The conversation went something like this: “Man, I’m fucking exhausted. Work’s killing me this week, but at least I somehow got through all these promising-looking premiers. What about you, bro?”
“…oh, we were supposed to publish the article this week? I’ll uh…I’ll see what I can do.”
Things have not been smooth lately in the lives of your critic buddies Yata and Harubro.
It might be the worst timing too, because although it may not look like it at first glance, this summer’s lineup has gotten off to one of the best overall starts in years. A combination of the shitty shows being so obviously shit they weren’t even worth a speculative watch and about half the good shows being way above average has left us with a stacked watchlist to try and stay up to date with and catch up on respectively. Yata’s here for the majority of this article and Haru’s done what he can to still include his thoughts on personal season highlight ReLIFE as well as Konobi. Aside from those two, there are still 13 other (mostly fantastic) shows to cover, so let’s get these first impressions rolling, eh?
Summary: In a Prohibition-era town literally named Lawless, a man known as Avilio Bruno and his pal Corteo have created a great new blend of alcohol that some members of the prominent mob family Vanetti would like to get their hands on. After befriending them in a speakeasy scuffle, Avilio is happy to sell it away without a hassle; after all, getting in close with the Vanettis is what he’s really after. You should always keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and what better enemies are there than the murderers of your family?
Between last-season’s underdeveloped Joker Game and last summer’s disastrous Gangsta, anime hasn’t been kind to period piece action dramas lately. I was skeptical about 91 Days going in; being an anime-original, there was no source material to gauge merit from and Studio Shuka’s animation quality and art consistency plummeted towards the end of their only previous work, the second and third cours of Durarara’s second season. 91 Days’ ensemble cast-style gang war parallels with Durarara (and more obviously, Baccano) certainly piqued my interest though; even if the director was different this time around, Shuka had proven they knew how to spread plot information out well across a large scope, so with any luck, they would continue to do so. There were no guarantees here, but things were looking good.
And boy oh boy, do they still.
91 Days hugely delivers as a betrayal-laden, quick-paced, polished show that miraculously straddles the fine line between brooding drama, satisfactorily-executed action, and tense high-stakes bargaining. It’s a smorgasbord of revenge plot tropes, but it’s got the style and charisma to pull them off without feeling too off-putting or distracting from how there’s a real story here. Avilio (who we’re introduced to by his given name Angelo Lagusa), is a great underspoken protagonist so far; instead of several monologues about how much hate he harbors for his family’s killers, he keeps his obvious thoughts inside while sneaking around the Vanettis and lets his passion for revenge come through in action, not words. Corteo makes a great foil to Avilio and their loyalty to each other is likely the only such bond we’ll see in the show; friends since childhood through thick and thin, Corteo’s nervousness and booksmart knowledge is balanced out by Avilio’s level-headedness and ability to take on-the-fly action in a way that makes them easy to root for.
Speaking of action, holy hell does 91 Days do a great job with it. With what I can imagine will be at least 1 chase sequence per episode, the show’s shot framing and swift angling make it at several points feel more like a blockbuster Hollywood thriller than your average action anime, and that comes with all the highs and lows you’d expect. The backdrop and worldbuilding (city name aside) are imaginative but grounded, not exactly the most realistic of American Prohibition-era cities, but certainly its own living, breathing place with interesting architecture and furnishings. The show’s muted color palette brings out the best in each scene and reinforces the time period, emphasizing short-lived comfort, anxiety, hopelessness, or any other number of distinct moods. Visually, 91 Days is one of the season’s standouts, and in an average season, it easily could’ve been #1 in that category (but as you’ll soon see, this season has gotten off to an exceptionally strong start).
With at least three family mobs at play and the wild cards of Avilio and Corteo still up to their own agenda, I have nothing but anticipation for where 91 Days will go. Almost nothing is predictable and there are so many avenues it could tread. Could some missteps end up screwing the show over later? Of course. But do any look poised to? Not at the moment. If you’re a fan of period pieces, action shootout thrillers, or just any anime in general with a clearly filmlike aesthetic, 91 Days is sure to entertain.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 8.5/10
Summary: It’s the start of the school year, and shy, quiet new girl Futaba Ooki isn’t looking forward to starting over in her new environment. Her classmate Hikari “Pikari” Kohinata is the exact opposite; constantly grinning, full of energy, and obsessed with the ocean, she becomes Futaba’s first new friend, and as a result, introduces her to diving.
Amanchu is a bit of a one-note show. Both episodes so far have been chock full of Hikari acting hyperactive and Futaba moping while the rest of the side characters go about their day. What amazes me is how much mileage the series is getting out of that same shtick repeated over and over. As long as you don’t find Hikari utterly migraine-inducing (I don’t, though I would certainly understand if you did), her obliviously peppy attitude, tendency to ask ridiculous questions, and this goddamn face all warm my heart somehow. Amanchu looks like it has a coming-out-of-your-shell story to tell with Futaba, and the diving theme is pretty specific, which at the very least lets it stand apart from the crowd. With heaps of positive spirit, beautiful art abound, and one of the season’s most standout soundtracks (filled with soothing folksy pieces and gorgeous string orchestrations), Amanchu is a straightforward, easy watch if nothing else.
