Summer 2017 Mid-Season Thoughts

Hey, everybody, and welcome back to a somewhat special mid-season update from For Great Justice. It’s not only time to run down what we’ve thought about many of the summer’s most popular shows since first impressions, it’s also mid-August, which means it’s time to celebrate the site’s third birthday! From the bottom of our hearts, whether you’re stumbling upon us now for the first time or go back as far as our clunky early days, thank you for your continued support and readership. It means so much.

Not gonna lie, all of us are a bit antsy lately, so this may be a quicker than usual batch. Yata and Catche are gearing up to head back to college in a week and Haru has been busy alley-crawling at Anime-Fest the last few days, so we’ve all got a bit on our plates, but that’s rarely stopped us from getting something out there before, and it sure isn’t going to now. What titles held up from earlier in the season? Which have let us down? And where are we drawing the drop line? Find out all this and more below!


A CENTAUR’S LIFE


Yatahaze:
Back during first impressions, I praised A Centaur’s Life for its silly cast acting against the backdrop of a stricter, politically confusing world. The dichotomy didn’t necessarily say anything one way or the other as far as overarching messages go, but it quietly presented interesting material to work with and a variety of directions it could take itself.

And then it just…didn’t.

Maybe the pilot was a fluke. Maybe I’m simply not remembering it for how it “actually” was. Whatever the case, it became increasingly clear very quickly that A Centaur’s Life wasn’t entirely certain what its goals were, and as a result, every good idea or gag it contained was watered down so hard that the whole show devolved into a bland, indistinguishable mush of lesbian jokes and some of the least insightful political commentary I’ve ever seen.

And that’s not even saying anything about the production, which has been one of the weakest links all along: the animation and dialogue are full of abrupt pauses, interrupting the flow of conversations and only seemingly serving to drag the episode runtime out. It almost felt like the show itself didn’t even want to be there, and with nothing of worth being set up or said, me jumping ship too was all but inevitable. Massive swing and a miss with this one and I apologize if I got anybody’s hopes up.
Final score: 3.5/10
Dropped after 4 episodes.

ALTAIR: A RECORD OF BATTLES

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Catche:
If I hadn’t been watching another, far worse series this season, I believe my feelings on Altair would be more negative. However, with Fate/Apocrypha being what it was (and we’ll certainly get to that later) I was given a bit of perspective when it came to this little adventure series.

Let’s get something straight: Altair is not a bad series. It is generally quite good at being what it wants to be, which is a pseudo-historical action adventure with some elements of a light political thriller thrown in for good measure. However, what plagues the series is not areas where it comes off as particularly bad (though the animation definitely suffers in some areas) but rather in the frequency of its mediocrity.

Now, in my past few months of my burgeoning anime criticism “career” I have found just how difficult it can be to fully articulate my experience with a series at times. To properly explain one’s opinions and reasoning takes effort and practice, but the experience which can be the hardest to portray is that of viewing something that is mediocre, a feeling of indifference. Altair is not a consistently mediocre show, as many of the series’ high points are quite entertaining, but throughout much of its runtime it can feel like it has very little to offer.

I’m going to tentatively say that I’m going to continue with Altair, and see how I feel when the next episode comes around.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching after 4 episodes.

FATE/APOCRYPHA

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Catche:
After viewing the first two episodes of Fate/Apocrypha, I decided to give the series a bit of a pass, despite the fact that virtually nothing had happened in either of those episodes. The setup was complicated and the series would take time to get into the nitty-gritty that I came there for. Unfortunately, it seems that I was giving Fate/Apocrypha far too much credit, an issue that I intend to resolve here and now.

Fate/Apocrypha has some of the worst storytelling that I have encountered in, not just anime, but within any professional medium that contains some notion of a “story” or “plot.” Within the medium of anime specifically the closest comparison which I can draw is to last summer’s Rewrite, a series that was similarly inept at such a fundamental level that I almost felt compelled to watch further out of sheer fascination.

After four episodes (nearly two hours of content) I still had no firm understanding of anyone’s motivations or backgrounds. So far, only the vaguest hints of actual characterization have made their way forward. Instead, the writers lean on flat tropes, leaving the viewers to infer traits from the stock character that each individual is based around. This destroys any sense of narrative stakes and consistency, an example being how the big climax of the fourth episode revolves around a major character making a difficult and self-sacrificial choice. The choice lacks impact, because the circumstances are poorly explained and the character makes the choice seemingly at random due to their lack of strong motivation.

This isn’t even getting into the bizarre plot structure. The apparent protagonist of the series does not appear until the third episode and does virtually nothing until the fourth. If it weren’t for the way all of the key art portrays him, I would have thought he was supposed to be the point of some random-ass subplot, but there in all the posters he’s put front and center as the main guy.

