Spring 2016 First Impressions

Ah, spring. The season of budding flowers, warming weather, and…loads of shitty CG animation? That’s what the forecast has in store for this anime season at least. But under the massive heaps of awkwardly thrown-in 3D animation, there still exist anime worth people’s time! On this first impressions article, Yata tackles Attack on Trains, the return of Studio Trigger, a bunch of superhero thrillers, someone named Soy Latte, one of the worst shows he’s ever laid his eyes on, and so much more! Read on ahead to see which spring 2016 shows pass first impressions week on For Great Justice!

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BAKUON!!

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LET THE BODIES HIT THE ROAD

Summary: Sakura Hane hates riding her bike up the hill to school everyday, but one day, someone and something catches her eye; a motorcycling student named Onsa Amano, who, trying to take advantage of Sakura’s on-and-off interest, attempts to get her to join the school Bike Club.

Yatahaze:
Bakuon is one of those shows which I knew I was unlikely to continue past the pilot but wanted to take the chance to be proven wrong. Unfortunately, despite some really silly ideas at play here, there’s just not enough polish to hold together everything this show is trying to be. The motorcycle’s narration about being touched by plenty of crotches and the like is somewhat goofy, as are the rest of the show’s abrupt tonal shifts which can – and at several points do – result in some solid comedy. But man, the bits between them trying to form an actual story just drag so hard across a 24-minute timeslot. The dialogue has the potential to be outrageous, but most of the deliveries (especially Sakura’s) are under-played, making the few that nail the mark out of nowhere all the more frustrating. On the visual side, the character designs are largely unappealing to me, and the show’s relentlessly bright color palette grows monotonous on the eyes rather quickly. The occasional CG isn’t absolutely awful compared to some of the worse offenders out there this season, but it certainly doesn’t help matters, nor do the minimal animation and often poorly constructed shots. Bakuon could be fun for a niche audience – one I admittedly might have fallen into with better material – but there’s nowhere near enough style between its select moments of Stig-masked substance, so I think I’ll pass.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

BIG ORDER

Summary: Ten years ago, the world was nearly destroyed. Since then, select people called Orders have harbored strange abilities. Eiji Hoshimiya is the strongest Order out there – he would know, considering he was the one who inadvertently caused mankind’s destruction 10 years ago trying to impersonate a cartoon character who wanted to take over the world. But he’s not about that life, and he keeps his power a secret…until someone comes along who threatens him and his sister’s wellbeing.

Yatahaze:
I don’t like starting off with negatives, so let’s first run down what Big Order did well. It undeniably had some semblance of a plot and the animation quality was only slightly below-average, for better or worse.

And believe it or not, that’s already where the compliments end.

I think it was L-K who once asked me why I often rate generic pandering otaku garbage anything higher than a 3. Long story short, it’s because worse things (such as the flaming toxic garbage that is Big Order) exist. Big Order has to be the ugliest, most bitter, and most senselessly violent show I’ve tried since we started For Great Justice. It doesn’t even have originality on its side. Its first episode was pure unbridled stock formulaic power fantasy shounen with all its nastiest elements turned up to eleven. The sister complex, the transfer student, the cheesy one-liners, the dramatic faces, the Mirai Nikki-esque affinity for gorey “twists” [update: it’s by the same manga author and studio who did Mirai Nikki! What a surprise!], every single thing in this episode either made me cringe in my seat or stifle a conflicted chuckle at how such a forgettable boilerplate concept was made so memorably awful. There’s not a single ounce of hope peeking through Big Order’s doom and gloom; the narrative is relentlessly (and at times unintentionally hilariously) grim and instead of pulling through with his initial wish and continuing to restrain his powers, Eiji accepts shit as it is and decides to take over the world for good this time.

Nice job breaking it, hero. In fact, I almost want to take back the notion that Big Order had a plot. Looking back over my screencaps, there were a couple instances of material here seemingly thrown in for the hell of it. God forbid if they appear later as part of the show’s actual plot, I can only imagine how much worse it’ll become. Seriously, you’d think it takes effort to write a show this uncomfortably terrible, but Big Order makes it seem easy. I guess that could count as a compliment too, kind of.

Please don’t watch Big Order.
Final score: 1.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

BUNGOU STRAY DOGS

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We all know that dogs love bones, but it looks like the reverse is just as true.

Summary: Atsushi Nakajima was unceremoniously kicked out of his orphanage and has been wandering around the city for the few weeks since, starving, tired, and homeless. After rescuing a suicidal man named Osamu Dazai from the river, Dazai and his Armed Detective Agency coworker Doppo Kunikida take Atsushi to a restaurant where he inadvertently gives the two a lead on a suspect that he’s a little too close for comfort with. The excursion ends with Atsushi receiving a place to stay, and in a later turn of events, he ends up joining the Agency himself.

Yatahaze:
This may be the first superhero show on the list, but it certainly won’t be the last. In truth, “superhero” may still be a bit of a stretch; this show’s characters have superpowers, but they act as eccentrics separated from the public whereas entries such as Concrete Revolutio and My Hero Academia more effortlessly tie in thematic questions of justice, righteousness, and the masses’ perception of heroism. Bungou Stray Dogs is also considerably hammier than its counterparts, with lines of dialogue seemingly pulled out of nowhere highlighting oddly specific character quirks.

Until it clicked at the end of the episode when I was like, “wait, isn’t Kenji Miyazawa the guy who did Night on the Galactic Railroad? And Edogawa Ranpo – his works had a show last year! What’s going on?”

