Summer 2017 First Impressions

It’s too hot.
Antarctica is peeling apart.
Don Jr. inherited more than just a name and spare Franklins to wipe his ass with.

And yet here we are complaining about anime, because if the world’s gonna end one way or another, we might as well appreciate some rapidly moving pictures in the meantime. There’s just one problem: this season’s not produced quite as many worthwhile ones as the last handful have. For Yata, that means a ton of bubble entries with few clear standouts. For Haru and Catche, that means virtually no standouts whatsoever and a lot of trash. But it’s not our job to remark about the industry as a whole right now. If you’re here, there’s a good chance that what you’re really looking for are our thoughts about each new production on its own merit, and we’re happy to provide! Which titles appear to be at least somewhat watchable? Which ones do we recommend never speaking of again? And can American democracy be salvaged? The answers to at least those first two questions lay in our summer 2017 season first impressions below. Jump on in!

18if

Summary: Haruto Tsukishiro inhabits a dream world, where he’s quickly discovered by a mysterious girl named Lily (who appears and disappears as she pleases) and a researcher with a cat avatar named Katsumi. Katsumi is looking for Lily, and while they search, the duo also stumbles across and tries to help various “witches,” people trapped in the dream world because their bodies are stricken with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, rendering them comatose.

Yatahaze:
It alphabetically (well, sort of) comes first, but 18if was one of the last shows I checked out this season, mostly because it was flying under the radar for a lot of people and the few who did watch it didn’t leave its mindfucky, bizarre dreamscape with all the dots connected. After one episode, I can confidently say I didn’t either.

But this is one of those cases where I’m really glad our site policy is to review the first two episodes if possible: 18if’s pilot was fairly atmospheric, jumpy, and self-contained, mostly comprised of hide-and-seek. Much like the dreams it took place in, it spasmed from one setting to the next with only vague segues filling the space in between, our leads chatting amongst themselves like “hi, I don’t know what’s going on, do you?” and “nah, just that we’re in a dream, but we can still die.”

Underneath the trippy visuals and the insistence that anything could happen, the plot itself was fairly straightforward: Haruto and Katsumi were being chased down by a “witch” who got upset when they didn’t respond to her commands as she desired. After all, it was “her world.” How dare they disobey its creator? And it was eventually Haruto’s lack of any fuck-giving that turned the tables and shattered the witch’s illusion. She had only sunk into this dream world due to stress and an embarrassing incident at school. Haruto gave her the advice she needed to hear, the urge to say “fuck that” and move on with her life, and in doing so, he was able to break her out of the coma.

At this point, I figured either that would be a one-time theme, perfect for a concise introductory episode, or an overlapping conceit, and episode two clarified that it would be the latter…with much less satisfying results. This time, Haruto’s damsel in distress was a girl who watched her parents and sister gruesomely murdered at the hands of bored, heartless teenagers who escaped serious punishment because they were minors. After harboring her resentment inside for years on end, she too presumably slipped into a coma and started chasing after the culprits in their dreams with the goal of avenging her family, whose fate she only escaped because she didn’t want to converse with them right before the time of the crime anyway. Her deep hurt and trauma rubbing off on him, Haruto had to convince her that more murder wasn’t the solution to murder, but with no publicity over this ability to influence life through dreams yet, there wouldn’t be any immediate legal action if she were to go through with the killings.

And not only did she, but Haruto flat out encouraged it, even taking care of the third thug himself.

Bad justice.

And the saddest part is I think the show’s trying to build him up to be the hero still, especially considering how he casually brushed off Katsumi’s “violence begets violence, we should end this without additional death” approach. 18if was just able to pull off most of this bloody, tormented sequence in a way that genuinely felt more unsettling than it did cheesy, but atmosphere can only go so far when the protagonist, already a character barren of almost any personality, decides to praise an individual for their adeptness at breaking people’s bones and slicing them apart. As all of this went down, the series didn’t shy away from making the ugliness of revenge explicit, and it directly lampshaded how dangerous a world where you could be killed in your sleep would be. But all these ethical dilemmas boil down not to the victims, who appear to be important on an episodic basis only, but to the recurring characters, and especially Haruto, who at this point I can confidently say I don’t want to see any more of.

I still have a little hope for 18if; at the very end of the second episode, Lily appeared again, ambiguously suggesting that Haruto should learn something from his efforts, and I’m already speculating that she’s actually Katsumi’s younger sister, who herself is revealed to be riddled with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. But unless this show decides to deconstruct Haruto’s worldview, I can’t see it delivering on the rest of its themes in any particularly resonant way. As a production, 18if is plenty engaging despite its weak animation, but as a narrative, it’s jumping the gun, attempting to make us question our humanity without properly establishing its own. If I hear that it addresses this later on, I may revisit it, but as you’ll soon see, I’ve had already enough trouble narrowing down my watchlist to stick with something that left this sour a taste in my mouth.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ALTAIR: A RECORD OF BATTLES

2017-07-14 (2).pngSummary: Tughril Mahmut is a pasha serving on the Divan of the Turkiye Stratocracy. With the threat of war with a neighboring empire looming and the Divan divided on the matter of war, Mahmut seeks to maintain peace at all costs.

Catche:
With its similar use of pseudo-Middle Eastern elements in a pseudo-historical setting, Altair comes off feeling a lot like that Arslan anime that came out in Spring 2015. However, where Arslan often felt tedious and was generally a bore, Altair manages to maintain a solid sense of pacing and makes its stories and characters feel at least somewhat worthwhile.

The episodic nature of its storytelling might eventually result in a bit of a dry well when it comes to the layout of certain arcs, but so far it has provided some good plot to latch on to.

Altair isn’t fantastic and occasionally feels like it follows too closely to genre conventions, but it is an enjoyable experience which appeals to my interests. I’ll be sticking with this one for now, at least.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

BATTLE GIRL HIGH SCHOOL

2017-07-12 (2).pngSummary: The students at Shinjugammine Girls Academy train as “Star Guardians” to defeat the mysterious Irousu and take back the contaminated Earth.

Catche:
There isn’t much to say about Battle Girl High School. The limp, lifeless first episode was probably the worst premiere that I managed to catch this season. I struggle to find anything worthy of note about the series other than that everything about it is either poorly executed or excruciatingly bland.

Almost right off the bat, the series introduces a cast of nearly twenty girls all at once and fails to put a significant focus on any one character or group, making it impossible to invest in any of them. This factor is compounded by the character designs all seemingly designed around being different combinations of “x” color and white on relatively similar looking uniforms, so one really can’t draw many conclusions about characters from design.

The battle sequences, too, are poorly executed. There’s a distinct inability to convey the space in which the combatants move about, resulting in a disconnect as to where they are in relation, occasionally making it feel like characters are just swinging their weapons around in some show rather than being engaged in combat, and killing the feeling of impact that attacks should have.

