Winter 2016 Anime – First Impressions

Twenty anime, people. I’m kicking off the new year strong with renewed vigor and bigger things in store, so I figured why not just load my plate with as much anime as possible? This season didn’t seem to have any immediate blockbusters when I was scrolling through its offerings, but that’s the point of digging deep into the selection. I’m here to lay out what anime surprised, delighted, and repulsed in Winter 2016. If you are looking for new anime to follow, then I hope something on this list can appeal to you. I’m starting with what I dropped and will work my way up to the most memorable!


Divine Gate

Did this anime really start with the words “Pitter, patter?” Oh geez, I can’t bear to watch anymore. This anime is sadly unimpressive. I say sad because it’s trying so very hard to be good. The effort is there, it just didn’t turn out well at all. Look, I get it, kid. The rain won’t fill your heart and the ice won’t melt around your soul. If this is how you’re going to act the entire anime then whoever follows this to the end may as well end up with holes in their heart as well. This was awful. Divine Gate is such a confusing, pointlessly introspective, and horribly written show that I actually started to wish everyone would just stop talking for the rest of the episode.

Divine Gate, which already has a poorly explained world, uninteresting characters, and average artistic quality, suffers from a strange delusion of grandeur because it tries to narrate and evoke the tragic mood of its main character with an onslaught of cliche similes. It’s so distracting, and at the forefront of everything that it almost seems like it’d inevitably happen, whether in a dark alley or at the grand opening of an ice cream store giving out free ice cream.

Okay, that’s a neat analogy.

Alright, I get it. You already said this.

I swear to god if they make one more metaphor about why he’s sad…

GAAAARRRRRAAAAGGGHHHHH!

That’s not to mention everything else, such as a kidnapper who dishes out the back story of this world to the very person he’s kidnapping. “Hey girl I’m going to murder, do you know why the sky is blue? Yes? Well let me tell you anyways.”  It’s borderline idiotic why some of these characters say the things they do. It’s like explaining the reason people eat food to a chef, THAT YOU ARE ROBBING. And for some reason everyone in this world is focused on why this boy is so sad rather than the fact that two other magical worlds collided with there’s changing the entire course of everything. Divine Gate is just bad, bad, bad, and the main character is just sad, sad, sad.

2/10


Schwarzesmarken

It only took a minute into the first episode of this dreary mech drama to realize that everything happening on screen was almost making me nauseous. In this world, humans in Germany are divided between east and west, and creatures called BETAS are attacking both of them. The BETAs are among the nastiest pieces of art and animation I’ve seen, and probably will see for all of 2016. On top of that, we have angry pilots manning awful CG mechs shooting them into horribly drawn spurts of blood for minutes on end. The music was a low-quality 80’s sounding synth track that just clashed horribly with the loud sound design and the yelling of the mech pilots. Finally, the animation and character design is both poor and incredibly bland. I wanted to drop it immediately.

 

Luckily I stuck around for a bit of an upward swing in quality as they discover an unconscious West Germany pilot who asks for asylum in their country. We learn a little bit more of the intricacies of this political relationship and we get some insight into the main character’s back story. Unfortunately this wasn’t near enough to make me want to ever look at those ugly BETA creatures again. This anime can only be commended to those mecha fans who must see every robot-filled anime that releases. War is definitely ugly, but this is a whole other type of unappealing.

2/10


Active Raid

Active Raid’s first episode ALMOST went by without an ounce of significance, because it wasn’t until the tail end of the episode that I realized that Active Raid is a mech anime that can laugh at itself. It’s a very redeeming quality, but one that does little to make up for just how bad this anime is in the first place. I was a little happy with the Akino and Bless partnership that brought the incredibly catchy opening song for Amagi Brilliant Park.

 

The main character is a hard-working, brash, woman who joins a ragtag team of law enforcers. Oh right, and they use mechs in this world. The contrast between the by-the-books lead character and the improvising, no-fuck-giving squadron was a fun little dynamic, but did little to make the characters enjoyable. The world design is hardly interesting which already nullifies my interest in the setting. I love it when my sci-fi anime have an intriguing or complex world full of the thoughtful layers I associate with this genre. The first “encounter” with some random villains also failed to leave any type of lasting impression. Perhaps when an actual competent antagonist comes along, this show could step up its game. I sure hope it wasn’t that mysterious philosophical character in the beginning. He seemed like a feeble attempt to add some poetic depth to this world, but it feels dead in the water already, except for one aspect…

The most annoying thing for me was what I call the “mech tech” scene, which has become a mainstay archetype for the mecha genre. If you’ve watched any mech anime, then you know one of the most geeky and pleasing moments are when the engines are booting up, the pilot is strapping himself in, and you see all these engineers stating random things like “Einstein Overdrive Limiter is at 100%.” These scenes are superfluous and rarely actually feel like authentic technical jargon, which was entirely the case here. Build the world and the characters first, THEN build your mecha’s gizmos and doodads.

This show was pretty damn funny. The careless and over the top ways the members of this dysfunctional work together was a breath of fresh air and landed at least a few solid laughs in the second half of the premiere. Unfortunately, comedy alone isn’t really enough to make me want to follow this sub-par mech story. There weren’t any highlights in the way it was written, animated, or directed. It just made me bored for 19 minutes, and made me laugh for one minute. That’s not a good ratio.