Well, turns out Bungou Stray Dogs literally translates to “Literary master stray dogs.” Everyone in this show is named after an author and shares their peculiar tastes and habits.

There’s obviously loads more context to this show than an unfamiliar American like myself could hope to decipher – unless you’re a Japanese literature buff, I think that applies to all of us. Knowing the origin of why a lot of these characters have such odd traits now will explain the show’s stranger moments, but it won’t necessarily buoy them; the writing has to stay witty and entertaining on its own merit for Bungou Strays Dogs to be a hit in my book.

The best news comes in that specific choice of the word “stay,” as even without context the series is awkwardly endearing in its first two episodes, and while the plot premise (so minus the characters’ twist) is rather typical, Bones is putting their all into making it flashy, fun, and even a little magical, dropping us right in on a character in turmoil being accepted into greater trouble than they realize, much in the same way they went about last spring’s hit Kekkai Sensen, and to a lesser degree, the previous years’ Noragami. Nothing about Bungou Stray Dogs is superlative; its writing, visuals, direction, and enjoyment factor are all comfortably above average but not a contender for the best of the season. The series’ arguable problems are those inherent in its story; its comedy is hit-or-miss and rather dependent on repetition, while its melodrama (in the form of Atsushi’s backstory) is unearned and lacks impact. On the visual side, Bones’ occasional habit of over-saturating the fuck out of their backgrounds rears its unnatural head once more here. The character designs may also turn people off, though frankly I find them pretty fitting for this story’s style, and there’s no reason to be put off by the predominantly bishounen cast, if that’s one of those small factors that worries you for whatever reason. For a mid-week pick-me-up, Bungou Stray Dogs looks like it will be this spring’s easy to watch cruise, and I can easily get behind that.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

CONCRETE REVOLUTIO: THE LAST SONG

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The Detective, his ideology now cast in doubt, checks to see if the Earth is indeed flat and cannot come to a conclusion.

Summary: The second cour of last fall’s superhero thinkpiece Concrete Revolutio.

Yatahaze:
I can’t deny that I generally enjoy my status as our site’s most frequent writer, but everybody needs a break sometimes, whether due to external commitments or sickness or what have you. Last fall, both of those problems sidetracked me from discussing that season, and while I was largely able to catch back up on some highlights like One Punch Man and Noragami Aragoto in my 12 Days of Anime posts, one personal favorite of mine went unaddressed; Concrete Revolutio, a show which I initially dropped after 1 episode then picked back up when it became clear there was an actual message lying underneath its madness.

Concrete Revolutio is a show about, among other things, superheroes, justice, peace, and manipulation. It’s densely packed with subtext and barely-mentioned important events, and its narrative jumps around from year to year in a world that looks pulled straight from a flashy children’s storybook…with almost none of the thematic simplicity such a thing would imply. It’s so busy and stuffed with information that taking detailed episodic notes spanning the whole series is practically the only way to connect everything it’s trying to say…and as you might have guessed, I wrote no such notes when I marathoned its first cour, meaning that out of all the shows I’m talking about this season, my analysis of ConRevo’s second half will likely be a bit thin and surface-level. But even with that in mind, there’s still going to be a ton of threads to choose from with these discussions! Granted that will all be meaningless if you haven’t watched the show’s first cour.

On that note, go watch the show’s first cour. I’d be neglecting my duty of performing great animu justice if I didn’t at least recommend you give it a patient shot and let it unravel itself before you, transforming from complete blind clusterfuck to quirky team drama to societal-scale commentary on war, trust, and vengeance.

Episode 1 of The Last Song mostly focused on a sideline foil character from last season, Detective Raito Shiba. As of the start of this season, he and Jiro have essentially switched situations, Shiba accepted as a superhuman in similar vein to the rest of the Bureau, Jiro still sneaking around on his lonesome, trying to evade their eye. After some teasing at the episode’s start, it becomes clear that Shiba is taxing himself to an absurd limit, supplying his cyborg body as the power source to various weapons and second-guessing his once firm ideas of black-and-white justice. This would normally be the part of the write-up where I quote a bunch of lines and add a bunch of caps as evidence, but for whatever reason, I didn’t take note of them.

I know, I know, way to fuck up, Yata.

But all because ConRevo is so gripping that I struggle to pause the episode and think! I’ll have to combat this somehow over the coming months, but as my duty this time is to simply give you the yay or nay on whether or not to watch these shows, I think I can scrape by with this. My answer for Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song should be pretty obvious.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

ENDRIDE

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Pretty sure this isn’t what Men at Work had in mind with “Land Down Under,” but oh well

Summary: Shun Asanaga loves crystals – runs in his family given that his mother was an archeologist and his father is a researcher. But when Daddio doesn’t show up at home on his own birthday, Shun goes looking for him and accidentally ends up looking so hard that he gets drawn into a crystal’s world, specifically a world with swordfighting and kingdom lineage angst, and frankly, not enough crystals. Shun runs into the detained prince Emilio and sets him free, and the two go on the run to hopefully understand why the other is here and what they can accomplish together.

Yatahaze:
I’m not gonna lie, I knew I wasn’t going to care about this actual show one way or another. I mainly just heard the main character’s crystal obsession was kind of funny.

