Summer 2018 First Impressions

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another batch of seasonal first impressions! We’ve got a fantastic lineup for you all this time, with some of the most promising anime to debut in yea-

I can’t. I can’t say it with a straight face. Yata and Haru both concur: this is the weakest season of anime since FGJ began nearly four years ago, and our watchlists are in dire shape. It’s not completely hopeless, and a backlog season is always welcome, but prepare for a lot of disappointment below. We checked out a combined sixteen shows. We’re sticking with only a quarter of them. Which ones? Find out with this uncharacteristically harsh set of first impressions.


ANGELS OF DEATH (SATSURIKU NO TENSHI)


Summary:
A young girl named Rachel Gardner finds herself in a mysterious building with a murderous enemy on each floor and no idea how to get out. After stoically requesting to be put out of her misery, one of the killers, a bandaged, scythe-wielding stranger who goes by Zack, refuses to murder her immediately, instead promising to do the deed if Rachel can help him escape the strange facility.

Yatahaze:
So this is where we begin, huh? You’re probably thinking “wow Yata, Angels of Death reeeeally doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, why did you even bother?”

You see, I feel a burning obligation to check out any anime with my name in it, and I obviously don’t get to do that very often. Last time was three years ago with Plastic Memories, a show that, aside from its Zack, barely exists to my conscience anymore.

Angels of Death has thus far proven the inverse of that, though I’m afraid I don’t mean that as a compliment. There are a few grimdark series lurking in the depths of the charts this season, and this one maxes out my quota for the genre from the get-go. As these shows always are, it’s childishly morbid and can’t maintain suspense for very long before it immediately jumps to some sort of grotesque nonsense. Angels of Death’s Zack is also one of the show’s weaker points so farnot just because his name is actually Isaac Foster (misled again, damn you, anime)but because Nobuhiko Okamoto’s delivery and the lines he’s forced to maniacally yell are just cringy beyond belief. I came here for the Zack, and with a Zack this unbearable, I have little incentive to stay.

And yet…I did stay. I watched the second episode of my own free will. Loathe as I am to admit it, Angels of Death did manage to pique my curiosity, especially in its most ambiguous moments. This franchise started out as a horror/mystery video game, and of all the anime I’ve seen with a similar origin, this is by far one of the better efforts I’ve encountered when it comes to capturing the simultaneous dread and yearning of an escape thriller. The clues, the darkness, the mysterious “they” who made the rules of this fucked challenge, Angels of Death is full of these tropes, and though the original medium is still a better fit for them and I certainly never felt scared while watching these two episodes, I did feel intrigued.

If Angels of Death can keep that momentum up and work beyond its face value corniness, I might revisit it and marathon it at season’s end, though I won’t expect much then and despite those good points, I can’t right now either. It’s a long show16 episodes is an investmentand I’m not willing to stake my claim to that just yet.
Final (?) score: 4.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ASOBI ASOBASE – WORKSHOP OF FUN –


Summary:
Honoka, a dense and self-conscious girl, Olivia, her friend born to foreign parents, and Kasumi, a stern, booksmart girl in their class, meet and form the Pastimers (or Pass) Club. What exactly the club is supposed to do, they can’t even agree, and that’s not the only thing these hyperactive, rude children don’t see eye to eye on.

Yatahaze:
I can never tell for sure if a show will last the long haul, and gag comedies in particular can be tough to judge at an early stage. But if Asobi Asobase can keep up the momentum it flaunted over these first two episodes, it has the potential to be my favorite show of the season and one of the best all year, period.

My spur of the moment reaction to Asobi Asobase was to call it the bastard child of Nichijou and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I stand by that assessment. These three kids are absolute gremlins who all want to take advantage of one another, be it by forcing one to teach the other English (that she doesn’t even know) or by founding the Pass Club to try to be more popular, which immediately backfires and isolates the kids further. Olivia and Kasumi are both extremely manipulative and Honoka always has something up her sleeve that sends the conversation spiraling even further off track. Like last season’s Hinamatsuri, I don’t know what I’ll get until the punchline arrives, but when it does, I can’t help but think how inevitable it should’ve seemed.

