Fall 2017 First Impressions

Hey there, everyone, and welcome back to For Great Justice! You know what time it is – that time every season where we watch everything that catches our interest over the course of two weeks then try not to develop carpal tunnel writing about them. Which was especially brutal this time, ’cause in a year already stuffed with several new great hit titles and a handful of superb sequels, this fall doubled down on both for one of the most packed seasons we’ve had in a while. There are a lot of series worth highlighting and we’re pretty eager to tell you about them, so let’s just jump straight into it. Here are Yata & Haru’s fall 2017 season first impressions.


THE ANCIENT MAGUS’ BRIDE (MAHOUTSUKAI NO YOME)


Summary:
Chise, an ostracized, abandoned girl who can see mysterious creatures, is bought by Elias, a mage with a skull face, with the intent that she become his apprentice…and his bride.

Yatahaze:
Confession: I, FGJ’s least active reader, actually flipped through a fair bit of The Ancient Magus’ Bride’s manga a few years ago in one sitting and loved it. It was just long enough ago that I didn’t really bother to critique it from an analytical perspective and just appreciated its engrossing displays of magic. Sadly, I neither remember much about the actual plot events nor where I stopped reading it and why, but I don’t think it was due to anything (for lack of a better word) “problematic.”

So if that’s the main thing keeping you anxious, I guess take my word for the time being that while The Ancient Magus’ Bride definitely has some sketchy origins (any story that begins with the protagonist in chains in modern times qualifies by default), it’s not done in by them. It’s totally understandable to feel skeptical about the “bone daddy” vibes and Elias, you know, essentially buying a child bride, but if I can put your fears to rest, the story does dissect his behavior as “not entirely human” and Chise slowly grows less romanticized about “being saved” as time goes on. Her current predicament is treated as a net positive now, but its fetishistic implications are far more ambiguous than they appear at present, so I guess take that as you will.

As expected after the fantastic OVA side-story prequel released over the last year, Studio Wit bring their A-game to this title, maintaining the manga’s perfect blend of whimsical magic and mundane daily life superimposed atop one another. Chise’s befuddlement at everything around her means the first few episodes are pretty exposition-filled and predictable, but establishing the background of this world early is important and will help to make their later adventures more meaningful and understandable on their own terms. No worries though, as even now it manages some levity in its one-liners to keep things from getting too infodumpy, and the on-screen magic within speaks for itself; instead of narrating how impressive everything is, the atmosphere embraces the allure of the unknown and uncanny and shows it off.

And that’s my perfect type of magic show, so The Ancient Magus’ Bride seems like a solid adaptation of a just as solid source that should keep me entertained for its whole two cours if all goes well. From what I recall, it’s a bit of slow burn with the rest of its backstory, so as long as you’re content with finding out key details a little less often from this point, I don’t think you’ll have too many qualms going forward. I sure don’t think I will.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

BLOOD BLOCKADE BATTLEFRONT & BEYOND (KEKKAI SENSEN & BEYOND)


Summary:
The second season of action/adventure/sci-fi/comedy/urban fantasy clusterfuck Blood Blockade Battlefront, this time with a new writer & director at the helm.

Yatahaze:
I was a devoted fan of Blood Blockade Battlefront from the start. When the first season aired its debut, I was there cheering it on as director Rie Matsumoto’s big break, a one-of-a-kind series overflowing with energy and infinite ideas to explore.

And explore it did, to differing degrees of success. To this day, I still see arguments over whether the first series got too over its head or if Matsumoto’s (very eye-catching) direction, while good in theory, became part of the narrative’s downfall as it went on. Two years removed from the first season’s finale, what I remember most about BBB was not its somewhat messy overarching story or the directional choices themselves, but the world; Hellsalem’s Lot, effectively “New York, but with aliens, and anything goes,” was the source of all the wackiest, most memorable things the show could offer. It was decidedly foreign, but still carried a human touch, making its emotional beats hit close to home more often than not and allowing the action to take place on a majestic scale. In other words, it captured the best of both worlds for several moments, even if the whole’s vision felt somewhat like an afterthought.

With B3&B however, Matsumoto is out of the picture. Replacing her is the fairly un-notable Shigehito Takayanagi, and as you’d expect, his predecessor’s style is glaringly absent, meaning now more than ever the franchise would have to rely on its fundamental strengths: its setting, its cast, and to an underappreciated extent, its comedy.

Mixed results so far.

I loved the first episode, for what it’s worth. Part of the charm of Hellsalem’s Lot is that anything can happen at any moment, so reintroducing the story with Leo all ready to take his first day off in Lord knows how long only to be interrupted by a chase sequence where he tries to reunite one of Washington’s severed heads to its body was quintessential BBB. Filled with deliberate shot callbacks to season one, like many of that season’s finest episodes, it worked extremely well as a one-off while also giving a fair share of the spotlight to everybody at Libra. It’s no exaggeration to say this return was some of the most fun I’ve had watching anime in a while, and I genuinely cracked up several times.

That said, the second episode – like it or not (and I kind of didn’t) – was at least very BBB in how its ambition overshot its coherency. Primarily a flashback to Steven & Klaus’ night when the Beyond merged with NYC, this whole sequence served two purposes: one, to establish what that period looked like (which, while cool, seems rather unimportant), and two, to set up an episodic antagonist and side character, the former of which just appeared to be a throwaway Blood Breed and the latter of which almost surely could’ve stepped up in a more concise recollection.

