Winter 2016 Anime – Midseason Impressions

We’re now six or seven episodes into each of this season’s selection of anime. Normally at this point, the number of anime I drop roughly equals the number of anime I choose to keep up with. I’m pleased to say that between the ones I dropped during the premieres and the time of writing, I have only dropped one additional anime! That was Prince of Stride, the free-running anime that free-ran out of steam way too quickly for my taste. What is continuing to flutter my fancy with the anime I’m still following includes the gorgeous art of Grimgar, the endearing, yet pulse-pounding Erased, and the masterful, mature Shouwa Genroku. That’s just to name a few. There’s plenty more detailed below! From their current status of worst to best, here’s what I’m still watching this Winter season.


Gate

Let me just say that Gate has been working against my preference since Episode 1. Every so often, it will have a great episode, but by and large this is an anime that I am very close to dropping. Itami is an extremely unappealing main character. He gets away with way too much, making him  come off as spoiled; A quality I don’t relate to at all. He’s hardly got the mental fortitude to be a man of his rank in the army. And he is now put in command of his harem and given free rein to go wherever he wants in the world and do absolutely nothing military-related? The main character is completely unbelievable, but luckily the girls in his troupe are quite entertaining.

Then we have the directing style which continually baffles me. The constant split-screen effect is still doing nothing to make those scenes seem like a power-point presentation. The jump between incredibly adult and family-friendly themes has me confused as to who this is even aimed at. With no other positives to balance this out, Gate already feels like a mediocre product. At least when the anime tries to be funny or cute, it really is. Gate has the charm of a fantasy world that I tend to like. It’s just stuffed full of weird military fascination that typically throws me off. While I do like the moments of magical denizens trying out human contraptions, those cute moments are very scarce.

Gate’s back story is developing greatly, and should honestly be at the forefront. I say back story meaning the story that doesn’t involve the main character and his gang. The bunny slave pulling dastardly strings to usurp the throne is something I can easily get behind. Watching Itami pretend to be the delusional elf-girls father, going as far as sleeping in the same bed as her and somehow thinking it’s a brilliant idea, is something I just blow chunks laughing about. Itami’s entire story is absurd. It makes me laugh out loud. Their whole fiasco with the dragon was cringe-worthy. They lost dozens of men yet Itami considers it a perfect success with no second thought to the fallen soldiers.

I have a heated opinion with Gate. It’s the only anime this season that I would debate as being over rated, considering it’s sitting proudly in the top 100 on Anime Planet. While I enjoy the spikes in quality here and there, Gate has a lot of weak spots, and an abysmal main character. The side characters carry the show, and the secondary story outshines the primary. It’s a confused mess with plenty of potential that the director can’t seem to find the sweet spot for. I can only hope it gets better, since I’m resolved to finish this to the end.

6/10


Dagashi Kashi

I am honestly quite confused myself as to why I am still following this anime, but I think I can point out the reason. Spoiler… It’s not the candy, and it’s not the girls. Dagashi Kashi is like a candy commercial given an extensive budget with a fun-loving writing team. Each episode focuses on a type of candy, generally glorifying it and making it seem like the tastiest thing in the world. There’s nothing quite wrong with that, but my attachment can only go so far. Food Wars managed to make me care about competitive cooking, but I cannot be that invested into bite-sized treats. Unfortunately, my appetite is a much more ubiquitous phenomenon.

What does draw me into Dagashi Kashi’s small, sweet world about small, sweet snacks is the simple knack it has for being pleasant. There is nothing unattractive about Dagashi Kashi. Sure, nothing about it is hitting on a reverberating level, but nothing is rubbing me the wrong way. I know not to get my hopes up, but there’s a warm, reliable quality that also keeps me from being disappointed. “Coconuts,” our main character, is a rather likable, innocent boy who has natural talent for… knowing stuff about candy. Scoff if you like, but it’s a charming quality thanks to the way they handle his spiels about delectable sweets. At any rate, I feel like in an alternate reality much like our own, the main character easily could have been a pervert, so I am thankful that we avoided that.