And yet, despite its truly shitty quality, Battle Girl High School does not offend me. It cannot offend me in the same way that a stark white wall cannot offend me. Still, it was a supreme waste of time that I will never get back.
Final score: 2/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

A CENTAUR’S LIFE

Summary: Himeno is a centaur. Nozomi is a demon. Kyouko is a goat girl. They’re good friends.

Yatahaze:
If you’re expecting this to follow the same footsteps as last winter’s Interviews With Monster Girls, I have good news and better news. The good news: the trio in this show feels just as friendly and fun to follow as the girls at the helm of that one. The better news: it’s keeping up the social commentary, and with a couple unique twists that ensure it doesn’t just feel like an Interviews retread. That show’s whole philosophical quandary dealt with how to make demi-humans feel more welcome in a human society. In A Centaur’s Life on the other hand, everyone in the world is and has been some sort of non-human, dating back to millennia-old evolutionary mutations.

That may not seem like a huge change, but it can make for some pretty damning thematic points: first and foremost, it was stunning to see a teacher encourage her class to imagine all the unity their society could’ve enjoyed, if only they had evolved with mere differences of color.

Wink wink, nudge nudge, audience.

And to make matters more intriguing, while the world these girls live in appears to be orderly and proper at first glance, how it got to that point and to what extent it actually is aren’t entirely clear. All we know is that their government promoted “total equality, even at the expense of equitable accommodation,” which you don’t need a degree in political science to realize isn’t truly “equality.” A teacher’s sly glance to two creepy watch guards in uniform at the door while she went over a history lesson wasn’t exactly indicative of a free society either. There’s something not quite right about all this, and I’m anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But in the meantime, the three protagonists in A Centaur’s Life remain charming in a more conventional way. Slice-of-lifes often live or die on the strength of their characterization, and this show absolutely nails things in that department, all three leads feeling like natural friends with believable, engaging banter and a relaxing lack of tension. They fit in well with their class too, who we’ve already seen a healthy glimpse of and can assume will continue to be treated with the same degree of thought that the main characters are. There’s a light dash of fanservice here and there, but it isn’t as invasive or out of place as it tends to feel in most shows of this nature.

…I mean, someone on ANN mentioned there being a “vagina chapter” later, but we can address that when and if the time comes, god forbid.

Until then, A Centaur’s Life demonstrated it can pull off the elusive trick of being a shifty, suspicious watch and a happy, laid-back one at the same time, doing both sides of the coin so well that I can’t imagine myself dropping it unless it takes a complete 180 somewhere. If you’re looking for cute girls being cute with a side of eviscerating social commentary, look no further than this promising underdog.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

CHRONOS RULER

2017-07-11 (1)Summary: Wu and Victor Putin are “Chronos Rulers” who fight time-eating demons that appear when a person wishes that they could turn back time.

Catche:
Chronos Ruler is a series that I feel like I would have really enjoyed when I was 13. There’s a certain sweet spot that a series has to occupy to feel like a load of pure middle school edge, but Chronos Ruler manages to slip right in there.

The characters are all some flavor of aggressively annoying and the plot is a load of gibberish, but I almost feel a sense of admiration for how well the series captures the essence of weird prepubescent bullshit down to 24 minutes of animation.

I have seen some of the CG battle sequences compared to the infamous Hand Shakers, but they really aren’t that bad, if only due to not being quite so disastrously ambitious. The whole visual design feels very generic, down to the main character having white hair and wearing red, contrasting him with his “brother” who is designed with cooler blue clothing and black hair.

I’m dropping Chronos Ruler, because it’s a pretty self-evidently bad show. There is a weird part of me, though, that does want to continue, just to see if things manage to escalate. Alas, ‘twas not meant to be.
Final score: 4.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

CLEAN FREAK! AOYAMA-KUN

Summary: Aoyama is a soccer wiz, but his germophobia is excessive and off-putting to both his teammates and his opponents. However, behind his OCD lies a national talent and a desire to move past his fears.

Yatahaze:
And I wish I could add more to that summary, but there just isn’t much of anything else to say. Not unlike Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Aoyama-kun is a one-hit wonder that attempts to use the same joke as the basis of all its comedic gags. And I’ll admit it, when this first episode opened with a well-animated montage and a successful free kick, I was feeling the hype. I even laughed at Aoyama’s slouch out of the way as his teammates ran in for victory hugs.

But that’s it. That’s the joke, and pretty much the whole show too. Cut back to the present day and we’re reintroduced to the main character via the monologues of Kaoru Zaizen, a new teammate who doesn’t like Aoyama’s idiosyncrasies at first but grows to appreciate his hidden passion for the sport of soccer. There could be a lot of great material here: mental illnesses of ilk aren’t often represented in anime, and there were moments where I questioned if Aoyama-kun would use his OCD as not only a comedic gag, but a healthy, realistic goal for our hero to overcome.

And it still may, though by the end of its first episode, I was mostly left wondering where the show would go if it didn’t, as it seemed in no rush to address it in a manner that treats Aoyama as anything deeper than a wonder-boy who also can’t control his urges to turn into a chibi blob and avoid dirty things. It doesn’t help that its worth as a comedic gag is exhausted well before episode’s end, and there’s nary a hint of any better humor in the show. A real shame, because the production is quite decent and several of the characters look like they might have more personality than they’re letting on here, but I have to make this call based off what I’ve got in front of me, and so far I’m not seeing any promise that Aoyama-kun can shake things up or remain entertaining for more than a few minutes at a time. I can admire its drive to play, but with a performance this dull, I’m gonna have to send it back to the bench.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

DIVE!!

Summary: Tomoki Sakai has long loved diving although he’s always been a bit behind his peers in terms of talent. Despite being on the same diving team as prodigy Youichi Fujitani, whose family owns some considerable assets in the industry, their club is in some financial trouble. Their solution? Prove their worth by sending a member to Japan’s national Olympic team.

Yatahaze:
If you really like water sports, nothing about Dive!! is bad enough to sink your enjoyment. It looks fresh and clean, a hearty improvement over most of Zero-G’s other efforts, and all of its characters are at worst a little generic. They otherwise all act their age and have sensible goals and personalities, something aided by the show’s solid voice acting. These folks aren’t deep as the ocean, but they’re certainly not as shallow as the kiddie pool either.

That said, unless you really love water sports, Dive!! doesn’t do much to command your attention. What stuck out to me most was how slow its first episode felt. Normally, sports anime take one of two forms: a tale where complex characters bond while finding their way through an activity they’re passionate about, or an intensive focus on the competition itself, often drawn out into lengthy, gripping periods of gameplay. But diving as an activity is the antithesis to both these types of storytelling. Not only is there no conventional “teamwork” (the club is built of individuals aspiring for personal success, after all), but the act of diving takes like, no longer than 10 seconds, max. You can try to prolong a sense of tension by showing their apprehension before they leap from the board (and believe me, Dive!! did try), but that isn’t enough to keep things moving at a brisk, natural, and constantly engaging pace.

