I have several end of year posts that I’m hoping to finish within the last few days of work holiday, but for now let’s start by knocking off the seasonal wrap-up.
Looking at the big picture, Fall 2015 had mostly ran counter to my pre-season expectation: my most anticipated shows fizzled out, stuff that I wasn’t very excited about ended up being decent or enjoyable, and a show that’s completely outside my (and everyone’s) radar had become my favorite of the season. The best story of this season for me is the meteoric rise of Osomatsu-san into public consciousness, with a glorious (and now legally extinct) first episode that shocked those who initially dismissed it as irrelevant revival of an ancient property. It had won me over at the very least, and I’m also told that it’s a big hit in Japan, enjoyed even by people who don’t normally tune in to watch anime.
My personal biggest disappointment is how the mystery /detective shows fared. The genre has seen quite a resurgence this recent seasons, and while it had excited me as a long-time fan, the outcome could’ve been much better. While neither is quite as bad as the previous season’s Game of Laplace, both of the Fall mysteries are fairly underwhelming; Sakurako is a middling affair with a detective who’s hard to love, and despite the promising start, Perfect Insider irritates the hell out of me by the end (I knew I should’ve watched Tantei Team instead!) I do hope this kind of stuff continue to be made and fans wouldn’t be deterred from watching, but yeah, maybe find a more fitting source material and/or do a better job adapting and compositioning.
Meanwhile, superhero continues to dominate the landscape, and it’s a trend that’s going to stick for a while—2016 will see the continuation of Garo and Concrete Revolutio (split cour), One Punch Man is very likely to get a new season, and My Hero Academy is coming. The relentless wave of Western superhero media had me almost burned out from the whole thing, but at least the anime counterparts don’t have the shared universe nonsense thing going, offer agreeable tokusatsu flavor, and tend to bring something different in terms of each individual show’s world-building and execution. Aside from that, there’s also a few interesting, overlapping, themes from this season’s crop, which include young adult malaise (Osomatsu-san, One Punch Man), critical scrutiny of student activism (Young Black Jack, Concrete Revolutio), and as always, gripping sociocultural examination of a teenage boy entering a magic high school for battle and romance with colorful girls (Light Novel Magic High School Harem #1, Light Novel Magic High School Harem #2, Light Novel Magic High School Harem #3).
Here goes the run-down (spoiler alert, especially for the mystery shows)!
Personal Impression (Fall 2015)
I’ve watched nine shows (one short) to their completion/end of current cour, which is a lot for my standards, especially considering that I also spent the last three months catching up with stuff from this year’s previous seasons. Osomatsu and Kagewani are the ones I like the most, although I’d hesitate to universally recommend them (the former because of its specific kind of zaniness, the latter because it’s a shorts series with niche appeal to monster/pulpy sci-fi enthusiast). Gundam IBO has been mostly okay, and the two superhero shows One Punch Man and Concrete Revolutio are enjoyable for very different reasons. Haikyuu! S2 is kind of coasting and lacks the spark of its first season, but I expect things to pick up in the second cour. Sakurako, Young Black Jack, and Perfect Insider are all hampered significantly by their respective flaws, but I stuck with all of them for the occasional good stuff and due to my inherent weaknesses for mystery genre/Osamu Tezuka material.
The season’s pretty much par for the course in terms of my overall enjoyment; sticking with Kagewani and picking up a couple of shows (Osomatsu, Concrete Revolutio) that I don’t initially plan to watch has helped significantly in that regard.
Don’t worry Choromatsu, you guys did fine. After the first episode, I was kind of worried that having six main characters would be an overkill and too much of the gags wouldn’t translate over cultural border, but around the fourth episode or so the show really started to round to form and scored way more hits than misses for me. While Osomatsu’s main recurring M.O. is to mock and degrade its cast as much as possible, it also shows remarkable versatility in manner of execution, whether it’s lightning-fast slapstick sequence punctuated by funniest anime faces I’ve seen all year, savage social commentary, genre parodies, surrealist skits, or even genuinely poignant moments that really stand out among all the depravity.