Unlike Hinamatsuri, Asobi Asobase isn’t as concerned for these girls’ well-being. Its crass shell doesn’t hide any heartwarming interior, and we’re clearly supposed to laugh at the show instead of with it, which is something that honestly doesn’t appeal to me in most comedies. Here though, the rapid-fire delivery of the jokes and the sheer pettiness of all three girls makes whatever they get feel like it was coming to them, and the show manages to riff on this without ever making the characters so irritating that they just turn me off.

Granted comedy is probably the most subjective genre out there, and your mileage will certainly vary, but I found Asobi Asobase’s hit ratio nearly perfect, and it provided some of the best character expressions and voice acting of the season as well. For me, this one’s easily a keeper.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Harubruh:
Seiji Kishi is back with what looks to be another big hit after Tsuki ga Kirei. He’s been on something of a roll the last couple of years after being an incredibly hit-or-miss type director prior to that.

This potent and boisterous gag comedy wasted absolutely zero time getting right to the mayhem, having me laughing like an idiot only minutes into the first episode. What stood out about Asobi Asabase’s pilot is the juxtaposition created by the benign and rather peaceful OP, only for the viewer to be subjected to some of the most forcefully delivered punchlines I think I’ve ever witnessed in a comedy.

Part of that can be attributed to the art style, which suddenly and without warning will shift between “Par for the course cute girl anime style” to “Why do they look like Cubist artwork” accompanied by some of the wildest voice acting I’ve heard in a show that wasn’t called Pop Team Epic.

The desaturated color palette used for Asobi Asabase took some getting used to for me. It’s not quite in the “it hurts to focus on this” range, but it treads close at times. It’s a minor complaint, when it’s all said and done, though.

Asobi Asabase also features what is by a very wide margin my favorite ED of the season, and perhaps of the year so far. It’s a fucking jam, and probably is the best capture of the show’s true spirit. Sign me up for more.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

BACK STREET GIRLS: GOKUDOLLS


Summary:
After fucking up one too many times, three yakuza grunts are given a choice by their sadistic boss: die now, or undergo sex reassignment surgery and become an idol unit called the Gokudolls. The three grunts choose the latter, and Airi, Mari, and Chika (formerly Kentarou, Ryu, and Kaz) adjust to their new life, which comes with unwanted fame and even more outrageous threats from their boss.

Yatahaze:
Unless you want to be a pirate, there’s nowhere to legally watch Back Street Girls yet, but that’s probably just as well.

Not that it’s badand believe me, anytime sexual transitions are the butt of a joke, that joke has the potential to be completely tasteless, so this show is kind of a feat. Unfortunately, the rest of Back Street Girls tries to ride on the various consequences of this joke, from the yakuza’s arch-rival becoming a fan of the Gokudolls, to the idol unit giving away their true age by not sounding hip and with it on moe culture. Some of these gags work, some don’t, and the hits and misses end up pretty equal in number. Many of the best skits revolve around the fantastic voice performances, as all three lead characters have two seiyuu to provide an internal male voice as well as an external girlish one, and the sudden cuts between voice actors can make for some damn silly sequences. But while the voice direction is top notch, the art is…well, you’ll pretty much take what you can get, and Back Street Girls doesn’t try to keep its lack of animation or limited stable of reaction faces a secret.

As a result, Back Street Girls feels like a one-trick show so far; the boss demands something outrageous, the Gokudolls do it, and we laugh while the boss plans his next self-indulgent scheme or otherwise dictates the idols’ lives. Like any media that essentially relies on one joke with (as I’ve been told) little to no long-term character growth in between, the work in question rides or dies on the strength of that one joke. While I’ve chuckled a few times to Back Street Girls so far and I loved the more somber reflection on Airi’s past in the second episode, I can’t see myself staying entertained by what it’s currently doing for an entire cour.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

BANANA FISH


Summary:
Relations are strained between Ash Lynx, a 17-year-old gangster, and “Papa” Dino Golzine, the mafia boss who took him in and raised (see also: abused) him. Just as their scuffles start accelerating over unidentifiable drugs and a mysterious phrase, “Banana Fish,” a photographer from Japan, Eiji Okumura, arrives on the scene for a story and winds up closer to the action than he anticipated.

