Winter 2018 First Impressions

It’s a new year, but here at For Great Justice, we’re the same old us. For our first post on the subject of 2018, Yata and Haru did the usual, watching a ton of this new winter season’s premieres and whipping together some initial thoughts on them. In a season defined by popcorn shows, how did the ambitious hypetrains fare? Which said popcorn shows are the best? And will we ever stop cringewatching the problematic content of the season? The answers to all those questions and more below! Let’s kick off the new year right!


A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE (SORA YORI MO TOOI BASHO)


Summary:
Mari “Kimari” Tamaki just began her second year of high school and wants to make good on her promise to get the most out of her youth. In a chance encounter, she hits things off with Shirase Kobuchizawa, an aloof girl in her grade trying to make her undying mission a reality: exploring the Antarctic just like her mother.

Yatahaze:
Getting there is half the battle, of course. So far our main cast (rounded out by full-time worker Hinata and a yet-to-be-introduced fourth girl) is still in Japan, scheming how to bribe their way into the country’s first civilian expedition in three years. I’m relieved A Place Further Than the Universe (hereafter referred to as its fan abbreviation Yorimoi) isn’t jumping straight into its premise. These first two episodes are given room to breathe, focusing more on Kimari’s conflicting fears of failure and missing out. It’s a relatable dilemma, and a person like Shirase, headstrong and daring, is exactly the kind of friend fit to push Kimari out of her shell. Not that Shirase is flawless either; her one-track mind easily gives into desperation and standoffish-ness when things go awry. With Hinata’s carefree enthusiasm, the main trio as it stands is a well-balanced bunch of friends looking to put an end to their collective teen impatience.

Director Atsuko Ishizuka is clearly competent, lifting several shows with underwhelming premises (most notably The Pet Girl of Sakurasou and No Game No Life) to critical acclaim. This is the first time I’ve seen her showcase solid, original material though, and it’s paying off. Her love of bright, vibrant colors remains, but it’s toned down with a more realistic touch befitting of this story’s tone. The shot composition is also wonderful, especially when it plays around with unaddressed background irony. The white character outlines recall last year’s Tsuki ga Kirei, which also got a ton of mileage out of its realistic atmosphere, and that production’s mid-run stumbles likely won’t be replicated by a studio as prestigious as Madhouse with Yorimoi.

Most importantly though, Yorimoi is just a charming watch. All of its characters are endearing individually and even livelier together. I can’t wait to see how they get to Antarctica and what actually happens while they’re there. Highly recommended for any fan of grounded character dramas aiming for something grand.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

AFTER THE RAIN (KOI WA AMEAGARI NO YOU NI)


Summary:
Due to an ankle injury, soft-spoken high-schooler Akira Tachibana is taking a break from her track & field activities to work as a waitress in a family restaurant…and crush on her divorced 45-year old manager, a clumsy but kind-hearted single dad named Kondou.

Yatahaze:
I was very skeptical going into After the Rain. I don’t mind watching problematic romances play out in fiction as long as they’re entertaining and aware of their sketchiness. A romance between a high-schooler and a middle-aged man certainly isn’t something I’d cheer on in real life or on-screen, so to sell me, this show either had to convince me its characters are worth more than the bond between them or interrogate the awkwardness of the bond itself.

I can’t make any useful commentary about the latter this early on, but one thing’s for sure: after one episode, I myself am in love with these characters. Akira is the least charming of the bunch, but even then, I think most of that comes down to how After the Rain gave its cast space to breathe and didn’t rely on extensive monologues to sell its drama. When normal, fluid conversations take place, they’re fantastic, imbuing her co-workers and classmates with a ton of personality. Most importantly, if there’s any creeping to be done here, it’s on Akira’s behalf. Right now, Kondou is just a dorky dad doing his best at managing a restaurant. He clearly cares for his staff and his customers, and his appeal is easy to understand. While Akira’s more shielded, After the Rain at least does good on its promise to sell her crush as an in-character one. Akira doesn’t totally know what she wants, but she knows she finds Kondou attractive, and Kondou at present is more or less ignorant of it all.

How long it’ll stay this way, I’m not sure. I’ve heard confirmations from manga-readers that the series is more about youthful malaise than forbidden love, and with the way this pilot depicted Akira’s detachment from the world around her, I can see that being the case. Even if it does go down a more romantic route, After the Rain’s merits as a production will probably keep me coming back. It wasn’t particularly flashy, but Ayumu Watanabe’s down-to-earth direction akin to his work in Space Brothers mellows out the source material’s distinctive, shoujo-y character designs well. Its sense of humor is great too—never overbearing or crude, its light-heartedness keeps the drearier parts of the episode moving and are sure to invoke some chuckles.

