Fall 2015 Anime – Midseason Impressions

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Goodness, I have been itching to write! My pet project is almost ready to start blogging about, and unfortunately it’s not anime related, but it’s definitely the nerdiest thing I’ve done this year. Anyways, you’re here for anime, I’m here for anime, and we have some definite “anime” stuff to talk about. I have rarely felt so spoiled in a single season, and to top it all off, Crunchyroll rewarded long-time Digimon fans with the airing of the first movie in the new Digimon series just a day or so ago. You’ll find impressions for that below as well.

But first, we have some mid-season drops coming. I have a convention coming up that I really need to prepare for as I’ll be hosting my panel again, and as such my time is even more scarce. The bar has been raised and some anime just haven’t been keeping my attention in check well enough. On a more barren season I may have continued these, but this is fall. Things crumble by the wayside that normally would have legs of their own in this mega season.

Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Platoon

Horrible villains being stereotypically evil, and horrible attempts at garnering my sympathy in this latest episode have left me almost cutting the episode short. Anti-Magic Academy initially appealed to me because I felt like it had a slightly gritty tone and a decent amount of energy in it’s music and pacing. It felt rather powerful. Unfortunately, none of that really amounted to much in the end, and this exploration of every girl in Kusanagi’s harem has hardly came back positive.

Kusanagi is a bit too bare-bones for me. He’s the guy who just constantly spouts “I’ll protect you” as if it was a retail store greeting. It lost it’s charm because there’s no real sense of companionship to let statements like this breathe. He’s also the near-sighted dunderhead that I get annoyed with in harems when girls will fawn all over him, and he just doesn’t notice ANYTHING about it. Wouldn’t you stop these girls from being so accidentally sexual if you truly cared for them as much as you’re portrayed to be? If they are naked with their breasts pressed against you, do you really just stare dumbfounded at the camera? It got to the point where just his face being animated in a “heroic” way just made me want to kick my screen.

The other characters were hit or miss. I like Lapis, his little gun spirit lolita, only because her monotonous drone voice is used in a pretty comedic way. Mari, the brash brunette immediately caught my appeal and she has kind of kept the momentum going for me, but it’s not enough anymore. Usagi was the final nail in the coffin. Half of it was because “her” episode was handled very poorly, and the other half was because of that “even bunnies have fangs” one-liner. The entire episode was named after that quote…and it just made me cringe when it finally happened. That entire episode was just one measly, nasty villain being perverse, and sexually forward. While I appreciate wholeheartedly the way they tried to make Usagi a strong female character by overpowering him, it was done in an absolutely immature and predictable way.


 

The Perfect Insider

Impatience has gotten the better of me. Perfect Insider is a die-hard mystery, and had several qualities that I figured would make for a terrific story. The fact that all the character seemed keen, and perceptive, as well as having a truly strange premise to begin, this mystery with had me positively curious about what was actually going to transpire within this anime. I was tired of the standard that mystery anime have become lately, and this was poised to tread some new ground.

Then, six episodes came and went and I just didn’t care anymore. The philosophical dialogue is lazily delivered, the characters personalities don’t jive with the murder mystery too well, and, most importantly I don’t even get a sense of fulfillment anymore each time we take a step closer to solving the mystery. It’s an anime that simply greyed out by taking it’s time and not using it to build a solid foundation. It dragged it’s feet, throwing intellectual tidbits here and there, but all of them felt stale.

The lack of emotion has literally numbed me to this anime. Sure, the main character cries every once in a while, and she drinks when she’s upset…but she still feels hollow. Everyone and everything does. The direction, the music choice, the cast. It’s all so dreary that I can’t find anything to truly appreciate. I am sure that I’ll later here that when the mystery is unravled, it will be some crazy notion that could possibly be heralded as a perfect mystery, but I’d rather wait for that word of mouth.