Yatahaze:
Most of the series that impressed me this season, whether I’m sticking with them or not, happened to be anime originals. Banana Fish is a glaring exception—starting as a manga in the mid-1980s and running for nearly a decade, the original work accrued a massive following then and it remains today one of the most influential works involving BL for its universally critical views of rape and trauma, both things that I understand were common as erotic fantasy material at that time. Whether or not a gay romance blooms seems up for debate—Eiji and Ash do share a kiss in the third episode, albeit a pragmatic one to transmit an item from Ash’s prison to the outside world—but Banana Fish’s collision of shoujo tendencies with a shounen backbone made it accessible to a diverse array of audiences when it was first published and the anime tonally follows suit well so far. Hiroko Utsumi’s not stumbling at all with her first grittier work as director and MAPPA clearly haven’t forgotten how to make yaoi compelling to a wider audience after 2016’s breakout success Yuri!!! on Ice. Not that you’d need to be gay to get anything out of a story with gay characters in it—that’s just segregationist nonsense—but Banana Fish is really walking the line well for those who sit on that fence, offering something to fans of crime gangbangs, mysteries, and down to earth dramas in equal measure.

Personally, I’m most interested to see what has changed with Banana Fish since the 1980s and how well the anime adapts to that. The show has already swapped out the original manga’s Vietnam War flashbacks for those of soldiers from the Iraq War and updated the characters’ fashion and technology to slightly newer items, which is fitting. Not all is as smooth though; the depiction of New York City as a violence-laden urban wasteland feels more reliant on outdated stereotypes than the present reality, though the show’s setpieces are still completely immersive if you don’t know any better. Not only has society changed a bit between when Banana Fish was first published and now, the acceptance and reputation of gay people in media has as well, so it’ll be a treat to see how the anime continues to depict these characters as empathetic and fleshed out people with troubled pasts instead of, you know, alien sinners who need to be converted because this is America.

I haven’t been spoiled too much, but while I know there’s a lot of death and sadness ahead too, I’m wholly sold that Banana Fish is worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of gang thrillers and/or interested in the show’s value as a revived, influential work. It’s easily one of the best productions of the season and it also promises to contain one of the summer’s best stories too.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 3 episodes.

CELLS AT WORK! (HATARAKU SAIBOU)


Summary:
The human body is complex…and in Cells at Work, its functions are depicted through trillions of anthropomorphic cells doing their never-ending duty of keeping us alive and fighting off germs.

Yatahaze:
Osmosis Jones. Cells at Work is just Japan’s take on Osmosis Jones, meaning, of course, that Drix is a cute red blood cell and we get twelve episodes’ worth of viruses to defeat instead of one. So if you’re into that sort of thing, I guess Cells at Work has what you’re looking for.

Much like most of this season’s other gag comedies, I found the show initially exciting only to discover it basically has one joke repeated ad nauseam with virtually no promise of deeper character development. And hey, perhaps Cells at Work doesn’t need character development. Perhaps it’s a novel enough premise, patched up and cute-ified from its Western equivalent, to keep some people interested. More power to ya, folks. But after the second episode essentially repeated what the first did with even less grounding and fewer inventive ideas to accompany it, my attention started drifting elsewhere, and I don’t foresee Cells at Work investigating how these trillions of cells live as a community or how the body works in much more detail than explanations like “oh, now we’re in [place], where [bodily function] happens, gotta stop [monster] now.” So far these characters have felt like nothing more than a backdrop for germ-of-the-week encounters, and while that was okay the first time, I’ve already tired of the idea if that’s all we’ll be getting.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

CHIO’S SCHOOL ROAD (CHIO-CHAN NO TSUUGAKURO)


Summary:
Chio Miyamo has some crazy adventures between leaving her house and getting to school.

Yatahaze:
Another gag show that will seemingly revolve around one premise bashed into the ground over and over, Chio’s School Road at least gave us some mercy by not doing that gag a million times in the first episode. It started off with a slowburner, one big joke containing several smaller punchlines and psyche-outs along the way, attempting to rein the viewer in for the grand finale, which ended up being…not much of anything at all. Chio walked to school and shenanigans happened, including, in this case, strolling on people’s roofs to avoid a construction blockade and knocking out a businessman who was mocking the poor. After that, Chio’s next walk involved a classmate who she thinks is way cooler than her, so she tried to escape by hiding in a convenience store bathroom, only to realize that the classmate waited for her because she’s didn’t want to bail in the middle of their awkward conversation.

Both gags were…fine, but lacked the finesse to really stand on their own two feet, while the characters, aside from maybe Chio herself, failed to exhibit much personality. Clearly the show’s most endearing moments are born from Chio getting in her own head, whether that be imaginatively or nervously, but even then, her internal monologues only push the rest of the show forward because it’s so static by default. In comparison to the greats or even just your serviceable, run-of-the-mill gag comedies, Chio as a leading character remains far from gripping or consistently amusing.

