Summer is here and the Con Artists have picked their shows to follow! Are you following any of the ones below? Read, enjoy and leave us a comment!
All right, this time is going to be different! This time, the Internet won’t eat my words. Take that, filthy robots! With that out of the way, my thoughts on the season are… mixed. Nothing this season is particularly great. On the other hand, I’m following seven shows. I guess the takeaway is that there are a lot of decent, but not spectacular, offerings. I’ll take them, as always, in ascending order of my enjoyment.
Before we get started, though, I should mention that I did check out the first episode of both Berserk and Qualidea Code… and dropped them immediately. While Qualidea Code is an utterly predictable kids-with-powers show from A-1 Pictures, Berserk is… just… tragic. 20 years of waiting for a continuation of the first show, and they completely blow it by choosing to create nearly the entire thing in the lowest-grade CG that money can buy, alongside framing and stylistic choices that baffle the mind. You deserved better, Guts.
I find it difficult now to go through a season without a show that helps me calibrate the bottom of the scale. Thank goodness Rewrite, the latest dating sim anime from Key, is here to help me out. I’ll admit at the outset to being at least somewhat intrigued by the show’s premise. On the surface, it’s the classic dating sim story of an everyman boy going to school and joining a club staffed entirely by attractive, trope-laden girls. And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that, and the usual low-jinx that accompany such a setup, to go around. But just behind the veil of normalcy, there’s something strange going on this seemingly present-day Japan setting.
Monsters, and those that hunt them, fight in the shadows. Select individuals (including the main character) possess supernatural abilities. Parallel dimensions occasionally get a lot more perpendicular. And over all of it, the sense that the main character knows that everything is just a little off, and that he might even partially be the cause. It’s definitely a mystery that I want to see solved… now if only it weren’t buried under painful cliché, scenes that were clearly forced in from the game without any sense of the tone or flow of the story, and a main character that makes you want to shake him, what with his inability to stay focused on a problem for longer than 5 seconds. Oh well, at least Colonel Sanders gets a cameo.
Find it on Crunchyroll, and decide for yourself if this is a mystery worth investigating.
Anime takes on the classic Prohibition-era mafia story… and does a pretty good job at it. Avilio, our protagonist, enters a mafia family war to get revenge on those who killed his parents. The fires of this war are merely burning embers at the outset, and he’ll have to work carefully to kill his targets while moving within this unfamiliar world. It’s a solid premise, and the show also delivers on its setting, which, from the outfits to the cars to the families, gets the feel of a Hollywood gangster movie right.
There are a couple of things holding the show back from greatness, however. The most obvious of these is Fango, a member of one of the feuding families. Sporting multicolored dyed hair and being a knife-licking sadist and masochist, he is flamboyantly out of place in an otherwise sober cast of adults. Unfortunately, the show devotes quite a bit of time to having him onscreen. The other is the sheer number of characters and their various relationships with each other, which are on display at full tilt almost immediately. It’s hard to get a sense of who’s who and who matters, something that will probably get worse once a third powerful family enters the fray.
I’ll make you an offer you can refuse if you want… on Crunchyroll.
Fukigen na Mononokean
This show starts off with an interesting premise – Abeno, the guy in the red up there, is the owner of a sort of pocket dimension called the Mononokean. This gives him the ability to send monsters back to their own world if they’ve wandered into ours and are causing trouble. He’s not very interested in helping people, though, and has a rather standoffish personality. Enter Ashiya, a kid in the same grade as Abeno, who has the rare ability to see monsters. In exchange for helping Ashiya with his own monster trouble (see image above), Ashiya agrees to work for Abeno to pay off the cost of the exorcism.
Ashiya, despite his nifty monstersight, is otherwise totally normal, however. He has a strong desire to help people, though, and tries to get Abeno to use his powers. This sets the stage for both character growth on the part of these two, and the opportunity to interact with a number of different monsters and situations. It’s a good setup, but the pacing and character interaction just haven’t quite clicked yet. Here’s hoping they get it right eventually.
