Spring 2020 Anime Impressions

Apologies once again for being late, I’ve been suffering a bout of depression-induced creative block that I’ve been trying my best to get over. Nonetheless, I did eventually get to watching a few things this season, so late though it may be, I thought I would offer a few thoughts regardless.

First up is Arte, a period piece drama set in Renaissance Italy, more specifically the cultural hub city of Florence. Alongside my love of character drama, I have a particular adoration for Renaissance Italy as a setting, so this show was pushing all the right buttons for me right out of the gate. Particularly noteworthy is that this show appears to be a Künstlerroman, that is, a coming of age story focused on one’s growth as an artist. This is a genre very common among books and film, but much rarer in anime. The setup of this show is incredibly standard for an example of the genre, but I held out hope that the show would do something to put a unique spin on things. First impressions were not good, the story made clear from the very beginning that it would focus on a girl coming of age as an artist in a society that shuns her for her gender, but it chose a setting that does not mesh with this concept. Renaissance Italy, while sexist and patriarchal by modern standards, did indeed have female artists. By no means were they common, especially since most art tuition was limited to men, but they were enough of a sight that the kind of categorical “you cannot because you are a woman” comes off as out of place. This also feels like a missed opportunity, since the gender dynamics of Renaissance Italy were extremely complicated in a society that was experiencing change from the ground up, and boiling it down the way this show does really feels like a shame, since they had the opportunity to make a much more complex and interesting relationship between the main character and the society she’s a part of. Despite this mountain of missed potential, I was willing to scale back my expectations and meet the show where it’s at, and see what it did with that chance. The introduction of Angelo in episode 2 made things a little more interesting, presenting a character with a more fleshed out relationship to the gender question, and that made for an interesting dynamic with the main character as the two had interactions that went beyond the black and white presented earlier in the show. The show picks up immensely in the third episode, as it focuses more on how Arte herself grows as an artist, teaching both her and the audience by extension about the skills she needs to learn. It’s really unfortunate when a period piece is at its best in moments that have nothing to do with the setting, but ultimately that’s very consistent with the show’s strengths. In episodes 2 and 3 the show starts to add romantic overtones to its central dynamic, and as a fan of the genre that isn’t unwelcome or anything, but it could certainly have been handled better. Really, I think that idea sums up My entire experience with the show, I can’t find many things it explicitly does wrong per se, but every time I think it’s about to do something exciting it disappoints me. The end result is an okay show that should have been excellent.

Next up is Great Pretender, a show that is in no small part responsible for this article being as late as it is due to Netflix’s unbelievably shitty release schedule in the US. This show starts off on a strongly evocative note, doing an excellent job of grabbing the audience’s attention with the first shot, depicting the main character strung up by his heels from the Hollywood sign. Starting from this strong first impression, this show does an excellent job of presenting a stylish and engaging narrative that held my attention from start to finish. While you won’t find much if anything special about the actual barebones structure of the narrative, the presentation and delivery of it are nothing shy of fabulous, in a way that keeps the show interesting and tense as it tells the story of a con artist who bites off more than he can chew and keeps sinking deeper and deeper into the trap. It’s a show I don’t necessarily have a lot to say about, in a way that’s actually a compliment. There isn’t necessarily too much I have to say about this show, and that’s a good thing. It’s simple, and executes on that simplicity very well, which is really all it needs to do. Also credit for using Freddie Mercury’s The Great Pretender as the ending theme, that was an excellent decision.

Next up is Kakushigoto, perhaps the most anticipated show of the season in the circles I run in. I like dad stories as much as the next guy, and thus I had high hopes for this one. The premise is very cute, the idea of the protagonist hiding his profession from his daughter out of shame is an amusing one that the show gets a lot of jokes out of. The cold open is functional if not particularly exciting, establishing that this story takes place in two time periods, one before she finds out and one after, sort of like the Illusory World scenes in Clannad without the symbolism. By the third episode, it became clear that this show wouldn’t just be cute and funny, it has a large dose of sadness to it as well. As much as I love my fluffy cute shows, I also love sad ones, and the juxtaposition of a cute story with a sad one makes both sides hit much harder. I found this show to be incredibly charming, with funny writing and sublime animation that really brings its characters and story to life. Strong contender for best of the season, and an easy shoe in for end of year awards.

Next up is Sing Yesterday For Me, another highly popular show in my social circles. While the opening shot is incredibly bad, starting off with the alarm clock, overall this show starts off on a strong note. I immediately fell in love with this show’s aesthetic, it mimics the texture of penciling flawlessly and serves as a wonderful breath of fresh air in comparison to the styles of most of the anime I watch. The writing of this show is equally charming, and the superb vocal performances really tie it all together to make this show a very compelling experience. A beautiful aesthetic, likable characters, good dialogue, solid pacing, there isn’t much more I can ask out of a show like this. Its story is fairly light and far more focused on character interactions than plot, which leaves me very little to talk about as far as impressions go. While it may not be especially deep or profound as far as writing goes, it takes its simple plot and executes on it extremely well, so while it may not reach the heights of those more complex shows, it nonetheless presents a solid experience that remained a joy to watch at every moment. It did such a good job with its character writing that I was even willing to forgive it for being a Will They/Won’t They love triangle plot, which is by itself everything I hate in most romance shows. In that regard, this show is a perfect example of how good character writing and good presentation can trump bad or uninteresting plotting to keep a show compelling, especially in this kind of slice of life/romance series. While I don’t think these aspects carry it well enough to be a very strong Best of Season contender or a particularly likely candidate for end of year awards, they do make for a show I was very happy that I watched and would gladly see more of.