I don’t know how this monstrosity was ever made outside of its tangential connection to the main Fate franchise. What I do know is that I don’t have enough time in my days to waste on this piece of crap masquerading as a storyline.
Final score: 1.5/10
Dropped after 4 episodes.

FASTEST FINGER FIRST (NANA MARU SAN BATSU)


Yatahaze:
Gonna keep this one brief too since apparently nobody’s even watching this show: Fastest Finger First was average from the start, but due to the quiz bowl shenanigans being right up my alley, I felt genuinely drawn to it. Strip away those shenanigans though and the rest of the show—the characters, the direction, virtually everything—just feels empty. It’s not exactly a bore, but its appeal factor is a one-trick pony, and it’s attempting to over-reach that with a bunch of characters who really aren’t worth anything more than their roles as “the knowledgeable one,” “the otaku,” “the love interest,” etc.

Again, deep down I probably knew that this was coming all along. Perhaps alongside more actively frustrating titles, its lackluster qualities didn’t feel as pronounced. But now that I’ve gone a few weeks with less clutter on my watchlist, Fastest Finger First feels about as useful as a broken buzzer, which this show has taught me is not very useful. That’s about the only thing it’s taught me.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 7 episodes.

KAKEGURUI


Yatahaze:
Alright, I’ve gotta accept the responsibility that comes with making tough calls on speculative premieres and outright say it:

Kakegurui is not as bad as I thought it’d be.

And by that I mean its story is sound, its characters have understandable motivations, and its general trajectory is exciting. But is it like…conventionally “good?”

Well, let’s backpedal. Do you remember what we’re dealing with here? This is Kakegurui. This is the show where people own their classmates as livestock. This is the show where people orgasm from pointing a gun to their own crotch. This is the show with maniacal faces scarier than 99% of Halloween masks I’ve ever seen.

It is utterly absurd.

But it’s utterly absurd by its own consistent logic, which, like many shows of this nature, it uses as its saving grace. Yumeko’s goal isn’t to just get off by throwing her life’s savings in sketchy situations, she willingly wants to be viewed as a nutjob who doesn’t care about her wealth in order to sneak in from the bottom and unravel the status quo upheld by the Student Council. As fun as it would be to watch a bunch of crazies gamble all day, much of my (and I assume its audience’s in general) enjoyment comes from knowing that this show is just that: a show, an over the top display of vile sociopathy that treads the line of satire so well it has no qualms about admitting its gimmicks and then diving headfirst straight back into the madness. Its lack of sincerity makes it such a breath of fresh air; it knows we’re here for the twistedness, and it can conjure some up almost effortlessly.

The games themselves are still mostly interesting, though I do worry about how it sometimes undersells their instructions so that the loophole can come off as more of a shocker when it’s revealed. Sometimes it works, other times it feels like a deliberate cop-out that a tiny amount of additional exposition might’ve fixed, but even in those cases, it rarely prevents the show from capturing your attention.

But why Kakegurui really works at the moment (granted this may change as we learn more about the key players in the Student Council) is that Yumeko both feeds into the show’s hysteria and actively works to dismantle it with equal passion. She’s less of a character for her own sake and more of an usher, initiating the best of both worlds, but because the show is so off-kilter to begin with, she feels more like a natural extension of this setting than a plot device.

Ultimately, whether or not the series’ payoff satisfies will completely rely on its ending since almost all of what we’ve seen so far has been buildup to Yumeko and the Council’s grudge match. That said, as long as it sticks the landing, Kakegurui may be my favorite token edgy show of the year. It certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you too fancy some grimdark that’s in on the joke while also remaining genuinely engaging, look no further. I know I previously advised you all not to watch this, assuming it would be a complete dumpster fire, but I’m retracting that statement for now.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

KATSUGEKI/TOUKEN RANBU

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Harubruh:
Ah, did you think that I passed this over because I was a no-show on this for the first impressions article? Think again! Along with being my “touken” prettyboy show that I seem to take up every season, Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu is also filling the niche for the Action genre for me, and quite satisfactorily, I might add.

I gotta confess that as of the seventh episode, this is the farthest I’ve ever made it into a Ufotable production. I never really got into Fate, and I only touched one episode of the anime that was made for Tales of Zesteria, so this is kind of my first true introduction to ufotable and their massive, massive budget.

Like seriously, Katsugeki’s visuals are freaking gorgeous. Stuff like smoke, water, fire, and rain are all done in what looks to be CG effects, and with those effects added to the sharpened character designs and superb battle choreography, the whole recipe makes for some pretty enthralling showdowns.

Also aiding in my enjoyment of this show is my passing familiarity with most of the cast, due in large part to having watched Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru last year. All of the guys who composed the squad we saw in the first arc of Katsugeki were introduced to us during Hanamaru’s run, most prominently Yagen, Mutsunokami, Izuminokami, and muh boy Horikawa. This familiarity with the characters helped keep me interested in this show, as I was not completely positive after the first couple episodes that I’d be sticking around.