So in a way, those worried about what Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond would do can rest assured that in many ways it’s not unlike the original. It’s fun, it’s unpredictable, and at times, it swings and misses. I crave those fun, unpredictable times and I’m certain we’ll get our fair share of them over the next three months given the source material, just as I’m sure we’ll get our fair share of misses too, and that’s just part of the experience. Regardless, I’m delighted BBB is back and I look forward to seeing what it has up its sleeve this time.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

CHILDREN OF THE WHALES (KUJIRA NO KORA WA SAJOU NI UTAU)


Summary:
Chakuro is a budding chronicler on board the Mud Whale, a self-sufficient, 90% telekinetic civilization wandering the seas of sand. When a drifting piece of land is spotted and some scouts go to check it out, Chakuro brings back an apathetic girl, the first person supposedly discovered from beyond the Mud Whale. As news of the discovery spreads, Ouni, a stubborn rogue imprisoned in “the bowels,” plots his escape to the outside.

Yatahaze:
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck Netflix.

Seriously. Fuck Netflix. Children of the Whales may be their only notable autumn grab for me, but they sure chose well, as this is easily one of the most well-rounded potential frontrunners for the best series of the season.

The story’s great too, and I’ll get to that, but I can’t state enough just how gorgeous this show is. From the Mud Whale’s innards to the sand seas that surround them, Children of the Whales has one of the most immersive settings I’ve seen from anime in years. Chakuro supplies some pretty dense exposition over most of the episode, but it’s largely a necessary evil; facts about his society as a studious commoner would know it get told to us directly while the swirling undercurrent of suspicion and manipulation lurk in the background. He’s a relatable enough main character in my eyes, as I’m a history major and his whole deal is feeling cursed with the urge to write down everything around him, but even those skeptical of his otherwise relative blandness would do well to concede that his position as a historian makes his predicament that much more dangerous. With this strange girl (who they name Lykos after the tag on her shirt) and Ouni, he finds himself whisked away off the Whale at the end of the first episode, but not before ramping up the intrigue to a ridiculous degree.

All is clearly not right with this isolated society and though there was a lot to parse in a very short amount of time, I’m wholeheartedly excited to see where the series is going next. It would take some pretty harsh writing flubs for me to tune out to a show this visually gorgeous anyway, and so far, Children of the Whales is delivering.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

FOOD WARS: THE THIRD PLATE (SHOKUGEKI NO SOUMA: SAN NO SARA)


Summary:
The third season of cooking shounen Food Wars. Following the second season’s Autumn Elections and Stagiaire internships, Souma & co. return to Totsuki and prepare for a tourist-friendly event called the Moon Banquet Festival, where students set up their own stalls and aim to sell as much food as possible.

Yatahaze:
And because this is…this show, Souma immediately tries beating one of the Elite Ten at his own specialty.

Welcome back, Food Wars. It’s been too long.

I won’t waste too much time here; The Third Plate’s gotten off to a bit of a lumbering start, and it wouldn’t do viewers harm to check out the second of this year’s OVAs to refresh on who exactly is in the Elite Ten to begin with. This season’s pilot somehow both leaped right into the drama and didn’t lift the curtain on its new antagonists, which left Souma’s higher-up friends to explain the ins and outs of the Moon Banquet Festival while Souma himself pondered what he could throw together to take Sichuan-specializing Eighth Seat Kuga down.

And here’s the thing: at this point, Food Wars isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen before, but after spending 30-odd episodes with these folks over the last two years, I’ve grown to love them as the supportive, fundamentally silly characters they are. It’s still early in the running, but while The Third Plate has yet to go above and beyond with its actual foodgasms, the franchise’s masterful balance of comedy and drama keeps the meantime fully engaging.

If you’re still a Food Wars fan, you likely don’t need me to tell you that. If you’re not one, you likely dropped off a long time ago. And if you haven’t seen any of this show…well, starting several arcs in with this season isn’t that recommendable. As such, I kinda feel like I’ll only be preaching to the choir here, but it’s a message I sure don’t mind rambling about. For the initiated and interested, grab some grub and then take a seat, ‘cause I’ll be around all season long shoving my hot Food Wars love down your throats and nothing short of death will stop me. Bon appétit.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GIRLS’ LAST TOUR (SHOUJO SHUUMATSU RYOKOU)


Summary:
Two young girls, Chito & Yuuri, wander the ruins of their civilization alone after Armageddon, hoping to recover food and goods from the wreckage to keep themselves alive.

Yatahaze:
It’s been a while since I’ve seen anything like Girls’ Last Tour; on the tin, it looks like your average moeblob show with one simple setting twist, and while that’s not exactly wrong (the characters practically melt into blobs several times per episode), there’s very little dissonance here. Hell, the most uncomfortable part may be the CG vehicle’s lack of congruence with the backgrounds. Instead of taking its post-apocalyptic setting and ramping up the edgy doom & gloom or disregarding it entirely for the sake of cheap laughs, the show takes the third (and best) option: using its world as a source of inescapable wonder, consistently sliding into the middle ground between something lighthearted and something more poignant.