So yeah, this one’s longevity ultimately rests on where it takes its story, but so far the execution is well above-average and I do want to see more of this cast. After the Rain may not make it to season’s end, but it definitely can, and in a season like this, that potential from a unique premise is good enough for me.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

CARDCAPTOR SAKURA: CLEAR CARD ARC (CLEAR CARD-HEN)


Summary: After starting in junior high school, Sakura Kinomoto dreams of her collection of magical Clow Cards turning clear after a run-in with a cloaked person with an apparent connection to the Cards. She wakes to find that her cards have actually been rendered clear and powerless, and thus Sakura and friends must capture the Clear Cards.

Harubruh:
I’m not at all shy about my love for the original Cardcaptor Sakura of the late 90’s—I still regard it even today as my favorite example of the “magical girl” genre and one of the very best slow-burn romances I’ve ever seen in an anime. I can pretty effortlessly say that I’m absolutely thrilled that CLAMP so graciously decided to gift the world with more of this delightful series.

Madhouse really pulled out all the stops with the Clear Card premiere, and it’s hard to blame them. A handful of films and Trigun aside, Cardcaptor Sakura was instrumental in Madhouse cementing their spot in the industry as one of the so-called “powerhouse” studios. To my understanding, a large amount of the staff responsible for the original were brought back and so far, they’ve done a fantastic job in helping bring the nostalgic style of the old series into the modern age, even with the rapid in-universe switch from old-fashioned mobile phones to touchscreen smartphones. It’s been twenty years, guys, give them a break on that bit.

It’s been nearly a year since I rewatched the original anime, so much of it is still relatively fresh, all things considered. Still, it was nice that Clear Card Arc starts off essentially with the token bit of reintroduction to the cast, including Syaoran’s return from Hong Kong and reunion with Sakura, which was probably the loveliest bit of it all! Speaking of which, probably what I’m most eager for with this new series is more romantic fluff between Sakura and Syaoran, because I’m such a sucker for stuff like this.

Most of you who are even vaguely familiar with me could probably figure that it was a gimme that I’d follow this series come hell, high water, or fake missile crisis, so look forward to me gushing about in the future.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes (and the entire original series, of course).

CITRUS


Summary:
After her mother remarries and moves, free-spirited gyaru Yuzu is forced to enroll in her step-grandfather’s conservative academy, but she’s ridiculed and rebuked on the first day for disobeying the dress code. To make matters worse, the cold Student Council President is also her new step-sister Mei, a girl who doesn’t think twice about invading Yuzu’s personal space.

Yatahaze:
I’m putting that lightly, though: Mei strips, holds down, and advances on Yuzu without her consent while also having an affair with one of the academy’s teachers. The teacher is fired when Yuzu makes a scene out of it, but that only angers Mei more. She moves out, Yuzu gets expelled, and things are generally pretty dubious right now. There’s a story here, sure, and I’m optimistic the show will also explore Yuzu’s lesbian awakening and the academy’s dynamics of manipulation, but let’s be honest: Citrus is also unapologetic titillation. Borderline softcore porn with a heaping spoonful of teenage angst. Incredibly trashy.

And I’m incredibly trashy for finding it wholeheartedly entertaining.

But oh well, I do, I won’t deny it. This is generally the part of the write-up where I explain why I think the show is good or worth watching, but I kind of don’t think it’s remarkable or recommendable. The character designs and animation are tame, and Spice & Wolf aside, director Takeo Takahashi has no lauded credits to his name. That said, he and studio Passione are doing a good enough job so far keeping me hooked on the drama, so something‘s working. Then again, with a show like this, keeping me hooked isn’t too hard: I vaguely know what I’m getting into, and as long as I receive 24 minutes of teens moping and morally suspect yuri each week, my simple, hormonal brain will likely remain pleased. Even if it’s bad justice, they do say Citrus is good for vitamin C, so I might as well dig in.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

DAGASHI KASHI 2


Summary:
The second season of Dagashi Kashi, the 2016 info-gag comedy about Japanese confections and a kid tasked with inheriting his pops’ candy store.

Yatahaze:
There’s a different studio and time constraint at play for Dagashi Kashi 2, but otherwise, not much has changed. Depending on your impressions of the first season, that could be either a compliment or a complaint. Did you like this show’s formulaic excuses to prattle on about Japanese candy at the expense of a prominent plot or character development? By all means, that’s fine, and Dagashi Kashi gets how to satisfy people whose primary interest is learning about novelty dagashi.