It was just one episode, and I expect the cast will grow in size and Chio will become more fleshed out as the show goes on, but I wasn’t sold on Chio’s School Road yet and it’d take some monumental changes for it to really step up to the plate.
Final score: 5.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

FREE! -DIVE TO THE FUTURE-


Summary:
Continuing where Eternal Summer left off, this season follows Haruka and Makoto as they reunite with some familiar faces from days past upon starting college life at a Tokyo-area university.

Harubruh:
Leave it to KyoAni to strike while the iron is cold here.

It’s been almost four years to the day since Eternal Summer started airing, and the better part of three years since the High Speed prequel movie debuted in Japan. In the mean time, Yuri!!! on Ice proceeded to take Free’s place as the darling child anime for the manservice fandom by the time the Timeless Medley movies were released a year ago.

Personally, I have something of a lukewarm perspective on the Free! franchise. The vast majority of Free’s first season—which originally aired five(!) years ago—was largely a boisterous nothingburger of a mostly typical sports anime that I didn’t care for all too much. On the other hand, Eternal Summer, which followed the next year, was a solid show with a much more focused narrative about the senior Iwatobi boys coming to grips with the end of their high school lives and attempting to figure out what path they want to pursue next. The prequel, High Speed: Free! Starting Days, was actually an enjoyable watch that shed some necessary light on Haru and Makoto’s time in middle school. I never did get around to watching the aforementioned Timeless Medley movies, but it does appear that the important material from those movies is covered briefly by the newest entry in the franchise.

So, Dive to the Future. How is it?

It’s been solid, as of two episodes. The first episode was largely spent catching up with Haru and Makoto as they started college, and with Rei and Nagisa as they take charge of the Iwatobi High swim club. Rin is also back in Australia with his eyes set on competing on the world stage.

As Haru makes his way to his first day of college, he bumps into Asahi, one of his old teammates from middle school, and the two plus Makoto proceed to catch up with another middle school pal Kisumi after their first training session. They wax poetic with each other about the good old days in a pretty relatable scene before making their way to a swim competition, where they come across Ikuya, the last member of their group in middle school, who went off to America after the middle school swim team split up.

I like that Dive to the Future has leaned a bit on the slice of life bits to balance out the sports action, and I’m content that Asahi and Kisumi’s vibrant personalities are back in the fold, however I’m not sure what to make of Ikuya apparently being made into Season One Rin 2.0, either. The visuals are impeccable, as one would expect of a KyoAni production, but sometimes the soundtrack kind of felt like it was at odds with the actual tone of the show in an attempt to add some manner of edge. I can’t help but compare this to how well High Speed’s soundtrack meshed with the movie. What makes this slight nitpick of mine more unusual is that the same composer oversaw the scores for the entire Free! franchise.

Considering how the rest of this anime season has panned out, I don’t particularly have any expectations for Dive to the Future, but I certainly hope it shoots to match or outdo Eternal Summer.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GRAND BLUE DREAMING


Summary:
Iori Kitahara was eager to begin his college life on the Izu Peninsula, but after meeting the locals who frequent his uncle’s diving shop, he has second thoughts. That is, until college shenanigans happen, like public nudity and irresponsible alcohol consumption.

Yatahaze:
Grand Blue Dreaming will supposedly become a diving anime at some point. After this pilot though, there’s no way I’m sticking around to find out when.

I’ll keep this brief; one of the reasons I chose the college I currently attend was because it was small and had virtually no Greek life on campus. Frat culture is not an environment I feel comfortable around or one that I find myself eager to experience, and as a result, most “fuck it, let’s like, paaaarty, bruh” media doesn’t suit my tastes. So far, Grand Blue Dreaming has been the epitome of those tropes, featuring a repetitive onslaught of gags about booze, bros, and eyeing up your family. It’s loud, obnoxious, and only reminds me of the worst stereotypes of people my age. It’s not a particularly interesting production either, with its most laudable merit being a decent supply of reaction faces, even if the jokes they’re constructed around could use some assistance when it comes to punchline deliveries and comedic timing.