And this is a problem for two reasons: first of all, this first episode leapt back and forth through time a fair bit already. If it can’t hook me with the benefit of exposition and time-skipping, then keeping things interesting when the cast is trapped in the moment later on seems all but impossible. And second, though the manservice is certainly on display loud and proud here, the characters themselves aren’t as charming as those in say, Free!. Not to mention that while Dive!! doesn’t look bad most of the time, it’s also clearly not on Kyoto Animation’s level, and no extra punctuation can fix that. Anyone looking for hot, shirtless boys won’t find anything there that they can’t find better elsewhere, and as you might’ve guessed, I’m not particularly in this for the abs in the first place.

In spite of everything, Dive!! seems like it could be a satisfying enough watch as long as the cast gets a little more development and comes together as an ensemble with flavor. Right now, it’s a little too much like…well, water: inoffensive, safe, and certainly available…but the menu that is this summer season has far too many more interesting options for me to stick with this.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Harubruh:
I checked this out for the characters designed by Suzuhito Yasuda, but all I got was a generic brand Free! knockoff.

Do you think I’m joking? Does Studio Zero-G think that that covering one of the other primary pool sprots (Platform Diving, that is) that they have us fooled into thinking that this is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt to ride on the man-service-y coattails of the vastly superior Free?

Honestly, in this day and age of Yuri On Ice’s utterly complete and total dominance over the entire man-service oriented animation industry, water sprots anime kind of seem like yesteryear’s thing. Dive!! might’ve been better served being turned out a year or two ago, while Free! was still the standard-bearer for sporty bishounen eye-candy shows like this.

Say that I were to compare these semi-contemporaries to soft drinks: Free! would be Dr. Pepper, and Dive!! would be Dr. Thunder.

Free! is an entertaining franchise, in spite of the anime adaptation’s somewhat discontinuous plotline, and still to this day remains something of a pillar for Kyoto Animation. Dive!!, on the other hand, just feels like it will be a footnote if Zero-G ever makes something actually worth a damn in the future, and I kind of doubt that they will.

I mean, this is just about as generic as a sprot anime can get: A nondescript kid with an earnest passion for their sport joins (or in this case, is already a member of) a down-on-their-luck sprots club with a goal to make it to the big event (the Tokyo Olympics) or else the club gets shuttered. A new coach gets brought in to whip the club into shape, and notices the nondescript kid has an unharnessed talent that can help push him over the top! Originality!

Ahh, sprots anime. Gotta love it.

Perhaps it’s just this particular show’s complete lack of personality that’s bugging me. The new coach of the diving club has more than the rest of the cast combined thus far. Yoichi Fujitani, the “inspirational genius” of the team, has served little more purpose than explaining away most of Dive’s exposition. Tomoki, the main character, somehow manages to have less personality than either of the other two dudebros around his age we see at the diving club.

Zero-G had every chance to make what little action there is to this show at least somewhat captivating, considering that the main action in diving takes little more that 10 or 15 seconds. Sadly, they failed to have any dramatic buildup leading up to someone preparing to leap, nor was the animation of their mid-air acrobatics, or even the damn splashes. It just seems like they shrugged off what is ostensibly supposed to be their main event and just said to their audience, “But look at these mostly-still panning shots of hot dudes in speedos, aren’t they just great?!” Nearly nothing in this show looks polished as far as visuals are concerned.

It’s almost fortunate that Dive!! got relegated to the relative obscurity that comes with being an Anime Strike exclusive show. At least this is one title I won’t have to go out of my way to watch.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after two episodes.

ELEGANT YOUKAI APARTMENT LIFE

Summary: Yuushi Inaba was excited to head off to high school, but the dorm he was planning to stay in unexpectedly burned down, forcing him to find somewhere else to live for 6 months lest he feel like a burden for moving back in with his uncle’s family. Fortunately, he found a place with an unbeatable price. Unfortunately, it’s haunted.

Yatahaze:
Someone mentioned this was a poor man’s Natsume’s Book of Friends, and I’d be inclined to believe it, though I’ve not yet personally seen that series. Either way, the “I can see monsters now” gimmick isn’t the most original sell in the book, but I figured as long as Elegant Youkai Apartment Life could provide a fun time, I’d be down. I sure love me some silly critters and light spooks, after all.

And it definitely provided some of each, courtesy of the apartment’s diverse residents. Yuushi himself was also pretty funny, albeit more in a “this writer doesn’t know how to write a main character, do they?” sort of way. The poor guy was called a stoic despite smiling like 90% of the time, engaged in fisticuffs with his friend out of the blue like he was in some sort of PG Fight Club, and in an almost satirical, roundabout fashion, his shit luck and bland drive made him stick out as a comically average millennial, just nondescript enough to come full circle and feel like an actual person. Rounding out the human cast is Isshiki Reimei, a sly, perpetually-grinning author who lives alongside Yuushi as well as Akine Kuga, a chipper, young exorcist. Again, not the most original bunch, but as long as they interact well, I can be convinced to enjoy them.

And they…sort of do, but while I was fairly optimistic after one episode, the second made me start to realize just how dry the story can get when the youkai aren’t being adorable on screen. The humans are still roles before they’re people, Yuushi the “down on his luck, wannabe independent,” Akine the “action girl who’s surprisingly capable on her own,” Isshiki the “wise old dude who knows too much,” etc. Stereotypes are fine as long as the characters feel like they fit their shoes well, but as I’ve already mentioned, the writing at many moments seems to clash with their presentation. Instead of letting the cast breathe, Youkai Apartment forces square pegs into round holes, resulting in a rather predictable, stiff watch. That problem is also compounded by how generic most of the character designs are and how rigidly they move.

Also at the end of the second episode, Yuushi discovers he has some like, healing power or something and saves some cute girl after getting a premonition that she’d get rekt by a motorcycle.

See what I’m saying? Predictable. Out of character. Unnatural, and not like the youkai, who are genuinely adorable and kept me optimistic that I could enjoy what’s here in spite of the lackluster writing. But this season is full of borderline watchable entries, and several of them seemed more promising than this one did.
Final score: 5.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

FASTEST FINGER FIST (NANA MARU SAN BATSU)

Summary: Shiki Koshiyama was always fine with being a bookworm left to his own devices, but on the club recruitment day of his first week in high school, he gets roped into participating in his school’s newly-formed Quiz Bowl Group, putting all the random bits of trivia he knows to good use.

Yatahaze:
Every season there are a handful of shows, sports-centric or otherwise, which occupy a predictable middle ground and only seem to appeal to one or two very select niches and people who watch literally everything airing. Of those shows, I have almost never fallen for one on its premise alone, especially when its visuals, production, and nearly everything else about it seem this…you know…average.