However, I love shows about niche passions like this when they aren’t solely about the passion itself. Just as these products can be used as a means to explore characters, the characters can also be used (less fruitfully, in my opinion) as a means to explore products. It’s the latter which Dagashi Kashi and this sequel aim to do, and after unenthusiastically slogging through a first season characterized by a minimal, unsatisfying amount of overarching development, I mostly just checked out this sequel’s pilot to see if anything had changed. For better or worse, nothing important has. If you loved Dagashi Kashi, this probably won’t disappoint you. If you didn’t, this isn’t likely to change your mind. It sure didn’t change mine.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

DEATH MARCH TO THE PARALLEL WORLD RHAPSODY (DEATH MARCH KARA HAJIMARU ISEKAI KYOUSOUKYOKU)


Summary:
 29-year-old programmer Ichirou Suzuki goes to sleep after a marathon of coding, waking only to find himself as a 15-year-old in a different world closely resembling the games he was programming. After summoning a giant meteor that wipes out a legion of lizard men, he ends up at a ludicrously high level. Isekai power indulgence shenanigans ensue.

Harubruh:
First things first: How dare this show’s protagonist co-opt the name of the greatest contact hitter in baseball history? I mean I get it, “it’s a common name,” blah, blah blah. But come on, Ichiro deserves better than to have to share a name with a generic isekai protagonist.

Sure, sure, Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody’s premiere wasn’t terribly offensive—heck, it was borderline okay at moments, but this anime has one huge problem that has it doomed from the start with me: I went and read about 20 chapters deep into the manga version out of pure curiosity when the anime was announced.

“Well, if you got that far, it can’t be all that bad, right?”

Nah. Death March gets a little (and I hate to have to use this specific adjective, BUUUUT) problematic very quickly. This being an isekai, of course Satou (as he goes by in this new world) inadvertently gathers a group of girls to accompany him rather swiftly. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, right? Tons of shows do this, especially in this genre, but a couple of the girls (whose names escape me) *technically* are his slaves. Of course, Satou treats them all nice and compassionately, but the whole prospect of this bit of the series is still super cringey.

Hence, Death March gets immediately relegated to the prestigious Harubruh Drunkwatch club, joining the likes of such esteemed members as Eromanga-sensei. Honestly, it wasn’t even near as potent of a drunkwatch as the aforementioned drunkwatch, though I am of course giving this show another whack, because I can’t help but torture myself with the trainwrecks before eventually moving on to the actual outstanding shows.

It’s not so much for watching the show as it is for the drinking at home bit here.
Current score: 5/10 (this score is sure to drop)
Still watching after 1 episode.

DARLING IN THE FRANXX


Summary:
In a militaristic future world, children are paired in boy-girl teams and raised to pilot robots called the FranXX for missions against mankind’s enemy, the Klaxosaurs. 016, nicknamed Hiro, has had a rough time lately: his partner is getting shipped off since they failed their exam, and he skips the new pilots’ entrance ceremony. But that allows him to meet Zero Two, a perky, horned pilot whose partners have a habit of quickly ending up dead. Later that day, they collide yet again, prompting Hiro to take a stab at being her newest replacement partner.

Yatahaze:
There was a lot going on in Darling in the FranXX’s premiere and very little of it was outlined in-depth, but like any ideal premiere in this genre, it established the sketchiness of the people in power, the consequences of their decisions for our protagonists on a micro level, and a satisfying showcase of action. FranXX is a standalone title of its genre this season, surrounded by cute and soothing comedies and relatively light-hearted dramas. But even up against Studio Trigger and A-1 Pictures’ recent catalogues and notable mech premieres of yore, this show laid the groundwork down exceptionally well.

Depending on what you value, that is. I for one don’t mind the heavy-handed emphasis on flower terminology, and I found the pistil/stamen analogy particularly strong as a means of conveying these kids’ role in their society. What will come after that—the reasons for this militarism, their leaders’ cowardice, and their systemic way of enforcing this order—is still up in the air, and with a 2-cour framework, I don’t expect many answers right away. That’s precisely why something concrete this early isn’t just a pleasure but a benefit. The other main complaint I saw was that the characters were archetypal, but I also think that’s temporarily intentional. In the world of FranXX, these pilot pairs seem held to strict heteronormative standards, and I have a hunch Hiro’s timidity and Zero Two’s dominating presence will shake things up to the point that the series ultimately disavows it.

All of that is to say I think FranXX’s premiere wasn’t too worried about making its characters likable, instead concerned with showing that their combination in this world is primed to screw with the social order. Not that there’s necessarily a right or wrong method, but that very infrequent direct worldbuilding is understandably bound to turn some people away. Still, there seems to be quite a bit more to these main characters than first meets the eye—not just Zero Two (who’s revealed to have klaxosaur blood near the premiere’s close), but Hiro as well, as he’s offered the option to stay in the city instead of getting shipped elsewhere after failing, unlike his initial partner.