 

Comet Lucifer

Friendship is power. Mascots turn into mechs. Moe girls constantly need saved. This is the very foundation of an uplifting mech anime of olde, and because of this, it’s doing almost nothing to surprise me. If someone is in insurmountable danger, they simply scream each others’ names, crazy shit happens, and the day is saved. This is Comet Lucifer

Okay, it’s a bit more than that. The biggest appeal to Comet Lucifer is its extremely refreshing setting. It’s a city draped with renaissance/steampunk architecture and atmosphere that makes it feel like it’s in an age of peace and constant invention. Unfortunately, the immersion factor of this city hasn’t really hit home. The city still feels like a backdrop as opposed to a living breathing metropolis. It’s a perfect town for an RPG.

The feeling of adventure was what got me started on this anime. The fact that the main character collects rocks, and that he discovers a mysterious, magical girl made me think we were going on a big journey. I was ready for a trip to see the rest of the world that contains a city as pretty as this. Instead, we’ve just been going through one situation to the next in the city where nothing of real consequence is dealt because the mech just saves the day most of the time. And when that mech is in its talking rock form, I am not a happy customer.

Felia is the other big draw to this anime since she’s supposed to be the magical girl/mascot/princess of this anime. She’s the mysterious girl that triggers all the bad guys to crawl out of the woodwork and acts as the catalyst to all the love triangles popping up. She’s still way too much of an airhead to be a decent character for me, and even after she advanced in age, becoming a young teen, her brain seemingly stayed the same. Your princess is in another castle…like mentally, Sogo. Sorry, bud.

Each episode overall feels underwhelming, but I do like some of these side-quest style vignettes we’ve been getting. This would operate better if it went strictly slice of life instead of weaving a thick plot thread that does not hook me at all. Unfortunately this is one of those anime that I’ll just have to cut short and see if I hear about any really good developments later.


 

Utawarerumono

Now that the drops are out of the way, let’s get into what’s been the most appealing anime this season, starting with this little day to day adventure anime. Slice of Life anime have a peculiar role to fulfill with me. I’m usually not content with aimless stories, and Utawarerumono is kind of like that. Each episode doesn’t lead into the next by any cliffhangers or story continuations. The main character is stuck in a foreign world, but we aren’t taking any initiative to figure out why, or even making plans to try to leave. Instead, life just hums along offering us new mini-adventures each week.

The true draw of Slice of Life is simply how well they tend to communicate its themes to its audience. This anime seems to have nailed that part because the conversations and the way its directed feels very purposeful, even though the plot is at a standstill. The acting, dialogue and direction is a cut above the rest which just makes it an extremely easy watch. Unfortunately this anime isn’t going to be memorable enough off that merit alone to really be something I can recommend. Instead, it’s something of a palette cleanser that I use each week that kind of represents the middle ground of what I expect from decent anime.

I can only say so much about how not-so-good and not-so-bad this anime is, but that really is the impression it gives off. The main character is nonchalant and gives no effs about what’s going on, so it makes it hard to get invested. It’s like you’re just along for the ride. Of course, the signature of this anime are the animal girls. Cat ears, winged ears, you name it, it’s bound to be in here. I like that they all have a little spunk to them. This isn’t about a bunch of driveling animal girls that crave attention. They are quite strong characters on their own, and outshine the main character in my opinion.

I honestly feel like this anime will just continue at this pace and settle in for a finale that doesn’t wow or disappoint. If you want something consistent, semi-smart, kind of funny, and subtly fantastical, this is your cup of tea. Just don’t get too focused on the question of “How did the main character even get here?!”

7/10


Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry

It has been a long time since an anime has won me over, and lost me so many times in the space of one episode. My relationship with this anime is strictly love/hate at this point, and I really wish I could just witness this anime with only the good parts, because the bad parts, are awful, and the good parts, are amazing. Rakudai Kishi is that school battle anime that I said was the inferior version to Asterisk War and Anti-Magic Academy, and now the positions have shifted somewhat moving Rakudai up a bit.

What keeps me glued to my TV are its extremely well-directed, and character driven battle scenes. They are much more than flashy moves. They are intelligent clashes of skills and magic that cause interesting problems that are methodically solved in order to secure a satisfying defeat. In addition, character motives are brought to the forefront and questioned in each of these battles making them both a climax for the episode and for each character’s development. This latest one with Kurogane was easily the most effective one. Her character arc in episode 7 was perfect.