Osomatsu-san may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but I can’t see the Matsubros’ rejuvenation into the world of colors and distinctive facial identity as something other than a wild success.
Highlight: Gotta be that premiere, eh? It’s such a glorious sucker punch, but as funny as the parodies are, what really sold me on the show is the framing meta-scenes: it’s just a very effective contextualization on Fujio Akatsuka and the show’s raison d’etre, and the showrunners’ earnest desire to create something amazing really came through to me. In addition, I also like to point out two segments with excellent construction: the ‘Totty’ in NotStarbucks as the funniest segment, and the romance of Jyushimatsu as the most unexpected tear-jerker of the year.
Lowlight: Just like every comedian in this planet could relate with, not every joke in this show works. Some of them dragged a bit too long, lampshaded/underlined way too much, or just completely flew over my head. Fortunately, these are still outnumbered by the ones that they nailed.
Future Plan: Carrying over to next season, and personally I’d gladly watch a hundred more episodes of this freak show.
Speaking of freak show…
Unlike most who also enjoyed Kagewani, I don’t feel the need to qualify it as “good for what it is” (a 7-minute short series with shoestring animation budget), I’d just say it’s a good anime, period, and one that I like more than a lot of full-length series this year. It didn’t exactly make a striking first impression, but every episode after that had progressively upped the ante, operating well within its restrictions to produce well-paced and optimized individual vignettes brimming with suspense. There may not be enough overarching plot (although I’m personally fine with what’s there) and this is still a show that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but if you have significant interest with beasts/cryptids/kaijuu, you’re in for a treat.
Highlight: Underwater episode. So, a submarine submerged, it failed to get back up because of (like in every single episode of this thing) monstrous interference, I waited patiently for the money shot while thinking “bet it’s gonna be kraken or something like that”, the camera pulled back to show the monstrosity in full, and I seriously fell from my chair. The definitive ‘OH SHIT’ moment in a show that’s so full of them.
Lowlight: The first episode is fairly lackluster, with animation and choreography that were more goofy than scary. I wouldn’t blame those who refused to watch further based on this, which is basically “flailing fools killed by vaguely defined monster, some dude has a scar that hurts.”
Future Plan: More, please! The ending is fairly conclusive in its own way, but it also opens up new possibilities in the storyline and indicates the showrunners’ desire to make new episodes. I’m doubtful if it has the popularity required for a continuation/sequel, but shorts series do seem to play on a different rule (Hiromu Kumamoto’s previous written shorts, Yami Shibai, has reached third season after all).
Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
There are some interesting reaction that I’ve seen: a lot of old-school Gundam fans hate this and nitpicked everything to death, while people who aren’t familiar/don’t care about the franchise seem to really enjoy this. I sit pretty much on the middle of the road, leaning slightly to positive impression overall. It has good emphasis on characters and relationship, but the battle scenes are all very well-staged too, and the theme of building familial support system in war-torn circumstances came through strongly from this one.
There were missteps, though. Some lines could be cringe-inducing, the show is pretty bad in telegraphing plot development (dude talks about his missing brother, and voila, there he comes the very next episode), and I have a bad feeling that the big emotional scenes in the second cour (when they inevitably start killing some of the main guys) would be sloppily executed. We’ll see.
Highlight: The first episode’s combat sequence in the desert, culminating with Barbatos Gundam’s emergence and its theme music kicking in.
Lowlight: “Why do you have to die within this cold embrace of machine, rather than the warm bosom of woman like you said you always wanted to!?”, or something like that. Shout-out to the odd celebratory mood when Mika killed off a well-meaning enemy pilot, too.
Future Plan: carrying over, and I’ll surely keep tab.
I picked up CR midway through the season due to positive Internet buzz (and relentless Daisuki ads), and it’s certainly a good decision. It’s one of the most fascinating shows of the season, and you just can’t help but be awed by the world so steeped in tokusatsu and classic anime lore, which also presents numerous parallel takes of historical events in layered and intriguing manner (please take note, Young Black Jack). That said, I’m not sure if I’m fully in the bandwagon just yet.
