Spring 2016 – The Season in Review

The spring anime season of 2016 has finally ended, and as we start up our summer shows, it’s time to look back on the other shows we followed these last few months.

SCOTT

This season had quite the variance in quality from the worst show to the best, and I took the time to put my many thoughts on it here.  Long did I labor, but how sweet the result!  Indeed, it was as if my words were crafted by the angels themselves.  How privileged you, dear reader, would be to read them!

And then WordPress ate every single word I had written.  When I returned to this post to do a last check, all that remained was the template.  Well, divine guidance isn’t something you can whip up on command, and I refuse to give in to whatever evil robots destroyed my post by trying to reconstruct the whole thing.  So instead, please enjoy these one-sentence thoughts on each show, in ascending order of my enjoyment.

Seisen Cerberus no Fatalities

Seisen Ceberus dog 3
Image presented without explanation.

A predictable show that predictably ended, with no lead-up or payoff to its conclusion.

Watch it on Crunchyroll.  Turn your brain off first.

Joker Game

Joker Game 2
This man gives me a chill whenever he’s on screen.

A wholly vignette-based look at spycraft prior to WWII, it’s competently executed but lacking in soul.

Watch it on Crunchyroll.  Just don’t try to follow any of the characters.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

Kabaneri

Looks good, but fails to execute on an interesting premise by taking us down an extremely well-trod road towards its conclusion.

Watch it on Amazon Prime Instant Video, mostly for the cool action scenes.

Uchuu Patrol Luluco

Luluco

This show never slowed down, always left me smiling, and also crosses over with pretty much every other Trigger property, which is awesome.

Watch it on Crunchyroll. The bite-sized episodes are just right.

Kiznaiver

Kiznaiver

A deep character-driven drama, proving once again that Studio Trigger excels at seemingly whatever genre they put their mind to.

Watch it on Crunchyroll, and settle in for a great story.

Flying Witch

Flying witch 3

A charming, calming slice of life with just a touch of magic, this is the perfect show to relax and smile with.

Let this show slow down your life on Crunchyroll.


Dan

This season was about as varied as any I’ve watched so far. There was some good, some mediocre, and a few disappointments. At least it was incredibly varied in terms of setting, theme and genre, so I didn’t feel too bored most of the time. Now watch me make myself a liar and tell you about one of the boring shows I watched, namely…

Bakuon!!

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Ah, Bakuon!!, you miserable little thing. A thing that didn’t even have the creativity to be hilariously bad. Instead, it boasted a few legitimate laughs and moments of teeth-grinding fanservice that punctuated a remarkably boring show. Unless you’re really into motorcycles or can’t get enough of high school girls with the collective charm of a damp ferret, I can’t see anything appealing in this show.

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This statement presented without comment, because what could I possibly add to that?

To it’s credit, Bakuon!! did make me chuckle once or twice. Outside of that, there’s really not a lot to recommend. There’s a huge spike in fanservice during episode 4 that comes out of nowhere, and the pervy eyecatch shots make it clear that the show isn’t shy about pimping out its cast, but the rest of it is pretty tame. So without… I suppose we’ll say “competent” fanservice or comedy, what does a show like this have left? It’s certainly not likable characters or engaging stories of friends bonding over mutual interests. Even the technical stuff about the bikes is delivered halfheartedly and doesn’t have enough humor or genuine interest

So yeah, that’s Bakuon!!. I expected to dislike it more than I did, but by the end, I just couldn’t dredge up the energy to be that upset with it. It’s a show that feels like it’s checking boxes on the moe bingo card but never manages to finish a row. What few laughs it provides aren’t worth the rest of the drudgery, so I’ll leave you with one of the few standouts: Motorcycle-Jesus slapping a high schooler for ragging on his Harley pin-up mag.

Spring2016_Bakuon!!_03.jpg
That sure was a thing that happened

Final Verdict – NOT RECOMMENDED (Who’d have thought?)

Don’t bother watching Bakuon!! on Crunchyroll. It will just make you sad.

