Winter 2016 First Thoughts

Active Raid

For the amount of grumbling that happened before this season began, it’s actually shaping up pretty well. Several series have caught our interest and bode well for a rather decent winter season and a good start to 2016
Introduction by Kaikyaku

Ajin
Slashe’s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial Impression: B

Would immortality be a blessing or a curse? Ajin explores this dilemma realistically, depicting a world that captures and experiments on anyone unlucky enough to be born with this affliction. The introduction is a little over-foreshadowed but still interesting, and follows Kei Nagai’s backstory into the inciting incident – a traffic accident which reveals his true nature as an Ajin. The CGI art style might rub some the wrong way, but feels palatable enough as a cost-cutting measure while rendering a Flowers Of Despair-esque aesthetic. As long as the series stays true to its creative ambitions, Ajin will be a strong contender for the sleeper hit of the season.

Haruchika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru
Kavik Ryx’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: C+

Seeing learning the flute being played for laughs forced me to quickly accept that this would not be the second coming of Hibike Euphonium. In Haruchika, the progress of its music club is mere window dressing, playing second fiddle to a detective series about establishing the band. Having central characters Haruta and Chika playing Sherlock Holmes is perfectly acceptable as series focus, if a little repetitive. Unfortunately the presentation is serviceable at best, not helped by overbearing drama and flat protagonists. Haruta has Sherlockian genius, but is void of personality. Likewise Chika is too dense to be a proper Watson counterpart. No doubt the two will put on a performance in the end. I’m just not convinced I want to stick around and see.

NHRV - Musaigen

Musaigen no Phantom World
AC’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: C+

Kyoto Animation is at it again. The distinctive artwork and animation that the studio seeks to shamelessly flaunt, the high school setting, the harem, the lucky loser male lead, and so on. Though its shows are well done, the studio is very much a one trick pony; the only thing different is how the studio dresses up the pony each time. Musaigen’s theme is rather unique: a freak accident that blurs the boundary that separates reality and fiction, and now a group of students must battle against imaginary monsters. In the end, though, it’s still a high school slice of life drama/comedy that Kyoto Animation is comfortable producing every time.

Slashe’s Second Opinion
Episodes seen: 3
Initial Impression: D

It does not get more KyoAni than this. With visually appealing characters meticulously animated against a kaleidoscopic backdrop, Musaigen no Phantom is KyoAni’s most audacious foray into ecchi/fanservice yet. T&A is brandished at every opportunity, with body-groping spellcasting, boob-bounce limbo, and ufo-alien peepers. They’ve tossed aside any exploration of their intriguing premise of psi-powers and phantoms in “service” to the brand. The production screams of wasted potential, squandered by a story that’s simply a paint-by-numbers re-thread of their past series, though the fast pace affords for nary a dull moment. It feels like KyoAni trying the monster-of-the-week format using Natsume Yuujinchou as its template, only failing miserably. Ultimately Musaigen feels like a pâtisserie bun – exquisite in appearance, yet ultimately bland with empty calories.

Schwarzesmarken
Reckoner’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: C

The problems with Schwarzesmarken as a Muv Luv adaption are the same as Total Eclipse. Character development is thin with the human antagonists coming off cartoonish, the pacing is too fast, and all the detail and thought that goes into the setting is brushed over for the sake of television. It has always been a campy franchise with the busty chicks in latex body suits fighting an incredibly gruesome war against the BETA, but a key component of warfare stories is making us care about the characters. Theodor is an interesting enough main character, but the story could really benefit from slowing down a bit. Nonetheless, the gruesome BETA action is improved greatly from the Total Eclipse adaption and if you do not try to hyper analyze everything, it proves to be decently entertaining.