The pacing is really wack here. It’s not the multiple timelines that bothered me, which is actually done quite well (and let’s face it, if you’ve watched anime for a while you should’ve gotten used to incessant amount of flashback and flash forward already), it’s the showrunners’ eagerness to shove in as much ideas as possible within a short time. It feels like that in every ten minutes when I’m still wrapping my head around an episode’s main conflict, the show then throws me half a dozen new characters, another new organization, and a bunch of vaguely explained concept. It really could’ve benefit by lingering a bit more, giving audience time to process everything, and the characters some more natural interaction and breathing space.
However, while I actually do prefer well-executed stuff with modest outlook over ambitious failure, the execution in ConRevo is far from being a failure yet; it’s just iffy and awkward so far. The key is going to be the second cour in Spring 2016, in which we should finally get to the juicy part of the plot with all the smorgasbord of introductions (presumably) done.
Highlight: How much I end up liking the eventual sum of the show remains to be seen, but some parts in this first cour already stand out: the time travel episode with a fairly elegant solution, the Earth Chan episode, and the kaijuu activism two-parter.
Lowlight: Hoshino’s schoolgirl crushing in general, and the fact that she’s one of the characters with the most screentime when I’m more intrigued with practically everyone else (especially Emi). To be fair, she does get to do more interesting things eventually, and it’s maybe just me being worn out by the whole obsessing over older person thing that’s also in Sakurako and Insider.
Future Plan: High expectation for the second cour, and I’ll probably re-watch before that point in order to have a better grasp of everything.
One Punch Man
If ConRevo is a thinking man’s superhero anime, OPM is a…. punching man’s superhero anime, I guess. That’s not meant to be derogatory at all; honestly, there are times when I found Madhouse’s visual firepower and the easy accessibility to be more appealing than the heady thematics of ConRevo. In the end, I enjoyed this show, although nowhere near the extent of hype I’ve seen. I can definitely see the point of main criticism leveled against it: the violent eye candy is glorious and all, but without any real sense of stakes and consequences, a lot of its impact is diminished. For better and for worse, OPM is really a post-modern comedy with occasional serious parts; the less you treat it as straight up action/superhero series (which is kind of difficult, I know), the better it would be.
I think my biggest complaint is that I simply don’t find any character besides Saitama and Genos (and mostly only when they’re together) to be entertaining and interesting. Okay, Mumen Rider is impossible not to love, and a couple of boss designs are pretty wicked, but the rest are either irritating pushovers, downright cringe-worthy (Puri Puri Prisoner), or actively reminding me of characters from a superior show (oh, hi there Knuckle and Killua’s grandpa).
Highlight: The Deep Sea King combat sequence, highlighted by Mumen’s inspiring stand. I also dig the Mosquito Queen design, whose episode marked the hilarious first meeting of Saitama and Genos. Also, every time it’s just flatmate sit-com starring Saitama and Genos.
Lowlight: it’s bad enough that the fatality gag (build-up! Villain backstory! *pow*) already wears itself thin by the third or fourth time it’s repeated, but the final showdown especially suffers from the show’s main premise backfiring on itself, on top of having a bunch of side characters I couldn’t care less.
Future Plan: Ehh… I don’t really feel compelled to invest in the webcomic and/or manga (happy for ONE, though) . Maybe the hype will sweep me again for the probable future season, but that’s it.
I binged through the first season of Haikyu!! right before this, and it was loads of fun. The second season mostly lack the spark of its predecessor so far, but that’s partially by nature: a show like Haikyu!!, which has very little source of drama or action outside of the sport itself, tends to hit a wall once the team is established and the first tournament arc is finished. It’s not that the show has suddenly become horrible or anything like that, it’s just been covering a breezy intermission part of the plot and struggling to gather momentum for the upcoming tournament part.
Highlight: I don’t tend to be easily enamored by cute anime girls, but the very likable Yachi is a welcome addition to a rather stagnating cast, and she even got her own small character arc before filling the obligatory spectating/cheerleading role from the sidelines.