Joker Game

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Joker Game is a series with high production values, a rarely-explored setting, and yet no real soul. Each episode presents a different espionage scenario in which the members of D Agency, Japan’s elite spy ring, try to stay one step ahead of their counterparts while providing crucial intelligence during the buildup to World War II. The spy-craft is fun to watch, and the locations are as varied as any James Bond flick would be, ranging from a classic long-distance train to pre-war London and Berlin.

In spite of all the variety, I didn’t often feel very engaged by the story. Besides learning more about the admittedly badass commander of D Agency, there is no overarching plot nor long-term consequences for most of the episodes. The few episodes where the agency’s plans go awry are easily the best, as it actually puts pressure on the operatives to improvise and find clever ways around their problems while maintaining their cover. Unfortunately, the spies are so much more skilled and prepared than their opponents in most situations that it often feels like we’re the bumbling Watson trying to keep up with Holmes.

Not helping matters is a cast that is almost entirely interchangeable. While this makes some sense since they’re all effectively playing roles, it doesn’t make for a gripping cast. Besides the aforementioned head of the agency, the only other character I truly enjoyed watching was Lt. Sakuma, the former soldier who is barely tolerated by his fellow agents. However, the lack of a central viewpoint and a scattershot approach to storytelling (not to mention an extremely abrupt ending with no hint of follow-up) leaves the show wanting more. Joker Game isn’t bad by any means, but it just doesn’t quite make the cut for me to recommend it. Give it a try if you’re hankering for period spy drama, but be warned that you’re in for a pretty dry and clinical experience.

Final Verdict – AMBIVALENT

Watch Joker Game on Crunchyroll

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri)

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Kabaneri, you beautiful disaster. From the start, I was concerned that this show would be little more than a reskin of Attack of Titan, but it turned out worse than that. For all its visual quality early on, solid action scenes and its strong sense of overblown drama, I was hoping to get a decent popcorn show to enjoy without too much thought. Unfortunately, almost everything about Kabaneri‘s story, characterization and script started out goofy and got dumber and dumber as the show progressed.

The plot stops making sense about halfway through when it ceases to be about the desperate survival of train-bound refugees and introduces Biba, the heroic estranged son of the Shogun who may as well have unfurled a banner saying “I’m really a villain” the moment he stepped into view. His actions drive the plot from there on, as he kills thousands of innocent people for no gain, yet is portrayed as a tragic figure. Mumei vacillates between snarky ass-kicker and gullible sap, finally becoming a damsel in distress and never once earning an ounce of sympathy. Ikoma, once made interesting by his focus on knowledge and technology, becomes a single-minded doofus who eventually becomes so overpowered that the final fight between him and Biba may as well never have happened.

The last episode of the show perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the series; mainly its reliance on spectacle over sense and total breakdown of setup and pacing. While the show plays out at a speedy but reasonable clip for awhile, by the end it’s cramming so much stuff in there that I’m pretty certain they never showed how they managed to save one of the main characters, despite having foreshadowed it earlier. On top of that, they pile contrivance upon contrivance, creating an elaborate escape scene that was both unecessary and nonsensical. I cannot do justice to how stupid their plan for getting the heroes back on the train after the ultimate battle was, but let’s just say I would have expected it out of Wile E. Coyote.

Kabaneri is a series that feels like it could have worked, given more care and a firmer setting. Stretching out the series to a full 24 episodes or so would have given the characters time to grow and establish real personalities, rather than acting purely as the plot demands and playing idiot-ball with important plot points. Whether or not that would’ve helped the atrocious story is a different matter. It’s pretty clear to me that Wit studios operates on the same logic as many Michael Bay movies: throw enough action and explosions at the audience and hope they don’t notice that the rest of the show is only so much cardboard. I’m disappointed, and only surprised at how hard a potentially entertaining show fell.