But mark this down in your history books, Fastest Finger First is MY average show. It probably won’t be for you, and that’s fine, but me…

Look, I love trivia. I’ve killed more days on Sporcle than I’d like to admit. I soak in information like a sponge and I’m always happy to be the guy with an answer whenever somebody asks some random question out of the blue. But that’s not meant as a brag; I also don’t get out as much as I should, feel the least confident when I’m closest to the truth, and rarely appreciate being put on the spot.

In other words, I’m that Koshiyama dork, full stop.

Well, him and (to some degree) all four members of this school’s quiz bowl club. No, none of them are the most complex characters you’ll come across this season, but aside from the rare stale joke or two, they’re also not caricatures. And this series may not have the production finesse of say, Made In Abyss or Welcome to the Ballroom, but it isn’t messy either. It’s fairly indistinct, and that’s the worst it has going for it, a trait that in my mind can be more than made up for by its very distinct subject. I was never a sporty type, but exercises of the brain are one of the few things I’m actually competitive about, and these quiz bowl competitions aren’t too far a stretch.

Besides, if literally shouting “Vatican City! Vatican City!” aloud to my laptop screen during this scene didn’t tip me off, I don’t know what would’ve. This bullshit was practically made for me.

There’s still a hearty chance it will fall apart in a slobbery mess of otaku humor later on, just as there’s also a chance it simply won’t retain my interest in general going forward. But right now I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying Fastest Finger First enough to justify keeping it around, so I’ll be doing just that.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
Back in high school, I personally took part in my high school’s Quiz Bowl team, so when I saw an anime that seemed to be covering a similar sort of subject matter, I thought I might enjoy it.

I don’t.

This show is just kind of limp and suffers for its need to integrate a bunch of unfunny and unappealing fanservice jokes. The recurring panties gag in the first episode and the “absolute territory” shit in the second were both just lame and only served to pull me out of the experience, abruptly reminding me “oh yeah, this is an anime.”

The actual quiz parts of the anime aren’t bad, but the apparent feeling that the audience won’t keep watching if there’s not some kind of bad fanservice gag happening every makes it impossible for me to fully invest in the series.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

FATE/APOCRYPHA

2017-07-10 (1).pngSummary: In a world parallel to that of Fate/stay night, around the same time as the Fifth Holy Grail War would have happened, the Yggdmillennia family secedes from the Mages Association. Of the many agents dispatched by the Association, only one managed to survive and activate a reserve system of the Grail, allowing for the summoning of 14 servants total. Two factions form to fight over the grail; the Red Faction, made up of agents of the Mages Association, and the Black Faction, made up of members of the Yggdmillennia family.

Catche:
I’m not a huge fan of the Fate series. I’ve watched the anime series and enjoyed them well enough, but it’s not a franchise that I’m super into. Still, the promise of a battle royale between various super-powered historical/legendary figures is always a pretty appealing concept for me.

But man, this one is really getting off to a slow start.

I understand why. With 14 masters and servants at play this time around and with a new twist on the Grail War rules, there’s a lot of exposition that has to be dealt with. However, it results in these first two episodes feeling paradoxically both overstuffed and very empty.

There are a lot of implications that certain characters will be important and that there will be a fair bit of intrigue going forward, but for now it has amounted to very little.

Still, knowing where this series is going, I have faith that I’ll end up enjoying it, but for now it’s just barely serviceable.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KAKEGURUI

Summary: At Hyakkaou Private Academy, it isn’t brains or brawn that determines the social hierarchy of the student body; it’s your luck and skill at afterschool gambling, with the most cunning reaping the riches and the least successful subjected to humiliation. For a transfer student like Yumeko Jabami, you’d think the atmosphere couldn’t be crueler…except Yumeko is a mastermind gambler and risking her life is her hardest kink.

Yatahaze:
I mean…

Read that summary again. Really soak it in. Dissect every word. Think long and hard about whether or not you want the deal that it’s offering, because there’s no hidden treasure here and Howie Mandel ain’t around to hold your hand through this mess. Kakegurui just might be the edgiest show of the year, full of grotesque expressions, loaded wagers, and downright terrible people who find themselves sexually aroused by other people’s misfortune.

Not all that different from American politics, then.

Thankfully, unlike American politics, Kakegurui has absolutely no bearing on the wellbeing of every person on the fucking planet, and yet it carries itself with such serious pressure that I can’t help but find myself invested. I have almost no reason to: all these characters are awful, the production is ugly, and there’s bound to be a low ceiling on how far Kakegurui can go with its premise.

Or at least, that’s what I thought until the second episode, where Yumeko has to defeat a girl who sadistically tears off her losing opponents’ fingernails and stores them in a treasure box. I thought this edgefuck of a show was more bark than bite, but if that’s the kind of shit we can expect and we’re only two weeks in…whoa boy, we’re in for a wild-ass ride.

“But Yata, that makes it sound like you’re sticking with it!”

Yeah, about that…

Sorry to disappoint you all, but I am. Kakegurui is a fucking train wreck I cannot avert my eyes from. If it were completely trash, I’d reconsider, but the wagers and strategies in this show employ legitimate tension and the parlor game variations themselves are pretty cool. If the show were to flop in that regard, there really wouldn’t be anything but gratuitous violence up its sleeve, but if I’m allowed to continue this metaphor, it’s like if a few compartment cars somehow stayed on the rails while the rest of the locomotive – still completely connected – was in the process of wiping out. It’s both too far gone to save but also too thrilling to ignore. Kakegurui can end in nothing but carnage, lust, and debt. I know that. But I want to know how exactly it will get there, and from what I’ve witnessed so far, all bets are off.

Do not watch Kakegurui.

That’s my job.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KATSUGEKI/TOUKEN RANBU

Summary: 1863: Japan is divided between pro- and anti-shogunate factions. In this volatile environment, the Time Retrograde Army has sent soldiers back in time to disrupt the natural flow of history, while a coalition of five sword spirits led by the Saniwa attempt to fend them off and preserve it.

Yatahaze:
Though I’m unfamiliar with Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru and everything else in this franchise, I heard that Katsugeki was its own self-contained story and could be understood through the exposition contained within. As far as I can tell, this is indeed true. Its first two episodes confidently establish our main characters, their personalities, and the stakes of the series’ conflict in a way that even a newcomer like me could easily understand. It’s not too secretive about itself, and though much of the dialogue feels a little stiff and formal, there’s plenty of individuality to go around right off the bat, from Izuminokami and Kunihiro’s master-student relationship to some of the rowdier members like Mutsunokami. Between the five leads, take any two of them at random and put them together and you’d get a totally unique dynamic; I can already deduce that much, and it’s a great sign for the show’s future.

