It’s been a terrific season for fans of superhero narrative, high school comedy, rural slice of life, and about a dozen of other sub-genres.
In addition to a couple of shows from previous fall/winter season that I belatedly picked up (Grimgar, Shin Atashin’chi), I’m watching three full-length shows and three shorts from this season. A bit of a low number, especially considering the staggering amount of at least watchable shows this time around, but I just chose to prioritize current personal taste, pressing stuff on the backlog, and stubborn brand loyalty that led me into sticking with a show that’s objectively inferior than most other stuff I don’t watch. Guess I’ll never become a True Animu Critic™.
Shorts are Cool and Comfy to Watch
One of my favorite shorts from last year, Kagewani, is back, but I have a rather mixed mind on it thus far. On one hand, it’s nice to see Banba (now rocking a wicked monster-slaying power) takes charge and kicks some monstrous asses rather than just standing around looking concerned. On the other, the shift to a more straightforward action/thriller series takes away a lot of what makes Kagewani special. The motion comic story-telling looks better than ever with smoother animation and movement, but it’s yet to produce stand-out monster design/’OH SHIT’ moments like the first season frequently did. For better and for worse, it now has something resembling an actual plot.
I checked out Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro because of its quirky art style and the fact that the manga it’s based on is pretty well-regarded (having been nominated in the latest Taisho Manga Award) , and the insane analogy in the above screencap is more than enough to sold me on it. Plot-wise, it’s really your typical shounen story: an unrefined boy decided to pursue a new passion, meet a rival and potential love interest, get a mentor, and enlist the help of his nakama……. but it’s the nature of said passion (DJ-ing + tonkatsu cooking) and the show’s off-kilter sense of humor that lends this well-worn path a fresh and funky feel.
Shounen Ashibe Goma-chan’s premiere is my favorite spring premiere, which I guess says something about either the season or myself. Er, definitely the latter. Resurrecting old-school family shows seem to be in vogue these days, and this one is based on a a late 1980s/early 1990s property about a boy and his diabetes-inducing pet seal. I hadn’t heard of the title before, but it certainly feels familiar, instantly bringing to mind classic shows like Chibi Maruko and Crayon Shin-chan in terms of character design and aesthetic. I’m not sure if anyone non-nostalgic and over the age of six has any business watching this show, but eh, I feel it’s important to know that there’s alternative source of disarming cuteness than the typical moegirl brigade. Give Goma-chan a chance to flap its way into your heart.
The most popular shorts this season seem to be Space Patrol Luluco, thanks to the pedigree of its creator. I don’t share many people’s nostalgic fondness (or anything resembling strong opinion) for Trigger/ex-Gainax and their adolescence-centric theme, which is why I’m in no particular hurry to watch it. However, the enthusiastic early buzz (well, for short series) may still lead me into checking it out once I got around to the other shorts on my backlog—most notably Galko-chan.
Magical Slices, Spy Game, and Why I Can’t Quit Ace Attorney
I wanted a second slice-of-life serving on my watch list to complement the exquisite Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, and a battle was waged between Flying Witch and Kuro Miko for that honor. it didn’t take long for the latter to bow out, due to the unimaginative design of its two main characters and repellent pedobear humor. Flying Witch didn’t merely win by default though, as it’s a very good show in its own right. Terrific sense of place in its Aomori setting, and while Makoto can be a bit bland as a main character, the show truly shines whenever it goes into its understated yet effective brand of magical realism. Kind of surprised me that the protagonists are junior high students since they look and act older than that, but it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual anime norms (*high-schoolers acting and looking like grade-schoolers). Almost halfway through into the season, this is the best current anime I’m watching.
I can enjoy anthology of pulpy spy/suspense stories with obligatory Plot Twist, and that’s basically what Joker Game is at this point. It’s brooding and joyless (albeit not entirely without a touch of camp in its caricature-like depiction of designated antagonists), and we don’t know yet if the anime adaptation will have an overarching plot and double down on its layered politics or if it’s going to settle with pre-war individual vignettes. Regardless, this is the first Japanese-based espionage story I’m experiencing, and it’s well-constructed enough for me to stick around. I’m personally looking forward to see if Southeast Asia (my region) is going to be featured eventually, considering its significant part in Japanese’s imperialism history in this era.
…..finally, there’s Ace Attorney. Look, as hard as it is to swallow how cheap this looks (especially if you compare to the BONES-produced animation for the 3DS games), the really fatal flaw is a slavishly literal direction that seemingly refused to even consider that video game and anime are two completely different medium. I can’t blame newcomers if they’re completely put off by the whole thing and wonder just why on earth the series is so popular in the first place (check out this ANN piece if you have that question).
Good things: the audio (voice acting, remixed tunes) is satisfying, they can only improve from here in terms of animation, and Maya is as charming as always. Despite everything else, I’ll keep watching, which is a testament to just how much pre-established affection I have toward the characters and the upcoming narrative. As frustratingly literal as this adaptation is as a whole, there are still new scenes, new character interaction, and cheeky references worth suffering through, bursts of magical moments that mean a lot to fans like me:
Belated Pick-Ups (Fall 2015/Winter 2016)
In spite of my apprehension toward light novel adaptation, gamified narrative, and ‘stuck in fantasy world’ theming, I’ve decided to pick up Grimgar as I like what I heard about it. Six episodes later, it’s been a hit. Not a flawless show by any means (as gorgeous as the background art are, they don’t mesh well with the more generic character models), but it has a striking execution that captured the sensation of J-RPG grind and party/resource management in a way that fit well within the medium of anime. I’ve already been spoiled about the major event early on, but the execution itself is on the ball, and I’m looking forward to watch the second half of the series.
