Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Anime 2015 Round-UP

So, another new anime season has started and for the first time in a long time, I have absolutely no hold-over shows going into this season. Sure I could pick Assassination Classroom back up and I still need to catch up with PreCure but other than that, nada. Normally I'd be thrilled, fewer shows to balance out, but for me there's also just not a lot I want to watch this season which was completely not what I expected but means that I'm really going to revise what I'm watching when and even what services I want to pay for if I'm going to focus more on my backlog than current shows this season (heck, I'm down to less than ten backlog shows in my CR queue, admittedly this includes some massively long shows but I've actually been whittling that one down successfully for years at this point). So let's get to it, what did I try and what caught my eye?




Blood Blockade Battlefront (Kekkai Sensen) 
NYC is now part of another world, what else is new?
Episodes seen: 3
Whenever I try out a new adaptive work I always look first to the source material which wasn't very encouraging here. I didn't like the Trigun anime when I watched it a few years back and it sounds as if this manga is even more nuts and even Nightrow's fans aren't as fond of it. But I also try to look at the major staff for a show and the director here is Rei Matsumoto of Kyousogiga fame which more or less guaranteed that I was watching. The resulting mix is a rather fun one, it's as if Baccano! and Kyousogiga came together and that's not something I ever thought I wanted but I'm delighted by it. Matsumoto's stylistic leanings are hugely visible here, windows and reflections everywhere and a large number of wide shots that go on for a long time, reminding you of how small the characters are in this strange, changed version of Manhattan. I was a bit worried when main character Leo started introducing himself as just an ordinary character in strange circumstances (many times it just feels lazy and weird for the character to not be interested in the bizarre around them) but here it comes off as more of a mantra for Leo than anything else. His ability to see everything, the Eyes of God, isn't something that is only used at the most dramatic moment to save the day, we see him using almost unconsciously and I think that says a lot about how he's resigned himself to his new life and also plans to use whatever he can for his goals (the design also strikes the perfect balance between something cool and something very alien looking). I'm not sure how long the series is set to be, I've heard rumors multiple ways, but I did find it interesting that a character introduced in the second episode (White, whose expressions immediately reminded me of Koto) is apparently anime original and while Studio Bones does like their anime-original endings it's unusual to see a story start putting that together in just the second episode. It is an encouraging sign and in retrospect it makes sense, her reveal felt very much in the same style as some of the character reveals in Kyousogiga so I guess we can chalk that one up to another of Matsumoto's leanings. 

Streaming on: Funimation, hulu. Manga licensed by Dark Horse Comics (under the same English title)

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 

Familiars and masters fight for a bloody grail and everyone dies.
Episodes seen: 3
Nothing has changed since the first half of the show and the opening few episodes here made me think that it was a mistake to split up the show like this. I'm sure it was for production reasons more than anything else but having a break followed by three slow-ish episodes (two of which have been mostly flashback of side characters not expanded upon in the first half) really hurts it from a narrative standpoint. It's also making me realize that I was interested in about half of the master/servant groups in Fate/Zero but I only care about a few characters in Unlimited Blade Works. Shirou is a bit frustrating but he and Saber are likable at least and I really enjoy seeing Rin work her way through what she was taught being a mage was about but has no personal connection to because she was raised by those books, not her very gung-ho, magic family. It's also becoming more clear that we're not going to get all of the answers in this version of the story, Fate/ has three, equally canon, routes but not everything is revealed in each route (I think, since Heaven's Feel is the "most true" route it might actually cover everything which would be extra frustrating) and I would really just like all of the answers by now. I already know a bit about Rider that wasn't revealed and there were some details about Ilya's backstory that haven't come up yet and I don't think will either. At this rate I'm afraid that I won't enjoy the second half as much which is a shame, if it had been one, continuous show I'm sure I wouldn't be thinking this at all now.

Streaming on: Crunchyroll, hulu, viewester

The Heroic Legend of Arslan 

A fantastical Turkey battles crusading invaders as a prince grows up.
Episodes seen: 3
I'm unfamiliar with the adaption of this series from the 90s but I did check out Arakawa's manga on Crunchyroll a few months ago and was rather disappointed on multiple levels. The story-writing felt boring and staid, nothing new or clever was happening to the characters and they all started out awfully flat. Plus, I had been impressed before that the characters in Silver Spoon and Fullmetal Alchemist all managed to look very different from each other with little overlap but in Arslan there are a lot of characters who just look too similar to earlier characters, her simplistic style is working against her here, especially without comical, over the top moments to mix it up. And so far the anime hasn't done anything to change my mind about this, the character designs look a tad more distinct now that they've been interpreted by another person but the copious CGI in the series is ill-blended in and it looks as if they used CGI models as way to simply avoid animating instead of animating on a computer instead. There's also a problem that the anime will be overtaking the manga adaption since it's slated for 2 cours, Arakawa has already made up her designs for characters she hasn't gotten to yet, but it makes me wonder if there's any point in continuing this series instead of looking up that much more visually interesting version from the 90s instead.  

