Winter 2016 – The Season so Far

Another cour is upon us, and the Con Artists are here to share their impressions with you on what each of us are following.

SCOTT

Thanks to three of my shows carrying over from last cour, and another getting a second season, I’ll be covering 7 (!) shows.  For those shows that are carry-overs, I’ll keep my “first impressions” brief, since they haven’t changed too much since the end of the Fall cour.  As usual, I’ll list my shows in ascending order of enjoyment.

Utawarerumeno – The False Faces

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Utawarerumono is one of the shows I’m carrying over… and I’m enjoying it about as much as Haku up there is.  The first half was largely wall-to-wall weaksauce harem antics that spoiled a show I was initially very interested in.  The teaser for the second half promised that things would get more interesting, with a foreign army invading.  That has happened… but it’s not saving this show.  The episodes are largely about the 8 Pillar Generals of Yamato utterly destroying the invading force, while Haku and the girls sort of wander around the battlefield aimlessly.  I’m still not even sure why Haku is the lead of this show, but the generals were if anything worse.  They’re so overpowered it’s hard to muster the slightest emotion for them.  For example:

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Those two dudes in the foreground are talking about the army arrayed in front of them.  They’re not saying that ironically, and there isn’t an army of their own behind them.  They literally run down there and kill 3,000 enemy soldiers each without breaking a sweat.  Another time, someone gets close to hitting one of them, and they reflexively strike back with a special move that cleaves the enemy in two – along with an entire mountain behind him.  How am I supposed to care about any of these people?  At least the latest episode as of this writing (4) has added some interesting plot elements, but I’d be surprised if the show can deliver on them.

Watch Utawarerumeno – The False Faces on Crunchyroll

GATE

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Another carry-over (this one from farther back than the Fall cour), another disappointment.  GATE started with the interesting premise of a modern military force invading a swords and sorcery medieval land, with a surprising amount of realism.  It also added a small harem of girls for the main character that slowly seemed to eat up more of each episode with their antics.  These two forces are tearing the show apart.

The show has doubled down on being gritty, with rape and other sexual elements getting a lot more focus (probably drawing on the popularity of similar elements in Game of Thrones).  The political and social dynamics between Japan and the fantasy empire are also getting more play.  And then the show will cut to Isami (the military protagonist) going off on a quest surrounded by his harem, or having to fend off Princess Pina (top image), or we’ll have a bunny girl do a dance for the camera.  The show is trying to take itself seriously… and also have standard anime fanservice / hi-jinks too.  Spoilers: It’s not working.

Watch GATE on Crunchyroll

Heavy Object

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Heavy Object just… keeps on doing its thing, as the third of my carry-overs (Man, my carry-overs are kinda garbage, aren’t they?).  Carefully compartmentalized fanservice, and then nonstop action while the foot soldiers find another clever way to outsmart the ridiculous Objects.  The quality has remained decent, and the tactics / scenarios for the show’s 2-3 episode mini-arcs are always different.  As before, not a good show, but watchable if you’re in the market for some big dumb action.

Watch Heavy Object on Hulu

Norn9

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The first of the new shows I’m following, and overall pretty solid, Norn9 is certainly a pretty large jump up from Heavy Object.  It’s a reverse-harem show (in case the top image didn’t clue you in), which isn’t normally my thing, but the plot elements are strong enough that I found myself intrigued, despite the hunk squad.

The show is set in an alternate-timeline late-19th century Earth.  The technology level (trains, dreadnought warships) is what you’d expect… but the futuristic orbiting ship that oversees and manages the disparate nations at the behest of an organization called The World is not.  The ship itself is high tech, but in obvious disrepair, its only crew being those with supernatural abilities that the ship (or The World) has chosen (and none of those abilities are “future-tech repair”).  They’ve been chosen to use their powers to help maintain peace on Earth, but to what end only The World seems to know.  The nations of Earth, meanwhile, resent this control, and have started agitating and militarizing to fight against it.  On top of all that, there is a traitor among the supernaturally gifted on board who is working with outsiders to bring the ship down.