Shit then proceeded to hit the fan, and I got sucked in. This dramatic adaptation is an entirely different beast of a show compared to its alternate-universe sibling. Hanamaru did dabble with some battles, but ufotable has shown that they can make some A-grade fight scenes that wouldn’t seem all that out of place in an actual film.

Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu is another standout anime in a season that’s chock full of a ton of milquetoast background noise, and if it stays on the path it’s carved out so far, you can count on me sticking around.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

LOVE AND LIES (KOI TO USO)


Yatahaze:
Love and Lies is pretty average.

I don’t entirely mean that as a low blow though. Let’s be real here, was this “dating, but with forced government propaganda” show ever going to say anything particularly deep about teenage romance or social policy? Did the first two episodes really make it look like it was gonna address tough questions head-on or topple a regime? No, Love and Lies has been about the naivete of adolescent feelings from the start, and that certainly hasn’t changed. If you’re disappointed that these kids are acting like socially inept dorks obsessed with third-wheeling and ancient burial mounds, then frankly, you weren’t paying attention.

But if the legal gimmicks aren’t relevant, then why has the show remained this endearing, this entertaining, this…I dunno, stupidly enjoyable? It’s really all character-based; the government marriage law is only a backdrop to push these kids’ feelings to the forefront and promote their self-doubt. In a way, it’s just an oddly specific form of the societal pressure that most teens feel when they first start dating, and despite how Ichijo explains that the matchmaking is based on state-of-the-art psychology and testing, it seems totally arbitrary at best. And yet it still produces results well enough to remain, and I think that gray area is kind of the point.

Attraction is an illogical emotion, but we all feel it to some degree because we’re human, and stripping people of the ability to determine their own intimacy leaves them with ill-advised notions of romance and boundaries. For the older adults in the show, people who grew up knowing conventional ideas of love, the matching is largely seen as a universal positive, but seeing a generation grow up confined to it makes the cracks more apparent: Yukari and Ririna can’t realize they share genuine romantic yearning for one another because both of them can’t trust that the system might have some worth. Likewise, Misaki is a bit more emotionally mature than the two of them, but she doesn’t want to disrupt the love she knows they share deep down anymore than she has to, battling her own desires to keep her dear friends happy.

This is textbook love triangle stuff, and that’s precisely how I’m enjoying it. Stripping the rules and focusing on who’s playing the game has worked extremely well for the show so far, so much so that I’m almost more nervous now that it seems like we’ll be reintroducing the external forces to a greater degree than we’ve seen. Love and Lies is a show that—even if it’s not saying anything particularly new—understands the fundamentals of its genre very well. It knows how to facilitate drama and it lives in the moment with a childish sense of awe and anxiety that nearly all great coming of age stories utilize. Not to mention the art, which I know some people aren’t as big a fan of, though I’m personally very fond of it. My final verdict on this series is pretty much contingent upon what its final message is, and while I know there are a multitude of ways it could crash and burn, I’m optimistic it’ll get to the finish line with its soul intact.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

MADE IN ABYSS


Yatahaze:
I’m still enjoying more shows than I have any right to be this season, but it’s not even close which one remains on top; Made In Abyss may have experienced a little dip in urgency for a week or two, but after Riko and Reg finally made their descent two layers down, the show’s regained its early momentum.

I’m not just saying that for the technical details like the imaginative set designs, beautiful shot direction, or superb soundtrack, though all are obviously fantastic. No, Abyss is such a highlight because it’s got enough charm to be immediately heartwarming without ever losing its focus as an adventure thriller. Even better, because it’s kept its secrets hushed behind such tight lips, I genuinely don’t know what to expect. It’s clear that something is up, not just with the nature of the abyss itself and the creatures residing in it, but with Orth’s society at large. And keep in mind we’re following little kids here, the most naïve age. It’s Riko and Reg’s sense of wonder that drove them to the abyss in the first place, but whatever it was Lyza left behind, it was obvious even with minimal inference that the white whistle herself didn’t make it out either. What’s really confusing to me is who would forge a letter like that? And just as importantly, why was Leader so willing to let our two protagonists head off on their way, knowing full well the dangers they’d encounter? Ozen was a welcome introduction; finally, an adult who doesn’t sugarcoat anything…or so we think. And who’s that other character I’ve seen on all the promotional art? Why haven’t we meet them yet?

At this point, everything is so up in the air I can’t reasonably predict what the show has up its sleeve next. Intuition tells me it’ll be something that changes the whole picture. But as long as the story remains afloat, I’m more than ready. We’ve seen the light-hearted giggles at the start. We’ve felt the creeping, encroaching dread below. And now? Now all we need is the other shoe to drop.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

MY HERO ACADEMIA 2nd SEASON


Yatahaze:
Oh man, and to think I was feeling so iffy about MHA reintroducing its villains! I still feel like my caution back in the end of spring was justified—throughout season one, they and the widely-recognized slow pacing where the franchise’s weakest elements by far—but this latest run of episodes just proves that My Hero Academia 2nd Season is not fucking around. I was not expecting it to be quite this enthralling.