Which means more than anything else, Girls’ Last Tour is oddly relaxing. With no external threat other than the elements and our understanding that storm or hunger couldn’t possibly claim either main character as a victim this early on, Chi & Yuu themselves are the biggest source of tension, and a good one at that. The two seem vaguely related or at least knew each other before the war tore them apart, but that’s otherwise where the similarities stop; Chito is responsible, intellectual, and in charge of navigating around. Yuuri, on the other hand, is spontaneous, illiterate, and much more inclined to shoot something than think about it.

Their personalities mix like oil and water, but their strengths make up for each other’s weaknesses. That said, where Girls’ Last Tour differs most notably from other sugary “cute girls doing X” shows (aside from the world) is how they act with more resigned, in-the-moment sensibilities. There’s no sugar here, and I don’t just mean that based on how they’re unfamiliar with chocolate; when one annoys the other, the series doesn’t go out of its way to keep things jovial. It lets the disgruntled character stew a bit and then snap back with the realization that contempt can’t possibly help their already bleak situation. The dialogue is simplistic and brief, but the surprisingly versatile character expression says loads more than endless exposition ever could, and the few times the duo really ponders aloud for a while, it’s usually over some topic as strikingly mundane to us as whether or not fish are edible or why the sky is blue.

Which brings me to the final thing I want to touch on here; like most atmospheric shows, Girls’ Last Tour relies on its settings to capture a specific mood and then allows the characters to extrapolate from there what they must. Even better, it’s not just one atmosphere that dominates the show; there are day and night scenes, cloudy and sunny, indoor and outdoor, and each scenario brings its own to the table. The first episode was a little heavy-handed with its explicit condemnation of war, but its second already demonstrated a much smoother handle on its tougher subjects. I’ll be very curious to see going forward to what extent the series will grow linearly, as so far each episode has been sliced into 2 or 3 skits depicting one particular topic or event, and while I’d love to believe there’s infinite possibilities here to fill the remaining length of this cour, it’s also worth acknowledging that much of what’s made the series work so far is its uneven balance of resignation and tension. That might be tough to sustain for an exceptionally long time, but for now, I definitely want see more of these two girls and their daily life traversing this stunning world in hibernation.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

THE IDOLM@STER SIDE-M

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Summary: A spin-off of the popular Idolmaster franchise, following the guys at startup talent agency 315 Productions.

Harubruh:
It’s another new season, and another prettyboy show that I’ve taken an interest in.

What’s different this time is that the prettyboy show in question is Idolmaster Side-M, the latest entry in the franchise that’s arguably the biggest bopper amongst the plethora of idol series out there. Given my history with these sorts of shows, I know this probably isn’t all that shocking, but Side-M has been a pretty big hit for me!

It’s no secret that in our storied(?) history at For Great Justice, we’ve paid woefully little attention to idol series in general. Hell, aside from the transcendental masterpiece that is Sekkou Boys, I think the first idol series any of us sat all the way through was Marginal #4, which I covered earlier this year! I mean, I did check out the original Idolmaster and Love Live Sunshine last year, only to get to about a quarter way through before I had some distractions come up. I’ll probably take those back up fairly soon, because these two series have a polish to them that just seems a cut above the rest of the background noise.

Side-M started off a bit earlier than most shows this fall, with an episode detailing a bit of backstory on Jupiter, the three-man unit established ahead of the rest of the 315 units, who apparently might already be familiar to longtime Idolmaster fans. For the uninitiated folks like myself, episode 0 was an enlightening look at the Jupiter unit’s rather humble roots to their recruitment by 315 Productions, which was a fun ride all its own.

The first couple of “actual” episodes show that 315 Productions’ ranks have rapidly swelled to around twenty or so members of all ages and backgrounds, with some initial teething issues as the new assembled units begin to build a rapport with themselves and the others. I found some sort of strange happiness that a couple of the new units are comprised of guys in their mid-twenties to thirties, as I’ve kind of found myself growing slightly weary of the usual high-school/middle-school focused shows lately. Perhaps this could be cheap brownie points, but hey, it’s hooked my attention effectively enough.

It’s pretty evident that the Idolmaster franchise is one of A-1 Pictures’ babies, because there is virtually no complaint I can muster with the production of the episodes that have aired so far. The visuals are good, as is the sound, and of course, the music. Heck, Side-M‘s OP is actually one of the standouts in what’s looking like a slight OP-light season.

If any of you guys are familiar with my track record with prettyboy shows, then you’ve probably guessed that I’m likely sticking around for the long haul on this one, so stay tuned for more!
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 3(?) episodes.

INUYASHIKI


Summary:
Ichiro Inuyashiki is an elderly, timid office worker with little to be happy about; his family is cold to him, he’s doing all the work moving them to a new house, and he’s also just been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Walking the dog one night, something crashes down from the sky on top of him and a stranger, and when he comes to, his body has been replaced by a machine. Next idea? Vigilante justice.