Lowlight: Do they really need to spent that many episodes on training camp? Refinement in sports is indeed important, but they don’t tend to produce the most exciting material in anime, and Tsukki’s backstory aside, this segment could only muster mildly amusing character interplay and some forced drama between Kageyama and Hinata.
Future Plan: The second cour will finally feature actual matches with much needed dramatic stakes and intensity, which should hopefully bring the series back to its best.
Young Black Jack
There are times when Young BJ channels the spirit and qualities of the original Osamu Tezuka work it’s based on, but there are also enough glaring missteps that it’s kind of a washout in the end. I’m mostly okay with the juxtaposition of character design style, and the cameos from original Black Jack as well as other Tezuka’s works are pretty fun to see, but the show tends to flop when it’s trying to portray serious and delicate stuff. Highlighting historical events to convey the show’s sense of time is fine and all, but it doesn’t really work when you’re doing a lot of simplification and demonization (and a bunch of out of place Hazamanservice in early episodes). Perhaps most disappointingly is that I don’t really get the sense of how the rather disparate series of events mould the titular character into becoming the legendary maverick doctor.
Highlight: The show is quite good at puling off wacky and entertaining medical plot twists; the plastic surgery shenanigan in the second episode and the surprising solution to the congenital analgesia two-parter immediately came to mind. OP and ED are also good times.
Lowlight: According to Young Black Jack, student activism is JUST THE WORST.
Future Plan: I heard that this adaptation botched some things from the manga, so I may be willing to check out the source material if it becomes available to me.
A Corpse is Buried Under Sakurako’s Feet
I like that title better than Beautiful Bones. Anyway, this series started off as a soft procedural starring sociopath eccentric bone collector and her boyfriend lusting slave sidekick, then turns into a series of melancholic vignettes with retrospective mystery-solving. Much like Young Black Jack, the good parts (a few of the mysteries, occasional teamwork between Sakurako and Shoutarou, tidbits of osteology knowledge) are significantly offset by the bad (Sakurako’s mix of demented abrasiveness and magical ‘look at things for five seconds, strike a pose, solve everything’ skill, mostly ineffective/tedious cases, random ass and boob shots).
On top of all that, it also ends without explaining the overarching plot about the shady fedora-wearing painter dude, Sakurako’s brother, or what exactly Sakurako’s doing with all the ominous correspondence in the darkened room. Welp.
Highlight: The best mystery of the series, i.e. when they wonder about why Shoutarou’s late grandma suddenly decided she likes pudding. That should tell you a lot about the overall quality of mystery in this show, but still, that segment is genuinely touching and I also crack a very wide grin when Granny (Sakurako’s caretaker) does the patented ‘Sakurako pose’ and solve the case.
Lowlight: The penultimate episode/final case doesn’t have that bad of a mystery and boldly delves into the dark side of female adolescence, but the reveal scene is incredibly awful in execution. Rushed as hell, plenty of histrionics from everyone excepting the dog, and Sakurako at her most unlikable.
Future Plan: I don’t really hate this, but it’s kind of hard to envision me back for hypothetical future season, even with all the unanswered questions.
Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider
Man, I can’t remember the last time my opinion on a series changed this drastically. I had high hopes for Insider delivering a great and heady locked room mystery, and it does deliver on terms of aesthetic, music, and fairly promising beginning. However, it all falls apart as they padded up the plot with stuff that simultaneously cripple the pacing and make things very hard to take seriously. Intellectual blowhard Shouhei and chronic patient of ‘senpai notice me plz’ syndrome Moe are already awfully hard characters to sympathize and connect with, even if the emphasis on their relationship did yield a few interesting moments, but it’s the deification of one Shiki Magata and the philosophical/psychological nonsense defining her whole character that proved to be the hardest pill to swallow.