The series’ general direction is fine, jointly handled by Junichi Satou (Aria, Tamayura, etc.) and Kenichi Kasai (Nodame Cantabile, Honey and Clover, Bakuman, etc.). Shots framed to emphasize Hikari’s unavoidable demeanor and Futaba’s shrunken anxiousness allow for some nice visual narrative, and the color palette is mostly pleasant aside from those abhorrently ugly pink dress uniform…things. Sometimes the writing is a little too on-the-nose, and the mild yuri vibes are a bit of a wildcard, though I won’t complain too much for now, as the show is clearly still in its introductory phases and feeling things out. Amanchu’s not this season’s best or most noteworthy comedy/slice-of-life, but it’s certainly a competent one if you can stomach its whistle-blowing, cliff-jumping, cuckoolander of a main character.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 7/10
Summary: Takumi Harada and his family have just moved to Okayama due to his Dad’s job transfer. About to enter middle school and dedicated to keeping his progress as a pitcher moving along, he happens to run into his future classmate Gou Nagakura while on a jog, and Gou is eager to prove his worth as Takumi’s prospective catcher.
It’s kind of hard to fuck up a story like Battery. Grounded and laid-back, the show seems like it will be less about the sport or team than a character drama. Unnaturally deep voice actors aside, a lot of the kids’ dialogue here feels pretty natural for their ages; Takumi is a grump, but persistent in his passion, Gou is excited to potentially play with a rather big name for his age but not to the point of taking Takumi’s bullshit with open arms, and little Seiha Harada passes very little brother-like back-and-forth remarks with his older sibling, both positive and negative. The kids’ families feel convincing as people and their Okayama mountain town looks beautiful without stretching too far into overt scenery-porn. All in all, Battery is a watchable show; Studio Zero-G, which has before now primarily been an in-between animation and production co-op studio does a noticeably choppy job with its animation at points, but for several of the pitching and catching sequences, their game is brought back up to par.
What I’m most concerned about is direction; many of those choppy animation bits are even more noticeable because this first episode poorly jumps from scene to scene or prolongs cuts with position-shifting filler the way an amateur filmmaker would. I’d be getting too far ahead of myself to call Tomomi Mochizuki’s resumé shaky as I’m not familiar with almost anything on it – but the one name that sticks out is uh…Pupa.
Please remove your hats and join me in a moment of silence for that man’s dignity.
Be it his hand in the series’ production, one of Zero-G’s first goes at their own show, the obvious introductory nature of the series’ first episode or what have you, something about Battery just feels off so far and I can’t put my finger on it. The pieces are all there, the mood is generally right, and I don’t have any real reason to expect the series won’t pull through to the end. There seems like a fine character drama under the surface here, and maybe that’s the problem; by all means, Battery’s premier should’ve stood out a little more, and it very well could have if a better crew had gotten their hands on it. For the time being, I’ll settle and hope it doesn’t throw too many walks.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 6.75/10
Summary: Recreational soccer-player Jin Kazama recruits his timid classmate Tsukushi Tsukamoto to try out for his team despite Tsukushi’s complete lack of coordination and stamina. The lad’s effort and determination quickly win over Jin’s heart, but is sudden passion enough to get him on their school’s team?
Of fucking course it isn’t.
Definitely glad about that bit of realism and Days’ generally grounded tone (minus one out-of-the-blue fanservice scene and a couple hit or miss comedy gags), but in spite of all the things Days is doing well (the fluid animation, the relaxed pace, the clear MAPPA polish), it’s just not that entertaining of a show. I can’t pinpoint any specific moment I thought Days was exceptionally bad, but it did not command my attention at all.
I kid, I kid, but as much as I’m willing to give a sports anime a shot, I’m not likely to stick around too long if it doesn’t get a firm grip on my heart quickly. There are only so many places sports anime can go, and love of the sport itself doesn’t matter a whole lot to me if the characterization, like Days’, is sluggish and one-note. The cast barely feels human to me, much less worth my time to follow week-in and week-out.
And sure, maybe I’m just a little bitter about soccer right now because I live in a city with thousands of ethnic Portuguese and Portugal just won the UEFA Cup and they’re all so loud and I swear one of these truckloads of drunk fans is going to crash right outside my apartment and I already can’t sleep, but uh…
…no, Days is a pass. Sorry.
Feel free to still give it a shot if sports anime with ground-up protagonists from zero to hero are your token fancy, but not everyone can be a winner, and there’s just too much great stuff out there this season for me to bother with this one.
Dropped after 1 episode.
Final score: 6/10
FOOD WARS: THE SECOND DISH (SHOKUGEKI NO SOUMA: NI NO SARA)
Summary: The second season of Food Wars, continuing where last year’s first two cours left off – the quarterfinals of the Autumn Elections tournament. First up, Souma faces off against Alice in a bento battle and Megumi takes on Ryo in a ramen rumble.
Food Wars is one of those series I just needed a bit of a break from last fall. I was stoked to hear it was receiving a second season though, because considering everything that it…well…is, it’s one hell of a franchise. I was a little surprised to see The Second Dish jump straight back into the pot, but with just one cour of 13 episodes greenlit for this season, it makes sense that things will probably move along a bit more quickly. I imagine that will turn out to be a plus for the show; last year’s slower pace worked because it had breathing room and a fuckton of introductory ground to cover before it could really get cookin’, whereas at this point we’re familiar with the dynamics of each main character and loads upon loads of extras, so letting them bounce off each other makes for the best use of time and momentum.