Yatahaze:
Inuyashiki was fucking depressing. It’s been a while since I watched a series that presented itself as this defeatist right off the bat, and it really doesn’t spare any opportunity to shit on Ichiro. Sad situations and shit luck are one thing, but the old man’s acceptance of everything was almost blasé to the point of unintentional comedy. Even when Ichiro’s back got…erm, “fixed,” he failed to gain a backbone until watching a homeless stranger on the verge of a good turnaround get assaulted by a bunch of teenage brats. Every millennial in the story is either downtrodden, violent, or angsty, even in daydreams; clearly writer Hiroya Oku (most famous for Gantz) doesn’t think highly of young’uns.

And look, I’m fine with Inuyashiki’s pessimism to a degree; getting old sucks and it’s not unrealistic for our main character to slide through his unhappy daily life. There comes a point though where so much of it at once ends up numbing rather than effective, and this pilot definitely felt held back by that. After watching Ichiro (who, by the way, barely talks and has one of the blandest personalities I’ve seen from a character in his situation) blunder around ever obstacle with passivity, suddenly making him out to be a hero who discovered emotion again just… didn’t work. The setup was all there, but everything felt so exaggerated for forced sympathy’s sake that the grand twist failed to resonate.

As for the direction, it was hampered by jarring shifts in and out of CG with little consistency in what remained traditionally drawn and what took on a more three-dimensional shape. Though there were a few choice cuts, a lot of the choreography and shot transitions felt stiff and clumsy, and while the background work was generally pleasant, it rarely matched well with the foreground, creating constant unwanted dissonance between the should-be realistic setting and the caricature-like characters.

A one episode blunder, perhaps? Maybe, but with a late debut date, this is all I have to go off of, and knowing already from other synopses that the Big Bad antagonist will be a young adult doesn’t have me convinced there will be any improvements to the tonal balance going forward. Usually edgy stories are a good laugh if nothing else, but this one is too wrapped up in otherwise sad adult problems to bridge that gap into pure comedy, and its execution doesn’t at all live up to the enticing premise. Inuyashiki is far from a total flop, and it’s not like a few of the things I’m sticking with this season don’t also need work, but this one’s too solidly in “not my thing” genre territory to stick with unless I hear news of a great rebound further on down the road.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

JUST BECAUSE!


Summary: Several students in their third year of high school await graduation, some anxiously, others with a sense of relief. Among them is Eita Izumi, whose family moves a lot and is just now returning to Kanagawa, meaning the timid boy will re-meet some familiar faces before finishing up school once and for all.

Yatahaze:
While I was expecting Just Because! to be satisfying, I sure wasn’t expecting it to impress me this much. I find it rare that high school anime capture the fleeting sense of freedom in imminent graduation quite as well as this one does. From its muted scenery and realistic character designs to the diverse array of relationships both strong and awkward, the show has done a fabulous job in just two episodes of making each member of its rather large cast feel like a person submissive to or appreciative of the fact that they’re nearing the end of their secondary school experiences, mostly content with their normal lives and already well-aware of one another.

It’s a simple enough premise that the real surprise here isn’t that it’s done well, but who it’s by: Hajime Kamoshida’s script work on this project is completely contrary of my expectations from him. I almost surely thought the Sakurasou creator would be the downfall of Just Because, but the material is delivered with confidence and an almost-total rejection of cheap comedy tropes, instead leaning headfirst into a significantly more mature and toned-down vibe. I’m just as impressed by how many characters the show is juggling already; there appear to be only a handful of mains, but each of them has already been shown with other friends and family as well, creating a believable web of constant interaction that greatly assists the show’s realism. Furthermore, it’s already impossible to mistake any of these characters for someone else; their voice actors are doing a fantastic job conveying their mannerisms and the visual design is placing an equal but understated importance on posture and body language. The reaction faces are a highlight, sure, but so are other scenes of characters just sitting around.

As for the hook? I’m not entirely sure there is one other than “’these guys have one semester left of high school’ and it’s kind of touching,” but I’m actually thankful for that. Instead of disrupting the low-energy drama, the series is easing into itself by revisiting characters as Eita does. Just Because looks to be a slow burn with romantic overtones much like spring’s Tsuki ga Kirei (even down to LINE getting a handful of cameos), but unlike the youthful naivete of that series, this one is calmer, a little older, and more inherently bittersweet. Not to mention it consistently looks phenomenal, containing some of the best shots I’ve seen all year. Those expecting something grandiose out of Just Because may be disappointed; it’s clearly a “small things mean a lot” type of show, and as far as those go, I don’t have any complaints so far. Easily a contender for my favorite show of the season.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

JUUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR


Summary: Every twelve years, the Juuni Taisen tournament takes place, where twelve fighters with the names of the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals battle one another with their lives on the line, all for glory and the fulfillment of one wish, granted to the winner by the contest’s referee, Duodecuple.

Yatahaze:
Despite the hype, I wasn’t even particularly looking forward to Juuni Taisen.

“It’s by Nisio Isin,” everyone was saying, and yeah, it is, and you can tell, but if his signature wordplay is at hand here, it’s relatively toned down or localized well in the subs, and as far as the plot itself goes, this might be one of the writer’s least zany creations yet, which I think speaks more to how much people enjoy schlocky death games than it does the quality of his writing. Don’t get me wrong though; Juuni Taisen is definitely wacky, and it’s written with a diverse, clear set of individual voices. Though I’m not sure everyone will be able to get behind its gorey premiere, it establishes each character well through the eyes of the Boar, a first-time contestant from an elite killing family who thinks she’s got an upper hand on this year’s challenge.