And sorry to rain on your parade, but the crystal obsession was actually kind of boring. And over quickly. Which I guess is a good thing, cause if a character were still that obsessed with crystals after all that happened to him, it would make for pretty one-dimensional writing. On the other hand, he’s plenty one-dimensional in spite of it, so what’s the point?

There’s probably a serviceable kids’ fantasy adventure revenge plot lurking underneath this show’s surface (hehe), but with a world as cut-and-paste random and unoriginal as Endra and battle sequences as poor as Endride has, it’s hard to feel motivated to come back to this. The character designs and color scheme are pretty unappealing to my eye too. Just not feeling this. My ride with Endride ends here.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

FLYING WITCH

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Gonna guess the working title “Makoto Grips The Rising Wood” surprisingly didn’t go over well at J.C. Staff

Summary: Makoto Kowata is moving to stay with some relatives in Aomori, and as her young second cousin Chinatsu and older second cousin Kei’s friends soon learn, Makoto is more than just your average high school girl. She’s a witch! She can’t do very much yet, both in regards to witch powers and everyday tasks like figuring out directions, but she’s a witch nonetheless.

Yatahaze:
I spent about 90% of Flying Witch’s first episode feeling…well…not necessarily disappointed enough to drop the show, but nonetheless underwhelmed. Its pilot is a relaxed slow-burner, so slow in fact that the timing for a lot of its humor is weighed down by lengthy empty pauses, and its art, while generally pretty in the backgrounds department, is fairly nondescript and flat when it comes to character designs and expressiveness. There are a few nice exceptions to those norms here and there, but as a whole, Flying Witch’s first episode came off as bland and under-inspired, lacking just a smidgen of the charm it needed to really pull me in.

Until that last 10%, that is.

With one gag alone, my hopes were completely restored. I won’t spoil what it was (click here if you want to see anyway, though without sound you’re still missing a lot), but I will say it was such a bizarre tonal shift that it had me exclaiming “what the fuck?” and laughing my ass off interchangeably for a solid minute. I will also say it had to do with a witch/normal person misunderstanding, and I’m placing a lot of faith that with what looks like a larger cast waiting to be introduced in the coming episodes, the show will continue to get nice mileage out of its more naturally comedic side. Whether or not this will happen, I guess it’s just a matter of time, but I’ll wait & see. On the whole, I still wanted to like this show’s pilot more than I actually did, but unlike some of this season’s offerings, I have a strong feeling that this one will grow on me with time.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

HAIFURI (HIGH SCHOOL FLEET)

Haifuri

I’M ON A BOAT, MOTHAFUCKA

Summary: Because of tectonic plate shifts 100 years ago, most of coastal Japan was lost to the ocean, and new cities on the water emerged. To protect those cities, naval positions increased and were considered highly regarded jobs, especially among women who dreamed of becoming one of the “Blue Mermaids.” Akeno Misaki and her newly assigned crew of fellow high-school sailors are in a bit of a pinch though. What are you supposed to do when your instructor attacks you at sea and then brands you mutineers?

Yatahaze:
The good news? Very little fanservice. The bad news? Very little service at all. I just about slept through the first half of Haifuri’s pilot episode, and by the time the show’s twist appeared, I couldn’t stop laughing at how silly such an idea was. Yet even with that in mind, Haifuri was a visual bore, its cast was irritatingly squeaky, and its reveal was something that (while unexpected) nonetheless had me wanting to watch something a little more serious or fun. I get the sensation that Haifuri was trying to be both, a moe show with a real naval predisposition, but like the many other “moe shows with ______ quirk” before it, this one lacked smooth character writing, graceful execution, and entertainment value for me. There’s certainly worse out there, and I can envision the end of the series’ first episode hooking some people just long enough to stick around for a week or two more, but I’m content with letting this one swim back to sea now.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? I’M SAKAMOTO

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You can only ever wish you were this fucking awesome.

Summary: He’s the best at everything. All the girls want him. The guys who hate him undergo a change of heart when his brilliance benefits them as well. Even nature gets conquered by his charm. Who am I talking about? Sakamoto, obviously! Haven’t you heard?

Yatahaze:
I really wasn’t expecting this show to be as funny as it was as consistently as it was, but like the thugs and wannabes of this cast, even I can’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy Sakamoto’s presence. Not that the key is him, per se – he’s actually kind of bland on the eyes and has almost no internal personality, but his voice acting (courtesy of Hikaru Midorikawa) is fantastic and the show’s sense of comedic timing is superb. I’m Sakamoto risks wearing its main character out if it doesn’t diversify its cast a bit (or doesn’t characterize it successfully), but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Its manga seems highly-regarded and even DEEN’s dull art and minimal animation can’t put a damper on how wonderful Sakamoto can be. Give him a go.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

JOKER GAME

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“Got any eights?” “Go fish.” “What about fifteens?” “Fi-…wait, what?” “1945s?” “……”

Summary: The year is 1937. Japan has recently founded the Greater East Asia Cultural Society, or D-Agency, where after completing a rigorous training program, non-militant Japanese university graduates can try their hand at getting a secret job. After eight make it through, they’re ready-for-work spies left awaiting deployment under the watch of Lt. Col. Yuuki and Lt. Sakuma, the latter of which has a bit of thinking to do about what loyalty and deception mean…and where the line between them gets drawn.

