Fall 2015 – The Season in Review

The Con Artists have wrapped up the Fall 2015 anime season just in time for the New Year. There may be minor spoilers in these reviews, so please proceed with caution. Read on to see our conclusions and recommendations, or go here to check out our initial impressions from the start of the season.

DAN

I recently finished my three shows, which are listed here in the same order as the original article.

Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation

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This show is probably the best one I watched this season in spite of its flaws, and it kept me interested throughout. The mysteries Sakurako and Shoutarou become involved in are nicely varied and took a few surprising turns that I wasn’t expecting. I was pleased to see several of the cases tied back to the main cast in a way that felt personal, but not contrived. The small cast makes it easier for the stories to maintain focus on the mysteries themselves, but it also makes the world of the show feel small. When you’re in a mostly episodic detective story, I suppose you just have to accept that there are going to be a ton of murder cases taking place in such a short period that the casual observer would think your town was cursed.

Beautiful Bones is also very strong visually. The backgrounds and environments, in particular Sakurako’s mansion, are richly detailed and feel solid. The outdoor environments of Hokkaido are nicely rendered, but often have a bleak, melancholy feel to them which can makes the series almost claustrophobic at times. Due to the morbid subject matter, I would guess that this is intentional, but the washed out color palette left me wishing for a spot of color, and the dulled pastels of Sakurako’s “dream space” aren’t quite vibrant enough to break that sense of dreariness. This isn’t a strike against the series; just an observation on its aesthetic.

While I enjoyed the series overall, I have to say that I wasn’t very enthralled by the characters. Shoutarou remains dull as dishwater pretty much throughout, and while he is meant to serve as a foil to the more excitable and eccentric Sakurako, he never really evolves in any meaningful way. Sakurako herself is both fun and unsettling to watch as she drifts from coldly analytical to borderline manic, but her brilliance almost always comes to the detriment of the rest of the cast. Not only is she never, ever wrong about anything – her companions sometimes seem to be dumbed-down to make her seem more intelligent. It’s not that they’re idiots; it’s just that they immediately step aside and let her do all the work, which leaves an already mediocre supporting cast in the dust, character-wise.

Finally, the show ends on a fairly dull note, with a new mystery that Sakurako is personally invested in rearing its head, but no real character growth for her, Shoutarou, or any of their compatriots. I had mentioned in my initial impressions that we had no idea how or why the two leads were together, and the show waits until its twelfth episode to explain their meeting. I’m glad they finally got around to it, but the circumstances weren’t particularly exciting or shocking, so I have no idea why they waited so long. The growing plotline looks to be the focus of any future episodes, and it is far more sinister than anything we’ve encountered so far, so I’m looking forward to how it plays out from here.

If it sounds like I’ve been a bit harsh on Beautiful Bones, it’s mostly because I don’t want to spoil the details of any of the mysteries that make up the most brilliant parts of the show. The individual cases are the strongest part of the series, and they are a dark delight to watch. I just feel that the show has more potential than it has yet been delivered, and I hope that if they land a second season, they’ll be able to bring some of that out. I’m definitely look forward to seeing if and how the story will continue.

Final Verdict – RECOMMENDED

Watch Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation on Crunchyroll

The Perfect Insider

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While I was initially intrigued by The Perfect Insider, I finished the show almost on sufferance. The concept of the show; the locked room murder of a sociopathic genius in a high-tech lab – is quite unique, and I haven’t seen many serious mystery anime in my time. I’m sorry to say that beyond the interesting setup and some strong production values, the show failed to keep my interest after a fairly short time.

The first two problems with the show are its pacing and its length. It takes forever for anything to happen, and large chunks of each episode are spent with our two leads, Professor Saikawa and his student Moe, bickering with each other and repeating facts about the case that have long been established. There’s little sense of flow or evolution in the investigation until Saikawa magically puts all the pieces together. Drawing the mystery out over a full 11 episodes made the whole thing feel tedious, especially since there was no sense of tension. Two people are killed early on, and afterwards no one seems the least bit concerned that their was a murderer loose in their midst.