The solution to the mystery itself has many ridiculous elements, even by my very lenient standards of suspension of disbelief for the genre, made worse by the show choosing to double down on philosophical mumbo jumbo rather than expending the effort to make things more plausible or addressing some very glaring plot holes. I think it’s what grates me the most, that PI often acts like it’s above conventional locked room mystery with deep talk that doesn’t work well in any other context outside freshman philosophy class, seemingly oblivious to the fact that its plot is built around the deeply silly combo of genius supervillain, multiple personalities, edgy sexual deviance, and a scheme that would only work if a disproportionate number of characters were complete idiots.
Highlight: The corpse-finding sequence is as good as any in recent memory, a masterful mix of music, tension, and misdirection, and one of the few times where the show manages to conjure an appropriately dreadful atmosphere.
Lowlight: The final episode delivers the last and most egregious bits of deification and nonsensical rambling, capped off by a sequence of spiritual journey/enlightened ascension/whatever the hell it was, the last straw that broke the, ahem, camel’s back.
Future Plan: There are just enough parts in the puzzle/mystery construction that I do like, which may make me inclined to check out the live drama version/actual novel for a possibly better execution, provided the access to either.
By the way, seeing both Sakurako and PI makes me want to re-visit ad recommend Motohiro Katou’s manga, QED. Kana and Sho are much more endearing crime-solving duo than either Sakurako/Shoutarou or Shouhei/Moe, and while the structure of QED is pretty similar to Sakurako (episodic stand-alone mysteries with lots of emphasis on the main duo), it has generally more compelling cases, better sense of humor, and impressive integration of world politics, science, and culture while remaining down to earth. No anime adaptation sadly, but apparently there’s a (short-lived) live drama.
Secondhand Takes (Fall 2015)
My impression on the other shows, mostly based on good old Internet grapevine, and how (un)likely for me to eventually complete them.
Garo: Guren no Tsuki/Crimson Moon: Watched a single episode, was pretty okay with it but didn’t watch any further in order to free up some time. I enjoyed the first Garo anime, but by all accounts this one is a poor man’s version with downgraded production value. Might still come back to form my own opinion though, still intrigued by the jidaigeki setting and Seimei character.
Noragami Aragoto: didn’t watch the first season, and while its shenmo premise kind of intrigued me, I think the ship had sailed for me. Those who are already fans seem to be really enjoying this, in any case.
Attack on Titan! Junior High: only enjoyable for established fans, and maybe not even then. I did have some fun tricking a friend (and a big fan of the parent anime) by telling her, “hey, there’s a new AoT anime!!”, though. Nevertheless, I actually want to give this a look once I get around to see the real AoT anime (seeing the live action film kind of sold me on the franchise); watching them side-by-side could be entertaining.
Kowabon: dropped this midway, it turns out to be the weaker Kumamoto-penned horror short this season. Basically, it’s a tech-savvy version of Sadako creeping up on poor people chatting, recording, or watching through camera. Not varied enough, and nothing much beyond a couple of jump scares.
Owarimonogatari: The visual motif really intrigued me, but I’m told I have to watch all the other Monogatari first, so yeah, this is a ship that had sailed reaaaal far.
Comet Lucifer: Huh, that blue-haired magical girl sure looks like a genki version of Lala-Ru from Now and Then, Here and There. Anyway, apart from quirky mech design and moments of comic gold, this apparently ends up being a derivative and clumsy disappointment.
Utawarerumono: harem adventure that seems to be mostly forgettable, did not compell me at all to check itself or its nine years-old predecessor.
Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya: people who enjoyed the first season continue to enjoy this popcorn action series with vampires and gay overtone. I’ll continue to pass.
Fafner: Exodus S2: someone mentioned this the other day, which kind of surprised me since it seems so below the radar no one knew it existed, even mecha fans. I did watch the very first season of Fafner back then, but it’s too convoluted and forgettable to make me want to continue on.
Heavy Object: a mix of military otaku fanservice, casual sexism, and painful dialogues. Too heavy not to drop for a lot of people.
Rakudai no Kishi, Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, Anti-Magic Academy: your obligatory batch of ‘magic high school harem battle fantasy’ that looks completely indistuingishable to yours truly, although there are genuinely admirable attempts by the more trained eyes out there to delineate each show’s unique qualities (Rakudai’s apparently the best, for those interested).