And I still haven’t mentioned the strongest card up its sleeve, Ufotable’s production value. I’ve never really fallen in love with any story or premise the studio’s worked on to date, and while I’m not sure Katsugeki will be the first, it does continue an unquestionable streak of visual beauty. From the choreography to the lighting to the shot direction, this show looks fantastic.

Which is why I’m sad to say that in spite of all that praise, I’m still not really hooked. It’s not anything that Katsugeki is doing wrong per se, I just don’t seem to click with action-minded period dramas like this without some tangible humanity and more interesting philosophy afoot. The show at least takes a stab at the former, Kunihiro getting schooled and holding himself back from playing the hero in fear of the butterfly effect, though that’s rendered pointless shortly afterward since we see his master break his own rule with no consequence. And as far as philosophy, well, it’s kind of tough to invest in the perspective of dusty skeletons. Right now, the Time Retrograde Army is either some collection of pure evil bent on undoing history as we know it and using pawns to meet those ends, or they’re all just a bunch of bony ghosts and shit. Either way, that’s not exactly a level playing field. Granted our heroes aren’t technically humans either, but if anthropomorphic weapons can exist with a sense of morality, can’t the enemy too?

Again, I get why Katsugeki is doing what it’s doing, and as an action-centric period piece, it’s a competent enough one. But as solid as it is, I’m also already having a hard time connecting with it, and it’s but a small leap from that feeling to “I have no motivation to watch this,” especially in a season with so many shows hovering around that tricky bubble score. For now, I’ll be putting Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu to rest, though if this premise seems up your alley, I would definitely recommend you give it a shot, and I may revisit it later if its reception stays favorable through its finale.
Final (maybe) score: 7.5/10
Dropped (for now) after 2 episodes.

LIGHTS OF THE CLIONE (CLIONE NO AKARI)

Summary: After a chronically-ill, constantly bullied orphan named Minori disappears from school, two kids from her class receive a mysterious email with no listed sender, informing them of a summer festival in a nearby town.

Yatahaze:
At least, that’s what the synopses say. The pilot of this roughly 9-minute short didn’t even get that far, only letting us see firsthand that the ultra sob story Minori gets bullied in a cartoonishly evil fashion and that those two kids from her class (which the synopses labels “friends” though we’re given no reason to assume they’re anything more than people who pity her) exist and are aware of her troubles. All the intrigue about the email hasn’t happened yet, and sadly, Clione had such a poor showing for this first episode that I’m no longer interested in finding out what mysteries it has up its sleeve. It’s woefully produced, the character models are downright ugly, and the gossip and rumor-smearing contained within are almost laughably overwrought. I can’t say I was expecting much, but Lights of the Clione sank before it even left port, and while I didn’t bother checking out obvious garbage like A Hot Girl Loves Me Despite My Putrid Attitude and Shit Friends or That One Seasonal Isekai Harem But This Time With Smartphones, this is easily a contender for the dumbest thing you could decide to watch this summer. Don’t.
Final score: 3/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

LOVE AND LIES (KOI TO USO)

Summary: In this alternate timeline of Japan, it’s been about 40 years since the government established a marriage program that requires people to stay with a chosen, arranged spouse once they turn sixteen. Dejected and dissident, Yukari Nejima confesses to his crush on his last night as a 15-year-old, but governmental officials put a swift end to his high once they arrive with paperwork mandating he enter a relationship with someone other than the girl of his dreams.

Yatahaze:
Love and Lies has taken a bit of shit over its premise, but I’m not entirely sure why. A marriage law of this magnitude is not only ethically backwards, it’s more trouble than it’s worth for any authoritarian state to manage. Unlike what I’ve seen implied elsewhere, the show itself seems poised to acknowledge as much without explicitly doing so. Thus far, the law has worked for these kids’ parents, who raised fairly “normal” children and get along well like happy families should, but we’ve only seen a fraction of this show’s world, and already, it appears like the legal conceit at the heart of Love and Lies isn’t going to be accepted as it’s described on the books. Even better, the pilot threw another curveball I wasn’t expecting: right before his birthday arrived, Yukari received a phone notice that his crush would be his partner, but it mysteriously disappeared when the clock struck midnight and two government officers approached him with contrary news. And here I thought the dope crafting burial mounds in a children’s sandbox at 10 PM was a bit suspicious.

But we’ll cross that legality bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, it’s important to emphasize that Love and Lies would be worthless as a romance if the characters themselves fell short, and while neither Yukari’s crush Misaki nor his assigned partner Lilina are particularly deep characters, (and frankly, Yukari himself isn’t much of one either), all their feelings are natural for kids their age, ruled by awkward hormones and idealistic projection. In a way, though many have immediately likened this show to winter’s Scum’s Wish (and they’re not wrong to; both series deal in “forbidden love” and feature similar aesthetic choices), Love and Lies feels too unabashedly earnest to be a copycat. Whereas Scum’s Wish was a romance interested in dissecting the wiring of its cast as individuals, this show takes romance in a much more naïve, childish direction, almost reminiscent of last season’s Tsuki ga Kirei, in which love was love, pure and simple.

Not to say that Love and Lies is “pure,” because some characters stray dangerously close to “too oblivious to take seriously” and “too convenient to come without a catch,” but right now, all that speculation is part of the fun. No, this series doesn’t completely avoid the tropes of its genre, but it’s a mighty entertaining time regardless, with loads of bait to spill around where it pleases and a very pretty production backing the potential up. Like many of the shows I’m continuing this season, it could very well fall apart in the near future, but at the moment Love and Lies is capitalizing on my sweet tooth for rom-coms and slightly uncomfortable worldbuilding in equal measure. Here’s to hoping it finds an interesting path and treads it well.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
In a reverse-Tanya situation, it seems like I’m going to be the one nay-sayer on this one.

A big part of my inability to get into Love and Lies stems from the lack of clarity at the core of its storytelling: the government-based, arranged marriage thing. In particular, is it possible to not go along with the arrangement? The series seems to imply that the answer is yes, but the lack of clarity within the driving force of the narrative can make things feel contrived.

Beyond that, I struggle to care about the main couple due to the whole “they’ve been holding a candle for each other since they interacted once in 5th grade” thing. It’s a pretty lame motivation and makes it kind hard to give a shit about the progression of their relationship or the struggles that they face.

Drawn out love triangles are an inherently contrived storytelling device. I had hoped that this series could follow along a similar path to winter’s Scum’s Wish, which despite its flaws managed to get me to buy into its complicated web of conflicting attractions through solid character writing. Alas, it seems that Love and Lies and I were simply not meant to be.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

MADE IN ABYSS

Summary: On the island of Orth, there exists an incalculably deep pit, the last remaining unexplored place on the planet. For years the population there has explored what little of it they can as “Cave Raiders,” taking any relics they discover back to the surface. One day while in the abyss, Riko, the young daughter of a renowned Raider, Lyza, is saved by a strange, robotic boy she names Reg. Not long after she takes him to the surface, she’s allowed to read a letter written by her long-absent mother implying that she’s unprecedentedly reached the bottom of the chasm.

