Monday, December 24, 2018

Helen's 12 Days of Anime 2018: Summer 2018 anime round-UP

Boy I was watching a lot this past summer! Heck, there are still some titles that I tried when the season started and I liked them well enough but just did not have a chance to get back into them and they're still on my to-watch list months later. Not a clue when I'll get to those, but let's go down everything I did have a chance to finish. Quick note, if I was going to include the Yamato 2199/Yamato 2202 series in these round-up posts this would probably be the place to do it (since the last episodes Crunchyroll uploaded were uploaded in August, although they've all been taken down by now) but I don't want to talk about this series until it's completely completely done so hopefully I'll have a chance to do that, uh, next spring when the last movie releases in Japan I guess.

Planet With: Ah yes, inject that pure Satoshi Mizukami writing straight into my veins, I haven't had nearly enough of his works yet. I personally feel a little funny calling myself a fan of him since I've only had a chance to read two of his manga (Biscuit Hammer and Spirit Circle) in addition to seeing/reading Planet With and he has a surprisingly large body of work for someone who's been creating for under two decades. But I've fallen hard for all three of these works and would totally try anything else of his released in English which I think makes me a fan. 

Watching Planet With felt like riding a rocket, as soon as Mizukami seemed to introduce a standard trope ("oh the protagonist has amnesia!") he would go ahead and play with it ("oh he appears to have remembered his past at the end of the very first episode! Well I guess we the audience won't know for a wh-nevermind it's episode three and we know that his deal is that he's actually an alien"). Planet With was so, so much fun to watch and I wish I could watch it for the first time all over again.

Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits-: You know, I'm really disappointed that I never saw that many people talking about this "isekai but with a female lead and for a female audience" story. When the show first premiered in the spring I saw a number of people write it off as "a beauty and the beast type story" since Aoi is spirited away to become an ogre's bride but, um, I didn't see these folks complaining when The Ancient Magus Bride opened with a pretty similar premise. Plus, Aoi is given the choice of "either marry me, the innkeeper of Tenjin-ya, since you are the collateral your grandfather promised for his debts, OR figure out a way to pay it off" and Aoi immediately goes "fine, I'll open a restaurant, my grandfather literally trained me to cook to yokai tastes so they wouldn't eat me" and the innkeeper is like "that's fine, might as well use this building on our property that no one has ever found a good use for anyway." 

Aoi doesn't scream and fight her way out of a sticky situation, she rolls with it, makes the best that she can, and when she's given an opportunity early on to return to the human world she opts to stay, reminding everyone that she has no family or friends left in the human world anyway and making it clear that the choices she's made have been hers. Plus, like many isekai protagonists, she quickly develops a sense of snark, inspires those around her to be on her side, and takes no crap from anyone. For the life of me I can't figure out why this series was pushed to the side so quickly when ones with very similar premises weren't; I just honestly can't see the differences or a pattern as to why, and I really hope that the original light novels come out in the US as well so that we can continue with the story. There are a few hints towards the very end of this two-cour run that there are even deeper reasons for why Aoi has ended up in the spirit world and I want to see more of the spirit world!

Phantom in the Twilight: I have never been more surprised to find out that this show is actually not an adaptation of an otome game but an original story (and a Chinese-Japanese co-pro at that!). Although, perhaps I should have guessed when main character Ton lept onto the screen with a fully formed personality and life goals that there was no way she could've come from a real otome game. A little bit sassy and seriously loyal, Ton and her best friend Shinyao are ready to start their study abroad life in London, and maybe find out some details about Ton's ancestress who lived there years before; neither of them are at all prepared to get swept up in a fight between humans and "twilights," creatures conjured from human imaginations. Ton especially gets caughtup in the world of the twilights and those that she meets working at a cafe established by her ancestor all seem like they could easily fit into slots in a supernatural dating sim (hence my initial confusion). You have the distant and overly protective vampire, the flirty werewolf, the, um, serious jiangshi ("Chinese hopping vampire"), and, er a cute amnesiac ghost who might be a demon with a "split personality"?

What I'm getting at is, if Phantom in the Twilight was a dating game it'd be a damned good one and as it is it's an anime with fun characters where even I can see the appeal of the various guys. Heck, there's a line between Luke, the werewolf, and Ton where she asks him "are you flirting with me?" and he responds with heck no, you're sad right now and I'm only going to flirt with people who are ready to have a good time and all I could think was "finally, a story that understands the appeal of flirting!" I would love for this anime to get a physical release here in the US but I'm a bit nervous about its chances, the blu-rays were canceled in Japan and that's never a good sign. Guess I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed!

Revue Starlight: While Kuniko Ikuhara doesn't make a new anime very frequently, when he does he often employs quite a bit of new talent who then go on to make their own, often similarly-flavored, shows later on. That's the case here in Revue Starlight where director Tomohiro Furukawa formerly worked with Ikuhara on both Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi and the influence shows in the magical realism (if you can even still call it "realism") of the theatrical battles that the stage girls go through to try and obtain the legendary "position zero" and become stars of the stage. I did choose to interpret all of these events as all happening very literally, although I can understand why some other viewers might choose to think the opposite (just like how you interpret the duels etc in Revolutionary Girl Utena). Yes, a lot of things both in the fights and in the girl's daily school lives were metaphorical or symbolic (especially visually) but also that these fights are 100% actually happening. 

