I know I missed Onihei, but it’s just impossible to find much about it. Perhaps in February I’ll give it some more coverage. Aside from that, this was a good month. I’d say that overall the winter season is more varied than the past autumn season, but at the same time the good series are not AS good. All of course according to my own impressions. Like always spoilers beware, and this list is on order of my own preferences, worst first best last, only about the episodes that aired in January, minus the first episodes that I already talked about. The number after each title signifies the relevant episodes.
#15: Granblue Fantasy The Animation (01)
This one aired a bit later than the other shows this season. It’s also a fantasy series, probably another kind of game adaptation like Chain Chronicle, but I liked that one a lot better though. That I’m not watching Chain Chronicle anymore should say enough for Granblue, but the gist of it that while Chain Chronicle was simply generic, with Granblue I got the feeling of gradually losing brain cells while watching. Granted, a bit reason for that is that incredibly annoying dragon that keeps floating everywhere, but what also ticks me off is that we’re given very little reason to care about any of the characters. The main character doesn’t really have a reason to go along on this life-threatening quest, he just happens to be at the place where a cute girl falls from the sky… and starts following his boner, I guess… Why am I supposed to root for these people? Do the bad guys have any other reason to attack besides being evil? I don’t expect answers to those questions in episode 01, but at least hints or some other kind of nuance. You just can’t think you can get away with this simplistic mess just because you’re a game adaptation, right?
#14: Spiritpact (02)
In the end… I just can’t. Snappy dialogue is one thing, but if everything else is just amateurish i’m not really sure what I’m gaining by watching this and I’ve got many better things to see and do. I can see where they’re coming from, but episode 2 didn’t really convince me to just keep watching. For one it wasn’t as fun as the first episode, but the first episode also just felt worse in hindsight. They introduced this new character who is the fiance of the white haired guy, and obviously she has her issues, but they all seemed to be trying so hard, and nothing really came out of it.
The animation is partly to blame for that. I watch anime because I also care for the “animation”-part of the whole deal. I want to see people bringing characters to life. If you have to use short-cuts then so be it: be clever with the jump-cuts, pull some visual tricks, use your music. It’s not an exact science at all and it’s an art form, however this series doesn’t seem to try any of this, with awkward jerky motions and no attempts to hide it. Japanese anime has the experience in these cheap tricks, but Korean animators still need to find their own way. Mind you, I am not suggesting them to follow anime’s example. Let them go their own way, as long as that way works of course.
#13: BanG Dream! (01-02)
This is another series that came out a bit late this season, about a bunch of middle school girls starting a band. I gave it two episodes because there is one thing it seems to understand: build-up: it’s not like “Wheee band!”, but instead it is carefully building up the different girls, why they’re going for it and how they end up meeting each other. Really, one of the most difficult things about being in a band is actually starting the band and finding the right people. By taking its time, the series makes also sure that the characters are well fleshed out in the process.
Still, I’m not going to continue with it. The teenaged girls are just too annoying, and I think a lot can be contributed to bad acting and voice acting: characters hamming it up a little too much. There is one shy girl and nearly all she does is breathe very loudly. That’s not how shyness works! The main character also feels a bit weird: they really tried to make her this enthusiastic girl whose energy pulls the entire band together, but in the end it just feels fake, like they try too hard. She too has this habit of just breathing very loudly, which after a while just gets distracting. These random squeaks and moans instead of just actual dialogue. This obviously isn’t the only show that does this but that doesn’t make it okay!
#12: elDLIVE (02-03)
elDLIVE could have had potential if they kept the momentum of the first episode going. A fun light-hearted show about alien hunting with quirky characters, but in the end it lost this quite quickly. Episode 02 and 03 pretty much repeated what episode 01 did, only less interesting, and quite witless to be honest. These episodes had a bit of high school hi-jinks, dull aliens, and nothing really interesting. It wasn’t fun, and at times they also got way too dramatic for their own good. You don’t want to be dramatic for a series that involves a bunch of kids busting aliens, that just serves to highlight how stupid the show is, unless you invest really heavily in suspense of disbelief. But ultimately this show lacks any sort of ambition or desire to be special. This one is dropped.