And speaking of character, oh boy, none of it was lost by Food Wars’ time off. From ham-fisted battle dialogue and goofy sideline exposition to mouthwatering entrées and the show’s specialty foodgasms, everything I missed about Food Wars is back and back with sides of style. Considering the sheer amount of stuff J.C. Staff is doing this season, it’s also great to see Food Wars not lean too reliantly on its chibi cut gags; they’re used selectively now, which makes the jokes they enforce (and the other jokes in general) less monotonous and more unpredictable. Even beyond them (and I’m not sure how much of this is just me getting re-acclimated to Food Wars and how much is a genuine step up), the comedy seems more diverse and willing to fuck around with its visuals, and the scientific explanations behind each plate’s success are as silly as ever. Why does Food Wars thrive so much in practice despite only seeming like a joke on paper? Takumi’s trying to figure it out and the world may never truly know. What I do know is that if you enjoyed the first season, there’s no reason to stop tuning in now, and if you haven’t yet started Food Wars but you’re intrigued, you’ve got 24 episodes to catch up on before starting here. Let it take over your brain. Submit. Nobody can stop Food Wars now.
Still watching after 2 episodes
Current score: 8/10
Summary: Spin-off involving Barakamon main character Sei Handa while still in high school
I’m not gonna lie and say I was super stoked for Handa-kun. Sure, it was framed as a Barakamon prequel and I love Barakamon, but I love Barakamon because of its lively cast, charming youthful camaraderie, and the mutual growth that takes place between Handa and his peers on the island. With a prequel, inherently none of those things exist, meaning Handa-kun needed to carve its own niche while also staying true to the character I had grown to love.
It did neither of those things.
See, it’s bad enough that instead of simply being a prequel, it was more of a gag comedy spin-off series. It’s even worse that Handa was put in the background in favor of a class full of one-note trope characters. But I’ll be damned, it also somehow made Handa (who I want to reiterate was a heartwarming character in Barakamon because of his engagement with a new world and the lessons he learned about responsibility and pride) a caricature, a fucking Sakamoto rip-off with social ineptitude. Really, that’s all the Handa in Handa-kun is. There’s some narrative exposition about how everyone loves Handa, the background cast does a thing that involves loving Handa, and Handa misinterprets this action as an attempt to bully him. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.
My biggest question is why? Why does everyone in this show love Handa? He’s aloof, self-absorbed, and a bit of a dick, but not in the way that he started out as in Barakamon. In Barakamon, he was stubbornly prideful to the point of punching an elderly man who took him down a peg verbally. In this, he can hardly muster words, let alone stand up for himself with anything resembling confidence. Granted there are a few years difference here, but given the series’ nature as a gag comedy, I can’t see there being any dramatic growth in Handa’s character between now and the end of Handa-kun, and as is, the contrast in personality presented in each series is too gaping large to make any goddamn sense. Like in Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, the rest of the cast is downright insufferable, as if the writers didn’t know how to make Handa look good and came to the conclusion of “if everyone else is an asshole, that makes Handa the good guy by default!” But it doesn’t. It just makes the show an utter chore to sit through. When the comedy fails (and aside from the pilot’s first half which featured an extended fourth wall break, it almost always does), there’s nothing left but mean-spiritedness, and that’s not fun at all to tune into.
And I should probably go into a bit more detail about that fourth wall breaking; I was almost impressed with how out of nowhere it was. To have a bunch of Barakamon fanboys literally call in to diomedéa (the studio responsible for Handa-kun) and express their frustration with not getting inside details on its airing was a genuinely hilarious way to offset the hype a series like this naturally produces. By deflating its own expectations using the Handa Force’s power fantasy imagine-spots of what their own Handa-kun show would be like, the actual Handa-kun momentarily got away with underachieving in its first episode. Ending abruptly in the middle of a skit did further my interest, but not because the skit was any good (it wasn’t), just because there was no way to predict what an actual episode of Handa-kun would be like.
But then we got to episode 2, which picked up by hammering in the aforementioned poor characterization and never recovered. This just opened up even more questions; were the Handa Force fanboys at the start actually breaking a fourth wall, or was the Handa of this world actually getting his own anime just for being a high school calligrapher with a semi-famous Dad? If it was a fourth wall break, then why did the studio use these characters who’re apparently part of Handa’s in-universe grade? That doesn’t make any sense! What the hell were these boys loving Handa for anyway? What did he do for them?
Ruining the spirit of the Handa of Barakamon is one thing, but I couldn’t bear to sit through this anymore once I realized how little regard the show had for its own inner consistency. All Handa-kun is chasing after is lowbrow gags with an unlikable cast and a distortion of a main character plucked out of an actually great work. With sloppy transitions, awkward pacing, and middling visuals, there isn’t a lot to praise on the composition or aesthetic fronts either. Handa-kun isn’t just stumbling around. It’s not a genuine mistake or a “we tried, and we slipped up a bit” accident. It’s a downright planned travesty through and through, potentially even contending for the title of Most Disappointing Show of 2016. What a shame.
Dropped after 1 and a half episodes.
Final score: 3.5/10
MOB PSYCHO 100
Summary: Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama looks and behaves like an average enough kid, but he’s got crazy psychic powers that he hopes to one day gain complete control over. If only he knew being under the supervision of total con-man fake psychic Arataka Reigen wasn’t going to help get him there…or that if he isn’t able to do so, he’d eventually blow himself up.