So then who the hell was Kurogane in episode 6? I almost rewinded just to see if I didn’t miss a twin sister being introduced. It’s because the change is that drastic when Rakudai advances to it’s articulated intensity from it’s ill-founded fan service comedy. I literally scoffed multiple times during Ikki’s “fondling” tutelage when he was teaching Kurogane how to improve her swordsmanship. Kurogane herself was a fumbling bumbling girl with a meek personality and a severely exaggerated reaction to boys touching her in any way. Then she turned into a stoic, ruthless femme fatale that would sabotage and cheat her way to victory. It just didn’t add up. I loved the new Kurogane, but it was, in no way, a character change. It was simply an all new character to me.

Rakudai is horribly imbalanced. It’s fan-service literally destroys everything it’s great action scenes set up. It takes the women that they so nobly portray and belittles them to the point of embarrassment. It’s bad enough that I can never recommend it to anyone, but the action scenes are so great that I know all those people I don’t recommend this to would still enjoy them. It’s simply a shame that this anime is plagued by something so unbearable because it actually has proven to be a very good anime, otherwise.

7/10


Digimon Adventure Tri

It finally happened guys and gals. Just like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball before it, Digimon hit this generation with an official sequel to the original Adventure seasons. No tamers here, folks. Just good ol’ fashioned Tai and Matt. Well, Matt is Yamato right now because what I watched was still in Japanese, only being subtitled. How this release works is that the new Digimon series is divided into six movies. While each movie premieres in theaters as a whole, they are divided into four episodes for TV release. This means we will have a long wait until the next four episodes come out.

So what was it like? Was it really like old school Digimon? Did they capture what made the first season great? Did it get an increase in maturity since the main characters are older? These were all things I would be asking someone else if they watched this while I was left in the dark, so I will answer those same questions here. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the return of Digimon was rough around the edges. However, by the time the fourth episode came to a close, I feel like they successfully recreated the heart of Digimon. There’s only one thing missing at this point: The Digital World. The original season thrust us into the fantastical digimon realm in roughly five minutes. This new season is four episodes in and we’re still chugging along in the city. I do miss that because it seems less like an journey-laden adventure, and more like an alien encounter setting.

What this first movie succeeded in was bringing back all the old nuances that many Digimon fans should appreciate. The fact that Izzy has used his considerable genius to actually make a living for himself or how Tai still plays soccer and butts heads with soccer balls…and Matt, makes the characters feel right at home. It didn’t start out this way though. When we first see the characters all grown up, they were all wearing near-identical school outfits, and they just felt so bland. It took a while to get their personalities to kick in. They’re increased age definitely changes the subject material and the phases of life they are in. These are students or young adults who have found varying degrees of success in their life. Jo seems to be having a mid-life crisis while Mimi is out seeing the world. But there hasn’t been a real drastic increase in the sophistication here, so it doesn’t “feel” adult. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The Digimon are the other stars of the show, and they were definitely the best return to form for the series. I will say that this is my first time hearing their Japanese voice acting, and while most of them are still great, Agumon is going to be a tough one to get used to. They way they act, however, is classic Digimon trope, and I love it. They latch onto their human partners a lot, are carried and dawdled by them, and try to fit into human conversation by talking about clearly incorrect things. They are cute, and always will be as long as they act this way.

But I said this anime was rough around the edges, and this is where I have to take off my nostalgia nightgown , and throw on my critical cloak. The first half of this movie was directed atrociously. The music just blared in, and cut off awkardly and distractingly. For that matter, the music style was so bare bones that it almost hurt. Foreshadowing scenes meant to be ominous just left an uncomfortably pronounced silence that made everything feel clumsy, or perhaps unfinished. It wasn’t until midway through the third episode that the gears started running more smoothly. Tai and Agumon had a heart to heart, which was very touching as well as the best scene thus far, and afterwards it turned into much better plot development. Unfortunately, this anime, counting these four episodes, didn’t feel triumphant. It just has things that long-time fans can latch onto and enjoy once again. It’s done nothing to improve Digimon yet in my opinion, but it definitely has all the potential to grow, or Digivolve, if you will.