Finally this season is BNA, or Brand New Animal, the newest offering from Studio Trigger. Right from the first scene it’s clear that this is a show about prejudice, and likely one for which the in-universe animal people are representative of some minority population. Given my extensive history as a viewer of RWBY, this was a red flag, the worst part of that show was the use of its equivalent characters as a vector to talk about prejudice despite a clear lack of understanding of the nuance of the issues. Expanding that problem to encompass the entire main story of a show would be a recipe for disaster, and I had thoroughly hoped this would not happen. Thankfully this series handles the topic with a lot more skill and understanding of the topics it portrays, alongside its delivery of an interesting story with some fun characters and gorgeous presentation, exactly the things I love most about good Trigger shows. There are some worrying signs, the undertones of conspiracy that run through some of the show’s scenes could really screw up the story and turn it into something far less compelling in future, but from the 3 episodes I watched for this, the show is really looking like a winner. Watching it did a lot to remind me of why Trigger is my favorite animation studio, and that feeling is more than enough to earn this show a hearty recommendation.

Overall this was another solid season. 4 shows I liked, and one that was disappointing. I hope this year keeps up the trend, there will be some very strong contenders for the end of year awards if it does.

Winter 2020 Anime Impressions

This one was very late, and I do apologize for that, but better late than never. This season seemed rather promising, and while light on the kinds of heavy drama that usually make up the top of my list, it does nonetheless have a variety of shows that seem interesting in their own right.

First up is Magia Record, an entry in the Madoka Magica franchise. This is as close as I can get to breaking my “no sequels” rule, but since this is a spinoff and not a true sequel, it just barely escapes the rule. My affection for Madoka Magica is pretty apparent if you’re familiar with my work, so this show had very high standards to live up to. Note that I also did not play the mobile game, so I was completely blind in terms of what to expect going into this show. It certainly starts on a strong note, as studio Shaft once again delivers an absolutely beautiful aesthetic, and despite the absence of Yuki Kajiura, the music does an excellent job of feeling cohesive with her work from the original show. The opening scene is incredibly strong, with the exception of a very clumsy exposition dump awkwardly added into the background. I get why this is necessary, for people who haven’t seen the original show and need to understand what’s going on, but it does feel a lot clumsier than the way the original show handled the same information, which no doubt comes as a consequence of having to shove it all into one scene rather than stringing it across two episodes the way the original did. Once that’s out of the way, however, the way this show actually handles its storytelling is surprisingly strong, with some legitimately fantastic scenes and story beats. In addition to strong character-driven storytelling, the series also does an excellent job of expanding on the things established in the original, adding new elements to shake up the formula in new and interesting ways. I particularly like the Chain Witch, the idea of a witch that haunts specific regions like a Yokai is a really fascinating premise for a story arc, and they really use it to its fullest potential to deliver a strong character beat and set up a conflict in a unique way, which is exactly what I would expect from a franchise like Madoka. The story beats, characters, and conflicts shown off even in just the first three episodes do a great deal to remind me why I love this franchise so much. While it may not truly live up to the quality of the original, it does a great job earning a place alongside it. Definitely a favorite for this season.

Next up is the one that caught my eye the most on this list: Jibaku Shonen Hanako-kun, aka Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. Now, as I understood it, this show was going to be some sort of horror-comedy revolving around a Yokai that haunted a toilet. If my numerous pieces fawning over Hignabana are any indication of my feelings towards horror-themed stories about Yokai, then it should be very obvious that a premise like this would be extremely appealing to me. First impressions of this show were rock solid, the aesthetic is beautiful, the pacing is solid, the music complements the scenes very well (except the OP, which feels weirdly jarring when combined with everything else, though a fine song on its own), and the level of craft put into the show is apparent immediately. I quickly realized that this would be far more on the comedy end, and that any horror elements would be few and far between at best. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, it just seemed my expectations were misplaced. Watching this show, I very quickly realized that the direction of it is on my wavelength in a way almost no other show has been. Between the slick editing, liberal use of inserts and other visual elements to keep scenes flowing, and superb use of distinct and memorable shots that flow extremely well from one to the next, it was clear almost immediately that I would really mesh well with the way this show was presented. This feeling persisted throughout the first episode, which was funny, paced well, and even had some good dramatic moments. The next two episodes were equally good, and I was utterly hooked on this show. The characters were fun, the aesthetic was beautiful, the direction was energetic and peppy, and all the stories were interesting. While the show is lacking in terms of thematic potency, and that aspect undoubtedly holds it back compared to what it could be, what we got is nonetheless a superbly entertaining show in its own right, and one that I enjoy very much.

Next up we have ID:Invaded. Every once in a while, there comes a show with a premise so fabulous that it seems guaranteed to be great, and from the outset, this seemed like one of those. The idea of tracking a serial killer by having to reconstruct their identity and motives through the fragments of their mindscape in the moments that drove them to kill is an absolutely brilliant premise for a psychologically-driven mystery. This could easily have been one of the all-time greats of the genre. And then it hit the first stumbling block: the dialogue. Not to say all the dialogue is bad or anything, but it runs into a Garth Marenghi-shaped problem very early on in the first episode. That is to say, much of the dialogue appears to be written under the philosophy “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards”, leading to a tendency to overexplain everything, even if it was already shown visually or implied in more interesting ways. While this is annoying on its own, it also left me extremely concerned for what was to come, as such a trait is often a sign of much bigger writing problems. However, despite this problem, the actual storytelling of the show is fairly compelling. Despite its flaws, there’s just enough of an intellectual character drama there to hold my interest, and overall I would say the show is decent to good, at the very least good enough to warrant checking out.