My interest dwindled even further as I watched the characters and learned more about them. Saikawa is a socially inept academic, but what he teaches or how it relates to the case at hand is left rather vague. Moe has a talent for numbers, but otherwise is an abrasive, clingy mess who is infatuated with Saikawa for reasons that even the least psychologically-inclined person would call unhealthy. The rest of the characters have so little personality that they’re not worth mentioning, and the more we learn about the first murder victim, Dr. Magata, the less sympathetic she becomes However, I’ll gladly admit that the flashbacks to her youth were the most interesting (and disturbing) moments of the show.

By the end of the last episode, I was essentially watching it on autopilot. Even the big reveal of who the murderer was felt dry and barely registered, and I couldn’t be bothered to go back and double-check to make sure it even made sense. I’d had enough of listening to the cast droned on about the nature of being and the desires and needs of humans. Every position that was taken was so detached and academic that it meant nothing to me. There was nothing profound, just empty quasi-nihilistic platitudes.

Perhaps I simply wasn’t in the right mindset for The Perfect Insider. Maybe it works better if you watch the episodes back to back, though I’d personally have preferred to see it cut down to half its length, or even to movie length so that it could keep up a brisker pace. Whatever the case, I did not enjoy it, and I can’t even drum up the enthusiasm to hate it. Take a look if you’re starved for intellectual mystery shows, but otherwise give it a pass.

Final Verdict – NOT RECOMMENDED

Watch The Perfect Insider on Crunchyroll

Young Black Jack

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Young Black Jack surprised me by being the most engaging show I watched this season. It’s over-dramatic to the point of absurdity, but it has a sense of sincerity and heart that I find endearing. While I have not seen or read much of the original Black Jack, I get the impression that the creative team did a good job of honoring Tezuka’s style and message.

The show sets up a good variety of dramatic scenarios to challenge its protagonist, Hazama. It swings between blackmail and shadowy medical drama to war story and revenge fantasy, bouncing around with very little connectivity. This can be jarring, but the individual stories held my attention enough that I can forgive the lack of smooth transitions. I do wish that the show had taken more time to focus on some of Hazama’s friends and coworkers, but considering that this is his origin story first and foremost, I’m not surprised that they didn’t.

Speaking of Hazama, his evolution is one of the best realized I’ve seen for a protagonist in awhile. He falters and struggles with his own desire to become a better doctor at any cost, while fighting against the corruption and politics of his field. At the same time, he’s slowly being ground down and disillusioned by all of the hypocrisy around him, setting up his eventual reinvention of himself as the titular Black Jack. The process by which this happens is maudlin and over-the-top, but it fits with the show’s style and never feels out of place.

This show was a pleasant surprise, but it may not be for everyone due to its deliberately over-sentimental nature. I can’t say what fans of the earlier Black Jack saga will think, but from my perspective as an outsider, I quite enjoyed it. Its dramatic take on the internal struggles of Japan in the 1960s makes for a refreshing change of pace from the glut of near-future and fantasy world settings that pervade anime these days, and its unashamed lionization of doctors is inspiring. I’ve said in the past that earnestness will get you very far, and Young Black Jack is earnest almost to a fault. It’s definitely worth your time to check out.

Final Verdict – RECOMMENDED

Watch Young Black Jack on Crunchyroll

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SCOTT

With the fall season concluded, I can say that I’m largely pleased with the shows I was following, with one notable exception.  As usual, I will take the shows in increasing order of my enjoyment.

Utawarerumono – The False Faces

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Utawarerumono.  Wow.  I suppose it would be best for me to start this thing off… with an apology.  To anyone that decided to watch it based on my early impressions, I am truly sorry.  To anyone that picked it up on their own and is just reading this now, I’m sorry for you.  To anyone that hasn’t watched it – don’t.  You’ll be sorry.

