Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter 2016 Anime Round-UP!

This isn't a really great season, I did try more shows that I thought I did but I wasn't really hyped for many of them and very few of them turned out to be my thing. Or good, lots of these were just kinda lame and incompetent feeling which makes me sad. So it's going to be a lighter season for me but not sure I'll have a chance to get through much of my backlog anyway, although I've kinda started 12 Kingdoms since I'm really desperate for adventure-shojo right now (Akagami is more like romance-adventure-shojo and I just want more dangerous adventures).

But before I get to all of the new shows I tried, the fall left-overs (because lord those are some of the strongest things I'm watching right now).

Go Princess Pretty Cure - I'm not current with the show, it's about to wrap-up and I'm only at the halfway mark, but this is a pretty good pretty cure show! It's not going to blow the socks off of a non-magical girl fan but I think that mahou shojo adorers would like it. Haruka is a bit bland as a lead and I feel like Minami isn't as nuanced as she could be, Kirara and Towa feel more interesting since they're having to tackle problems with their dreams earlier on in the series, but it looks pretty good and hasn't had a lot of pure filler episodes so far. I am making up a "watch list" as I go for people who don't want to watch the full 48 but much like Happiness Charge the show seeds at least one important plot or character aspect in nearly every episode so really you're better off just watch the whole thing anyway (they even seem to be cutting back on showing full transformation sequences every time, more than either HaCha or Heartcatch Precure ever did)

Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans - I never thought this would being work as well as it does but my god it is. Mari Okada's series are really hit or miss for me (especially since that lady has worked on just so many different shows) and I wouldn't normally call myself a fan but this is probably my favorite work by her to date. It plays out very differently from most mecha series with relatively few fights so far and the pacing hasn't been what I expected, I can't tell if it's gunning for a second season or plans to wrap things up very decisively or quickly (I know that ending it in a tragedy has a 99% chance or not happening but the show has me very convinced that our characters are surprisingly helpless and that would be a fast way to end it). I'm going to have a lot to say about the show once it ends and I feel like I'm one of the few people watching the show since I never see much chatter about it (and what I do see is usually more negative than I feel) but this really is one of my favorite airing shows right now.

Haikyu!! Season 2 - The volleyball dorks are back and it's still a lot of fun. I'm enjoying this about as much as the first season, maybe a tad less but since "absence makes the heart grow fonder" it's hard to honestly tell, and this is one of my real pick-me-ups every week. It's impossible to not crack up or at least smile once during every episode and it looks like we're going to keep that tone for the rest of the show, yipee!

Utawarerumono 2 - So I still haven't seen the first show about people with animal ears, harems, and warfare but I have read up a far amount about that first season and it seems like plotwise it was quite a bit more exciting than this. I caught up with this show right as it entered the doldrums which is frustrating and I just can't help but feel like there must be a way to have the same events, introduce the same characters, and yet make it feel more engaging. I am aware that this is based off of a game which is only the first half in a two-part game, think the second half is coming next year, and do know what the ending is (think second-book-in-a-trilogy-ending) and so a lot of this is build-up to an even bigger story but come on guys, some of this really could've been slimmed down!

And now for the new stuff, for everything I'm keeping I've seen two episodes and I've seen one or two of the ones I've dropped. Doesn't mean I won't pick some of them back up but with this batch that does seem a bit unlikely (and no AssClass 2 or DRRR 2-3 because I still haven't caught up with them, that might happen might not). 

Active Raid
Despite being a fairly uninspired premise, we're in near future Tokyo where basically tokusatus suits are starting to be used by the government and criminals, this show actually worked better than I expected. The characters glossed over what could've been lengthy amounts of exposition and were constantly bantering and bickering with each other so you got a very good sense of their personalities, goals, and general dynamic right from the start. It's apparently riffing off of Patlabor quite a bit (I thought I saw some Tiger and Bunny references too) and I'm not sure how well the story will still hold up half-way through but eh, it's entertaining enough for the moment so I'll be sticking around.

AOKANA: Four Rhythm Across the Blue 
Well this was forgettable, based off of an eroge game we meet the klutzy newcomer Asuka who has just moved to a small island in the Japanese archipelago and apparently didn't read her new school's handbook or she would've known that part of her uniform are these amazing flying shoes. She manages to make it through her day, inexplicably gaining some friends in the process, start mastering flying, and accidentally challenge someone to a sport using these shoes called Flying Circus which turns out to be a lot of fun. There's nothing to outright dislike in the series (so far even it's eroge roots are fairly tame, well, not counting the "meet naked" with a character who hasn't even been introduced and I thought was an off-model Asuka at first) but nothing made it stand out either. So this is one I will be following via blogs so I can look at the best scenes of the episode without having to sit through 24 minutes to get there, brilliant!
BBK/BRNKThis show has 99 problems and the CGI ain't actually the biggest of them, although let's start with that since that's what everyone is talking about. Like Knights of Sidonia, the show is a mixture of really pretty backgrounds and all CGI characters and also like Sidonia, it looks it's best when it doesn't have bog-standard, indirect lighting, actually giving the scene a light source and real shadows does a lot to blend the CGI in. However the character designs here don't work nearly as nicely, they have too many details and have the crazy play-doh hair that you also saw in Ronja (and one or two designs which look like they were literally copied from RWBY). My real problem however is that the story is a mess, it starts when Kazuki was six, goes forward ten years to when he is both returning to Japan ten years to the day and yet has both friends and enemies in Japan who knew him when he was last there which honestly feels like the writer just plain made a mistake and got their own dates wrong. I would have much rather followed six year old Kazuki for a little longer and then timeskipped instead of leaving all of these accidental blanks which were frustrating enough that I've dropped the series. I'm not even that interested in what other people are saying about it, that was enough for me!