Dagashi Kashi’s obvious form of popularity is the candy vixen who adds a whole lot of sensual flair to an anime about candy ordinarily aimed at kids. It’s rather strange, but luckily this anime doesn’t overdo it. I find it completely unnecessary, but this type of excitement does keep it from seeming too much like an infomercial. I personally find more charm in the coffee girl, due to her more down-to-earth nature. Hotaru is just a bit too abnormal for me to really find any appeal in. So while this anime hasn’t given me the urge to go out and buy actual candy, it does bring me some form of subconscious comfort every week.

6/10


Girls Beyond the Wasteland

This one is only getting worse. It’s premiere episode was among one of my favorites, but it has yet to match its quality in any capacity. This was supposed to be an anime about creating a video game. Six episodes in, and it’s derailing into a much more typical romantic comedy. However, my interest in game design is giving me a very specific form of appeal. I like behind-the-scenes stuff like this, but I don’t imagine me being suckered in by it for much longer. Something good needs to happen in this anime before I leave it in the Wasteland myself.

So I last wrote about our heroes in having this authentic, natural way of conversation. It was one of the most startlingly lifelike trio of friends I’d come across in an anime. This caused me to think that this would be a very relatable, well-written drama. I was craving one, and I thought Girls Beyond the Wasteland was my savior here to satiate me. Well it wasn’t quite that good, but there’s still some things I constantly enjoy about it. I like that the main character is a writer. Anything to do with the writing process, and the age-old enemy of writer’s block instantly garners my deepest sympathy. There hasn’t been too much about his writing prowess, but he still has issues I can understand.

But when the anime isn’t in create-a-game mode, it turns into a very generic comedy. The jokes will make you laugh sometimes, and blow like tumbleweeds the rest of the time. I really enjoy the main character’s initial friends, but the new characters that have joined the game group haven’t won me over yet. Yes, that includes miss director herself. The art and animation is noticeably clunky. It might have my least favorite art out of the season. The faces have this stiff look to them and there’s not much movement going on to give them life. In the end, I feel like this anime is in the same state as their game. It’s nothing revolutionary. It’s simply another one trying to stretch beyond the wasteland of bland anime.

6.5/10


Myriad Colors Phantom World

When I’m not trying to fry my brain making sense of Kurumi’s hair, I find myself pretty entertained by the creative stories this anime tells. But seriously, those forward facing pigtails are confusing the shit out of me. I was instantly hooked by the opening clip of the premiere and how aware it was of cognitive characteristics. While it hasn’t explored these psychological aspects with the depth I’d prefer, it at least tries hard to be innovative with each episode. These latest two, involving an imaginary family and teddy bears coming to life, both delved into the mind of a child feeling true corruption in their happiness. And hey, there’s been less fan service!

I initially thought this anime would be a story about powering up. Our heroes are weak, and fairly clumsy in the art of phantom capturing. Therefore, I expected the whole premise to be about them getting stronger. Instead, this anime is taking a phantom-of-the-week approach and giving us an all-new, imaginative story each episode. Because of this, overarching plot progression has borderline halted. The main group is no more competent in week 6 than it was in week 1. At least there are episodes where the phantom causes a personal vignette of one of the main characters. This keeps the anime from feeling separated from time in its entirety.

I have to shout out episode 4 though, which was my favorite episode thus far. This was the one where Reina, one of our main characters nearly gets spirited away. During the ordeal of saving her, we gain some insight into her strict family and the way they harm her well-being. It was a beautiful episode both in subject matter and in artistry. The way they brought her imaginary happy home to life was in lush detail and despite how childlike it looked, this was really for the ones who lacked a childhood to begin with. Reina became my favorite character after this episode, and nothing has upset that opinion yet.

The production effort is no sly attempt. This is a very well-made anime, but it doesn’t feel required. This anime doesn’t seem to emphasize its environment too much making the fanciful art kind of feel like a tangential reward that doesn’t affect the overall package. But who am I kidding? I’ll take good art when I see it. Myriad colors hasn’t resonated with me, but it’s rich short stories,  presentation, and energy keep it from being boring in any way.

7/10


Konosuba

Konosuba is not my kind of anime. A parody with little dramatic substance rarely wins me over. However, what Konosuba is making fun of, happens to be my kind of anime. These are anime with colorful, magical fantasy worlds, and an air of adventure. Because of this, I am still watching, chuckling here and there at the jokes that Konosuba pushes out every episode. Thank goodness it’s actually funny, otherwise I would have dropped it a long time ago.

