Fall 2016 First Impressions

And just like that, fall is finally here! This season marks the 2-year anniversary of us covering airing shows, which feels like a huge accomplishment in and of itself, but we know we can do more, especially with the relative decrease in our amount of content lately, which is why…

…I’d like to introduce Catche, For Great Justice’s first new writer! Covering our bases with some more action-focused series that have never been as up Yata or Haru’s alley (as well as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure come mid-season), Catche is a pleasure to work with and we hope you guys enjoy the greater diversity in shows covered with the standard amount of snark you’ve come to expect from us.

And that means for the first time in over a year now, we once again have 3 writers in one article! With a whopping 22 shows under the lens this time, what stands out as our favorites this season? Read on to find out!

article-header
BLOODIVORES

cap-bloodivoresSummary: Mi Liu, the “Child of Hope”, is a half-human, half-vampiric (Bloodivore) felon who, along with some friends, robs a bank but instead get charged with murder and sent to a special prison, which they find to be filled with dangerous monsters and other mysterious phenomena.

Yatahaze:
Look, I get it; there comes a point where even bad shows have to be given credit where credit is due. Bloodivores has a hook. It has stakes. And it has a stable tone. That stable tone just happens to be infinite edge, prompting me to laugh one moment and cringe the next. Its middling aesthetics certainly don’t help either; filled with CG automobiles, terribly angled shots, and an absence of widespread masses to aid what appears to be the production’s minimal budget. It’s an ugly show to look at and just as ugly in character. Kind of a shame, but the presence of some (goofy) plot essentials and character motivations help it stay a step up from say, this past spring’s Big Order, which I can now officially say takes the cake as the worst show I checked out this year. Still, this isn’t too far behind, and unlike this news reporter here, I’m not interested in finding out what little else it has left to say.
Final score: 2.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Catche:
‘Twas hubris that brought me to Bloodivores, a rather self-evidently shitty show, thinking that perhaps it could achieve some level of mediocrity rather than turning into the piece of shit show that a title like fucking Bloodivores implies. Well, the rumors are true. Bloodivores is crap.

Like some unholy spawn of Owari no Seraph and Deadman Wonderland, but lacking a production staff skilled enough at polishing turds to fool even the most novice of viewers, Bloodivores lumbers about, unable to sustain itself under the weight of all of the mismatched concepts it attempts to carry. (See this clip of Bloodivores attempting to squeeze in a subplot about robot doppelgangers – fair warning, it gets pretty nasty, just like the show itself)

Don’t watch Bloodivores. In fact, just don’t watch bad anime. I may be doomed, but there’s still hope for you. Save yourself while you still have a chance.
Final score: 2/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

BUNGOU STRAY DOGS 2

cap-bungou-s2Summary: The second season of Bungou Stray Dogs.

Catche:
I wasn’t writing for this blog back in the spring season when Bungou Stray Dogs had its first season released. If I had been, I would have had a few words to describe that first season: okay, average, run-of-the-mill, et cetera. However, Bungou remained just inoffensive enough that I managed to get through the entire season, and it seemed set to soon fade completely from memory, only to be recalled in the occasional conversation.

“Hey, do you remember Bungou Stray Dogs?” “Oh… I think so? Was that the one with the magical author detectives?” “Oh shit, yeah!”

Yet here we are, in the fall of the same year, and Bungou Stray Dogs has a second season and I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen so far.

Leaving the so-so plot of the first season behind (at least temporarily) in favor of a story focusing on Dazai’s past in the Port Mafia has granted the series more momentum than it had throughout much of its first season. Dazai in particular has improved a fair bit, being granted a bit of an edge as a high ranking member of the mafia rather than just constantly being a troll.

Nevertheless, Bungou Stray Dogs is still a rather flawed show. Some of the twists are telegraphed a bit too much and you can occasionally see the machinery of the narrative a bit too clearly, with scenes seemingly only missing flashing red letters saying, “This character will die tragically.” Still, it’s worth making note of the difference between a five-out-of-ten anime and a six-out-of-ten anime. For now, at least, Bungou Stray Dogs has earned just a bit of praise.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

DRIFTERS

cap-driftersSummary: Toyohisa Shimazu and other famous warriors from throughout history are transported to a fantasy world in order to fight against a dark and mysterious force.

Yatahaze:
It probably would’ve helped my case if I had heard what Drifters actually was before going into it. The little news that reached my ears and piqued my interest was “it’s an action show that looks nice,” and while action isn’t normally my go-to genre, I’m always up for some battle choreography that’s earned its ostentatiousness. A quick synopsis peek really would’ve done me some good though; as Drifters immediately started out with guns blazing and heads rolling, my initial thought was “why should I care about this? There are no rules, no guidelines, no characters to know about. Why?”

Of course, starting your show with a battle sequence and no previous information normally isn’t a good idea for viewer investment, but I didn’t realize the previous information was right there in front of me. Apparently Toyohisa Shimazu was an actual known samurai who fought in this battle. I finally caught on to the fact that these characters were based off real historical figures when Oda Nobunaga showed up, but by then, the series’ initial battle had long since passed, and my attention span with it. Decent animation and even better art aside, I had already missed my mark with Drifters, and with some understanding of what the titular “Drifters” were now, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last time I’d get lost if I were to stick with the show. Granted, some of its confusion was probably intentional; I really liked the sequence where Toyohisa entered the afterlife(?) chamber completely out of his element, but beyond that, not much about Drifters hooked me.

I will say that of all the shows I’m dropping this early, Drifters has some of the most objective production merit and one of the highest thresholds of places to go. I wouldn’t be surprised if people eat up the Japanese historical references and the potential conflict between the Drifters and the elf-like natives of this strange world they find themselves in. The few attempts at comedy (which often didn’t land) and the macho dialogue may have been minor setbacks for my enjoyment, but they weren’t completely out of place with what Drifters was trying to go for.

Honestly, this one mainly comes down to “do I realistically think I’d enjoy watching this for a full season?” For me, that answer is – not from any real failing of Drifters itself – a personal no. Just not my thing.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Catche:
After almost an hour of content, I feel like I still don’t really know what Drifters has to offer. I mean, it’s enjoyable enough, there’s some good art, the action’s exciting, and the setup has me somewhat intrigued. However, with long sequences dedicated to lots of exposition, these first two episodes get heavily bogged down by the whos and the whats and the whys of the story rather than getting to the series’ main draw, the intense action sequences.

I might be more willing to take the overload of exposition if I were more learned in Japanese history, since once there was a scene between two historical figures that I did recognize I found myself to be far more invested. As things stand, however, the only one of the three main characters that I find myself fairly invested in is Nobunaga, in part because he is the only one whose historical role I have some understanding of.

And… yeah I don’t have much else to say. I’m really just hoping that this series can finally start picking up some momentum come its third episode. Until then, this one’s just alright.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

FLIP FLAPPERS

cap-flip-flappersSummary: Somewhat aloof student Cocona has a strange encounter with a bubbly surfing girl on her way to school. Later on, she and that strange girl, who introduces herself as Papika, get sucked down a tube to the dimension called Pure Illusion, where a dreamy, surreal adventure ensues. Once they get back to the real world, Cocona refuses to embark on such a trip again, but Papika and the mysterious organization she’s a member of have different plans in store.