Yatahaze:
Among the shows I’m most pleased to cover the first two episodes of is Joker Game; with a loaded experienced crew (Kazuya Nomura directing, Taku Kishimoto on series comp, Kenji Kawai with the score) and one of modern anime’s most consistent studios (Production I.G.) behind the project, its biggest potential failing is its inherent premise – a show set in Japan about the lead-up to World War II. I’m not saying there’s any direct correlation, but under the Abe administration, there’s been a recent trend of right-wing nationalistic and militaristic-propagated anime, one that until now has thankfully stayed confined to all-around shitty shows. But Joker Game, really a story about a handful of select spies and their personal ideologies more than anything else so far, could’ve been bad. Like, unwatchable bad. This is a pre-WWII show set in, as the man himself Bill Wurtz succinctly reminded us, a country that “tried to take over the world” and “did some rapes,” both things the movement of Japan’s right has tried to sweep under the rug since. Were Joker Game to also do so, that wouldn’t sit well with most foreign viewers, myself included. In a series this entrenched in its time period, reproducing the era’s historical accuracy without actively encouraging or condoning Japan’s actions during it is a much more difficult task than its failed more catch-all entertainment attempt counterparts in otaku-geared steaming turds such as Gate. The early-episode “All events, names, etc. are fictional and any similarities are coincidental” disclaimers had (and still do have) me a bit on edge in this regard.

So I guess the first question becomes “That aside, does Joker Game acknowledge the circumstances of its setting in an acceptable manner?”

…maybe?

It’s still hard to tell, and this could make or break the show for me and a lot of people down the road, but while I can’t concretely say that it has, it also hasn’t been keen on embracing the alternative. As I said, before anything else so far, Joker Game’s spies are individuals with outlying views, the most obvious of which belongs to Lieutenant Sakuma, who’s more a liaison between the D-Agency and the military than anything else. Initially, he’s shocked by the trainees’ physical ability and psychological fortitude, especially their willingness to declare their lack of loyalty to a higher figure or cause. Their motive is to prove their abilities for their own sakes, to show that they can pull off the delicate, isolated job that is being a spy in a foreign land. The group (and their Lt. Col.) at first trick Sakuma and mock his patriotism with a poker match, poking holes in his ideology and explaining how loyalty to the point of death is pointless, accomplishing nothing but creating a mess to be cleaned up elsewhere later on. At first, he’s put off by this, amazed by what he perceives as the group’s narcissism, but when pinned by his own men later on in an Engrish-laden raid that necessitates him either thinking critically or killing himself, he’s able to connect the dots enough to make up for others’ shortcomings and embrace his own free will to live in the process.

This whole test and the callbacks involved (as well as the declining tension which I won’t get into for the sake of potentially spoiling episode 2) are pulled off with absolute grace. I didn’t think leaving its political ends ambiguous would work, and I’m still not sure it always will, but Joker Game’s first set of episodes are already a season highlight for me on the basis of their suspense and cleverness alone. Regarding the characters themselves, some dialogue is a bit over-acted (Col. Mutou’s breakdown in particular), but much of it is serviceable at worst, and the detached, calm facial expressions on the eight spies make their similar features even harder to distinguish, a neat trick that reflects their poker-faced methods and Sakuma’s perception of them as heartless monsters. Production I.G. do their all to make this world a believable 1930’s Japan, from the dusty faded colors to the outdated infrastructure. The show is rarely bright, exceptions being a sunny afternoon on which Sakuma deduces for himself for the first time some information about his higher-ups and one shot with a glowing red sky foreshadowing what we all know will come 8 years down the road. The animation is smooth and the aged soundtrack bolsters the mood. Joker Game is rich with artistic and narrative finesse and filled with potential. Only a select few things could sink it, one of which is the still uncertain tone it will take towards Japan’s war atrocities, but that’s all discussion for when it becomes relevant later in the season. I reserve the right to change my mind if the series shifts its view on the matter towards denial or praise, but so far, I’d be a fool to not recommend Joker Game.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS

Summary: In the midst of a world’s industrial revolution, a zombifying virus appears, hardening the body’s most vital organ – the heart – and transforming a frightened populace into ravenous undead if bitten. Mankind has struggled to adapt since, taking shelter in cities only accessible to each other by steam locomotive, and when one such locomotive quite literally goes off the rails into a settlement with several Kabane undead on it, mass panic sets in. Scientist/repairman Ikoma thinks he’s developed a new weapon to pierce the Kabanes’ iron hearts, and now is a prime opportunity to show it off. His endgame is bigger though: don’t just defeat the Kabane; defeat the fear they instill in everyone.

Yatahaze:
To address the big fat elephant in the room, yes, Studio Wit is continuing their recent run of Attack on Titan knock-offs with Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Directed by Testosterone (er…Tetsurou) Araki, it at least fares significantly better than the studio’s more recent critical flop Seraph of the End. To pigeonhole Kabaneri as “just another one of these shows” would be misleading though, because while I won’t go so far as to say its debut episode outdid Titan’s, Kabaneri’s performed up to par and above-average just about every other step of the way, easily cementing its place as one of the season’s most memorable premiers. The show’s biggest problem will be escaping from the shadow of its clear spiritual predecessor and becoming its own unique gem; the episode preview hinting at the introduction of something that looks uncannily like Titan’s Maneuver Gear has me a bit worried (were this any other studio or director, such a thing would be blatantly desperate plagiarism), but as far as the show’s story goes, there’s just enough that’s different to make Kabaneri’s world feel like its own beast.

