Summer 2016 Mid-Season Thoughts

Hey everybody, Yata here. We’re halfway through the summer season, and since circumstances have left me going this one alone (a.k.a. Haru’s emptying his wallet at AnimeFest), instead of running through each show alphabetically the way we’ve always done, I’m gonna try something different.

That’s right, I’m ranking this mother lode of a season.

I’ll be keeping my thoughts as brief as I can with a summation of what each show I’m still watching is doing right, wrong, and how likely I think it will improve or fall apart from here accompanied by our standard out-of-10 score and an episode count status update. Hopefully you can dig this format, and if not, oh well, things will likely go right back to the old one next time. The season is mostly staying strong and there’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

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…with the one show I dropped since mid-July: AMANCHU!

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Amanchu had some gorgeous art and I was excited to tune into what I thought would be a seaside breezer of a feel-good show à la last season’s Flying Witch with some coming-of-age elements sprinkled in, but while the scenery was beautiful, the characters moved a turtle’s pace, and that severely limited the variety of approaches the series could take to its comedic moments. After the supporting cast was fully introduced and its final additions felt like some of its weaker ones, I finally made the call to send Amanchu off the deep end. It doesn’t exactly have any nonredeemable failings, but this season is stacked with hits already, and Amanchu’s sluggish development and reliance on repetitive gags wore off on me all the quicker because of it.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 5 episodes.

#9) – BATTERY

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Battery is the kind of show that theoretically should be a by-the-books success; the novel version of the young teen drama about a stuck up middle-school pitcher shedding his egotistical shell even won literary awards in 1997 and 2005, so there’s obviously some substance to the original material. But this animated version either doesn’t have its priorities figured out, doesn’t have a talented enough director on hand, or both, because in addition to fundamental problems like the characters looking and sounding far older than their actual age of 12, the visual execution and scene direction thus far have been a frustratingly mixed bag. Battery doesn’t need moments of grandeur, and it’s totally fine that it lacks those. What’s not fine are the static angles and dragged out scene transitions that make the production feel like it was assembled by middle-schoolers instead of for them.

But it’s not a complete flop, and that’s the most irritating thing; at this point, Battery isn’t really a hate-watch for me. It’s still reflecting on very real things shown with a trace of narrative confidence, from sibling rivalries and backtalking with parents to exaggerated teenage bullying and a sadly un-exaggerated lack of punishment for the responsible parties. The show is, much like the average teenager, in a bit of an identity crisis, and I’m holding out hope it will find its direction with a little more stability by series end. If nothing else, I’ll keep getting some shit-tweets with baseball references out of it, but I know it could provide so much more than that.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 5 episodes

#8) – NEW GAME!

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Just the opposite deal here; New Game is taking a premise that shouldn’t be all that entertaining and keeps elevating it just enough to continually pass each week. The jokes aren’t all that creative and some of its re-treaded staples (Kou sleeps at work sometimes in her panties, oh wow, wonder who came up with that one) were old before they were first presented. But considering the younger crew’s characterization is pretty dull, the show still manages to get compensating mileage out of its older cast and its more relatable work gags, like passive-aggressively fighting over the thermostat and pretending to not do childish things on your days off. The visuals are smooth and packed with detail too, making it a bright and easy watch, even if what’s going on isn’t the greatest joke ever penned. The work of game design isn’t featured enough to be a selling point or central focus for the series; earlier last month, I offhandedly called this show gaming’s Shirobako Lite, and I no longer stand by that, but for all the nonsense about nothing that New Game is, it remains consistent and entertaining, and that’s good enough for its genre to keep tuning in to for now.
Current score: 6.75/10
Still watching after 6 episodes

#7) – PLANETARIAN: THE REVERIE OF A LITTLE PLANET

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I wasn’t expecting Planetarian to suddenly snatch my interest right in its closing bundle of episodes; for everything it was, The Little Key OVA That Could didn’t impress at first glance so much as it did slowly warm on me with time. A lot of that was due to the visual execution, I think; the show’s two central character designs in Yumemi and the Junker were blindingly ornate and incredibly bland respectively, and the by-the-numbers direction of otherwise “atmospheric” scenes in the planetarium and out in the post-apocalyptic rain failed to leave much of a unique impression. Where the show really thrived was in its inherent sadness; a customer service/museum presentation robot living just long enough to find one last guest to entertain and still struggling to do so because of the world’s deteriorating conditions? Like, that’s pretty tear-jerking stuff, and I’m glad neither character was written in a way that oversold their emotions, letting the gravity of the situation speak for itself. On paper, Planetarian could’ve been something amazing, but in practice, largely due to the studio who developed it, I think, it was merely an okay watch with a few good ideas and some nice scenes scattered throughout. Still, it left me interested enough to check out the film counterpart which will be released in a few more weeks, so I’ll get back to you on that. For now, this portion of Planetarian tells a serviceable enough story.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 5 ONA episodes