Yatahaze:
Flip Flappers is one those series I’m extremely glad we’re covering the first two episodes for, because after watching its first one, I was completely lost – in as good a way as possible. The pilot was fantastically directed (despite this being Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s first directorial role), taking a confident “show, don’t tell” approach through the drudgery of Cocona’s daily life and the enormous tonal contrasts introduced through Papika’s peppiness. Once the two were swept off to Pure Illusion, the fabulous art direction took center stage in a sequence with some of the best mood-setting, vibrant shots I’ve seen all year. When the duo finally found their way back to reality, shiny supposedly-important shard in hand, the visual fervor didn’t stop, but the tone found its way back to a place slightly more “normal.” Slightly.

The bizarre string of elements in Flip Flappers’ debut made it nearly impossible to figure out what was happening, but everything that flashed by felt sensible, and more importantly, wildly entertaining. Due to the lack of dialogue and exposition, Flip Flappers’ visual finesse was emphasized, and in that category it remains a clear standout of the season.

That still didn’t give me any clue where the show would go from there though, so thankfully the series’ second episode backed up its first in a minimally-revealing but crucial way that captured the spirit of its predecessor with a little more concreteness to grasp onto. Papika joins Cocona’s class as a “transfer student,” (of course she does, this is an anime) but it’s immediately played off by her not interacting with anyone else, chasing Cocona around the school to convince her to go on another adventure. Again, not intentionally, the two end up somewhere else in an acid trippy Alice in Wonderland-esque world from hell, and by the time they find their way back, Cocona has come around to the fact that Papika genuinely cares about her, not to mention how the two “need” each other to access these parallel worlds they keep stumbling into.

The visuals remained top notch for episode two, but what sold me was how Flip Flappers steadily laid down some more specific dialogue that only added to the show’s intrigue; shots at the sketchy HQ emphasized a feeling of paranoia and suspicion, and given the series’ laid-back and casual tenor when it comes to dark and head-scratching moments, a dramatic “how did I not see this coming” type of plot twist later on seems inevitable. There’s nothing about Flip Flappers’ inherent premise that makes it interesting; it all comes down to execution and how its mysterious aspects (world dynamics, the organization, the shards) keep being showcased. The show hints at a jumpy timeline (there’s a cliffhanger at the end of episode 1 barely addressed at all afterward) and it’s already fairly confusing and interpretive, so my main worry is that Flip Flappers will collapse under its own pretense, but that doesn’t appear likely just yet. If you’re looking for an abstract fantasy this season heightened by out-of-narrative production value, Flip Flappers fits the bill with passion to spare.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
The best aspect of Flip Flappers is honestly its really great art, and, honestly you should really just have a look for yourself. Just… yeah. It’s great.

Now there is more to talk about than just the art, but it’s not too much. The story is, at least for now, pretty simple, focusing instead on atmosphere and design, and honestly, that’s fine. This show, seems to clearly know what it is, moving about with an assured whimsy that isn’t too common for a television production.

Look, what I’m trying to say is that Flip Flappers is like a gentle, giving lover come to me just after a very toxic relationship, and I won’t break up with him, Dad! Stop trying to control me!
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GAKUEN HANDSOME

cap-gakuen-handsomeSummary: Yoshiki Maeda is a new student at Baramon High, an elite private boys’ school. He quickly falls for several such elite private boys.

Yatahaze:
No point skirting around the issue, Gakuen Handsome looks like an elementary schooler’s MS Paint and After Effects field day. This 3-minute yaoi spoof short is absolutely gold. From the inattention to proportions to the way characters go back on their word right after they swear something with all their heart and soul to the fact that the show doesn’t highlight any of its shortcomings and takes itself completely seriously, there’s just nothing to hate. Unless you hate ironic fun, in which case, Gakuen Handsome probably solely exists to frustrate you. With nothing else worth a look coming out on Mondays this season, Gakuen Handsome will be my start-of-the-week pick-me-up. A spoonful of kind-hearted novelty animation ineptitude helps makes my own ineptitudes slightly more bearable.
Current score: These hands/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
During every generation, there is a search to find a piece of art that can stand up before the ages as a testament to the culture and ideals of that era. Some doubted that anime could ever achieve such a level of artistry, but I knew they were wrong. I knew that one day, an anime would come to show the world that it too could stand up and say “I’m the best, you fuckers.” Ladies and gentlemen, that time has come, and the future is now.
Current score: You can’t put a number on real art/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GI(A)RLISH NUMBER

cap-girlish-numberSummary: Chitose Karasuma is breaking into the voice acting industry and just got a decent role in a production with some rather notable names. Behind the scenes though, things aren’t so smooth.

Yatahaze:
Ah yes, Wataru Watari’s new little darling has at last emerged. Writer of the cynical but gold-hearted Oregairu (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU), Watari’s self-aware, self-critical dialogue helped skyrocket his little teen drama into stardom, but in the process, he divided potential fans into “dig it” and “hate it” camps. I personally loved his approach to SNAFU, as I feel like though the series empathized with main character Hikigaya Hachiman, it never validated the backwards behavior and self-loathing demeanor that sprouted from his realistic insecurities. There was a consistent tone throughout the series’ two seasons reminiscent of a trusty future self reflecting on their oh so cringy adolescent choices and saying “I’ve been there, it sucks, but you’ll get through it if you let yourself.”

With Gi(a)rlish Number, the internal comments and shifty behavior remain, but I’m struggling to empathize with Chitose, as she seems simultaneously stuck-up and surprised, lacking the motivation or humanity to really connect with what’s going on in her environment on anything above a superficial level. More than anything else related to the story itself, it’s the tone of Girlish Number (I’ll be calling it that now, fuck that dumb naming convention) that rubs me the wrong way. With Watari using several of the show’s characters as mouthpieces for his own inner disdain of the light novel and anime industries, most of what’s conveyed is the sense that these people as characters are either poorly written or generally unhappy. People seem to be interpreting it as the latter, and that’s definitely understandable with lines like these, but there have to be two sides to every coin. As of episode 1, there was little reason to empathize with anyone in the show aside from Chitose’s older brother/manager Gojou, who seemingly handles all of Chitose’s shit for her and gets disproportionate praise (and screentime) for it. Some characters are utter caricatures (this bumfuck is a weaker copy of Shirobako’s “Funny Story” guy, for instance), and that makes it incredibly hard to give half a shit about what they’re up to. Episode two’s characterization and dialogue felt considerably less one-note for a variety of the newly-introduced side characters, but Chitose and Lazy-san didn’t seem to improve at all, and as mainstays whose goals seem to be “get rich or kill your connections through being aggravatingly self-centered trying,” that worries me.