 

The biggest joke here is that our undervalued and weak main character has formed a party with some, in normal circumstances, bad-ass women. However, the circumstances are far from normal, turning these bad-ass women into royal pains in the ass. It started with the goddess, who started this whole story, turning out to be nearly useless. She wants a pampered life, and she lacks a lot of common sense. She’s moderately funny. Then we have the mage who loves blowing stuff up. Like utterly incinerating things in a ridiculously huge explosion. She’s obsessed with her magic, and has a syncopal episode from just one usage of it. She’s extremely funny. Finally, there’s the swordswoman who has a sexually charged masochistic attitude. She gets turned on from getting tortured and treated in a decrepit manner. To me, she’s the least funny of the bunch. But something about seeing our hero Kazuma deal with all three of them may just be the root of Konosuba’s greatest quality.

Kazuma serves as the example of normalcy, and contrasts with the outlandish characters in his party. He doesn’t come off as a character you can relate to, but at least you can understand his unenviable position. His role as a thief has yet to bear any fruit, saved for panty-shaped ones. The reason I never really get into comedy is that most things tend to serve the purpose of making funny jokes. I like it when things build onto the drama or complexity. So when our main character became a thief, I got a little ahead of myself and pondered the story-based implications this could have. But it was panty jokes. Why did I expect anything else. He steals panties. Konosuba, you’re the type of comedy I don’t really care for, but you are good at what you do, and you chose the one setting that draws me in. That’s enough for me to be pretty happy with what this anime turned out to be.

7/10

 


 

Dimension W

Dimension W is still kind of a wildcard, even this far in. Questions are not being answered, yet more and more pile up each episode. I still can’t even correctly explain just what the W Dimension is. I can definitely say that this anime has a nice dosage of imagination and rather fascinating stories. It’s just that it’s difficult to see where everything is going. Until I do, Dimension W is only moderately successful in balancing its sci-fi world with it’s colorful cast of characters.

The most impressive part since the premiere was the shift into a horror sci-fi genre a couple episodes ago. I use the word “horror” lightly. It wasn’t scary, but it was unnaturally creepy. It was an inventive story, just like the rest of Dimension W’s writing, but the execution leaves just a little bit to be desired. The characters are still a bit dry, and the comic relief characters are a bit too eccentric. I won’t say messy, but Dimension W is not very careful in molding all of these pieces together. Our wolverine-esque main character is still one of the undeniably coolest factors of the show, but I’m definitely ready to start peeling back his layers… if he has any.

The latest episode expanded the scale by a considerable amount by introducing some people from Africa. It’s sad how often shows take place in a setting where something drastically changes the world, yet we don’t see the world at all. While it wasn’t enough for me to really get a feel for how the neo-african culture in this anime differs from the neo-japanese culture, its nice to see some truly fresh perspectives. The new character that may or may not be double crossing our heroes is a hot mystery right now and I hope his revelation proves to be a bit more evocative than the last few.

But despite that, we do have an anime that has plenty of potential to tap into some creative and weird stuff. There are so many unknowns and variables that the chance of this anime succeeding is equal to its chance of failing. Plot points are suspended in motion, including some introduced in the very first episode. All I can judge is how things have been developing. The directing style is pretty structured. You won’t see any cool camera tricks or a high sense of immersion, The animations is fluid enough, but hasn’t had a chance to flex its muscles. I wish I had more to say, but until this anime starts reaching its own conclusions, I can’t really reach my own.

7.5/10


Bubuki Buranki

I knew it was a fluke. Bubuki Buranki had my favorite premiere of the season, but I was worried that it was all blown on that first episode. I despised episode 2, what with its nonsensical mech battles and the lack of charm that the first episode had. I felt like Bubuki Buranki was dead in the water. Then, slowly but surely, it turned out to be a really solid show. So yes, that first episode does increase expectations a little too high, but Bubuki Buranki isn’t really a failure in any way thanks to an above average bar of quality that most of the future episodes still posess.