4/10


Luck and Logic

Either I need to double check the definition of logic, or the creators do, because what was just briefly detailed in the space of that mind-numbing episode did not seem logical at all. No fortune was to be found either, causing me to abandon all pretense on figuring out why they named it Luck and Logic. It had things I usually like to see, such as a detailed system of magic with a thorough amount of unique properties to that magic.It’s a shame then, that all of those things were done awfully, and hardly anything appealed to me.

Luck and Logic reintroduces our world with the notion that humans discovered something even more matter-defining than atoms themselves, and they call it Logic. Logic dictates the emotions, and other intangible things. Eventually gods are also thrown into this exasperating explanation and I don’t even really remember how, nor do I bother to go back and find out. On top of that, there are things called paradoxes that are just weird creatures that start spreading a strange magma until covenants and covenanters (yes, they verbalized the word “covenant”) take them out. All these usages of grand terms like “paradox” or “trance” only add a slightly more interesting vocabulary to what honestly feels like utter garbage. Take away all of that vernacular and you have awkward CG creatures attacking the city and duos that combine bodies to fight them. And I think two of them were about to get married or something like that? But with their Logic and not love? I don’t even know, man.

Nothing makes an ounce of sense. The main character has a back story that so far did nothing to actually shape his character. I don’t get why these random creatures are falling on earth, nor why this system of gods and humans pairing together to fight them is even in place. These are all questions that don’t intrigue me. They irritate me. They are such essential pieces to the world that without those answers, there’s absolutely no foundation for anything. The character designs are pretty gaudy, bursting with horrid colors, and the animation is rather lackluster making this aniem feel dated right from the start. Thankfully, I’m not going to stick around to get even more confused by this illogical and unfortunate world.

4/10


 

Konosuba

Konosuba is another one of those video game world anime, only this time we’re taking the full on comedy route, and I’m actually a bit excited to see what’s in store. Granted, the lack of depth and detail will keep this anime from feeling like a standout show, but there’s enough here to like, and definitely enough here to laugh at. If you’re looking for a more serious take on a video game world, you may want to scroll down, but if you want something that takes this premise and gives it a nice comedy makeover, then you need not look further.

 

Our story starts with our game-addicted main character, Kazuma, dying a humiliating, and laughable death and being introduced to a goddess, Aqua, who will allow him to choose a special fate of going to a fantasy world to vanquish a demon. He’s allowed to bring one thing, such as a power or item, but since this goddess is making fun of his death, he decides to try to take the goddess herself with him, and it works. Now these two are stuck in a game-like world where Kazuma feels right at home and Aqua is having a break down over her disastrous encounter. Turns out, Aqua is better fit for this world receiving godly stats in almost everything while Kazuma gets abysmal stats. They mentioned that Kazuma does have extremely high luck, so I wonder if that will even serve a purpose.

But that really matters is that this is all funny. The way this all gets started, and the life they try to lead after becoming official adventurers in this new world is handled with deft comedic timing and outrageous animations. There is a montage of them slowly becoming better workers that packed in a whole bunch of gags that had me laughing repeatedly. Comedy only takes it so far, though. I’m dying for some more back story and since this episode ends right when their first adventure begins, I only have my fits of laughter to give credit for. The art is average, save for the awesome facial expressions that accompany the jokes. The music even less memorable, and barely worth a mention. I don’t expect much from this one and will probably drop it if it continues like this. I only press on because I’d love to see this comedy meld with an even greater adventure.

6/10


Gate

Gate is well on its way to being a very thorough anime in exploring the relations between the fantasy world and our real world. This thoroughness naturally involves getting our hands dirty with some more mature themes, and I’m all about them mature themes, but perhaps not when the anime still feels so kid-friendly. It was an awkward episode, but if I have to say, Gate just decided to tackle some adult content, and while it wasn’t entirely graceful, it is, at least, doing it mostly right.

To be very frank, this premiere of season two contains a rape scene within the first few minutes. One that would probably blindside anyone who watched the first season and assumed that this is a teenage-targeted fantasy story with only mild blood, violence and more humurous sexual references. It wasn’t a very well handled scene, and if that rape scene was just thrown in to make this new character look evil, I would probably have considered it extremely unnecessary, but it looks like this is just one of the many facets of this world that Gate is looking to encompass, because throughout the episode we are also introduced to anime-woman prostitutes and other small nods towards this type of material. It’s a big, and rare step, especially in this kind of anime, and I feel like other parts of Gate are starting to feel out of place thanks to this change in subject matter.

Namely, Itami is still way too blissfully aloof to fit in with this type of content. I can’t imagine him sympathizing with the emotional turmoil of a sexual assault, so now, more than ever, Itami feels like an inappropriate main character. The comic relief is starting to feel starkly immature in contrast to the serious scenes. It’s uneven and makes the anime feel “innocent” again just to throw these startlingly realistic characteristics back into your face. I did really enjoy some of the new characters we got to see. Most notably is Misery, the angel prostitute. Her no-nonsense demeanor and blunt look at the world didn’t belittle her in any way and I think is a good representative for, well, the underrepresented.

 

And how could I forget about those stupid screen cuts? My least favorite thing about this show reared it’s ugly head again by slicing my screen in half in a few scenes. It still looks horrible in motion. This anime is far from a good directorial effort, and feels like it could be handled better elsewhere. The source material seems to be doing all the lifting while the anime adaptation is what’s causing all these awkward tonal shifts and maturity gaps. It’s still pretty, and the fantasy design is actually a cut above the rest, but this anime feels just a bit sloppy.