Dagashi Kashi
Slashe’s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial Impression: C-

To overcome the mundanities of its subject matter (dagashi – cheap confectionery), Dagashi Kashi banks on sheer energy, over-enthusiasm and perverted winks to its audience, with middling results. Admittedly, it might strike a chord with a much younger audience, but the rest of us would find its candy trivia mildly interesting at best. Regardless, it boasts significant production values, and props must be given to its wonderful personification of the different candy brands. One thing is for sure – Dagashi Kashi, with its childhood nostalgia and the science of kiddish things, would be a fantastic show to watch while one is getting inebriated with friends.

TIF’s Second Opinion
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression: B

I hate commercials, so why am I giving a “B” rating to a show that is essentially a gigantic Japanese snack commercial?  Two reasons:  Japanese commercials are generally fucking crazy yo, and everybody in this show is batshit insane.  Wait, I guess that was the same reason after all.  It might just be the eyes, but if you told me that the setting wasn’t a scenic and serene Japanese countryside but all a delusion conjured up by manic psychopaths while they are actually skulking around their rubber rooms eating their daily “candy” offerings from the psychiatrists, then I would easily believe you.  So long as things stay on Lewis Carroll’s level, I’m hip to this thing.

Dimension W

Dimension W
AC’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression:  B+

Dimension W is an action-packed cyberpunk series about a futuristic world with futuristic bad guys, and an anti-heroic Mabuchi who catches them using un-futuristic methods. The story’s formula seems straightforward and reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop, especially with the Tarantino-esque styles and action, but I’m quite interested to see where the plot goes. It’s anyone’s guess how this show will turn out eventually but for now, it’s the episodic character-of-the-week narrative done quite well. Dimension W is my answer to my weekly dose of action entertainment with fluid animation.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED)
Shadowmage’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: A

Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED) is a show about time travel. The protagonist Fujinuma, Satoru involuntarily goes from a 29 year old struggling manga artist to his elementary school self. This time shift gives him the opportunity to prevent a string of murders that took place during his childhood. The problem is that while he knows the overall outcomes, his actual knowledge of the specifics of the events are shoddy so he struggles to find the right course of action. This lack of knowledge becomes the primary conflict of the show as Satorou must sleuth his way to a solution or watch his friends die once again. The premise of the show is very riveting and the production values that A-1 Picture bring are top notch with solid visuals and carefully meticulous directing. With believable characters and strong writing, this is the show of the season that should not be missed.

Kavik Ryx’s Second Opinion
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: A

A floundering twenty something is quantum leaped back in time to set right what once went wrong. It’s a somewhat done-to-death premise, but here the anime gives us something new by addressing a horrific situation simultaneously in the moment and in hindsight through one pair of eyes. This series deals with the unpleasant subject of violence towards children, and it makes no attempt to soften the horror. The protagonist must witness and anticipate past events unfolding, cognizant of a greater picture, yet powerless to intervene by consequence of age. Normally, it takes a few failed attempts at fixing the past before determination turns to hopelessness. In Boku Dake Inai Machi, dread is already set in, even still with plenty of time to change history.

NHRV - Red Hair

Akagami no Shirayukihime
Reckoner’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression: A-

Shirayukihime continues to be an incredibly pleasant experience and has wasted no time in establishing new plot threads to continue driving the story. However, as interesting as it is to learn about Shirayuki’s past, I do hope the show starts to explore its supporting cast much more. Furthermore, as endearing as Zen and Shirayuki are, there is a growing need for some extra spice in their relationship. This need not come in the form of typical shojo relationship drama, but it would be nice to see their relationship tested a bit more so we could see new facets of these characters. These are relatively minor quibbles though for what continues to be one of the best shoujo adaptations in recent times.

Kylaran’s Second Opinion
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression: B-

Compared to the ramp up of the first season, the first few episodes of Shirayuki’s adventures are fairly calm. It’s not a bad thing per se, but compared the excitement of seeing how close the two protagonists have gotten, it’s a relatively muted start. The animation quality is the same as previously: easy on the eyes and soothing. While we’re probably in for much of the same this season as last, I’m hoping to see a lot more of the minor characters taking up screen time so the rest of the cast is better fleshed out.