In short, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on, and you’ll notice I haven’t said one word yet about the characters individually or their genders.  It’s a strong premise even before we get to the reverse-harem part of the equation.  It’s certainly there, though, with a young girl being brought up to the ship and having to learn why she’s been called up and who the others are.  They are a crew of 9 guys and, surprisingly, 2 other girls, which makes for a more balanced cast than I was expecting.  Each of the characters has a different relationship with the others, and seemingly everyone has a tragic backstory going on that they’re keeping hidden, so there’s plenty for our heroine to do to help them open up and work together.  I’m interested to see where it’s going, and it’s the first show on this list I actually recommend.

Watch Norn9 on Hulu

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Grimgar is a bit of mixed bag, but so far the positives are greatly outweighing the negatives.  A group of teenagers suddenly appears out of a tower in a swords and sorcery fantasy world.  They are quickly drafted as Volunteer Soldiers and formed into a standard RPG adventuring party to go and keep the various monsters that live nearby under control.  It’s clear from their dialogue that they’re from our world in the present day (they all have amnesia about where they came from), immediately setting off alarm bells about another kids-trapped-in-a-MMORPG anime… but they don’t focus on that part almost at all, and it seems like they’re really in the world instead of logged in at a terminal somewhere.  It seems like the reason the show’s writers did it this way was so they could have a group with modern-day sensibilities get formed without having to explain where they came from or why they had never met before.  It gives them a clean slate to start from, without any worry about backstory, I suppose.

It’s kind of an odd description, but the show seems to basically be a slice-of-life about an RPG party.  There is combat, and it is very well-done, but the focus really seems to be on the group dynamics and what it would be like to live this way.  Six strangers sharing a run-down compound away from town, spending more time cooking, mending clothes, and talking than fighting monsters.  The visual style of the show, in which everything has a kind of soft watercolor feel (much like the top image), complements this feeling and is another of the show’s big draws.  The show really focuses on the difficulty of surviving with such a lifestyle, where the group has to go and kill monsters to survive.

This is another of the show’s major aspects, and what really drew me to it.  Combat is a brutal, difficult affair, not the sort of romp you’d expect in an RPG-themed show.  Many characters have commented that “no living things wants to die”, and the enemies they fight prove this point well.  The party starts off about as weak as you might expect for six modern-day teenagers trying to use swords, bows, and magic (with about 10 days training), and it takes six of them to fight a single goblin in a visceral battle that no one involved enjoys and which leaves them exhausted and emotionally drained.  I definitely want to see where they take this aspect of the show.

Tempering my enthusiasm is the show’s very… Heavy Object-esque approach to fanservice.  Most of the show will be dialogue, maybe some combat, exploration, or even just quiet contemplation of the scenery.  Then, for maybe 1 or 2 minutes, it will be fanservice time, with one of the girls fondling the other, or the lewdest of the male characters trying to climb into the bath or something.  It comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly, and it’s… jarring, honestly.  It’s like they weren’t sure how to have some of the characters interact, so they fell back on Anime Default Behavior.  It’s really the major thing holding this show back from greatness, sadly, but the show is still well worth the watch so far.

Watch Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash on Hulu or Funimation

Mobile Suit GUNDAM – Iron-Blooded Orphans

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This show, the last of my carry-overs, continues to be simply top-notch every single episode.  I would consider it tied with the entry that comes after this one as my top show.  Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans always has something new and interesting going on with its plot, alongside strong characters that continually develop.  The mech battles are not great in number, but make a huge impact when they do occur, with incredible animation quality and interesting scenarios.  Definitely watch this one if you haven’t already.