But anime has been one of the few good things 2017 has going for it, and that remains the case here because of some unfortunate real-world parallels. While the kiddos split up to attend their various internships, a new menace surfaces: Hero Killer Stain, a villain whose ultimate endgame isn’t domination or petty violence, but a cultural revolution. He thinks society has grown oversaturated with “heroes” in it for the prestige and people who aimlessly wander through their duty without conviction. To that end, he offs whoever he thinks is unworthy of being a hero, and even though he tentatively sides with the show’s previous goonies Shigaraki, Kurogiri, and their army of mindless Nomus, he has no reservations about turning on them for drifting too far from his own ideology. Stain is the series’ best villain to date precisely because he isn’t: he’s no cartoonish misanthrope or deranged basket case, he’s working to what he views as a beneficial end through excessive, unforgivable means. Testing Tenya (who seeks revenge for Stain wounding his brother) in particular, but also Deku, Shoto, and an assembly of mid-range heroes, this villain has his night in the limelight and gets taken into custody when his own body fails him. In a city’s darkest hour, the heroes still prevail, Endeavor takes the credit to ease the legal burden on the kids, and everything returns to normal.

Except it doesn’t, and that’s why as much as Stain is certanily a physical threat too, it’s his ideology that’s so dangerous. There was a clear explanation (which, if anything, I wish was left a little less direct) that All Might’s rise as a pillar of justice made it easy for casual do-gooders to flock to him and turn away from evil. Whether there’s an actual Quirk basis for that or it’s solely down to charisma, All Might used himself as a beacon for goodwill, and Stain (who’s hinted to have some connection to All Might and/or Endeavor, though the specifics are still sketchy at best) is capable of producing the same fervor among the criminal underbelly, which has been disconnected up until now.

This changes the game dramatically. Not only does MHA get a second shot at establishing a nuanced, more individualistic cast of enemies, it also coincidentally reflects an ongoing political crisis over here in the States right now. Now obviously it’s not doing so by design (how could it be? This was written years ago), but the intersection of justice and demagoguery it’s playing in is a more dangerous one than it has any business being. I guess that’s what happens with shows that reflect human nature though; everyone is capable of the ability to help or harm, and when the line between the two gets blurred, instability prospers.

So that’s where we’re at, I guess. The most recent episode was a goofy anime-original one-off about Tsuyu catching some fish thugs with her new boss and shipmates, but the show seems like it’ll be back on track soon enough, and I’m incredibly hyped to see how it plays out. In the meantime, condemn Nazis, and if you aren’t caught up on it, get back to My Hero Academia pronto. It’s the show we need right now.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 19 episodes.

NEW GAME!! (SEASON 2)


Yatahaze:
Of all this year’s great sequels, New Game!! stands out as perhaps its most improved. I predicted back after its fantastic first episode that the series would take a turn back towards inconsequential 4-koma gags, but it’s actually held onto the more complex writing it started with. Even if the characters behind the growth aren’t all that “deep,” their various forms of social anxiety, job security nerves, and wavering self-confidence don’t have to be; they’re universal emotions for pretty much anyone in the arts or entertainment industries, and it’s all the show needed to rise that one extra notch from average to genuinely good.

That’s pretty much all I have to say for now. Each character’s individual arcs of growth are in constant progress and rather self-explanatory, from Hifumi slowly getting her shyness under wraps to Aoba stepping up to a higher position only to have the duty pulled out from under her. New Game!! is charming, relatable, and everything the first season could’ve and arguably should’ve been. I can’t ask for much more.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

OWARIMONOGATARI 2nd SEASON


Yatahaze:
As I write this, Owarimonogatari 2nd Season has skyrocketed to the #1 highest-rated anime on MyAnimeList, surpassing even last year’s universally-praised smash hit film Your Name.

I personally don’t think it deserves to be that high, but I understand why it is.

Obviously there’s the mathematical component: as a late work in a franchise that’s almost as casually longwinded as its writer Nisio Isin, everyone who’s lost interest in Monogatari has long since been weeded out of the site’s ratings, leaving only the most diehard of fans and the occasional troll to provide scores. And while Owari 2 doesn’t necessarily consist of the series’ best arcs, it does encapsulate a trio of its most important ones. Owari 2 isn’t even actually the chronological end of Monogatari like its namesake would have you believe; 2015’s adaptation of Suruga Devil, Hanamonogatari, takes place later on. But for all intents and purposes, Owari 2 is the end for the franchise’s main character and center of gravity, Koyomi Araragi, and as far as wrapping up Koyomi’s arc of growth goes, these three (or seven, depending on how you split them) episodes are nonetheless spectacular and very much a whole series in the making.