She falls at the end of the first episode and isn’t even the first one to die.

Her early passing isn’t really a spoiler either, nor does it feel like a cheap twist for twist’s sake; like the best light novel authors, Isin imbues these characters with enough personality for a 20-minute flashback to feel not only worth it in regards to understanding why the Boar’s cockiness was her downfall, but essential to setting the tone for Juuni Taisen as a whole. The premiere proudly declares “stay tuned for the bloodbath” while also laying the ground rules for this year’s rendition of the tournament; from a 12-hour time limit to loose talk about clearing each and every bystander from the city that becomes the Juuni Taisen’s playground, it addresses several talking points and loopholes before they have a chance to suck the viewer out of the action. Good thing too, because as good as the show is, without these disclaimers the room for excess chaos would set the suspension of disbelief bar quite high.

But boy, let’s talk about the action, because while good strategy makes for a good battle royale (and believe me, with some contestants already playing the “let’s team up…for now” card, this show isn’t slacking there either), the showdowns have to feel climactic and explosive too. From the Boar’s training flashbacks to the abrupt collapse that scatters the twelve competitors in the first episode, the big moments in Juuni Taisen are animated and directed with evident craft and class, the choreography rushing by in a beautiful frenzy of smears and fluid motion. Perhaps the least evocative thing about this series’ world is the city itself, though its muted interiors and shimmery skyline contrast well with the more…shall we say, “out there” character designs.

Even if Juuni Taisen isn’t the most charming thing to look at or the most clever offering airing, it succeeded in hooking me. I want to see how this contest goes down, and while I’m not sure my interest will remain sustained throughout the whole season (and I’m definitely worried that 3 of the 12 contestants are already dead by the 2-episode mark), at the moment it’s a tongue-in-cheek thrill that leans into its ridiculous premise with surprising efficacy. Count me on board for now.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KINO’S JOURNEY: THE BEAUTIFUL WORLD (2017)


Summary:
A half-reboot/half-alternate version of the original 2003 series Kino’s Journey, in which Kino travels from place to place with a talking motorcycle named Hermes, spending three days in each location they visit.

Yatahaze:
The original Kino’s Journey is a series I’ve been meaning to look into for years but just haven’t gotten to yet. After asking around, I was told this new take on it would be similarly episodic and friendly to new viewers, so in I went, hoping to provide the unbiased perspective of a newcomer.

And it’s definitely episodic, but I’m not entirely sure if this version is indeed friendly to newbies like myself and just somewhat obtuse in general, or if I’m not getting the full picture. I’ve seen the first Kino’s Journey described as atmospheric and philosophical, and while Lerche’s streamlined designs prevent this one from registering on the same level as the art I’ve seen from its predecessor (the CG biking doesn’t help either), I will say it generally looks pleasant. Besides, the show’s undeniably packed with thematic weight, which gives me something to be contemplative about when each episode ends.

I just wish I was actually contemplative about the message instead of the material, because so far I’m mostly struggling to see why people think this is all that special. I already have a feeling I’ve grasped the general tone the series is going for and the writing seems pretty predictable; for instance, as soon as the angry traveler from episode 1 started shouting at Kino, I knew the townsfolk would unite against him, just as how when Shizu relayed he needed to make a change by winning in the Coliseum, that change probably meant killing the king for personal reasons. In action, it’s not the events themselves which impact me or leave me curious; it’s Kino’s stoic reactions. Kino’s so far walked into two cities where death was a very real possibility and came out mostly unscathed both physically and mentally. If this keeps up, the intrigue will wear off as the predictability goes up, which is worrisome for the already not-too-subtle tone, and if it doesn’t, then it’s sure not getting off to the most gripping of starts.

In other words, I’m curious but have mixed thoughts about Kino’s Journey because I don’t feel like it’s showed its cards yet, or at least given me the quality I expected considering its reputation. You could arguably call both these first two episodes edgy, with implied commentary about death that feels far less philosophical than it lets on. And while the hype from even diehard fans after episode one initially had me hopeful that everything would make sense in the end, the backlash over episode two – to my understanding, a retelling of something from season one, but sped up and sapped of emotional oomph – has me concerned about continuing forward. Worst of all though, I can’t comment on how I think the series is incompetent because I don’t know what its goals are. I just have to assume the endgame is to show off each country and maybe build Kino’s character along the way, and on both those fronts, I’m not all that engaged.

For a full day afterward, I tried convincing myself that everything respectable about the experience would become apparent, but I can’t say that with a straight face. Up to now, my investment in this new season of Kino’s Journey has been almost solely on behalf of the praise given to its original work, and if the whole point of covering this reboot was for me to try and provide a newcomer’s fresh perspective, I can’t do that if my predisposed mindset is one of reverence to a thing I haven’t seen for reasons I do not know. With that in mind (and despite claims to the contrary by those more in the know than I am), I just don’t feel like I can watch this Kino’s Journey and produce any meaningful remarks about it. These two episodes failed to hook me for the story’s sake itself, and in a season this packed, an obligatory “hype watch” for something like that just seems out of the question.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

KONOHANA KITAN


Summary:
A ditsy girl named Yuzu is dropped off at the Konohanatei, a hot spring inn. The owner allows her to work there, and Konohana Kitan follows her and her new coworkers around as Yuzu gets used to the job…and trying to be useful in general.