As you might recognize by the artwork, Mob Psycho 100 is another original creation (arguably even the darling creation) of One-Punch Man writer/illustrator ONE. On direction: Yuzuru Tachikawa, a shining newcomer whose previous work includes the fantastic Death Billiards/Death Parade series. On music: longtime renowned composer Kenji Kawai. The studio: Bones. And hell, love him or hate him, even series composer Hiroshi Seko (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Owari no Seraph, etc.) certainly has a resumé stacked with recent hits. This project is too big to afford failure. Seko is the only worrisome noteworthy name on the staff list, and it would be kind of difficult to singlehandedly fuck up ONE’s pre-existing work. This series should have no excuses to not be good.
And yet it isn’t good.
…It’s fucking phenomenal.
If Mob Psycho 100’s original work was fun, we’re gonna need new adjectives to describe this baby. The anime is all flair; anywhere it could stuff in extra style, it’s injected like hard drugs. Silly expressions, cartoony movements, a larger-than-life sense of purpose, I’m honestly not sure I’ve seen a show be this wacky, well-crafted, and prime for the Toonami crowd or a first-time anime watcher in years. Comparisons and snuck-in references to One-Punch Man (did you spot the Saitama cameo?) will also probably be plentiful, so I should mention now that while OPM essentially had one joke and squeezed every last drop out of it in a successful way, the humor and premise of Mob Psycho 100 already leave significantly more room for experimentation and unpredictability. It doesn’t matter that we know Mob will eventually blow himself up; this show is 100% a journey show, and we’ve got 10 more episodes between now and its finale to see where he and Reigen take us and how they change in the process. Their boss-lackey dynamic is an enormously entertaining one; it’d be easy for Reigen to come across as a complete dick, but underneath his self-absorbed outward demeanor and insistence to fake his power are glimmers of genuine care for Mob and his well-being. If OPM could succeed with Saitama, Genos, and the rest being comical characters for comical situations and that’s it, Mob Psycho 100 promises diversity, connection, and just as many lols in its infinitely more diverse happenings.
Oh, and it looks breathtaking too, though that’s fairly obvious.
After prematurely calling several shows “Anime of the Year” in years past and witnessing them all fall apart like I’m the world’s greatest jinxer who’s ever lived, I’m not going to say Mob Psycho 100 can’t still let me down, but for it to do so would be beyond improbable. I think it’s safe to say that unlike Reigen, Mob Psycho 100 is the real deal, and in a season overflowing with exceptional premiers, it’s managing to sneak by as my #1 frontrunner.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 9.25/10
THE MOROSE MONONOKEAN (FUKIGEN NA MONONOKEAN)
Summary: After an energy-sucking monster attaches itself to incoming high-school freshman Hanae Ashiya and causes him to miss out on his whole first week of classes, things are looking desperate. However, Ashiya discovers a poster leading him to classmate/exorcist Haruitsuki Abeno, and he’ll be more than happy to take care of Ashiya’s little fuzzball…as long as he doesn’t mind paying off that debt by working alongside him.
I didn’t have the highest expectations for The Morose Mononokean. Even now, 2 episodes in, I feel like this show is one that would barely scrape by all season long at best and crash and burn as soon as next week at worst. As far as production value and narrative nuance go, TMM is severely lacking. The show’s saving grace is its awkward youkai charm; the first episode’s fuzzball is downright adorable and the second episode’s half-dumb half-creepy pinecone thingy somehow pulled on my heartstrings by the end. My biggest complaints simply lie with Ashiya and Abeno; they’re able to function as run-of-the-mill main characters, but their dialogue is so unnatural, and Yuki Kaji’s voice acting as Ashiya is really grating.
I was honestly gonna keep giving this a shot, both for the monsters and to see how poorly Ashiya would handle adapting to his new role as Abeno’s assistant, but after watching so many better premiers, any motivation I had to keep going with this one is gone. The Morose Mononokean is serviceable, but not all that engaging. If the series’ probable monster-of-the-week format suits you, by all means, go ahead and stick around. I just figure since I can foresee dropping it within another week or two, I might as well get it out of the way now and have one less thing in my schedule. Call it sugarcoating or what have you, it just is what it is.
Dropped after 2 episodes.
Final score: 5.5/10
Summary: Aoba Suzukaze is a brand new hire at a small-scale video game company, currently at work on Fairies Quest 3, the threequel of the franchise that inspired her to go into the industry in the first place.
Doga Kobo 4-koma antics ensue.
It’s kind of like Shirobako Lite, except the medium of the company is different and New Game isn’t set out on crushing your soul with the harsh realities of being a working adult. There’s really not a lot to analyze here; the characters are bubbly, the show moves well enough for being a 4-koma adaptation, and it’s a solid, well-put together slice of cute (adult) girls doing cute things series. Hardly the most original thing out there, but if these types of shows are your thing, the workplace setting gives loads more material to work with than yet another high-school show of the same variety. A couple gags here and there obviously didn’t land, though that’s par for the course with series like this.
I don’t expect New Game to actually go more in-depth with the business side of things – the show seems pretty content being a lighthearted comedy deal and I’m fine with that too for now, I’m just not sure I’ll stick around ‘til season’s end. Either way, the cast’s bright energy and positive attitude have definitely earned my attention for a few more episodes. There’s nothing wrong with a spoonful of sugar as a mid-week pick-me-up.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 7/10
Summary: Naho Takamiya is a fairly happy high-school girl. She gets along well with her friends, has her own interests, and is already on good terms with her class’ new transfer student Kakeru Naruse. But she can’t take something else off her mind; on the first day of her second year, she received an uncannily accurate letter from herself 10 years in the future predicting daily events and advising her on what to do so she won’t end up full of regrets. As anyone who’s been in high-school can tell you though, emotions can be wishy-washy and nerves can choke up a person’s ability to take action, leaving Naho’s inadvertently playing with fire in the cases where she doesn’t follow her future self’s advice.
