Fall 2016 Mid-Season Thoughts

We’re back! I hope all our American readers had a happy Thanksgiving, just as we attempted to with varying levels of success. Just like some leftovers can sit at the back of the fridge and go bad after a while, so too can anime outstay their welcome. With an exception or two, it’s bad show scrapping time, and Yata and Haru are here to bring to you a quick mid-season update on where things stand heading into the season’s final stretch. We hope you enjoy it!

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FLIP FLAPPERS

cap-flip-flappersYatahaze:
Thoughts on Flip Flappers, a few weeks in: “I have no clue what the fuck is going on.”

Thoughts on Flip Flappers, 2 months in: “I still definitely have no clue what the fuck is going on.”

And frankly, I ain’t complainin’! Some series can just get away with being episode-by-episode arthouses, and Flip Flappers is one of them. Whether Pure Illusion takes us to a Mad Max-style wasteland, a desert island, a girls’ school from hell, or a trip through a classmate’s memories, the constant is an absolutely enthralling experience with stunning visual direction and a desire to immediately rewatch whatever spectacle just graced my eyes. Is that enough to carry a show singlehandedly? In most cases, no, and when FlipFlap runs into one of its weaker episodes (still pretty good by most standards), then I find myself searching for a bit more overarching substance to latch onto.

Mixed success follows, and I think that’s due to a mixture of how intentionally vague the show is keeping its high-substance information and how distracted I am from looking for it during its peaks of momentum. What we do know is that Cocona & Papika, as well as Yayaka’s crew, are looking for these crystals called “amorphous,” the latter of which maybe jokingly says is for world domination, while our main duo is FlipFlap’s means of not falling behind. While in Pure Illusion, revealed by now to be a separate but adjacent dimension to the real world where anything can go, Cocona and Papika have to have their “impedances” minimized in order to stay near each other and thus more efficiently collect the amorphous. Regarding the dimension itself, Dr. Salt lampshades that upholding its structural integrity is futile, as friction is inevitable there. In the meantime, Cocona is growing reluctantly more open towards Papika and there are theories now even suggesting that the two are actually one in mind. Whether they’re separate or not, it’s a fact that Cocona is struggling to admit this uninhibited part of herself exists, and concerns about her personality and frustration set a wonderful backdrop for Pure Illusion to play with her insecurities and fears. Meanwhile, she has strange dreams of her own, floating down a dark river reminiscent of a painting in her school, with a figure who I’m assuming is her late mother guiding their boat.

Each standalone episode is overflowing with symbolism and apparent red herrings, quirky conversations and even quirkier universes with illogical logic. To call Flip Flappers a thrill downplays how much attention I feel like has to be put into it just to extract all the clues one possibly can. With no solidified purpose and each piece of this puzzle subject to its own whimsy, the show is as much a romp through the unconscious as it is a character study of its lead protagonist coping with confused emotion in adolescence, FLCL-style. I’d do awful things to get more anime of this nature or vision separately, so together, and at this sleek caliber? Man, Flip Flappers is a wild ride that keeps your eyes peeled and your brain on overdrive. Where it actually leads could make or break everything it’s down up until now, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks this interpretative build-up isn’t tantalizing enough to fall into on its own merit.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

GAKUEN HANDSOME

cap-gakuenYatahaze:
The boys love spoof of the century is still rolling strong. More absurd situations, more terrible art, more blatant mockery of anime shorts, it’s got everything I need to force some laughter out of my dying soul at the start of each week. Gakuen Handsome isn’t necessarily at its best when it’s trying to tell a story (in other words, the “Mitsurugi becomes a fashion model” subplot probably didn’t need to take up two episodes), but it thrives off small incongruous details you may not catch because of everything else going on. For instance, why was the little sister there at the all-boys school in that one incongruous shot? Why does this kid’s personality 180 every couple of scenes? Why is the “last time on Gakuen Handsome” bit literally the entire previous episode sped up with some grayscale thrown on top of it?

Because Gakuen Handsome is a visionary masterpiece and fuck you, that’s why. It’s nice to know real innovation is still possible in this crippling world.
Current score: Sexy/10
Still watching after 8 episodes.

