m definitely going to check out if I end up liking these two a lot).

For later date…

Collage Kindaichi Haikyu!!

Those close to me would’ve known I’m a huge Kindaichi dork, although I’m decidedly less excited about its more recent incarnations. Still, picking up a bunch of the newer manga had warmed me for the prospect of seeing the Next Gen Kindaichi Animation™, as much as it would feel like a lesser re-tread of classic material most of the time. I still need to watch more than just an episode of this new series’ first season though, so this have to wait until I’m finished with that.

Was interested to check out some of recent sports series, and I’ve heard good things about Haikyu!!, which sounds as solid as you can get and complemented with superb animation work by Production I.G. to boot. Same as Kindaichi Returns, gotta see the maiden season first, which should happen soon as my backlog clears a bit. Looking forward to my first volleyball series ever.

….oh, and that one with the punchy dude.

One Punch Man Death Parade Pose

Man, now I want to re-watch Death Parade.

I dunno, not really in the mood to see this for whatever reason. Just a bit of fatigue and apathy for superhero stuff (deconstructive satire or not) I guess, as well as a sneaking suspicion in me that it would’ve been more suited as a shorts series. I’ve sampled the source material a bit (both One’s original webcomic and the polished re-drawn version) and could see myself returning to the series if I’ve heard really favorable reviews on the show, though.

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3 thoughts on “Seasonal Thoughts: Summer 2015 Recap + Fall 2015 Anticipation

  1. I feel exactly the same way about most of these! I didn’t watch Wakako-zake, and I gather that I liked Gangsta much more than pretty much every other viewer, but other than that this is almost scarily comparable to my own thoughts on these shows.

    Like

    • I might be a tad harsh on Gangsta, really liked a lot of individual moments in the show (*could’ve added some more scenes to that highlight column, actually), but the narrative taken as a whole just fell apart mainly due to Manglobe’s issues. Shame about that. Wasn’t a fan of the villain group too, with many of them looking like out of place Naruto/One Piece villain rejects.

      Any particular show you’re excited for this new season?

      Like

      • Yeah, those delays and schedule changes did the show absolutely no favours, which is a real shame. Haha yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more about the villains though. Conversely, it was the two main male characters that really made the show for me.

        I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Noragami, so I’m pretty happy to see the second season airing now. Other than that, I’d say I’m more curious than excited at this stage. Once everything I’ve marked down as sounding fun or interesting has started airing then I’ll write up the usual first impressions post.

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