And how does the show handle that beast? Well, we’re talking Testurou Araki, so in a very loud, impassioned, and dramatic fashion. Sometimes a little too straight to the point and cartoony, some (rarer) times a little more subtly, but even when Ikoma’s disdain towards his fear-ridden society is at its most emphasized, it still carries both more tact and more maturity than Eren Jaeger’s initial complaints ever did. Araki tends to go for sweeping generalizations when it comes to his human antagonists, and while that’s still evidently the case given how the station guards freak out at the slightest hint of something wrong, Kabaneri isn’t all that worse a show because of it. Like Titan before it, the series offers its protagonist’s rejection of the dominant worldview some credence, and while this show (like Titan) runs the risk of going overboard with constant reiteration of cheesy metaphor, it hasn’t yet. Araki’s direction is pretty solid too, flowing well from event to event and dropping in pieces of information at a comfortable pace without beating the viewer over the head with exposition.

On the downsides, Kabaneri’s art style is a little unpolished and the facial designs for its female protagonists Mumei and Ayame feel stolen from another show and awkwardly mismatched on Wit’s shading-heavy visual standard. Zombies are an inherently less original (and thus less terrifying) monster to deal with than Titans, so Kabaneri may have to work a little harder to truly sell its scenes of intense close-range combat, but I feel like if they’re anywhere near as consistent as how Ikoma’s scuffle with one in the pilot was, we shouldn’t be too worried about the battle sequences. And again, beyond its borderline plagiarism, Kabaneri has yet to prove that it can set itself apart from Titan in the long-run. One thing’s for sure though; this show had a fantastic premier and can avoid the title of hypetrainwreck for the moment.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

KIZNAIVER

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MARX DEBUNKED EMPATHY YEEEEARS AGOOOO

Summary: Katsuhira Agata is a little troubled. He’s been beaten all his life, and although he can’t actually feel the pain he’s dealt, some people treat him as an inhuman punching bag as a result, leaving him internally empty and emotionally distant. Something else has been on his mind lately though; a fuzzy memory of a girl from his childhood. When she reappears, she introduces herself as Noriko Sonozaki and informs Katsuhira and five of his peers that they’ll be part of an experiment called the Kizuna System which aims to bring about world peace one connection at a time by forcing people to share each other’s physical misery and emotional situations. The kids have no say in the matter – and the whole city is the System’s managers’ playground.

Yatahaze:
No premier from this season on its own struck me as hard as Kiznaiver’s did. I think it’s safe to say that after a relatively unproductive 2015, Studio Trigger is back, and back with style.

On the subject of style, that’s where Kiznaiver’s biggest strength lies. While there are some obvious Trigger-isms here and there, much of the first episode’s second half (from Noriko’s confrontation onward) contained several beautiful mood-setting wide and cramped shots which I can only describe as SHAFT-like in their sterility and claustrophobic emptiness. I also really enjoyed the static distortion during the pain sequences and the Big Brother-inspired nature of the facility. From a visual standpoint, Kiznaiver is one of my favorite offerings this season.

The character work is Mari Okada-certified inconsistent though, about half the cast (Noriko, Yuta, Tenga, & Niiyama) really coming into their own and half (Katsuhira, Chidori, Honoka) feeling a little more clichéd and roundabout than acceptable. I admire what the show is aiming for with this premise of connection, but to pull it off (especially as an anime original) Trigger will have to pull out all the stops to make this full cast a collection of characters I actually care about, and while that’s far from an impossible task, I don’t have full faith yet that they can do this consistently until the end. The second episode improved considerably over the first, letting the cast bounce off each other well, but some of these characters’ secrets still felt over-dramatized and needlessly exaggerated.

As is, one already needs a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief to get pulled into this premise, and while I’m fine with letting my objections go for the ride Kiznaiver offers, I understand if some people just can’t get behind “mysterious girl in cahoots with city’s rulers inflicts suffering on kids for super-secret not-so-subtle teen social commentary experiment.” When phrased like that, it’s undeniably more than a little ridiculous. I’d like to think the series will continue leaning into that ridiculousness when appropriate, but that’s a matter only time will tell. For now, Kiznaiver isn’t the most impressive show this season, but it’s hooked me more than almost any other, and I can see it being a huge hit if it keeps up what it’s doing well.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KUMA MIKO

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Bear with me, kids.

Summary: 14-year-old Machi Amayadori is the miko (shrine maiden) of the shrine in her remote mountain village. This village has a bit of a secret history to it though; the local bears can speak and long ago entered a contract with the humans that they wouldn’t eat anybody. Serving as the bears’ representative, Natsu Kumai hangs around the shrine, used to his quiet life with the Amayadoris, but when Machi says she wants to leave and head for the city, the two start butting heads.

Yatahaze:
What that summary won’t tell you is that Machi’s older brother Yoshio, a civil service agent, convinces a bunch of neighborhood children that Machi will have to have sex with the bear as part of their duties. A funny joke.

I mean, I think it’s a joke, but I’m not sure, and that’s part of why I won’t be sticking around to find out. I normally enjoy chill rural slice-of-lifes either with a mild supernatural twist like this (see Gingitsune, Wolf Children, etc.), or without (Silver Spoon), but Machi and the show’s pacing kind of kill this for me. Machi is bland; her character design is bland, her banter is bland, her voice acting is bland, I’m just not feeling it, and you can’t have a show rely on character chemistry if one of the main characters is lifeless. Natsu fares a bit better, but the best character by far in this show is Yoshio, who constantly teases the children and Machi herself in a way where I can’t entirely tell if he’s serious or not. He’s got personality, and boy, so do the unrealistic children, but as supporting characters, I don’t think we’ll be seeing them too much, and Machi and Natsu just don’t have the playfulness to support a show like this on their own.