Rainbow Days aka Nijiro Days
Slashe’s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 2
Initial Impression: C

Rainbow Days is a light-hearted half length shoujo that introduces the male perspective of the high school romance equation. Cheery and brightly animated, the plot follows four traditional shoujo boyfriend archetypes and how they relate to their love interests. However, the reduced runtime bring some problems: sped-up pacing not unlike a 1.25x youtube lecture, rushing the dramatic moments, and greater reliance on tell rather than show. These problems will hopefully subside as the creators become more experienced as episodes elapse. While Rainbow Days is unlikely to explore anything deeper than the typical shojo romance cliches, it’s still fun and easy to watch, and will be a staple of my bus rides home.

Active Raid
Shadowmage’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: C+

Active Raid is the kind of anime that will be polarizing because it is a silly show with over the top antics, and no deep, resonant theme to justify the whole experience as anything other than vapid entertainment. So on this note if Power Rangers was never your thing, then Active Raid will be a dose of liquid frustration. As for me, the show is completely alright. Active Raid has not hit its Gurren Lagann moment where it has totally sold me on its zaniness, but it’s an interesting spectacle that I hope becomes more cohesive and meaningful in the long run. If all else fails, the actions scenes are as nicely done as CGI would permit and the kind of ideas the creators try to execute on are fascinating if only for the train wreck effect.

Bubuki Buranki First Thoughts_zpsudngtqpi

Bubuki Buranki
Kylaran’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: B+

I’m going to be honest: Few mecha shows have caught my attention since since Gundam 00 and more recent shows like Valverave haven’t exactly cut it for me. Bubuki Buranki’s got all of the core elements that make fighting robot shows cool. There’s plenty of incredibly explosive fights and villains that look like they would steal your morning bacon without qualms. Perhaps the best part of this show is just how stylish it is—the entire show’s aesthetic is neatly packaged from opening to ending each episode, tempered by an expert eye for blending 3D and 2D animation gorgeously. Unfortunately, the show has yet to really take off in terms of character chemistry, but if it does it’ll easily be a new favorite anime.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
AC’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression: B+

There’s nothing particularly exceptional about a show where a group of people being mysteriously transported into a foreign world and having to learn how things work there. Grimgar however is approaching this idea in an unconventional way. Instead of focusing on the life-or-death battles that so many other shows tend to do, Grimgar explores more of the daily lives of the characters. Life is hard for them in the new world, and getting into battles in just one way to make ends meet. It’s an unusual deconstruction of the fantasy genre that works more like slice of life to portray just how real the characters’ struggles are even if they are in an entirely unfamiliar environment. This show is a keeper for the season; I want to see where it goes down the road.

Kavik Ryx’s Second Opinion
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression: B

The world presented in Grimgar doesn’t offer anything unique to the fantasy genre, and that is likely a deliberate decision. The setup is designed to be instantly recognizable to anyone who has played an RPG so as to put themselves instantly in the shoes of the main cast. But this is not simple insert fantasy, but rather a subversion. The experiences we are supposed to relate to is not victory against dragons, but instead the confusion at being transported to a new land or the humiliation of being bested by a lowly imp. It’s an amusing novelty overall. But then in a single moment, Grimgar proves its potential by showing one thing nigh impossible in an RPG, the terror on the face of one’s first kill.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku Wo aka KONOSUBA
TIF’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen:  2
Initial Impression: A-

Could very well be the result of last season sucking so much balls, but KONOSUBA has come along at just the right time to give my ballsack a good tickling.  We have definitely gotten to the point where the “hero is sent to an MMO/JRPG world” schtick is ripe for parody and deconstruction, and there’s no doubt that the creators behind this want to give that schlock a good poking.  While Studio DEEN could still ruin this, because that’s what Studio DEEN does, the somewhat cheapish looking animation adds a remarkable charm to the thing, and the director is delivering on the gags with just the right touch.