Watch Mobile Suit GUNDAM – Iron Blooded Orphans on Crunchyroll

Erased / Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi

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My top pick so far this season (tied with Gundam) is Erased.  It’s a modern day(-ish) drama that delivers the goods on both strong plot developments and strong characters.  The show quickly establishes that its protagonist has the strange ability to go back short distances in time to prevent people from being injured or killed.  The problem is, he doesn’t control the ability at all, and preventing the injury is almost a compulsion once he goes back, making it almost more of a curse.  He’ll notice something is out of place, and then -bam- it’s 10 minutes ago and he has to figure out what’s going wrong and what has to be changed.

The show is so good that I don’t want to spoil too much, but (minor spoilers ahead) episode 1 ends with him being sent back much, much farther than usual – to his grade school self, tasked (he thinks) with preventing a series of grisly kidnappings and murders.  Now, as a young boy with the wisdom of his 20-something grown up self, and the knowledge that the murders are coming up soon, he must figure out how to change the past to prevent them.

What really draws me to the show, beyond just the interesting premise, is the strength of the characters and the serious tone of the show.  This isn’t a supernatural powers fighting anime – the time travel element is just the setup for a spectacularly well-written drama that is at turns heartwarming and chilling.  While there are plenty of scenes of kids talking and having fun, the show doesn’t shy away from darker elements, like child abuse or the impending murders.  Every episode I watched, I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.  It’s a show with broad appeal, so if you pick up only one show this season (and mecha shows aren’t your thing), this is the one I recommend.

Watch Erased on Crunchyroll


 

DAN

Unlike the madman above me, I’ve chosen to only follow two shows this season. Time is precious with Genericon right around the corner, and this cour hasn’t provided a lot to chew on. In fact, I ended up cutting my planned list in half thanks to the disappointing turnout this season.

I was originally planning to follow the continuation of GATE, but the sudden and gratuitous tone-shift in the first episode of the new cour scorched any such thoughts from my mind. I also gave Dimension W a try, but after the first two episodes, I was pretty sure I didn’t care for it. The forced fanservice featuring the android girl confirmed my suspicions early in episode 3, so that was another show off the table.

Without further ado, here are my initial impressions for this season.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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This is the show of the season that I can see becoming either remarkably good or disappointingly bad. Grimgar has some great visuals and take an interesting look at its subject matter, which is encouraging. However, it can’t quite seem to shake some of the issues of its genre, and its choice in music leaves me a bit befuddled.

Grimgar takes place in a fantasy world in which a group of young people have awoken with no memory of their previous lives. Since the nearby town doesn’t take too kindly to freeloaders, they each join a different adventurers’ guild and form an RPG-style party to hunt monsters and earn some cash. This is far harder than it may sound, and the team struggles to make a profit and simply stay alive.

Besides the remarkably beautiful backgrounds (which remind me a bit of Odin Sphere in their painterly style), I like that the show focuses a lot on the down-time between questing. Our protagonists aren’t adventurers for the fun of it – they need money for food, clothing and small comforts to keep them sane. I find it easy to empathize with someone whose shortcut to happiness is a new pair of underpants.

Between desperate fights and coping with the violence their job requires, we get a lot of time to see our protagonists in their off-hours, and it rounds them out nicely. Their lack of memories limits the storytelling potential a little bit at the start, but they’re all distinct and I’m interested in what happens to them. Except for Ranta. That punk can get sat on by an ogre.

What concerns me most about Grimgar is its inconsistent tone. The show does a fine job shifting from laid back but subtly desperate daily life and intense battles, but it’s always got its finger on the fanservice trigger and is ready to fire it off at a moment’s notice. The shirt-averse leader of the Thieves’ Guild and the camera’s on-again, off-again love affair with Yume’s backside are distracting and unnecessary, and the lack of more overt hijinx makes them stand out even more. On top of this, the choice of music used for the show’s dramatic moments never seems right to me. As of episode 4, a dire and emotional moment is hobbled by whiny J-pop, and it just kills the sense of drama for me. Others may be more open to it, but it rubs me up the wrong way.