But hey, I’ve watched comedies that needed some technical help before, and if you fancy a college anime about running around campus in trunks and muscular guys with their dongs out assuring you that everything will be fiiiine, then disregard what I have to say, because it won’t apply in your case. I for one just know right away that whether its diving antics come to the foreground eventually or not, I have absolutely no desire to return to Grand Blue Dreaming after the barrage of groans I let out during its first episode.
Final score: 3/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

HANEBADO!


Summary:
After suffering a shutout to middle-school badminton prodigy Ayano Hanesaki, high-schooler Nagisa Aragaki drills her club to the bone, taking out her frustration on them. She’s in for a surprise though; Ayano just joined her school, and feeling disconnected from the sport she’s so dominant at, even tried to quit badminton. Instead of simply seizing her place, Nagisa mostly just feels mocked. What will become of this badminton club?

Yatahaze:
Hanebado! was one of this summer’s most anticipated shows, and I certainly understand why. In a season sorely lacking in grounded, realistic dramas, it offered a gleam of hope in the form of a down to earth sports story, a tale about about rekindling these characters’ passion for their sport of choice, without shying away from the less sunny aspects of competition. This is arguably the best approach for sports stories that don’t involve humongous teams, and it certainly worked in the case of Ping Pong: The Animation a few years back. Add to that several fantastic sakuga cuts and direction generally more polished than anything I’ve seen from Shinpei Ezaki yet, and Hanebado! should’ve been a standout favorite for me.

Should’ve.

Before you get all fired up, I’ll acknowledge that it still appears to be one of the season’s more promising titles. The show’s first two episodes, however, just felt clumsily written, reiterating the central idea of “talent vs. effort” with such persistence it simply came off as robotic and disengaging. A character drama can’t grow on dialogue as rigid and repetitive as Hanebado‘s, even if these characters’ pasts lend themselves to a potentially compelling story. Hanebado! has the elements it needs in order to be a solid, if not groundbreaking take on this struggle, but so far it feels like a rough draft, a set of ideas jotted down on paper, with little personality of its own to fill in the gaps. Beyond that, its athletic scenes can be wonderfully choreographed, but whenever characters are just hanging around, the art quality is prone to notably nosediving.

There’s clearly potential here, but Hanebado! just didn’t deliver enough for me to feel invested in it out of the gates. If it continues to collect praise as the season goes on, I may give it a second chance later, but so far it’s just too derivative and transparent for me to want to hop on board.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

HAPPY SUGAR LIFE


Summary:
Satou Matsuzaka had been confessed to many times, but didn’t know true love before she met Shio Kobe. Now that she has, she’ll do anything to protect their relationship. Anything.

Yatahaze:
In this particular case, “anything” includes (but is not limited to) murder. Yep, the promo art of two bubbly young girls and the title Happy Sugar Life could only ever lead to one of two extremes: the purest of innocent loves, or grisly yandere madness.

This show seems comfortable attempting the latter, and frankly, the fact that I felt nothing in response to it can only be an indicator that it isn’t doing its job well.

See, here’s the thing about dime-a-dozen yandere media; aside from pure fetishistic interest, the easiest way for a writer to make a yandere engaging is by writing their rivals or enemies to be even more corrupt, and when your yandere starts off by, you know, murdering people and apparently kidnapping a child, that doesn’t leave much room for a better alternative to come along.

Such is the case for Happy Sugar Life, except it doesn’t even have the motivation to jump to Satou’s true nature. It makes us wait. And wait. And wait some more, to the point where I almost nodded off while an assortment of side characters passive-aggressively belittled her until she snapped. I hadn’t even been spoiled on whether or not Happy Sugar Life would take the violent turn that it did, but by the time it finally came around, I could only ask “was all that buildup really necessary for an outcome so obvious?”

But yandere stories tend to be obvious, because it’s not a particularly complicated kink. If yanderes are your kink, fuck it, you’ll probably get what you want out of Happy Sugar Life. With leads this stereotypical and villains this cartoony though, I have a strong hunch no deeper story will emerge. With that being the case, I’m outta here.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

HARUKANA RECEIVE


Summary:
Haruka Oozora goes to live with her cousin Kanata in Okinawa and inadvertently learns that Kanata used to play beach volleyball when two rivals challenge them to a pickup match they spectacularly lose. It’s enough to get Haruka invested in the sport though, and she vows to hold a rematch with them, despite Kanata’s unenthusiastic behavior.