Yatahaze:
Not much to say about this one; it does its “fox girls running an inn” thing fairly well, and I have to imagine any diehard fuwa fuwa fanatic will eat this up. That said, I’m not one; I want a little more out of shows like this, something that sets them apart, and if the “but everyone is foxes” deal is the main selling point and it’s checking every box in the cliché list it can, that’s just not enough for me to buy in.

Which isn’t to say Konohana Kitan is doing everything wrong, just that its pilot was so comfortably average I feel safe assuming the series won’t be reaching for a higher bar going forward. As a main character, Yuzu is a bit of a dunce, and I appreciated how the rest of the staff responded to her in different ways, though I also failed to connect with anyone other than the girl who found her new irresponsible co-worker irritating. I suppose that can’t be a good sign.

I’ve seen this show called a poor man’s Hanasaku Iroha, and I’d definitely say that’s an accurate label; both shows are gorgeous (perhaps Konohana’s biggest success is its lovely art) and feature women running an inn, but beyond that, I can’t see Konohana Kitan playing the drama card strong enough to bring out the best in its characters. Series like this tend to stay fluffy, and I’m sure that’ll be someone’s cup of tea, but this season is too star-studded to stick with a title so content with playing its genre beats this indistinguishably straight.
Final score: 5.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS (HOUSEKI NO KUNI)


Summary:
In a world inhabited by immortal anthropomorphic jewels in constant defense against the Lunarians, a strange alien army that wishes to harvest them, the rambunctious weakling Phosphophyllite (Phos for short) is tasked with archiving an encyclopedia of their society in order to stay out of harm’s way. Harm’s way is not escaped.

Yatahaze:
Chances are if you’ve heard any talk about Land of the Lustrous, it’s either been on account of the endless Steven Universe comparisons, the fact that each jewel is genderless, or its context in the constant CG debate. I’m not qualified to discuss that first point and the second one is neat but doesn’t really feel as vital to the story as some other quirks, so instead, let’s start with the most controversial point; yes, pretty much the whole series appears to be CG. It’s the first full-length television series by the recently-formed Studio Orange, who have previously (from what I can infer) contributed 3D elements to the likes of Black Bullet and Dimension W, series that, from what I’ve seen, didn’t blend their CG parts that well.

Apparently keeping the dimensions consistent is all they needed though, because Land of the Lustrous looks about as good as CG anime can. It’s a little conservative as far as backgrounds go, mostly confined to the polished, un-decorated building and the spacious meadows of the jewels’ island, but what it lacks in constant atmosphere it trades for fabulous action scenes and some of the most expressive character acting I’ve seen all season. Admittedly, aside from the jewels’ heads, there aren’t too many distinguishing characteristics from gem to gem, so all the personality comes down to each one’s voice acting and appropriate physical reactions, and as far as those go, this show shines. Phos exemplifies much of what makes it so entertaining; they’re snarky, overconfident, and a little lazy but not exactly stupid, which makes them a great vessel for us to explore the much more uptight hardness hierarchy that determines where everyone else stands. Comebacks, whining and all, I’d hate to live around Phos, but I love watching them.

All told, they’re really the reason I love Land of the Lustrous so far, as its overarching conflict is currently a bit too abstract to latch onto, instead trying to entice on its weirdness factor. Whether it continues to spotlight the divisive attitudes between the jewels or branches off on a more orthodox “defend the world from the evil Lunarians” route, I’m definitely curious to see what path it takes. There’s decent potential in any number of directions given just how well-rounded the show otherwise is.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION (3-GATSU NO LION) 2nd SEASON


Summary:
The second season of last fall/winter’s slice-of-life about shogi & depression, March Comes In Like a Lion.

Yatahaze:
I’ve written at length several times about just how meaningful March Comes in Like a Lion is to me; from its keen depiction of depression and isolation to its consistently gorgeous background art, the series left a profound mark on me when it first aired this time last year, reaching out of the darkness and reminding me life will be tough, but we’re all capable of muscling on. It’s not a perfect franchise; while its comedy and SHAFTisms can sometimes feel intrusive and its reliance on the manga source material for pacing is occasionally counterproductive to what would work well in an animated adaptation, my actual reservations about the show are minimal and largely irrelevant.

That is, I feel a bond with March Comes in Like a Lion that – while I can maybe offer some gutting analyses of what it’s doing and why it works – I also fear may make me turn a blind eye to its shortcomings. I’ve Stockholm Syndromed my way through the cats playing shogi and other subpar elements from season one, and I have to imagine the same will likely happen over the course of this sequel. But I can already tell that as glad as I am to have March back, this one episode it relaunched with wasn’t quite the grandiose return I expected.