But I might be getting ahead of myself. First, let’s briefly break down Koyomi’s deal: ever since assisting Hanekawa and a wounded Shinobu a year prior to the present timeline, he’s been characterized as someone with an uncompromising desire to help people at the expense of his own physical and mental health. In fighting back his friends’ apparitions one after the next, he’s also been amassing his own pool of regrets and self-doubt, questioning if his course of action could’ve been improved to result in some objective “right” path that he feels like he missed. About six months prior to this season (feel free to correct me if I’m remembering incorrectly here, I’m but a Monogatari casual), he first met the enigmatic Ougi, who claimed to be Meme Oshino’s niece and seemed glad to point out every flaw in his logic and confuse him in general. Until this point, Ougi’s standoffish, weird behavior and suspicious appearance had befuddled many viewers, myself included, especially when she suddenly appeared as a he in Hanamonogatari. The first season of Owarimonogatari prominently featured her as well, so it stood to reason that this second half would too, and indeed, this season is just as much about Ougi as it is about Koyomi.

If you haven’t watched Owari 2 yet and don’t want to be spoiled about this arc’s punchline, GET OUT NOW.

See, there’s a lot of criticism from Monogatari detractors about how the series’ harem-y vibes are compounded by how Koyomi acts like a savior to so many girls’ psychological hang-ups. But Senjougahara, Nadeko, and the like have never been the only ones suffering; Koyomi’s hero complex and complete disregard about his own wellbeing aren’t positive traits, and at last, Owari 2 forces him to confront that quasi-darkness head on, fighting for his own sake against his own apparition:

One Ougi Oshino.

It makes perfect sense in retrospect: with loads of hints scattered throughout the preceding arcs and the underlying weirdness that the main character never faced off against his demons, it seemed all but inevitable that Ougi, the manifestation of Koyomi’s internal conflict, would be his final enemy to overcome. But viewing it in terms of justice or injustice, defeating something else versus defeating yourself? That’s the tricky part, the part Koyomi struggled with from beginning to end: ultimately, Ougi appears ready to accept its fate, but after a heartstopping psych-out, Koyomi saves it, not for the sake of keeping it around, but in the name of coming to terms with his prior questioning, acknowledging that his actions don’t result in black and white or right and wrong, but a constant gray that’s never really the point of getting involved in the first place. In this aftermath, he stops thinking of himself as a weakling who has to live for the sake of others and accepts that he can live for the sake of living without losing who he is as a person.

While I’ve never been one to resonate inextricably hard with Koyomi, I understand why many do, and for them, this must have felt like a weight off their shoulders, several years of anticipation finally relieved. Hell, it even did for me too, which speaks to how thoroughly articulated Koyomi’s growth throughout the series has been. And while Owari 2 doesn’t quite match the visual uniqueness of the franchise’s first effort Bakemonogatari or the experimentation occasionally displayed throughout Second Season, the production here was reliable, continuing Monogatari as a whole’s solid norm with some especially neat visual change-ups in the first arc, Mayoi Hell. Some classic gags that have long since worn out their welcome sadly remain too, but this is the “finale” of Monogatari we’re talking about, of course they do.

Thankfully, they’re almost completely irrelevant, because what’s most important is that Owari 2 really felt like an end. I’d grown so used to the series’ sporadic arcs fizzling out with an unspoken “to be continued” that I’d worried about what it would aim for when it finally needed to sign off with a sense of totality. Those nerves turned out to be for naught, as all of Owari 2, even as it built up Koyomi’s final conflict, gave a warm send-off to nearly everyone. Mayoi returned (er…was leg-locked back) from the afterlife to take over the vacant Shirahebi Shrine. Senjougahara ended six months worth of paused dating in one packed, adorable afternoon. Nadeko and Tsukihi bonded a bit and the former was able to express a little more confidence than she’d been able to previously. And while we didn’t get to see much of Kanbaru or Hanekawa, their own stories have largely already been adapted and concluded. In a string of bittersweet half-endings, Owari 2 closes the franchise’s dense tales with a breath of uncharacteristic fresh air, simultaneously a new beginning to be seized with an old, more well-adjusted spirit kept alive.

Was it an unparalleled high point for the franchise? I’m not sure I’d float the praise that high, let alone the #1 anime ever. But was it all that it needed to be? Could it have been even better?

Well…the whole point was to leave questions like that behind, right?

Thanks for the laughs, tears, and “plot,” Monogatari.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 7 episodes and years of waiting.

RAGE OF BAHAMUT: VIRGIN SOUL


Yatahaze:
No surprise here: Bahamut continues to be one of the most consistently enjoyable shows of my week.