NHRV - Gate

Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
Shadowmage’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression: B-

The second season of Gate begins with a rather strong set of episodes that will definitely leave an impression, whether positive or negative. The first season had numerous mentions of sexual assault, but the second season puts it front and center as a disturbing demonstration that the denizens beyond the Gate of the mentality of ancient Rome where enslavement, torture, murder and rape were common methods to satiate their thirst for conquest and to feed their war machine. This act of barbarity is counteracted by JSDF who sweeps with dashing heroics and such bravado that I was shocked not to see the Stars and Stripes waving in the background. If the first season of Gate was your thing, this second season does not disappoint as a steady continuation of the tale of 21st century weaponry taking on the 500 AD swords and shields.

Koukaku no Pandora
TIF’s First (and hopefully only) Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 3
Initial Impression:  HA HA HA FUCK YOU!

I love Garfield. That fat orange tabby cat has provided me with a number of smiles over the decades. One of my favorites is a simple strip where Garfield is channel surfing, and with each flip of the button he mutters “garbage” in response to what he’s seeing. Eventually, he stops, his eyes widen with a smile, and he says to the audience “ahh, trash!” I am Garfield. Koukaku no Pandora is trash. Now, like Garfield, I am pretty sure this isn’t YOUR kind of trash, because you are boring, but this is definitely MY kind of trash, and I am awesome. Therefore, you should watch this and force yourself to enjoy it because otherwise you won’t be awesome like me.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Slashe’s First Thoughts
Episodes seen: 3
Initial Impression: A-

Despite the DEEN affiliation, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu manages to shine with adept storytelling and meticulous characterization. Set in the 1970s, Shouwa explores the life of rakugo performers and their love/hate relation to the art, while seeking meaning and survival in their occupation. The glut of rakugo performances in the hour-long premiere might bore newcomers, but it’s a worthy the price of admission for  when the series transitions into life stories from the second episode onwards. With its masterful recounting of the master’s struggles during his apprenticeship days, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is sure to resonate with other aspiring artists, while becoming my pick for anime of the season.

Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu
TIF’s First Thoughts
Episodes Seen: 2
Initial Impression:  C+

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE:  someone wants to do something otaku related to make it big and treats the entire otaku lifestyle not as a borderline mental deficiency but something to be celebrated and accepted by all!  I said to stop me, dammit.  Okay, while this one follows a familiar concept, even for the copycat world of animeland, it does have one difference that gives me hope in the main character.  I could enjoy someone going the same route as Ken Kubo from Otaku no Video and with that level of frenetic energy, but I am also fine with him being the complete outsider to all this stuff, providing the neutral voice of reason that otaku are sorely lacking sometimes.

4 Responses to “Winter 2016 First Thoughts”

  1. ERASED is the show of the season. There’s little to add. Well, there’s always Rakugo as an alternative, but they’re both solid.

    Dagashi Kashi is enjoyable for now and the female lead definitely has enough charisma/craziness to carry it. Hopefully the concept won’t get old too fast.

    Schwarzesmarken has indeed tried to make the BETA come across as more of a threat, which is good in theory, yet the extremely grimdark aspects of the setting are a double-edged sword when you don’t have the surrounding gravitas to pull it off. Nor a strong enough cast for the backstabbing politics to have much of an impact.

    Dimension W has “Toonami fodder” written all over it and, so far, that seems to be working out just fine. It’s slick in presentation and not particularly original nor innovative in concept, but it hits all the notes people would expect from that type of series.

    Active Raid is okay. Nothing special, nothing terrible. None of the constituent elements have gone structurally wrong and it’s too self-aware about its own silliness. A tad formulaic due to the usual genre conventions and not remotely sophisticated nor ambitious, admittedly, but I guess that comes with the territory. It’s a show for folks who don’t hate cheesy superheroes and/or buddy cops.

  2. and if you do not try to hyper analyze everything, it proves to be decently entertaining.

    /folds arms
    /closes eyes
    /brows knit
    /deep in thought
    /wait for it
    /lifts head
    /opens eyes
    /arms still folded
    /short inhale of breath

    Denied.

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