Ahhhh! Real monsters! – On Crunchyroll.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Season 2
While we’re not following this show on the rolling review, I figured I would tag along on Prince Arslan’s journey and see how it turned out. The result so far… is more of the same as Season 1. A change in the political situation sets Arslan back to square one, being led and protected by his core team as he attempts to assemble an army and retake Pars. As before, The Heroic Legend of Narsus would have probably been a more apt name for the show, as the top image demonstrates. Narsus, once again, is the grand master of strategy, always able to make things turn out for the best and ensure no battle is ever lost.
Still, there’s a nice change in setting, the aforementioned political changes add a lot of depth to the overall plot, and the theme song hints at an enemy strategist of similar caliber to Narsus. There’s a lot here that could lift this show above its mediocre, if competently executed, first season. Come on, Arslan! This is the time to come into your own and start leading!
Watch Narsus defeat all comers on Funimation.
Planetarian – Chiisana Hoshi no Yume
Will wonders never cease? An anime adaptation of a decade-old Key visual novel isn’t something I had ever expected to see, but here we are. With five short-length episodes and a movie coming out this season, Planetarian is making quite the comeback, alongside last year’s re-release of the game on Steam. When it came out, I was a little curious, as many commenters strongly recommended it as “the best” visual novel Key had to offer. Having never “played” a visual novel, I figured I would start with the “the best” and judge accordingly. While my feeling on the game are probably worthy of their own review, it does at least put me in the position of having a good understanding of what’s going on in this anime.
Set in one of the bleakest post-apocalypses I’ve ever seen, the story follows an unnamed scavenger who comes across a functional service robot in a rooftop planetarium. Given the state of the world, this is practically a miracle, but it’s one the scavenger can do without – the robot can’t help him in any way, as the world she was created for no longer exists. Still, he finds himself drawn to her promise of seeing the stars, and takes a break from his constant battle for survival to live a brief, fleeting fantasy of what normal life had been like before the end.
The show is very faithful to its source material, and the animation is quite good. Whoever worked on this did justice to the transition from visual novel to the screen. The only real criticism that I can level against it is that it’s unclear, from the limited time we have in the show, how bad the apocalypse has been to the world (and therefore how precarious this chance meeting is). The visual novel could afford to devote pages of text to the crushing, brutal realities of human existence in this world, but the anime has to settle mostly for implying that things are bad without going into details. Other than that… it’s not clear how well the anime will be received by those who haven’t played the game. Readers – if you’ve never played the game (or even if you have), tell us what you think of this show.
Take a break from the aftermath of mankind’s final war on Funimation.
Amamaa to Inazuma
Kohei has it rough. With his wife recently deceased, he has to provide for and raise his young daughter Tsumugi while working as a teacher. Without any cooking skill of his own, every day is a parade of convenience store food or frozen meals, though he’s worried that Tsumugi is getting tired of it and might never get to have a real home-cooked meal. Fortunately for him, Kotori, a girl who attends his school, is also frequently without a parent at home. Her mother owns a (rarely open) restaurant, so Kotori invites her teacher and his daughter over to make and eat food. Together, they can keep each other company, improve their cooking, and enjoy dinner again.
Now here’s a show that could have gone so wrong in so many ways… and it not only has avoided every pitfall, it’s legitimately enjoyable to watch. Thus far, there is nothing creepy going on between the teacher and student, no fanservice, nothing but cooking, enjoying meals, and the various troubles of a student and a single father. That’s remarkable, and I dearly hope that it stays this way. As a bonus, the show focuses on the cooking to the degree that you as a viewer get a pretty good idea of how to cook the various dishes.
Put down that TV dinner and pick this up instead, on Crunchyroll.
Nejimaki Seirei Senki Tenkyou no Alderamin
On the subject of shows that could have gone disastrously wrong and haven’t yet, here’s Nejimaki Seirei Senki Tenkyou no Alderamin. It’s a show about Ikta, a young, brilliant tactician, trained to seeming perfection by his master… but he prefers to lounge around and sleep the day away. Fortunately for his nation (which is locked in a slow-burning war with a rival empire), Yatori, his childhood friend, is pulling him along as she joins the military. There, they team up with a diverse cast of characters just before a shipwreck strands them and the Third Princess of the empire behind enemy lines. Ikta’s legend as one of the greatest military minds of all time is set to begin.