I’m far from the biggest mecha fan, but some of the debuts from the best mech series I’ve ever seen (Evangelion, Eureka Seven, etc.) got off to slow, divisive starts, and like those series, FranXX muddles around a bit in fanservice clichés, but only slightly. I can’t say this title will change the game, but it’s easily the most intriguing thing A-1 Pictures has offered in at least a year and another unique title for Studio Trigger’s already wacky history. If you like mechas, adventures, or dystopian sci-fi, I see no reason to discourage you from checking out Darling in the FranXX. Fingers crossed it delivers on the open-ended potential it set up here.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

HAKUMEI AND MIKOCHI


Summary:
Hakumei and Mikochi are two tiny girls who live in the forest. And we mean tiny. Like, less than 4 inches tall. Hakumei and Mikochi details their daily life.

Yatahaze:
And it’s not at all an arduous one. Since almost everybody‘s shrunk in this peaceful world, their most pressing problems are trying to get a dresser to fit through their front door and satisfying some market-folk who want Mikochi to test their wares. Hakumei and Mikochi is relaxing and heartwarming, capturing that tone through detailed scenery, expressive reactions, and calm, conversational dialogue. Its actual worldbuilding could benefit from a little more elaboration (I don’t get why Hakumei refers to and treats some animals as “pets” while others talk and run businesses, for instance), but that’s something that could change with time. No biggie there.

The actual problem is circumstantial: there are several shows this season doing this exact same healing, “iyashikei” thing, and while there’s still a bit of personality in Hakumei and Mikochi to set it apart, it’s not the most compelling as a story. From what I gathered, there kind of isn’t one, this episode just split into two separate skits whose only connection was the need for Hakumei to buy a new mug. If you’re looking for an overarching theme or narrative here, you might be out of luck.

But don’t get me wrong—Hakumei and Mikochi is precisely the type of show that doesn’t need one as long as you’re into its characters and world and just want to pay them a visit every week. This season, however, my quota for shows of that ilk is already met, and I just can’t see myself remaining intrigued by this one on top of the others in the months to come. That said, there’s certainly nothing objectionable here and I imagine fans of cute and mellow slice-of-lifes with a little fantastical twist will gladly enjoy it. If that’s you, then by all means, give Hakumei and Mikochi a shot if you haven’t yet.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

HOW TO KEEP A MUMMY (MIIRA NO KAIKATA)


Summary:
Sora Kashiwagi’s adventurer father keeps sending his haunted or deadly findings home for our poor protagonist to deal with. This time, a sarcophagus (…with a Christian cross on it? huh?) arrives and out pops…a mummy. A very tiny, very cute mummy.

Yatahaze:
No, seriously. It’s absolutely adorable. It singlehandedly makes How to Keep a Mummy a notable title. But there’s the rub: as a production and story, there is nothing else commendable about this series’ debut. Its comedic timing isn’t particularly great, its characters are rather dull in both design and personality, and while the show’s overarching trajectory will presumably involve introducing more cute critters for each relevant human character, I can only see that diluting the initial silliness of Mii-kun. In spite of that all, I did enjoy this first episode more than I disliked it…but I can’t convince myself it was promising enough to put my trust in the series going forward. If its reputation stays positive as the season unfolds, I may pick it back up, and I highly encourage anyone interested to at least give the first episode a fair chance, but I’m gonna pass on Mummy for now.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

KARAKAI JOUZU NO TAKAGI-SAN


Summary:
Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san follows around an easily-flustered young boy named Nishikata who constantly finds himself playfully teased by his classmate Takagi.

Yatahaze:
Allow me to first establish that the following is a deeper read into Takagi-san than the show probably warrants. As a kid (and still now, to some degree), I was often nervous in social situations and easily intimidated, especially by people I knew I’d have to deal with day in and day out. There wasn’t much of a rational reason for this—I have anxiety and assumed the worst in any instance, when in reality, everyone else was just going about their day and generally had good intentions. In trying to build a defense against feeling embarrassed, I often just gave myself the pretext to feel more embarrassed when nothing significant actually happened.

Nishikata experiences similar feelings with Takagi, a girl who he’s both wary of and charmed by, in an immature, adolescent way. Her harmless jokes are exaggerated in his racing head, and because his specific type of backlash is predictable, she sees through it and gets to him a second time. This is the formula Takagi-san relies on, but for the time being, it’s refined to such a consistent degree that the show’s repetitive approach lands without fail. Despite playing young characters, Yuuki Kaji and Rie Takahashi absolutely nail their performances, giving tension to Nishikata’s insecurities and an innocent smugness to Takagi’s teasing. It’s some of the finest voice acting this season.

Furthermore, if there’s anything truly mean-spirited going on here, it’s only on behalf of Nishikata’s uncertainty in how to respond to feeling manipulated, and he has enough mindfulness not to anger or hurt Takagi, just to try to get her to feel on his level. A futile pursuit, of course, because they interact with totally different goals and aren’t old enough to really understand that yet. But it doesn’t stop them from trying, and watching the gears turn in Nishikata’s head remains a great joke even if it’s the only one Takagi-san’s got. My fear is that despite this early impressiveness, this show will start feeling mighty monotonous if the two characters don’t undergo any linear growth or the supporting cast stays underutilized. But for now, Takagi-san is the clear front-runner among this season’s skit-based gag comedies. Let’s see how well it lasts.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KOKKOKU


Summary:
When her nephew and brother are suddenly kidnapped, Juri Yukawa discovers her grandfather owns a strange stone that freezes time but not the stone’s users. Attempting to save the abducted, she soon runs into more people able to freely move about in the paused space.