#6) – THUNDERBOLT FANTASY

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And now for a series that’s all execution, no story, Thunderbolt fucking Fantasy. Well, I mean, it has a story, but I’m so uninterested in it for its narrative components that I’m mainly sticking around to see wuxia puppets yell at each other and spout lines like “My name will be heard throughout the land!” while dabbing and continually referencing yet-to-be-visited landmarks with names like “Seven Sins Tower in the Demon Spine Mountains.”

The campiness can’t be ignored. I’d be lying if I said Thunderbolt Fantasy was truly one of my favorite things to come out of this season, much less the year, but I can’t deny its originality and how hard it’s been making me laugh.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 5 episodes

#5) – 91 DAYS

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I’m running into something of the same deal with 91 Days for some reason, and miraculously, I mean that as a compliment. When I stop to think about it, this show’s plot is speeding along, but everything feels like it’s flowing at a comfortable pace while I’m watching. 91 Days’ characters aren’t exactly the deepest or most personable people, so I admire that the show is leaning heavily into its mob thriller tropes without mocking the vital elements of its story that do work. The latest episode featured a great “wait, we’re doing that already?!” psych-out of killing Nero, and it’ll be interesting to see if Avilio’s mission changes the closer he gets to him (and the deeper hole them and their crew dig themselves in). Joining with the essence of chaotic evil like Fango has already upped the unpredictability of this show’s course, and I’m excited to see where it leads, be it a change of heart or utter chaos.

All that praise said, 91 Days’ character models have become increasingly inconsistent, a fault Studio Shuka continues to barely beat out with passion, and something they will need to improve on in the future. For those who were looking for a bit more “mature” personal drama, this might not be the show for you, but its mixture of fun gangster beatdowns and an increasingly convoluted cast full of bait-and-switch dynamics have me hooked the same way the studio’s previous effort Durarara!!x2 did, and I’m totally fine with that.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes

#4) – FOOD WARS: THE SECOND DISH (SHOKUGEKI NO SOUMA: NI NO SARA)

Food Wars CapFood Wars is definitely still Food Wars.

Yep.

I don’t really know what else you expect me to say. We’re 2 and a half cours into this shit and it knows exactly what it’s doing. You either love this or you hate it. The only difference is hating it is, uh…wrong.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes

#3) – SWEETNESS & LIGHTNING (AMAAMA TO INAZUMA)

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Food Wars is amazing because everyone’s food in it is too perfect. Sweetness & Lightning is amazing because everyone’s heart in it is.

I mean, its food is nice too, but the food acts in service of bringing its cast together, and the show’s original lingering premise of “Dad tries to spend more time with his young daughter after his wife’s passing” meets “lonely teenager whose family owns a restaurant but never uses it needs company” strikes all the right feels. Sweetness & Lightning isn’t the most adventurous show, but what it lacks in diversity it makes up for with its spot-on portrayal of childish mannerisms. Tsumugi is in a league of her own for the title of Best Character this season, and thanks to her, Kotori’s ambition, and Kouhei’s awesome Dad-ness, not a moment of Sweetness & Lightning goes by that doesn’t have me smiling, and that plentiful dose of optimism and comfort has practically become my crutch for dealing with each exhausting Monday. There are a few aesthetic downsides in TMS Entertainment’s diminishing character model consistency (no surprise there), but that’s effectively irrelevant considering the show’s goal; to give you the warm fuzzies and show off one of anime’s cutest toddlers. When it comes to that, Sweetness & Lightning is unmatched, and in any other season, it could’ve easily earned my #1 frontrunner position.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes

#2) – ORANGE

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Orange, on the other hand, is one of the season’s standouts precisely because there’s no smiling to be had. This series incorporates everything I love about a stressful character drama; the disconnect between what the audience knows and what the characters do, how differently they act in vital situations compared to how the audience would given that different amount of knowledge, and how believable they are as people with internal emotions instead of one-note static husks. Usually the main topics in a show like that starring adolescents is romance or bullying. You see it all the time in shoujo series, and Orange has some of that too, but it’s weaved in as the backdrop to the inherently darker theme of trying to “save” an emotionally troubled friend/love interest from suicide.