…or rather it had been up until this two-week hiatus, damn television scheduling conflicts. I’m kinda craning to remember what was actually going on before the most recent episode, and if the series has had any weak point to date, I’d easily offer up this “Nina, Jeanne, and Bacchus break El out of Heaven” arc as a prime example. But it appears to be necessary for future development of both El’s character and the Gods as a whole. El’s nature (born to a human from the Gods yet raised by a demon) puts him in a position capable of assisting all three sides in this quasi-war, and it’s telling that the Gods expect him to join them when they’ve done the least to assist him personally. Also he’s an angsty teenager, that shouldn’t go unsaid. You never know how those edgelords will act.

Speaking of which, acting is a pretty big point to discuss after Nina’s most recent date with Charioce. Up until now, their relationship has been an ambiguous and messy one; though it’s clear they’re both attracted to each other, they also recognize how…problematic it would be for a nationalistic lord to be in love with a fugitive rebel dragon-woman. And so the two of them, of their own separate volition, disguised themselves for one last jaunt around the human capital. It was funny, it was somber, it was stirring…pretty much the whole emotional spectrum to be honest, and all set to one of the most gorgeous orchestral scores I’ve heard from any anime this season. With promises that he would reveal the truth the next time they meet, Charioce ended the encounter with questions lingering in the air, and while the wait since then has been a bit of a bummer, I’m convinced that when the series returns, it’ll do so with the glory I’ve come to expect from it.

I’m starting to feel like a broken record now, but like many of the shows I’m covering, the ultimate outcome of this one still isn’t totally obvious: each faction of this war wants what’s best for their own kind first and foremost and are willing to employ destructive means to that end. Our group of heroes, mostly reunited for good now, are the only thing that stands between them and certain death. Virgin Soul hasn’t let me down yet, and with months of slow, steady build-up out of the way, we’re finally nearing the breaking point. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 17 episodes.

RE:CREATORS

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Catche:
At this point, I feel like I’m just watching Re:Creators out of a sense of obligation and upon giving it some due consideration, I don’t think I want to go on any further.

My complaints are the same as they have been throughout the series’ run; I have had rather consistent problems with the pacing and the many contrived turns taken by the plot, but I held out. At this point I find myself questioning why.

The final straw was the introduction of the character of Oonishi, a visual novel designer. He adds one of the bad anime tropes that the series generally avoided: shitty “perverted” otaku humor. When he started going on about his “wives” I really should have just stopped, yet I continued.

However, while watching the next episode, I just felt a strong numbness. I had lost the ability to give a single fuck about the series and even then I still thought I would continue, if only because of how much time I had invested in it. It was only after I had to sit down and write out my thoughts that I realized that I really just didn’t want to watch anymore.

So, I’m done. Re:Creators isn’t among the worst from either this season or the last one, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like a huge waste of time.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 17 episodes.

RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD (ISEKAI SHOKUDOU)


Yatahaze:
Gonna keep this one brief: yes, I get that Restaurant to Another World was meant to be a relaxing show, but there’s a difference between “relaxing” and “boring,” and this title was the latter a little too often to last. The formulaic two-parter setup might have paid off the first few times, but that’s not an effective way of structuring the whole series unless you’re really into 10-ish minute glimpses of new characters all stumbling upon Nekoya in the same way and exhibiting the borderline same exact reactions to sorta pretty but not exactly mouthwatering food. In attempting to strike a sweet spot between the technical culinary bombast of say, Food Wars (side note, I am pumped for season 3), and whatever isekai du jour is popular lately, the show ultimately failed to fuse the two elements cohesively, instead just lumping them together, separated and hollow. The customers’ reactions to foreign dishes are pretty much all “huh, I wonder what this is. Oh, it’s good? Wow, maybe I’ll ask for a take-home container,” and while that may work for one or two characters, after a while the experience becomes completely homogeneous. The show also certainly didn’t seem to be in any rush to address actual culture clash, which is a shame, since a cast as diverse as this one would easily hit the ground running if they actually spoke to each other.

If I had to blame any one flaw other than the structural repetitiveness, I’d easily say the extensive narration; by filling in each new diner’s background, often without their own words, we may get a sense of where the character is coming from, but in doing so we lack a clear connection to the character as an entity with autonomy. How do they think? What’s their behavior like? Why can’t we simply be introduced to them through actions instead of trusting a sleepy third-person voice to fill us in with a complementary montage of their daily lives? “Show, don’t tell” is a fundamental of good storytelling for a reason, and while Restaurant’s excessive ASMR infodumping may be better than nothing, it indicates to me that it’s settling for less, and I have no desire to stick around with a show that does that to the brink of exhaustion. It’s always weird to leave after the appetizer, but sometimes you’ve just got to make a forward-thinking call, and I had no reason to believe Restaurant to Another World would fix its approach before the entrée or desert.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 5 episodes.

SAKURA QUEST


Yatahaze:
If Sakura Quest wasn’t a force to be reckoned with last season, it’s sure blossomed into one in the last two months, a stretch that consists of three of its wackiest, most heartwarming, and most well-articulated thematic arcs to date.