7/10


The Asterisk War

The Asterisk War is the third school battle anime on this list that have uncanny similarities to each other. While Anti-Magic Academy definitely proved to be the least enjoyable to me, The Asterisk War and Rakudai are in a funky spot. Asterisk has a few more things running for it making me ultimately prefer this particular telling of Dude Deals With Boobs and Swords: The Anime.

The most notable thing is that Asterisk War is much more balanced, and handles its episodes well, on and off the battlefield. The dialogue has a little more pop, the jokes land better, and the fight scenes are still very satisfying. However, its best fight scene doesn’t compare to Rakudai’s best fight scene, and Asterisk War is taking us on random excursions in each episode that are setting up for a larger plot that has yet to unfold. This makes the payoff in Rakudai feels more immediate.

I’m hoping The Asterisk War continues to improve, but what’s already there is enough to satisfy. I personally like all three of the side characters introduced so far which is probably the biggest upscale in enjoyment compared to Rakudai and Anti-Magic Academy.  Saya’s constant dry humor is my personal favorite and I hope she gets some more personal focus in the future. While I still have a large distaste for any fan service scenes involving them, Asterisk handles it much better than Rakudai, the worst offender on this list.

The recent Kirin arc was an overall good mini-arc for me. The detour into the underground with the reviving dragon blob things was a bit out of nowhere, but I was glad to see that it was actually relevant to the villainous plot that is brewing in the background. Kirin is a moe character I can get behind, unlike Felia in Comet Lucifer. She actually has motivation, changes in personality, and other small things that just make her more human. Especially when she draws her sword. I love how she geeks out over sword-based martial arts.

What is quite hilarious is that Asterisk and Rakudai are still bumping heads on being WAY too similar to be airing in the same season. They both spent the last couple episodes focusing on a new side female character who jumps between being polite or timid to focused or capable in the blink of an eye. These girls were both out to free their fathers from a type of imprisonment. The final battle of the arc was between that girl and the main character and involved setting the girl free of her cursed destiny with the main character being the light that leads the way. And finally, and I can’t believe this actually happened, but they BOTH had the girl become nervous and embarrassed by things that the main character did when he touched them, and then went ahead to say that it reminds them of their father. It’s pictured above. That’s already weird to happen only once, but to happen twice just made me laugh out loud with disbelief.

8/10


Beautiful Bones

So how has my anime crush been fairing? Is she carrying the anime off of her appeal alone or have the mysteries actually been worth the watch? In short, it has been worth the watch on a pure entertainment factor. It scratched the noggin how mysteries should every once in a while, but overall it just leads you on a small, but pleasant chase for clues with a decently explained conclusion at the end. It’s clean, efficient, and made all the better by Sakurako herself.

Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t stack up against the heavy hitters this season. It lacks a truly ground breaking mystery component, and it has one agonizingly dumb character for each respectfully intelligent one in the cast. It has had a few standout moments that really demonstrate how well-rounded these episodes are, however. There was one episode shifted the focus to one of the side characters, and that turned out to be one of the most poignant episodes yet. Beautiful Bones seems like it’s trying to express more than just the build up to its mysteries, but the themes of life and death that come and go with this type of subject. It’s an anime I’ll easily continue for nice, mild brain exercise and a continued look at my anime crush.

I will have to give credit to the animation studio. A mystery anime need hardly look so vivid, but Beautiful Bones lives up to the “beautiful” part quite well. I think if this anime was grey and dull all the time, I would have dropped it much earlier. The color does it wonders, making this the least-gritty looking murder mystery in a while. Whether that’s for better or worse is strictly personal preference.

8/10


Haikyuu

Haikyuu continues the dominant trend proving that sports anime has some of the best character-based storytelling in recent times. I have grown past the comparisons between Kuroko’s Basketball and Haikyuu. They are both amazing for similar and different reasons. Watch both for crying out loud. Haikyuu is a constant feeling of inspiration, similar to a personal favorite anime of mine, Bakuman. Kuroko’s Basketball echoes that, but differentiates itself in being more edgy, intense, and explosive. That’s all I’ll say concerning the two.