Yatahaze:
This sounds like it should’ve been great. Maybe I’m just spoiled from last year’s wealth of thrilling sci-fi action series, but that’s more or less what I was expecting going into Kokkoku. In abler hands, it probably could’ve been a more noteworthy title. But Studio Geno’s drab adaptation sapped the life from this universe’s world. Yoshimitsu Oohashi’s direction and poor track record are nothing to get excited about either.

Ideally, if you’re gonna kick off your first episode with moody interpersonal drama, a freak hostage situation, and a supernatural twist, at least one of those things will grip the viewer. For me, the drama and kidnapping were both promptly let down by Kokkoku’s middling, sluggish writing. Its core family felt ungracefully written and its thugs and secret agents were far more laughable than convincingly threatening. As for the time-stopping thing? The show makes clear as soon as it’s introduced that its characters don’t really know how it works, nor do they care. I’m fine with a story leaving the mechanics of its magic up to the viewer’s imagination, but here, something specific is all I had left to cling to, and it snatched that away too. The rest of Kokkoku’s edgy pilot sure didn’t give me any incentive to continue.
Final score: 4.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

LAID-BACK CAMP (YURU CAMP△)


Summary:
While camping to take in the scenery of Mt. Fuji, loner Rin Shima meets the energetic, cheerful Nadeshiko Kagamihara, whose family just moved to the mountainous prefecture of Yamanashi. When the two realize they go to the same school, Nadeshiko starts tagging along with Rin and finds some more friends in their Outdoor Activities Club.

Yatahaze:
I’ll admit it, I’m an indoorsy type, but I genuinely love nature too. Most of my excursions are simple walks or hiking day-trips, and I haven’t actually camped in years. Around rural New England, that involves a bit too many mosquitoes and awkward run-ins with deer for my liking.

But Laid-Back Camp makes me want to again.

Its title is remarkably apt: it’s super laid-back, maybe too much so for the average viewer. But I like my relaxing nature showcases slow and cute, and this one is a recipe for immediate success. I won’t claim its premise is the best thing since sliced bread or that it’s doing anything exceptional via narrative, but its shot composition is graceful and its scenery feels beautiful in an organic, lived-in way. Even though it takes place in the fall, the lighting and color palette are muted, lending the backgrounds some semblance of realism instead of vivid exaggeration. For some people, that might not be enough, but for me, that’s actually truer to my experiences of what mountain scenery is like.

And either way, though the landscapes are wonderful, the cast is what gives Laid-Back Camp its extra power. Rin is a lovely introvert to follow around, most comfortable just soaking in her surroundings. She’s also starting to realize that going solo when her friends want to come along too can be sort of rude. Normally, a hyper, talkative invader like Nadeshiko wouldn’t make ideal company, but her genuine interest in embracing the elements is infectious, getting Rin to open up a bit more. Rounding out the cast, Rin has a great camaraderie with her friend Ena and Nadeshiko’s already hit it off with the folks from the Outdoor Activities Club, although they’ve had little chance to come into their own yet, mostly played for comedic fodder.

Speaking of humor, that’s probably the show’s weakest component: its gags are relatively predictable, and scenes like Nadeshiko running into a window just don’t land well alongside Laid-Back Camp’s cooler tone. Its brief educational narrations are also a bit excessive in my opinion, but neither element distracts too much from the show’s abundant, simple strengths. Laid-Back Camp understands there’s something special about nature and something even more special about sharing its wonder with others. As long as it continues to emphasize that (and gradually flesh out the cast along the way), I’m eager to take in the sights and follow its lead.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MITSUBOSHI COLORS


Summary:
The rambunctious Sat-chan, timid Yui, and deadpan Kotoha are three friends who get together as “Colors” and “protect their neighborhood” in between napping and…causing mayhem in said neighborhood.

Yatahaze:
This year I’ve self-instated a seasonal anime cap: I’m no longer watching more than nine shows as they air weekly. Anything else that looks good but hasn’t got me super excited can wait until afterward to be marathoned. The awful drops are always obvious and this season’s highlights were too, leaving a bunch of slice-of-lifes on the bubble. And I’m sad to say it, but Mitsuboshi Colors is the first one on the outside looking in.