Last up this season is Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. I must confess that I am not particularly familiar with the work of Masaaki Yuasa, the only work of his I’d previously seen was Devilman Crybaby, but his reputation precedes him enough that I knew I would have to check this out just on principle. First impressions of this show were rock solid, it’s very clear from extremely early on just how much energy has gone into this show, this is a passion project through and through. And because of that, there is a certain beauty to this show that I haven’t seen since Spirited Away. The rest of the show follows suit, expressing in the clearest possible terms the kinds of emotion and imagination that go into making animation. Despite all that, it doesn’t feel self-congratulatory, all this is in service of presenting why people can become so invested in creative work, and that’s a wholly different feeling. Putting aside my personal biases as much as possible, I would say that is is objectively the best show I watched this season, though that doesn’t necessarily make it my favorite. Either way, it is an absolutely beautiful work of animation and strong contender for the best show of the season.

This has been an exceptionally strong season for entertaining anime of all sorts. Never before in the history of my seasonal impressions have I seen this many shows and liked them all to this degree. While I would not call this the best season I have covered, it is an exceptionally strong start to the 2020 year, and hopefully this trend continues in the upcoming seasons.

Fall 2019 Anime Impressions

Ok, so I know I said last month that I was going to have this up by the end of November, but then I actually looked at the seasonal chart a second time and was struck dead on the spot, so having only just recently revived, I can now actually set about torturing myself with the fare of this season. It became clear as early as the seasonal chart that this was going to be a deluge of sequels and shoveled out garbage, and picking through all that to find even three shows worth watching took some time, bearing in mind that I never cover direct sequels/prequels to existing anime (though self contained stories in an existing universe are still allowable). So, once again, I can only talk about three shows this time around, but I’ll try and make the most of that.

There are times when my love of the mystery genre ends up getting me into trouble by compelling me to watch something terrible because I love the genre and am constantly looking for a metaphorical diamond in the rough, and this unfortunate tendency has struck again this season with Kabuki-cho Sherlock, an anime loosely based on the Sherlock Holmes mythos. While on its face, this series fits as a proper mystery, it largely follows Knox’s Decalogue and Van Dine’s Rules (except arguably Knox’s fifth, though instead of stereotypical racial minorities it’s extremely tasteless depictions of gay-coded men), but the actual execution of it as a mystery is piss poor at best. In his video “Sherlock is Garbage and Here’s Why”, Hbomberguy talked at length about how the BBC series Sherlock suffers from its approach to describing analytical scenes because of its tendency of showing very little of the actual clues until Sherlock explains them when he describes how he solved the case, and this show has an extremely nasty case of that. What’s sad is, the first episode actually did have interesting clues once explained that could lead to the audience drawing the same conclusions that Holmes does, but the scene they’re introduced in does a piss poor job of showing them off because it’s more interested in showing off Holmes himself and how he looks while examining them. Indeed, it would appear that this show suffers from all the problems that the BBC Sherlock did, except noticeably worse because it starts off in the bin and has absolutely none of the entertainment value that that show did. Between being horribly unfunny, and also an extremely poor outing of a mystery show, this show utterly failed to impress me and I dropped it like a lead balloon after one episode. Good voice cast though, I can at least compliment that much.

Anime has a bit of a reputation for being… weird, or at least having a much higher proportion of weirdness than most other forms of media, and every once in a while, a show comes along and reminds me that this reputation is not undeserved. This season, the show that did this for me was No Guns Life, a show about a guy with a gun for a face that works crime cases involving other people with weapon parts. Because the show has all the subtlety of a brick through your window, it’s also very blatant about how it holds anti-corporate, anti-war economy, and arguably anti-augmentation themes, not exactly uncommon fare among cyberpunk stories. In so far as the content of the story goes, it’s fairly standard “megacorp conducts illegal experiments, kick their asses” fare, generally inoffensive but lacking in any sort of unique appeal as a result. The only thing that really kept me watching was my enjoyment of the character Mary and how consistently entertaining I found her dialogue to be. I’ll probably watch a bit more, though my interest in the show was definitely wavering by the third episode. Likely a strong 5 to light 6, nothing special but also not particularly bad.

Finally, we have Hoshiai no Sora, or Stars Align, and I’m just gonna come out and say it right now, this is the best show I have seen all year, it is an excellent drama disguised as a sports anime. While not all of it is done well, even the weaker elements (such as the cliche’d behavior of the main character’s abusive father) are accented with extremely strong elements (such as how the main character reacts to and processes what happens to him whenever his father shows back up), which make it easier to overlook the show’s weaknesses. While, based on the early episodes, I would not call this a knockout hit the way I did for Bloom Into You last year, I will say that this show has (unless it fucks up later on) all but clinched the top spot for best anime this year, and from what I know of the later episodes, it will continue to improve. A real diamond in the rough of this season.

Summer 2019 Anime Impressions

So after two seasons of anime hiatus (sorry about that), I’ve finally pulled myself away from my months-long Devil May Cry binge in order to cover the summer season. And lord, did I immediately regret that upon seeing the seasonal chart. Now, I know I normally talk about 5-6 shows per season, but I just couldn’t find enough shows that I could adequately justify subjecting myself to. Which is why I’m only covering 3 this time. I promise I’ll go back and talk about the good shows from Winter and Spring in my end of year piece, but today I have to cover my 3 Summer season picks.