The other part of why I don’t have a lot of faith in this is the comedic timing, which often feels limp and stretched out. Its tone is all over the place too, and not in the way that Flying Witch carefully measured its shifts. The humor of Kuma Miko is either bland or terribly dark, and the two don’t mesh well. This isn’t the worst thing you could watch this season, and if you want to pick it up, there’s always the chance that it might get more consistent and funnier as it goes on, but this show’s pilot under-performed for a majority of its runtime and then over-performed in some weird ways, and I have far too much else to watch and get done this season to keep another weekend show on the watchlist that I’m already not too into.
Final score: 4.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

KUROMUKURO

Kuromukuro Cap

mfw this season’s CG

Summary: Yukina Shirahane has had a weird day. After a poor parent-teacher conference, her high-brass UN mother forgot her phone at the school, so Yukina’s obligated to bring it back to her workplace – only to have the unfortunate luck of being there as it gets attacked by meteorites and mechs. On the bright side, a mid-crisis press of the big red button on a mysterious machine spat out a naked guy named Kennosuke Tokisada Ouma, and he’s pretty decent at fighting mechs…with his sword…and his own mech…and did I mention he was preserved from the distant past? Also he’s convinced Yukina is his princess and doesn’t understand anything about the modern world.

Yatahaze:
It’s hard to make a long-term recommendation about Kuromukuro given how little the audience still knows about Kennosuke, the show’s threat, and how poorly P.A. Works will continue to integrate this terrible CG as it goes on, but based on entertainment value alone, I’d have to give a thumbs up to the studio for this one. They’ve recovered nicely from last season’s downright ugly snoozefest HaruChika, reminding us how they’ve regularly got some of the best facial expression work in the industry today, and when there’s not any CG involved, the shots tend to look stunning, featuring large-scale, immaculately designed, and wonderfully detailed landscapes. Kuromukuro moves very well; its direction gets the job done and its scene-to-scene flow is pretty natural, almost filmic in the start of its first episode. While the mechs look out-of-place compared to everything else, the fighting scenes among them contain confident and smooth choreography, only occasionally let down by slashes through their armor which shoot out what appears to be jelly (but is probably edgy blood, or more realistically, mis-colored oil).

The show’s tone is set up like an invasion thriller, with unsuspecting civilians, loud foul-mouthed pilots and scrambling government agencies trying to figure out what’s going on, making Kennosuke’s appearance something that sets the series apart from say, Aldnoah.Zero (what I assume will be most people’s first comparison), while simultaneously posing the reality that the plot may get too convoluted for its own good down the road. At the moment, his confusion is understandable and kind of comedic, apparently unfamiliar with the concept of cities and advanced human-environment interaction. It gives his banter with Yukina a desperate, over-stimulated tone, as they’re both looking for quick answers the other can’t give them. He’ll have a lot of explaining to do once the crisis ends and Yukina escapes his grasp too, as I imagine Director Shirahane won’t be pleased with the way he whisked away her daughter in the middle of Armageddon.

Kuromukuro’s biggest problem is how hidden so much of its backstory is, as it could make or break everything it’s set up so far. There are already some animation gaffes and poorly contrived moments of plot convenience (“I don’t know why I can read this ancient text, I just can” etc.) but they’re not enough to trump the show’s entertainment value yet. My prediction is that somewhere along the way, Kuromukuro will get too ridiculous and trip over itself, but since that potential outcome is as up in the air as any, I’ll leave you with this; Kuromukuro is not a must-watch this season, but if you want a little mech action to spice up your line-up, this one got the job done for me, and I think your experience will be similar.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MAYOIGA (THE LOST VILLAGE)

Mayoiga Cap

“Mayoiga is like the student film from Hyouka, except that’s the entire show.” – Nick Creamer

Summary: 30 people board a bus en route to the isolated rumored village of Nanaki, where upon arrival (should they find it), they plan to greet the local residents and start a new utopian life away from all they once felt bound by. Some are in it to escape stress or boredom, others because they want to see for themselves if such a village even exists. And while they do find the village, the people supposedly there seem to have vanished. What should this ragtag crew do now? How did their organizers come across information pertaining to Nanaki’s true location in the first place? And what happens when wills, goals, and similar names collide in this dysfunction junction?

Yatahaze:
I had very high hopes for Mayoiga based on its synopsis and crew. Mari Okada is a somewhat hit or miss series composer, but I still tend to enjoy most of her work, and Tsutomu Mizushima is also coming off a fantastic 2015 which saw him direct the outstanding Shirobako and hilarious Prison School, both shows elevated enormously by his hand in their production. Beyond them, there’s Mayoiga’s premise itself, which is concrete enough to promise some good tension but vague enough to keep its later twists a secret. As a sucker for shows with a well-rounded ensemble cast (again, see Shirobako), this was one of the few shows on the chart that I had more than just a speculative good feeling about. I thought this could really be something.

And…well…Mayoiga is certainly something.