Dagashi Kashi
What, we aren't even going to try translating the title? Well okay then, this is a romcom that involves a boy called Coconuts, a girl who is actually coconuts, and a lot of Japanese candy. I was actually surprised that this wasn't my thing since romcoms sometimes are but I just didn't find myself carrying about any of the characters enough to want to watch more. So, since I'm not hungry for more, onto the next show!

Dimension WWow that is the most blatant pandering to the "anime is adult and edgy" Toonami crowd I have ever seen which is saying something.
AH AH AH, I see you folks going to the comments so I will say two things first:
1) Yes I KNOW Funimation is on the production committee (come on guys, I've done research for a living, you think I didn't?) but I don't think this is a full co-production so to point to an entire show and say that practically every detail is an influence is silly
2) I also know that this is based off of an existing manga so until it comes out in a month-ish I am hesitant to even point to specific details and say "I think this was added in for the Toonami audience" especially since some of it wasn't
So chill y'all, it's smart of Funi to get involved in something they stand to make a lot of money off of but the only detail that they might have influenced I'll really entertain right now is adding in the dancing in the OP (since some people pointed out there was dancing in Death Parade BUT that was actually the staff trying to lure a specific animator back into the project, hah!).
If Rakugo is "an adult drama about adults" then this is a story for adults but the characters don't feel like adults. The way they think and act occupies a weird space between being a teenager and being an adult (no not a college student mindset, different space) so it's a little funny to see people thinking of these characters as real adults the same way we think of high school anime characters as real teenagers. It is a fast-paced story that draws you in so I am actually enjoying it (even if I'm not that fond of the "close up of character against a solid colored background" visual it uses pretty often, I think it's because seeing the character's shadow on it makes it go from "this is a stylistic choice" to "someone is actually holding colored poster board behind the characters!"). It's not at the top of my watching list each week, probably because it actually feels pretty generic and to me totally feels like a manga written with a Japanese audience in mind, but I also don't feel like it's going to collapse on itself. Oh and the production diary videos are cute, more people should watch them.

Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi or A Town Where I Do Not Exist)
Not to be confused with A Town Where You Live, this is noitaminA's third shot in as many seasons at mystery and this is the strongest start yet. But then again, The Perfect Insider also had a good start (which was was also better than Ranpo Kitan's start) and that was also based on a well-received book so I'm still being a little cautious. Looking at it without knowing that history, this is a really great thriller so far that explains a lot of information quickly and elegantly and sets up a great atmosphere and emotional connections to the characters in the process. You can even hear that the voice actors for the lead sound different than usual, they're live action actors actually and I think they were both great choices for Satoru's deadpan, reserved adult self and his unsure, awkward child self. 
On a final note though there is one more problem this series faces, it's based off of an incomplete manga. The anime aims to have the exact same ending, plus the manga is going to wrap up this spring, so fingers crossed it works, but that's still nervous-making stuff. Apparently the first episode alone was close to a volume's worth of material (I had wondered how many chapters it was since it felt like a lot but didn't expect it to be that much, which is a good sign that the director can handle it) and we do have 12 episodes this time, not noitaminA's usual 11. I really really want this to succeed since it and Rakugo tie for the strongest opening episode of the season and I really liked this, it's my favorite of the new winter 2016 shows.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
This show seems to have confused "character development" with "being slow without making the characters interesting". I see a lot of people comparing this to Log Horizon but at least there the characters had personalities by the second episode. Here their partial amnesia seems to be in the way but even when the show tries to build up the character in-spite of that it falls flat on it's face (could've done something with "Favaro", ie the dark knight character, after he had trouble in the fight and may still do so, but ending the episode with sneaking up on the girls in the bath does not inspire hope). 
This is on the cusp for me, may give it one more episode, may not. I'm doubtful it will work better marathoned later with this pacing so hopefully it gives me a reason to stay next Sunday. So far the only things that have really grabbed me are the lovely watercolor visuals and a really strong fight scene in the second episode. With the show's other minor problems (like the lead's voice sounds odd, too old for a character who looks 16-17 and highlighted since all of the other characters have voices that "match" that age range) it's just hard for me to be positive about this show.