So, first off is Vinland Saga, one of the more popular shows I’ve covered, which is a show about vikings. I was iffy on the idea of that, but my inner history nerd couldn’t pass it up, so I gave it a watch anyway. A series by Wit Studio, a group I’ve covered very positively in the past, this show out of the gate had a fair bit going for it. Solid premise, respected source material, talented production crew, the expectations were pretty high going in. Right away, the series sets a mixed impression, with an opening battle scene with no context. The aesthetic is very appealing, the choreography is pretty good, and the technical animation is solid, but the direction feels off, to the point where it feels like every shot is zoomed in a little more than it should be, and that the show would’ve benefited from zooming out 10-20%. I’d have at least liked some opening text cards explaining what the fight was about, but that’s one of those things I can go without in a show that still handles itself well. This opening scene is later revealed to be backstory of the time the main character’s father deserted the battlefield and stopped being a soldier, which comes up in the next episode. The early few episodes cover the childhood years of the main character, with strong dramatic storytelling covering a plot that, while nothing special so far, is at least competently put together. I’m not sure it’s necessarily worthy of a top slot of the year, but it is at least an entertaining show to watch.

Next is Fire Force, a show about futuristic firemen that somehow has nothing to do with Fahrenheit 451. No, this is a battle show about putting out humans who’ve spontaneously caught fire and become monsters as a result. Simple-concept shows like this are among the most fun to talk about. At the very least, they’re usually watchable for the spectacle alone. And this one is very much leaning towards that, with the main draws being the quality of the support cast and the spectacle of what’s going on. The protagonist is definitely one of the weaker aspects, using edge to cover up for a lack of really compelling characterization, and boy, is there a lot of edge in this show, but he’s not exactly unlikable or annoying, just not particularly great. I find a lot of secondary elements either uncompelling or sometimes objectionable, particular to that latter category is a side character whose abilities are creating moe cat ears with fire and also causing accidental pervert scenes, either because she refuses to wear a shirt and has openings in her pants, both of which literally get used to accidentally grope her in the first 15 seconds of her introduction, or because the circumstances of the universe cause her to just randomly bump into people in overtly suggestive ways. I can accept that stuff like this is part of the appeal of juvenile fantasies, but I still find it distracting and annoying. Stuff like that and the edginess present in a lot of the backstory and especially the villain characters really drags the show down for me, so I can’t really recommend it in earnest. It’s above average, especially for the genre, but I can’t really give it any higher praise than that.

Finally this season is Do You Even Lift?, which might be the most glorious title of any anime ever made. It opens on a rather weak note, trying to establish that the main girl eats too much and needs to exercise to lose weight, but the actual numbers it uses and the figure of the girl in question do nothing to suggest this, she looks identical to any other anime girl, and only weighs 55kg, which is only about 120lb if you only know the American system, and that’s a perfectly acceptable weight for most people on the shorter end. I harp on this because treating that as severely overweight could be potentially damaging to anyone who has, say, self-image problems which could be negatively reinforced by that kind of thing. Aside from that, the rest of this show can be described as “Cute Girls Hit the Gym”. Now, in the circles I run in, this is the animation equivalent of cocaine, so it’s garnered a fair bit of attention from my friend group. Aside from the obvious appeal of the base premise to those with certain preferences in women (myself included), the series has a pretty good grasp on comedy, especially from the character Akemi, who gets hilariously excited by the thought of working out and muscle building, in a manner that stays funny throughout many uses of the joke. The comically oversized muscles on the trainer are consistently applied in amusing ways as well, with my favorite being when he suddenly appears in a Chippendales outfit in the second episode. The show has a lot of good variety in the various different vignettes about fitness, with the boxing training being my personal favorite, as an avid fan myself. I can give this show a fine enough recommendation as light entertainment, which seems to be all it was going for.

All in all, I’d describe the Summer as the season of popcorn shows. All the shows I watched, and many of the ones I didn’t judging by the MAL descriptions and prior series knowledge where applicable, fit that mold of entertainment value above and beyond other aspects, which is an approach I’m perfectly happy with in moderation, but I hope the Fall season gives some real thematic meat to chew on.

The 5 Best Anime of 2018

So, due to how much more anime I watched last year than the previous years, I decided to replace my yearly highlights piece with a list of the best anime of the year, at least out of what I watched, bearing in mind that I usually kept it to 5 or so anime per season. I’ll also be excluding shows that aren’t actually over yet, because of how crucial a good ending is to a show’s quality. I would also add a rule of “no sequels to shows that began in previous years”, but I didn’t really watch any of those this year, so it’s a moot point this time around. Same with “no shows that began in previous years but ended in this one”, which will be extraneous this time but still apply every year from now on.

Beginning at number 5. Anime has a reputation among most people for being, well, weird. Honestly, while I think this reputation is generally undeserved, I can at least see why this is the case. And the anime that best exemplified this characteristic weirdness this year was Poputepipikku. The original manga may be little more than a meme to most people, but I find genuine comedic value in how nonsensical and goofy it can be, and the show captures that characteristic weirdness perfectly. I remember that I couldn’t decide whether I liked or disliked it at first, because I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. To this day, I still can’t, but I can definitively say that I do like it a lot, it kept all the silly aspects of the manga that I liked and adds new dimensions of its own to that weirdness, making it the ideal way to experience something like this. It may be dumb and nonsensical, but it was the most I laughed at any show this year, and that counts for a lot. I give it a strong B+, and recommend giving it a look. Best not to do it sober, though, it’s even more fun when your perception of it is distorted.

On to number 4. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I love looking for possible “dark horse” hits, by picking stuff out from the bottom of the seasonal chart and hoping I stumble across something good in the process. I’ve found some good stuff in this category, especially in the Fall, but the crown jewel of this category is Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai, the romance show from Doga Kobo this spring. I know its popularity is much higher now, but it was at the bottom of the chart when the season started and I picked it up, so this dark horse happened to pull ahead. Despite driving me halfway neurotic with all the weird reminders of Clannad I got from it, it still was a fun and charming romance show with a remarkably well-done arc for the main protagonist, it goes at a great pace, tells some great stories, and concludes perfectly, tying up all the arcs extremely well. The animation is used to enhance the story pretty well, in that way you almost never see outside of original animation, this show hits all the possible high points that come from shows that aren’t adaptations. Ultimately it lacked the “wow” factor of a few of the other shows on this list, which is why it’s only at number 4, but it’s one of those “fantastic for what it is” shows, arguably among the best examples of that concept. Solid A-, and a hearty recommendation from me.