Final Verdict – NOT RECOMMENDED

Don’t bother with Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri) on Amazon Prime Instant Video

The Lost Village (Mayoiga)

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The two words people keep coming back to when I read their descriptions of The Lost Village are “wasted potential”, and I have to agree with them. The show starts off with some promise, placing a bunch of social outcasts and runaways together in a mysterious village, ostensibly to create their own society (or, more likely, get murdered by some ancient death-curse). Instead, the show reveals that the village creates manifestations of the visitors’ past traumas, representing abusers, phobias and personal demons. While not what I had expected, this could still have been interesting if the characters were more interesting than a wet stack of cardboard.

To be fair, I did start to warm up to some of the characters after a while. I liked the detective-like Nanko and the aggressive but responsible Valkana, if only because they were the only ones trying to figure things out while the others just bumbled around and jumped on witch hunting within hours of meeting each other. The vast majority of the huge cast has a single character trait per person, and while some of their traumas add a little depth to the character, an equal number are flat out stupid. The one that sticks in my mind is the survivalist who grew up wanting to become an elite soldier and tried to cheat the height requirement by having silicon injected into his head. His manifested trauma (or nanaki) is a giant disembodied breast implant. Let that roll around in your head for a minute, then consider that someone decided this would make for good television. Don’t even get me started on the screeching harpy that constantly screams about execution like her word-of-the-day calendar got stuck on it.

The real nail in the show’s coffin comes when it becomes apparent that none of the characters were ever really in any danger. The building horror elements turn out to be red herrings, and whenever it looks like someone may have actually been harmed by their nanaki, it turns out they just fell down a cliff or something. Any moral or statement about people being the real monsters is lost, and the only lesson we get is, “embrace your trauma or it will consume you.” Not a bad message, but hardly one that requires a cast of 30+ witless yahoos to explain.

Final Verdict – NOT RECOMMENDED

Watch The Lost Village on Crunchyroll if you enjoy seeing a bunch of feckless gadabouts fail at everything they set out to do.

Kiznaiver

Spring2016_Kiznaiver02.jpg

While not without its flaws, Kiznaiver was definitely the stand-out show of the season for me. Trigger attempted to make a focused drama that relied more on its story and characters than on the studio’s well-known animation chops, and it paid off. Once our cast is introduced, we gradually learn more about the events that led to them being bonded through their wounds, and the connections between the aloof Noriko and unfeeling Katsuhira.

Even though the animation isn’t as central to the show as it was in Kill la Kill, Kiznaiver still looks fantastic. Its characters are instantly identifiable and amazingly expressive, which is backed up by a solid voice cast and some very funny deadpan moments. The cast has an array of distinct personalities, and they’re all fun to watch. I even found myself enjoying Niko’s nutty antics, thanks to her charisma and the fact that the rest of the group helps balance her out.

While I liked the characters, I wish there had been more depth to them. The show makes it clear early on that the cast is made up of archetypal anime roles, but doesn’t drill down far enough with most of them to get the most out of their charm. With the exception of Honoka, who gets the lion’s share of exploration and growth, we don’t see a lot of variety from the main characters. Again, the show’s boldness and charisma kept me interested enough that I didn’t mind it at the time, but looking back on it, I would have rather had a slower-moving 24 episode series to really deconstruct the characters and spread out their development.

Kiznaiver is a beautiful show and a welcome effort by Trigger to branch out and not get pigeonholed into over-the-top action. With a bit more time and depth, it could have been an awesome character drama. As it stands, it’s still better than most, and has the personality and aesthetic presence to make me overlook its weaknesses. Definitely check it out if you like big emotions and bizarre circumstances.

Final Verdict – RECOMMENDED

Check out Kiznaiver on Crunchyroll


Sushma

Bakuon!!

Spring2016_Bakuon_Final

Well, I won the battle, but Dan won the war. Bakuon!! is pretty terrible. The first four episodes are genuinely fun, albeit stupid fun, and the girls all establish their character tropes and play off each other nicely. Episode 5 hits and you end up feeling ill, as it features various moments straight out of softcore pornography played for laughs (ugh….). The episodes that follow meander neither here nor there without purpose and the whole show just seems to drag.