6.5/10


Myriad Colors Phantom World

“Oh, this is cool,” I thought, when this anime started by demonstrating well-known optical illusions and opening my mind up to some interesting content.

“Oh, that’s really thoughtful,” I said to myself, when they used these optical illusions to have the narrator explain that our perception makes us weak, and that if it became stronger, we could see what used to be fictional.

“Oh, god dammit!” I yelled when the opening theme song started playing and boob jiggles and upskirts started flashing across my screen with each “pop” of the synthesizer.

I hate it. I absolutely hate it when fan service just tromps along and beats the living crap out of whatever seriousness I could have given a show, and that is exactly what happened with Myriad Colors. This anime squandered its potential before the opening video even finished playing, but I thought the worst was over until I saw that in order to summon a magical element, our big-breasted heroine has to undergo some kind of self-groping mantra that causes her boobs to do weird looking somersaults or something of the sort. Even THEN I thought I had seen the most pointless boob-bit until we broke probably fifty laws of physics and biology to show that same heroine circumnavigate her boobs to the side of her body in order to perform a game of freaking limbo.

Myriad Colors is visually inventive, and damn near arresting on the eyes. Kyoto Animation is a powerhouse for this kind of stuff and their film-like quality instantly makes this the best looking bad anime of the season. I just don’t understand why this studio talent is leaning so heavy on the innuendo. Everything else in this anime was a fresh take on a standard story. The directing style is energetic with rapid cuts and amazingly animated sequences. It features “talent-less” lead characters who somehow still look very impressive failing at what they are supposed to be doing. The fact that the main character is an information sponge and offers nice bits of random trivia is another nice touch. (As plot irrelevant as they are) And the way they bring the phantoms to life is one of the aesthetic highlights of the season.

Because of the unique take on magical-high-school, the liveliness of the characters and world, and the sheer beauty of this anime, it still impresses and definitely makes me want to continue. But I can hardly recommend it without saying you are going to have to swallow some incredulous fan-service. I just have to see what happens next…whether I love it or hate it.

7/10


Dagashi Kashi

Kokonotsu, or teased as Coconuts is a good character. You can laugh at him, admire his dreams, and appreciate his talents. He wants to be a mangaka but his father really wants him to take over the family sweet shop. This leads to a pretty offbeat comedy that surprised me with it’s well-paced humor, memorable character design, and some borderline insane interactions between our main characters.

Dagashi Kashi quickly throws in what makes it unique and lets the audience make the choice for themselves. It’s not trying to ramp up a plot, nor foreshadow anything dramatic or deep, yet this also isn’t a shallow anime by any means. It’s a comedy that knows what it’s doing, and has a unique premise that probably won’t engage anyone, but it might keep them from walking away from the screen.

The true triumph of this anime are the three characters we are introduced to, two of which are manic in their own funny ways. Kokonotsu is endearingly oblivious that the girl who runs the cafe likes him, and he’s constantly nice to her as a result of his personality. Hotaru, on the other hand, only cares about snacks, and is easily the most attention-stealing character of the show. She’s obsessed with all sorts of treats, seemingly placing their importance over every other aspect of life. Kokonotsu is interested in her which ignites the love triangle, but luckily this love triangle doesn’t seem to be melodramatic or emotional. It’s just there to create minor tension for what I’m assuming will be more comedic moments.

The animations deserves special mention because the characters are drawn in a subtly strange way. Their eyes look slightly crazy, but still pass off as attractive parts about them. I can see the most waifu-focused anime fans really gravitating towards both the sweets girl and the cafe girl, and it helps that the main character is actually smart and nice to make the romance a bit more legitimate. But just seeing these characters move, talk, and react is rather refreshing, and the small town setting just adds to that. It’s a comforting, quirky anime for anyone who wants something that doesn’t try to bite off more than it can chew. Rather it’s a bite-size treat in itself, and that’s what the anime is all about.

7/10

 


Prince of Stride

With anime like Haikyuu and Kuroko’s Basketball eating up the critical acclaim and Free gobbling up the popularity, it was only a matter of time before Madhouse stepped into the fray to deliver it’s very own sports-centered anime, only this time, they may not have put their best foot forward. Thankfully, even when Madhouse stumbles, they impress, and Prince of Stride is definitely something I want to see more of. Only, half of that reason is because the first episode lacked a lot of necessary information, such as WHAT THE HECK STRIDE IS.

I was trying to piece it together. I started the anime thinking it was a standard, realistic take on foot racing and marathon running. Then I saw that people were doing parkour so my brain tried to build the rules to this strange take on racing. Then two racers slapped hands and I now had to recognize it as a relay race. I still didn’t know how it worked and after 15 minutes of not explaining anything about the sport, I almost paused the anime to google “Stride” to see if I was, in fact, missing some crazy sports phenomenon going on in Japan. Nope, Stride is entirely fictional. That became abundantly clear when they also had to use futuristic GPS maps to navigate the map and 3D renders of the school building were drawn instantaneously to lay out the race course.

So without an explanation, I just had to sit there and try to enjoy the characters and the way-too-fast gathering of new students interested in the Stride Club. The characters feel like more hollow versions of typical sports character archetypes and the art design is just a little odd with strange contrasts accenting muted colors. So this anime didn’t really click for me until a race actually happened. THAT, I could have watched for a good while because Madhouse pulled out some of the animation gusto and brought that scene to life with heavy sound design and dramatic bursts of speed.