Next up, at number 3, we have the adaptation of one of my favorite manga, Golden Kamuy. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a show that is extremely solid as an adaptation, in most ways. While I am EXTREMELY miffed that they cut two of my favorite arcs and some of my favorite small scenes from the manga, the rest of the show is fantastically handled, covering the manga extraordinarily well. One wouldn’t think 120 manga chapters would fit into 24 episodes particularly well, but due to the rapid pace of the manga, the show had an easy time doing so. Not only that, but that fast pace means the show always keeps you on your toes, and new stuff is always happening, never once does the show get boring, even for a moment. Most of my praise for the show applies equally if not more so to the manga, but the added medium of audio brings its own advantages as well; the voice acting is absolutely fantastic, it’s every bit as intense or funny as it needs to be at any given time, and all the voices fit the characters perfectly. Not to mention, the music is fantastic, especially the openings and first ending theme. The animation is generally pretty good, except for the CG animals, which look jarringly out of place. As much as I recommend the anime, I definitely need to recommend the manga a lot more. The anime is a strong A-, while the manga is an S. I recommend watching the first season first, then reading the manga, then watching the second season, as I did. It turns out to have been immensely beneficial to the experience of the latter two, first through giving characters mental voices in the manga, then giving added context to the second season.

At number 2, we have the best show from the Winter season, Koi wa Ameagari no You Ni, aka After the Rain. You’ll probably notice the abundance of romance shows on my list, for a very good reason. I’ve had a soft spot for the romance genre for years now, and 2018 was an exceptionally strong year for them, with After the Rain being one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Despite only telling a small part of the story, and concluding in a very “this isn’t over” way, the arc of the show was still extremely engaging, and I loved every minute of it. I spent every week of the winter season eagerly awaiting the newest episode, and I was never disappointed. Ultimately some aspects of it were done better by the next one on this list, but I still can’t ignore how well they were handled in this particular case. Sadly I can’t say much more about it, it does what it does extremely well, touches on some excellent themes, sets up extremely engaging character arcs, and makes for a great show overall. A+.

Finally, at number one, we have the greatest romance show I’ve seen since Clannad, Yagate Kimi ni Naru, aka Bloom Into You. Where do I even start with this show? In my Seasonal Impressions article, I praised it for its excellent use of visual storytelling, but little did I know just how much more it would improve in that regard. The show makes EXCELLENT use of color, lighting, framing, and pace in order to convey so much more information that what you see at face value, from the internal emotions and thought process of a character presented with shocking info to the subtle dynamics of what’s going on between two characters in a conversation, with a surprisingly subtle and brilliant use of visual levels and clever framing to communicate info like the shifting control of a conversation and the feelings created by certain dialogue moments. Not only that, but the writing itself picked up IMMENSELY almost immediately after my impressions left off, with previously uncompelling side characters like Sayaka becoming extremely interesting characters through some much needed fleshing out, the inclusion of new plot threads for fun side characters like Hakozaki and her girlfriend (plus the inclusion of Mai Nakahara’s vocal talent, always a win), and the introduction of a legitimately fantastic conflict for Touko, among the best internal conflicts I have ever seen for a character, especially in how Yuu is affected by it and how that impacts the choices she makes as the series goes on. If I had to pick a criticism, I would say that the music (aside from the opening/ending, which are great) isn’t particularly memorable, certainly not to the level of something like Clannad, which used memorable themes repeatedly throughout to add new depth to scenes, something this show could’ve immensely benefited from. Even so, that’s a relatively minor complaint, that everything else in the show easily makes up for, and as a result I absolutely loved every second of this show. Every episode managed to drive my expectations up further, and yet the next episode always exceeded my expectations, aside from the last episode, which merely met them. Actually, this leads to a major complaint I have with the show, which admittedly is an almost inevitable consequence of being a manga adaptation, which is that the manga isn’t over yet, meaning no matter how much of it the show adapted, be it through 13 episodes or 30, it would be almost impossible to make a really satisfying ending to this show because it would inherently lack finality or closure. Even if you ended it with the conclusion of a major arc (which this season most definitely does not), unless the manga you’re adapting is completely episodic the way something like Higurashi is (which the manga certainly is not), you’re still going to have dangling plot threads left unfinished. I don’t blame the show for that, but I am slightly disappointed that it ended the way it did and not at a more natural cutoff point, though I suspect this is just down to industry constraints of needing to have 13 episodes rather than an more unusual number that fit the story pace better. Regardless, I hope that the complete lack of finality to the ending is a sign that a second season is in production, because this show more than deserves it. I picked up the manga immediately after I finished, and I eagerly await the announcement of a second season. And, for the first time since Kill la Kill, I’m awarding an ranking to this show, with the highest level of recommendation. Here’s to hoping we get more gems like this in the coming year.

Fall 2018 Anime Impressions

[Almost all of this was written in October, I went back afterwards to edit my opinion on Golden Kamuy because I forgot to keep up with the anime for a while and polish up everything else a little bit. Been struggling with personal demons that harshly delayed everything.]