So far, Grimgar is interesting enough for me to keep going, and I hope that it lives up to its potential as an alternative to the growing glut of “kids trapped in an MMO” shows that have been coming out these last few years. If it can resolve its fanservice issues and maybe find some more appropriate music, I think it could turn out to be remarkably good. Hopefully it won’t become just another light novel-based show that sputters out against other, more popular series.

Watch Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash on Hulu or Funimation

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Winter2016_Showa

For me, this is definitely the series to watch this season. Showa takes place during its eponymous era in the mid-to-late 20th century, and initially follows Yotarou; a criminal fresh out of jail and looking to get a new start as a rakugo storyteller. After a rocky start, his new master agrees to keep training him if the young man will listen to the story of his life.

In case any of that was confusing, let me take a moment to explain some of the key points. Rakugo is a form of traditional one-man show where the storyteller plays the entire cast of a short story. It was especially popular during the Showa period (1926-1989), and it is in this time period that our story is set. Yotarou’s master tells of his childhood and the struggles he and his friend/rival faced during and after World War II. It’s a fascinating look into a somewhat obscure style of performance that I knew nothing about prior to picking up this show.

So far, Showa has been a great character drama focusing on the life of an aspiring artist and how he is affected by the changing world around him. The cast is engaging and varied, and since most of the story is being told autobiographically, there’s an overhanging sense of dramatic irony based on what we know about the narrator’s past. The added benefit of watching him and other storytellers perform in such a novel way is just one more element that makes the tale entertaining.

Showa has been a surprise treat to watch for its first four episodes, and I’m keen to see where it goes from here. It’s a novel and compelling departure from the more popular scifi/fantasy/high school fare out there. That said, it can be rather slow-paced, and I know that as someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, I’m not getting the full experience. Even so, if you’re even a little bit interested in 20th-century Japanese history and culture, this is a series you’ll want to try out.

Watch Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju on Crunchyroll


 

SUSHMA

I have chosen to drop Utawarerumono – The False Faces because the show makes me ill on a special level. It’s seemingly going nowhere and I hate just about everyone. That being said, I am following four shows in addition to our Rolling Review choice: Active Raid.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Showa_Winter2016

Can you spell awesome?! Showa is a period piece about the Japanese theater art known as “Rakugo”. From what I have discerned (because I want to see how much the show can teach me) Rakugo a “one man story reading” with acting involved. The actor involved memorizes a story in its entirety and then tells it to the audience while acting out all the characters and using simple props to make sounds like “knocking on a door”. The stories come in all flavors from comedy to tragedy to erotica.

Showa follows the lives of two young men, Sukeroku and Yakumo. The former is a street urchin with no parents and the later is a son of a rich family. Yakumo has a leg injury that forces him to quit dancing and is dumped at a family friend’s house to learn Rakugo. This is where their story begins…

The paragraph above however is not the only story. The narrative also has a piece in the present where a delinquent gets out of jail and wants to learn Rakugo from the now world famous Yakumo.

What I love about Showa is how gorgeous and fascinating it is. I know zilch about Rakugo, yet when I watch this show I am pulled in 100% to the world of Japanese theater and have become so invested in the lives of these young men (and women…but no spoilers for you!) in a span of four episodes. The only downside is that the show heavily relies on you understanding Japanese language verbal inflection. As someone who cannot fully appreciate this show I feel sad I can’t get all that the authors intended. That being said this show is phenomenal so far and I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

Watch Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju on Crunchyroll

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Grimgar is a surprise. When I watched it I was 100% convinced I had walked into another Sword Art Online.

A bunch of kids wake up in a mysterious building and have no memories of who they were before. The world they wake up to is called Grimgar, and it’s straight outta any JRPG you’ve every played. All the kids are forced to join the Volunteer Soldier Unit and then they are left to themselves to survive by killing monsters, selling goods and learning trades. Welcome to the world of Grimgar!