Not that my drop has anything to do with its quality, because Colors is a plenty enjoyable show. Among a flood of other slice-of-lifes this season revolving around one gag repeated ad nauseum, this one’s got a larger threshold of material to work with: anything from their park, station, or imagination is fair play, and just like actual kids, half the time they’ll start one activity, transition into another without realizing it, and then wonder where the time went. There’s something blissful and nostalgic in that—even if you weren’t quite as bratty as a kid as this lot are, surely you’ve fantasized about taunting a police officer or disobeying instructions before, and the Colors are treated by the adults like the half-adorable, half-annoying nuisance they are. These kids have a rebelliousness and understanding simultaneously bright and dim for their age, and if you grew up reading Calvin & Hobbes (or being a gremlin yourself), in many ways Colors feels like that existence brought to anime.

It’s such a good formula, but that’s worth little without proper execution, and while Colors gets the job done, it doesn’t really stick out as much as I feel like it should. I love the show’s use of photo-realistic backgrounds, but for each great shot, there’s also a mass of jarring CG pedestrians. The voice acting is great too, though the dragged-out script robs a few scenes of the actresses’ maximum comedic potential. With little to tie each episodes’ skits together, the anime feels like yet another one that might’ve been better off in a more compact format. This is almost a great show, and if I end up dropping one of my initial picks fairly early, don’t be surprised if I give Mitsuboshi Colors a second chance. Either way, I do give it a thumbs up.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

MS. KOIZUKI LOVES RAMEN NOODLES (RAMEN DAISUKI KOIZUKI-SAN)


Summary:
Koizumi-san is a cold girl with a diehard passion for ramen. Yuu Ohsawa is a lively girl with a diehard passion for trying to be friends with Koizumi-san.

Yatahaze:
Look, I like my foodporn shows as much as the next over-eater, but at this point, the best in the game have proven themselves worthy and any new contenders really need to step up to the plate with something memorable or novel. Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles does not do that. It’s serviceable as long as you don’t mind the entire show revolving around Koizumi’s noodle addiction and Yuu’s clumsy stalking, but it milked that premise for all its worth pretty early on with less than compelling food talk to back it up.

Like, putting titans like Food Wars aside, the fact that Ms. Koizumi aired the same day as a show that only tangentially deals with food (Laid-Back Camp) and the latter outshone it with a one-minute sequence dedicated to slurping ramen is a clear sign something’s wrong here. I apparently wasn’t the first to make that observation, but it remains true: Ms. Koizumi’s central deal is just not that gripping. Its art and characters are bland, its educational portions feel like filler, and though none of it was actively poor, I also have no desire to come back to it. Like the restaurant in that one strip mall in every town that keeps changing hands, Ms. Koizumi is completely forgettable; not bad enough to write a mean Yelp review for and not good enough to recommend to your buddies. It’ll linger a few months, suddenly disappear one day, and no one will even remember it was there until the next hopeful business comes along. Mark my words.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

POP TEAM EPIC


Summary:
Pop Team Epic parodies pop culture through the misadventures of Popuko and Pipimi, two crude girls up to no good.

Yatahaze:
To my knowledge, there hasn’t been another show like Pop Team Epic. Ever. This thing is lifted from an infamous 4-koma webcomic whose only consistent qualities are its surrealism and undying love of subverting expectations for the sake of it. Taken in individual comic strips, some of it is legitimately silly. Grotesquely bunched together with no rhyme or reason into a 12-minute “episode” that plays twice, the second time only with different voice actors, it doesn’t work. There are no punchlines. There is no joke. Every second is predictable, and yet I have no clue what’s coming next. Both as snippets and as a whole, Pop Team Epic simply isn’t funny. It’s not entertaining, it’s not humorous, and it’s not even really that clever about its references. It feels like an utter waste of time, Interdimensional Cable sapped of its novelty.

And believe it or not, I think that makes it a success. I’m still not intrigued by its actual content in the slightest, but if Pop Team Epic was aiming to revolutionize comedy, it didn’t just stage a coup, it gentrified the fucking neighborhood. I have nothing to compare it to because its goals deviate so wildly from those of a conventional gag comedy. Like its bird-flipping protagonists, it only exists to defy authority, to lead the viewer on with the notion that there will be something worthwhile just around the bend. To fall for this trap would be to let Pop Team Epic win, and it can’t lose.

Really, think about it. Is Pop Team Epic actually funny? Not to me, but then I’m sure it’s just “beyond me.” It wins.

Is Pop Team Epic actually crass? To some extent, yes. It got a rise out of me. It wins.

Is Pop Team Epic straight-up boring? Frankly, yeah, to me it is. I wasted 24 minutes on it and it smirked at my poor decision the whole time. It wins.

Like anyone on the internet, I don’t like losing arguments. I especially don’t like losing arguments to a television program. At this point, the fact that I even tried Pop Team Epic at all means I’ve been played. Now, my only possible measure is damage control. Do I write this pilot episode off as an outlier and press on to see if the show takes a more conventional route? Do I continue out of sheer curiosity for what it will do as a production and cultural phenomenon?

