The summer anime season of 2016 is over. Read on for the Con Artists’ final thoughts.
It’s been an enjoyable season, with some pleasant surprises along the way. As usual, I’ll tell you my thoughts in ascending order of my enjoyment.
Oh, Rewrite. I never really had any idea where you were going, but at least you were consistently bad. The show does has some redeeming value in its refusal to be bound by the conventions of its genre. What started as a school life harem anime slowly morphed into a battle between ideologically-driven organizations fighting over the fate of humanity itself. A bit of a jump, I’ll admit, but one that didn’t feel like it came completely out of nowhere. I’ll also give the show credit for being one of the few that decided to go with what (I’ll assume) is one of the game’s “bad ends” rather than a happy one – I definitely didn’t see that coming.
Everything else, though, is a mess. The characters are trope-y and largely predictable, some of the main actors in the ideological war are laughably characterized, and it’s hard to take the main character seriously. Also, it seems like many scenes from the game have just been thrown into the show without regard for whether they fit with the current tone of the episode or even if they make any sense at all. On multiple occasions, something of great importance with happen to the main character, something that should be occupying his full attention to figure out, and he’ll just… drop the lead, or completely forget about it in the space of a minute. In one particularly memorable instance, the screen fades to black right in the middle of what seems like a major plot point that will seriously disrupt his life… only to fade back in the next day at school, with no explanation as to what happened or how it was resolved. Finally, it’s hard to really get too invested in the story because its tone can swing so wildly as to thoroughly confuse whatever emotions you’re supposed to be feeling. For example, here are three images from this show, in no particular order: A classic pandering harem romance/comedy moment:
Children being killed execution style:
…and whatever is going on here:
Do these seem like they belong in the same show? No, not really, and it wasn’t any better in context. Oh well, at least we’ll always have the Colonel, watching over the quiet, verdant Earth, a final monument to our species.
Arslan Senki Fuujin Ranbu
Arslan had a rather strange second season, serving more as a setup for a third than as a strong story in its own right. Arslan suffers a setback, though his allies (led by the unswervingly flawless Narsus) are able to keep him from harm and re-establish a strong place for him. Perhaps the most interesting part of the season was the complication of the strategic situation; it’s no longer simply Arslan versus Lusitania, or Sindhura, or whoever – there are other actors in play, upping the tension and sense of urgency.
Nothing the show does, however, saves it from a sense that it’s just treading water, biding time and setting up the pieces for a (hopefully) much more interesting future season. Despite indications to the contrary from the theme song, there are no substantial naval battles, nor is Narsus’ superiority threatened in the slightest by the appearance of an old friend turned rival. It’s just more of the same as season one, with only the slightest hints that Arslan himself may be getting more comfortable with the idea of making his own decisions.
Fukigen na Mononokean
This is the first show on the list that I would recommend to someone looking for an enjoyable watch. Mononokean turned out largely how one would suspect – primarily episodic fare with the slowly improving relationship between the two main characters the common thread that ties the show together. The finale is nothing spectacular, but is heartfelt and satisfying, which is a pretty good description of the show as a whole.
It’s also a nice change to see a lot of tropes subverted by the show, and in many cases, it seems, intentionally. An episode’s plot will set up a situation that will feel familiar to many audiences… and then steer clear of the usual resolution. This never feels unnatural, though it is a pleasant change of pace whenever it happens. The show concludes in a way that feels like a good place to end, but which wouldn’t preclude another season if one were to come along. Perhaps the only real complaint I have with the show is that I don’t feel it will leave much of an impression. Still, if you’re looking for a show about yokai and a very slow-growing friendship, this one’s not a bad choice.
Planetarian Chiisana Hoshi no Yume
There’s not really much to say about Planetarian’s anime adaptation that I didn’t say back at the beginning of the season. It looks good and, throughout its run, it remained a pitch-perfect adaptation of Key’s visual novel into anime form. What this means to you largely depends on how you felt about the visual novel, and ultimately, the show probably won’t mean a huge amount to those that aren’t familiar with it already.