Streaming on: Funimation, hulu (three week free user delay WTF), manga licensed by Crunchyroll (digital) and Kodansha Comics USA (print and digital)

Mikagura School Suite 

Vocaloid song inspired light novels about a girl in a school with battling clubs.
Episodes seen: 1
Well that could have gone better, like the heroine of the show (Eruna) I had hoped the show would be good since the school uniforms looked rather cute but the show itself doesn't look that great. It looks rushed and cheap, crowds are grayed out, there are a few backgrounds which look like they were created in five minutes in MS Paint, and it's not funny either. I liked how When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace balanced its fights with club activities but it doesn't feel like this series has even that level of writing attached to it. So, dropped without further thought.

Streaming on: Funimation, hulu


My love story (Ore Monogatari) 
Awkward looking Takeo would really like the girls he likes to stop falling for his friend instead.
Episodes seen: 1
After the recent announcement that the newest Chihayafuru project wasn't going to be more anime but a live action film, a shojo romance by the exact same team and visuals reminiscent of both Chihayafuru and Kimi no Todoke is the next best thing for a lot of folks. But I never liked either of those stories for their romance (or KnT at all) and the fact that this is set to be a two cour series is making me more nervous, not less. I even gave Blue Spring Ride a second chance in between the seasons and nope, "high school romance first then everything else" shojo just doesn't work for me (I tend to prefer the reverse, like when I covered the manga Orange last month). So it's a swing and a miss for me, it's the cutest show of the season with lovely visuals, lots of over exposed shots and soft, watercolor style art, and likable main character in Takeo but it's just not for me. 

Streaming on: Crunchyroll, Manga licensed by Viz Media (print and digital)


Punchline
There are two things you can do with superpowers, use them to fight malevolent forces or be used by them to destroy the world. The only thing they have in common? Panties.
Episodes seen: 1
Wait, between this, Mikagura, and a show I didn't watch (Re-Kan) are there really three different cat spiritual advisors this season and they're all terrible? Well that's a weird coincidence, moving onto the fact that this is just a weird show to have on noitaminA. It doesn't feature older characters, experimental storytelling or art, it's just basically what I would expect to see if any other late night anime spot. I feel as if the story has some promising ideas in it but the way they're combined is just too much, there are too many little ideas in there and too many reused gags which leads to absolutely no tension. Yes the world will end if Yuta sees panties twice in a row but that happens twice in the first episode alone, unless I completely misread the tone of the first episode I am supposed to take some parts of this show seriously but when it doesn't even establish it's own rules and stakes that clearly it's hard to do so. I'm dropping for the moment but there is a theoritical chance that I'll pick it back up near the end of the season. 

Streaming on: Crunchyroll


Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (Owari no Seraph)  

Viruses and vampires have ravaged the world leaving behind some very vengeful preteens.
Episodes seen: 3
 My word that was an ungraceful first episode, while I will be the first to admit that the manga version of this show isn't the best thing ever (which is funny since I really liked Legend of the Legendary Heros which shares an author) I was confused by how the director decided what was important and what wasn't in the first episode. The ideas are the same but much of the actual presentation is new and just, awkward. The show does have a thankless task, putting not one but two prologues in a single episode about the exact same characters but this version just highlighted the shortcomings of the world building more than anything else. The second episode starts to even this out as it moves to more familiar territory (high school settings!) but here it just stands out for being not that original and I'm a bit miffed that they've taken my favorite character (Shinoa, purple haired girl) and made her more of a flat, ojou-sama type than keeping in the almost too much snark and deadpan, even her voice is much girlier than I expected and she sounds much less sure and commanding of herself (and holy cow Yuu's voice was waaaaay too deep for a 12 year old's in the first episode, between those two I'm confused by the casting/voice actor directing). Basically, this is an anime to watch and half pay attention to while I work on something else, it's not great but it has some elements that I'm a sucker for in anime. Kelly Quinn, in her write up of the spring anime season at Tor.com, mentions it's for fans of things like Blue Exorcist and Pandora Hearts and nails it in a nutshell, since I can't have full, proper adaptations of either of those series (it's a real shame that Blue Exorcist was adapted when it was, the best arc of the manga so far came right after the works split and it's made a real effort to flesh out the side characters too) I'll keep this one on.

Streaming on: Funimation, hulu. Manga licensed by Viz Media (print and digital) with the light novel series (focusing on Glen) by Vertical.