Rarely have I seen a show squander every iota of its promise so rapidly and so irreversibly.  Almost immediately after my first impressions of the show (starting at episode 4), it began an uninterrupted nosedive.  Haku and Kuon moved into the capital of the nearby country of Yamato, and they haven’t left it since, so the promise of interesting travels is gone.  Quite possibly the largest harem I have ever seen in anime has assembled around Haku, and almost all of them are intolerable, so the promise of a mature and slow-moving relationship between Haku and Kuon is gone.

Forget occasionally having some action, not a single thing of ANY consequence has happened since episode 4!  It’s pretty much been filler the whole way through.  Instead, there’s nonstop fanservice and people talking about nothing for whole episodes, while Haku (and any semblance of plot) basically sits in the corner and mopes.  Episode 12 hinted that something would finally happen next season, but the damage is done.  Really, the only thing impressive about it is that is managed to fall below Heavy Object on my list, and I was watching that show because I knew it would be terrible.

I’m not going to belabor the point beyond the above, except to bemoan how this…

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…turned into this:

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Watch Utawarerumeno – The False Faces on Crunchyroll.  Or don’t.  It’s probably better if you don’t.  Please don’t.

Heavy Object

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Heavy Object ended up being… slightly better than I had expected.  This is really due to two factors: the show kept the action interesting, and rather sharply limited its fanservice (at least, much more than I had thought it would).  It’s nowhere near as good as the next item on my list, but it has risen in my ratings.

The big reason for this, as mentioned, is that the action remains strong.  The show is divided into mini-arcs, two or three episodes on a given battlefield against a specific foe, and then on to the next one.  These arcs have relatively little bearing on each other, so they’re more battle vignettes than anything resembling a complete plot.  Still, they do a good job of keeping things interesting, with the locations and challenges facing the characters always being different.  Basically, in each arc there is an enemy Object that must be found and neutralized, and Havia and Qwenthur, the hapless foot soldiers, are vital to success each time.  The conditions vary wildly, though – sometimes the enemy has the upper hand and cleverness is required to outmaneuver them.  Other times, however, the enemy is weaker from a military standpoint, but must be stopped before they can accomplish a nefarious objective of their own.  The solutions found to these problems are often creative and at least somewhat plausible, to the show’s credit.

The other reason this anime had a better showing than expected is how it handles fanservice.  The show definitely has fanservice in it, and it’s often pretty ridiculous, but it’s… strictly controlled, in a sense.  After an action scene is over, or the male leads return to the base, suddenly it will be like a switch flipped, and for the next 3 minutes, it’s fanservice time.  Once that scene is over, though, it’s strictly back to the action.  Thus, it never feels like the fanservice is distracting from the plot, since it’s never woven into the action, but exists in its own little area.  It’s surprisingly restrained compared to what I had been expecting, and it’s good that they did it this way – some episodes feature problems like ethnic cleansing or large civilian populations under threat, and it would be incredibly awkward and unsettling to try to work fanservice into those scenes.

In short, Heavy Object is by no means good, and I can’t exactly recommend it… but if you’re looking for dumb action fun with a reasonable amount of fanservice, you can do worse than watch this show.

Watch Heavy Object on Hulu.  Just don’t expect too much.

The Perfect Insider

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This is the first of the shows that I would recommend from this season, and it is a huge jump up from Heavy Object.  With complex characters, an intriguing story (and unsettling backstory), and just enough twists to keep things interesting without being absurd, this is a good show to watch if you’re looking for a thinker.  Since the whole thing revolves around a closed-room mystery, I’ll be vague in my review to avoid spoiling it.

One of the things that immediately jumps out about you with this show is the depth of the characters.  None of the main characters, and very few of the side characters, are “trope” characters.  These are well-written personalities, and the intersections between them make up a large part of the show.  Throughout its run, you’ll be questioning why someone said what they did, and whether one character or another knows more than they’re letting on.