It’ll be hard to not make the following comparisons, so I’m just gonna get them out of the way at the start; Orange is kind of the love child of ERASED and this season’s ReLIFE (see below). From plot synopsis alone, the idea of getting a chance to re-do your adolescent mistakes seems to be a running theme in 2016, and as much as I enjoyed both of those shows, they each had their fair share of problems.
And that’s why I’m giddy about how so far – and even looking forward – Orange does not.
If the premise of those two shows intrigued you, there’s little to be disappointed or worried about here. Arguably the most important difference is that unlike ERASED or ReLIFE, the character wanting to make amends isn’t actually sent “back” to do the work; the best future Naho is apparently able to do is send letters as convincing as she could to her past self with the hope that she’ll listen. The time travel mechanics of this I don’t really care about as long as the series doesn’t; it’s the kind of magical flick-of-the-wrist supernatural twist that a show can get away with not explaining, whereas ERASED bogged itself down with too-well-timed deus ex machina theatrics and ReLIFE bypassed that whole issue by ending the anime before its consequences became important. Young Naho has the information she needs, but the decisions are still up to her – if not told, she doesn’t have the full context of what will happen if she does or doesn’t swing the bat, and with the way the butterfly effect works, there’s no way for us to tell whether or not the slightest thing will be enough to change any long-term event.
This is just a guess, but I have a feeling that saving a certain new transfer student’s life (really not a spoiler, as it’s hinted at as early as episode 1 and confirmed in episode 2) is a goal Naho won’t actually be able to reach. Both episodes have featured scenes with the rest of Naho’s friends 10 years down the road, and it’s just as clear then that Kakeru is no longer with them. Best of all, neither those moments nor the ones where Naho flirts with her choices are overblown; these conversations don’t feel like they immediately precede or succeed a friend’s life or death. The high-school clips especially are soaked in a feeling of picked and chosen nostalgia, the snapshots a person remembers from their adolescence, and the show’s general blurry saturated art style backs up this narrative tone with a very fitting visual one.
…I meant to write more about how gorgeous the scenery and shot framing in this show are, but that’s just kind of icing on the cake. So here, take all these screencaps. All of them. No questions, just look. Loooooook.
While the character animation is a little less developed (this is TMS Entertainment, after all), it still gets the job done much better than the studio’s other “change your regrets” show this season, ReLIFE. Orange’s great character work comes through in their conversations; in contrast to her rambunctious, outspoken friends, trading inside jokes and unexplained references that make this dialogue come off particularly natural for kids their age, Naho is reserved and content with making small sacrifices for other people. Whether or not she really takes Kakeru’s advice to change that about herself will likely form the backbone of the show’s less explicit character work, and if it gets into her friends’ as well, that’d be a great way to kill time. The series filling the remainder of its 11 slated episodes is actually my only worry; apparently, Orange’s source material is rather slim, and one of the few ways it could sink itself is dragging its dramatic beats out too much instead of staying in motion one way or another.
No matter how good your twist or art is, for me a true great high-school drama rides or fails on the intricacies in its character work and how much it can get away with showing without saying. In that regard, Orange looks poised to be the summer’s – and maybe even the year’s drama MVP.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 9/10
PLANETARIAN: THE REVERIE OF A LITTLE PLANET
Summary: Thirty years after some kind of catastrophe, few people – called Junkers, because they plunder for goods in civilization’s ruin – are left on the Earth, and one Junker gets more than he bargains for when he stumbles into a pre-Armeggedon department store and is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a slightly-malfunctioning, but incredibly persistent presentation robot for the store’s rooftop planetarium. Though a bit annoyed, this Junker understands the department store would serve as good shelter for the time being, and to (ironically enough) ease Hoshino’s inquiries, he gets to work on fixing the building’s broken projector.
If you hadn’t heard of this before now, I wouldn’t blame you. Planetarian is a 5-episode Original Net Animation to a film sequel/counterpart due out in a few months written by Key (surprisingly) without longtime collaborator Jun Maeda. In fact, despite not receiving any anime adaptation until now, Planetarian’s original visual novel is 12 years old! It’s also reportedly the shortest of Key’s games, and one that offers no route choices or alternate endings. It’s one straight go through, one story, one experience.
That should theoretically make it a great fit for an anime adaptation, and the ONA’s 5 episodes instead of a standard cour’s worth of 10+ seems like a smart move. Planetarian’s story would definitely feel dragged out and limp if it were extended to full 24-minute episodes; as is there’s just enough time for the Junker and Hoshino to converse and think amidst a rainy, post-apocalyptic cityscape. The character work, dialogue, and visuals are all enough to briefly entertain without overstaying their welcome, though like all Key work, some of it feels a bit too on-the-nose with its symbolism to carry over its intended effect without a bit of cheesiness. I’m not sure if Planetaraian will take the standard Key route and force some bullshit feels on me at the last minute or if it will really let its own components, such as the inherent sadness of an android not realizing it’s outlived the people it was built to service, speak for themselves. How it decides to go about this will make or break any interest I have in watching the film later this year. But for the moment, I’m certainly curious what Planetarian’s up to, and that’s a start.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 6.5/10
Summary: Arata Kaizaki is 27 and barely making ends meet with few stable job prospects after quitting at his last company under harsh circumstances. His situation makes him a prime candidate for the ReLife Research Institute’s program, which aims to let people recognize and fix their behavioral shortcomings by giving them an appearance-changing pill and plopping them right back into high school, a time of their life where social growth and responsibility are emphasized most. Kaizaki accepts the offer to become a subject because of the promise of free lodging and employment after one year, but he may discover some actual ways to better himself in the process.