91 Days did an excellent job of capturing the feel of a Hollywood-style mobster drama. The American Prohibition setting was handled remarkably well, far better than many anime set in the US, and it’s a great candidate for a well-handled dub. The story, while well-trod, still held me in suspense and was delivered without miss-step. My only real complaints are the character of Fango, who seems jarringly out of place alongside every other character in the show, and that the main character, Avilio, seems more like a vehicle for the story and less like a real person. He embodies the concept of cold-blooded revenge with very few humanizing elements. Still, these are relatively minor complaints when set against the show as a whole, and anyone looking for a gritty revenge story will find what they’re looking for here.
Amamaa to Inazuma
I had high hopes for this show, hopes that it would remain focused on its premise – a single dad and his daughter living and learning to cook with the help of a high school student. That there wouldn’t be distractions from this core, or that the cooking wouldn’t be used a pretext to draw in viewers, or that some left-field romance wouldn’t get in the way. And the show completely delivered on my hopes – every episode of this show is great, without a bit of questionable content or a feeling of being off-tone.
In fact, in many ways the show exceeded my expectations. The show does primarily focus on cooking, but nearly every episode has a sub-plot relating to the difficulties of being a single dad, and these sub-plots helped to really flesh out the characters and make them both believable and sympathetic. The cooking itself is stellar – I really appreciated the focus on real everyday meals. By the end of the show, enough care had been taken to show ingredient lists, preparation techniques, times, and temperatures that I’m fairly confident I could make all of the dishes shown by watching the episode and taking a few notes. This is a show that you’ll leave feeling warm and fuzzy inside… but also hungry and encouraged to try and cook what you’ve seen yourself.
Nejimaki Seirei Senki Tenkyou no Alderamin
At no time during this season was there ever a question of which show was right at the top of my list. I would excitedly watch every episode of Alderamin as soon as it came out, and sorrowfully stare at the black screen when it ended. The creators of the show have done a near-flawless job, creating an interesting world with a lot of depth inhabited by equally interesting characters. Their depictions of battle and strategy in a world just a little different from our own hit all the right notes, and every scenario, every battle feels fresh and interesting. Arslan should be furiously taking notes on the myriad ways in which battlefield conflict can be made interesting without simply adding more and more troops, more and more one-on-one fights.
If the show has any flaws, they arise in the almost-kinda harem feel of the main character, Ikta, and his retinue. Fortunately, the show does not feature this prominently, and certainly doesn’t allow it to interfere with the telling of the story and the development of the characters. For every off-color comment made by Ikta, there are a dozen moments of potent character drama and meaningful deepening of relationships. The show strongly sets up for a sequel, with an almost breathtaking scope explicitly stated in the last episode, and I couldn’t be more happy (or anxiously anticipative).
My summer selection delivered some pretty solid shows this time around. I ended up dropping the second season of Earth Defense Club, mainly due to time constraints. Additionally, I find it’s a better experience when watched with others, so I’ll likely revisit it sometime in the future with a buddy or two. Anyway, let’s move on to the rest of the season.
Let me say first off that New Game! is not as bad as I had feared, though it’s far from what I’d consider a good show. The characters are as shallow as you might expect from such a bog-standard “cute girls doing stuff” type of show, and while the change of setting from the more typical high school to a game studio seems refreshing, it’s still nothing to get excited over. We see the majority of a game development cycle go by, and almost all chances for interesting interactions, humor or tension are pushed aside in favor of nubile young women snacking, getting physical exams, or participating in various nerdy antics. So… about the level of tripe I was expecting.
If there is one thing in New Game! that particularly irked me (besides the lead character’s inexplicable ability to get hired with none of the skills, experience or connections any of us mortals have to slave for), it’s the character of Nene. Like our main character, Aoba, Nene is college-age, but looks like she’d have a hard time conning her way into a PG-13 movie. The only word that comes close to describing the racket she makes whenever she opens her noise-hole would be caterwauling.