Another thing that sticks with me is that the show never let itself be pigeonholed.  Any time I thought I could predict where the plot would go next based on what another show might do in a similar situation, I was consistently wrong.  This is a unique plot that doesn’t ever tread the familiar path.

Quite possibly the only thing to be said against it is that it might be TOO deep.  There is a lot of philosophy and character motivations being thrown around, and it can be hard to keep up, or even to understand why someone did what they did.  Fortunately, the show usually takes the time to explain things to the viewer, and in the end, while I may not know why characters did what they did, I do at least have a complete picture of the events that happened.

Watch The Perfect Insider on Crunchyroll.  Put your thinking cap on first, though.

Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation

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From start to finish, Beautiful Bones has been a treat.  The show managed to keep things interesting throughout, never relied on a formula to “close out” a case, and inspired genuine emotion in me on several occasions.  If I were to recommend one show from this season to the broadest possible audience, it would be this one.  It even falls into the exceedingly rare category of anime that might interest someone who isn’t an anime fan.

So how does it do all that?  By having believable stories, (mostly) grounded characters, and compelling mysteries with real consequences.  The show’s breadth is also impressive – those consequences might be as critical as racing to save a girl’s life, or as seemingly trivial as helping someone come to terms with how their relative died.  In every case, though, the results are personal, and believably so, to the characters involved.

Finally, in my first impressions, I had mentioned my fear that a meta-plot would derail the procedural nature of the show.  This meta-plot has indeed materialized, and looks to be the basis of the next season of the show.  That said, it doesn’t look like this will be to the show’s detriment.  The meta-plot elements have developed slowly, and each episode (or sometimes pair of episodes) still stands on its own without needing this larger plot to lean on.

Watch Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation on Crunchyroll.  You won’t regret it.

Mobile Suit GUNDAM – Iron-Blooded Orphans

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While it doesn’t have the same broad appeal as Beautiful Bones, GUNDAM – Iron-Blooded Orphans should definitively be top of the list this season for those that enjoy mecha anime.  With top-notch visuals, awesome battles that never overstay their welcome, and strong character development, this show is knocking it out of the park.

One of my concerns going in had been the large cast.  Fortunately, things have sorted themselves out since the early episodes, with the plot mostly focused on the private military contractors and their allies.  Other characters, particularly the overseers from Earth, also get enough screen time to get fleshed out without being too much of a distraction.  A decent number of female characters have been added to the mix, including some excellent Mobile Suit pilots, which goes a long way to balance out the cast.  Fanservice is almost completely absent – an amazing achievement by itself, and more important than ever for a show with this much story to tell.

The story itself is strong, with an overall plot that is clearly taking its time, but in which the details are chock full of character drama and intense action.  And what action it is!  Gone are the square bullets and expendable mechs of a show like Gundam Wing – every Mobile Suit and ship is a valuable asset, and incredibly tough to take down. Downing a single enemy mech is a major accomplishment, and a single loss on the protagonists’ side is devastating.  The action looks great, and never relies on stock footage, making every battle a visual treat.  If you’re into Gundam or robot anime at all, you owe it to yourself to watch this show.

Watch Mobile Suit GUNDAM – Iron Blooded Orphans on Crunchyroll.  Don’t miss this one.

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SUSHMA

Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation

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I am so glad I stuck with this show. Beautiful Bones in my opinion is the sleeper hit of the season. It’s been an amazing ride watching Sakurako and her smarminess outdo the detectives (and frankly…anyone…) to help solve well-crafted mysteries. To address the ideas that I discuss at the midway point, I believe Sakurako held true to everything it started out doing. The show continued to look good down to the very last episode. I was sad to see the amazing (and yes…I will admit ridiculous) technicolor scene that plays out every time Sakurako was ready to solve the mystery go away, but the show does get more serious over time so I understood the need for its removal. If you have no idea what I am talking about you can view it here: Technicolor Mystery Solving. The show also sticks to its guns and keeps all the mysteries real enough to be plausible to the audience. Later episodes stab at the emotions with themes like suicidal depression, and feelings frayed to the point of letting oneself get abused for “pleasure”. Each and every time I felt myself wanting to know what mystery the show would throw down and excited to see it all play out.