#11: Demi-chan wa Kataritai (02-04)
This one turned out to be not as good as what I hoped. On one hand, it managed to portray this world in which a small percentage of people is “demi”, or half human, half mythical creature like a vampire, dullahan, etc. It’s an interesting look at minorities, being slightly different and a bit of bullying here and there. Its characters are very vocal about their issues and that makes this a very honest series.
On the other hand I really don’t like how this show pulled a Sword Art Online and made every single one of these “demi-girls” fall for the main character. Granted, the verdict is still out on the snow girl, but it’s getting there, trust me! I find that cheap, and it’s also just pointless. This is supposed to be a series about teenaged issues, and the romance just feels shoehorned in. There is no reason why these girls can’t have boyfriends, or at the very least guys interested in them if they also want to handle things like sexualities. This is also in the main character’s favour because now we just end up with him getting demi-boners half of the time, which just turns him into this slime-ball rather than a scientist. It’s a real shame because I feel that there are two groups among the creators: one that really wants this to be a character study, and one that want this to be a romantic comedy. The result gets very awkward in a bad way.
#10: Piace – Watashi no Italian (02-03)
Piace is clever: it knew that if you want to be interesting, you need some kind of material to work with. Slice of life has been done to death and there is no way to make something out of it, and you have to be really funny for a pure plain comedy to succeed. However by basing its setting on an Italian restaurant it can interchange the jokes with Italian cooking. And it’s not like you really learn something about this, but the creators make a point of showing that the characters are making good food. When you combine this with the banter between the different characters, this becomes pretty decent for 4 minutes per episode, because let’s face it: the only jokes in this show are based on the characters’ banter; do not expect any food puns. The characters are also grounded and fun to watch: the voice acting here is good. The slightly-faster-than-usual pacing along with portraying the characters variedly, yet fairly wasn’t something I expected from a series like this.
#9: ChaoS;Child (02-03)
ChaoS;Child is chugging along nicely, along with its own issues. The thing with this series is that it’s all about its mystery. You can see that the story behind this series, the string of weird murders and the strange connection between them is the strongest point of this series. While no Higurashi by any means, I admit that after three episodes I’m curious to learn what is behind everything. Apart from that though… the gore is laughable, the animation is jerky, but my most important issue with it lies with the characters.
When telling a story with a clear main character, the audience needs a way to relate with him or her. A key part of that is the reason for his/her involvement in the story. And this doesn’t need to be complicated, as long as it’s something strong that can take the audience along for the ride. The lead character here is this sulky high school kid who keeps poking his nose in ridiculously dangerous murder cases. He knows this and still goes after them. Even after his loved ones get hurt he still tries to get more and more involved, even though there is no guarantee for the safety of his other friends, he gets told this plenty of times, and he realizes that he’s being incredibly reckless. How the heck are we supposed to relate to that?! I mean the lead of Chaos Head was a loser, but the creators used his panic very well to engage the audience. With him, it’s all so weak that I kept thinking “stop getting involved! Let the cops take care of it! You’re a high school kid, you can’t do anything!”
#8: Masamune-kun no Revenge (02-04)
Four episodes in, and Masamune has still retained its wit that we saw in its first episode. I didn’t think I’d be praising a romance between two high school kids, but it’s enjoyable enough to see just what an incredible dork the male lead can be. For once he’s actually balanced well: he’s flawed, but not a complete idiot, diligent but not perfect, his attempts of hitting on the lead girl are a refreshing combination between desperate and surprisingly effective. The tropes that have been done in other romances, it really tries to subvert them. It’s like a cat and mouse game between the two of them.
However, I’m very afraid that we just saw the best of this series. Episode 04 ended with something really questionable that has ruined many series that came before it. Up to that point, every twist, even though unexpected, sort-of made sense. You could see things happening that way if you put yourself in the characters’ shoes. Then completely randomly there’s this girl that offers herself to the lead’s feet as they’re about to have this serious moment. The episode ended right afterwards, but the creators are going to have to come up with something amazing to try and explain that one, because it also just does not fit the storyline at all, and I really doubt what this show can benefit from her. This was the “will they won’t they”-love-triangle I was afraid of when I first saw the OP and ED of this one, and there’s gonna be another girl! For now I enjoyed this show plenty, but unless episode 05 makes a very good case for itself I’m going to drop it then and there.