Yatahaze:
It’s Hanebado!, but with beach volleyball, and thus more skin.

And like a batch of chicken wings, a higher proportion of skin means more seasoning sticks, so there’s more flavor at first…until you realize the sad, limp, blanket of skin you’re enjoying means there’s less meat underneath it to fill you up.

If that didn’t make sense, what I’m getting at is that Harukana Receive initially feels like a breath of fresh airplayful, less intense, more fun to kick back and sit down to. Then Narumi comes along and stifles that air to everyone’s dismay except Haruka’s. She’s still eager for more beach volleyball. She’s still eager to inadvertently drag a bunch of other peoples’ lingering tension to the surface. I’m considerably less eager to see it all play out.

It’s not like there’s nothing worth seeing here; Harukana Receive uses that tension as a hook, albeit somewhat clumsily, and doesn’t go overboard with blatant fanservice despite the abundance of bikinis. Hell, there are even a few very well-directed cuts that immerse the viewer right in the midst of the court or neatly pan out to give the scene an acute sense of depth. But that’s all flavor, visual personality. The story lying beneath Harukana Receive appears just as transparent as that of Hanebado!, and with less dedication to it to boot. If you’re looking for a less downtrodden, more cutesy sports show this season that still has a bit of personality to it, Harukana Receive might do the trick. All I know is that by letting it lighter and more serious parts mingle, this title didn’t do any favors to either tonal side of itself.

Also, one last nitpicky comment, these characters’ eyes are extremely distracting and not in a good way.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

HOLMES OF KYOTO (KYOTO TERAMACHI SANJOU NO HOLMES)


Summary: A young man named Yagashira “Holmes” Kiyotaka appraises goods at an antiques shop, and Aoi Mashiro, a young woman who initially comes in to get something checked out, ends up working there as Holmes’ assistant, awed by his keen eye and deductive thinking skills.

Yatahaze:
You might think that a blossoming romance that forms in an antique shop would make for a drab and dull story, but…

Well, you’d be exactly right. Most seasons, I encounter at least one show that reduces me to a glazed, blank stare. This season, that show was Holmes. If this series has a hook, it’s that Holmes is supposed to be an impressive personknowledgeable, able to deal with cheapskate customers, and smooth with the ladies, or in this case, lady. I had no way of knowing this before I went into the show, but Holmes isn’t trying to be much more than a very specific sort of wish fulfillment for people who like intelligent guys and people who think they already are this breed of intelligent guy.

Holmes’ first episode rides on this premise in its entirety, seeing as practically nothing else happens beyond Holmes flexing his chops behind the desk and sorta-but-not-really hitting up Aoi by praising her blandness. I guess we’re supposed to find it hot. I just found it to be a decent sleeping aid. Nothing about Holmes is actively bad, but nothing about it is actively praiseworthy either. This summer’s true neutral.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ISLAND


Summary:
A man with few memories washes up on a remote island called Urashima, where the locals are ruled by the island’s three historically powerful families. He takes the name of Setsuna and moves in with Rinne Ohara as he gets to know the daughters of the other two families and starts to learn more about who he is and why he’s here.

Yatahaze:
Hey, everyone! Remember the 2000s? When visual novel adaptations were all the rage and you couldn’t escape harem shows if you tried? Island remembers. Island remembers despite the fact that the source material didn’t exist before 2016. I feel bad for it the same way I feel bad for children whose first choice of cheese is Whiz from a spray can: surely you know there are better alternatives out there, right? That you don’t need to use a multi-route harem and a blank slate protagonist as the background for your otherwise interesting story just like you don’t need to restrict your diet to processed goop on white bread? Consider eating a fruit or vegetable for once in your life, Island. Christ.

See, it’s not like Island has nothing going for ithell, I watched the second episode, so it’s not that bad…yet. But this is only the case because Setsuna indeed started as a blank slate, unfamiliar with Urashima and its three leading families. The more he finds himself entangled with their three respective heiresses, the closer Island’s derivative tropes come to dominating the spotlight. From “the young girl who wants the protagonist dead” to “the pseudo-sickly one who needs protection” to “the tsundere,” Island’s three heroines don’t do anything to set themselves apart from other lead females of their ilk, and they have virtually no screentime or chemistry of their own if Setsuna’s not alongside them. Setsuna’s certainly not the most morally repugnant example out there of an insufferable male lead, but his personality still rubs me the wrong way, unnaturally light-hearted and laid-back compared to everyone else’s much sterner moods. It doesn’t fit the show or a character in his situation that well and clearly feels like a leftover problem from Island’s VN origins.