I was not surprised to see the show walk away from random one-shot episodes and veer itself into an arc of sorts. Where there is “Sherlock” there must always be “Moriarty”. What makes the pair so interesting is that they are in many ways the same person, and in other ways, so incredibly different. They walk the sociopath/psychopath line and watching the two duel in a battle of intelligence is endlessly fascinating. In that vein, Beautiful Bones introduces a man named “Hanabusa” who is the Moriarty to Sakurako’s Sherlock. He proves in the penultimate mystery that he is a sick and twisted man with an agenda only to bring misery. The show now has gravitas and we as watchers feel a sense of suspense due to the higher stakes.

I’ll end with the minor negatives because I feel it’s only fair. Sakurako herself is a bit much at times. She swings from “tough love” to “downright cruel and inhumane” (Episode 11 in particular). It’s almost like the show sometimes wants to give her character development but sometimes needs her to goad the victims/perpetrators for effect. Either way, it’s not consistent and it throws Sakurako’s whole character off. The show has done a great job of giving the characters personalities that are defining but Sakurako’s backstory is only vaguely hinted at. What makes her swing into full on psychopath mode?! The final episode is very weak in comparison to the previous two. There was a two part special about three best friends who all get emotionally (and spoilers: physically) destroyed after a certain incident happens. The episodes are a punch to the gut emotionally and if you’ve ever struggled with deep guilt for any reason, they are downright soul-crushing at certain points. The final episode plays into the backstory of how Shoutarou and Sakurako met and ends on a happy note the ties up a little too neatly, considering how Episode 11 ends.

Beautiful Bones has some very minor weak points but it is UNDENIABLY a show you should check out and it is primed for a second season. Here’s to hoping we see one soon.

Watch Beautiful Bones – Sakurako’s Investigation on Crunchyroll

Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen

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Some days your prayers get answered. Some days you get struck by lightning and the gods laugh at you for your pitiful prayer. I am sitting here sizzling due to a massive lightning strike. Please excuse me while I burn…

In our last discussion midway through the Fall Season 2015, I mentioned that I liked the original Utawarerumono because it didn’t cater to its H-Game roots. False Faces wants to dive HEAD FIRST INTO HENTAI MADNESS. Kuon and Haku end up at the capital city of Yamato wherein they discover one of their traveling companions is actually a high ranking official in disguise! Haku gains more and more trust with this individual as his seemingly innate people skills come into play. In Yamato, we meet the 8 Generals of the Emperor and one of them seems to be scheming something. I only know this however because he’s in the intro song looking all evil-like.

Utawarerumono is absolute garbage at this point. The “plot” that it dances around seems to involve a cast of characters so large it could sink Noah’s Ark. Haku gains more women than I have ever seen in a harem in less than 13 episodes and even the characters that RETURN FROM THE FIRST SHOW are reduced to nothing more than breasts that talk or breasts that are secretly made of moe. Every episode contains 90% fan service and 10% plot, thus making the show unbearable to watch. The show is so desperate to be perverse that one episode’s entire plot is devoted to a princess buying gay porn and wandering around with it. It’s obsession with creepy ideas like this drag it away from any ounce of potential it seemed to have in the beginning couple of episodes (and to be fair, I didn’t think it looked AMAZING from the get-go).

It’ll be a miracle if the show can pull out anything resembling a plot for the second half. The show has thrown around the idea of countries moving into an alliance out of some need, and hints that Haku has some great destiny before him. In the opposite corner the show has given Haku sex slave twins (that he desperately wants to get rid of) and thrown in enough fan service to kill the British Army. I am not holding my breath at this point. I’ll continue to watch just so Scott and I can rip this show apart in a podcast or panel.

If you haven’t tried this show yet, please please…walk away and forget you ever heard of it.