The biggest detriment is that all the girls are quite literally caricatures of a concept or motorcycle manufacturer. There’s Suzuki Girl, Yamaha Girl, the Kawasaki Ninja Stig, Rich Bitch, Racer, and of course…the Moron. I’m sorry Honda…for all the other girl’s character failings, you got the worst in the bunch to represent you. Sakura Hane (seen in the picture above) is so dumb I genuinely felt like I should put her out of her misery at certain points in the show.

I stated it above but to elaborate, there really is no plot. The girls go touring in Hokkaido, they talk about the same bikes endlessly, Motorocycle Jesus shows up sometimes and in the end turns out to be a pervert, and in one episode the girls ride bicycles instead of motorcycles because Hane is having a fever dream or something. I list it all out in this way with no explanation because quite frankly…that’s how it’s done in the show.  Nothing that ever happens matters and I’m sure in a season or so I’ll forget this show entirely. It isn’t charming enough to be a fun “cute girls doing cute things” and it has some really creepy moments which are outright facepalm inducing.

As a last note I feel the need for a huge spoiler because this idea might get you curious enough to watch the show. You never figure out what Raimu-sempai looks like under her helmet…never. Avoid this show.

If for some reason you are THAT MORBIDLY CURIOUS, you can watch Bakuon!! on Crunchyroll.

Macross Delta

Spring2016_MDelta_Final

Macross Delta has revealed itself to be 26 episodes which lets me breathe a sigh of relief. The show opened up so many mysteries, and I was concerned that it was going to try and cram explanations in at Mach Speed to explain it all. Thankfully that is not the case.

This show is a mixed bag of minor silly antics and classic Macross space war drama. The love triangle has been established (or REAAAAALY hinted at), the conflict has been opened, and our heroes (and heroines!) are on their way to engage in real war for the next 13 episodes (or so I predict). What’s been tough with Macross Delta is how inconsistent the war drama has been. Many of the battles in the early stages of the show were essentially for character growth moments. Lead characters Mirage, Hayate and Freyja had to learn about themselves, or experience killing a person for the first time, or understand that her power activates best when a loved one is in danger. It all made for very mundane storytelling.  The only fun part was listening to the insanely catchy JPop songs sung by Walküre.

That being said I am interested in the mysteries the show is setting up. Lead singer of Walküre, Mikumo has some connection to the omnipotent God creatures known as “Protoculture”, the Windermearans (who declared war on the Galactic Nation) clearly have a vendetta against mankind for messing with the Protoculture (Folken, anyone?), and the secret behind the Windermearan “Wind Singer” (who is male) are all spinning around. I find this show to be exciting each week since things got (mostly) serious and I hope the plot delivers in the next cour. Some more character development wouldn’t hurt either, so here’s to believing it will all work out!!

Kiznaiver

Spring2016_Kiznaiver_Final01

Kiznaiver was the show of the summer for me. I didn’t care that we didn’t get a clear cut explanation about why a bunch of teens are bonded by pain. Science has done a lot of crueler things for ideals far less humanitarian than “World Peace”.

Trigger had me guessing through most of the season. Surprisingly I was good at guessing backstories for characters, but there was no way I could have predicted how the show was going to jump around or the skill with which the writers moved everyone on screen to face difficult things. I have a deep respect for character driven storytelling. It’s hard and it’s detail oriented, and it takes a person who’s willing to explore REAL human emotions.

That segways me nicely into what I loved about Kiznaiver. The show drilled deep into things like sexual identity, love, and body image. It also gave us the understanding that some people are plain weird…just because!  Characters felt such deep emotional pain and at every moment Trigger made sure you were along for the ride. The show pulls in upper level ideas about the necessity of pain, the fear of experiencing emotions, and how to unite a bunch of people who are masking their struggles in life. If I had to say one negative thing about this show it’s that its ending comes a bit too fast. It could have used one more episode.

Every character, all the emotions, heartbreak, and twists made this a breakout of the summer for me. I highly encourage it.