If this summer is a sea of anime mediocrity, Island offers no safe harbor. Like the characters have begun to discover, there’s something suspicious going on here, and the show’s increasing reliance on clichés cancels out any desire I had to see what Urashima was hiding. It’s not the worst visual novel harem adaptation out there and it’s certainly not the worst show of the summer, but it is easily a contender for the least-inspired series I sat through in this batch of shows.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

PLANET WITH


Summary:
Soya Kuroi doesn’t remember much about himself, and as strange objects start appearing in the sky, his housemates Ginko and Sensei (the latter of which is a giant purple cat who transforms into a mech) want him to help their cause: defeating his town’s seven superheroes who keep attacking the floating, alien objects.

Yatahaze:
Gonna be honest, I have absolutely no clue what Planet With is going for, but I love it so far. Most of the people coming along for the ride with this show seem to already be fans of mangaka Satoshi Mizukami and his breakout story Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, a title I’m actually completely unfamiliar with. But if it’s anywhere near as zany as Planet With, I may have to check it out.

Not that Planet With is treating its zaniness as particularly zany, and I admire that. For instance, the hoopla this thing generates after appearing next to several metropolises cools down pretty quickly after the first defeat, enough so that we’re able to be taken by surprise by what follows it, while everyone else is just kinda like “yep, another one, got it.” Soya’s amnesia is a blatant plot device to explain his strange living situation, but the show doesn’t beat us over the head with it, and despite his reservations about getting vored by an alien cat and deprived of meat by Sensei and Ginko’s veganism, he doesn’t seem bothered enough by it to leaveand furthermore, who knows if anyone’s even looking for him. It’s unbelievable that Soya would adapt to this situation so calmly, but everything about Planet With is unbelievable, from the “heroes” being a collection of teenage kids, upstanding adult citizens…and the organization head’s useless elderly father, to…well, I wasn’t joking about alien cat vore.

But I’ll be damned, unlike the several shows this season striving to be something they’re not and muddling their messages in the process, I’m charmed by how uncompromisingly itself Planet With feels. Even if it founds its premise on tropes (Soya’s amnesia being the most notable) and undisclosed mysteries, there’s enough sense of purpose to all the silliness here that the overall product just works. I’m interested in seeing how the Pacifist wing of Nebula ultimately fares as a third party against the organization’s more intervention-bound brethren and Grand Paladin, the human defense unit. Even if the message becomes less clear as Planet With goes on, it already reminds me of franchises like World Conquest Zvezda Plot and Gatchaman Crowds, shows that are just as much about having a fun time eschewing convention as they are about exploring the deeper ideological questions that guide us in our daily lives. I can’t say you’ll get the same enjoyment out of Planet With that I’ve been getting, but I do endorse checking it out; it throws a lot at you quickly, and while it might be a bit too much for some people, at least some of it is likely to stick.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

REVUE STARLIGHT


Summary:
When they were kids, Karen Aijo and her friend Hikari were starstruck by a performance of Starlight and made a promise to get on that stage together someday. Now high-schoolers, Hikari returns from abroad and transfers to Karen’s school, Seisho Music Academy, but she seems colder and more competitive than before. While investigating, Karen discovers a strange stage in the school’s basement, where a giraffe oversees students battling to obtain a spot in Starlight.

Yatahaze:
Every season we get that one show which leaves me stunned, confused, and uncertain whether I should lean into its spectacle or back out immediately. Often times, like with Revue Starlight, that sensation is the result of a tonally misleading first episode with a sudden twist right at the end and no follow-up available between its airing and the time our first impressions article goes up. Say what you will about the first half (and I have some things to say about the first half), but I don’t think anyone can rightfully fault Revue Starlight for banking its all on its abrupt late hook like it does.

Though the specifics are up in the air, unpredictable curveballs are to be expected here; Revue Starlight’s anime adaptation is being handled by Tomohiro Furukawa, a close collaborator of esteemed auteur Kunihiko Ikuhara. Furukawa worked on various episodic elements of Ikuhara’s Penguindrum before moving up to the position of his assistant director on Yurikuma Arashi, and it should come as no surprise that many of Ikuhara’s directorial ticstheatrical framing, wide-scale setpieces, allegorical development, etc.seemingly remain with Revue Starlight despite Ikuhara’s absence.