Girlish Number can be extremely hit or miss, and it often makes for better standalone jabs than it does a story I’d be interested in following. It’s a huge plus that the series’ shot direction, voice acting, and art consistency are all solidly above average, lending to its smooth flow and a wonderful array of facial expressions. Objective aesthetic standards can’t save a show with an insensitive mean streak though, and while I’m less scared after watching episode 2 that the Girlish Number will end up as the worst possible version of itself, I’m also quite strikingly not enjoying the time I spend watching it. In a lesser-quality or less-busy season, I might tough it out, but for once I agree with Blondie here. If I want the behind-the-scenes workplace drama, I’ll just go re-watch Shirobako. If I want the adolescent misanthropy, I’ll just go re-watch Oregairu. I sure as hell don’t need a weaker, tonally-grating, mashed-up version of both.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

THE GREAT PASSAGE (FUNE WO AMU)

cap-passageSummary: Kouhei Araki, a veteran editor in the dictionary department of the Genbu Shobo publishing company is hoping to retire soon to care for his sick wife. Determined to not hire someone careless in his place right at the start of a new project, he and his younger co-worker Masashi Nishioka recruit Mitsuya Majime, an exceptionally bright but socially-awkward man doing a lackluster job in Genbu Shobo’s sales department.

Yatahaze:
It may have taken a week longer to come out than any other show I’m watching this season, but The Great Passage was well worth the wait; anime about realistic working adults is rather rare, so I was hopeful the series would satisfy as a solid installment to that genre. Fittingly enough, this particular story was initially a best-selling novel and then an award-winning live action film before this anime rendition of it, so Studio Zexcs’ minimum goal was to not fuck up an acceptable plot, and so far, they’re handily succeeding at that. The Great Passage’s sturdy voice acting, score, and color palette make for an easy, down-to-earth watch. With smart panning shots and fluid (if not particularly flashy) animation courtesy of film animation director Hiroyuki Aoyama, this first episode felt more like a cinematic introductory act than the first episode of a TV show, and that’s a strength I’d like to see carried throughout the rest of its run.

Unless you really don’t care for mature drama, the only skepticism I could envision people having about The Great Passage is that its dictionary theme would give rise to impossible-to-follow wordplay sequences for foreign audiences. Thus far, that’s not been the case, though I can’t make any claims about how the series will handle it going forward. Either way, wordplay and metaphor are up my alley just as much as mature slice-of-life is, so as long as things get translated well (though if they don’t, that’s still not really a fault of the show regardless), I can’t picture any reason to be hesitant about The Great Passage now. With a believable, endearing cast of characters and Mitsuya looking poised to find a place more naturally befitting of his thought process, I’m excited to see where the show goes from here.
Current score: 8.25/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

HAIKYUU!! 3RD SEASON

vlcsnap-2016-10-16-07h05m09s782Summary: The third season of Haikyuu!!

Harubro:
The volley-bros from Karasuno are back for more, hot on the heels of their victory against Aoba Johsai, and now our boys face the daunting task of facing off against Shiratorizawa, a national powerhouse led by one of the top 3 aces in the nation. Winners are prefectural champs and advance to nationals, the losers go home.

I’ve sung all the praises I can for this series already. Haikyuu has consistently been one of the best sports anime to air in recent memory, and I see no reason why that’ll change here. The Shiratorizawa v. Karasuno match was a bit of a back-breaker for the manga fandom due to the length of the arc caused by the prefectural finals occurring over 5 matches rather than the 3 we’ve been accustomed to. I stayed the course through it all, and you will, too. This match will take place over 10 episodes, so we won’t be getting the typical 2-cour helping of this show as we have in the past.

On a rather sad note, Kazunari Tanaka, the voice actor for Karasuno’s fiery coach Ukai, passed away about a week ago. He did a wonderful job portraying the coach in one of his more prominent roles. Rest in peace, man.

To the business at hand — bring on the drama, bring on the strategy, bring on the fun times as you always have, Haikyuu.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH (SHUUMATSU NO IZETTA)

cap-izettaSummary: In an alternate Europe towards the start of the second World War, the German Empire has started to invade surrounding nations, and next up on their agenda is the Duchy of Eylstadt. First Princess Ortfiné gets abducted after third-party negotiations with the Allies break down, but right before the Germans can use her as blackmail to disarm Eylstadt’s forces, a young witch named Izetta whom Finé knew from her childhood saves the day…for the moment. With Finé hesitant to let Izetta use her powers but options looking slim for Eylstadt, what will become of these two and their nation?

Yatahaze:
I’m only really certain about one thing; Izetta: The Last Witch has been thoroughly entertaining thus far. Its sequencing and scene direction have been solid, and the base character work is pleasant enough; Finé makes for a great protagonist, as her life experiences with diplomacy are portrayed in her quick thinking and willingness to take action, equally important as her sense of empathy. As an important cog in her increasingly dangerous country with the Germans out to get her, she recognizes her situation is dangerous but acts with the appropriate skills and dignity to be an easy character to root for. While several of the show’s diplomatic side characters have been more defined by their wants and needs than they have their actual personalities, a strong main like Finé helps to tie the political threads together and give us an incentive to care about Eylstadt in the first place.

The rest of the show is getting by for the time being, and I phrase it like that because with the clusterfuck of influences being thrown around here, I’m not sure how long The Last Witch will be able to keep up with itself. The very introduction of witches and magic and Izetta’s whole backstory disrupt the confident period tone the show had otherwise set up, and given the promotional material, Izetta’s relationship with Finé will probably take an unnecessary turn towards the yuri.

On the subject of “unnecessary,” I’d like to assume that there’s some legal reason all these countries had to change names for the show, because calling everything by some flashy fake title really took me out of the drama. When the threat of Nazism is treated like Not-zism, it’s a little difficult to feel threatened. Some sequences, like the train escape, are portrayed rather well considering, but bring in the magic too and then shit like the air raid just doesn’t fly, pun intended. War is gritty, this one especially. The show clearly wants to state something similar, but it’s not really always possible to take seriously.

As one of the first notable releases from studio Ajia-do in nearly a decade, one of the first non-children’s shows to be directed by Masaya Fujimori, and yet another show that seems fit to continue the “decent premise, faulty execution” track record series composer Hiroyuki Yoshino has set for himself, I don’t know how much I can trust this crew. The generally competent art and action fluidity are occasionally offset by the characters’ underwhelming A-1 Pictures-reminiscent appearances, and given these worries are present even in the show’s opening duo of episodes, a point when production is usually at the best level it will get, I’m continuing Izetta with optimism but trepidation. In the end, hopefully the ride will feel worth it, even if it’s just based on entertainment value alone.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
Maybe there’s something wrong with me when it comes to Izetta. It’s a well-made show with a setup that seems ripe for some good, pulpy fun, yet I just find myself feeling disengaged. Everything the show does is fine: the characters are fine, the direction is fine, the animation is fine, but none of that makes for a truly engaging show.

Izetta just feels so clinical, like it’s checking boxes for what it needs to be a good anime, rather than feeling like it’s being driven by any kind of passion for the story or visuals. None of this makes the show bad, it’s just fucking bland.

The titular character herself is a prime example of the show’s mediocrity. Izetta is fine, she has some flashy magic powers, she’s got a nice enough design, and her motivation reasonable enough, but none of that makes me really care about her. Nothing she says or does is really that interesting, and neither is anything else that anyone does in this show.