Spring2016_Kiznaiver_Final02

Watch Kiznaiver on Crunchyroll.  Remember…Friendship is like Soy Sauce, the omnipotent seasoning

Sailor Moon Crystal Season III

Spring2016_SMCrystal_Final

Sailor Moon Crystal made great efforts to win back fans this season as it brought back the 90’s style of animation for Sailor Attacks and transformation sequences. I think the season ended on a half and half note. I felt like this season was the one that didn’t benefit from being long enough. Hotaru and Chibiusa forge a bond of friendship that’s deep enough to rival Marianna’s Trench in a span of two episodes and somehow we are supposed to buy into that. I do of course, because I know the source story but for someone new to the series, this is rather ridiculous looking and hard to believe.

The show upped the dark factor as Hotaru experiences some terrifying physical changes late in the season. This season actually merited the Y-14 rating Hulu is giving it. At the heart of this season though, was the relationship between all the Sailor Soldiers. This is where the half and half split in my opinion came in. The Outer Senshi are all fascinating because (1) They all have tragic destiny’s that they bear with grace and patience, (2) They introduce high level attacks which ups the power scale of the show and (3) Saturn is f*^&ing awesome.

In the 90’s version of Sailor Moon the show spent a lot of time letting Chibiusa bond with Hotaru, it let Haruka and Michiru have room to showcase their beautiful yet mythologically tragic romance, and it made the villains (Death Busters) freaking terrifying in the end. Crystal Season III cut a lot of that out in favor of a streamlined experience where the plot kept clipping along. In the end…the season felt…a little rushed and not quite as powerful as I expected.

Haruka and Michiru are heavily implied lovers and their relationship doesn’t get room to blossom for us viewers onscreen. There’s some exposition about how all the outer soldiers never meet but all that sadness and conflict is gone in a span of an episode so it matters very little in the end. The joining together of the Sailor Soldier team is fairly well done but that’s because they takes half a season to come together.

It pains me to say that the ending makes NO SENSE to someone who’s new to the series. When it happens it’s almost comical because of how unexplained it is.

All in all, I will follow Sailor Moon Crystal to the end but I think the writers need to look at not just adapting the source material, but diving into its meaning and purpose. I had a lot of fun moments with this season but it was definitely because I knew the story behind what was happening.  Sailor Moon has a lot of heart and it’s critical that the show strive to keep it in.   The artwork and storytelling are improving and let’s hope that’s a good sign for MORE SAILOR MOON!!!

Watch Sailor Moon Crystal Season III on Crunchyroll or Hulu.  Seriously do it…or I will Chastise you!


Brendan

Sadly, due to some shifts in my personal schedule that happened around the time of the mid-season impressions post, I’ve had to shelve Mayoiga and, as short as it is, Luluco, for the time being. Now that I’m about adjusted to my new normal I should be able to muster the time and attention I think they deserve, but right now I’ve got nothing. I did, however, make an effort to keep on top of the slower shows.

Kuma Miko

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Unfortunately, even though I was hoping to follow Kuma Miko to its conclusion, I got burned out on it around episode eight. I just wasn’t getting enough return for my investment. The middle third of the show is devoid of the oddball humor in episodes three and four which convinced me not to drop the show outright, and I couldn’t get invested in any of the characters.

Yoshio, for example – the young man from the neighborhood association who acts as their liaison to shrine staff Machi & Natsu – comes across as a blithe idiot who is basically oblivious to Machi’s feelings. Also to local biker girl Hibiki’s feelings, notably her feelings for him, which are themselves incomprehensible on account of aforementioned idiocy. The half-episode spent beating around that bush was agonizing.

Natsu, now, comes cross as a smug know-it-all. And I know that’s the joke – because he’s a bear, see, and it’s ironic that a bear would have a better grasp of technology and culture than a teenage girl – but what bothers me is that he can’t scrape together enough empathy or understanding to help Machi in any meaningful way even though they’ve both been each others’ closest friends for literally their ENTIRE LIVES. I don’t know how he can keep putting her through these relatively arduous exercises and still worry that the two of them are going to grow apart if she leaves for the city, because it looks to me like they grew apart long before story start.