THE GREAT PASSAGE (FUNE WO AMU)

cap-great-passageYatahaze:
In a season overflowing with exceptional series and surprisingly satisfying speculative picks, The Great Passage occupies the bottom rung of what’s still worth watching, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with its plot’s minimal shortcomings. Rather, I can’t help but get the impression that a story like this one is simply more naturally suited for adaptation in a medium that’s not anime, because The Great Passage’s biggest downside is that this version doesn’t seem to be bringing anything particularly new to the table. There are strengths and weaknesses to every medium, and some of anime’s are the ability to produce unnatural camera positions and display fantastical settings that live action can’t without the assistance of intense special effects. The Great Passage is, by its inherent workplace and adult romance themes, not a show where using those techniques would feel natural, so it does its thing and manages to get by fine enough, but has me left with the simple question; why bother?

Still, the base material makes for a sound and endearing show; the voice acting is wonderful and really gives you the boost that its small and generally reserved cast needs. From Hiroshi Kamiya’s outgoing, lazy, snark as Nishioka to Takahiro Sakurai’s stuttering, awkward delivery as Majime, the acting is superb and fully conveys the insecurities and sentiments behind each character, even extending to the elderly coworkers and side characters. Granny Take in particular is just so good like omg, best anime grandma 2016.

The Dictionary Editorial Dept.’s new challenges with short-staffing and additional projects present a clear hurdle to pass that some of the show’s earlier episodes lacked, and Majime’s adorable interactions with Kaguya feel grounded in a dorky, adult manner, where no overreaction is then followed up by another overreaction, even though each of them is trying to collect their own thoughts as much as pick up on each other’s. The Great Passage is slow, tender, and generally soft-spoken, but that makes it a soothing and optimistic (even if somewhat stiff) watch in a season full of manic and dramatic ones.

A few minor pitfalls detract from its overall enjoyability; the Dictionary character shorts mid-episode utterly kill the realistic mood the show works so hard to set up, and the series’ sluggish early pacing was further compounded by Zexcs being inconsistent with their visual shots, some featuring wonderful, fluid animation and others ruined by Flowers of Evil-style faces and awkward proportions. Things seem to be moving in a more consistent direction now that The Great Passage has a firmer conflict in its sights and a more stabilized romantic undercurrent to work with. It’s hardly the season’s most noteworthy or essential show, but it’s a nice addition to the watchlist for anyone who wants a small dose of mature rom-com this fall.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH (SHUUMATSU NO IZETTA)

cap-izettaYatahaze:
Izetta certainly knows the crowd it’s trying to appeal to, and it’s doing a fairly decent job at it. That crowd unfortunately happens to align more with fans of the “yuri leads tease each other” sort than the “let’s make a cohesive, imaginative war fantasy” one, and I don’t think anything I say will convince the people who enjoy this stuff to change their mind. But hey, let’s try.

Differences in preference aside, there are just some outright poor writing choices on display here that stick out as particularly contrived to stir up or downplay non-existent drama; Jonas stumbling upon news of Izetta’s power and then coincidentally only telling an enemy spy, a whole episode in the middle of the war devoted to eating out in public with “disguises,” the German strategy of creating a bionic witch of their own, and now the Americans’ (sorry, “Atlantans’”) plan to ditch the Allies and become their own third power? This is just cringy, guys. Come on.

What’s worse is that for all its facepalm-worthy moments (a favorite of mine includes these mid-20th century vessels shooting green laser beams), there isn’t too much inherently awful about Izetta; it’s largely down to underutilized potential. The battles are fairly entertaining, and I’ve loved the set design throughout, how the sense of scope and geography feel weighted and carefully plotted out. At the very least, it helps smoothen out the flow and compensates for the bland alternate reality political universe. Izetta’s power source coming from natural means in the terrain instead of innate magic also gives the battles weight, as Eylstadt has to figure out how to mask her weaknesses and the audience knows that at any given point, she’s not necessarily invincible. Unfortunately, Finé’s early strong leadership has more recently been swapped out for vague confirmations that she knows what she’s doing and “Izetta can handle it,” and a majority of the duo’s screentime is now used to show off fanservice instead. With underdeveloped lore, ditsy characterization, and cookie-cutter visuals, the backbone of the show feels empty more than it does interesting.