No. No, I don’t. Taking a troll’s bait once and taking it to Cleveland Browns proportions are not the same thing, as much as Pop Team Epic probably wouldn’t want to admit it. I refuse to let abominations of comedy curated by Satan himself get the last laugh. I walk away here. I may have lost a half-hour of my life, but I haven’t lost my goddamned dignity.
Final score: Arsefacey/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

THE RYUO’S WORK IS NEVER DONE! (RYUOH NO OSHIGOTO!)


Summary:
Having attained the prestigious title of “Ryuo” at the age of 16, shogi wunderkind Yaichi Kuzuryu finds himself bewildered upon meeting 9-year-old runaway Ai Hinatsuru, who requests to become the young shogi master’s first disciple.

Harubruh:
My brain must be starting to short circuit from watching this many new shows, because I’m actually finding The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! somewhat of a fun watch, in spite of its er… minor flaws.

I’ve seen how people have treated this show harshly because of the scene in the doorway at the first episode, and I can hardly blame them, but for me, the rest of Ryuo does an adequate job balancing itself out. Maybe it’s just that I seem to be developing a weak point for humor at a male protagonist’s expense, or maybe I’m entertained by the dynamic between Yaichi and Ginko, a rather cold girl who preceded him as a disciple under their shogi master. I will leave that speculation up to you guys, as I’m still not so sure just why the hell I kind of like this thing.

I know that a big factor in preventing Ryuo from being relegated to the Immediate Drop Dustbin was that Yaichi’s apparent rival, Ayumu, is a huge-ass ham of a chuuni voiced by none other than one of my favorite voice actors, Nobuhiko Okamoto, who happens to be an avid shogi player in his spare time. Yaichi and Ayumu’s match was rather fun to watch, fantastically depicted and totally befitting the imagination of that silly chuuni kid. I hope more of the matches get some sort of similar treatment.

I really can’t explain why Ryuo is working for me. If it eventually decides to go full-on with the creepy loli-bait jokes, I won’t be at a loss for dropping it, but for the moment, it’s providing adequate entertainment, so it may stand to be a reasonable time-killer, if absolutely nothing else. We’ll see with a little time.
Current score: 5? or maybe 6?/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

SLOW START


Summary:
Hana Ichinose supposedly entered high-school one year later than everyone else. In a new school, she doesn’t want to feel like an outcast, but it’s her lucky day! She immediately takes kindly to a trio of new friends.

Yatahaze:
Folks, I wish I had something, anything positive to say about Slow Start, but even the highlights feel irrelevant. Beyond its obvious loli bait and fanservice, this pilot episode was a liminal space devoid of convincing drama or characterization. Its characters are barely characters: they squeak about to each other and share a fear or motivation or two, but no actual sense of personality is conveyed other than “the shy one,” “the short one,” “the boisterous one,” and “the straightman.” At the end of the episode, the other three forget Hana’s name. So did I. Theirs as well, despite a lengthy conversation about why their parents chose them.

I almost wish I could be more negative, at least have something specific to complain about, but there’s just not enough substance in this show to do that. What little animation exists is actually pretty fluid, but there’s no point to it with nothing to invest in. Slow Start hit the nail on the head with its title, and I can’t envision the series suddenly putting its foot on the gas anytime soon.

The homeroom teacher was kinda hot though, I guess.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

TAKUNOMI.


Summary:
Michiru Amatsuki is a young saleswoman who just got a job in Tokyo. Fearing she’d be intimidated by the city, she decided to move into a women’s-only share house, and she promptly hits it off with her house mates over a shared passion: beer.

Yatahaze:
Sharing an air slot with Dagashi Kashi 2, Takunomi. is another slice-of-life that promises to be more about its weekly products of choice than a straight narrative. That said, it’s already got Dagashi Kashi 2 beat: Michiru is charming and her house mates are peppy, kind, and jaded about having to work at all. It was an enjoyable enough little pilot, but in a season overflowing with slice-of-lifes, I can’t see this one really contending with my favorites. What’s more, this synopsis is basically Harubruh: The Anime, and I’d feel cruel stealing the dude’s thunder. This is his show, and if he highly recommends it later on, I might marathon it, but for our actual writing, I’ve just gotta hand it over to him.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Harubruh:
Man, oh man.

Yata’s right: Takunomi., at least for that first episode, is very much “Me: The Anime.” The various cast members all have something there for me, especially two particular characters: Michiru, who’s starting a new job in an unfamiliar area, and Nao, who blows off her work stress and seemingly bleak outlook by knocking back a fuck ton of beers—the higher quality, the better for her, too.

Talk about wife goals, life goals, right?