There is a lot this anime has to explain, and a lot of room for character growth. The sport is rather confusing. The main character is a girl who wants to be a manager, but instead becomes a communication-like team member. She wondered if girls were allowed to do it, so I thought maybe it was physically demanding, but it’s just a position where you watch the racers on a GPS and tell them when to go. So yeah…why is that role even gender-walled? Anyways, these characters have absolutely no back story and I hope it doesn’t take forever to get to them because as one-dimensional as they are, this anime is not fit to run a marathon, let alone a Stride race.

7/10


Girls Beyond the Wasteland

I’m very glad I forgot what this anime was about by the time I got to it because not knowing that this main character is getting himself into was the only part of the episode meant to be a revelation, therefore I also won’t spoil it. It’s also not worth spoiling because the true merits and quality of this episode wasn’t the story, but the execution of character interplay and terrific normalcy that actually makes this anime stand out by being not “anime.”

Girls Beyond the Wasteland is an anime that will make or break itself off of its writing department alone. The art gets a pass, and nothing more. The story is actually very plain, but that’s not the point. What really makes this anime pop is the wonderfully natural dialogue and thoughtful qualities it draws out. Characters will naturally question, debate, and playfully converse with pure authenticity completely eliminating the wall between a voice actor and the character’s personality. It’s a rare occasion that makes me want it in all the other clumsily voice acted anime out there. I found myself relating with almost everyone, and the humor, while very subtle, was perfectly peppered on.

The other great thing is that our main character, Bunta who looks incredibly boring visually, is actually a very revitalizing main character. He’s an honest, hard-working man who’s tactful, yet confident personality just brings a great sense of respect for him. His two friends are also fantastic additions. I always love any martial arts practitioner, and the fact that a drama nerd doubles as one is someone I’d probably want to befriend in real life. Their friendship is more lifelike than anything else this season. However, once the plot kicks in, this story gets a lot more focused, and this focus could be the downfall. I was ready to watch these teenagers take on life, but I may have cast my net too wide, because I don’t think this anime will be quite as profound as it may have lead on.

8/10


Durarara

This is different. I’m only one episode in to the new season and I already have minor Durarara fatigue. To me, Durarara is as exhausting as it is interesting. I love it because of how many crazy character stories are colliding erratically with each other, but I get tired of it because there’s so much to keep track of that a lot of moments fall flat unless you can accurately recall what has happened in the past. Durarara has ran on for so long now that I’m starting to lose grip. I’m ashamed that my attention span is failing me here, but I also think Durarara could give a bit more assistance with showing what these characters have done in the past.

Regardless Durarara is still good. Most of the great things happening only require you to recall how a particular characters behaves, or what they want, rather than remembering every little thing they did throughout Durarara’s disruptive chronology. This first episode marks the start to the final season of Durarara, but instead of upping the ante, we got a comic-relief focused episode that was basically Celty becoming the head of a new group, or guild, as they call themselves. It was pretty funny because we got to see Celty put in the humiliating limelight as she got angry and her personal life was teased in front of everyone. We also got a little peak into Izaya yet again being in control of things when we expect him not to be. Actually is that even the case anymore? I’m, frankly, not very surprised when Izaya pulls a big move anymore.

What does remain consistent and refreshing is Durara’s fantastic art and writing. The close ups of any character’s face really shows what distinguishes Durarara’s character design’s from other anime. And with more character promising to enter the mix, I am excited to see what they look like, and of course, how they behave. The natural banter between everyone always hits right at home, especially when Shinra casually stated how being in a crowd really does make loneliness worse. A normal anime would have glorified that statement, but Durarara just throws thoughts like these around like paper wads. The music is still upbeat and jazzy which keeps Durarara from getting too gloomy, and transforms it into a dark comedy mood of sorts. There’s not too much going on in Durarara land, but if you’ve watched until the end of last season, you might as well finish it at this point. I’m at least quite curious to see if the ending will actually be something truly epic for Durara’s massive cast of characters.

8/10


Dimension W

When I heard about this anime, I wasn’t sure just how scientific we were going to get about the existence of a fourth dimension. Was this going to be an abstract adventure anime about discovering the W dimension? Turns out, at least thus far, it doesn’t really matter what Dimension W is. People have discovered it, and the only result is unlimited energy, and burst of science fiction as a result. Even the graph used to explain Dimension W will likely fall under scrutinization of all the tech-geeks out there. But, this is besides the point because instead of focusing on the science, Dimension W is focusing on the story, and that has allowed it to turn into a pretty decent offering this season.

 

The main character is a bit one-dimensional so far, but he’s still pretty cool. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sympathize or relate to him, but he’s basically a mechanic/assassin who doesn’t like what this “future” brought to the world. He’s a pariah of the old ways and that’s kind of nice to see. I just wish he wasn’t so thick-headed that he couldn’t even comprehend the idea of non-humans being worthy of sympathy. He has yet to win me over, but he’s doing nothing to push me away because of his anti-hero qualities, and how calm and calculated he is. Then we have the robot girl, Mira, who is another main character that hits the right notes, but not all of them. She’s an overexpressive teenager with super-strength that she sometimes can’t control, and identifies as a human girl. I’m pretty sure she is, but the technical answer is up for debate. The anime hasn’t made it clear. Regardless, she’s kind of like a strong female lead, but right now it’s hard to tell if she will actually be an annoyance or a benefit to our old-fashioned hero.