Yatahaze:
Made In Abyss was the final show I checked out this season, and I wasn’t planning on saving the best for last, but that’s precisely what happened. When it comes to direction, premise, art, any category, you name it, this show’s not only above average, it’s the seasonal standout. The absolutely gorgeous scenery drew me in immediately: Orth is an incredibly lush setpiece to behold from both above and below, the town and caves each imbued with Ghibli-like wonder. This world feels magical, and not just because we’re mostly following around a couple of little kids; in just two episodes, Abyss has made sure we’re steeped in Orth’s culture without too much exposition, allowing the pure awe of the architecture, fauna and community to sweep us away.

I meant all that in praise of the visuals, but it’s equally true regarding the direction, which skirts the line between simply sufficient and downright cinematic. The show opens down in the caverns, where Riko bravely attempts to distract a monster from gobbling her injured friend, setting the tone for our hero’s place in this story, then immediately backpedaling, showing that she’s still very much a child, and a rambunctious (adults may prefer “troublesome”) one at that. In an especially refreshing twist, she isn’t an unhappy or bullied child; she has several buddies in her orphanage and is firmly established as confident, even as the grown-ups in charge of her try time and time again to calm her ambition. As an outsider, Reg is accepted fairly quickly too, moving the question from “how do they shelter him?” (E.T.-style, apparently) to “what can he do?” without much wasted time.

Perhaps the only out of place moment thus far was when her teacher (only titled “Leader” at the moment) has a heart to heart with her about her mother, who was also his own mentor. He explains that it’s “that time” to reveal to Riko some personal info about the unique circumstances of her birth, and while much of it is indirectly an infodump to us, it at least takes the form of a realistic conversation these two characters needed to have. Again, that’s the only point in which Abyss comes anywhere near close to over-reaching. Otherwise, it lets all the mystique and charm of its setting and cast do the talking for it, and if there’s anything Riko loves besides spelunking and birdwatching, it’s talking.

In spite of all that talking, it takes a while for Abyss to get to the point, and I’m still not sure we’ve reached its first one yet. I’ve heard vague comments about how the source material takes either a nosedive or a turn for the weirder at some point down the road, but unless we’re talking about something that actively ruins the entire series’ efforts up to that point, I don’t think we have anything to fear (and if we do, shhhh, I don’t want to hear about it this early). It’s so far presented itself with enough intrigue in several different areas that I don’t foresee it stumbling over a darker or stranger tonal shift, and it has such a knack for brief, baity tension that it would take an utter disaster to send the whole package into a freefall. Until then, there’s no point in worrying about hearsay just as there’s no shortage of material to work with. As much as I want to enjoy Orth for the lighthearted, everyday life we’ve seen it host thus far, I know that there’s something deeper (pun absolutely intended) just around the corner, and I’m beyond excited to see where the show will end up. It’s not even close: Made In Abyss is off to the best start of any anime currently airing. Don’t miss out on it.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
Toward the end of last season when I was checking out the PVs of what was to come, Made in Abyss very quickly caught my eye. Even with just the short couple of minutes that the PV provided, I could tell that this was probably the prettiest thing that would be coming out.

I dig Made in Abyss. It’s simple, but I dig it. The cast is charming, the visuals are striking, and the mysteries at its core are interesting enough. Despite this, I can’t say it is much more than just good. I feel it’s a pretty damning comment on the season that my favorite show is only just good.

Regardless, this one is easily worth a look, if only for those fan-fucking-tastic landscape shots.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

NETSUZOU TRAP

vlcsnap-2017-07-16-07h05m01s044
Summary: Yuma Okazaki and Hotaru Mizushina are rather normal high-school girls who at first glance have seemingly normal relationships with their boyfriends. Yuma is nervous about dating Takeda, her first boyfriend, so she goes to Hotaru for advice, only to have her childhood friend come onto her unbeknownst to their boyfriends. Things start snowballing pretty quickly right after that.

Harubruh:
I feel kind of dirty after watching two episodes of this.

Don’t let the screencap that I chose above fool you at all, because Netsuzou TRap is pretty loud and proud about what it’s all about, with extra emphasis placed on the “NTR” bit of its translated title featured prominently in the title’s logo. For you cinnamon rolls out there that are far too sweet and pure for this Earth, “NTR” is an abbreviation for “Netorare,” which is a strange genre of hentai depicting acts of cuckoldry or infidelity as a means of provoking jealousy amongst its readers.

Naturally, this bodes extremely well for our cast. Yuma, a nice but rather naive girl, in an attempt to learn how to woo over her first boyfriend Takeda (who seems like a nice guy) asks her close friend Hotaru for advice, only to have the latter take advantage of her naivety and get touchy, feely, and (french) kissy with her under the guise of a joke. Yuma worries that she might like this secret forbidden fruit of a “romance” more than her “normal” relationship.

Hoo, boy.

It’s pretty clear by this setup that things are probably gonna get a tad… tumultuous with NTR Cuckfest. Yuma and Takeda both are all too nice and naive, but Hotaru seems to have some ulterior motivations to go along with her emotional baggage, and her boyfriend Fujiwara already comes off as a bit of a shitbag. I already have the distinct feeling that the chemistry between these four kids is a tad jarring,

So while the story looks set to be a tad heartbreaking, at least the actual visuals aren’t. The folks in charge of adapting this show, Creators in Pack, have something of a knack for making rather pretty short shows, such as Kiitarou’s Youkai Picture Diary. They seem to have taken a step up for Netsuzou Cuck, as their work in these first two episodes is about as good as it’s ever been. Perhaps some of these details are why this show makes me feel like a need a shower after each episode.

I don’t really know if I want to stick with Netsuzou TRap. I tend to like love polygons, but this particular one just feels all wrong. Perhaps I’m just not into them when infidelity, willing or not, is the foundation of the polygon. You NTR hoots can keep this one for yourselves.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after two episodes.

NEW GAME!! (SEASON 2)

Summary: The second season of last summer’s game developers’ slice-of-life, New Game!

Yatahaze:
A year ago, I breezed through the first season of New Game! weekly as it came out on the same day as two of my favorite shows of 2016, Sweetness & Lightning and Mob Psycho 100. Against that competition, there was no way it could possibly compare, and while I enjoyed it for the most part, at no point did I feel like it was a seasonal highlight. It was popcorn, a bunch of cute girls grown women being silly at work as they plugged away bit by bit on a video game.