 

The Summer season of this year was very difficult to talk about for me, so much so that I… didn’t. But the Fall season is very different, I was eagerly anticipating this one. So let’s not waste any time and get right into it. And no, I’m not fucking watching Goblin Slayer, so don’t expect any takes on it from me. To quote a very famous article on the reason why, “Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn’t. Using sexual assault as a motivation-in-a-box or an equivalent trope will do nothing but steal credibility and respect from a really serious, really important subject. Plus, you’ll look like a twit.” Honestly, that sums up my thoughts on the show quite nicely.

First up, easily the most hyped show of this season, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Part 5: Vento Aureo. The fans were waiting 2 years for this, and it does not disappoint, for the most part. I love the recast voices, they fit extremely well. Special credit to Yuuichi Nakamura as Buccellati, I always enjoy his work. The redesigns are take or leave, I really dislike Pink Giorno, and giving Narancia a 6-pack kind of ruins the design. The pacing is, perhaps, much slower than I expected, although every season of JoJo except for Diamond is Unbreakable has this problem for me. It could just be that the manga feels a lot shorter to me than it really is, and as a result single events often take multiple episodes, but even so, I am often utterly shocked by just how many episodes it takes to get to certain milestones. Other than that, I can’t find much, if anything, to fault about it. It is absolutely excellent. The new art style is really good, though I do prefer Part 4’s, the animation and direction are top notch, the music is fabulous, just a wonderful adaptation in general.

Next up, the sequel to my favorite show of the Spring season, Golden Kamuy Season 2. This season is very much on the same level of quality as the last one, though the new ED is much much worse. But I am considerably less friendly towards the anime as a whole these days, because I’ve read the manga since the last time I discussed it, and a lot of the stuff they cut out, including two of my favorite arcs, really gets on my nerves. I am told that one of them appears in the OVA, but I can’t find it myself, so I can’t confirm that. Most of the praise from season 1 still applies, but I do want to praise the new OP in particular, I am amazed that Man With a Mission somehow ends up  being the lesser of the two OPs, but Sayuri/My First Story is an absolutely perfect duo for the second OP. The story is still fantastic, but distinctly weaker than its manga counterpart. Even with that said, it still ranks among the best in anime we’ve gotten this year, with twists, turns, betrayals, and excellent characterization. I will continue to enjoy the anime, but I will now recommend the manga infinitely more.

Next up is Yagate Kimi Ni Naru. Ok, so, I fucking love Yuri. Like, I am a die hard fan of the genre. But the only other one that came to my attention this year was Citrus, which, just… no. So I was hoping this show would fill that void, I haven’t gotten to see a good one in a while. Apparent from the first episode is that the direction in this show is very good, with a good use of color and great shot transitions that strongly enhance the mood of the scene. It still doesn’t even come close to Clannad, but it is at least very good. The character designs are nothing special, though the art style is very appealing. I enjoy the voice work, though it hasn’t really been amazing so far. I will say that the post credit scene of episode 1 is fucking obscenely long and the way it smash cuts from something as emotionally charged as the climax of that episode into a low stakes scene with flashbacks to what happened really kills the tension that was built up until that point. The OP is really good as well, though it’s nothing that special. The kiss scene in episode 2 is expertly handled, though the buildup made me think that Nanami was going to dive on Koito to save her from an oncoming train, which I suspect is the point, so what actually happens comes off as an unexpected event, and the direction of the moment itself is absolutely excellent. I love especially how they can move while the environment around them is completely frozen, it’s a very interesting creative choice, and the way everything resumes so suddenly is a very well handled payoff moment. The hand holding scene is also excellent, the use of visual effects to highlight how they are ultimately more different than Koito at first believed, and how isolated that makes her feel, is absolutely brilliant. Having not read the manga, I cannot confirm this impression, but I get the sense that this is a case of anime using its unique advantages to accentuate the storytelling of the original, such as color changes, the way time flow changes in certain scenes, and the pacing of dialogue/use of pauses. This continues throughout episode 3, and hopefully will throughout the series. Definitely a favorite for best of season, and possibly of the year.

Next up is the first of two dark horse shows I picked up this season, simply called “Bakumatsu”. As anyone who reads my last two sets of impressions would know, I always have a few lesser known shows from the MAL chart in there, in hopes of finding a hidden gem. And this show has the additional advantage of being about a part of Japanese history I am very interested in. Studio DEEN is one that I consistently like, and so I often give their shows a chance on principle, even if they look terrible in other respects. So this show had everything going for it, but did it live up to to expectations? Well, it’s certainly not especially bad. The idea of an alternate reality Boshin War wherein the Tokugawa were deposed and two Choshu from our version of history being transplanted into this alternate world could be used for some interesting stories. The animation is surprisingly conventional for Studio DEEN, who if nothing else are always at least a little weird. The characters so far range from okay to dull to rather interesting, though unfortunately the two protagonists are definitely on the weaker end. Still, I genuinely like some aspects of the show, enough to keep me watching for at least a little while longer.

Next up is Double Decker: Doug and Kirill. Another dark horse show, this one is a Sunrise animation, a studio that deserves more credit than it usually gets. The premise seems pretty interesting, so I at least expected a well made show. Was it? Well, it certainly looks good, it at least has that going for it. It has a ridiculous amount of CG in it, but Sunrise is very good at blending it with traditional animation to create an excellent visual aesthetic. The visuals are definitely the best part of the show, but everything else is at least okay. The story is kinda meh, but overall I do like the show more than I dislike it. Doug as a character is plenty entertaining and makes it worth checking out all on his own.