The world is appropriately grimy for a situation involving vigilantes-for-hire doing the dirty work and stopping illegal activities. There were a lot of small sci-fi nods to show that this world is indeed advanced, but it didn’t feel all too natural. There’s a little bit of overzealous effort underlying everything making this anime feel a little ungraceful, but still very well thought out. The action wasn’t anything to rave about yet, but the fight scenes also weren’t that elaborate. The potential for exciting and unique fight scenes is definitely present thanks to the way that our heroes wield very distinctive styles of weapons. I just don’t get what Dimension W has to do with the main story yet, or if it ever will, and what the next adventure is for our duo. It’s got a mature, cool vibe, but doesn’t quite hit on a profound level, so we’ll just have to give this one time.

8/10


Fairy Tail Zero

While this is widely considered to be a whole new Fairy Tail by the fans, this is technically just the next arc in the long running Fairy Tail proper. However, the idea of a prologue detailing the creation of the Fairy Tail guild is a juicy bit of back story that every fan would want to know, and even though my interest in Fairy Tail had been declining the last year or so, this was a story I did not want to miss. I only hoped that the problems I felt plaguing the main series wouldn’t bleed over into this current arc. Luckily, after seeing the first episode, Fairy Tail finally feels like it’s back to its old emotional adventure roots.

I was a bit confused at first because the first episode of Fairy Tail Zero still started in the present day and I didn’t really understand how we would jump back in time. It turns out, Natsu and Happy are just traveling around and decide to visit Tenrou Island which cues the leap backwards in time to where the prologue actually begins. I was very excited to see young Mavis because, as an adult, she was one of my favorite characters, and that’s exactly what I got. She was an adorable little girl, and thanks to Fairy Tail’s character design, she and all the child characters look like Nendoroid figurines with tiny bodies and big heads. Mavis did not have it easy because she was neglected, treated with cruelty, and laughed at by everyone. I was worried that this anime would use this to paint her with overly expressive tragedy and shower her with remorse and sadness, which would have been overkill. Luckily, Young Mavis did not let any of this grief get to her because she had a childlike dream that kept her motivated to never shed tears. This empowered her so much that she instantly became one of my favorite kid characters in Fairy Tail. Coupled with her innocent thirst for knowledge, I was about ready to adopt her.

The island of Tenrou is a great setting for this story to unfold in. It’s isolated from everything else, and full of wildlife and thick vegetation that just makes everything feel more archaic and natural. The thought of Mavis growing up on this island by herself seems like a thrilling, yet meditative experience that I’m almost envious of. While we didn’t really get to experience much of that solace with her, I do hope we get to see more of how young Mavis grows into the person she is. When the conflict in the second half of the episode started, I was more immersed than I normally am with Fairy Tail making me sympathize with Mavis more than I expected, which is one of the best things you can have happen with a central character.

The story itself was rather basic, but it conveyed its morals and emotions well. While in the beginning I wondered if Fairy Tail lost its ability to make me feel strong emotions, I was happy to find myself tearing up in the heat of the moment when Mavis and Zera were escaping the town and they declared their brand new friendship. It was a touching moment followed by another pang to the heart. Again, the anime didn’t dwell on the sad moment that just happened and instead moved on yet again to the next positive moment in Mavis’s life. That’s what I loved the most. While Mavis’ childhood was indeed very sad, the anime focused more on her optimism than the nasty aura of those around her. Now that one of Mavis’ most touching moments is done with, I wonder if I’ll still be emotionally invested once all these other characters I don’t care about as much start showing up. If anything, episode one brought back every reason I love Fairy Tail, which is the inner-strength of passionate characters and a great sense of adventure.

8.5/10


Snow White With the Red Hair

The uplifting, serene adventure drama returns to finish its second cour, and it immediately feels like home. I was a little sad to see it go back in Summer 2015 because I was absolutely enamored with its beautiful character design and cozy atmosphere, and I’m happy to say that this season seems poised to bring a bit more drama into the mix. With a perfect cast of characters fully developed, the anime is widening its scope by sending our main character to a new city and adding some more nefarious characters into the mix. Although I was very sad to see that the avian woman was nowhere in the first episode or the opening. I don’t think we’ll be seeing her again.

The strengths of the first season are as effective as ever. The setting is the same idyllic high-fantasy town complete with a resplendent castle and beautiful landscapes surrounding it. Every time the anime has a clip of scenic artwork, it really just dazzles my eyes. Shirayuki and Zen are both endearing, and hard-working characters. Shirayuki is still the determined herbalist who finds personal growth in the most mundane of tasks, and she’s still drawing the attention of every other character around. Zen is also being continually inspired and jumps between being aloof with his friends and being devout and unwavering when it comes to protecting Shirayuki. The premiere episode for this season cycled between several of the side characters truly making this feel like a story about all those involved with Zen and Shirayuki. It’s a delicate balance of time given to focus on each character, and they nailed it perfectly.