All of this is to say that Izetta by now frustrates far more than it satisfies. I figured it would happen eventually and was more just a matter of when. “When” turned out to be these last two or three weeks.
Final score: 4.5/10
Dropped after 8 episodes.

KIITAROU’S YOUKAI PICTURE DIARY

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Harubro:
Chalk this entry up to me being bored enough to start it.

Despite its paltry 5.92 average rating on MAL, I am finding Kiitarou’s Youkai Picture Diary to be somewhat more enjoyable than the background noise would seem to imply. By no means is this a great show, but it does have its flicker of excellence here and there. This is a rather inconsistent short in some odd ways. Content wise, it’s the standard-fare slapstick one would expect out of a short: easy hits and easy misses with punchlines predicated on mostly how ridiculous most of these youkai seem to be.

For example, quality-wise, the first three episodes were about on par from what one would expect from a three or four minute long short — decent, perhaps even good stuff. Then episode four arrived, and holy shit, that was extraordinarily quality stuff — the animation seemed more fluid, the colors popped, and the lighting was brilliant. Sadly, it seems whoever was in charge of art direction for the 4th episode went back to their cubby hole, because everything went to normal in the following week. In spite of that, there still seems to always be at least one glimmer of brilliance to each episode. I’ve seen some of Creators in Pack’s previous works (such as Danchigai and Oji-san and Marshmallow) and Kiitarou does feel to be something of a cut above the rest of their productions thus far.

Hell, if you’ve got a bit of time to waste, see if this show is a fit for you. It’s only four minutes of your time to find out.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

MAGICAL GIRL RAISING PROJECT (MAHOU SHOUJO IKUSEI KEIKAKU)

cap-mahou-option-2Yatahaze:
Every once and a while, you come across a show that’s a little too absurd to recommend to the average person, but you know in your heart is consistent and entertaining and sound on its own logic and basically doing enough things right to feel like a success. This season, that show is Magical Girl Raising Project; every so often, it straddles the line between edgy and edgy a little too much, but its diverse set of characters and the intricate web of alliances and betrayals they’ve acted on since the start of the season has made for a gripping thrill ride. I particularly love how the audience, much like most of the cast, is kept in the dark behind the mechanics of why this battle royale scenario even exists in the first place, and I kind of casually enjoy that the current apparent theory is “because someone who wanted to fight cut a deal with Fav to make this their reward for previous victory.” It’s crass and conniving, but there’s a point to it, and that’s the one thing I feared MGRP would lack.

Instead, a new problem appeared in the last few weeks, and while it’s a bit of a bummer, it’s not invasive enough to ruin the show’s appeal outright; predictability. There is, generally speaking, a pretty clear idea at the start of any given episode who will find themselves in trouble (or dead) by the end of it, in part because of eyecatch ability spoilers and often last-minute scenes from the characters’ daily lives out-of-mahou-shoujo form. Those sequences in particular I have mixed thoughts on; I’m mostly glad that we get some peek into these people’s actual lives at all, and I just wish they were spread out more throughout the course of the show so that they don’t only become relevant within a week of a character’s downfall. There are exceptions to every rule, that one included (thank God, long live Top Speed), but if we’re being given the glance into what makes a character tick, the last thing I want to see them do soon after is, you know, stop ticking.

“What makes them tick” is sometimes a bit oversimplified too, as abuse and traumatic memories are glossed over with little nuance. Something’s better than nothing (I don’t think I’d put up with Ripple as much if she were poised as aloof and abrasive for the sake of it, for instance), but there’s a better middle ground available than the route the show tends to take. Either way, it’s not uncommon for series whose premises are essentially “heroes, BUT DARK” to opt for this, and most of the time, the sheer edge inherent in the show’s tone plays it off as rather natural, all things considered. It’s a free-for-all, after all, and with the sub-sets of characters rather well positioned now and a less expansive cast to display with each passing episode, the characterization is coming out increasingly smooth through one-on-one conversations about the game, philosophy, shitty life circumstances, and more. It takes some work for a show with upwards of 17 main characters to make each of them to feel memorable and important in their own right, and that’s not an accomplishment I’ve seen acknowledged enough with MGRP. With only two more magical girls set to disappear before Fav’s initial conceit of “let’s narrow you 16 down to 8” wraps up, I’m starting to think the series’ endgame may change, but hey, if that means more genuinely intense politicking and ambushing with the same silly undercurrent the show has provided thus far, I’m all in. Just last 5 more weeks. Or 6 more months. Whichever.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 8 episodes.