Last up for this season is the new show from Studio Trigger, SSSS.Gridman. Trigger is my favorite animation studio, and nobody else even comes close. But their last outing was a major disappointment, by their standards. I thought it was okay, but this is a studio where I expect no less than “Great”. Unlike last time, though, we don’t have A1 in there mucking it up, so my expectations were extremely high for this show, even if Imaishi isn’t directing this time. But this director has a history of working on a lot of the best shows in Imaishi’s career, as co-director of Kill la Kill, director of several episodes of Gurren Lagann, etc. And he was even the director of Inferno Cop, which speaks to his ability, seeing how that show was almost entirely built on the direction making the extremely limited animation into something utterly hilarious. As a result, this show basically needed to be good. It started off on a mixed note, with a strong atmospheric opening scene but overall an unengaging next few minutes, especially with the overused plot device of amnesia. I must say, the use of limited animation in the conversation in the computer room and cutting between different poses was executed very well and helped keep it interesting. Or maybe my computer was just bugged, could be either. It was very clear that this wouldn’t be the sort of show I preferred from this studio, and that it would lean a lot more on drama, something their last outing utterly failed at. That said, the actual writing is a hell of a lot better this time around, Rikka and Akane being the immediate standout characters for me, with Rikka being the one I found most compelling and Akane the most likable. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Hibiki. It’s very rare for the protagonist to be the least interesting character in a Trigger show, but I would argue that such is the case here. He’s okay as a protagonist, but he’s rather uninteresting, and honestly much more… basic than I would expect from a studio with such a pedigree. Overall, I would say the show is between okay and good, solid B so far, but since it’s Trigger, that qualifies as a disappointment. I can only hope that their next outing is more like their usual style.

Overall, I really liked this season, it produced several big frontrunners for best show of the year. Obviously I will need to keep going on these, make sure they stick the landing. As Megalo Box and Darling in the FranXX proved, that isn’t guaranteed. Stick around, I will announce the best show of the year in January.

 

…Huh? What? What do you mean, “Umineko is getting a dub”? No way, that’s impossible, it’s way too niche for that. Hold on, it’s real? And it’s for the novel? Now you’ve got my attention, I’m definitely keeping my eye on that.

Spring 2018 Anime Impressions

So I’ve gotten myself into quite a situation here. 5 new shows I’m watching this season, and also keeping up on Darling in the FranXX, which I will address next season once it’s over. Before I get to this season’s shows, I have one thing to address. I said last time that I didn’t know how I felt about Violet Evergarden, and that I would address it when I’d seen more of it. My opinion is much clearer now, and while it is very flawed, I really do like it. It can’t hold a candle to a lot of other great Kyoto Animation shows, this is most apparent in episode 7, which just makes me wish I was watching Clannad again due to how it seems to pay homage to it, but it does get a decent recommendation for me. Finally, I would like to wrap up on the other Winter shows that I finished. The Junji Itou Collection was pretty good, but wasn’t anything to set the world on fire. Poputepipikku was every bit as bat shit amazing as I had hoped, and every single episode was a riot. And After the Rain was fucking fantastic, currently the favorite for Anime of the Year. Alright, now, onward to the Spring season.

Because none of the high profile sequels this season are on my watch list, I’ll start off with the only one of these shows that could conceivably be called high-profile: Persona 5 the Animation. But first, a disclaimer. I will not make any comparison to the game, as I have never played it (I do not own a PS4 and my PS3 has been broken for almost 3 years). So, I really was going in blind. Now, my opinion on episodes 1-3. The opening scene, while stylish, was a bit confusing, though I would imagine it would make more sense if I had played the game. The voice work is excellent, as is to be expected from a cast like this one. I mean, Aoi Yuuki, Rina Satou, Soichiro Hoshi, Tomokazu Sugita, these are top of the line actors. The ones who have appeared so far are all fantastic. So those aspects of the show are pretty solid. Indeed, the entire first episode is really good. It does a good job at keeping the audience up to speed on what’s going on, and I didn’t feel I was missing out because of my inexperience with the game. Of course, I had 2 more episodes to go. I was warned before getting to them by my friend EdgyWeebLord, who has played the games, that they did a phenomenally poor job of explaining themselves and that huge portions of information would be lost on people who hadn’t played the game, primarily in things like character motivations. As such, I was apprehensive going into episode 2. It was off to a good enough start… and then came the CG background characters. Just… why? It was utterly hideous to see one walking away from the camera in the most disgustingly exaggerated way I’ve seen yet. I know that could be considered a nitpick, but I really can’t ignore stuff like that when it’s thrust right in my face. The rest of the episode was also pretty good. Whatever may have been missing certainly didn’t affect the plot in a tangible way, at least not yet, so I was able to enjoy it almost as much as the first one. As for the third episode, that’s where the cuts began to be felt. The first half is fine, but according to what I’ve heard, they completely drop the bit where they explain how they plan to change Kamoshida into a better person, which is by stealing something dear to him that manifests in the palace. Though because they haven’t gotten that far yet, it’s plausible that they’ll explain it next episode. So, anyway, my overall opinion. Take this with a colossal grain of salt, because I haven’t played the game, but I do indeed like it, despite being annoyed by shit like the CG students and all the Sony product placement. Maybe I would be angrier if I had played the game, but as is, this one’s alright.

Next up is Megalo Box, the spiritual successor to Ashita no Joe, a show which I have not seen. I know, I know, I live under a rock. But my friends pushed me into watching this one, so here I am. I fucking love boxing, so this show appears to have my name written all over it. It starts off decently enough, establishing the protagonist as a seemingly punky and rebellious type, who nonetheless gets the shit beaten out of him in the ring. And it also sets up the story to be a big damn boxing tournament with the protagonist climbing his way to the top. I also like this kind of story, so the show was hitting all the right buttons early on. Junk Dog’s design is very good at establishing him as an underdog, what with his run down gear and smaller frame. Yuri is perfect as the top rung on the ladder, and the structure of the first few episodes is excellent. That little moment where he names himself Joe is a nice touch as well. Everything in this show so far, except the OP, has been great, and it’s easily a frontrunner for seasonal darling, possibly even Anime of the Year, if it keeps going like this.