Watch Utawarerumeno – The False Faces on Crunchyroll

Noragami Aragoto

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Noragami… I believed in you and man I could not have been more rewarded. This season covered the arcs of the seemingly antagonistic Bishamon and ended with the heartfelt, thought provoking arc of a God of Fortune: Ebisu.

Bishamon’s arc was filled with sadness and regret. The idea behind what the regalia’s are and what they truly mean to a God comes out in full force and allow the watchers to learn SO MUCH MORE about this re-imagined world of Japanese Gods/Goddesses. Bishamon is both tragic and beautiful and her past gave the viewers an emotional connection to her that made her my absolute favorite character thus far. It’s a true love of character development and storytelling that shows how devoted the author is to making us understand these characters.

Ebisu’s arc started out bizarre and the motivations behind Ebisu himself don’t make much sense at first. The ending to his arc however is painful in the most beautiful of ways and gives weight and dimension to the ideas of “Fortune” and “War”. This arc also introduces us to Heaven’s counsel and showcases the turmoil between the “Council of Heaven” and the “Gods of Fortune” (Seven Gods that are heavily worshiped). We get a chance to go to new and terrifying places (the underworld is awful…geez…) and learn more about Yato’s dark backstory. Every episode keeps you glued to your seat and looks stunning. This is a show with one of the highest production values I’ve seen in a while

Noragami is captivating, thought provoking, and best of all a great story. If you didn’t get a chance to check this out, do yourself a favor and watch Noragami and Noragami Aragoto. Be sure to watch past the credits on the final episode as it primes a third season! I can’t wait!!

Watch Noragami Aragoto on Hulu

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4 thoughts on “Fall 2015 – The Season in Review

  1. Nice blog! I’m glad someone else doesn’t hate Heavy Object- I actually quite enjoy the show! In contrast, I just hated Beautiful Bones all the way to the end – granted that is heavily influenced by Bobduh, and the realization that Sakurako is a insensitive biotch. Perfect insider was pretty good, and ended the mystery well.

    Also I’m glad that someone is confronting the Utawarerumono disaster. After the first 3 episodes I went back to watch the original series to watch the show, then returned to catch up on the current season. I have to say: the original Utawarerumono is better than the current season by leaps and bounds in everything except animation, and I would highly recommend the series over this current one. Hakuoro is ten thousands times a better protagonist than Haku, and the cast is just better developed and presented in general. It also has a storyline haha!

    Last note: SOMEONE PLEASE PICK UP OSOMATSU-SAN. It is hilarious, unique, and crafty- a gem among the loads of crap produced today.

    Like

    1. Thanks! Heavy Object isn’t the kind of show to be hated, it’s more like you look at it, laugh and shake your head, and then wait to see what ridiculous scenario it presents next. It’s dumb, but it’s fun.

      Meanwhile,”disaster” is a good word for what’s going on with Utawarerumono. Hakuoro felt like an actual protagonist, while Haku is more like… a cardboard cutout for other characters to gather around.

      Like

  2. I can see how Sakurako could be pretty aggravating. She initially irritated me, but I find that I can enjoy a show with an unlikable protagonist if the story is strong enough. I am hoping she evolves if they manage to get a second season to move things forward.

    We’ll have to look into Osumatsu-san as well. It’s not the sort of thing most of us gravitate towards, but it sounds like it could be worthwhile!

    Like

  3. Sakurako is most definitely difficult to…like. I think that’s why I find her so intriguing. In a way she represents the idea of unbounded knowledge and functions as a story tool to solve mysteries about the dead. I suppose I see more of the Sherlock in her and am endlessly fascinated about how the writers put together and solve their own mysteries using Sakurako. Maybe I am just explaining this weirdly….

    delaneysloane….why….why did you GO BACK to Utawarerumono S2. You had escaped…you should have…kept…running…

    *falls over and sizzles some more*

    Osumatsu-san. Hmm….maybe we’ll look into that at some point!

    Like

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