But hey, part of March’s message is that people grow and learn to ease up over time. Both Rei and myself still suffer from depression; just because we find ourselves in modestly happier places now compared to a year ago doesn’t mean the illness just up and leaves. There’s plenty of time down the road to revisit the dread of pressure and responsibility, but in this moment, coming off a quite celebratory and optimistic end to season one, Rei is in a nice spot, and this episode carried that emotion through from start to finish. He woke up this time confident, sustained that attitude throughout his whole day, found joy actively participating in his new club at school, and returned with “home”-made sweets of his own to share with the Kawamotos. All things considered, the show’s shogi elements took the back burner here, as they arguably should’ve; the episode prefaced some upcoming rivalries and enjoyed itself in a flurry of wacky cuts and distinctly SHAFT visuals, but it didn’t need to do much more than that given how rewarding it is just seeing Rei content for one day.

And here I fall back into the self-doubt; am I really “reviewing” March if the bulk of my critique comes down to “this is relatable” or “good for this kid?” Is that really enough?

I’m not sure, but I do know this: while the series didn’t quite leave me an emotional wreck with its new start, it’s impossible to judge March for what it does in one standalone episode, especially a generally upbeat one such as this. This show’s biggest draw is in its gradual coming to terms with competition, independence, and belonging. Just because that’s not what was primarily depicted here doesn’t mean that’s not what the show will continue to press on about, and when it does, I will probably praise it mindlessly. But for now, March came in like the sugar created in this episode; with a quick, passionate buzz to re-focus the brain and prepare for the challenges to come. Not the most nutritional thing, but we all need it once and a while. Welcome back, March Comes in Like a Lion. I’ve missed you.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (NET-JUU NO SUSUME)


Summary:
30-year-old NEET Moriko Morioka downloads a popular new MMO called Fruits de Mer and shortly finds herself (or rather, her male character, Hayashi finds himself) firmly established in a group of friends who gather on the server in their spare time. Among them is Lily; a cute, helpful, cheerful girl…or so Moriko thinks.

Yatahaze:
Alright, first things first, I would not consider myself a gamer, and the few games I do enjoy aren’t MMOs. As long as there’s a charming cast though, I can easily find myself engaged with just about anything, and my enjoyment of Log Horizon has already shown gaming is no exception to that. MMO Junkie even has a unique (or at least under-utilized) concept up its sleeve; the central duo plays as gender-swapped characters online. But if this series is going anywhere ambitious with that concept, it didn’t imply as much in its first episode.

Frankly, the problems run deeper than untapped potential though; this show’s pilot was almost completely ineffective at drawing me in or getting to know its characters or world at all. Moriko is the show’s best bet going forward, yet despite being the main character (and a fairly silly one at that), the show spends most of its time inside its in-universe fictional world, getting to know each character through dry, comparatively static exchanges between the game characters that – if Moriko is to be established as precedent – hardly convey the mannerisms or attitudes of the people who play them. Even worse, though Moriko herself has a few great one-liners, her sense of voice is dearly lacking aside from cutaway shots of her sitting at her computer, and there’s no attempt at exposition (inferred or otherwise) elaborating on why she finds herself jobless at 30. With the main character’s introduction this shallow, I find it twice as hard to believe any of the show’s other real-life counterparts will be more interesting than their avatars. Sadly, the virtual world doesn’t make up for reality’s losses; the designs are all fairly bland, incongruous with the confused setting’s aesthetics, and generally uninteresting.

Like I mentioned earlier, I can be pulled into stories outside my comfort zone, but what I really fear here is that MMO Junkie is failing to crawl out of its own shell; it has a neat premise at its disposal, but it doesn’t seem capable of expanding on it with a group of characters I’d be excited to revisit each week. There’s nothing inherently awful going on here, and “inoffensive” is definitely a term I’d use to describe it, but while I’ve admitted gaming-influenced shows aren’t my forte, I feel like even a seasoned fan would be underwhelmed too. Maybe that’s not the case, and have fun if so, but MMO Junkie just isn’t doing it for me.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

TWO CAR

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Summary: High schoolers Yuri Miyata and Megumi Meguro are members of a motorcycle sidecar racing team representing their home island of Miyakejima in a racing tournament eyeing a chance to run at one of the most prestigious races in the world.

Yatahaze:
As I’m sure anyone who suffers through my occasional Twitter ramblings knows, both Haru & I fancy ourselves some motorsport. I’m a relatively avid NASCAR fan and more normie with other forms of it while he has a greater knack for automobiles themselves, and I think that’s reflected in our respective experiences with Two Car.

It’s worrisome though that this show is very niche from the outset, even among motorsports fans. Sidecar racing is a rarity with a few key events each year, and the series clumsily eschews some would-be helpful explanations while stating others outright to try making up for a lack of visual detail. As just about any race fan can tell you, unlike a lot of stick and ball sports, attending a race is a very sensual experience; the sights and smells can rarely be captured on live TV well, much less in a watered-down anime production from a merely average studio, and those missing elements are vital to conveying what makes the sport appealing.

In some cases, that wouldn’t be an issue, but for any given sports anime, making the activity at its core seem fun is the first task, and Two Car…just doesn’t really do that besides novelty value that wears off quite quickly. Its characters aren’t a particularly diverse or memorable bunch either (save for the Motegi Twins, nice one) and by episode’s end, any spare interest I had left over from my own…questionable preferences in motorsport…ran dry. If Two Car can’t win over those who already have half a clue about what’s going on, it’ll have a rough road ahead trying to win over the uninitiated.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Harubruh:
Aaaaaaaand with this, I believe this is one of the first occasions that Yata and I have gone 0-fer on series premieres, as I’ve found Two Car strangely enjoyable!