ReLIFE had a rather weird airing schedule, and by that I mean you can go marathon the whole thing right now if you wish to instead of watching episodes weekly over the course of the next three months. It was good enough for me to go ahead and do just that. I’ll throw in my first three-episode-selling spiel now, though there will be spoilers for the rest of the show below it, so if you want to avoid those, you have been and will again be warned.
Through three episodes, ReLIFE’s premise makes for a wonderful ride. Kaizaki, though a bit bland in design for a main character, has a snappy charm and plenty of endearing jaded thoughts and silly faults while adapting to a younger world. From his physical body not actually going back in time to constantly forgetting the legal implications of not being registered as an adult although he technically is one, he’s easy to pull for and gives a healthy mix of childish comic relief and mature responses while acclimating to his newfound generation gap. For the moment, his shortcomings as an adult don’t fully register; he’s undergoing ReLife for the pay and accommodations, and he’s hardly socially inept. Easily befriending a ragtag crew of pre-existing friends as well as a loner, everything but his academics are getting off to a rose-colored start between the show’s clever comedy and simpler but no less effective reaction faces. Some drama looks to be lurking around the corner, but right now everything is fun and games with consistent (though hardly outstanding) visual content to match.
SPOILERS PAST EPISODE 3 START HERE
Shortly after that, ReLIFE’s melodrama really starts rearing its head and presents a few setbacks. The most evident issue is how sluggish it starts to feel; typical shoujo-esque misunderstandings that could be wrapped up in one episode instead get dragged out across whole arcs and take the focus away from Kaizaki, who could use plenty more screen-time than he ends up getting. When the camera shifts back his way, it takes on an overdramatized tone that the marathon-ability of the show doesn’t help; constant flashbacks to the suicide of his senpai which got him in this mess in the first place sprout up and encourage behavior which doesn’t really feel natural, and the series’ overt intent on just telling the story and calling it a day doesn’t allow the direction to heighten the stakes of Kaizaki’s otherwise believable trauma. In general, the aesthetics take a turn for the sloppier, with occasional off-model designs and a clear downgrade in consistency throughout the show’s second half (though that’s understandable seeing as TMS is having a breakout season and this is their weakest “good” link in nearly every category).
The other issue I have with ReLIFE is how clear it is that something’s up with both An and Hishiro. In retrospect, I’d probably be complaining if there weren’t enough clues to hint that they’re both also affiliated with ReLIFE, but the ways those signals are tipped off ruin the surprise and suspense they’re aiming for, especially Hishiro’s, whose own experiences echo the purpose of ReLIFE to such an extent that it’s impossible to not see the series’ grand reveal that she’s the first test subject coming.
SPOILERS END HERE, READ ON FOR THE VAGUE FINAL VERDICT
ReLIFE’s strengths are pretty obvious; the thematic urge to push yourself to be a better person, the charming, largely enjoyable cast, and the comedy that pours through at the start and still leaks into bits for the show’s remainder. But its flaws (the decreasing visual aptitude, the increase in melodrama, and the sluggish pacing between predictable events) all take the series as a whole down a notch. Having finished ReLIFE, I can tell you I don’t regret giving it a go, and it probably functions better as something you can quickly marathon than as a show you’d have to wait weekly for. But I can also say it would’ve been so much more impactful with sharper direction or a better crew behind the wheel. As a (from what I can tell) faithful adaptation from its source material, ReLIFE remains a success, but only a slight one, especially considering how many hits this summer looks poised to deliver.
Completed after 13 episodes.
Final score: 7/10
Here we are, another series whose source material I’ve followed for years (and loved in this case) is being adapted into an anime. I used to get particularly excited when a beloved series of mine got an anime adaptation that I thought they so rightly deserved, but a string of poor performances by said shows has kind of made me look wearily towards whatever gets selected next.
Last year it was announced that a little webcomic named “ReLIFE” got the nod for an anime adaptation. ReLIFE happens to be one of my very favorite series running, so I was pretty excited to hear the news, especially when I saw the lineup of all-star voice actors. Then I saw the studio tasked with producing the anime: TMS Entertainment, primarily known for their long-running series Lupin III and Detective Conan, neither of which I follow amongst a handful of love-it-or-hate-it series they’ve cranked out. From there, the tone was set — I was somewhat skeptical, yet hoping that this would be a faithful adaptation.
July finally arrived, and ReLIFE happened to be one of the first summer shows to hit Crunchyroll. I found it curious that all 13 episodes had been released all at once rather than one-per-week like the norm. I swore to myself that I was only going to watch an episode or two.
I marathoned the whole damn thing. All 13 episodes of it, and I don’t regret it at all for reasons I’ll briefly touch on below.
Needless to say, my worries were laid to rest in the first few episodes. No surprise additions or subtractions with the story, decent artwork, a passable soundtrack, and a good pace to the plot. Where ReLIFE shone the brightest was the performances by the voice actors, which brought the cast’s personalities to life. Between Yoake and Kaizaki’s sometimes serious discussions about the experiment or events in general, to the awkward budding romance between melodrama queen Kariu and naive nice-guy Ohga or even the ever mischievous Onoya or best girl Hishiro, every actor feels like a good fit for their character.