I suppose I’ll give Izetta another episode or two, but if it can’t find some clearer identity, then I’m probably just going to drop it.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KEIJO!!!!!!!!! (HIP WHIP GIRL)

cap-keijoSummary: Keijo is a fictional gambling water sport where girls standing on floating platforms attempt to knock each other over with their tits and asses. It’s apparently popular enough in this world to include a special training school. Ex-gymnast Nozomi Kaminashi barely squeaks by its exam, but with money to be earned at the top of the class, her eyes are confidently on the prize.

Yatahaze:
Yep, I treated myself to the season’s fan favorite fanservice show, and to my surprise, there wasn’t all that much blatant fanservice beyond the inherent focus on bums and boobs. Keijo is an incredibly stupid “sport,” but stupid in the same sense that obstacle course-style competitions with overenthusiastic participants à la Wipeout are. The appeal is the same; this one’s just in anime form and exclusively stars girls in swimsuits.

And like Wipeout and other programs of its ilk, Keijo’s initial joke is enough to carry one episode’s worth of material. It isn’t, however, something I feel is enough to sustain a full series on its own; I was already checking the clock a bit by the flashback match’s end, and the show’s characterization is weighed down by clunky low-quality archetypes. There’s nice shading throughout and a somewhat funny “INTENSE” battle aesthetic, but for the most part, Studio Xebec just kind of lets the show exist. There’s nowhere near enough care or passion placed into this to intrigue for much longer than 20-odd minutes or inspire hope that the source material will become any more engaging than it already is. Keijo was a good deal more sound as a pitch than I expected, but that statement is only true because my expectations from a show like this are so incredibly low to begin with.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

KISS HIM, NOT ME (WATASHI GA MOTETE DOUSUNDA)

vlcsnap-2016-10-15-10h35m10s539
Summary:
Serinuma Kae is a fujoshi, one so rotten that she even ships her own classmates. The death of her favorite anime character leads her to lock herself away in her room for a few weeks, not even affording herself basic human care. When finally forced to come out of her room, she finds a nearly unrecognizable reflection in the mirror, as she has rapidly lost weight in that time. Now that she’s become attractive, a group of boys from school try their hardest to woo her.

Harubro:
In comes the token “Anime adaptation of a manga series I’ve already read” show of the season. There seems to be at least one of these per season these days.

So, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda, or “Kiss Him, Not Me!” as it’s titled in the English translations. I never did figure out why I went into this reverse harem series as deep as I did, and the anime leaves me even more puzzled, and I’ll touch on that shortly.

This show follows Serinuma Kae, a pudgy hardcore fujoshi, whom after her favorite anime husbando bites the dust in a show-in-the-show, shuts herself away for an amount of time I have already forgotten, foregoing meals and what have you. When she finally emerges from her room, much like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, she finds she has shed weight and has suddenly become a striking beauty. That cannot be healthy, yo.

When she returns to school, almost nobody recognizes Kae, and this being the reverse harem it is, a handful of boys she had varying degrees of interaction with before fall head over heels for her. Except for one of the guys who had no trouble recognizing her, you kind of realize how shitty the situation is: that these guys, no matter how endearing or not they may be, only care about Serinuma now that she’s knockout gorgeous.

There is an ever-present atmosphere of self-loathing with this show, seemingly judgy about Kae’s hardcore otaku fujoshi ways, but actively avoiding such a strong impression that may turn away the very crowd it seems to indict, as if to say, “We are disgusted by your drooling, BL-loving ways but do be kind and please buy the blu-rays when they come out.”

All told, the production value is out of this world by the low standards Brain’s Base keeps setting for themselves. They can produce a fun show, but fucking Christ, their animation can get shoddy. Having seen how much of a struggle animation is, I try not to harp on poor animation during a show’s TV run but BB has turned out some laughable results in recent memory.

This show is pretty good fare for funny faces, and not much else — yet I find myself coming back to it. I find myself drawn to this show in a “This is so bad it’s comical” sort of way. That’s a good way to describe Kiss Him, Not Me: Entertainingly, comically bad.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching (barely) after 2 episodes.

MAGICAL GIRL RAISING PROJECT (MAHOU SHOUJO IKUSEI KEIKAKU)

cap-mgrpSummary: In a new social media game, players act as a “magical girl” and collect “magical candy” for completing in-game tasks. As long-time mahou shoujo fanatic Koyuki Himekawa soon finds out, the game’s mascot, Fav, also chooses particularly noteworthy players to become real life magical girls, complete with enhanced physical powers and ridiculous costume changes. Things go fairly well for Koyuki and her alter ego Snow White at first, shooting to the top of her city’s leaderboard, but when Fav decides to scale back on the number of magical girls in the area, Koyuki’s idealistic perceptions on what being a magical girl really mean look poised to shatter.

Yatahaze:
I’ll get the elephant in the room out of the way right at the start; yeah, it’s another “magical girls are DARK” show in vein of Madoka Magica. What so many failed variations of Madoka – and at a few points, this as well – don’t seem to understand is that simply having a similar premise to a hit can’t guarantee anything about positive reception, especially when the work it’s deriving from is considered a classic by virtually all circles of the anime community. Twists and darkness don’t work without actual tension, and by extension, a reason to give a shit about what’s going on.

I’ll admit from the heart that I admire and respect Madoka Magica more than I actively enjoyed it as a show. I don’t have the same connection to it that a lot of people seem to have found, and the few times I’ve bothered to check out another magical girl show since, I’ve found myself even more underwhelmed. Initially, this looked to be another one of those instances; opening with a bloody shot of dead bodies isn’t the most subtle of introductions, and the contrasting light-hearted sequence following a naïve Koyuki around in her daily life wasn’t all that much more attention-grabbing.

That said, once the show’s plot really started to kick in, it stepped up hard. With hints of manipulation lurking around every sentence Fav says, it’s become clear Magical Girl Raising Project not only knows how to foreshadow drama, it knows how to do it without being too explicit about the specifics. Upon introduction of the other magical girls (whose costumes include a witch dress, a cowgirl outfit, and a dog suit among other flamboyant garbs), it’s also become clear that for each ounce of eccentricity the show throws in, there’s an equal human component. The dialogue and back-and-forth of each character come across as rather natural, and with a series partially focused on conflicting philosophies, that’s a huge plus to have. From firm camaraderie to genuine distrust or jealousy, there’s a huge array of personalities at play, and none of them are predictable enough to stand out as the precursor to an unfortunate “oh yep, that’s how that character will die off” trope.

Aesthetically, Lerche do as pleasant a job as they ever have. There are tons of great shots of frames that emphasize the plastic serenity of the magical girls’ chatroom and the comparatively cloudier real world. The diverse score also stood out as a positive note. The voice acting is on point for each character, greatly adding to how easy it is to get wrapped up in each girl’s predicaments, and thus far I’d be stretching to find any bothersome enough production flaws. I have no reason to believe Magical Girl Raising Project will hit the highest possible threshold for its genre, but it’s certainly passed the bare minimum test and proven that it’s a show worth checking out on its own merit. I’m eager to see where things go from here and hopeful that it doesn’t disappoint.
Current score: 7.25/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION (3-GATSU NO LION)

cap-marchSummary: At just age 17, Rei Kiriyama is already a professional shogi player, earning income and living on his own. But fiscal independence can’t make up for emotional needs, and with ties to his little biological family left strained and little incentive to connect at the school he rarely attends, depression and guilt set in, only sometimes offset by his interactions with competitors and a friendly family who let him come and go as they care for him like one of their own.