What has transpired since the adventurous grand opening of this story is basically a gauntlet of one on one fights. In the world of Bubuki Buranki, you want these one on one fights because this is where the CG animation really gets to shine. It certainly doesn’t when there are close ups of character’s faces. That’s pretty god-awful. The CG character models are still going to cause some goosebumps because of their creepily robotic movements. But when it comes to doing backflip sword attacks and having tons of particle effects, this CG sure flexes its muscles. Each of these duels should satiate most combat connoisseurs. They are fairly distinctive from one another, having each participant have a very different way of fighting than the other. Only once did a fight feel like a cop out, which was the rambunctious “leader” and his barely-counts victory.

What made each of these battles even more interesting, and what is probably the primary reason for Bubuki Buranki’s quality, were the back stories of the characters. They are a colorful bunch, but it wasn’t until seeing glimpses of their past that I appreciated how lifelike they became. Yes, even with the CG freakish animation. We had a small love story that very easily could have been a cliche retelling of every first relationship experience ever, but instead it told a more realistic, unique tale of a girl who was manipulated into love. Our quiet, cool gun-toting girl turned out to have a really endearing past. When it showed how all her drawings pieced together to make a mural with the very sad message on the back of it, that was probably the moment Bubuki Buranki resonated with me the best. It was the moment I needed in order to decide that I could follow this anime through its season finale without hesitation.

It has yet to do anything to make me really recommend it. It’s a mech anime with good character stories. That’s not a first. And there are plenty of others I would recommend that have already proven themselves. But if you’re like me, and want to jump in while the potential is still an unknown factor, then it’ss been a pretty exciting run so far. I will still have to wait until the end before I can say anything more than “good god, watch the first episode, and the first episode only.”

7.5/10


Durarara

Last time I wrote about Durarara, I was growing tired of it. I was losing patience for the myriad of plot threads to converge. Tired of characters having an emotional revelation that faded into obscurity due to the disconnected timeline. Most of all, I was tired of waiting for something to actually happen. With this very last episode of Durarara I watched, which was episode 6 of this season, things are now happening. And this is it, because Durarara is completely finished after this. An anime is actually finishing an entire story people, that’s already a reason to be excited. Normally anime only serves to introduce the world, leaving the manga to forever be the only conclusion to the tale. And those wondering if Durarara was going to actually do something with its finale should be in for a treat.

But the climax didn’t hit yet. What is happening, and at a rapid pace, is the zooming in of the scope. Character stories are thinning out, culminating into one central figure. Even Izaya, the manipulative mastermind, is ready to just sit back and enjoy the show. Ryugamine, our timid, mannered hero has slowly been slipping into a new persona, and this entire episode focused on that. The writing is impeccable as always. Ryugamine voices his position of power as one of powerlessness. He relies on numbers. And when countered with the argument that it makes him weak. He says, that’s the reason he has to do it. He’s thinking several steps ahead of everything throwing all of the normally impassive bad-asses into a state of mild panic.

It’s nice to finally see Durarara actually escalating its plot as opposed to expanding it. I still have no idea what’s going down, but my curiosity is positively burning thanks to Ryugamine being fully awakened. His name is being called out, making him out to be the central villain. Whether that’s accurate remains to be seen, but it took many, many episodes to get here, so there’s little room left to change the momentum around. We’re finally nearing the end of one of the most intricate character stories in anime. Let’s enjoy this.

8.5/10


Fairy Tail Zero

The prequel to Fairy Tail pushes on and continues to possibly be the best thing to happen to Fairy Tail in a long time. Mavis as a main character is the best change of pace this series could have asked for. Gone are the incredibly mundane battle sequences that lost their flair years ago, replaced with pure adventure and storytelling. Those who saw Fairy Tail as an action anime may be disappointed with this new arc, but the improvements to the overall pace feels like a much better method for actually progressing the story. It was only the most recent episode that showed some possible blunders.

Mavis is an exceptional character. One who relies on her wits and profound knowledge of the world to muscle her way around with the big boys. She is still young, and that is perfectly reflected in her still-maturing ideals. She is a bit naive, despite seeming like a bonafide genius. I thought that this last episode would finally answer the question about Mavis’ friend and how she’s clearly another one of her illusions brought to life. It seems like we as an audience should know this, and it’s just waiting for the harrowing revelation to actually rear its ugly head to Mavis herself. I still deeply prefer Mavis over Natsu as a main character, although I do miss Happy’s adorable quips.