Even greater pick-up: Shin Atashin’chi, a two-cour series running from last fall to winter. A second anime adaptation of Eiko Kera’s classic manga (1994-2014), this is an amazing SoL comedy/wholesome family show that doesn’t rely on one particular gimmick. Instead, it deploys the kind of ‘Lol So True’ humor you’d typically found in comic strips depicting the small quirks in mundane daily lives, only wrapped around exceptionally endearing character dynamics, energetic and good-natured atmosphere, and a cozy visual style that doesn’t look half bad at all. This thing is growing so fast in me, it’s in danger of contending for a spot in my favorite anime for the year of all time. Please look forward to more detailed gushing once I’m finished with this.
Bag of BONES
The first season of Concrete Revolutio was a big hit among many anibloggers last year, but while I ended up having a positive impression of it, somehow the more time had passed the harder it is for me to get excited about the new season. As intriguing as its world-building and thematic meat are, I have to admit that its characters and dramatic execution never really resonate with me. I think I need to re-watch the first few episodes of S1 to get a better feel on everything and see if I could conjure the enthusiasm back.
That really could just be Superhero Fatigue, since I also don’t feel compelled to continue watching My Hero Academia (after two eps), in spite of its refreshing earnestness amidst the increasingly snarky and/or grimdark superhero landscape. BONES’ visual execution is on point and I especially like All Might’s characterization, but at this point it feels like there has to be really special ingredients (like Hunter X Hunter and maybe Jojo) to get me to invest in what would be a long-running shounen battler again.
Bungou Stray Dogs is in similar vein to Yasuhiro Nightow’s Kekkai Sensen and Ryogo Narita’s works, where alliances of bishounen and bishoujo wreak havoc in a city prone to supernatural happenings (I need a handy genre descriptor for this kind of story). Again, it’s okay and the literary gimmick is amusing if insubstantial, but it’s not compelling enough for me atm.
Basically, there’s a trend with me and BONES: I almost always like their production, but I haven’t seen a single show of them that I can outright love.
High School Hijinks
Based on recent popular manga, both Sakamoto desu ga? and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge depict an existential dream for many high-schoolers’: to look impossibly cool when doing anything, and to coast through the day with as little energy as possible. SoL comedy set in high school seems to be more popular than ever these days (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki and the upcoming Handa-kun also fit the same mould), and while I’m not watching, I’ve read the source material for both (3 volumes of Sakamoto and 1 volume of Tanaka). I particularly like Sakamoto, which I have been writing about in my periodic manga updates. I feel the comic timing and Nami Sano’s art work better in manga form, but I did watch a live reaction video of people watching Sakamoto, and it’s kind of fun.
On the other hand, while I’m just lukewarm on Tanaka (the manga), I’ve seen positive buzz about the anime. I also saw a bunch of screencaps with lovely art direction that may make the cast and their interaction become more endearing to me. May eventually pick up the show once the season wraps.
Whatever the Hell The Lost Village Is
The most tonally strange show this season is assuredly Not Good, but it’s still fascinating to ponder what exactly the showrunners are thinking when they’re making this. There’s at least some amount of self-awareness on their behalf to make something this warped, effectively (and quite entertainingly) sabotaging the show’s own attempt at genuine drama or social commentary with terribly written characters. I haven’t watched past the second episode, but I’m quite tempted to return; not because I particularly enjoy laughing at nonsense dialogue and one-note caricatures, but because I’m legitimately curious as to how the big picture would look once all the pieces fall into place.
Magi: Adventures of Sinbad: I watched an epiode of this because I was in the mood for Arabian flavor and it’s a spin-off that doesn’t require prior knowledge of the parent series. However, it looked like a visually and narratively bland shounen adventure with a Gary Stu-ish main character, thus dropped.
Jojo: Diamond is Unbreakable: the 90-tastic ED sequence and unique sense of personality it exudes convinced me that I need to start up the whole series in, er, some time in the future.
Sailor Moon (3rd Season): the trailer looks way better in terms of animation and personality than… whatever happened in the previous seasons. It’s unfortunate that people have to slog through two seasons’ worth of bad material before they can get to this point, though.
Macross Delta: I love SDF-M, but I haven’t seen any other entry in the franchise yet and I want to have more experience under my belt before delving into this one. It’s fun to see Macross fans discussing the lore and world-building of the series, in any case.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress: I like trains and this sort of reminds me of Snowpiercer (besides the obvious comparison), but it also looks too damn chaotic with too may ingredients for me.
Kiznaiver: Interesting premise, but what I’ve read about the way it’s executed makes me apprehensive.
Gundam Unicorn: I’m pretty interested in this, but still await the verdict on which one between the TV-edited or prior OVA is the definitive version.
Shounen Maid: suggestion of maid costume fetish aside, apparently this isn’t as problematic as the grooming-tastic Super Lovers. I’ve seen comparisons to Ore Monogatari! (fluffy heartfelt story with unexpected touch of maturity), which intrigued me. Will keep tabs.
Also, more seasons of Rinne and Ushio & Tora, light novel adaptation with the familiar ‘boy rewinds time, save doomed girl’ hook Re:Zero, cute motorcycle girls in Bakuon, among many others that I have little knowledge of.
Whew, so many noteworthy titles around. Let’s continue to have a nice spring!