One thing that has always stood out for me about ReLIFE is its ability to mix some comedy in, even in some of the rougher situations. Throughout all of the mostly Kariu-induced drama, the series has always tried to remain at least somewhat light-hearted, be it the plethora of silly faces, with a certain silly face being sort of a central bit of a character plot, or even just a simple smug text message from the supervisors. It’s something I’ve always loved about this series, and the anime is very faithful to the comic in that regard.
Later on in the anime, the overall quality does undergo something of a downturn, with sloppy designs and skittish animation showing its head. I’m not particularly surprised that it happened, considering how heavy a load TMS Entertainment has with the aforementioned shows along with Orange and Sweetness and Lightning which are both airing this season and are both visually superior shows. Hopefully the quality improves when the Blu-rays come out, eh?
As for the pace of plot, I have zero complaints. The anime wraps up exactly where I had expected it to end, with nothing in particular jumping out as a “holy shit, why’d that get skipped?” moment. It did seem as though the comic concealed its hints a tad better regarding Yoake, Onoya, and Hishiro’s backstories, but I honestly can’t recall perfectly at this point. Yoake’s tic of tapping his fingertip on something when he’s annoyed stands out as a thing I don’t recall taking notice of in the comics. There are other bits, I am sure, but I’m sort of glad they went out of their way to make such things noticeable.
Despite the nitpicky drawbacks, I feel almost like a proud parent seeing how far ReLIFE has come, seeing as I’ve followed the webcomic for almost two and a half years now. I’m beyond ecstatic that the anime adaptation was better than I had expected. I wish I could have more, but seeing as the anime covered approximately 108 of 135 chapters and counting, I suspect it may be another couple years before we see a second season.
With how things are going at work, I am so dead tired afterwards that I now spend most of my free time trying to to sleep away the exhaustion. As a consequence, I’m starting to lag behind on the weekly shows, which is sort of a damn shame with some of the other quality looking offerings that I wish I could muster the motivation to write about. As a fortuitous result of it being available in its complete run on a three day weekend, ReLIFE may very well be the only show I complete this season, and if that is the case, then I am content.
Completed after 13 episodes
Final score: 8/10
SWEETNESS & LIGHTNING (AMAAMA TO INAZUMA)
Summary: Kouhei Inuzuka’s wife passed away six months ago, and since then, he and his young daughter Tsumugi have continued on as strongly as they can, but work commitments and stress take their toll on how much Kouhei can actively be there for his child. Something he wants to get better at is preparing tasty meals other than convenient bento, so what timing that they run into a lonely high-school student named Kotori Iida who’s looking for company and someone to make food with.
There’s kind of no way to advertise or summarize Sweetness & Lightning without the synopsis of these first two episodes reading a bit alarmingly; “half-sad Dad connects with teenage girl over a meal – oh, and he’s her assistant teacher” is a bit of a hard sell on paper. But everything Sweetness & Lightning actually is makes things clear there’s no sketchy romance to worry about here. Kouhei comes off as a genuinely good father; someone playful enough to keep his daughter smiling while also responsible enough to keep them afloat, but while the show hasn’t gone too far in-depth with this yet, it’s also clear that his wife’s passing (and the hell that is a Japanese work schedule) have tired him out. Tsumugi on the other hand is a ball of enthusiasm, and as you’d expect with well-regarded josei original material to adapt from and actual child voice actors up the show’s sleeve, S&L’s tone is filled with both childlike comedic charisma and a contagious sense of wonder. Stubbornly trying to act independently, interrupting conversations, repeating back basic knowledge to people, Tsumugi feels like a true child, and if you’re coming to Sweetness & Lightning for her antics, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
“Come for her, stay for everything else” seems to be the vibe I get though; I’m curious to see how an obviously timid Kotori grows from having company around the house, how Kouhei might be able to shake the still vague terms of his wife’s death, and all the recipes that lie ahead for what has to be this season’s more wholesome foodporn selection. Beyond its surface feel-good vibes and sorrowful undertones, I’m most impressed that Sweetness & Lightning feels so polished for what is essentially a third solid offering in TMS’ breakout season. The visuals are smooth and packed with character, the scriptwriting is natural and never stumbles into infodump monologues, and the sound design and kitchen foley are top notch. This is not at all a show that had to overachieve in the production department to be worth the watch; that it did is a wonderful surprise I won’t take for granted.
Reading like the ideal josei adaptation, Sweetness & Lightning looks poised to take over ground last treaded by series like Barakamon and Bunny Drop, and like Tsumugi, I can’t wait for each homely meal.
Still watching after 2 episodes.
Current score: 8/10
THIS ART CLUB HAS A PROBLEM! (KONO BIJITSU-BU NI WA MONDAI GA ARU!)
Summary: Mizuki Usami is a member of her middle school’s art club, but accompanied by a snoring club president and Subaru Uchimaki, a boy who only wants to draw his waifus, it’s safe to say that their art club definitely has a problem.
This Art Club Has A Problem is not a disaster; director Kei Oikawa and Studio Feel’s most recent collaboration was for Oregairu Zoku, and that was a show with loads of potential and hype that both he and the studio were able to deliver on through piercing dialogue, fluid body language-heavy animation, and impeccable scene direction. You’d figure if they could pull a rabbit out of a hat once, they could do it again.