First things first, let’s establish that the character work here is downright absurd. The characters primarily refer to each other by “usernames,” some of which include (and I’m not kidding) Lion, Lovepon, Soy Latte, Hyoketsu no Judgeness, and Jack. Each one either has something unintentionally hilariously off about them or lacks any distinguishing characteristics whatsoever. Some of the dialogue is just plain cringeworthy; there’s a point in the pilot where the main narrator Mitsumune goes to get something out of his backpack and externally monologues until his seat is kicked by a girl who tells him how his monologuing is stupid…only to herself go on and monologue some batshit edgy analogy about cannibalism. And the bus driver, the one character who had a brief shot at sanity, also blew it, raging at his vehicle full of delusional crazies and almost purposefully driving them off the road in the process (and then actually driving them off the road later on by accident). But everyone’s okay, the bus only fell several stories down a cliff in the middle of nowhere on a muddy night! Nothing to worry about there, right?

Things hardly fare better when they get to the empty village, too. Splitting up to look around, some girls whine over Mitsumune while he himself keeps explaining aloud how weird it is for him to be around girls his age. Meanwhile, a rap-fashion wannabe creep drags away one of the girls from their group’s exploration, and their sudden disappearance, obviously of said creep’s accord to us, is supposed to function as the episode’s cliffhanger when it just can’t. On the more intriguing side of things, Detective Nanko (if that’s her actual name and job or not, I have no clue) questions the organizers Dahara and Koharun how they received their information about this village, something I’d like to know too.

The village itself is still the most interesting thing Mayoiga has going for it, but the characters – for now, at least – are so poorly characterized they’re downright hysterical to watch. I know Mayoiga shouldn’t be a comedy, but it inadvertently became one, and it’s honestly better this way. I’m worried that once the thriller and mystery shenanigans really start to set in there won’t be anything to keep the mood coherent and intact, but so far the timing of each event and the stupidity of this whole situation hasn’t just kept me here, it’s kept me hooked. I am not enjoying Mayoiga for the reasons it wants me to, but I am enjoying it. For how long, that is the question.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MY HERO ACADEMIA (BOKU NO HERO ACADEMIA)

MHA Cap

ONE MAN, NO TOOLS

Summary: 80% of Earth’s population has developed superpowers (Quirks), and as a result, the world has become a true playground for superheroes and supervillains. All that Izuku “Deku” Midoriya has ever wanted in life was to be a hero and get into the renowned U.A. High, but there’s just one problem…he’s cruelly Quirkless, and all his peers take joy in pounding this uselessness into his head. But could an encounter with world-famous superhero All Might change the course of his life?

Yatahaze:
Correct me if I’m wrong, but My Hero Academia was probably the show people seemed most hyped for heading into this season, and it’s pretty obvious why just looking at the source material and timeframe of its release. Based on a highly-regarded manga and coming off last fall’s superhero smash hit One Punch Man, this show is loud, quirky, and confident in itself. It doesn’t do as much to subvert the tropes of the genre that One Punch Man did or flesh out unique character writing and narrative structure the way Concrete Revolutio does, but what it does do – provide a high-octane ride following an underdog on his path to stardom – it looks like it will continue to do very well. The show’s first two episodes really go hand in hand as an extended prologue, highlighting Deku’s disappointment from childhood onward about how he won’t develop a Quirk, what this means for his social standing, and what series of events led to him getting noticed by none other than the world’s most famous superhero. It’s all comfortably delivered, not necessarily with character to spare, but enough to get the job done. The real joy of this show for me will be seeing what Deku’s life is like when he gets into the titular academia he’s shooting for. The cast looks huge, and we’ve barely seen anyone so far, and so while I can’t say I consider My Hero Academia a favorite of mine at the moment (Deku’s narration has been woefully over-dramatized and this prologue took about half an episode too long to get to the point), it looks like it will get larger than life soon, and I’m certainly excited to see how that goes.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

RE: ZERO KARA HAJIMERU ISEKAI SEIKATSU

ReZero

More like fuckin’ Re: 0/10, right?

Summary: Subaru Natsuki was summoned to another world, and even his genre-savviness couldn’t prevent him from being attacked. Thankfully, he was saved by a mysterious girl and her cat looking for someone who stole something from them. Joining their search, Subaru tries to pick up a little bit about how this world works until he suddenly returns to the place he first spawned, unaware that he had traveled back in time through his death! (Or something)

Yatahaze:
I normally wouldn’t bother writing for a show in this article that I couldn’t sit through the whole first episode of, but considering the length of Re: Zero’s pilot is double the anime standard, allow me to say this much:

I know I didn’t get to the part with the twist. I know it’s supposedly handled decently. I know there’s no standout moment in this show’s first half an episode that made me memorably cringe in disgust.

But…”the season’s token NEET-goes-into-fantasy-world show where the main character prefaces everything that’s going to happen and CG background furries dominate nearly every angle” is not in my wheelhouse, especially after last season’s Konosuba did this relatively well and without CG background furries. This is pandering bullshit, and I have better things to do for the next 6 months than see if “Pandering Bullshit v 2016.3” will meet the pathetically low threshold it set for itself.
Final score: 3.5/10
Dropped after .5 an episode.

SPACE PATROL LULUCO

SP Luluco Cap

We might have to rebrand.

Summary: At some point in the future, the neighborhood of Ogikubo in Japan sells out in bankruptcy to become the Milky Way’s first alien-human mingling zone. Luluco is a middle-schooler whose father works for the Space Patrol, but when accidentally swallowing alien stuff at breakfast leaves him incapacitated, Luluco is called upon by the figure named Over Justice to quite literally fight for (great) justice. She initially doesn’t want to, but the arrival of transfer student/crush/new comrade Alpha Omega Nova has her changing her mind.