Now, I’ll admit, just about everything I’ve written for that summary above should be setting off red flags for you. I actually picked this up expecting it to be in Rewrite’s place at the bottom of my list. Instead, it has consistently surprised me by avoiding the clichés and telling an engaging story. Is Ikta surrounded by beautiful ladies? Yes, but there’s little fanservice, they all act professionally, and the cast is overall fairly balanced gender-wise. Is “lazy guy who’s actually a genius” a tired setup? Oh, certainly, but they’ve given him a comprehensive backstory and motivation that makes it believable, and also intriguing. Did this happen?
Yes, it did, but stuff like this doesn’t get overused, and the characters are rapidly being developed. This show is the surprise of the season for me thus far; we’ll see if it can keep it together.
Watch this up-and-coming Narsus on Crunchyroll.
Holy crap, how did this season balloon to six shows (seven, counting Amanchu!)?! Mostly due to second seasons, which take up a solid third of my watch list, I suppose. Some of them are a bit dodgy, but the new stuff coming out this summer looks pretty sweet. Let’s run down what I’m currently watching and why.
After Bakuon!! failed to really angry up the blood, I’ve turned to NEW GAME!; a show about a high-school graduate named Aoba getting her first job as a videogame artist. She looks like a middle schooler, though since none of the “women” in this thing look like they’re past 17, why they bother pointing this out is a mystery (it’s totally not a mystery – they’re pandering). At its core though, it’s about the trials and tribulations of a young woman working in the Japanese games industry. Sounds like a fun little romp, eh?
Well, as someone who actually works as a game artist for a large studio, this one is ripe for the drubbing. I know the show is comedic and not meant to be taken seriously, but I take it as a professional insult. Let me break down the main things that bug me here:
- Aoba got a job at a mid-large game company… straight out of high school? In this economy?!
- None of her coworkers – not even her manager – appear to have met Aoba before her first day, so who the heck brought her on? Does her company not have interviews? Who’s managing this place?!
- Aoba’s company appears to be entirely staffed by women. Unless things are drastically different in Japan, this is probably the most unbelievable part of the show, and the one that makes it clear that this isn’t a show about people, but about pandering.* Every member of the art team and every single manager we’ve seen so far is female, and you can tell by the amount of lesbian pollen in the air that this is aimed squarely at dudes.
- On day one, Aoba is asked if she knows 3D modeling, and she responds that she only knows how to draw. Excuse me a moment… *insert table flipping gif here* Forget WHO hired you, HOW did they hire you?! You don’t get brought onto a job like this and then get told to learn how to DO THAT JOB! Are you the next Da Vinci? No? Then how the ding-dong daylights did you get hired for a job that involves a skillset you don’t have?!
Ah… there’s the righteous fury. Even ignoring Aoba’s circumstance, there’s the constant HR violations caused by her supervisor sleeping pants-less in the office and her director’s constant unwanted flirtation. For me, however, the worst moment comes when one of her coworkers pulls out a tea set. The moment that happens in one of these things is the moment the premise dies and it becomes snack time and meaningless chatter forever (thanks, K-On!, you miserable slag pile of a show). In any case, this is one show ending in an exclamation point that’s sure to give me all the fodder I need for the season.
*I’m not saying that an all-female game company is a bad concept. That on it’s own would be awesome, but it’s not what this show is about. The central goal isn’t to show women working in an awesome industry; it’s to trot out a bunch of shallow feminine caricatures while keeping any men out of sight so as to avoid alienating the waifu crowd.
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE!)
The first season of Cute High Earth Defense Club was a surprisingly funny and on-point riff on the magical girl/high school hero genre. The second season looks to continue this trend, introducing new villains as the previous antagonists and our heroes start to become friends. After a rocky start featuring some questionable humor, the show jumps back into its schtick with aplomb, showing off new and even more scandalous transformation sequences. While I enjoy the antics of the team’s alien wombat mascot, I kind of wish he let the gags speak for themselves rather than explaining them.