So Hinata is becoming a very, very likable character. For every time he describes something with “whoosh” or “bang,” he chisels a little cove in my heart that he’ll permanently reside in. Haikyuu really needed this second season to demonstrate more on what it’s ultimately going for. The focus isn’t as heavy on the opposition as much as the team synergy itself. This has made some of the most natural, yet complex character interplay this season. Just seeing each of these character’s personalities trigger changes in another is a chain reaction of perfectly believable human development. And the lack of effort the staff seemingly butter this all with just makes it easier to eat up.

Haikyuu isn’t all lightheartedness, but it’s definitely taking it’s time to get to the climactic matches against the big teams looming in the distance. Essentially, we have just gotten a training arc, a perfect one, mind you, but the overall season impression will definitely depend on how this training is implemented into the matches. So far, I am rapt with attention at everything each character is working on improving, so if they can acknowledge all this throughout the future matches, than in retrospect, this training scene will also have perfect foreshadowing. I absolutely love how each character is focusing on widening their skill set. “They are evolving,” as the rival coach likes to put it.

My small gripe with Haikyuu, and we’re talking SMALLLLLL, is that the characters on other teams are a bit more forgettable than I’d like them to be. They represent archetypes, and they have individual personalities, but compared to the main cast, they just pale in comparison. Not every anime needs to focus on it’s opponents, but if Haikyuu wants the games to feel like a bout between two equal teams, perhaps it would benefit the series a bit. Either way, Haikyuu is damn near perfect and Hinata is one of the best characters of the season. The charm of its characters and it’s rewarding training arc has been nothing short of a true delight.

9.5/10


Owarimonogatari

Just like Noragami, we have concluded the first arc here and it ended with way more emotionally gripping material than I expected. Sodachi may be the most manic character introduced in Monogatari’s long list of excellent crazies. My memory is fuzzy on some of the old material, but I feel like this was the most cerebral entry in the series yet, and this series is already pretty abstract. It’s still too early to tell if the new arc will be just as frenetic as this one.

The difference with Monogatari and other anime is that it’s an extremely aesthetic assault, both in visuals and in dialogue. It’s conversational flow is still ridiculously expansive and its art is colorful, sharp, and extremely weird. It all just works, making this series hard to look away from, and Owarimonogatari did that in spades, with enough identity to also make it feel new as well. This isn’t just more of the same, Monogatari is terrifically expanding on it’s foundation.

I was hoping that Owarimonogatari could be a good entry point for those who haven’t seen the series, but I think there are several small puns that would go over viewer’s heads if they didn’t watch the beginning, and those puns are important. Monogatari’s wit is part of it’s identity, and the series is so constantly inventive and strange that starting from the beginning will still be just as exhilarating of an experience as jumping in with what’s current.

So how was the actual story? What actually happened? That’s always a bit tougher to explain, just because Monogatar is borderline indescribable. I could just sum it up and say, Araragi, the main character remembered a memory from his past, and developed as a character because of it. But Monogatari is never really about what the story is, as much as how it’s told to you. It’s always a well thought out plot, but they are also very small. The actual events number in the few, but the vantage points, introspective reflection, and diverging tangents are too many to count. I’ll just have to simply say that while the story was great, the execution was perfect.

Owarimonogatari is off to a brilliant start. It’s been a while since the series returned to a full season format, and this season may be one of it’s strongest. The controversial subject matter is still there. This anime has a unique brand of fan service that may just make many of you uncomfortable, but just like everything else in Monogatari, the fan service is like nothing you’ve seen before as well. Shaft has outdone itself on animation yet again, making me wonder what their interpretation of every anime would be. Let’s hope this next arc is just as fascinating.

9.5/10


One Punch Man

Okay, the dust has settled, and One Punch Man isn’t sitting in my mind as a dreamlike anime that couldn’t actually happen in real life anymore. I can now look at it logically and realistically. That doesn’t change much because I’m still going to say that it’s really freaking awesome.

One Punch Man is our star of the season. The anime that should draw people in like Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online did. What really makes this stand out is that this is probably the most comedy-oriented anime to reach this much renown in the states. Is it popular due to air-heads just loving the spectacle? No. Is it going to go the path of Attack on Titan and become so popular that the cool thing to do is hate on it? Eventually, yes.