Show By Rock 

In another world, possibly a video game, impossibly cute characters use their music to connect, play concerts, and fight forces of evil.
Episodes seen: 3
The other Studio Bones show this season, I'm slightly baffled by this show. It's a collaboration with Sanrio (Hello Kitty) and the designs look like something right out of a cutesy kid's show but there are a few gags and characters which don't feel like a kid's show (like the manager) and it doesn't air at a viewing time for kids so is this just an effort to target the otaku who are hooked on kid's shows? Whatever the case is, it's awfully cute and has the best CGI I've seen in an anime to date, I'd love to know whose actually doing it. The show has embraced what Toy Story knew two decades ago, make the characters NOT look like humans, and the CGI designs look more like figurines (complete with plastic and vinyl looking textures), the shading is done right, and everything moves wonderfully fluidly throughout the frame, I had initially avoided the show partially because of the CGI but it's not a turn off at all! So far it's just the cute designs that are keeping me interested, I'm more invested in the music show right below this one, but it's nice to have a really cute show to watch!


Streaming on: Funimation, hulu  (two week free user delay)


Sound! Euphonium (Hibike! Euphonium)
In modern day Kyoto, some high schoolers use concert band as a chance to have fun with friends and some practice with it to win competitions.
Episodes seen: 2 
I'm still not a hug fan of Kyoto Animation's works but I did like the opening episode here more than expected. The lead, Kumiko, balances out her clumsy-cute girl tendencies with a snark you tend to see more with KyoAni's male leads which leads her to feel and act much more like a real high school girl and not one whose constantly vamping for the camera. The art is also on the more photorealistic side and KyoAni does truly lovely work with backgrounds and lighting, there's a real love for the small details in life (from how the background scenery looks to moments like a character washing their hands). The anime is based off of a light novel series (which I believe had a connection to Kyoto Animation to begin with but that's just what I remember) but since I know nothing about that story beyond wikipedia says (which already sounds a bit different) it's as if it's an original story. And it's grabbed me, there's something relatable about many of the cast members and with visuals this nice I plan on sticking around to see where it goes.  

Streaming on: Crunchyroll


Wish Upon the Pleiades (Houkago no Pleiadies)
An alien needs magical girls to help him recover his spaceship made up out of cute, candy-looking pieces.
Episodes seen: 2
This isn't the most engaging magical girl show I've seen, it's frightfully generic in many places, but it does show potential in one or two ways which has me interested. Specifically, there seems to be a subplot about the world widely shifting each time the girls made friends with each other so no one is quite the person they remember and if they continue with that theme it could be really interesting indeed, but if they drop it after the second episode I would respect that choice since the girls already worked out their feelings on the subject during the episode. I've never seen the original OVA but I've heard that the first episode is a (less interesting) rehash of the same idea so it's safe to go in blind here. The fact that the show is already using CGI in some long shots is worrying me, since the only reason to do it would be to ease the burden off the regular animators and keep the schedule on track, but if the show manages to be a cute thing with a heartwarming, and possibly bittersweet, conclusion with lots of friendship I would honestly be pretty happy with that. 

Streaming on: Crunchyroll 

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches 

Everybody kisses everybody else for science I mean magic.
Episodes seen: 2
As a huge fan of the manga this is a show I really, really want to do well. But there is only one good place to end Yamada-kun (either for good or for the moment, the series second large arc is still on-going) which is quite a few chapters in and we only have 12 episodes. Wait wait I've seen this before, the Jdrama adaption tried to do the same thing and frankly I think it got a bit too weird in it's adaptive choices towards the end and I hope this series makes better choices. So far it's a yes and no thing, it's blazing through material at a crazy pace (the first episode covered the entire first volume of manga alone) and I feel like there have been some events which have moved way too fast and a few characters moments were lost that I always considered really important. But the actual adaptive changes so far have been smart ones and the show has tossed in some foreshadowing (no not the "let's show all seven witches from the start!" in the opening, although there is a conspicuous absence that the drama also had) as well so I will continue to be hopeful that this can be a brisk but good adaptation. The fanservice does come off as a bit more ecchi than in the manga but it's still fairly equal opportunity (the manga-ka is a woman and the series composer/writer is also a woman) and the show had me in stitches at the end of the second episode for perfectly nailing the humor. I'm still worried given how much the series needs to adapt, a 24 episode run would have been perfect, but I'm on board to see how it goes at the very least.

Streaming on: Crunchyroll Manga licensed by Crunchyroll (digital) and Kodansha Comics USA (print and digital) 



For the moment my only need-to-watch shows for the season are Yamada-kun, Sound Eupho, BBB and F/SN and I'm putting Arslan, Show by Rock, Pleiades, and Seraph under "marathon when I feel like it" status, although I will plan on catching up with them for their finales. I'm also following reviews for Punchline and Plastic Memories, which I didn't actually watch, pretty carefully and see if I want to pick those shows up again mid-way through the season, so there's potential for me to have a full viewing schedule after all but as it currently stands, bring on the backlog, time to make a dent in it!

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