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

cap-marchYatahaze:
March Comes in Like a Lion confidently continues its run of somber success. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen depression portrayed this accurately in an anime for an extended period of time, and now that Rei’s hitting a shogi slump and we understand the broader context of what left him the guilt-ridden way he is and why he’s living alone, the show’s just gotten all the more gripping. This may not necessarily be my favorite show of the season, but that’s more because at some points, it hits the nail on the head so hard that its resonance becomes a tough pill to swallow. While its pace remains rather leisurely, lines like “I say I have no reason to win, but why is it so painful when I lose?” and “If you’re [making dinner] for yourself, it’s just a hassle to even cook some rice” reflect perfectly the difficulty of just carrying on because you know you have to, but being overwhelmed by every nagging thought in your head 24/7.

Trapped in that headspace, conversations more often become invasive than comforting; claustrophobic cuts, shots trapping Rei behind bars, and awkward silences dominate March’s lengthier sequences, and the show’s more upbeat tone, spurred on usually by either the younger Kawamotos, their pets, or Nikaidou, present the kind of back and forth that once you enter, you can’t just leave from. Some people have complained this makes the show’s tone too jarring when it abruptly shifts back and forth, but I beg to differ. The success of these scenes has a pretty high hit rate as far as pulling Rei into his surroundings, and it’s in that weird limbo between the two extremes where March finds its solace. You can knock yourself down all you want, but sometimes, a hand there to lift you up won’t take no for an answer. There’s differing progress day to day; some nights you’ll go to bed with tears in your eyes, some afternoons you’ll make a new friend who gives you a boost in confidence, but there’s a weird stasis to depression that implies it will linger regardless of any momentary good news. It’s not the kind of thing I expect Rei to “overcome” by the end of March; in his case, I’m not so sure he’d be able to, but at the very least, I hope to see him feel a bit better a bit more regularly. God knows how attached I’ve grown to the poor kid in the last month and a half, and he deserves more light and freedom in his life than he’s been given.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the show remains a stellar standout of the season. The direction is commanding, and the art is breathtaking, using warm, blurry hues for the series more friendly moments and a darker, shadowy palette in times of isolation, both combined for the serenity of the blue moonlit sky in Sangatsu Block. Furthermore, the sound design is meticulous, the score is gorgeous, and the voice acting is spot on, so I really don’t have any production complaints. If the series can find a little more consistency in its attempts at humor, March Comes in Like a Lion has the hallmarks of being a truly unstoppable series.
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

OCCULTIC;NINE

cap-occulticYatahaze:
I’m not sure where to begin here, or how to even base my argument of “this is fantastic, you should watch it,” when the core of this show is so goddamn divisive.

So I guess we’ll just start there: Occultic;Nine is fantastic. You should watch it.

I know what you may be thinking. “That first episode was unbearable, the main character is sack of otaku shit, etc.” And yeah, you’re not really wrong, but O;9 is soooo much more than that now, and arguably was even from the very beginning. There’s something about the chemistry between the members of this cast which makes every encounter between them feel like an actual conversation on steroids, torrentially flowing over like Niagara fuckin’ Falls. The dialogue, especially from intentionally overbearing characters like Shun and Yuuta, flies by at a breakneck pace as the former tries to overwhelm the recipient of his words in order to back them into a corner and spill some beans. Yuuta has basically been a mental trainwreck since episode 2, almost constantly fearful of being followed by someone catching onto his involvement with the crime scene at the Professor’s office. The worst thing a mystery show can do is not occupy its screentime with enough leads; that makes its true circumstances increasingly obvious and predictable, and Occultic;Nine understands that and bypasses it by instead focusing on clippings of conversations across its disjointed but colliding cast so that the viewer can pick up some essential pieces without being able to figure out the whole picture too far in advance.