That’s tough ground to tread on; there’s no validation for Naho when her misguided intuition leads Kakeru deeper into his concealed self-destruction, and the whole nature of the future-sent letters and their advice is tricky to dance around from a narrative standpoint. Orange has already stumbled a few times when discussing time travel mechanics, and as Suwa’s reveal that the rest of the cast may have received letters too comes into play, Orange could easily slip and slide out of focus. The show is at its best when it rides on its choked up emotion and places the mild supernatural twists on the sidelines. Lord knows TMS’ character model issues have begun to plague this show on the visual front as well.

But for all that trepidation about the series’ future from a production standpoint, the bulk of my trepidation still lies with the events of the show itself, and given Orange’s intentionally uncomfortable nature, that can’t be considered anything but a success for the time being. Several of the show’s unessential quirks – the incidental dialogue and claustrophobic, heavily-saturated color palette more than anything else – very fittingly accommodate the series’ bittersweet half-nostalgic half-guilt-ridden tone. Orange has already pulled off the delicate task of making its characters feel like believable people in a believable world deserving of the audience’s empathy. Their real turmoil begins now, and as long as it continues to play its cards right, Orange could easily cement its place as one of the most poignant adolescent dramas of the 2010s. The stakes are high; I just hope I don’t end up with too many regrets about this praise by late September. The show’s already torn my heart to shreds; toying with my fortitude as a critic would just be too much.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 6 episodes

#1) – MOB PSYCHO 100

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Regardless how outstanding the rest of this season’s top 5 is, not a single show in it can hold a candle to Mob Psycho 100. The coming-of-age clusterfuck’s visual direction grabbed many an anime fan’s attention last month, myself obviously included, but underneath that initial wave of artsy finesse, I was just as impressed by how endearing the show treated its titular character.

See, Mob exemplifies the inevitable middle-school conundrum of not being satisfied with your place in the social order but not wanting to give up what makes you…well, you. He’s a polite and considerate kid who just happens to have ridiculous psychic powers. On the surface, he’s pretty lackluster, and he knows it; he also knows the danger that comes with having the powers he does, and while everyone else can’t seem to fathom why he doesn’t embrace them, the last thing Mob wants is to be defined by a frenetic, uncontrollable part of his personality that’s not really “him.” He bottles his emotion inside and longs to be popular by conventional middle-school standards i.e. being fit and impressing chicks. He’s a long way off from that goal, and along the way, nearly everyone he meets seems to challenge him on his priorities. Foils like Teruki, manipulators like Tome, reluctant sidekicks like Dimple (RIP) and jealous peers like his own brother Ritsu all want to show Mob up or use him. Even Reigen, smug bastard he is, is clearly getting what he wants out of Mob without the boy’s awareness. But as I mentioned in my first impressions post about the show, beyond Reigen’s posing is genuine care for the kid he’s taken under his wing, more so than arguably any other character in the cast so far.

Mob Psycho 100 is a story about finding and being content with yourself despite everyone’s preconceptions about who you are and what you can do for them. It’s a relatable tale told through witty, experimental, and sometime mind-blowing devices, and it’s the first show this year to make me stop and go “THIS. THIS IS WHAT ANIME CAN BE.”

If you can elicit that reaction, you’ve gotta be doing something right, and I’m pretty confident in saying that Mob Psycho 100 is the best anime of 2016 right now, a title it will likely hold until year’s end unless the series’ quality nosedives in the second half or a new show this fall manages the nigh-impossible feat of surpassing it. It’s the popular opinion, I know, but sometimes the popular opinion and the right opinion do overlap. They don’t right now for Mob the character, but they sure do for Mob Psycho 100.
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 5 episodes

Ender
As always, everybody, thanks for reading and keeping up with us despite the lack of consistent content. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this article and what else we have on the site. If you ever feel like reaching out to us, please do so here on the site or on those new ani-Twitters we made that can be found here. Have a good rest of the weekend and we’ll see ya when we see ya. /o/

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