Disappointed with how backwards their plan for the Founding Festival went and fresh off some revelations about how perspective can alter your ideas, the girls split up for a little vacation; Sanae went back to Tokyo, Yoshino went home, and the few who remained in Manoyama mostly sat around bored. When they reconvened, I don’t think any of them were expecting a group of Spanish cryptologists to have invaded the town, but after months of trouble trying to bring people in, the Tourism Board couldn’t exactly afford to shy away from welcoming their surprise guests. Coincidentally, the pond also needed a cleaning, and that meant digging up some long-submerged secrets about the show’s older cast. I’m a sucker for “we were in a band once” episodes anyway, but the backstory of Kadota, Doku, and Oribe wasn’t just done well as a one-off, it was a series highlight, explaining so much about why these old curmudgeons act the way they do in regards to their tiny town’s place in the world. Even better, their youthful flashbacks felt alive and urgent in a way that only the desperation and passion of early punk music can convey.

During this arc, it was revealed that Kadota unceremoniously hammered the final nail in the coffin of a separate festival when his band was about to leave once and for all. After the fiasco, the residents of Manoyama decided continuing to hold the festival wasn’t worth the energy it sapped out of them, but after getting inspired, the Tourism gals decided to find a unique purpose for bringing it back to life without forgetting some of its essential roots. As a result, they went out on a search for three “festival treasures” and instead ended up introducing the internet to a bunch of devious senior citizens in a remote part of town who used their new technology to…you know, do what everyone on the internet does: harass each other, watch porn, secede.

…wait, what was that last one?

Yep, led by a resident university professor doing an extensive case study on rural life, the inhabitants of the offshoot village Warabiya mutinied against the town government until their demands for bus access were met. And despite Sakura Quest‘s supplementary message that “rural politics are all about connections,” it was this exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek display of stubbornness that forced the town to recognize their issues and seek a solution. Yoshino claimed to be their “hostage,” but the people in the most danger were the elderly Warabiyans themselves, who would’ve been cut off from society without public transport. Just like the old band arc, this one hit pretty close to home even before an untimely death among the cast weighed down the mood at the last minute: my own family has been a huge proponent of expanding public transportation in their municipal governments precisely because it connects people and fosters a more integrated community. For once, the Tourism Board and Takamizawa were able to work out a quick fix that satisfied both sides, a rare, pure feel-good moment for a show that’s otherwise been eager to slam down an asterisk whenever anything’s going too well.

Which is precisely what it did this most recent arc, when Maki was finally broke her facade of apathy and auditioned for one last acting role at the behest of her family, friends, and that one diehard industry kouhai of hers. It may not have gone poorly, but her performance still wasn’t enough to make the cut, and after heading home to discover that her abandoned middle school on the edge of town was in need of re-purposing, she realized that her love of acting needn’t stop just because she’d rather settle in Manoyama if the grandeur of being an actress can’t live up to the grueling reality. Maki’s been my favorite character in this show for a long time now, and I can closely relate to the wishy-washyness of her hobbies and her ties to a place she always thought she’d wanted to leave. This arc was perhaps the capstone for that personal growth, and I loved every second of it.

So yeah, I’ll admit that Sakura Quest has been very in line with my interests lately, but as I was starting to say when I last talked about it, it’s also been better as a production too; the dialogue is snappier, the themes are tied together and mixed between A- and B-plots in more interesting ways, and there’s always some element of humor that keeps its heavy moments hopeful. This show chronologically began in the spring, and as it gets ready for the cold embrace of winter, I have to imagine it’ll end right back where it started, Yoshino’s one year as Queen fulfilled and the cast once again deciding what path they’d like to take from here. It could be a happy ending where everyone stays or a bittersweet one where they part after making their small but lasting marks on this place in the middle of nowhere. Either way, I’m pretty sure I’ll be satisfied. On the surface, Sakura Quest is simply functional, but the heart that lies within has made it one of my favorite shows of the season, and possibly the year.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 20 episodes.

TSUREZURE CHILDREN


Yatahaze:
The season’s little short skits that could are still muscling along! I was expecting to enjoy Tsurezure Children a lot, but not quite this much. It’s amazing how every single one of these characters feels like an individual dorky teenager with so little screen time, and while they’re not all successes (anti-girls Motoyama was a bit much and the chemistry of most of the shyer couples isn’t as consistently engaging), when the show gets awkward adolescent romance right, it gets it extremely right.