We finally got our first glimpse of how Mavis and the treasure hunters birthed the idea for the Fairy Tail guild. It was a nostalgic moment that unfortunately led to the first part of Fairy Tail Zero that I didn’t like, which was encountering Blue Skull. Their underlings are worse than cannon fodder. They are utterly brain dead, and presented the most basic level of combat one could think of. Granted, I said I like this non-combat oriented arc of Fairy Tail, but that doesn’t mean the action has to suck when it does appear. My impressions are still highly favorable for Fairy Tail Zero. Mavis has finally taken a big hit to her confidence since her trump card backfired in her face. I think she’s due for some good character growth, even though she’s already fantastic as she is.

9/10


Haikyuu

Haikyuu was in the middle of a long training arc last time I wrote about it. I don’t mean that in a bad way. The team behind this anime effortlessly makes the training feel rewarding, but nothing could replace the actual games. The competition of the court, and the collision of youthful spirits in a beautifully represented sport has long been Haikyuu’s most prevalent high point. This season has gone through two of the games so far, and both of them were highly detailed, and immensely satisfying. But anyone watching Haikyuu for this long knows that this is par for the course.

The first game was a battle between two opposing play styles. The free-form Jozenji versus our structured Karasano. This match was a great opener to the tournament that showed the value of having fun and being competitive at the same time. They are two values that often get sacrificed to each other, a notion that got plenty of representation thanks to the conflict with Tsukishima. While the game didn’t feel all that suspenseful, it was still a very entertaining watch, and even though Jozenji lost, they got a more personal form of victory. Haikyuu is great at dishing out excellent metaphorical consolation prizes. No loser ever walks away without some kind of rekindled spirit or an emotional award. This is part of what makes Haikyuu such a repeatedly encouraging form of positive reinforcement.

The latest game was between Wakutani, and this was the more dramatic of the two because it involved the first serious injury on the court, and in the whole anime series, thus far. As a side note, my friend was hyping this moment up because I told him I love the underlying sense of tragedy that Kuroko’s Basketball has. Perhaps, he shouldn’t have hyped it up. This injury wasn’t near as depressing as a friendship crumbling into pieces turning them into tragic shadows of their former selves, which is Kuroko’s Basketball’s sentimental structure. Anyways, this game was a battle between the captains. With home team’s captain injured, they had to rely on their back up captain and this instantly created an overwhelming state of nervousness for him. On the other hand, the opposing captain was a perfectly composed, charismatic leader which only served to double the amount of nerves Karasuno’s captain was dealing with. Watching this shivering wreck of a player earn his confidence with sheer mental fortitude was a terrific way to keep the game flowing.

The games have only been getting better, so my hopes are high for the next opponent. By always focusing on the team, this anime assures that no main character gets overshadowed for too long. It prides itself on demonstrating that every player has a reason for being and a role on the team. I got a little bit of the dramatic edge I was hoping for with the unnerved captain and the player injury, and I would definitely appreciate more gripping content like that. Sometimes Haikyuu is a bit too happy, but that barley qualifies as a complaint. Just keep bringing me Hinata’s war cries and crazy quick spikes!

9/10

 


Snow White With the Red Hair

This cozy, comfy anime rarely bares its fangs. The last time it did was when it was telling the story of Prince Zen’s childhood friend in the first season. It was a flashback that was noticeably more dramatic and exhilarating than the normal proceedings. When this anime is being dainty and charming, it’s pretty good. But when it steps into its more impacting material, like it did in these last few episodes, then this anime really starts feeling like the next female lead, action-adventure hit.

For the first time, Shirayuki is panicked and confused. She was just kidnapped, only to be kidnapped again, throwing her casual visit to her old kingdom into a swirling vortex of stress and confusion. At the tail end of the first episode, Shirayuki finally, desperately needed Zen. I don’t say this because it portrayed her as being weak. Shirayuki is a very, very strong character and this anime wastes no effort in showing the positive effects she has on others just by being around them. No, Shirayuki needed Zen because she was in actual danger. Anyone would need anybody in her situation, and it’s a harsh left turn from the prior episode where she was enjoying a tour of a castle that she was visiting.