I mean, it also helps that the grandest reveal came out of absolutely fucking nowhere in the sixth episode, highlighting a boardroom meeting of something called The Scandium Project, whose members juggle the rationality and morality of killing all its first-round test subjects in order to most cautiously continue forward with their plan to separate the soul from the human body based on the late Professor’s research.

So yeah, that happened. Also, many if not all 9 the titular main characters are presumably dead, part of the 256 offed under mass hypnosis of some sort to draw media attention away from the project itself. This show is not one for slowing down when it’s able to either, as that same episode, a portion of the crew chases down a mysterious ghostly-white boy who reveals he killed a friend of theirs for his kotoribako (“sacrifice box”), yet another dangerous piece of the puzzle as suggested by the doujinshi which supposedly inspired (predicted?) the Professor’s death in the first place. We may not know why or how some of these murders and supernatural phenomena came to be or are directly connected just yet, but that’s not immediately pertinent, so we’ll cross those tracks when we come to them – so far, nothing presented feels contradictory in-narrative, rather just the right amount of stimulating and roundabout.

I understand if that’s a liability instead of an asset for you, and that type of narrative storytelling certainly isn’t for everyone, but even despite it, Kyohei Ishiguro’s direction across the show’s 7 episodes thus far has been absolutely thrilling and an undeniable best of 2016 contender. Keeping the pace brisk, he overwhelms the viewer with unusual angles, relegates the pettiest of the show’s characters to distant corners of the frame, and jerkily cuts to startling shots at moments of maximum suspense. All this visual narration makes for a completely enveloping experience, where even the series’ sillier aspects feel like aberrations from the more mysterious, brooding norm. The overall dark palette furthers the sensation that the environment is out to get someone at any moment, and the faint edges on character designs and backgrounds are a nice touch to emphasize that a majority of the main cast isn’t exactly among the living anymore. Beyond that, the animation is the most consistently fluid I’ve seen from an A-1 show in ages, and for all the potential claims that Occultic;Nine is playing up the edge and grimdark, there’s gotta be something said for how well it makes you feel like you’re right there in each room or alleyway, at risk yourself while witnessing all this madness unfold firsthand instead of like a vicarious onlooker from afar.

Much like this season’s other prime mystery show, Flip Flappers, I think how much Occultic;Nine will stand the test of time will come down to how well it wraps up its loose ends, but for the time being, the journey is incredibly exciting and rewarding to watch. The best I can offer is that anyone who dropped it early but had genuine interest in it give it a second chance, and should you not, oh well. At the risk of sounding like as much of a pretentious blowhard as the protagonist who took up its first episode, I think that would only be your loss.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

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

cap-pocoYatahaze:
Of all the shows I continued past this season’s first impressions article, I think I sounded most negatively about Poco’s Udon World; its debut episodes downplayed the potential it had in store and it kind of blew a critical hook reveal in the first episode. Since then however, the show has just gotten more and more heartwarming as the weeks pile on, a bright and good-natured Saturday pick-me-up on a day whose other new episodes tend to specialize in edge (MGRP, O;9) and depression (3-gatsu).

I think in addition to finding a more steady rhythm dealing with its titular kid, the series also wiggled its way into adult struggles better, and it did this not just by pointing to specific past experiences or realities to reminisce about, but by quietly contrasting Souta’s current life with his peers’, friends’, and coworkers’. There’s an understanding and responsible heart at the core of Poco’s Udon World that I don’t think really started to rear its head until episode 4, but ever since it appeared, it hasn’t shrunk back into its hole, and the series is all the better for it. I don’t think Souta will end up re-opening the udon shop (could be totally wrong there, but w/e), as I think it’d be a betrayal of his opportunity to continue his current career having just resettled back in Kagawa for good. Rather, the shadow of the shop on his life represents the time he spent arguing with his late father over his future, something contrasted with buddy Shinobu’s spat with his own dad.