Yatahaze:
When I think of Studio SHAFT outside of their ever-expanding hit franchise Monogatari, I normally don’t recall many good things. Known for their (or inseparable director Akiyuki Shinbo’s) knack for jumpy hyperactive sequences, bright abstract art direction, and a variety of other idiosyncrasies carried across their line of work, I almost couldn’t picture a world in which a series with a summary like March’s would naturally fit a studio as loud and auteur-ish as SHAFT.

Enter March…, like a lion. Bold and confident, the story of this young, timid, and troubled shogi player is exponentially boosted by both Shinbo’s most tone-sensitive project in years as well as the studio’s best new source material to work with since the early 2010s. A few moments bounce back into typical SHAFT territory, with quick reaction faces and random bursts of energy, but throughout March’s first two episodes, those instances are smartly-placed and serve to contrast Rei’s usual depressed (or at least detached) demeanor. Where they involve conversation, he jumps into speech with an uncertain air about him but quickly comes back down from that high.

When Rei is low (and he’s low a lot), SHAFT do a tremendous job emphasizing his feelings of desolation and the actual care he’s being given at the same time. The pilot’s first half was an especially noteworthy sequence, opening on him in his empty apartment, French pop song following his emotionless commute through a city shining far brighter than he, and ending with a mostly silent match against an older man in his neighborhood’s shogi hall. Despite later describing the Kawamoto sisters (especially the eldest, Akari) as people he can be his broken self around without harsh judgment, he still almost can’t bring himself to socialize with them this time. When he gives in, he spends the meal with them rather distant, distracted and reminded of feelings of guilt over inferred past traumatic events. While Rei’s state of mind stays down, the rivals and young’uns around him bounce back and forth with an upbeat stride, and these differences are emphasized even more with Yukari Hashimoto’s brilliant score, contrasting melancholy and joy in some of the best soundtrack work I’ve heard all year. It’s an essential part of what makes March the success it is; neither too manic or downtrodden, the balance is pulled off with tact and minimal overt narration, wisely relying on character expression and sound.

At the risk of going all high school literature teacher on everyone’s ass, the symbolism employed throughout March is also fantastic; especially memorable for me was a brief but vital sequence in episode 2 where Rei runs out of food (another solid nod to his depression) and explains how in his neighborhood there are only factories, warehouses, and areas centered around soulless production, while across the river in Sangatsu block, where the Kawamotos live, there are shops, grocery stores, and other means for socialization and sustenance. I wouldn’t be surprised if this theme of “crossing bridges” continues as the series goes on, and it’s a touching metaphor for the just as touching majority of the show.

That’s the one last thing of note; while Rei is a shogi player, his time spent at the hall and thinking about tournaments is rather minimal so far. While knowing the rules of shogi would probably make the match sequences more meaningful, the tension behind them is just as enticing, a great boost for those (like myself) who don’t actually know how the fuck shogi works. I predict the game will play an increased role as the series rolls on, but these first few episodes give me time to look into it. Considering the show has thus far presented itself as much more concerned with feelings and relationships than it has this activity, it’s also entirely possible the shogi plots will stay to the side, or at least be intertwined sparingly. Honestly, whichever way March Comes in Like a Lion decides to go, I’m hooked on its tender peek inside the mind of a depressed prodigy and can’t wait to see more from what’s at the moment my favorite new show of the season.
Current score: 8.75/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

NANBAKA

cap-nanbakaSummary: Four friendly inmates with a combined 100% prison break record continuously try to escape from the Nanba Prison, a jail that’s never allowed someone to break outside its walls.

Yatahaze:
Nanbaka’s art was the main thing that caught my eye – it’s kind of hard for something this bright and colorful not to. After noticing its synopsis didn’t indicate a definite-deal breaker either, I was egged on to give this one a shot for the shits and giggles.

There were very few subsequent shits and giggles, as I quickly tired of the retina-searing rainbows and the predictable “hey look, everyone in our show is actually stupid” gags. Slashing apart any reason I had to care about these characters in the first handful of minutes, the rest of the episode was a drag emphasized by random non-sequiturs, loud comebacks, and dry exposition setup for future conflicts. The back-and-forth of Nanbaka may appeal to a non-picky fujoshi, but I can’t see it landing with many other people for even a few episodes, myself included.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

OCCULTIC;NINE

cap-occulticSummary: Nine individuals linked to either the Kiri Kiri Basara clickbait forum, fortune-telling, and/or the death of a controversial scientist have their lives changed as a smattering of events lead them to each other.

Yatahaze:
Ah, this is it. I can sense this is gonna be the unspoken divider of the season, the love it or hate it oddball, and the one people will most passionately try to defend or trash. If the trademark semicolon didn’t give it away, Occultic;Nine is another contribution in the alternate reality timeline set up by previous installments ChäoS;HEAd, Robotics;Notes, and the critically-acclaimed Steins;Gate. Unlike those series however, Occultic;Nine doesn’t have its origins as a visual novel developed by Nitroplus and 5pb., rather as a light novel written by Chiyomaru Shikura, a production/series composition mainstay throughout those previous three series. As one might expect, several characteristics of Occultic;Nine give off similar vibes to its predecessors (juggled perspectives, a lurking sense of dread, etc.), but its light novel origins bring with it a cast far more colorful and at times overbearing than anything we’ve seen (or rather I’ve seen, as I didn’t watch ChaoS;HEAd) from this loose collection of works up until now.

Those overbearing characters are what the bulk of my critique about the show is currently centered on. Yuuta Gamon and his “fuck the laws of physics/Ultra C-cup” friend Ryoka Narusawa nearly made the first episode a chore to get through, spouting NEET crap and tired clichés at a breakneck pace for minutes on end. Apparently I’m not the only person this immediately agitated, as a handful of respectable critics decided enough was enough after just one episode.

However, I stuck with Occultic;Nine, and by episode two I’m already certain it was a worthwhile move. The pilot actually showcased top-notch direction, extremely fluid animation, and fitting (albeit cringy) voice acting, so after shifting focus to a different set of characters (these two very different mediums, the son of the newly-deceased professor, a paranormal journalist, and a middling investigator chasing obscure leads), the watch was made exponentially more enjoyable while the production finesse remained. The promise of an intriguing mystery and smooth production were what convinced me to stay, and as soon as the spotlight indeed left Yuuta and Ryo-tits’ hold, the material itself became much more palatable, even if admittedly a bit goofy and pandering.