#7: Youjo Senki (02-04)
Okay. I did not expect that kind of back-story for the main character. It’s far-fetched, but.. fair enough it works. In fact, episodes 02 to 04 have all pain-stakingly spent time dealing with the issues I had with the first episode, setting everything up and actually doing a very good job at it. At this point I don’t see this as a dumb war-series anymore, but definitely something with its own qualities. Something totally different from what Shuumatsu no Izetta tried to be.
It’s ironic: Shuumatsu no Izetta made sure to portray soldiers as actual people, but in the end it was about the survival of the actual kingdom. Youjo Senki throws heaps of unnamed soldiers under the bus, but in the end its central theme is survival of the individual. Everyone in this series is thinking either about themselves, or their close families. The people next to them. The patriotism feels more like a formality here. In face, what I like is how it takes many serious issues of other war-series, and turns them into formalities. The whole goal of the main character isn’t to win, it’s to live a comfortable life and winning just happens to be very convenient for that goal. It’s a different look at war politics than usual. And the fact that she’s a child… fair enough. It works and they use it well.
#6: Hand Shakers (02-04)
There\s something really interesting going on with the music here. During the fights, notice how the soundtrack is completely different from what you’d usually suspect? It’s all dreamy, instead of the hard, dramatic and edgy sound that series usually go for. It’s very much on the foreground, rather than mostly lingering in the background. That is awesome! Back in the days lots of series had these incredibly complicated soundtracks with creative tunes, to scenes that totally didn’t match your expectations, even blasting over the dialogue and it was glorious! At a certain point this trend stopped though, only resurfacing very rarely. This needs to be brought back! Obviously not in every series, but let’s revive the spirit of Bee-Train! Hand Shakers is obviously no El Cazador, but obviously a step in the right direction.
Aside from that, this show has me pretty baffled. On all accounts, on paper I should hate this show. A boy meets a girl and they use powers to fight others. And yet this show is just so incredibly genuine. I find the lead couple so adorable for some really weird reason. The rest of the cast: I just like them. Everything here is just enjoyable to watch. Like I said, there’s something inherently cute about a show that’s about hand holding, something most romance shows don’t even seem to realize exists.
I am not a fan though of how passive the female lead has been so far: the male lead pretty much did all of the work here. You could replace her with a pet dog and pretty much the only thing that will change is the sexual tension. Don’t think too much behind that comparison…
#5: Little Witch Academia (02-04)
What makes this series special is that the creators really seem to have made this with an international audience in mind. This show is a weird amalgamation between east and west, but some parts really feel like Trigger putting a global audience first, rather than what most shows do: just produce your series for Japan and afterwards just release it internationally because hey, why not? Or make your show so generic that it doesn’t matter what country it’s from. I mean, otherwise no sane writer would include a reference to Hanna Barbara so randomly there. Episode four was also was about fandom, and it felt uch more like we were watching western fandom than Eastern.
Also in this world, everything is exaggerated. Everything. That makes the plot pretty random and stupid, but the energy. Good lord, the energy of this show! This show always manages to conjure up something creative for the magical hi-jinks that the characters find themselves into and especially the main trio just bubbles with personality, and yet they’re grounded and varied. This is what makes characters who usually would have been really annoying, it makes them actually fun to watch. I mean we all know about the blond girl who is good at everything and incredibly posh, but in this show she works. Her henchmen are annoying at first, but we see them do different stuff besides fangirl about how amazing their sempai is.
And beyond that this does just about all of the basic stuff right. These four episodes were random hi-jinks, but they were perfect in fleshing out the characters and making the audience familiar with them. This light-hearted note is something I missed from Kill la Kill for example. Trigger still hasn’t forgotten to do action either, so bring on the rest of this series!
#4: ACCA – 13-ku Karusatsu-ka (02-04)
Okay ACCA, let’s talk for a minute about immersion. Consider the Twelve Kingdoms, a series that also focuses on a world with about a dozen different countries inside it. One thing it did a lot, especially in the beginning, is show a map of the world, including a pointer where the story was about to focus at. This happened a lot, and while tedious at the time, because of this you always knew where the story was in relation to the rest of the setting. It made you feel part of the world. ACCA has a map, but we only see it very occasionally, and only brief, so we as a viewer are constantly having to guess where the heck we are, especially since every episode deals with a different country. What if the beginning of each episode could show for a small bit where on the map we are? You could incorporate it in the OP if time is the issue. It’s a very simple detail, but I feel like it would add a lot to this series.