Even now, the still-airing Sakura Quest has it beat by a considerable margin for depth in that genre space, but compared to all the other middling slice-of-lifes this season has to offer, New Game!! just might come around to receive the recognition it probably deserves. It’s no secret by now that Doga Kobo are renowned for their bubbly and bright designs, but this franchise isn’t only one of the studio’s most eye-appealing on the surface, it’s also subtly packed with expressive character animation uncharacteristic of your run-of-the-mill 4-koma adaptation. The voice acting is top notch as well, something I definitely overlooked in season one. And while I’ve never minded repetition as long as it can fill a whole series’ worth of content in unique ways, New Game’s gags have become less like gags and more like accepted character traits at this point, nobody freaking out over Yagami sleeping in her underwear at the office and Hifumi slowly but surely striving to speak up more among her co-workers.

It’s these little hints of progress to come (and the lack of much serious competition) that raises New Game!! up from light entertainment to a real contender for best of the season. Even if it settles back into a less ambitious groove, the first season demonstrated this crew has the chops to remain entertaining week after week, and I don’t foresee that suddenly changing now.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

PRINCESS PRINCIPAL

Summary: In an alternate, late 19th-century London, five girls, including one of the Kingdom of Albion’s princesses, are students at the prestigious Queen’s Mayfaire Academy by day and undercover spies at night.

Yatahaze:
Other than that, it wasn’t too easy to pick up on what exactly Princess Principal is trying to do. Is it supposed to be a moody drama? If so, the tone isn’t cohesive and the drama lacks a sense of stakes. Is it funny for those flaws? Not to me, although the concept of “posh and proper teenage girls who are actually espionage experts” certainly seems silly on paper, let down by each character’s clumsily-handled key traits. Is the action its focus? I don’t think so, granted it sure does action well, with a sense of reckless abandon in its opening car chase and some gnarly choreography during a raid later on. And because this is a show that happens to be set in pseudo-England and includes a bunch of cute girls, there’s the obligatory bit where they all sit around drinking tea, but this is far from a cutesy slice-of-life.

In summation, I don’t know what exactly Princess Principal is, and frankly, I don’t think it does either. Princess, you got any clue?

Didn’t think so.

I could be wrong, and there are a variety of paths the show could focus on in the future, but all I got out of this pilot was the feeling it was held hostage by an identity crisis, and that’s truly unfortunate, because if only it chose any specific area to focus on, it could’ve been quite enjoyable. To achieve maximum drama, sacrificing its cutesy and campy steampunk aesthetics would do the trick. For laughs or jabs, the opposite would suffice. It already has action down, so if only it would characterize its cast with less archetypal personalities, I might find myself drawn in easier. But all of those suggestions feel detrimental to whatever it is Princess Principal is aiming to accomplish, stripping it of its messy uniqueness.

It’s a strange one, for sure.

The production is excellent, and if there’s any positive here, it’s that Studio 3hz looks like a formidable, budding company between this, last year’s Flip Flappers, and in-between animation credits for several solid series from last season. But as is pretty much always the case, great animation only counts when it’s tethered to a story that can retain your interest, and Princess Principal is too scatterbrained right now to feel like it will reward as an investment of time and energy, two things I’m dearly lacking this season. There’s always the chance it could pull through, and if I hear that it patches up its jumpy nature or develops its cast with a little more complexity later on, I may revisit it with an open mind. But sadly for us, it premiered on the late side, meaning we could only cover through its first episode instead of our sought-after gold standard of two, and I just couldn’t be sold with this pitch.

Do check out its OP though, it’s easily my favorite this season.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Catche:
Princess Principal really should be up my alley, but it’s not. It has some of best action of any new show this season, but the silly, over-the-top presentation stands at odds with its self-serious tone.

The first episode is supposed to end on this very downbeat note, but the whole scenario is so silly that the moment just falls flat.

If you absolutely need an action fix, then out of all the new shows, I suppose you should give this one a look. However, I’d generally invite looking elsewhere, as this is a pretty lackluster showing overall.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD (ISEKAI SHOKUDOU)

Summary: There exists in this world a restaurant which links to another dimension: every Saturday, doors pop up throughout this alternate plane and lead to the dining room of Western Restaurant Nekoya, run by a compassionate, no-nonsense chef more than willing to serve the inhabitants of both realms. After stumbling in starving and homeless, a discriminated-against demon girl named Aletta quickly becomes the chef’s key Saturday waitress.

Yatahaze:
It may seem silly at first, but Restaurant to Another World was bound to happen eventually. Isekai shows and (more recently) food programs have been taking off lately, and it was only a matter of time before the two ideas merged. So far, Restaurant is holding its own quite well, keeping the passion of cooking in the forefront while also making sure the isekai elements which set it apart aren’t only background fodder.

The restaurant’s owner is by far the weakest link, the fairly typical, level-headed, and otherwise indistinct character you’d expect at the foundation of a story like this, but what he lacks in personality he makes up for as a mediator of sorts between this world and our own. I love how his careful language shows consideration and experience, trying to make as few communication errors as possible, as well as how he manages to treat all his customers fairly. His food itself misses both the rustic simplicity of Sweetness & Lightning’s as well as the technical, flashy qualities of Food Wars’, but his diners’ reactions fall somewhere in between, and it’s they who really sell the show in the first place.

So far, many of them have stumbled in on their own accord, such as Sarah Gold, the daughter of a recently-deceased adventurer tracing her father’s footsteps, or the dragon goddess who comes to pick up a large pot of stew before heading back to her mountain peak to adorably lick it clean. But there are groups who seem to frequent it too, and the series seems to be well on track to making this increase in patronage a plot point. It’d certainly be a good one, seeing as Aletta’s introduction and backstory made it clear that this world has its fair share of social ills, some of which could be at least partially cooled by everybody talking things out over good, non-partisan grub. And even if it doesn’t shoot for any larger message, Restaurant to Another World is soothing in a way I didn’t expect, filling my token iyashikei slot of the season quite well. Some may argue that it’s on the slow side, and I won’t refute that, but it’s erring on the side of caution, largely free from fanservice and wholly content with itself. With an attitude like that, I can’t help but be swept away too.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Catche:
I don’t know why I watched another iyashikei series, they really aren’t my thing.

The characters are a bit flat, there’s little in the way of plot, and the presentation’s just fine.

There’s really nothing of interest to me here, and it just makes me feel like I’d rather be doing anything else while watching Restaurant to Another World. I don’t even get upset at poor quality like I would with most of the other shows in this article that I don’t like, I’m just bored by it.
Final score: 3.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

TSUREZURE CHILDREN

Summary: A collection of adolescent confessions and romances.

Yatahaze:
No, really. That’s all it is. Tsurezure Children looks like it will show us four adorable pairs of teens hitting it up in its 13-odd minutes each week, clocking in and clocking out with ruthless efficiency and producing just as many laughs as it does moments of the “d’awwwwww” variety.

And I am totally alright with that. Great reaction face folder material too.