It seems like Takunomi. won’t be a strictly beer-centric show, with various synopses generally saying something along the lines of “good girl friends enjoy good alcohol with good food,” and having seen how this cast has endeared themselves to me upon my first watch, I really think it’s gonna be worth sticking around for.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

VIOLET EVERGARDEN


Summary:
War is over. Violet Evergarden, a military doll, has mostly recovered from her battle injuries but now lacks purpose. After turning down an invitation to stay at her former captain’s relatives’ mansion, she requests to be employed as a ghostwriter with other dolls at an upstart postal service founded by Hodgins, the captain’s comrade. In the process, she operates on her own autonomy for the first time and seeks to understand the meaning of love.

Yatahaze:
I think it’s safe to say Violet Evergarden is and will probably remain one of the most widely-anticipated anime of 2018. Kyoto Animation’s attention to visual detail is the most dedicated in the industry and they’re at their best with slow-burning character dramas like this one. In hands this good, Violet Evergarden was practically guaranteed to be a success. Here at For Great Justice, I feel like we do a pretty fair job of approaching new titles with eager skepticism: it’s silly to be irrationally optimistic for some or write others off solely because most eyes weren’t on them.

But you’re gonna have to let my giddiness slide with this one.

Let me put it like this: I never give a show a 10/10 before it ends, much less as early as my first impressions writings. But I have to give this series’ pilot a score, and it’s pretty damn close. Violet Evergarden’s debut isn’t just almost flawless, it practically works as a standalone 25-ish minute short film while also establishing the setting and characters for the rest of the series to come. Violet’s expressionless demeanor is already at odds with those around her, and adapting from a life of subservient warfare to one of domestic independence is a plenty engaging theme on its own. Her status as a “doll” only intensifies the intrigue, and in just one episode, we get a sense of her starting to move forward, even if she doesn’t fully understand that she is.

Every element of the production is outstanding and its merits largely speak for themselves, but the animators deserve a shout-out of their own for work like this. I’d trust no other studio to tell this tale with greater visual impact. But I’ll admit I have a few (slim) worries: though I’m a KyoAni maniac and my hype for this was through the roof, their track record with light novel adaptations isn’t the greatest: Chuunibyou and Free! have their share of fans and Amagi Brilliant Park was alright, but for me, none of these shows stand on par with the studio’s best. Doubly so for the critically-maligned Beyond the Boundary, and worryingly, Violet Evergarden marks the return of its director Taichi Ishidate to that role. You wouldn’t know it based on how strong Evergarden’s premiere is, but his presence is certainly something worth keeping an eye on. If he can tone down the source material’s anime-isms (and to my understanding, he has so far—this almost feels like an original motion-picture instead of a light novel adaptation), this could be a project of redemption. It could also start losing focus halfway through and still be better than his prior efforts, even if it doesn’t remain up to my own lofty expectations.

But I highly doubt it will join the likes of Myriad Colors Phantom World as one of KyoAni’s weakest efforts, and either way, that’s a deliberation for another time. Right now? I’m hooked. I haven’t stopped eagerly awaiting this show since it was first announced and I haven’t stopped craving more since I wrapped up its first episode. Not to get ahead of myself, but hate don’t look good on it. Check out this thing today. 14 episodes? It’s a classic.
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

ZOKU TOUKEN RANBU: HANAMARU

Summary: The follow-up to Doga Kobo’s 2016 slice-of-life anime adaptation of the popular Touken Ranbu mobile game.

Harubruh:
Wait a second, didn’t I just write about a Touken Ranbu anime recently?

Oh, Katsugeki. Ufotable’s action drama take on the swordboys franchise that swung a little too hard for the fences.

Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru, which is a sequel to the more lighthearted slice-of-life take on the swordboys, starts right where the first left off, beginning with Yamatonokami Yasusada setting off on a yet-to-be-shown journey of self-discovery after nearly abandoning the grand old mission to “protect history.”

I seemed to experience a bit of cognitive dissonance watching the pilot when scenes rolled by featuring some of the characters who had prominent roles in Katsugeki, such as Mutsunokami, Horikawa, and Mikazuki. This effect was probably doubled by the Hanamaru introduction of the brother swords Higekiri and Hizamaru. In Katsugeki, they were veteran badasses on the elite squad, but in Hanamaru, outside of the short battle scene, they’re sort of bumbling goofballs, with Higekiri being a total airhead and Hizamaru being the worrywart attendant younger brother. That was such an unexpected curveball, and it sort of helped me to quickly readjust to Hanamaru’s overall cheerier tone.

I’m in need of more good popcorn shows, and it looks like I’ve found one I can settle into quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing the introductions of the additional characters the OP hinted at—at this point with this ridiculously huge cast, the more the merrier.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.


If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! What were your favorite premieres of this season? Anything you think we totally missed out on? Feel free to leave a comment below or reach out via Twitter (ours are over on the sidebar). Looking ahead, we should be back around this time next month for our winter mid-season update. Until then, see you around!

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