If A-1 can at least balance the screentime of the better and lesser characters well, then my final caveat is this; the shows in the series from which Occultic;Nine stems have an unfortunate habit of starting slowly, ramping things up throughout an addicting middle portion, and then fizzling out and disappointing for their conclusion. I can already foresee this trend continuing, as the mysterious developments, occult phenomena, dark (but beautiful) backgrounds, and sometimes spitting dialogue all entice in the short-term, but could disintegrate into an incoherent mish-mash of disconnected ideas later on. Seeing Shikura not just on board but at the helm of the whole series’ creation has me a bit worried, but if the moody art, intriguing possibilities, and Kyohei Ishiguro’s superb direction continue to dazzle, you can count me along for the ride.
Current score: 6.66/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
Occultic;Nine is a frustrating show. Now, I’ve never actually seen any of the semicolon series things before, so if that’s “the point” or something then I wouldn’t know, but that’s pretty damn stupid.

Occultic has some fantastic animation, though with A-1 Pictures’ track record I wouldn’t be surprised if some midseason episodes abruptly declined in quality, and some good direction to boot. However the actual story here can get pretty obnoxious. Our obnoxious otaku main character and his friend, boobs girl, are some of the most grating characters to grace this season and every aspect of their personalities makes me want to send my head straight through my laptop so I won’t have to watch any more. The show also places a bit too much focus on elements of otaku culture for me to not audibly groan as a character says the word doujinshi.

And yet, Occultic;Nine has me intrigued. The mystery plot has left me genuinely interested in seeing where the show will go next and the fast pacing of events, though a little difficult to deal with at first, helps to eliminate lulls, which is helpful when your main characters are particularly obnoxious.

So yeah, not as much of a pile of shit as some would say, but far, FAR from a great watch.
Current score: 6.75/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

POCO’S UDON WORLD (UDON NO KUNI NO KINIRO KEMARI)

cap-pocoSummary: Souta Tawara, a web-designer working in Tokyo, takes a break from his job and travels back home to Kagawa Prefecture, the “Udon Kingdom.” Much to the dismay of the local townsfolk, his father’s revered udon joint recently closed, and as if the pressure of not carrying on the family business wasn’t enough, a strange nameless child has been crawling around the place and seems to have taken a liking to Souta.

Yatahaze:
It’s kind of a shame that Poco’s Udon World ruined its pilot’s grand reveal – that this odd kid is actually a tanuki (shapeshifting raccoon dog thing) – before the series really got rolling. There’s very little about the series that’s unpredictable or surprising, and that had the potential to make for a killer start to the show, but instead, it just glosses over the fact in one brief reaction scene and a few just as inconsequential moments at the start of the second episode.

That’s not a self-contained issue either; aside from the consistently beautiful art and decent animation, underachievement feels like the name of the game throughout Poco’s Udon World. Souta’s minimal characterization, the unnecessary “this is what is happening” exposition, and all these “EHHHH?” reaction faces feel lazy, safe, and uncertain. I’ve seen rural retreats done better in Barakamon. I’ve seen tanuki done better in The Eccentric Family. And I’ve seen food and parenting addressed in both those shows as well as last season’s Sweetness & Lightning, a personal favorite of mine for 2016. On paper, Poco’s Udon World has all the devices to make for a watch that’s right up my alley. Instead, it sometimes feels limited to its devices, barely taking the extra steps to add any personality to itself, settling for sitting there like a steaming pile of porridge.

That said, even nondescript porridge can be pretty damn good sometimes, especially as the air turns brisk and all I want to do is lay around inside. Despite all that criticism, I’m still largely enjoying Poco’s Udon World, I’m just frustrated it isn’t really coming into its own. Maybe it will take small steps towards that the way it has been so far; for instance, I loved the way Tawara Noodles’ former customers keep asking about the place, not allowing their favorite local diner to disappear with a whimper. Other various folks from the neighborhood get decent gags too, and Poco himself is an utter joy, even if (or maybe because) his limited vocabulary and helpless curiosity almost get the better of him. I’d even argue his interactions with Souta are currently enough to carry the show because like seriously this is so adorable goddamnit.

Shows like this with a youngster and a young adult seem to thrive on the young adult’s character growth though, and with Souta already being fairly well-adjusted at age 30, I’m not sure there are too many places for that arc to reach besides addressing his minor small-town “I know these people” anxieties and the rather lax suggestions to re-open the udon place. Maybe there intentionally won’t be an arc of growth – so be it – but those three aforementioned shows have proven that great childish cuteness is best balanced out by undertones of adult sentimentality and progress, and so far those undertones in Poco’s Udon World are either really on the nose or barely there. It’s not a shining success, but the disappointment is mild, and considering I enjoy it quite a bit while I’m watching and only find harsher things to say in retrospect, I’ll stick around for a while longer and see if its lasting impression can improve with time.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

SOUND! EUPHONIUM 2 (HIBIKE! EUPHONIUM 2)

cap-euphoniumSummary: The second season of Sound! Euphonium, picking up right where the first season left off. As Kitauji High takes its next step and prepares for the Kansai Competition, a former member re-surfaces, and the unresolved tension between the current members and those who had quit but would like to rejoin threaten the stability of the club.

Yatahaze:
I don’t even know where to start. Sound! Euphonium’s first season won my heart last year as a stunningly-directed adolescent drama about club controversies and music. While everything about Euphonium’s story and characters were coherent if not impressive solely on their own merit, being produced by renowned Kyoto Animation sealed the deal to make it a standout series. KyoAni’s consistent way of emotionally directing tiny character nuances and body language is unparalleled in modern television anime; partner that with decent source material (so basically not  Myriad Colors Phantom World), and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Sound! Euphonium 2 sticks to that recipe, and the result is yet another delicacy. With virtually every relationship carrying over from the first season’s finale, there isn’t even necessarily need to add a new conflict, but its inclusion – a matter of exclusion, ironically enough – increases the tension tenfold. Talented flutist Nozomi Kasaki quit the preceding year, frustrated that the graduating third-years were bringing down the group’s performance as a whole, and in the aftermath, the group of stayers (such as Asuka) and group of goers like herself were split in two. This all comes to light in the season’s second episode, as the first is dramatically spent through the eyes of the first-years; curious about the past conflict, but smart enough to read the tension in the air and avoid bringing it up…or at least avoid getting caught snooping around.

And while I’m talking about “tension in the air,” never have I seen such an intangible thing shown so gracefully for a full 40+ minute pilot. That attention to detail and body language I mentioned before? It’s all over the place, from characters nervously playing with their food and looking in opposite directions with a grimace to moments of aching silence. When a breath of fresh air finally comes, it’s in the form of what might be anime’s most romantically-charged pseudo-couple, Kumiko and Reina. Aside from the fact that these two characters’ interactions are constantly gripping with a prickly intimacy, their clever transition from intimidating in season 1 to the more at ease sensation that’s found here is a beautiful and natural development for the series as a whole. Even if it’s threatened by an out-of-universe hesitance to call it what it is and an in-universe tug in the other direction, make no mistake, Kumiko and Reina are the cutest goddamn couple in anime right now.

Beyond the wonderful drama and easy-to-root-for romance, for me Euphonium’s greatest trump card is still KyoAni’s phenomenal direction and art. Even when they’re not directly acting in support of the characterization on a micro level, quick incidental shots of the lush cityscape dazzle and make one’s jaw drop. Usually when I praise scenery, it’s with the footnote that there’s something a little unnatural and thus fantastical about it; with Euphonium, the scenery looks beautiful in a uniquely believable way. With a realistic shading job and clever but organic angles, KyoAni’s visual detail practically becomes its own character; it’s a reliable constant in an age where jarring, cut-corner CG is becoming a norm, and in a world firmly suited to reality the way Euphonium’s is, the infallible artistry of what’s on screen shouldn’t go ignored. The one production merit I’m missing so far is the music, and that’s not a failing of the show; we just haven’t reached a narrative point necessary to forefront it yet.