So far, Earth Defense Club looks to be carrying on as it began. The school banter is a little weak at times, but the actual not-magical girl stuff is still funny and energetic, and it gets a some hearty guffaws. As with the previous season, it’s probably better to watch with someone who has at least a passing familiarity with the shows it’s lampooning, and who doesn’t have a problem with shapely man-butts.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance (Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu)
I won’t deny that the first season of Arslan was a disappointment, but it still had aspects that I had fun with. The setting was refreshing, the characters diverse and the story grounded in elements of history that I enjoy. While it didn’t completely make up for the dodgy art and mediocre writing, I still felt it could be salvaged.
Season 2 of Arslan put its best foot forward at the start, giving us a Game of Thrones-style reintroduction to all of the cast and plotlines without resorting to a ton of flashbacks. The prince himself appeared to be taking on more responsibilities, leading his troops directly and setting policy. As things progress, Arslan is charged with taking on a new monumental task on his own, which had me excited to see how he would apply the lessons his companions had taught him over their long campaign…
Oh, what a fool I was. In less than half an episode, every single one of Arslan’s goon squad has rejoined him on his new quest, and all hope for genuine character growth and responsibility has flown away like a feather in a hurricane. It’s still very much the Narsus show at the strategic level, though based on the opening, it looks like that smug ubermensch is going to get some sort of rival that may actually challenge him, which I more than welcome. However, that same opening sent the camera rocketing inexplicably into Farangis’s nether regions, so I’m not sure how seriously I should take it.
I was cautiously optimistic after the first couple episodes, but as of the third, I’m watching it more for the sake of completeness than actual entertainment. I have no idea how they’re going to wrap everything up without slamming headfirst into their 8-episode limit. Outside of that, the art and music are serviceable, though I don’t expect their 3D animation to improve any time soon. Hey, at least it’s not the new Berserk.
I’m always intrigued by anime adaptations of traditionally American/European-style stories. There’s a fascinating cultural gap that has to be bridged for such things to work, and sometimes the results can be pretty awesome, such as in Gunsmith Cats or Black Lagoon. 91 Days takes a mafia revenge stories and plays it 100% straight, holding close to the formula of Hollywood mob movies that has endured for decades. The results are pretty solid, and I think I’m on board.
The story follows a young man who lost his family in a mafia power struggle. He grows up to become a bootlegger in a fictional city under Prohibition, and begins his quest to infiltrate and destroy the gang that took his loved ones. As setups go, it’s straightforward and simple, but the execution has been particularly nice so far. A lot of the details, like the close ties to religion, food and marriage, are spot-on with what you’d expect from an American gangster film, down to the title card looking suspiciously like the one from Scarface.
It’s possible that the show won’t make it past it’s obvious homage to western sources, but for now I’m enjoying the somewhat more familiar setting and plot. There are a few things that irk me, like the sadomasochistic villain with bleached blonde hair and one half of a pair of chaps (a single chap?) who looks like he stepped out of an entirely different show. A steep dip in animation quality in episode 3 also made me wince, but nothing bad enough to stop me from seeing how this all turns out. If you’re in the mood for a straight-up mob story of loyalty and revenge, you should at least check it out.
This is easily one of my top shows for the season, and a strong character drama to offset the more action-oriented and comedic fare. Orange introduces us to Naho, a high schooler who has received a letter from herself, 10 years in the future. The letter tells her the regrets and sorrows she faced, especially around her new friend, Kakeru. As Naho struggles to act on the requests in the letter, she begins to believe that she can change the future for the better and ease some of those regrets. The show also follows Naho 10 years in the future as she and her friends reunite to share their memories of the very time she’s trying to change.
What I love about Orange is that it doesn’t spend any time explaining the situation or trying to set up some larger mystery around the letter. Naho just has this information, and must now decide how to use it to try and make the future for her and her friends happier. As her actions ripple outward, things in the letter stop being 100% accurate, as events reshape themselves in new ways. There’s no fancy special effects or timelines being tracked, simply the knowledge that every action could potentially change the future.