The story started ramping up in the second half with the arrival of an old villain exchanging information pertaining to Shirayuki for money. This led to two story developments that I’m excited to see take off. The most exciting being Shirayuki having to leave the kingdom. A change of scenery would do this anime some good, and if they can bring it to life just as carefully as they did Zen’s kingdom, then the world this anime takes place in will feel healthily expanded. Second is that there’s some eager villain, or more likely anti-hero vying for Shirayuki’s whereabouts. He’s a young, vocal teenager who reminds me of Arslan from Arslan Senki. Just like most characters introduced, I already want to know his intentions and motivations and I’m confident that this anime will deliver that.

Finally we have the underlying romance that permeates every scene lately. I totally love Zen and Shirayuki together, but the romance is still just a tad too melodramatic and still feels like a more awkward part of the pacing. It’s never distracting, but I don’t prefer idle romance as much as heated moments of bonding or more empowering methods of falling for another. Granted, I still want to see how the romance develops. It’s just odd because Shirayuki doesn’t seem to be in denial about liking Zen, but she just never ups and says it. I think there’s a method to that madness because perhaps it’s her refusal to just confess an undying love that keeps me going to see if she ever will just shout her love for all to hear. It’s more of a companionship right now where they make each other feel fuzzy and inspire one another.

8.5/10


Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Has there yet to be a stuck-in-a-video-game anime that you like? Well Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash may be able to satisfy your hunger. Either that or actually playing a video game. But we all want good adaptations of this kind of setting, right? We want the detail, world-building, and references of video games combined with the energetic, lifelike animation and voice acting of anime. We have had all sorts of combinations. Some choose to focus on action, like Sword Art Online, while others choose to focus on adventure like Log Horizon. They all have some sort of unique quality in addition to that to distinguish themselves. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash has yet to make a quality that differs itself from others, but it also didn’t disappoint across the entire premiere.

 

So how is the story? Well that’s the mystery right now. Rather then getting a heavy exposition of why and how they are stuck in this game world, instead this game world is all they know, only they have subconscious habits such as words they accidentally speak that belong to the real world. So this entire first episode focused on how our group of heroes and heroines got their lives together after waking up with no memory of living outside of this game world. I did like the fact that even though we started with their arrival into the world of Grimgar, we are already past the phase of everyone having to gather their bearings and figure out what this world is.

So do we have strong or weak characters? This time, we have a complete bunch of amateurs. I kind of like this approach because after Sword Art, Log Horizon, and Overlord, I’m a bit tired of watching powerful people lead the way for the weak. I would rather watch the weak grow for a change. The characters are all young teens or perhaps just a bit younger, and they range from childish to just-mature-enough so I don’t know if I’m going to fall in love with them or anything, but I already want to see this group interact as a whole. There’s enough diversity here to keep me from getting bored.

So how “video gamey” is it? Well, honestly if they never mentioned the word game, this would feel like a straight up fantasy. There are no health bars, no mention of experience points, and no skill names were shouted out. It was only the mention of the guilds and classes like Thief, Dark Knight and such that really drew parallels to a video game. So this is probably the least “video gamey” anime I’ve seen that still happens to take place in one. Truthfully, it has yet to be revealed what world they are actually in so this could plausibly be an actual fantasy realm. Either way it’s brought to life commendably. And seriously, WHO is responsible for those mesmerizing backdrops? I’d have to say that this anime might have my favorite environment art of the season. Seriously, just check them out!

The pace and tone of this anime might be one of its most pleasing qualities. There is no dire circumstance kicking up the drama, yet there is still the consequence of life and death. The first episode made it seem like if they actually die, they really do. There’s physical blood loss and recovery of energy and stamina so this really feels like actual combat. The immersion factor is incredibly high because the dialogue feels so natural and the world doesn’t feel forced or artificial in any way. I might grow impatient if the pace stays this relaxed the entire anime, but I’m glad for a soothing opening to a journey rather than a SET FORTH BEFORE YOU DIE notion that just gets me all stressed out.

8.5/10


Haikyuu

Haikyuu kicks off the new tournament with another uplifting training arc, more of Hinata’s goofiness, and a funny banquet of the gods scene with several of the strongest players bumping into each other outside of the bathroom. This is the official start to the second half of the second season of Haikyuu, complete with a new opening and everything, and this anime shows no signs of easing up.

Haikyuu has been very consistent in one thing, and this episode demonstrated it fully, and that is the way the team spirit carries everyone through their own challenges and self-doubts. Kageyama is almost intimidated by what he saw against their next opponent, but instead converts it into desire to overcome them with his team mates. Kei almost gives up yet again, but his passion is lit aflame by Hinata’s competitive desire to become better. It’s always invigorating to watch because the characters are so energetic and full of personality. But it’s even more rare to see our characters interact with the star players on the opponent’s teams, so when Hinata was hoping he wouldn’t bump into anyone scary in the bathroom, EVERY scary person shows up.

Haikyuu has always excelled above all other sports anime in developing the central team, but the opposing teams don’t get this same tribute. Sure, they all get gags and they all have their own quirks, but there’s never a moment where the story becomes about them. This was one of my complaints when I reviewed Haikyuu in my last post, so it was nice to see more screen time with these “enemies,” but it’s still a far cry from what I wanted. That’s barely an issue because Haikyuu never has a scene that feels boring or out of place and it’s comedy is solid gold. I just want it to do a bit more to become perfect.