Every anime that gets this popular starts getting compared to the “smart” or “artsy” anime. It’s only natural. People want to prove that there’s more to anime than what is popular. I think it’s a noble gesture that simply gets abused. But let me say now, just as I said with Attack on Titan back in the day. The anime is good. It’s popular for a good reason. Watch it now before it explodes into pop culture and you end up watching it because you have to in order to fit in. If you really want to know if it’s the ‘BEST’ anime, then definitely look into those smart and artsy anime people throw at you. I personally prefer those kind of anime, but if you don’t, One Punch Man is still good enough to represent anime, just as I still believe Attack on Titan is.

So aside from the initial bombastic premiere, how has One Punch Man actually been on a consistent basis? Funny, beautiful, and, well actually…a little bit slow. From a purely critical standpoint, One Punch Man has actually developed slower than I predicted. The latest two episodes felt like they could have added one more scene. I personally don’t fault this much, because it allows for a stronger foundation. One Punch Man’s story is so ludicrous that it could collapse on itself, so taking time like this is probably the wisest thing to do. This is probably why the manga was successful as well.

I don’t think One Punch Man has any chance of actually ruining itself now. But it is clear that not every episode will pack a punch as strong as Saitama’s. The fact that every single secondary main character introduced is such a bad-ass that they make protagonists from other anime look boring is a feat in itself and keeps me yearning to move on to the next episode to meet the next one. But this also means that there’s a lot of dumb, parody characters to truck through to get to the actual formidable ones, but that’s part of this anime’s schtick. Heroes are amazing, but that’s not true for all of them, or even most of them. I will say that any episode that doesn’t feature a cool moment from an actual interesting character may be the episodes I don’t look forward to, but that’s only happened once, thus far.

9.5/10


Noragami

Can you do it again Noragami? That is the only question I have for this anime now. I don’t doubt anything about the capabilities of this anime. Gut-wrenching intensity, heart-melting sadness, fit-inducing comedy, and eye-dazzling action, Noragami’s got it all, and it knows how to use it. The first arc wrapped up with essentially no complaints on my end, save for maybe a less than memorable villain.

 

More on that first arc, though. Last I wrote, Noragami already wowed me with it’s thoughtful story and amazing balance of tones and moods. And then the arc just kept getting better. Yukine’s big cliffhanger had me positively reeling with impatience to see what came next. The Bishamon arc accomplished so much, that even with a mediocre villain, I still give it full merits in a review. I also have to give a special nod to the music. It’s strange, yet completely distinctifies what Noragami is and accents the scenes perfectly. There was one point where I though that a sound was glitching on my laptop, and then it escalated in pitch and frequency and I realized it was part of the song, and I actually love it once that realization kicked in. There was only one dubstep-y track that killed the mood in one single scene. That is all.

So at the start of the new arc last week, I was worried that Noragami burnt out, yet again. See, the first season followed it’s crazily emotional Yukine arc with an anime original arc that fell pretty flat with almost every fan of the anime. This time, we’re going from one manga-adapted arc to the next, but just how much grade A material does the Noragami manga have?

Well, if this week was any indication…and the tears that fell from my cheeks, even when just introducing new characters and setting up new plot threads, Noragami can still craft a completely moving scene involving nothing more than two characters expressing themselves to each other. This new arc already has a lot of nuance and potential revving under the hood, and I’m truly excited for what’s in store. Noragami is one of the highest-rated mangas on die-hard anime/manga sites. To make the top 100 as a manga is almost like breaking the top 20 in anime, and Noragami has done so. This has me confident, but I’m always worried that the best anime on air only has one direction to go…down. I’ll remain optimistic, just like Yato must have done through all his years of Godly poverty.

10/10


What a season. To have a single anime that feels top-50 worthy is always a good season, but there are four of them this time around and that really strengthens my opinion of this medium as a whole. With all the fan-service and cliched storytelling that I disagree with and poke fun at, I really am proud of what anime is capable of, and constantly executes. I appreciate you all reading this, and I hope you can look forward to the final review of this season as well as the incoming update to my Top 50 anime.

 

 

 

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