Another point in the show’s favor is how well it handles the high school setting. Naho and her friends feel like real people, with strong personalities that don’t get on my nerves, like most of the caricatures you might see in other shows. The characters have hopes and dreams, talents and quirks that flesh them out and make me want to keep following them. The joking and arsing around between friends feels genuine, and it’s easy to see why Naho would be so set on trying to save those moments of happiness that were tainted by loss and regret. I’m looking forward to seeing what can and cannot be changed as she decides what to do with her foreknowledge.
Sweetness & Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma)
Taking the top slot for summer anime this season (so far) is Sweetness & Lightning; the story of a single father, his young daughter, and one of his students bonding through cooking. As its name suggests, this show is sweet to the point of saccharine at times, but it has such charm that it makes that work. With a very small main cast and a story so simple, it’s left to the characters to make the show shine… and shine it certainly does.
The older I get, the more I appreciate characters who are just trying to do right by their friends and family. Inazuka, the father in the story, is a perfect example of this. He’s a teacher who is trying to balance his job and time with his preschool-aged daughter, Tsumugi, while still grieving the loss of his wife. It’s a very real situation that tugs at the heart, and it’s easy to feel for him as he does his best to make his daughter happy.
One of the ways Inazuka does this is through cooking, at which he has almost no experience. Helping him is Kotori, one of his students whose mother owns a small restaurant. With her mother often absent due to work, she asks Inazuka and Tsumugi to come over for dinner on a regular basis. Watching the three of them interact and learn the basics of cooking gives a nice warm feeling that few anime have matched. Plus, watching all those delicious meals being made get’s me anxious to try them out myself. Long story short, Sweetness & Lightning is a heartfelt show about people doing their best and finding comfort in one another and a delicious mutual interest.
P.S. I wondered why Inazuka’s voice actor seemed so familiar, and discovered that Yūichi Nakamura is also the fellow behind Mumen Rider from One-Punch Man, another normal dude trying to do his best in the face of adversity. Fun fact: he’s also the Japanese dubbed voice of Steve Rogers/Captain America in the Marvel movies, so he’s clearly got a talent for playing upstanding and almost criminally wholesome types.
I’ve only taken on two new shows from this season. Macross Delta has been grandfathered in and of course there’s our group choice, Amanchu!
At three quarters through this show, I am…conflicted. Macross Delta has opened up the “enemy’s” side of the equation and shown us that Windermeare has a real reason to declare war on the UN Federation. We understand our characters a little bit more and the love triangle looks like it has collapsed itself into the “chosen lovers” and the “sorry you didn’t win” girl. All that being said, I still don’t…get why we are doing what we are doing and the pacing of the show throws a lot of the drama/tension off.
The Macross ship and its crew are forced out of their home base of Ragna and are headed to…Windermere, I think. Windermere has managed to use the protoculture ruins on their own planet in alignment with those of nations newly captured to amplify the power of their prince. The prince is a Wind Singer (so he has powers like the ladies of Walkure), but is male (which is crazy for this universe) and he induces the Vars virus rather than suppressing it.
All of this sounds exciting but the show has used up entire episodes for the romantic subplot (which wasn’t that interesting), and nonsensical gravure shots of the idols as they…uh…make money and hack the internet at the same time (no, this seriously happens), rather than giving me a real reason to concern myself with its central conflict and mysteries. There’s still lead singer Mikumo to contend with. What’s up with her mysterious backstory?
I know there’s a war going on, but I am always asking myself, “Why do I care?!” after each episode. At least there’s catchy JPop….
Shokugeki No Soma – Second Plate
I watched the first season of Shokugeki no Soma in a burst. The first episode of it made me cringe and every episode after it was more addicting than a bag of Doritos. This show is crazy awesome and has some of the finest food pornography that the anime industry has to offer. You want to root for EVERYONE and each episode is jam packed with new wild ways of showing how people fall in love with food.