Starmyu, Dance with Devils: on the opposite end of harem spectrum, we’ve got these two musically-flavored shows. Worth nothing that a bunch of people watching these seem to derive a great deal of ironic enjoyment, especially from DwD.
General Anticipation (Winter 2016)
With three carry-overs (Gundam, Haikyu!!, Osomatsu) already and the usual backlog stuff, I’m not really looking forward to add a bunch of new stuff to my plate. Two to four full series, with a couple of shorts on the sides, would be ideal. There are three full series that I’m most anticipating (see below), all of which are adaptations from on-going manga series, and I’m certainly hoping they all could find a reasonably satisfying end point. Otherwise, just gonna hope for future continuation or the manga to be more licensed in my place.
The new seasons are for Akagami no Shirayuki Hime, Assasination Classroom, Durarara, and Gate, all are shows I haven’t seen. Besides Shirayuki, I don’t plan to catch up to any of them, though. The rest are all wait-and-see stuff that don’t interest me much, but there’s always chance of something like Osomatsu-san rising from out of the blue.
The world needs more josei adaptation, and my interest is already captured by Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju since the very first time I laid my eyes on the winter chart several months ago. Everything about this just screams class: the period setting, mature character design, premise, and aesthetic. It’s the kind of material that’s far more common for live drama adaptation and has very slim chance of achieving significant popularity among the anime crowd, but I’m personally stoked to watch this and learn a lot about the fascinating art of rakugo.
The once vaunted Noitamina brand has really been floundering lately, with its two latest mystery shows being big disappointments for me, but Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (The Town Where Only I’m Missing, licensed in English as Erased) brings a new hope for 2016. I’ve heard nothing but effusive praise for the manga (with Enzo over at Lost in Anime being a big fan), and it looks like the kind of story that marries high concept (in this case, time travel and serial murder) with profound emotional and psychological depth. Really like the very telegenic visual, and apparently there’s going to be an ED from Sayuri, the spunky songstress who impressed me a lot with her song for Ranpo Kitan.
Lastly, it’s Dimensional W, once described to me as “Astro Boy meets Blade Runner”, which is more than enough to bump this into my most expected tier. Mature sci-fi anime sans mecha is kind of a rarity these days, and this one has a promising setting and staff. The design of green-haired loli girl kind of give me a pause (is she a robot? Seems like it…), but on the other hand it’s balanced by an adult male MC who strongly reminds of both Spike Spiegel and Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop.
Shorts are Cool & Comfy
I’m a big proponent for the often underrated shorts format (two shorts made my Top 10 in 2015), and they’re also an efficient solution to be able to watch more anime without sacrificing too much of my life. There are two goofy shorts that look like they will be silly fun times; the first is Sushi Police, a series about special police task force cracking down on unauthentic Japanese food, and with the kind of character design style that you don’t see very often in anime. The other is Sekkou Boys, in which living busts of Greek gods tried their hands (..more like heads and shoulders) on the idol industry. Yes, really, and hopefully it’d be a satirical takedown of the whole industry, too. Finally, I’m also interested by folklore horror short Yamishibai 3, although I do need to see the first two seasons beforehand.
I like niche sport series and I like Madhouse, but King of Stride: Alternative didn’t excite me much once I’ve discovered it’s based on otome game and apparent loads of fanservice. I’ll give it a shot to see if it has the right tonal balance for me.
Ajin seems like this year’s Parasyte (which I don’t watch, but I do like this kind of seinen action-suspense material), but I’ve heard mixed things about the manga. People are also really worried about the CGI, although that one’s not really a big deal for me.
It looks like a cheap Hyouka/Euphonium hybrid, but there’s something in Haruchika that feels interesting to me. I’ve heard there’s a romantic triangle with an openly gay male MC, although do apply grain of salt on that last part of the information.
Finally, Dagashi Kashi seems to has potential to be an endearing slice-of-life series with quirky character design and drama centered around confectionary and sweets business.