Crossing over generation gaps, the brunt of Poco’s Udon World is carried by a protagonist allowing himself to re-discover his home community again after a decade a feeling like he had to get away. While that’s not as overtly stated as the easier-to-complain-about growing pains, it forms the framework that every interaction in the series is built upon, and Poco himself to fill the moments in between with his curious charisma is beyond adorable. I’d be lying if I said this thing had the most original premise or was doing anything outstanding in terms of execution, but it’s quickly become one of my most anticipated watches each week, and that has to count for something.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

SOUND! EUPHONIUM 2 (HIBIKE! EUPHONIUM 2)

cap-euphoYatahaze:
Sound! Euphonium’s second season may be cooling down from its early 45-minute peak debut, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting any worse. In fact, the extent of criticism I’ve seen regarding this sequel is merely the reminder that yeah, it’s a sequel, and doesn’t have a prime stopping point or clear-cut thematic undercurrent across the entirety of its run that a first season is more prone to. That’s a minor nitpick in my eyes, but then again, once a cast full of endearing leads is established and there’s ample room for them to bounce off each other, the very term “manufactured conflicts” doesn’t carry with it the same weight that it would if the show were an utter mess or just trying to find its identity.

Take the mini arc of relatively new character Mizore Yoroizuka coming out of her self-induced shell and learning to embrace her experience with the rest of the band despite the absence of her friend Nozomi, who left prior to the events of the show due to infighting. I can understand why to somebody else, that may play off as manufactured, but aside from simply introducing a new character to the fray, that arc didn’t work against anything else Euphonium had built up before; in fact, I think it gracefully highlighted an extended look into how the various members of Kitauji hold their band so dearly; there’s no reason to say friendship isn’t as meaningful a motivator as aspirations to be the best or just continuing on for the fun of it. Ultimately, these kids are still just kids, figuring out what they want to do in life, and extra-curriculars should be a guide, not a punishment. Kumiko’s self-determination to attach herself with the band held a significant chunk of importance in season 1, and that self-determination with other members was echoed well here.

Side characters like Yuuko and Natsuki continued to get significant development and airtime throughout this arc in a manner which still allowed Kumiko to act as the audience’s central rock, her curiosity getting herself (and us) in a little deeper than we’d otherwise be able to see. That character growth doesn’t stop there either, as Taki-sensei got an especially heartwrenching half-episode in memory of his late wife and more recently, Haruka had a shining moment of glory after external concerns lead to Asuka’s mother trying to pull her daughter from the band. It can’t be left unemphasized just how big an impact these small events have on the band at large, or at least the people who know about them, because as any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an ensemble is only as prepared as its most distracted member.

Fortunately, the in-narrative drama was resolved in time for a spectacular fifth episode, one whose performance scene took up nearly 7 straight minutes of no dialogue, no nonsense musicianship. Taki’s emotional conducting was superbly spliced in between a focused and inspired Kitauji putting their all in and then nervously hoping for the best. In spite of all the club’s trouble over the past year, their work finally paid off, as they not only receive gold, but will go on to represent Kansai in a National Competition later in the series. As expected, the sound design was stunning and the performance absolutely captivating; of all the hypothetical complaints someone could levy at Sound! Eupho, I don’t think even the most callous of souls would try to claim the passionate and skillful musical performances are a weak point.

And thus I think what’s really making Sound! Euphonium season 2 feel a little less amazing than its predecessor (something even I’ll admit) is that instead of picking up from scratch and slowly rising to one central high point that connects all its threads, this season is reaching those moments in spurts. In many ways, season 2 feels even slice-of-life-ier than its first; slow days drudge by, distracting drama unfolds and lingers, and there’s a lot of anticipation towards the bigger moments on the calendar. None of this is to say that Euphonium is a poor continuation of its source material – in no way is it – but when you’ve already set such a high bar (and you’re airing in one of the most stacked seasons in recent memory), even going through the motions with stunning production prowess and several new solid (but less central) conflicts can put you under the microscope for scrutiny. Make no mistake, Twophonium is still golden…I think I’ve just grown accustomed to that and am looking for it to really push itself into uncharted brilliance.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

TOUKEN RANBU: HANAMARU

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Harubro:
What the hell am I still doing here?

I thought for sure that my ADHD would’ve tuned Touken Ranbu out now, but perhaps the credit for my persisting with this show should go to the fact that its storytelling is about as ADHD as I am. I’m sure part of that is due to the sheer amount of personalities this show has to work around, because I think we’re up to around 25-ish swordboys thus far? Maybe more? I’ve lost count at this point, because Kiyomitsu and Yasusada (the two pictured above) get more screentime than most of the other swordboys combined.