And then there was Obi. Oh god, give this guy all the screen time. Obi was always hovering around as a likable guy that could be a potential blossom for romance. He just never had the weight and thoroughness that Prince Zen’s character did, until now. Gone, is his too-cool-for-school attitude and aloof demeanor, replaced with some of the most piercing gazes and volatile voice acting of the series. It instantly escalated him to an intimidating revenge-driven hero that grants some catharsis to those hoping this anime packed a punch or two. I was always cheering for Prince Zen. I never thought Obi had a chance to stand on the same level as far as which characters I like and how believable a relationship with Shirayuki would be with them. But just now, Obi was it. Obi, with his daggers out, determination cranked to the maximum, and eyes glistening with life, seemed like the only man capable of saving Shirayuki.

But Obi was only the first. Zen and his crew of nobles joined the fray, forming an unlikely alliance with the noble-hating bandits. It’s an awesome roll of the dice seeing how all these factions and enemies have changed their relationships with one another. Kazuki, the young boy who initially seemed like the new antagonist is getting a satisfying amount of depth. Shirayuki says it herself. She can’t trust what he says, but she can trust that he’s a good person. She sees through the obvious facades that many character’s have and looks for an optimistic viewpoint in everyone. It was even more incredible to see this happening while she wasn’t confident in her safety. The episode ends on the brink of what could be the biggest battle scene of the series yet. I can rest assured that this anime won’t let this increase in action forsake the character-driven pillars it built itself upon. I feel that it will be balanced perfectly, and that has me very excited.

9/10


 

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

This is the antithesis to Gate. If Gate is the anime that doesn’t get me at all, then Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is the anime that understands me almost more than I understand myself. Grimgar’s pace is an emotionally resonant stroll through a fantasy land. It relaxes me. It makes me ponder things. It almost gives me Mushishi vibes with its incredibly introverted dialogue style, beautiful music and art, and relaxing pace. This is the exact type of anime I love. Even if Grimgar has a couple flaws, namely the infrequent occasions of completely uncalled for fan-service, it does nothing to strip away the powerful core that this anime wields.

Grimgar is the latest anime about being stuck in a game world, but for all intents and purposes, this isn’t a game world at all. There isn’t a single “virtual” thing to be found. When you get cut, you bleed profusely. When that cut gets healed, you still deal with the dizziness of extreme blood loss. If you die, you do not come back. Grimgar, as of late, has been using death as its central theme. When a growing party seems to have a perfect role for each party member, what happens when one dies? This question is asked on an extremely personal level. It’s not simply a matter of refilling the role of the one who died. It’s about the feelings of those still alive. Do they want that role replaced? Do they like the person replacing it? And most importantly, who is the person replacing it? Grimgar is deliberately careful about making sure we understand almost every character’s thought process through every second of the episode. This realistic take on character interplay makes this anime touching, understanding, and incredibly realistic.

There is so much more than character development going on as well, even though that is probably the best thing about this anime. I can’t stop singing praises about Grimgar’s art and animation. A-1 is knocking it out of the park. Every change in locale is introduced by a lovingly painted piece of art that looks like it was ripped out of a concept art book for an RPG video game. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the desire to live in an actual anime setting, and Grimgar’s world is almost calling out to me. This high praise echos into the combat front as well. Every fight feels weighted and impactful. There are no “easy” fights. Even the smallest of battle segments has tactics, mental feedback, and some give and take with who’s getting injured and who’s winning the fight.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash has proven to be a much more meaningful and patient anime than many expected. This also means it may not be as exciting as people would hope. I would be careful to say that this is an action anime, despite there being a fight or two every episode. It’s pace is very slow, probably weeding out the more impatient types of viewers. But if you’re like me, and you’re sick of the rushed, underdeveloped characters of other action anime, then Grimgar offers a perfect alternative. It’s an anime that cares about its characters, and their growth.

9.5/10


Erased

Like the fate of the lives our time-jumping hero is trying to change, there’s just no stopping the quality of this anime from repeating itself every single episode. Erased has been one of the most consistent and engaging anime of the season. Usually an anime has to do something catastrophic to become so well-received. Attack on Titan or One Punch Man made it feel like you have to do something epic to really win over the highest percentage of the anime community. Instead, Erased came along with its endearing take on a murder mystery, and gave us something we didn’t expect Without any semblance of over-the-top action, Erased has already carved its way into the animescape.