Second Plate follows where the first season left off as the “Autumn Selection” commences. For anyone unaware of what’s going on in the show you can watch the first season on Crunchyroll and read a quick description of the show on MAL. Lead character Soma and those chosen for the Autumn Selection battle for a spot on the Council of 10 (the 10 most elite chefs) at Totsuki Academy. It’s hard to describe what makes Shokugeki no Soma so much fun. It has a completely unapologetic way of using it’s visuals to showcase how good the food is and it couples this with great characters, colorful art, and a surprisingly factual knowledge of advanced cooking techniques to make the ultimate experience. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself. Just be prepared to drool at the screen….a lot.
Order Up! Watch Shokugeki no Soma and Shokugeki no Soma – Second Plate on Crunchyroll
I don’t really enjoy romance anime. I tend to think that it’s either super melodramatic or just way too fast (we met five minutes ago and you are totally my soulmate!!). Orange is neither of these and is a beautifully told story so far.
At the start of the show, Naho Takamiya gets an envelope from her future self. Her future self has written her a series of letters describing what will happen each day, regrets she has and changes she hopes present day Naho will make. A lesser series would waste time having Naho figure out how in the heck she got letters from the future and lament why this is happening to her. Orange throws all of this out. After a small phase of disbelief, Naho immediately sets out to try and correct some of the regrets her future self has. This is very hard for her as she’s generally pretty shy and it’s easy to look back on yourself and say, “Man…why didn’t I do that?! If I knew what I know now, I’d totally go back in time and do it!”. In practice, this concept is much harder. The show focuses on Naho’s struggle to change some regrets from her future self while still living here in the present.
Orange is lovely to look at. The show possess a polish you don’t really see nowadays outside of higher budget OVAs and movies. There’s no fan service or stupid beach/bath sequences. This is all about real emotions playing out on screen. The other amazing aspect to the show is how all the drama is rooted in real emotions. Naho and her group of friends ACT like real friends. They talk about stupid stuff and tease each other like a bunch of high schoolers would.
When Naho has a hard time interacting with the boy she likes (new transfer student Kakeru), I felt my own chest tighten up and I sat in my chair waving an imaginary motivational flag for her. When Kakeru opens up about the fact that his mother committed suicide, the camera angle of the shot, the music and the look on his face make the whole moment heartbreaking. Some emotions in the show don’t need words, and like a Ghibli film you can tell what people are thinking just by the way they look at someone or changes in his/her face. Everything that these characters go through is something in a real “human spectrum”. It’s fantastic and intelligent writing like this that makes Orange my show of the summer.
I’m dying to know if Naho’s choices effect the future, and how everything turns out. Watch Orange and don’t live with regrets on Crunchyroll.
I’m taking this season slow, myself, which is to say that the only airing anime I’m currently following are Amanchu! and this:
Sweetness and Lightning
Since my opinion on S&L here doesn’t differ dramatically from those of my colleagues, I’ll take this opportunity to wonder aloud what fraction of the American anime audience (or our readership, for that matter) has pieced together enough of the Japanese language to pick up on low-level wordplay (which, to be clear, is my current level of “expertise”). For those who found the above scene from the first episode somewhat odd, I’m pretty sure it’s because the word “gohan” has a double meaning as either “generic meal” or “straight rice”, and I further suspect that the poor simul-subbers at Crunchyroll were eventually too burned out to register which was supposed to be which. This show’s looking to be a solid slice of life, though.
Yada yada Crunchyroll.
Now, while it’s not anime, I also feel obliged to mention that I am watching another Crunchyroll simulcast:
This show is straight Saturday morning cheese. A rag-tag band of heroes embark on a (rather violent) swords & sorcery adventure to thwart the ambitions of a dastardly wizard – brought to you in the way that only Taiwanese puppet theater and Japanese CGI can. So far the most awkward thing about this show is the choice (most likely on the part of the Taiwanese half of the co-production) to have all of the proper names subtitled in pinyin instead of romaji, even though the audio is in Japanese (a lot of words seem to look different from how they sound, which is taking some getting used to). Still, I’m strangely looking forward to see what feats of puppetry and clever editing the next episode will bring, and I feel the need to get some sugary cereal with which to enjoy the over-the-top fight scenes.
Give this oddity a shot on Crunchyroll.