The sakugabooru blog did a great series of production write-ups on the show (if not for these posts I wouldn't have realized that the production was in such dire straights, they even put out a call for any animators/storyboarders etc to help and the project became a bit of an international effort by the end) and Atelier Emily also did a fantastic series of posts talking about various bits of symbolism and how the entire story of Revue Starlight connects with real-world Takarazuka practices (which I knew had some bearing on the story but I didn't realize on my own just how much they did). Do yourself a favor and check out these posts as you go through the show, it'll only make for a fuller understanding!

We Rent Tsukumogami: Going into this late-starting summer show I thought this would be more of an episodic, almost slice-of-life show so I was a little surprised when it turned out that the show revolved around a central mystery, involving a missing incense burner, that adoptive relatives Seji and Oko were trying to solve. Side characters who I thought would be one-offs became regulars on the show, both helping Seji and Oko with the mystery and helping them through their romantic woes, and I became rather fond of the entire cast, human and tsukumogami (objects that have gained souls). The show is also really visually fun to look at, it's based on a few novels so anime's designs are all original and I felt like this really like the anime staff have fun with color palettes, scene transitions, and of course I love Lily Hoshino's character designs. It was a fun pick-up and I hope that it wasn't overlooked by too many people due to its odd start date. 

Encouragement of Climb (season 3): After having the girls scale Mt. Fuji in season two, season three of Encouragement of Climb has scaled back a little bit and let the girls conquer mountains at a bit of a slower pace. It's still fun, although I think I liked season two more overall, and I'd be down for another season in a few years time!

Persona 5: Hmm, this adaptation started out fairly well but started losing itself a bit as it went farther along (and I have, uh, questions about where they chose to end it, we're getting a special at the end of the year to wrap things up but geeze, I have my doubts how anything short of movie length could cover another two or three full arcs). Persona 5 absolutely has a "main story" but the character side quests are just as important to the story and it honestly feels a bit empty without all of them, and adding them in would be super tough without a ton of episodes and a skilled director and writers. Sadly that wasn't the case here, this adaptation isn't bad but I was hoping for something a bit better.

Anglomois: I had no idea that the Mongols had tried to invade Japan multiple times, I had only ever heard the story about the origin of the term "kamikaze" but apparently they had two invasions! Unless I have gotten things completely mixed up, Anglomois covered the first invasion but I think only the first battle, honestly by this point I couldn't tell you if Anglomois was set over just a few days or more like a month. And this is, ah, one of the times where my lack of historical knowledge bit me in the ass at the very end, sort of colored my feelings on the whole series honestly.

Gundam Build Divers: This latest installment in the Gundam Build Fighters mini-franchise (set at least a couple of years after Gundam Build Fighters Try but completely separate from the first two) started off fun but then, just got a bit muddled in the second part and just didn't quite hold together. I'll admit, when the characters were involved in the mid-series climatic battle where it seems like the entire Gunpla Battle Nexus Online VRMMO might collapse I seriously thought the series was about to turn into a "the characters are stuck in the video game" plot and that would've been pretty rad honestly. Instead, that fight is resolved, it honestly doesn't have too much bearing on the back half of the show (which is weird considering just how central it was to the first half) and instead, the show starts a half-assed exploration of "what is a person?" Sure it's for kids but I'm pretty sure other kids' anime have done that plotline better before, and the arguments the characters made got repetitive really fast. I'm still just really sad that the director for the very first Gundam Build Fighters series, Kenji Nagasaki, has been wrapped up directing My Hero Academia for a few years since he really did bring a lot of fun and excitement that director Shinya Watada hasn't been able to recapture yet. 

Holmes of Kyoto: This was a disappointing show in a few ways. I wasn't expecting the mysteries to be engrossing to start with (good mysteries are just hard to write so I always expect the story won't be able to do it, I just hold out hope that I'll be wrong) and they were a bit dull overall (the story was trying waaaay too hard with the "we need a 'Moriarty' to our 'Holmes'!" idea). I was also caught off guard by how much romance there was; it was clear from the very first episode that Aoi has a bit of a crush on "Holmes," (Kiyotaka Yagashira, somehow this is a pun on his surname) her senpai in the antique shop she works in, but I wasn't expecting this graduate student to actually reciprocate and by the end of the series it's clear that he's at the very least aware of her crush and I think he likes her too. As frequent readers already know, I almost never like age-gap romances and I also had a hard time figuring out why Kiyotaka seemed to like Aoi back. Aoi isn't a bad character but she's in high school and a bit bland, she's still growing into herself which is okay for her as a character but baffling to me in a relationship. I'm not completely clear on what the demographic is for the original novel series but the manga adaptation runs in a seinen magazine which quashes my theory of "Aoi is supposed to be a little bit of an insert character for a teenaged, female reader". Not really worth your time watching unless you're absolutely desperate for an anime mystery and you've already watched everything legally and not-legally available first.

Steins;Gate 0: "Oh a story about the timeline where Kurisu died? That could be interesting!" I am sorry to report past me that this was one of the most tedious things I watched this entire year. Some of the early episodes with new characters were interesting but then you could just feel the writers going "wait, we need to put the character through WWIII now, NO, I DON'T WANNA DO IT, NO NO NO" and having a toddler-level meltdown. The show was slow (soooooo slow), re-trod characterization over and over, and wussed out of doing anything interesting. Heck, I rewatched the original Steins;Gate before this one just to make sure I remembered everything (and then shitposted of course) so the difference between these two series felt especially stark to me. This overall idea could have worked, and maybe it would have if only the series had been reduced to one-cour, but as it stands this series is a must-skip imo.