The animation is still superb. The new opening video in particular was a beauty to watch, but since this episode didn’t feature much court time, it came down to character development and getting everyone pumped for the brand new tournament. The music remains a highlight with soaring melodies accentuating the positive vibes that make Haikyuu’s core. Hinata is much more well-rounded than the last competition, and so too are his team mates, so I wonder what kind of weaknesses, if any will come to light now that the skill level of every player has drastically increased.

9/10


Erased

Mystery fans rejoice, because you have a competent, slickly-produced, and well-written enigmatic story on your hands. Erased has already made a splash with the anime community, exciting a lot of viewers with its potential and execution thus far. It excites me too. It’s a time-travel anime with a specific and unique way of using it, as well as a mystery anime that doesn’t dote around by throwing the main character into some dire situations in the very first episode. It’s premise is risky, however. By elevating what we expect in the cliffhanger of episode 1, this anime could spiral out of control, but if it can contain such an apparently complex timeline, this could be an anime to remember. I already give two big thumbs up for nailing an decent time-jumping premise in the space of one episode.

My only complaint is the main character, and he just might keep the anime from being as evocative as I want it to be. This mystery seems ripe with emotional undertones considering how personal the incident was that started everything as well as how much we’re going to see into the life of our main character. Because of that, I need to be able to WANT to see into his life. I like that he possesses a keen mind and that he’s already using his powers for good. I like that there’s a subtle romance going on already. I like everything happening to the main character, but I just don’t like the way he seems hollow until he’s reacting to something happening. Perhaps this will help contrast him to perhaps a more severe personality development as the plot thickens, but as of now, he made an average first impression. However, I really think his emotionless demeanor is on purpose because in the very beginning, when he’s presenting his manga, his editor says that unless he digs deeper the readers won’t be able to see “him” in his work. I think that’s a perfect symbolic catalyst to ignite his development. Seeing him emotionally overwhelmed as a kid definitely did wonders for me which does have me very eager to see the second episode. Ari, the secondary character also makes up for his lack of enthusiasm by having an abundance of it. She’s surprisingly charming and I hope that she’s a constant presence once the timeline starts going crazy.

The story itself hooked me, but it didn’t utterly captivate me. I’m not terribly invested in wanting to see our hero make it out in one piece as opposed to being intrigued with seeing just how the director and writers weave this chronological chaos and moody mystery together. I love how quickly the time travel escalated to a jaw-dropping climax in the first episode, and I can definitely get behind how shady and foreboding our supposed villain is. The most exciting thing of all is that I still don’t know what the end game is here. Is this all about his motivation to keep a murder from happening or is he about to get stuck in a labyrinth of time? Who’s he trying to save, and does the antagonist have anything to do with the time-traveling aspect? There are so many ways this anime could go, so I think the real reason I like it is because of the myriad of stories I can already see formulating in the background.

Art-wise, I’m excited to see what A-1 pictures is going to bring out. It’s visuals are very crisp, and they effectively draw out the grim atmosphere perfectly. I’m curious if this will hit the same quality as Your Lie in April which remains, in my opinion, A-1’s best feat of animation thus far. I think the character designs aren’t anything special, but the movement of things like their hair and eyes are still incredibly detailed. The first-person scene near the very end was also pretty impressive. For a story like this, the art doesn’t matter quite as much, but I always appreciate some kind of visual identity to my anime. The music and ambiance was quite strong, so I feel like we have a very capable sound director as well. Again, this anime feels like it’s just getting started, so buckle in because I don’t think any of you want to miss this one.

9/10


Bubuki Buranki

It’s beautiful.

But it’s CG.

It’s full of grand ideas.

But it’s CG.

It’s action-packed.

But it’s CG.

Yes, that’s right, one of the most promising premieres of Winter 2016 is an anime that decided to go full CG with their character models, like Knights of Sidonia before it. It’s enough to make you wish they went with traditional animation in every single scene, because when you look at everything else, Bubuki Buranki came in packing one of the most exciting starts to a season I’ve ever seen. I just know that the character models will turn away more people than I feel like is warranted. This anime deserves a chance because it’s absolutely bleeding with potential.

Where do I even begin? I want to gush about everything. Bubuki’s first episode started with a prologue that lasted the entire first half. It was a stunning glimpse at the main character’s life as a boy living with his sister in a lavish fantasy environment. Mechs are a part of this world, not as giant combat robots, but more like roaming, domestic creatures that are part of the wildlife. It’s a setup that I honestly haven’t seen before, and I loved every detail they gave me of this world. The pacing is relentless, meaning you don’t get time to dawdle. It has yet to be seen whether this is a good idea or not. For the sake of the premiere, it’s perfect, but if certain burning questions I have don’t get answered by the end of the season, then they definitely pushed the gas too hard.

The second half of the episode jumps forward in time and we revisit our main character in a world much closer to our own, where relics of the almighty mechs that roamed the unexplained planet are used as combative weapons. It is hear that we get multiple perspectives on a whole new story involving a semi-dsytopian world where a group of kids are journeying together against the world to prove that the history they know is a lie. On top of that we have a group of villains already introduced both in character and in combat. Honestly, the amount that was delivered in the space of one episode was staggering.