I’m actually sort of surprised Yata didn’t take a liking to this as I did. I think this is the first dedicated motorsports anime that I’ve seen air since I’ve started avidly watching anime back in 2012, and the first that I’ve watched since the sorta sci-fi racer IGPX aired on Toonami about a decade ago. Before you ask: No, I have not seen Redline yet, and I am actively trying to address that glaring issue.

Also, no, Cardgames on Motorcycles doesn’t count.

It is true that Two Car is trying to walk this strange line between appealing to motorsports fans and remaining a coherent and relevant show, and so far that line has been traversed with all the smoothness of attempting to hang on to a sidecar while the bike hurtles into a gravel trap. The main characters Meguro and Miyata’s personalities are about as abrasive as the aforementioned gravel, and many of their rivals’ and companions’ personalities could make a cardboard standee at a convention seem human.

There is one shining example in their coach Tanahashi, who seems to almost be an allusion to Top Gear’s Stig, with the show getting rather creative in its shyness to reveal his face. There’s all sorts of other nods all over this show to motorsports too, such as the twin sisters comprising the team from Motegi as a shoutout to the Twin Ring Motegi circuit (in addition to another team from Tsukuba), or the show literally making a chance to race at the Isle of Man TT, one of the most insane and grueling races on the planet. Two Car endeared itself pretty quickly with me after the first mention of the race.

I thought this show did an adequate job portraying the racing action. It was almost a gimme that most of it would be done in CG, which wasn’t terribly offending to the eyes, but there were some moments when special care was taken, especially when depicting the sidecar rider’s techniques as they went into turns, with some particularly outstanding shots happening in the big race in the first episode. Oh, and does the art style look familiar? Silver Link and Korean artist Tiv worked together on the designs for this show as they did for Masamune-kun’s Revenge from earlier in the year.

I’ll be honest with you and cut right to the nitty gritty — the first episodes of Two Car are pretty rough around the edges, but there is definitely potential to be had here. Part of me is just being slightly greedy here; I want Two Car to succeed, if only so that we may see more straight-up motorsports anime in the spirit of this. I’ll persevere with this in the hopes that it fulfills the potential I see in it.
Current score: 5.5/10
Still watching after two episodes.

URAHARA


Summary:
Rito, Mari, & Kotoko run the a e s t h e t i c shop of their dreams called Park in Harajuku when suddenly aliens named Scoopers appear in the sky and suck in famous cultural landmarks from around the world. In the confusion, a little girl supposedly scooped up by the aliens named Misa and her talking fried shrimp scarf Ebifurya arrive on the scene with special orbs that give the girls special powers to save the city.

Yatahaze:
Urahara was one of my most-anticipated titles of the season; any international effort with a decent premise is enough to catch my eye, let alone one supported by a partially Crunchyroll-led web comic. And even beyond that, the earliest promotional materials for this were, to put it lightly, eye-catching. If nothing else, Urahara promised to be an eccentric, artsy watch.

And eccentric and artsy it is, but whether or not that makes it “good” seems to be a different discussion entirely.

I for one greatly enjoyed the show’s first two episodes. Their writing and shot direction were undeniably messy, but my biggest takeaway was that the crews behind this series are putting a lot of heart into the production, and it goes a long way. Urahara‘s most obvious flaws are its stilted animation and awkwardly-timed dialogue, supporting the notion that the minds behind this project are going through some growing pains in making a good comic translate into good television. The style is there (almost overflowingly so) and there’s no lack of substance behind it either, as the characters each have distinct, subtly nuanced personalities and the series’ whole gimmick is effectively an interplanetary commentary on cultural appropriation. It’s crazy to us, but only slightly less so to them, and the way one lead remarks how she’s totally “seen aliens before” and another comments on her parents’ divorce in a just as unconcerned manner feels pretty…weird.

But here’s the kicker; two episodes in, I can’t tell if that’s by design or simply a byproduct of incompetent storytelling. Urahara is ostensibly a magical girl sci-fi, and it’s not uncommon for works of those genres to withhold vital information until later on. All I really have to go off of here is some rambly exposition from Shrimp-kun and the general vibe of the show, which, beyond all reason, I am absolutely in love with. Don’t get me wrong; Urahara is sloppy, but it’s so sloppy it practically comes full circle to no detriment. From the jaded tone the series takes on implicitly addressing tough subjects to the Yuasa-esque paneled scene transitions and scribbly art, I have no guarantee the show is succeeding at what it’s trying to do or whether or not I will stay reliably entertained for its whole run, but I do know that I’m eating up whatever lightning in a broken bottle it’s managed to capture so far, and I’m very curious to see where it goes. For all the technical flaws, there’s a lot of charm (and very pretty backgrounds) on display here, which should make it a nice head-scratching popcorn watch for a few more weeks if nothing else.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.


And that’s all for now! We’ll be back in about a month to update our thoughts on these shows…and maybe even before then with a little surprise. :3
In the meantime, leave a comment below and let us know what you thought about this fall’s premieres; your favorites, your flops, and anything you think we may have missed. As always, feel free to follow our Twitters over there on the sidebar for constant anime shitposts, and until next time, thanks for reading! We hope to see you again soon.

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