 

Next up is Golden Kamuy. Premise seems solid, a gold rush show starring a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. Opening scene is intense, depicting the battle where the protagonist got his title of “immortal”. The hook of a lost stash of treasure is nicely done as well. The motive of protecting a friend’s widow with the money is an easy cause to get behind, and the first episode does very well. Except the CG animals, those looked like absolute shit. The two leads seem likable enough, and the show does a very good job holding my attention and keeping me invested. Villains seem interesting, pacing is good, really looks like a winner. Definitely keeping an eye on this one.

Next is Last Period. Dunno why I picked this up, other than Yukari Tamura. It seemed like it would be middle of the road, but I figured I would give it a chance anyway. Opening scene was pretty barebones, but it did at least convey the basics of the show. Op was kinda cute, nothing special. Because I was watching this entirely for the sake of Tamura, I’ll start with her character. Yeah, she’s fun to watch. Yukari is great as always, her character is just weird enough to be likable without getting annoying, and her design is certainly… distinct. Not a big fan of the giant hair, but I like that shade of white. The others are okay, nothing special. Honestly, that sums up my thoughts on the entire show. It’s okay, nothing special, not really something I’m interested in, so I will not be keeping this up. And that’s the end of… okay, you got me. You know full well that I cannot leave this show behind without bringing out the elephant in the room. Episode 3 features an appearance by all the main characters of Higurashi, with Yukari reprising her role as Rika. I cannot ignore so direct a challenge, and obviously I had to mention it. It was awesome to see that, but not enough to maintain my interest in the rest of the show.

Last up is Tada-kun Doesn’t Fall in Love. Studio Doga Kobo is one I certainly like, Yuuichi Nakamura is voicing the protagonist, and it’s an original show. Deck was stacked in its favor coming out of the gate. Started off with a good impression, looks good, English speaking characters actually sound like native speakers, and there’s a shot in the opening scene that gave me acid flashbacks to the opening scene of Clannad, albeit not as genius. The immediate impression the protagonist gives off is certainly reminiscent of Tomoya Okazaki, albeit not to the same degree of cynicism. The OP is okay, not something I would listen to on its own. Main characters seem very likable, Teresa especially, and I’m invested in the show. Definitely gonna stick with this one.

Overall, we’ve got 3 really good shows, and 2 okay ones. All in all, looking like a good season. Will return in 3 months to give my final thoughts.

Winter 2018 Anime Impressions

Quick disclaimer, this is by no means an impression of every show this season. I have not seen, nor will I see, every show of this season. I have not seen, nor am I likely to see, some of the more popular shows this season. That said, here are my thoughts on the shows which caught my attention this season.

First off is the Junji Itou Horror Collection. This show is absolutely excellent, as a fan of the author. Sadly, there is no Tomie in the show yet, but my hopes remain high for her to appear. Each story is paced brilliantly, with a thrilling and creepy atmosphere that really sells it as a horror show. Every episode is unnerving in a brand new way, and it’s a fantastic show overall. Not much more I can say, I don’t want to spoil it.

Ok, next is easily the weirdest show this season. The one, the only, the unmistakable Pop Team Epic. This was on my radar from the instant I saw it on the seasonal chart. My girlfriend is a huge fan of the manga, and ended up getting me into it as well. The (comparatively) normal sections of the show are very well handled, often recreating scenes from the manga perfectly. And then there’s… those sections. Anyone who’s seen the show knows exactly what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of sections in the show where it gets really weird and experimental feeling, especially in the animation. I honestly have no idea what to say about this, it almost defies words. Overall, I definitely like the show, but it feels like a fever dream induced by a pound of weed. Not really much else to be said.

Now we come to Violet Evergarden. To be honest, I don’t know what to think of this show. It looks beautiful, and sounds almost as good, but I legitimately cannot tell if I like it, or if I don’t, or even if I think it’s worthy of note or not. It’s a very bizarre feeling, and I think I’ll need to further address it when the show concludes. For now, I just don’t know.

Next is the show which really has me divided. Darling in the FranXX. There are parts of this show I really really like. Studio Trigger clearly has a very strong influence on many parts of the show, and those are the best parts of it. Especially the fight scenes. But at the same time, A1, who also worked on it, also clearly have a strong influence on it, and everything that feels so A1 about it is something I hate. I mean, this is a show that looks like a Trigger show, but the fucking A1 Face is there. AGAIN. I can’t help but have this show tainted by everything those elements remind me of, so I have trouble enjoying it as much as I probably should. Only time will tell if I can overcome this block, so perhaps I’ll also address this one in future.

And finally, my current darling show of the season: After the Rain. This show had my attention the moment I read the synopsis. It’s so rare to see a show try to do what this one does, and it’s a topic I’m very happy to see someone tackle. The art and animation is nothing short of wonderful, albeit not the greatest this season. Wit Studio clearly has a lot of talent, and this show is fantastic from a production standpoint. But it doesn’t stop there. The story thus far is paced excellently, and it actually moves forward at a good rate. It doesn’t excessively delay with stupid misunderstandings or other narrative padding, which is a good sign that it will actually go further into the subject than the typical fare for romance shows. I am positively glowing over this show so far, and I’m really hoping it continues at the same level of quality for the rest of the season. If it does, I may have a new addition to my favorites list.

Overall, from what I’ve seen of it, the Winter season has some very strong contenders, and appears to be continuing the trend I mentioned in my highlights of last year. I hope the rest of the year continues to impress, so I guess I’ll be back in a few months to see how the Spring fares. For now, solid start.