And so far…I dunno, it just feels like Ikuhara Lite, with a subject matter I find myself even further divorced from than domestic terrorism, lesbian bears, and sword-fighting, if you can believe that. Theater kids competing for glory through song and dance seems to be Revue Starlight’s bait for now, though like several of the shows Furukawa and Ikuhara have worked on, there’s bound to be several more twists to come.

Frankly, I sure hope there are, because I really want to like Revue Starlight, but so far I can’t help but find myself indifferent to it, especially its less intense slice-of-life elements. Ikuhara’s works are pretty divisive, but whatever my thoughts on Penguindrum, Yurikuma Arashi, or even Revolutionary Girl Utena have ultimately been, I’ve always felt at least some connection to these stories’ characters before shit started hitting the fan. Maybe Revue Starlight just had a comparably weaker first episode and the rest of the series will hit the ground running. I don’t know. But because I don’t know (and because Ikuhara is not actually attached to this himself), I have no guarantee Starlight will be anything more than a mess of similar ideas and motifs parlayed to me through a cast that’s yet to resonate with me. I can’t fault Furukawa too hard himselfthe direction in this show’s first episode is some of the summer’s most ornate and ambitiousbut the writing just isn’t up to par with it. Should it catch up later on, so will I. For now, it’s a no.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

SEVEN SENSES OF THE RE’UNION (SHICHISEI NO SUBARU)


Summary:
Six childhood friends used to dominate the MMORPG “Union” as an esteemed party named Subaru. That is, until one of their members with an overpowered ability to see the future, Asahi, died in real life. After Asahi’s death, the remaining members of Subaru drifted apart. Now, six years later, Subaru’s leader, Haruto, logs back into an update of the game called “Reunion” and, to his shock, sees Asahi, who says she feels like no time has passed.

Yatahaze:
It’s AnoHana in a video game.

No, really, I know that’s what everyone’s been saying, and I wanted to see for myself if that was an oversimplification, but they’re right. Seven Senses is AnoHana in a video game.

I mean, sure, Asahi is only dead outside the game instead of in it, Haruto’s not the only person who can see Asahi, and the prestige Subaru accrued during their heyday makes their members’ re-emergence kind of a big deal, but these are all just minor, necessary alterations to AnoHana’s core conceit. Seven Senses remains a series that’s part “how are you here again” mystery and part “coping with nostalgia and unsaid thoughts” drama, exactly like AnoHana.

You’re probably sick of the comparison by now, and I’m normally not one to dwell on surface-level associations like this, but with all other components being serviceably average, the similarities are central to whether or not you’ll probably get anything out of Seven Senses. If you’re a sucker for virtual reality gaming anime, this appears to be the most direct take on loss in one since the much more ambiguously game-y Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. This series’ characters don’t feel as convincingly teenagery as they do in AnoHana and their dramatic tensionwhich some viewers already found fault with in that seriesis even less well-phrased here, with elements like Satsuki obviously pining for Haruto and Takanori acting on his pent-up angst echoing those of AnoHana‘s Naruko and Atsumu so closely I really can’t blame anyone for jumping at the comparison.

As tends to happen in cases where the core themes are so similar and the previous work is more up my alley to begin with, I don’t feel particularly driven to continue with Seven Senses. That said, it’s certainly working with a higher ceiling than a majority of the shows airing this season, and I suggest anyone interested to give it a shot. If you fancy yourself those dramatic ideas in a new framework, you might get more out of it than I did.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.


Is it over? Is the misery finally done? Hell, we didn’t even watch the isekai slave harem(s?) this season and the disappointment was still almost too much to bear. But let’s look on the bright side: a couple titles did make it through, and our writing load for the rest of the season should be the most manageable it’s been in a long time. What did you think of this summer’s premieres? Enjoy more than we did? (That can’t be too hard). Feel even more selective? Which series impressed you most so far? Drop us a comment or reach out on Twitter if you’d like, and until next time, this has been Yata and Haru of For Great Justice. Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

    1. Good catch, thanks. Not sure why I had it down in my notes otherwise. Probably either a mis-translation somewhere or outdated speculative info from before the season started. Seemed odd that he’d have both roles, I should’ve fact-checked again before publishing.

      Like

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