All of this is to say that even though I knew Euphonium would be a sure hit for me going forward, it performed even better in its second season premiere than it needed to. With basic first-season introductory stumbles out of the way and momentum confidently on the show’s side, Twophonium was the clear victor of first impressions weeks for me. Could it wind up being my first (and only!) 10/10 of the year?
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

TIGER MASK W

cap-tiger-mask-wSummary: Naoto Azuma and Takuma Fujii take on the titles of Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark respectively in order to take on The Tiger’s Lair, an evil underground wrestling organization.

Catche:
Tiger Mask W is goofy, melodramatic, and at times nonsensical. It also provides some of the most fun I’ve had in a season that’s often failed to really wow me thus far. Now, being the kind of person who enjoys a bit of pro wrestling himself, it’s hard to not feel a bit biased when writing about it, and I won’t deny that this kind of anime is definitely an acquired taste.

One of Tiger Mask W’s biggest strengths is that it feels very sincere. It never feels the need to be overly cynical or pretentious, it’s just about a bunch of guys in tights being really tough and fighting each other. Though it’s all pretty cliché, by playing the whole thing straight without the overbearing sense of irony that many modern anime carry with them, it helps the whole thing just feel like a light, enjoyable ride, like it should. It ain’t fucking Shakespeare, nor should it be.

It’s also worth noting that this is a sequel/soft-reboot in the Tiger Mask series (which I did not know when watching the first episode) first released in 1969. Though the series can seemingly stand on its own, the show undoubtedly has a very retro sensibility, which I happen to rather enjoy.

It might not be your cup of tea, but you know, I’m the one who wasted time writing this.
Current score: 7.25/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

TOUKEN RANBU: HANAMARU

vlcsnap-2016-10-16-06h20m20s763
Summary: You remember Kantai Collection, that show that aired like a year ago about the game based around warships personified as cute girls? Imagine that, but famous swords from Japanese history personified into a gaggle of bishounens, and you get Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru.

Harubro:
Good for Dogakobo sticking to their guns on this, as the content through the first two episodes has just been mainly “watch the varying personalities of the gaggle of swordboys bounce off one another with gags and reaction faces peppered throughout,” plus a few minutes of action or pondering their respective feelings for their former wielders to cap it all off. It is a good-natured and borderline watchable slice of life show, if not anything special.

I really don’t have much else to offer with this show other than that I enjoyed the OP and EDs sung by the voice actors, my enjoyment of which has been noted in past reviews. Of note with Touken Ranbu is each episode’s ED, which so far have been sung by the focal characters of each episode, which I guess is neat.

From what I can surmise, Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru incorporates elements of the game it based on well enough. There’s an allegedly clumsy Master not shown to the viewers that presents a lineup of whom they send to battle the big bads every episode. I certainly doesn’t get an impression of anything grand going on here, but the show doesn’t pretend to be anything grand, so power to it.

I’m unsure if this show truly is my shtick or not, but it’s given me no reason to drop it thus far. I’ll stick around for the time being.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

TRICKSTER

vlcsnap-2016-10-15-08h13m44s951
Summary:
Sometime in the 2030s, the prominent detective Kogorou Akechi assembles a team of young detectives called the “Boys’ Detective Team” to solve mysteries big and small. One day, team member Kensuke Hanasaki meets an apparently immortal boy named Yoshio Kobayashi. Kobayashi is antisocial (because of course he is) and has a death wish he can’t fulfill. Hanasaki takes an interest in Kobayashi and invites him to join the Boys’ Detective Team. Things happen, and it looks like the Team is set to face off against the big bad Fiend with Twenty Faces.

Harubro:
Awwwwwww yeah, this is Trickster, and it’s my token edgelord grimdark hatewatch show of the season, easily set to the tune of Evanescence and Three Days Grace! I mean, not even one minute into this thing we get our first hopelessly emo monologue by walking sob story Yoshio Kobayashi where he prattles on about death being a “gift bestowed to those who live.” Not my words, the show’s own!

Oh, did I mention that this is yet another anime based (and I mean LOOSELY based) on Edogawa Ranpo’s works? If you watched Game of Laplace (I hope you didn’t) last year, you may recall a couple of names, such as our poor little bastard Yoshio. In Laplace, Yoshio was an effeminate pretty boy whose own best friend thought impure thoughts about him. In Trickster, we just have a down on his luck vagrant with a death wish that will never come to fruition due to some mysterious wind force field power he can’t control. Most of this show’s entertainment value derives from a slight sense of gallows humor that I get when Yoshio’s shitty circumstances come to light.

Our first episode starts with one of Yoshio’s failed suicide attempts before introducing us to noisy Naruto wannabe Hanasaki, a member of a so-called Boys’ Detective Team assembled by Kogorou Akechi (ha!) to help resolve all of the tasks and mysterious things in this generic 2030’s city. Hanasaki is tasked with retrieving a client lost dog, and oh-so-predictably Orange Tracksuit meets In The End, but not before the puppy meets an also predictable gruesome end due to Papercut’s weird ability. Things happen with the two, and before you know it, a tenuous acquaintanceship is struck up with Tracksuit swearing to kill Bleed It Out if the latter so desires. God, this show is beautiful.

Other things happen, like Akechi having a run-in with our alleged villain, the Fiend with Twenty Faces after a botched attempt at… Oh, who cares? Twenty Faces is voiced by GACKT, who performs Trickster’s OP, one that I can’t help but get some stupidly cheesy 80’s vibe from. The ED is decent, if only because I know my suffering is coming to a close as I watch it.

I’ve written way too much about this show already, so just let me get down to the nitty-gritty here:

Is Trickster better than Big Order?

Yes.
Current score: 3.5/10, which is 3.5 points better than Big Order
Still watching (reluctantly) after 2 episodes.

WWW.WORKING!! (WWW.WAGNARIA!!)

cap-workingSummary: Daisuke Higashida was living a fairly comfortable life with no need for a job until his oblivious father’s company went bankrupt. Now needing to pay for a few of his own expenses, he seeks out part-time work at Wagnaria, a local family restaurant, but between balancing school and work and his eccentric co-workers, he may be getting more than he bargained for.

Yatahaze:
After three successful seasons, the original run of Working!! (alt. title Wagnaria!!) at last came to a close one year ago. For all intents and purposes, this iteration of the franchise is either an alternate universe or alternate branch spin-off, not a directly related prequel, sequel, or side story. First-time watchers potentially could start here, because while the Hokkaido setting remains the same right down to the same spatial layout of the restaurant, the characters are new and there are enough different dynamics at play that WWW is essentially its own show, not one reliant on tropes or callbacks to previous Working material.