Haruchika- Haruta and Chika
How nice of the show to explain it's own title in the title, although I still maintain that the logo for the show that Funimation is using (which mimics the style of the original) looks a bit, unfortunate since against their black player it looks like H_R_C_K and I thought something totally different.
Moving onto flaws with the show itself, the "mystery" in the first episode turned me off of the entire show since it was just so plain dumb and awkward. From the summary I was suspicious of the timing since this was (in theory) just enough time after Sound Euphonium! to be trying to cash in on that idea but the show proves that it's trying to be more like Hyouka instead with it's small, everyday mysteries. Plus it turns out it's based on a light novel series with way prettier character designs, I can see why PA Works wanted to make them a bit more distinct and add in pizazz but the characters instead look too typically anime and the eyes are just awful. The one good thing I can say about this series is that I 
did think it introduced it's gay character well (I took Chika's reaction to be more generic "this person CAN'T be my childhood friend and rival in love" than gay panic but I've seen other folks read it differently). Otherwise, I have seen this show before, several times, and have no need to do so again.

Luck & Logic
I know I've already said "generic" a few too many times already but bear with me guys, this really is the most generic entry on the list but I have a soft spot for it. It's based on a card game but surprisingly enough doesn't feel like one, stumbled a bit in the second episode with exposition dumps and making the characters seem more cliched than earlier but it was still enjoyable enough as popcorn fluff. Plus, the CGI character models that show up a few times blend in really well, I actually like a lot of the crazy battle designs so far so I'm gonna stick around with this for as long as I need something to play in the background while crafting.

Myraid Colors Phantom World
Kyoto Animation does make bad shows every now and then, it's only a matter of perspective for which of those are the bad shows. This was pretty bad, it's practically Beyond the Boundary part two since it's another urban fantasy with dumb leads and downright unnatural characterization. It doesn't even look as nice as KyoAni's other works (the color design just doesn't feel as cohesive), has given us the dumb boob limbo gag, and the characters are flatter than pixels. Next show please!

Prince of Stride
I had hopes for an entertaining sports anime dammit! I mean, they aren't completely dashed yet but I don't really feel like picking the show back up after this lack-luster first episode. It was frustrating to see the story go through so many cliches ("the club will be disbanded!" "this character seems to have a secret past with the sport !" etc) and I was also peeved that the show has created an entirely new sport for the show, I thought that just giant relay races with some parkour would have been cool on it's own. Also makes less sense that this cool sport exists and people simultaneously don't know about it and yet every upperclassman in the school (who is not on the team) not only loves to watch it but will also drop everything to set up a racecourse with no questions asked. That's all a bit much to believe in. I also didn't really like the art style in general and especially the  colors. Everything felt too washed out and not eye-catching (and I have liked some of this director's previous series like Hanayamata) and if this was the show putting it's best foot forward then I'm sorry but it really didn't grab me. 

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
"This is a series for Japanese adults" in a nutshell, it's a real "drama". Not slice of life but a period drama about adults being adults, storytellers telling stories, think like award-winning movies. I actually didn't understand one of the conflicts of the show on my own, namely that women doing rakugo is so new and doesn't seem to have been common at all in the 1970s (since my first exposure to it was hearing about Joshiraku which is about five girls) so it's best to come in with a little bit of knowledge
Which I aim to provide that all right here! Rakugo is single person storytelling with limited movement (performer is seated), few props, and a lot of focus on changing facial expressions and intonation. Lots of camera tricks to help make it work and not let the audience become bored during the 7 or 10 minute performances but again, it is working so far. The first episode is extra long but so far the pacing has been perfect for introducing us to all of the major characters, living and dead, and seeing what makes them tick and what could inspire them to move out of their ruts and achieve the greatness that they really want to. I do prefer Erased a tiny bit more but this is another great opening few episodes and I hope it continues that way (and also thank god it got an official sub, I wasn't sure if even fantranslators would pick it up or if they'd even be able to handle any wordplay but so far the Crunchyroll subs have been great).

Snow White with the Red Hair 2
Surprisingly this is the only sequel on my list and even if I didn't fully enjoy the first season I was looking forward to this second half since I knew what I was getting and that it wasn't going to be terrible. Bones has handled this adaption remarkably well considering that soft shojos aren't in their normal wheelhouse (Ouran is basically the only fully shojo show they've ever done and that was ten years ago) and again the backgrounds look fantastic. This half is a bit slow to start but still feels satisfying none the less, like you expected a good meal and got a good one that you don't resent for not being awe-inspiring. I've also heard a little bit of the dub and I don't like it as much (the characters actually sound a bit older than I expected and intentionally so!) but the fact that Funimation is simuldubbing it also strikes me as a good sign, there was never much of a question that they would release it but, I might possibly be reading too much into it, it does seem like a sign that they are responding to a (finally) growing shojo audience. 

I know I said I wasn't watching a lot, and 10 (11 with Precure) kind of is a lot, but it doesn't really feel like it. Yes they are all entertaining, that's why I'm watching, but some of them could still end up being rather bad (looking at you W, Grimgar, Active Raid, and L&L, I already know Utawarerumono ain't going to be as great as I wish).

Sunday: Gundam, Dimension W, Grimgar
Monday: Snow White
Tuesday: Nothing, backlog day! (aka Precure)
Wednesday: Nothing again, freeeeedom!
Thursday: Erased, Active Raid
Friday: Rakugo
Saturday: Haikyuu, Utawarerumono, Luck and Logic