I don’t want to skim over the individuality there, because while there’s one or two characters who may have similar personalities or physical appearances, it’s impressive that I rarely mix up any given two out of the twenty-some we’ve gotten to know so far. From lexicon to voice and body language, Tsurezure Children’s humongous cast pays off not only because of its hit ratio, but also because it’s able to pull off so many different dynamics instead of relying on only the loudest, cutest, or most unique members to drag the rest of an episode along. For me, it’s indeed the more boisterous folks who I love the most (Chiaki and Kana, Saki and Haruhiko, that little nightmarish gremlin Hotaru, etc.), but regardless of who’s in the skit when it first starts, I always look forward to seeing how it plays out, and that should tell you something about how constantly on target this show has proven itself to be.

Haru and I’s appreciation for these types of shows isn’t a secret. We’ve each seen more of them than we’d probably care to admit. So when we say Tsurezure Children is good, understand that it isn’t an uninformed or knee-jerk reaction. This series is grade A romantic comedy. Dig in if you haven’t yet.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

Harubruh:
Remember my line about feeling like a proud parent of this show from my first writeup? That was just for Tsurezure Children getting an adaptation. Can you imagine how I must feel now that I’ve seen nearly universal praise for it? I’m beyond thrilled for how this little comic series has blossomed.

Though we have a few prominent and consistently funny pairings with Furuya & Minagawa and Chiaki & Kana, now that it’s begun introducing some more of my favorite characters, such as Shinichi, the Love Master, I feel that Tsurezure is on for even more wild moments, considering they’ve yet to introduce a handful of my favorite couples this far in. I love all of the various angles on awkward teenage romance Wakabayshi has written, because sometimes it isn’t as easy as some rom-coms portray. Just look at Takase and Kanda, for example.

As far as a short episodic show could be concerned, Tsurezure Children’s adaptation is nearly perfect, and for me, a tad easier to enjoy, if only because the voice acting truly completes the whole experience. I still wish we could get full-length episodes, but I’ll happily take the half-episodes if that’s what it takes for this to remain as polished at it’s been.

Tsurezure Children is probably the one thing I’ll claim to be a hipster on without hesitance, because I’ve loved this 4-koma nearly since its inception. I’m just thrilled so many ani-folks are now enjoying the ride, too.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 7 episodes, obviously.

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM


Yatahaze:
I can’t say Welcome to the Ballroom is the show I look forward to most each week, but all I expect out of it is a competent tale of competition with above average production value, and that’s definitely what I’ve received thus far. A few too many still frames aside, I really appreciate the series’ visual finesse. It looked great before too, thought I was honestly expecting it to pull a Yuri!!! On Ice and nosedive once it got out of its opening stretch. Instead, the animation has stayed smooth and remained both calculatedly conservative and full of flavor. If we’re talking about the best productions this season, Ballroom is a serious contender.

But anime’s not only about the technical details, and while its underdog story isn’t exactly something I haven’t seen before and the dancing which sets it apart is fine and all, the real game-changer of Ballroom is its rapidly expanding cast. Last time we saw Tatara, he didn’t seem to have anything but the drive to be someone, but his speedy progression since then (attributed to his keen sense of observation and Sengoku’s hasty gut decisions) is coming at the perfect time, as Shizuku’s longtime partner Hyodo is sidelined from injuries. Right when the door opens for Tatara to replace him (and to be fair, he gets to for one dance number), a second duo comes barging in: a hot-headed rival-of-sorts named Gaju and his timid sister Mako. With the hope of setting each partner with someone on their level, Sengoku repositions Shizuku to be Gaju’s gal and Tatara is put in charge of leading Mako. The teacher thinks he’s got it all figured out: together, Gaju and Shizuku have the chops to continue competing professionally while Tatara and Mako can learn from each other.

And Sengoku’s got a point here—he usually does—though his ego also prevents him from seeing other people’s personal stakes. It’s also interesting (and admittedly not in my area of expertise) how dismissive towards its women the series can seem: I get that ballroom dancing is a sport where the line between partnership and romance is blurred and that it plays to patriarchal norms, but it’s still hard to watch Shizuku get shot down by an older man who thinks he always knows best, and that’s not even mentioning the occasional completely unnecessary fanservice from the first handful of episodes.

So yeah, Ballroom is a little problematic. But the fanservice aside, I also feel like a lot of what it’s doing in regards to gender space is simply reflective of an ugly reality and not necessarily advocating that line of thought. Again, I’m not well-informed in this and I’d be interested in reading more, but first and foremost, I want to see Ballroom address it too. Maybe not explicitly or through a sudden sea change, but with some sort of gradual redemption down the road. Its cast is too contagiously passionate to shy away from and this series’ aesthetic quality is evident. All that’s left is for the show to push a little deeper and make something truly unique out of itself.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.


And that’s all for this time! What are your thoughts about this summer’s shows so far? Any points you particularly agree with or want to contest here? Feel free to reach out by leaving a comment below or on our Twitter pages. We’ve got some possible articles in the works between now and the end of the season, but even if we don’t get get those wrapped up before then, we’ll be back with our summer final thoughts in late September or early October. ‘Til next time, this has been For Great Justice. Thanks for reading!

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