When I say that Erased is endearing, I really want to emphasize that. I would be only fractionally as invested as I am if the story didn’t have such a whimsical portrayal of youth and an innocent young-love tying it all together. Mysteries typically aim to make you care about the villain and to feel suspense. The goal is to keep you guessing with equal resolve to find out the answer. Erased does what more emotional based dramas do, which is making its audience care about the fate of everyone involved. The fact that I care about saving Hanazuki emotionally and physically is a godsend of relatabiliy and sympathy that I rarely feel.

This is still a mystery, so this would all be for naught if it were predictable or simplistic. Erased isn’t trying to be the next Pyscho-Pass or Steins Gate, though it draws on aspects of both. But the team is taking steps to make this a considerably more complex mystery than we’re used to. It’s all paying off in spades. Frankly, the villain is still quite the enigma, keeping his veiled secrecy an addicting reason to keep coming back. But he seems like an obstacle we’re not even ready to tackle yet because right now the goal is to stop the crime from happening, let alone finding out who could possibly be at the center of all this. A notable perspective is that we still don’t know if the villain is simply time itself or not. Stein’s Gate, and countless other time travel stories heavily focus on the futility of altering fate. Time is like a cruel mistress that simply shows you all the ways you can fail in vivid detail. It’s hard to tell if we’re actually here trying to become a victor over a human villain or time itself. Perhaps the events will simply lead to removing the singular catalyst that creates all this mayhem.

Finally, Erased benefits from being expertly directed and wonderfully animated. It may not be in the same league as Your Lie in April, but A1 Pictures is definitely making this one of their more prized and generously funded efforts. The advantages of good directing and animation simply make every good moment better. Emotions are more evocative and clearly communicated while viewers are guided in a more elegant and sophisticated manner. The immersion builds up so that you lose yourself in the story much more quickly. Erased is the full package. We only have to see, as with every great anime, if it’s final revelations can top what’s been presented thus far.

10/10

 


Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Just look at that picture for a moment. While you do so, imagine a muffled rumbling sound echoing alongside it. Your small figure, ever diminishing, is doing everything it can to keep from being swallowed by the sun. This singular shot punctured me with more grace than anything else this season. It was the single most dramatic, captivating moment of 2016 so far. Shouwa Genroku is about the dying art of Rakugo, and it’s also about a man’s dying passion. It’s about not fading into obscurity. Shouwa is nothing short of an incredible anime, but it’s clearly not for everyone.

Shouwa is as slow paced as it gets. That’s how I’d say it if I were being blunt. However, I prefer to say that Shouwa has such excellent direction that it has no need to speed up. This is how I truly feel. There is such an air confidence and maturity permeating every scene that nothing overstays its welcome. Sure there are minutes that just burn away for a single performance, but part of this show’s realism is in its authenticity. To gloss over the art is to gloss over everything this anime stands for. And Rakugo stands for a lot. It was story-driven comedy before television took over the world. It has a strong legacy, and this anime revels in it. This is no documentary either. The more pressing matter is that this is a transporting life story told by using Rakugo as its vessel.

Many thought that the story of Yakumo’s past would be a single episode flash back, but here we are, still in his youth. I have yet to see the threads that tie back into Yakumo’s troublesome relationship with the girl from the first episode, but it feels like that’s coming very soon. This last episode concluded his growth into the master that he is in the show’s current timeline. All that’s left is to resolve his personal commitments to his “lover” and his best friend. A resolution that I’m terrified to see because it involves Sukeroku’s death. And what more grief could a death cause than right after a loved one finally uses your advice to find a purpose in life. It’s a metaphorical passing of the torch that is going to rile up my tears real quick.

The direction of this anime is impeccable. It’s classy, with tons of facial close-ups that clearly emphasize the emotional range that this anime has. From the heaviest moments of having faith that loved ones are surviving the war to the crudest, most humorous forms of comedy-based story-telling, Rakugo excels admirably. It has this aged, refined flow that clearly aims for sophistication. I have yet to see whether the most important part of this story is the past or the future, but the flashback we’ve been treated to so far has already qualified for a perfect story in its own right. This anime feels impossible to destabilize. I can only wait with patience to enjoy the full show when the season finally wraps up.

10/10


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