I’ll mostly let Haru take the lead on the rest since this was one of his most anticipated series of the year, but I’ll say that if you have any interest in cute couples doing cute things, this is absolutely a show for you. Considering there are at least 6 couples in this show and counting, few if any whom are directly connected so far, it’s downright impressive how each character is given a full personality in the span of three or four minutes apiece. They all seem like they could be the protagonists of their own full-length stories, and if anything, I fear that as Tsurezure starts to revisit certain couples, it may more prominently feature ones I just don’t like as much as some others, but so far, they’re all a joy to watch. The production is a little more modest, but it’s nicely polished and the whole series makes evident that a ton of heart was put into this, especially in the voice acting and dialogue. With Love and Lies and Kakegurui on my plate, it’ll sure be nice to recharge with something a little sweeter each week, and Tsurezure Children fits the bill perfectly.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Harubruh:
Oh yes, I am very glad that Yata decided to defer to me on this.

Tsurezure Children wasn’t just my most anticipated anime adaptation of this year, oh no. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a few years, even more than I looked forward to last year’s anime adaptation of ReLife.

I’ve been following Wakabayashi Toshiya’s work for nearly four years, and in the case of Tsurezure Children, I was reading this little rom-com 4-koma while it was still known just as “Wakabayashi’s 4-koma Collection.” As you can infer from that, I am all too familiar with this series, these characters, and Wakabayashi’s general M.O.. I knew from the moment that I got sucked into reading all of his comics that were available those three-plus years ago (and ever since then) that this comic had the potential to make for a great anime series, and I was right.

Needless to say, I had particularly high expectations for this anime adaptation. I won’t spoil you on some of my specific favorite couples, just in case they get covered by the anime, but what initially sold me on Wakabayashi’s works was the frequent depiction of loads of comedically exaggerated reaction faces, how he nailed the truly all-encompassing humiliation that comes with adolescent romance, and how he successfully weaved his characters’ individual relationships around one another. So, it wasn’t unreasonable for me to expect a studio capable of handling a good 4-koma rom-com to eventually handle adapting this material for animation, right?

I always figured that the 4-koma anime wunderkinds at DogaKobo would be the ones to take this comic up, but contrarily, and much to my own satisfaction, our newfound friends at Studio Gokumi decided to embark upon God’s work and make the anime that 2014’s Harubruh dreamt of all those days ago.

Does the name “Studio Gokumi” ring a bell for you? It should. Earlier this year, they cranked out Seiren, the transcendental deer-themed instant cult-classic romantic comedy that is much beloved (sort of?) by (most of?) us at For Great Justice. When it was announced that these madmen were at the helm of this show right around when Seiren had finished its run, I truly believed my beloved comic was in good hands. Sure enough, they’ve done a superb job adapting this material while remaining true to Tsurezure Children’s 4-koma origins, such as retaining the comic-like point of views of the characters, the sudden tonal shifts, and letting their All-Star voice acting cast add another dimension to these characters’ already fantastic reactions.

I feel almost like a proud parent seeing these characters I’ve known for years and years being animated and given voices! In a way, I feel proud of Wakabayashi for making it this far. Now I get to truly enjoy these silly kids’ reactions with one another, and I just could not be happier for this silly little series. You know a show is doing something right when my primary (and really, only) misgiving about it is about the episodes being too short.

The Tsurezure Children anime makes all of my suffering through some of my eagerly anticipated anime adaptation failures through the years prior to last year that much more worth it in the end. I really could not be happier about a show right now.
Current score: 8.5/10
You bet your sweet ass I’m still watching this, no matter how many episodes it goes.

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM

Summary: Tatara Fujita, an incredibly average middle schooler, doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. One day as he’s being picked on, an imposing man on a motorcycle named Sengoku chases his bullies away and invites him to take a free trial course at his dance studio. Stunned by Sengoku’s presence and hopeful he can find some sense of direction, Tatara decides to stick around, learning ballroom dance from scratch.

Yatahaze:
Welcome to the Ballroom was one of the most anticipated series of the summer, and while I was a little underwhelmed by how generic Tatara’s introduction was, the show has elevated his nerves and the rest of its material with some of the greatest production merit this season. Most people raised an eyebrow at its detailed character design during their summer chart-skimming, and let’s get one thing straight, I.G. undeniably delivered on the visual hype once again. The direction is consistently engaging and the animation and art are beautiful in their smoothness and relative normalcy.

“Relative” because, and I’m sure I won’t be the first or last person to mention this, holy shit, these necks.

It’s a cheap trait to poke fun at, but it’s not just a strange stylistic choice. If you’re like me or Tatara, chances are you don’t know jack shit about competitive dancing, and Ballroom acknowledges this from the start, both directly teaching Tatara and us some basics while indirectly muttering some other things we should know via organic conversation. My only critique of Ballroom so far is that it leans a little hard on overtly selling itself to Tatara, and by extension, us. It all makes sense in-universe; Sengoku and his co-workers are literally attempting to convince him to buy into their training and service, but without a little balance, it almost comes off as too pushy.

Which is why what really sold me on the show wasn’t its attitude towards dancing as a spectacle, but dancing as a passion. For Tatara, he’s easily swept up in how effortless Sengoku and his crush Shizuku look when they’re dancing, but the both of them are hesitant to accept baseless praise from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Shizuku immediately questions what the kid’s even doing there, and Sengoku doesn’t mind playing a hero in the spotlight but hopes that his actions won’t be more trouble than they’re worth. It’s only when Tatara (because he’s a horny, bored teenager with nothing better to do) realizes he’s being offered a chance to make a name for himself that he follows through to a reckless degree, practically butchering his feet from too much practice. As far as main characters go, his drive is still incredibly idealistic and under-realized, but the people around him have already exhibited much greater depth than you get out of many individual characters in your typical seasonal sports anime.

And that’s why it’s probably worth repeating: by pretty much any metric, Ballroom had a standout premiere. As long as it develops Tatara a little more (and with 2 cours ahead of us, I have to assume it’ll happen eventually), it looks poised to be one of the finest sports anime of the year, raising its standard plot beats to a much more elegant and impressive level. Definitely give it a shot.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

Catche:
I have a weird affinity for stories where some guy learns how to perform some sort of non-conventional art or task. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing that I dig.

That said, I knew that I’d probably enjoy Welcome to the Ballroom as long as it pulled off its premise with some skill.

I’m happy to say that the first episode was a fun old time. It’s true that the story seems like it’s going to stick to following a fairly conventional plot for a sports anime, just with dancing, but as long as it doesn’t dip too hard into poorly executed cliche, then it should be alright.

I’m sure this one may not be for everyone and if you can’t deal with some stylistic choices (aka the necks) then I doubt you’ll get much enjoyment out of it.

For me, though, Ballroom is a hit.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 1 episode.


And that’s it for now! We’ll make our routine escape until August, where we’ll have some updated mid-season thoughts for you. In the meantime, feel free to comment here or message us via Twitter regarding your thoughts on this piece or any of the summer’s new works. Until then, thanks for reading, and we’ll see you later!

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