The vast number of cast members doesn’t quite spell doom for some semblance of a focused plot. As of late, each episode has had a bit of focus around some of the more prestigious characters from the game, such as the Toushiro brothers’ (who are based on a collection of blades forged by the Awataguchi) eager anticipation of the arrival of Ichigo Hitofuri, their elder brother and an apparently difficult character to acquire in the game. Touken Ranbu had even been building this reunion up for a few episodes, with the Toushiro boys writing wishes for his arrival down on the tags they hung from the cherry tree, or gathering small mementos for his eventual arrival. All of that made for a nice touch when everything came together in episode 7.

For having gone into Hanamaru with little to no expectations, so far this has been an unexpectedly enjoyable ride. Touken Ranbu’s been a decent little feel-good time waster for me this season. It isn’t underperforming, but not scuffling to do any better, either. Dogakobo really does their best when trusted with these slapstick slice-of-life shows. Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru is an adequate show when all is said and done. I’d best tread carefully from here on though, because these personification shows are quite the slippery slope to shipgirl hell.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 8 episodes

TRICKSTER

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Harubro:
Can you believe Trickster is gonna be a two cour show? I sure as shit did not see that coming. I, for one, can’t understand how (currently at 6.73 on MAL) this is beating out Occultic;Nine, or Kiitarou or even Touken Ranbu for popularity at the moment. So how do I feel my designated hate-watch show of this season (and next, apparently) is doing? Weeeeeeell…. things could certainly be a lot worse, though that OP is still corny as all hell.

That said, there’s nothing particularly right with this show, because this is about as generic shounen action mystery show as it gets, and as of week 8, it hasn’t felt the need to really push any boundaries aside from the typical gradual “development” of the characters. This so-called development led Trickster to attempt some noir-esque vignettes when recalling some of the Detective Club’s backstories alongside Hanasaki and Kobayashi’s daily proceedings, with the latter beginning to acclimate to his new routine, albeit with his typical angst. Life goes on.

I picked up Trickster expecting that it would self-immolate in spectacular fashion, because I feel the need to always have a “bad” show to watch, but I believe Big Order has well and truly wrecked my perspective on what a truly bad show is. Don’t get me wrong, the animation here varies from below-average (the cap above was the best bit that episode 8 could crap out, trust me) to train-wreck, the dialogue is perpetually stunted, and I’m still not buying what Edogawa Ranpo’s wannabe proteges have been selling. Trickster may comparatively be crap compared to Eupho, Occultic;Nine, or whatever, but it’s surely not an animated crime against humanity like Big Order was. Trickster is just another milquetoast shounen that some people will like as it goes about its run, then completely forget about once the next season’s cheap shounen show arrives.

It’s question-time again! Is Trickster is still better than Big Order?
Absolutely.

Current score: 3.5/10
Questioning whether to continue with this train wreck after 8 episodes

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

cap-workingYatahaze:
When we last posted, I mentioned that despite this series’ lukewarm effort to get the ball rolling, I figured it would find its own identity given time. Fast forward a few weeks in, and it didn’t. The less compelling characters like Kouno and Adachi still felt like screen-filler, Daisuke filled the increasingly stale low-energy cynical protagonist role a bit too well, and each other character with a hint of personality felt confined to that one personality trait. Not to say there weren’t a couple chuckle-worthy moments scattered throughout (I liked pretty much anytime the fish-out-of-water Saiki popped up), but stripping a comedy series of its vibrant, passive-aggressively endearing cast in this manner just doesn’t make for a very fun watch. It’d be one thing if I thought WWW was entertaining while having trouble finding its footing, but by week 5, it failed to snatch away my attention for anything more than a fleeting scene or two and gave no indication it would build to anything greater than a jumble of repetitive gags. In a less-packed season, I might’ve toughed it out to see, but this fall is just too damn stuffed. Sorry, Working spinoff. For me, you’re just not.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 5 episodes.