This show’s source material is an entirely different beast though, and for all the traces of personality that do remain injected into this series as tastefully as possible, the shitty source material doesn’t give a lot of wiggle room. This Art Club is supposed to be more comedy than drama, but when the comedy at play is “boy draws waifu, girl gets annoyed/embarrassed, boy is on the verge of realizing she’s frustrated but then doesn’t actually change, girl gets more annoyed/embarrassed,” that formula gets old pretty quickly. There are a few decent jokes thrown in, like the girl who’s briefly seen in one shot hiding in the closet but never actually mentioned, and the sheer absurdity of Mizuki’s anthropomorphized Neutral Milk Hotel-esque apple man, but they’re just too few and far between in a show that hasn’t earned the drama it’s trying to force. Given that these kids are immature middle-schoolers, the show’s tone fits well and it’s certainly got trickles of finesse from a directorial standpoint, but that’s not enough meat to keep my interest, especially when New Game is already satisfying my moe itch for this season. All I’m really left with from This Art Club is a serviceable handful of advice screencaps to send to my diehard otaku friends, and I don’t really need any more.
Dropped after 1 episode.
Final score: 6/10
Oh hey, another manga I’ve followed for a bit that got an anime.
In all honesty, I was pretty surprised that Konobi of all the manga out there got an adaptation, and by Feel, no less. As far as I understand, it’s still not a particularly well-known manga series despite boasting an art style I enjoy, which is usually the reason I end up picking up oddball series like this. I proceeded to think a little bit about Konobi, which I admittedly haven’t read in a year and a half, and the content of the plot, and it’s actually sort of not a surprise this manga got an anime.
Though I’m normally off-put any time the word “waifu” is mentioned, I was promptly reminded why I stuck with this series for a bit, and that is for the Sane Girl™ Usami and her deadpan commentary and rebuttals of the positively insane waifu-obsessed Uchimaki and the Art Club president who is a lazy fuck. It’s all worth a cheap kek or two for me, I guess.
Also, leave it to Feel to make the artwork shine in a show about a problematic Art Club, because holy shit, some of the animation in this show is fantastic. That scene in the first episode where Usami finds herself in tears asking Uchimaki not to quit the art club was mindblowingly done, which is kind of unsurprising given Feel’s prior experience with them feels. *cough*Oregaitwo*cough*
That said, I’m kind of indifferent to this show. I’m still not sure if I’ll stick around, because I’m not sure the waifu-obsession schtick will keep me around. The only reason I may stick with Konobi is because of my passing familiarity with the manga, but I could very easily part ways with this show and not really care. We shall see.
Might still watch after 1 episode, maybe
Current(?) score: 6/10
Summary: Set in a fantasy Eastern kingdom, Dan Fei and her brother, guardians of a sword called the Tian Xing Jian, are being chased by the evil Xuan Gui Zong clan. After an unsuccessful battle that leaves her brother defeated, Fei, in possession of the sword, escapes and is saved by the wandering swordsman Shand Bu Huan and a mysterious man named Lin Xue Ya.
If you haven’t somehow heard of this by now, Gen Urobuchi went on vacation in Taiwan and was like “you know what’d be great? A fantasy adventure completely made in puppet theatre. Wanna give that a shot, Nitroplus?”
No, really, that’s how this was created. Why? Who knows? Fuck it, who cares?
What’s important is that Thunderbolt Fantasy wholeheartedly leans into how campy and ridiculous its medium is, but not at the expense of superb cinematography. For a series with almost ceaseless motion, the action is stunningly easy to follow, and the dramatic zoom-ins on faces during bold declarations of vengeance and the like are just so perfectly cheesy. It doesn’t matter too much that I don’t actually care about this story whatsoever; the joy here is in the sheer absurdity of what’s on screen, from Michael Bay explosions to utterly incoherent mood swings to this one moment where a doomed solider decapitates himself, has his head picked up by a CG dragon, and gets it delivered right to the palm of his master in their evil lair. And remember, this is all with puppets.
In recent years, Urobuchi’s name has been plastered over several sloppy works à la Aldnoah.Zero that have so little to do with his original vision for them that it looks like he’s been stumbling into a mid-career drought. Thunderbolt Fantasy indicates – with a complete change in medium, mind you – that that’s hardly the case. It’s a bold and whimsical way to go about a show, one that I imagine some people won’t care for simply because it’s not “anime,” but I feared I would be in that camp too, and I was proven wrong. The story itself may turn me away later on when (or more optimistically, if) Thunderbolt Fantasy’s puppets lose their hilarity, but for the time being, I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t adore the show’s experimental vibe, that I thought it showed genuine skill the way it was pulled off, or that it made me laugh out loud for almost 20 non-stop minutes. I thought Sekkou Boys would be 2016’s clear novelty winner. Now, I’m not so sure. Watch Thunderbolt Fantasy for yourself and see what I mean.
Still watching after 1 episode.
Current score: What the fuck is anime?/10
And that’s all this time, folks! There’s a lot to cover this season and as we’ve mentioned, we’re both busier than ever, so updates may not happen that frequently, just like last spring. Still, we check the site pretty often, so if you want to discuss any of the new shows, chat about other ones, or call us assholes or some shit, you’re certainly welcome to leave a comment below and one of us will get back to ya! Until next time, this has yet again been For Great Justice. Thanks as always for reading.