Now, ACCA is an incredibly ambitious series, and it’s obvious that it can’t fit everything it wants into episodes of 20 minutes, so it has to compromise. The option it went for is to try and get as much information as possible into just one episode. The big difficulty with this approach is keeping thins personal, and I have to say that when taking this into consideration, it’s a very good attempt. Obviously the huge focus on consumables helps. Characters have this “tell, rather than show”-approach to their characters, but this is fixed by the creators using subtle non-verbal clues to flesh out their characters.
The big sacrifice though is continuity. This series both doesn’t have the time to deal with the aftermaths of everything that it does (lots of minor issues are just explicitly assumed to just get resolved), plus the way it leads one thing into the other… just happens. Coincidences pile up and there is no quiet time. It’s impossible to add those and still get everything within 20 minutes. Because what it is doing is powerful stuff. Makes you think, it’s interesting. Not to mention here that the potential for this show is virtually unlimited.
#3: Kuzu no Honkai (02-03)
Okay, so they’re not brother and sister. They just grew up together, with different parents so he always was the person she looked up to. Fair enough, that takes away my big complaint of episode one, but this series is not entirely in the clear. After all the “they’re not really siblings”-schtick was very often used back in the day to give the illusion of incest, while allowing for a back door for the creators to say “what do you mean? It’s not incest! They’re not related!” – we all knew what they were alluding to and it was disgusting. If this show ends up bringing back that trend I will punch it.
So, now that that’s out of the way: this show has been pretty incredible here; it does so many things right here. Episode 02 and 03 showed that it’s really trying to balance like six characters together, all intertwined in a web of crushes and all having their own issues, and we keep hopping back and forth between different perspectives, although the lead girl does seem to be the main character here. The lesbian girl was particularly surprising: for once they took a honest look at what it means to be attracted to the same gender. It doesn’t have the squee-material of the likes of Yuri on Ice, and while there is nudity, it doesn’t feel like fanservice like most other series of the past five years. This is how it should be done: treating them as actual people.
This series really isn’t glorifying anything, and that’s what makes it so great because it’s a side we very rarely get to see because of how wishy-washy romance is in anime. Fune wo Amu showed how you should do romance from the light side, this one flips things around and shows how to do romance correctly from the dark side. This show is ugly, even though it looks so pretty, but the amount of detail they managed to put in here. Mugi’s wet dream: they actually had the guts to do that. Or how the teacher wore the same outfit twice. They don’t explicitly say it, but it’s obvious, and when it hits it’s glorious!
Also can I get a thumbs up for the soundtrack here? It doesn’t just sound dreamy and sad, but it’s also used really well here. Every single note here fits, and there are a lot of tracks here! Someone really put some thoughts into how to place the music, otherwise it wouldn’t fit this well!
#2: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 (01-04)
I managed to marathon the first season during the past month (though for the sake of this ranking I only consider the first four episode, otherwise it’s impossible to compare). And oh yeah, this is the real deal! I can’t believe they actually made an anime about Rakugo, a performance art where so much is dependent on acting, tonal changes and gestures, and they pretty much got away with it. I still consider Fune wo Amu my favourite series of 2016, but that was because that series managed to breathe life into its characters in a way that I had very rarely seen before. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shunjuu has its own list of things it does incredibly well.
The best being the character-development. Like seriously, there are very few series that can boast the level of detail that this series can put in it. Usually series have one flashback, or a number here and there for each character if they’re lucky, but most of the story takes place in one time frame. This series is the examination of the life of one guy, and every single episode it jumps forth a few years. And we don’t just see him change, a huge emphasis is also put on the side characters: they too change realistically and believably. The voice acting here is also wonderful in changing along with the cast. Top notch! Characters rise and fall, we get to see both their heights and lows right through each other. Every episode manages to change something.