Yatahaze:
This short has the potential to be gold. It has been so far. I’ve always enjoyed Trigger more in small doses, and that’s still the case since their style of hyperactive physical comedy and nonsensical phrases can get grating in large amounts. Space Patrol Luluco is no exception, as its writing flies by at a playful mile a minute and Mao Ichimichi’s voice performance as Luluco shines with the show’s blazing speed. If you like Trigger’s general visual aesthetic (particularly its Little Witch Academia-style one), you’ll have plenty to dig into with this short; photography-based desaturated backgrounds, mix-matched character designs, the blobby, fluid, Western-cartoony movements, this is all Trigger at their best and most playful. Don’t miss out.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

TANAKA-KUN IS ALWAYS LISTLESS

Tanaka Cap

same, bro

Summary: Tanaka-kun is always listless. This one’s title really tells you all you need to know.

Yatahaze:
This is not funny.

Watching a main character lament about how he wouldn’t want to be the main character in his own life’s story is not funny. This Tanaka kid is the epitome of laziness, and laziness in and of itself is not a funny characteristic without fitting context. When it gets to the point that said character mutters lines like “I wish the world adopted a system where I’d be rewarded for not doing the work that everyone else is,” it’s just painful to watch, and with a palette as relaxed as this show has, cringe-comedy (if I can even call this comedy) is pretty clearly not what it’s intentionally going for.

Look, I get that Tanaka’s just a caricature, that’s the point of the show, yadda yadda yadda. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of entertainment value that results from his lethargy. There are bits of genuine comedy at work here – Tanaka altering his class’ song behind the piano to a minor key and whipping a racket at his friends during badminton subvert the reactions you’d expect him to make and thus elicit a laugh – but they’re too few and far between. These moments need buildup to work, and they do indeed work for that reason, but that doesn’t make the buildup itself any less tedious and repetitive. Tanaka’s friend Ohta, practically his caretaker, doesn’t make for a much more compelling character in his own right given that he has to give Tanaka’s repetitive actions the same repetitive reactions. The caricature-like nature of this cast doesn’t combine well with the show’s low-key pace, a disappointing waste of some otherwise really beautiful art. Like Tanaka himself, this show has almost no energy, and that makes it a complete chore to sit through. A larger cast is waiting in the wings, but I can’t imagine them making up for how dull a core this series has and will likely continue to have if its title is any indication. If Tanaka is always listless, then starting now, he’s one less name on my list.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

TWIN STAR EXORCISTS (SOUSEI NO ONMYOUJI)

Twin Cap

At least this show’s doing better than the Minnesota Twins.

Summary: Rokuro Enmadou comes from a family of top-notch exorcists, but after a traumatic incident left his friends dead, he wanted nothing to do with hunting down Kegare, evil spirits in the parallel realm Magano. However, due to a strange series of circumstances (an FGJ-approved synopsis standard!), another strong exorcist named Benio Adashino gets him to display his true power once more, but much to both their chagrin, they’re now set up as the Twin Star Exorcists: two of the most powerful of their kind who will have to marry and give birth to a child who can be mankind’s savior.

Yatahaze:
It’s a predictable magic shounen premise insofar that Twin Star Exorcists’ first episodes covered all the basic genre beats; the stuttering reluctant powerful lead, the aloof also-powerful-but-not-too-powerful comrade/enemy/love interest, the shameless and completely pointless fanservice. That’s all there, and initially in a way that came off as irritating but not something the show couldn’t work around.

And, man, “work around” it sure tried to! From the nightmarish art style of Magano to the slightly above-average shot direction to the stylized character introduction cards and beyond, Pierrot and crew did all they could to make Twin Star Exorcists’ premier a fun ride. The show’s character design work is a little flatter though, and its facial expressions rarely carry any nuance, which is something that unfortunately extends to the words that come out of those expressions’ mouths. Twin Star Exorcists’ dialogue is clearly standard shounen fare, and you’ll get more than your fair share of protagonist rebelliousness, hammy bullshit, and fanservice, not to mention an occasional dribble of comedy that doesn’t land to anywhere near the effect the show thinks it does.

All things considered, if you’re someone who really loves shounen action shows, there’s little here that’s objectively bad enough to make me recommend staying away. But as I am not one of those people, a huge chunk of this show did nothing for me, and Rokuro is just a tad too whiny and run-of-the-mill for me to care about as a protagonist. This show is one where emotional investment would go a long way, and in an already-packed season with a handful of shows that have already earned it and are much more up my alley anyway, I don’t have any reservations about casting Twin Star Exorcists back into the depths of anime hell.
Final score: 4.75/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

And that’s all for this time! Hopefully Haru will join back in with the first spring update article in a few weeks, but until then, you can always keep up with him on his MAL as you can also do with me on mine. If you’ve got any questions, comments, or just want to chat, feel free to hit us up there or here. (Lord knows this site could use some more comments). Until next time, this has been Yata reporting in for great justice.

 

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2 comments

  1. I literally hate every single character in Mayoiga and want every single one of them to die immediately. I can’t even tell whether or not if I’m /supposed/ to like them or what, because they are all actual retards.

    Like

    1. Same, man. Oddly enough, I’m finding it to be one of those rare cases where because I’m not attached to any of the characters, I’m all the more eager to see how they get picked off one by one. Kind of rooting for Jack to take out everybody tbh.

      Gotta hand it to good ol’ Mari Okada’s ridiculous character writing.

      Like

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