That said, most of the callbacks that do exist are inherently funnier with knowledge of the original Working’s quirks. Primary redheaded love interest Hana Miyakoshi subverts expectations of being another Inami, acting brash and up front with people instead of shy (though the punching remains). Older lazy woman Kisaki Kondou likewise contrasts with her original counterpart Kyouko by actually being intelligent, and the restaurant’s proper boss…well, he’s gone from being physically absent to absent-minded, meaning there’s one more player in the bullpen in case the rest of the cast wears thin. Though Working’s director had changed across its first 3 seasons, Yumi Kamakura becomes its first repeat one here, adding the advantage of someone who knows how to manipulate the show’s previous dynamics into effective new gags. Not to mention sly cameos!

Working had always been a series that improved with time, allowing new character developments to stew before arriving in the forefront, and I’m hoping for similar results here; about half the cast feels comfortably fun already, but the other half is rather unremarkable. The rapport of new cooks Adachi and Kouno feels tame and unsatisfying in comparison to old staples Satou and Souma, while the decades-old relationship between stubborn rich girl Shiho Kamakura and debt-ridden Yuuta Shindou offers room for gags but also feels rather one-note at present. Daisuke himself is as big a problem as any; as the main character in the previous Working, Souta’s insistence that he was the most normal guy at the restaurant when he clearly wasn’t was one of his most endearing qualities. He had his own weaknesses and eccentricities, and his relationships at home felt organic, even if a bit exaggerated. With Daisuke, the opposite is true; introduced as a bit cynical, booksmart, and mopey over trivial things, he’s a much less endearing protagonist than his predecessor and the show as a whole suffers from it.

We’ll see with time if the series can leverage these character inequalities in some way, and if I had to put my money on a guess, I’d bet it will. Even if it doesn’t, the Working franchise has proven before that what starts centered on a few main characters with surrounding peripheral ones soon transforms into an interwoven web in which everyone receives substantial screen time. With a generally more laid-back cast but just as many gags up its sleeve, WWW doesn’t quite escape the shadow of its franchise’s previous work (nor would I personally recommend it over Working proper), but it’s got enough going for it that I have no reason to believe the show won’t be worth the watch the whole season through.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

YURI!!! ON ICE

cap-yuriSummary: At a world-stage ice skating competition, stress causes 23-year-old Yuri Katsuki to trip up and come in last. After returning home to Kyushu with little popularity, now fully graduated from college, eager to eat some comfort food and considering retiring from figure skating, video of a personal performance for a friend at a local skating rink goes viral and catches the eye of Russian skating superstar Victor Nikiforov and his young national prodigy, Yuri Plisetsky, both of whom end up traveling to Japan – the former with the hope of training Yuri K., the latter with the hope of getting his countryman’s attention back.

Yatahaze:
Yuri on Ice isn’t a show I thought I’d enjoy as much as I have so far. Sure, slice-of-lifes and subdued personal dramas are right up my alley, but on the flip side of that coin, figure skating and well-toned pretty boys are not. The series’ early promotional art and stray sakuga clips I had seen made it appear as a one-tone melodramatic bishounen-fest, something that I may have been able to put aside if its comeback story plot was good enough, but only just.

However, those worries were almost entirely dispelled when within the show’s opening minutes, our main character transformed into a cartoonish blob and gave the audience a rapid-fire expository introduction. The tone shifted a countless number of times during this opening segment, from ditsy to somber to aggressive to guilty, demonstrating a plethora of different moods, all surprisingly flowing well from one to the next. Yuri on Ice nailed the set-up, and by the time our protagonist came home, I knew the series’ interplay between hamminess and straight-faced-ness was carefully calculated and knew when to let each side take the reins. It’s also great that Yuri (still talkin’ bout the Japanese one here) is a humble and conflicted but not particularly aggravating character; he doesn’t mope about his failures the way a teenager in a sports show would, he just gets back in the groove of his everyday life and ponders where to go from there.

“Where to go from there” turns out to be back into the pot (on ice?), after his futile romantically-charged performance hits the web courtesy of his love interest’s…kids. Both their (the Nishimori’s) and Yuri’s families are a huge plus for Yuri on Ice, helping to cement that dichotomy between the comfort of home and intrusiveness of his rival and mentor, not to mention the press. Back to that performance real quick though; MAPPA is doing an above-average job with the visuals all-around, but they really put their all into the skating sequences without sacrificing everything else. Beyond the animation quality itself, the subtle differences between Victor’s original dance and Yuri’s rendition were intensified by the emotional stakes in each. As Yuri’s former coach and family friend Minako mentions, Victor’s performance doesn’t suit him – it’s feigning the youthful naïveté and longing that Yuri’s demonstrates so well, even if his is in turn a little less polished. That’s an important distinction to make on its own, and an even more important one given that it’s implied Victor’s whole purpose in tracking Yuri down isn’t necessarily to boost this foreign fan up – it’s to rekindle the inspiration he’s starting to lose. Although his current student, Russian Yuri only has his eyes on the prize, and it’s with Japanese Yuri (who Victor repeatedly asks personal questions to upon meeting) that he thinks his answer may lay. While Victor’s sight is beyond them, the two Yuris butting heads is incredibly entertaining, and their rivalry promises to be a high point throughout the series, setting up the potential for the classic but essential “raw talent vs. practice” debate.

However, all that praise probably won’t mean shit to you if the very thought of dancing men turns you off. Yuri on Ice isn’t shy about making suggestive jabs at its content, and Victor straight-up kisses his own male coach in an episode 2 flashback. In comparison, both Yuris are set against each other in a way that will make the fangirls ship regardless of relevance to their actual sexualities, which seem straight as an arrow for the moment. If Yuri on Ice sacrifices its story for sex appeal, that’d be a massive waste of potential, but I’m pretty sure the most we’ll get on that front is Victor being a tease. While I’d understand if that bothers some people enough to stop watching altogether, it’d be a shame if they did over its current level. Yuri on Ice is one of the season’s most well-rounded and promising new watches based on story, characterization, visual design, and overall entertainment value, and a little bit of man ass ain’t gonna prevent me from keeping up with it.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
Yuri on Ice has so many elements in it that I love, and yet I still feel this weird disconnect between how I think I should feel when watching the show and how I actually feel. Like, Yuri is good, perhaps even great, and yet while I find myself able to appreciate its quality, I am unable to honestly say that I’ve personally felt any more connection with it than I did with any show which I thought was just fine.

Perhaps it’s due to the nonstop energy of certain scenes clashing with the more serene moments, which really make you step back and appreciate the artistry at work. Perhaps it’s because I tend not to dig sports anime. Perhaps it’s just a slow burn and I have to give it more time.

I certainly haven’t given up on this show, and I can definitely see myself watching all the way through, but for right now, despite all that the show has done well, I feel just a little underwhelmed by the package as a whole.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

march-ep-2-its-lit
It’s lit indeed, but that’s it for this time! Join us in about a month for an update on what shows we’ve kept up with. In the meantime, as always, you can follow Yata and Haru on Twitter and all three of us on MAL. What are you guys enthusiastic about this season? Leave us a comment, start some discussion, reach out via social media, you know the drill. Til’ next time, this has been Yata, Haru, and Catche writing For Great Justice!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s