What also makes this series really rare is that it managed to teach me something. And I don’t just praise this because I had no knowledge of Rakugo prior to starting this series, it not only gave an overview of how it evolved, it was an in-depth look at it, through the characters it analyzes, praises and criticizes the format. And it also encouraged me to look up the parts that they assumed the audience already knew. I like that: assume that your audience knows the meaning of Google. You don’t need to hold people by their hand. Inspire; and dare to go deep!
One thing I did not like, or rather one thing I found annoying is a better way to put it, is the romance. I know why things happened the way they did, the creators definitely make a good case for themselves and all, and they really try to make it complex and interesting, and yet I found that the most boring parts of the series. Perhaps it’s because episode 1 already told what was going to happen in the end, you could see them building up to it and the actual moment of the “big death” felt rather… forced. It probably worked well in manga-form but in the anime it just looked silly. And building up the romance… it took some patience to sit through even before it happened.
However the new season the romance is thankfully refreshingly down to earth, if you can call it romance anyway. It’s almost politics, and it knows its place much better. The characters in return are a bit less interesting, but they’re really starting to grow now, which was probably the intentions of the creators: how the heck are these newbies going to fill the shadows of the old masters? Yes, a lot of thought was put into this. More series like this please!
#1: Classicaloid (13-16)
Yeah, yeah. I know that the above series have more substance than this one. I know the characters are complete idiots. I know that the past four episodes of Classicaloid have been completely stupid and have established absolutely nothing. And yet… and yet… I can’t. I can’t label my favourite show of the month as anything other than Classicaloid. It just had me completely in stitches, all four episodes even though they all were completely different. This show just makes me happy whenever I watch it that no other show this season manages to do.
So let’s get things clear: in these four episodes we have people turn into fishes, become idols, make horrible music, and hunt for a merleopon. All of them focused on a different character and were mostly used to flesh them out. All of them were hilarious, but my favourite was the fish episode. There was something magical of following a mute fish around for 20 minutes and looking into the despair that ensued. It also becomes more and more apparent that this show has the second director of Gintama. This is a compliment by the way.
This series takes me back to the good old days. Back when series still understood how to properly fill in a 26-episode series. The first half being a build-up, and the second then using it as a board to jump off of. In this case the first half has made sure that these characters are so much fun, that I just smile whenever they’re on stage. This is what I consider terrific characters. The ones that just make you happy, no matter what they’re doing. When manga and light novel adaptations got more and more the norm, and more and more series only turned to 13 episodes max, this was a format that I unfortunately missed deeply. I don’t want to be that guy who goes “gahw things were so much better in my days, you kids with your stupid trends and stuff” – I used to get very annoyed by these people – but in some areas I really have to give in: we are not living in the glory days of anime anymore. I do have hope though, I want to see anime evolve again. Try to see what it will turn into next. For that we need a constant flow of new talent, because at this point the old guys have mostly all left, while the ones who remain are the only ones still bringing in interesting and fresh stuff. The new talents need to get the confidence and the connections in order to be able to do their own things. They need to step up and realize that the future of anime lies in pushing the medium forward. They have the misfortune that the focus today lies much more on consistency: having clean frames, and a higher resolution makes anime more expensive, and it makes it harder to have experimental series, and therefore it makes it harder for the real geniuses to get noticed. The likes of Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Masaaki Yuasa, they would have had much more difficulties breaking through in today’s atmosphere. Classicaloid is our hope: the director is relatively new, and I remember when he first took over Gintama I disliked the changes he brought forth. Over the past ten years though, Classicaloid showed that he did learn a lot. He’s using his influence clearly, while at the same time keeping the viewer’s attention. Entire episodes are devoted to one really weird idea, yet he knows how to make it tick now. I’m in no way saying that he is among the greats, but what I am saying is that he’s on the right path there, though unfortunately it’s not entirely there yet. Classicaloid is amazing, yet the great series of 9-15 years ago and the volume with which they came really was special.
I really believe that anime is due to improve. We just need to wait for the people who grew up in the golden age of anime go work themselves up to the top. I do not know how many years this will take. 10 years? 20 years? No clue. However I am interested in sticking along as long as fun series like Classicaloid keep getting made, and I also honestly believe that the worst is already behind us.
I know the above two paragraphs are really weird ramblings, poorly formulated and not that connected, but these are thoughts that I’ve been having a long time. I hope that I’ll be able to put more structure to them in the near future…