Every word out of Nene’s mouth, every whinging screech that echoes from her craw, fills me with irrational loathing. She behaves like a petulant child despite somehow getting brought on as a game tester by Aoba’s company. Even seated next to the most serious person in the show, Umiko (a no-nonsense woman willing to enact physical harm on her less dedicated coworkers… basically my favorite person in this mess), she never exhibits an ounce of maturity. At one point, she’s kicking her feet up the desk because she’s so short her legs don’t reach the floor, and she knocks out the cable powering Umiko’s workstation. The fact that Umiko did not immediately fire her breaks both her character and my heart.
Look, I can see why someone might be interested in New Game! at a glance. It does offer a glimpse into the world of game development, and some of its observations are pretty spot-on. However, this show is so obviously calculated to pander to gaming and anime nerds that it’s insulting. There are shows with more interesting characters out there, and if you’re into it, you can find much more blatant fanservice elsewhere.
If you watch New Game! on Crunchyroll, the Ghosts of Gaming Past will delay the release of whatever game you’re most looking forward to by another 3 months.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance (Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu)
This half-season of The Heroic Legend of Arslan truly tested my patience, and I’m increasingly convinced that those running the show are deliberately trying to destroy the mountain of goodwill that Hiromu Arakawa built up with Fullmetal Alchemist. Now, I have no idea how closely the show cleaves to her manga, or how strictly the manga follows the original story, since we’re about 3 adaptations away from a loosely-interpreted Persian epic, but this season takes the opportunity to alleviate some of the issues with its predecessor and pisses it straight away.
As the show begins, it looks like Arslan is about to finally step out onto the stage and become the leader everyone keeps saying he needs to be. Circumstances quickly conspire to rob him of any chance at self-determination, and we’re back to the Narsus Show in all its OP glory. Not once do Arslan or any of this compatriots so much as catch a whiff of failure or threat. Every apparent gain by their enemies is just a ploy laid out by Narsus. Every challenge is surmounted with contemptuous ease. At least the first season had the battle of Atropatene and dark sorceries to make it look like Arslan was having a hard time; this time around, we don’t even get that.
Making matters worse is how the entire show feels like it’s barely going anywhere and then abruptly tosses us into the rush towards the final battle between Arslan, Andragoras, Prince Hermes and Lusitania. Arlsan and co. spend almost the entire season in one coastal town failing to find the troops they need, then the moment the last episode kicks off, they’ve got an army ready to charge into a four-way Lord of the Rings-esque battle royale. While there are some vaguely satisfying diversions that explore Hermes’s background and the deteriorating state of the Lusitanian invasion force, the rest of the time is spent watching Arslan conspicuously accomplish diddly-squat as his minders hand him victory after unfulfilling victory. Daryun, Gieve and Farangis, all characters who could have been fleshed out or elaborated on, are cut down to mere playing pieces without any real soul or motivation beyond “win for Arslan”.
There’s really nothing positive to say about Arslan at this point. Dust Storm Dance is a pointless side-quest that, just like the first season, squanders a great setting and potentially engaging characters on a story that steamrolls any sense of tension into the dirt. Its only saving grace is that it isn’t any longer, and that truly saddens me.
Unless you’re a true completionist, save yourself some disappointment and avoid The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance on Funimation.
So by now you’re probably wondering why I rate this as a decent season considering my previous two entries. Well, I deliberately chose New Game believing it would be garbage, and I wasn’t disappointed, and Arslan was pretty much what I expected, so at least I knew what I was getting into. On the more pleasantly surprised end, we can start with the mafia story, 91 Days.
This show hits pretty much all the right notes for a decent mob story. Our protagonist, Angelo (or Avilio, as he calls himself after his family’s murder), sets out on a long and deliberate campaign of revenge against the crime family that killed his parents and siblings, and slowly becomes drawn into their world as he befriends Nero, the charming son of the don. There’s a lot of good beats with divided loyalties, brutally calculated moves to further Angelo’s scheme, and high emotions as all the lies and betrayals pile atop one another.