When we begin our party of 5 known only as… “the losers”… has been together for a few days. I call these guys the losers because in a flashback we see that they ended up coming together because all the “stronger” people wandered off to form parties. We meet Ranta (the dark knight and creeper dude extraordinaire), Manato (healer guy and ultra nice dude), Shihoru (Mage and I’ve gotta rack but I’m too shy), Yume (Hunter and I don’t gotta rack but I’m not shy), and Haruhiro (Thief and I’m totally an old man). We watch as the team learns to work together, fight together, and mostly just… survive Grimgar.

One of the most amazing things about the show is how much effort it puts into having you appreciate the simple things in life. In the beginning, the team is barely able to take one one goblin. After months the team can sorta handle three. They starve, they reuse their clothes until they shred, and they fail… a lot. When the team finally earns enough money that Haruhiro can afford underwear I was cheering right along with him.

It’ll be interesting to see how this show pans out. If nothing else the art for the backgrounds in this show is….STUNNING….

Grimgar02_Winter2016

Watch Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash on Hulu or Funimation

Erased / Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi

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This show is simply the best. Every week I sit and wait with baited breath to see what will happen next.

Satoru Fujinuma has the pain-in-the-butt (in his opinion) ability to go back in time for a few minutes and prevent something bad from happening. He does this grudgingly (and because he’s a good guy and doesn’t know it yet) but one day a massive tragedy happens in his life and his power takes him back to when he was…10….

Wow…this show is just extraordinary. It’s beautiful, it’s cruel, and its well crafted narrative forces you hang on every detail and every word. Satoru sets out to save a girl in his class who was murdered back when he was 10. Every step of the way you sit and wonder how he’s going to do this and how the outcome in his future is going to change. The show gives you lots of options for outcomes and many characters seem to know more than they let on. The entire thing is a glorious ride and I CANNOT WAIT to see how it all plays out!

Watch Erased on Crunchyroll

Myriad Colors Phantom World

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Do you ever ask yourself, “Why did I just watch this?!” That’s what’s happening as I watch Phantom World. In the description of the show, it stated something like “but these teens have yet to discover the true secret of their world”. Remember that line…

Phantom World… is dumb. Phantoms exist in the world and people can see them now because a virus broke out that messed with everyone’s mind and let them see the phantom dimension. Don’t worry, most phantoms just want to float around and stuff. They only cause trouble sometimes. Oh yeah… and teenagers have superpowers now… or something…

Haruhiko and his friend Mai are part of the Phantom Hunting Club. They run around trying to stop bad phantoms from ruining everyday citizens’ problems. Mostly, they just end up in doofy situations. Oh yeah… and they recruit other teenagers with superpowers (of course!!!).

Really, what I’m here for is that one line I told you to remember. This whole show is bonkers and the phantoms these teens fight are, well… just kinda silly and nonsensical. What is the mystery behind this world?! I want to know and I am gonna watch this dumb show till the end, GOSH DARN IT!!

Watch Myriad Colors Phantom World on Crunchyroll

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2 thoughts on “Winter 2016 – The Season so Far

  1. I feel you guys here.
    I actually already dropped Norn9 because nothing happened in so many episodes.
    Utawarerumono is disappointing, and I am dying for the original cast to come back for real. The short time where Oboro and the rest of the old gang came on the screen was a favorite.
    Phantom World is “yikes” and I have hope for Gate to get better.
    Grimgar is one of my favorites when I am watching the episodes. It is so beautiful and the character interactions are truly delightful. Sometimes parts of this show piss me off (especially the misplaced sexual content), but otherwise it is a winner.
    Rakugo is one of the most charming series I have ever seen and I love it. It has few technical issues that are easily drowned in its unique characters and striking charm.
    Erased is one of the best technically put together series. I really like it so far, especially Satoru’s dialogues. The use of subtleness is especially great.
    Another one I love this season is Ajin. Kei is way different than Kaneki and Shinichi because he doesn’t really change (that does not mean there isn’t character development. It is really interesting and if you can get over the CGI, then this series will probably be a huge hit.

    Like

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