 

The action and direction of this show is goddamn flawless. I haven’t been this energized by an anime since Ufotable’s Fate Stay Night remake, although I hope this anime doesn’t turn into a writing wasteland and can manage to keep up this strong sense of purpose. The combat is heavy and flashy in all the right ways and there were already several parts I oohed and aahed at. On top of that, there was tons of emotional energy in each of these spectacular scenes making it feel better than a mindless shounen fight. I have yet to see just how shrewd and calculating the combat might get, but the choreography is already clever and very satisfying. Also running constant throughout this anime was music composition that heightened everything further. Everything was just firing on all cylinders the entire time.

This just leaves the art. This anime’s kryptonite. Why of why did they choose CG? Perhaps this choice made it easier to direct the anime with the ferocity it demonstrated? Either way, I already forgive them, but only if the quality stays at this ridiculous level. But I’m never going to say I like it. I hate the CG characters. While the character design is very colorful, and for the most part, brilliant, there are a couple characters who look just a bit too eccentric and they do NOT  look good in motion. They still look like creepy dolls and it just doesn’t sit right. However, the environments, which are actually hand-drawn are extremely pretty, wallpaper-worthy even.

I just can’t fault this anime for its CG choice when everything else was handled so well. This anime may fade quicker than others because it might have blown its entire load in a single episode, but when we’re only one episode into the season, I have no choice but to be completely amazed. I do think Erased has longer legs, and much greater potential to be great until the end, but Bubuki Buranki absolutely delivered on its first episode.

9.5/10


Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Storytelling these days is excessively layered with innovation, technology, and things larger than the story itself. Movies bring them to life using budgets in the millions, while books are reaching further and further into the controversial and abstract to continue to find its audience. Strip that all away, down to the very core of a human being and the story he is presenting, and you have Rakugo, a traditional form of storytelling that involves only a man in a sitting position, two small props, his body language, and his voice. This is the art form that Shouwa Genroku is here to present and use as a vessel to also tell a seemingly master-crafted drama.

Yotarou was just released from prison, and seeks to reform his life because he saw Rakugo performed at his prison and he fell in love with it. It’s funny because prison is supposed to be for those so out of tune with what’s right and wrong that they learn from their mistakes, but prison also opens them up the most most sincere forms of communication, only because they are forced to. It’s because of this that I can completely understand Yotarou’s obsession with Yakumo, the master Rakugo artist who performed at his prison. The main character feels like a convict in the way he talks but you can tell he was just a nice dumb guy who made a not-so-nice dumb mistake. As a main character, he’s wonderfully conflicted with himself and in desperate need for a calling more so than bills in his wallet.

What transpires across this whopping fifty minute premiere is not for the impatient. Actually, if you’re not abnormally patient, I would still say this might be too slow paced for you. This anime feigns no ignorance to the source material. And when I say source material, I don’t mean the manga; I mean Rakugo itself. There is a ten minute scene of nothing but a Rakugo performance. When an anime is so thorough and faithful to the art form, I feel like I can’t fault it. Instead I can say, because this anime represents Rakugo so authentically, if you don’t like Rakugo, you won’t like these scenes. Fortunately for myself, slow pace is my comfort zone, and storytelling is my passion. This anime hits right in the sweet spot.

But that’s not all folks. An anime so focused on a storytelling practice wouldn’t fly if it didn’t have a story of its own, and that’s where the anime’s true potential lies. Yotarou is taken in by the professional storyteller and as such, is invited into his personal tale rather than the fake ones he spouts on stage. This starts the personal drama that already made resounding climaxes in this first episode. Yotarou’s past comes back to haunt him and the way this anime handles the conclusion of that dilemma was borderline masterful. The poetic way that his old criminal boss realizes just how stubborn and endearing this rebuilt person is, and refusing to tear it down was heartwarming.

All of this might make this anime feel very fuzzy and peaceful, but unfortunately we have some other pressing matters on our hands that were teased, but have yet to come to the forefront. There is also another amazingly deep character named Konatsu, who also lives with Yakumo, and her demons haunt her far more than Yotarou’s did. She is dealing with an inferiority complex due to her gender, and the lack of professional females in Rakugo. It’s a harsh parallel that American’s can probably draw to stand up comedy, where it’s just accepted as a male-dominated performance. Yakumo himself isn’t an angelic character. He has a venomous tongue that can lash out unsuspectingly due to what I can only imagine is an emotionally cold barrier that he has built up for several years.

This premiere was damn near perfect, and as long as what’s already in motion stays in motion, there’s no reason for that to change. If any anime knew how to finish its story before it even started, then I would think this one would be it. With a crisp art style, great sense of direction, and confidence, and a really in depth look into a profession that is imbued with the very roots of spinning comedic stories, Shouwa Genroku hits on all fronts. I will never say the pace is slow in a bad way, but I will say that a slow pace isn’t good for everyone. That’s the only warning I’ll give and it doesn’t even apply to myself, which is why it was my favorite premiere of the season.

9.5/10


And with that, 2016 is officially underway. (I realize I am a week late in posting this.) Out of twenty premieres I only dropped four of them. That’s an abnormally good ratio. This Winter quarter hardly feels like an off season, since we have one mass appealing anime like Erased, and one likely critical gen with Shouwa Genroku. As long as a season has either of these types of anime, I never consider them a bad season. I’m very excited to see what happens in the crazy phantom world, the fantasy world of Grimgar, and whatever other stories are going to be told. Stay tuned because I’m hard at work on two big projects. One of which is the 2015 Anime Year in Review/Awards, and the other will be crucial to expanding the time I have to work on this blog. I appreciate your time and readership as always. Feel free to comment below.

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