To be honest though, something about 91 Days just never quite clicked with me the way I hoped it would. Its story is fine and the delivery is competent, but it just doesn’t kick over into being truly great. The production is workmanlike, doing just enough to get by, and there are few moments where the animation or music move beyond passable. Additionally, the show lacks some spirit in the character department, which left some of the drama a little flat. As Scott pointed out, Angelo is so focused on his revenge that we rarely get to see him in any state besides brooding and angry. I understand that he’s violently driven, but there could be more oomph if we ever saw him enjoying himself, rather than constantly glower.
Overall, 91 Days is a solid and serviceable show if you’re looking for an outside take on a classic American genre. With a stronger creative team, we might have had a new classic on our hands, but as it is, we’ve still got a fine crime drama to enjoy.
Watch 91 Days on Crunchyroll if you’re in the market for a sordid tale of blood, booze and vengeance..
Orange is one of the strongest, most moving dramas I’ve ever seen, animated or otherwise, and you should absolutely watch it. I can’t say much more about it without giving away some of the most heartbreaking turns in the show, so I’ll speak about it generally. Naho and her friends are well-realized and not the typical bag of forced quirks you often see in high school anime. The story forms a robust central core around knowing what the future holds and trying to change it, and unexpected twists and forces outside of the cast’s control regularly threaten to overwhelm them. At the same time, they enjoy enough success that their struggle never feels pointless.
In particular, I’d like to give a shout-out to the character of Suwa. All of Naho’s friends are fun and dependable in their own ways, but Suwa is the MVP of their team. He’s far more mature than any high schooler has any right to be, and his willingness to put others before himself is inspiring. Without wishing to spoil, another member of their circle also pulls off a pretty spectacular act later in the series that actually made me cheer for them out loud, so keep an eye out for that as well.
Besides its excellent cast, what really sells Orange is its understanding of its subject matter. It deals heavily with loss, despair and regret, and explores those themes with a firm understanding of how real people think and act under stress. All of us have or will experience loss in our lives, and many of us will struggle with emotionally weights we’re just not able to shoulder alone. Orange recognizes this and offers a message of hope and understanding, which is even more remarkable when in my (admittedly limited) understanding, mental health and depression are even less discussed in Japan than they are here in the States.
I do have to mention that there is one thing in the show that put me off; the art quality. Most of the show is fine, and it’s occasionally quite pretty. Unfortunately, there are moments where the characters go so far off-model that they look ridiculous, with facial features twitching around and people moving like cheap puppets. The rest of the show is strong enough that it doesn’t put a dent in my recommendation, but you should be aware that there are moments where the look of the show just crashes to the ground, and you’ll need to simply power through it.
I’ve already told you to go and watch Orange, so I won’t repeat myself further. It’s one of a very small number of shows that has made me cry, and I believe it has something that will connect to just about anyone who sees it.
Love and loss bring out powerful emotions in Orange on Crunchyroll.
Sweetness and Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma)
My top pick for Summer 2016, only just making out over Orange, is Sweetness and Lightning; the story of a teacher, his spunky preschool daughter, and the love of cooking that connects them to one of the teacher’s students. This show never failed to make me smile, and was the one I looked forward to the most whenever it came up in the rotation.
Sweetness and Lightning is simply a joy to watch. It’s the wholesome, uncomplicated delight of watching family and friends bond over preparing and enjoying delicious meals. Watching Inazuka and Tsumugi become more confident and trying new recipes is the perfect palette cleanser (pun absolutely intended) for more serious shows. The pleasure of good food is something everyone can relate to, and the show follows the entire process of cooking in detail without getting bogged down in minutiae.