Harubro:
As I am writing this, it is almost 4:30 am. I’m gonna try to keep this bit brief, because I just want to go to S L E E P

Despite being in agreement with some of Yata’s misgivings regarding this little spinoff, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my time with this show. I think a lot of it comes down to Higashida resonating a bit with me as a character, with his somewhat cold and cynical demeanor. His near-death experiences after consuming Miyakoshi’s chocolates have yet to fail to elicit a good bit of laughs, especially once she actually tried them out for herself. With the exception of the characters like Kouno or Sakaki who justifiably get less screen time, I’ve actually enjoyed the chaotic dynamics of the other co-workers, or even Nagata, because the unrequited crush element seems to be a reliably entertaining bit for me over the years.

Thank the anime gods that this show airs on Saturdays, because with my job attempting ever-harder with every week to induce a stress-related heart attack, I have been desperate for something to lift my ever-plummeting mood. WWW.Working!! has been quite reliable (if not leading the charge) with providing the desperately needed laughs. I have been watching – and for the most part enjoying – the other more “serious” shows airing this season such as O;9, 3-Lion, and Eupho, but the comedic and comedically bad shows are the only ones I can scrape together enough motivation to write about this season.

I salute you, WWW.Working. You might not have all the charm of your predecessor, but I still love you all the same.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 8 episodes.

YURI ON ICE!!!

cap-yuri-option-1Yatahaze:
People can try to escape it all they want, but with this latest episode, I think Yuri on Ice finally went there; Yuri and Victor have something more than a simple coach and trainee relationship, and denial of that is at odds with the show’s very provocatively intimate shot framing. Like, I can understand someone’s hesitance to admit the potential for gayness in 90% of ships, but there are limits to that. This is clear directorial intent.

But frankly, Yuri on Ice is none the worse for it; in fact, the worst thing it could do is backpedal at this point and try treading a line that no longer exists. Nah, where Yuri on Ice’s biggest issue currently lies is its visual consistency. Animating skating is hard; doing it for several performances an episode several weeks on end without any slips up is nigh-impossible bar the strictest standards, and MAPPA is understandably faltering a bit here. When it has to rise up (like the emotionally-charged, high stakes episode 7), the crew prove they can do an amazing job, but the series’ potential undoing could be the moments in between where the animation itself demands just as careful attention to detail, but the plot doesn’t.

This constant animation dilemma is in part due to the introduction of several new characters, varying from multi-faceted friendly rivals to somewhat cringy comic relief and the occasional perfect hit in between. None of them seem as perfect a foil or as developed a character as Yurio, so it’ll be wonderful to see him back in the thick of things with the upcoming Russian tournament. With Victor firmly attached to his new student, Yurio will be desperate for attention again, and Yurio desperate for anything while also trying to play it cool leads to the kind of one-uppmanship and teasing that Yuri on Ice’s narrative tone is a prime fit for.

On a deeper, more personal level, the short-lived successes of Yuri on his climb to the top can’t seem to fix his underlying emotional issues; he changes his routines on the fly, gets under his own skin constantly, and very nearly caves under pressure; no manic pixie dream man can change that singlehandedly, and Victor’s own baggage has been downplayed so far but if the show wants to respect this relationship on any level, it’ll have to represent the strengths and weaknesses of these characters as people. That layer of the show is there, but often faintly, preferring to move its competitions and progress along in a timely manner. And sadly, for all the things Yuri on Ice is doing well, at this point it feels more like it’s on track to be just a slightly above-average sports show featuring a gay main duo and some silly one-liners than any sort of groundbreaking drama. To some degree, that disappoint is all about expectations, but I think that even the most diehard of Yuri fans could admit that at its core, the route Yuri on Ice looks like it will take isn’t the most original thing ever. It’s solid, and that’s about all it needs to be – but like any sports series that takes that track, the question now is “how long will this stay exciting?” and that remains to be seen.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

tumblr_oemq6cmx3z1qz64n4o1_500
And that’s it for now, but with the end of the year just around the corner, that means it’s crunchtime for some annual staples which we’ll confirm and announce in the coming weeks. We aren’t anime-blogging machines, so the amount of content we get out will probably depend on how busy our actual lives are during this next month, but we promise to release more than just a season’s end update. In the meantime, stay tuned!

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