As for Machi herself, well, I like to think that I find crippling social anxiety as funny as the next guy, but I just thought it got old. She’s too ignorant to be believable and too stubborn to be sympathetic, and I can’t keep watching her get thrown into the deep end by her jerk bear and that idiot Yoshio.

Final Verdict – meh

Watch Kuma Miko on Funimation. Or don’t. I’m not your boss.

Flying Witch

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Now THIS is my kind of anime. I’m a sucker for good slice-of-life and iyashi-kei anime, and, I assure you, Flying Witch – a show about teenage witch Makoto on an extended stay with her aunt’s family in the Japanese countryside – is as good as they come.

Refreshingly, the show’s characters are all stable, reasonable people. Makoto’s own poor sense of direction is perhaps the most exaggerated personality quirk on display, but it’s not overused as a gag (several slice of life shows suffer in my view from borderline mental illness played for comedy). The closest thing to a real complaint that I have against the show is that Makoto’s older sister Akane, who alternates between a well-traveled, enthusiastic magic teacher and the same kind of perpetual sleep engine that I myself become whenever I visit my parents’ house, also spends an uncomfortable amount her screen time getting sloshed. I mean, I know that A) alcohol occupies a different place in Japanese culture than it does my own, and B) I’m kind of a loser anyway, but I personally don’t think inebriation fits within the show’s overall tone. Thankfully, drunk magic never happens (well, not exactly), and the rest of Flying Witch is an eminently pleasant stroll through a rural town in a low contemporary fantasy (contemporary low fantasy?).

While the show explores the fantastic regularly, usually by way of Makoto and/or Akane introducing their young cousin Chinatsu to some charming entry-level witchery, it also includes several segments where Makoto, who presumably hails from a more urban environment, is herself introduced to life in Japan’s idyllic Aomori prefecture. As someone without a particularly close connection to the land, and who hasn’t used their kitchenette to prepare anything more complex than a bowl of oatmeal since the last blue moon, I was just as enthralled by the harvesting and cooking segments of the show as I was by the simple rituals and practical(?) magic of the world’s witches.

Every one of either of these kinds of endeavors is brimming with familial camaraderie, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Final Verdict – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Curl up with Flying Witch on Crunchyroll.

The season’s dark horse:

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless

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A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s place, and we were lazily flipping through his Crunchyroll appliance when I suggested, out of curiosity, that we roll the first episode of Tanaka-kun is Always Listless.

It was the best decision I made all month, and I wish I’d done it sooner.

The show’s title character is, of course, a supremely lethargic first-year high-schooler, who gets by with some help from his tall friend, Ohta (note: all names given here are surnames). Often, this help takes the very literal form of Ohta carrying Tanaka between classes. Of course, this gag and the guys’ friendly banter only goes so far in a vacuum, so I was very excited as the show gradually introduced several other interesting and amusing characters.

Short, hyper girl Miyano wishes to be taken seriously by adopting the kind of disinterested, mature-seeming look worn perpetually by Tanaka, but her natural energy comically prevents her from achieving true listlessness. Pseudo-delinquent Echizen is, in many ways, a tsun-dere in the same vein as Lucky Star’s Kagami Hiiragi – a relatively normal girl whose pride often causes her to reflexively project a gruff exterior – but she has her own identity and is the driving force behind some of the show’s most memorable moments. Perhaps most intriguing is Shiraishi, a former wallflower who decided to make drastic changes to her life upon entering high school and is still coming to terms with the stresses of maintaining an idol-like persona.

As with Flying Witch, this show manages a single minor complaint, which is that Tanaka-kun’s younger sister harbors some sort of strange bro-crush. It’s weird, though, because she doesn’t really seem affectionate – it mostly manifests as passive-aggression against his other friends. It’s not as creepy as it could be, certainly, and not enough to dissuade me from recommending this show to anyone who doesn’t mind (or, ideally, is particularly fond of) long, drawn-out punchlines in the style of Azumanga Daioh. Tanaka-kun can be a slow burn, but I found it a satisfying one.

Final Verdict – RECOMMENDED

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