What really puts this show over the line from good into great is how well it handles its characters. Tsumugi is adorable and energetic, even if she can be a handful sometimes. Inazuka dotes on her, but not in such an overbearing way as to be tiresome. Inazuka’s relationship with Kotori could easily have been made romantic/creepy, but instead they’re shown as close friends who become closer to family as time goes on. With the loss of Tsumugi’s mother never far away from anyone’s thoughts and Kotori’s mother constantly at work, these interactions take on much deeper meaning for all involved, and there are moments of heartfelt sadness that make the joyful times feel that much more important.
Sweetness and Lighting is a smarter show than its premise might suggest, and it balances its simple structure with compelling characters and a strong story. The entire cast grew on me over the course of the show, and everyone brought something interesting to the table (the puns continue!). Each episode more or less follows the same formula, so the entire affair is predictable, but that’s part of its charm. This is visual comfort food, made with simple ingredients and a lot of heart.
Sit back, relax, and warm yourself up with Sweetness and Lightning on Crunchyroll.
I won some and I lost the long game in this season. Macross Delta…WHY?!?! Just WHY?!?!
Macross Delta turned out to be a poor show. It crammed so many ideas and plot threads in that it had to spend an ENTIRE episode in pure exposition mode for the audience to even remotely follow. Even after that it was a mess, and at the end the lovers flew away in a plane somewhere and I could not possibly have cared any less.
Good grief, Charlie Brown…this show was bad in the end. Behind all the gloss and JPop, Macross Delta had no idea what it was doing. It introduced a virus (Vars) that caused humanity to go berserk. It tied itself to the franchise by having the Vars Virus originate from the backstory of several other Macross shows. It then introduced a war as the people of a race known as Windermereans openly assaulted the Galactic Nation, in an attempt to take revenge on an unjust attack on their planet years ago. Thrown into this hot mess was a romance plot nobody wanted, and a mystery surrounding the lead singer of the magic songstress group that resolved WAAAAY too fast. It all amounted to…nothing…of substance.
Most of the cast is throwaway, and the plot threads weave around but are mostly left hanging by the end. My deepest moment of frustration was with lead singer Mikumo. She has a neat backstory that’s never given enough time to breathe. She gets kidnapped/possessed (sort of…) at the end of the show and breaks free from it all by declaring that Walkure has allowed her to find herself. Honey…let me tell you a little something. You didn’t even have a personality until Episode 21 or so. Please…don’t pretend you are magically connected to everyone with team spirit.
Grab the soundtrack for this show if you get a chance as newly minted JPOP star JUNNA is fantastic (and still in her teens…what a voice!), and most of the songs are insanely catchy. Other than this, skip this show. It doesn’t know what it’s doing and its plot ends up in a nosedive.
Orange is getting a lot of crap now that it’s finished. I think that’s because people wanted more out of it then it was ever meant to give. Some of the dislike is founded though. The art that I praised so highly in Summer 2016: The Season So Far, vanished right after that post came out. Orange…seriously…what the heck happened? People’s faces go off kilter several times an episode, background art looks terrible and in one scene involving a bunch of track runners, NOBODY HAS A FACE! It was quite tragic since the show is so emotional, and all the bad art made it hard to take things seriously.
Despite the art, the story mostly remained true to its intentions. The gang tries to keep Kakeru alive despite the difficulties, and sacrifices are made along the way. If I have to complain about anything it’s the latter half of that last sentence I just wrote. One of the things that is revealed about the future is that lead characters Suwa and Naho are married and have a child. In the present, Suwa throws his whole future away to ensure that Naho and Kakeru can try and have a future together. Nobody is certain there’s a parallel world out there. The characters end up accepting that there is one, but nobody every grapples with the idea that…you know…Naho and Suwa’s child might be wiped from existence!
This is a shame as in my head-cannon Naho isn’t the best match for Kakeru. Kakeru gets explored and his depression is beautifully showcased. At times his scenes really drew the emotion out of me (I’m not crying…there is dust in my eye….;_;). What also get’s hinted at is that Kakeru is really more in need of support and not necessarily in need of a girlfriend and romance. The show’s finale feels a little hollow because nobody takes the time to dig into the whole “change the future” deep enough.
Regardless of the flaws the show had great drama. I so badly wanted Kakeru to love himself just a little bit and I wanted the efforts of Naho & Company to pay off. Orange also gives us, quite possibly, the greatest male anime character to ever grace the stage. I’m rooting for you Suwa!!!!
Accept the pain of the past and learn to move towards the future with Orange on Crunchyroll.
Shokugeki no Soma – The Second Plate
Second Plate is a mixed bag but comes out very strong at the end of the race. I really love the over the top nature of Shokugeki no Soma. It’s wild and unapologetic in its way of showing that food is sensual and filled with emotion. That being said, nobody wants to ride a roller coaster forever. That massive drop in the beginning of the ride that gives you the thrill would get tiresome if it was experienced over and over and over again. It stops being special. That’s the way the first chunk of Second Plate goes.
This is because the first 10 episodes of the series feature tournament style Shokugekis, as the Autumn Selection students battle it out for a spot on Totsuki’s Top 10 Elite List. In Season 1, Shokugekis happened sporadically and the focus of the show was on the characters, their cooking styles, and a general love of food. Every episode from 1-10 is a Shokugeki. In the beginning I was thrilled and by the end I was…overstuffed and exhausted. The show starts out with all the attention to detail you expect and then starts to cut corners in terms of describing cooking techniques and food preparation. It was only on Episode 10 when I was waiting to see who would win, that I really got reengaged. The rest of it felt like, “Oh…what trick is Soma gonna use to win THIS time?” and that really dragged the experience down.
After the tournament, the students are sent out to do something known as a Stagiaire. This is where they go out to real restaurants and must make their mark in a week’s time in order to pass to the next restaurant (and stay in school). This section of the show is FANTASTIC as it gets back to the shows strengths; in depth character development and discussions about food. It’s a shame it all flies by so fast, but I imagine the Director/Producer of this show didn’t want to run out of manga. Here’s to hoping Season 3 gets here fast because the show is back in its stride!
Order Up! on Crunchyroll with Shokugeki no Soma – Second Plate.
Sweetness and Lightning
If my cohorts haven’t sold you on Sweetness & Lightning by now, I’m probably not going to. I will say, though, that it was basically everything I wanted going in, which was a pleasant slice of life with some light drama. I’ve always found the most compelling relationships in media to be ones between parents and their children, and Sweetness and Lightning delivers a number of poignant moments that I really enjoyed, No character was ever unreasonably irritating, there was never a whiff of anything untoward between Kohei and his student, and tasty-looking food happened regularly (I was reminded of the snack-sized Wakakozake anime, and its entrée-sized live-action counterpart). A feel-good show all around – would watch again.
Still on Crunchy (and still using the splash art where Kotori is in the background, being interrupted from an apparent attempt to start eating a comically enormous hoagie)
And now, a very different show – despite having a similar name:
You guys –
Wait! Come back! Hear me out!
For those of you who haven’t heard of this one, imagine Thunderbirds/Team-America-style marionettes, except with the greater size, detail, and range of motion of your average muppet – then dress each of them up in a unique, painstakingly crafted and accessorized outfit, complete with personal weapon, and let them all team up and go at it in increasingly
ridiculousawesome power battles.
This show is solid. The characters are well-written in addition to having gorgeous designs. Their quest is layered with suspense and intrigue. Their world has a rich internal history, with exposition delivered when appropriate. Literally the worst thing I have to say about Thunderbolt Fantasy is the fact that the Pinyin spellings of everyone’s Chinese names don’t match the Japanese pronunciations, and that’s only a comment on what must be an obtuse localization contract rather than on the show itself. The finalé is so well-crafted that, when the credits finished rolling to reveal the words “Sequel Now In Production”, I thought to myself “That’s not even necessary“, which I feel is a significant accomplishment.
Watch you some wuxia on Crunchyroll.