Saturday, 20 July 2013

Streaming: Summer 2013 anime first impressions

The spring 2013 anime season was a pleasant one, and as we head into summer it's hard not to notice that my schedule is beginning to look rather cramped. This is despite the US streaming companies having locked away several titles I'd have liked to have access to from the UK, too.

Crunchyroll have even gone the extra mile and picked up Kaiji for their catalogue, a series fans have been demanding for years. In stark contrast, Anime On Demand haven't said a word since the beginning of the year and their spring shows still hadn't ended at the time of making this post. The only other service with a UK presence this time is Daisuki and they caught my attention by making the second season of NisiOisiN's Monogatari series their first simulcast.

This post is a little later than I'd have liked, and it's not entirely because my blog has been inundated with Sengoku Basara 4 news recently. After enduring some painful technical problems with certain episodes on Crunchyroll (apparently caused by some changes behind the scenes at their end), I also fell victim to a problem where Daisuki's geolocation service suddenly decided that I was based in another country, blocking me from all of the Aniplex streams on the site. The Daisuki problem still hasn't been resolved at the time of typing and I've consequently been unable to keep up with their new content. I eventually decided that I should post my first impressions without them instead of continuing to wait.

It's a credit to the customer service teams behind Daisuki and Crunchyroll that both responded quickly to the issues I reported. Compared to those two companies, Anime On Demand's lack of engagement is an unprofessional embarrassment.

Anyway, here's an outline of what I think about the season's anime offerings so far.

One of many classic moments from FREE!

Chronicles Of The Going Home Club (Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku)
I assumed this was going to be a series with short episodes based on its paper-thin, formulaic premise. I was wrong; it's yet another full-length series about a group of cute female misfits trying to enjoy their life in a school club with no particular purpose. It's difficult to imagine that people can still be buying this kind of light-hearted, generic school comedy, and as I feel I've already seen everything this series has to offer a hundred times before I quickly concluded that I wouldn't be continuing past the first episode (a decision I later reneged on when I discovered there was a Date Masamune parody in the second). This one's strictly for fans of the 'cute girls doing cute things' genre with a comedy twist.


Dog & Scissors (Inu To Hasami Ha Tsukaiyou)
A book-loving boy called Kazuhito is murdered unexpectedly and resurrected as a dog, then shortly afterwards he's adopted by his favourite author. When his mind-reading new owner, Kirihime, isn't writing books implausibly quickly or enjoying one of her many perfect hobbies, she likes to indulge in some light animal cruelty by threatening her new pet with scissors - in retaliation for his never-ending jokes about her breast size. Dog & Scissors is yet another comedy show based on light novels about an 'odd couple' reluctantly working together, only by now the formula has been used too often to be funny and there's something less than satisfying about watching a beautiful rich girl picking on a helpless dachshund. The show's opening sequence is amazing, but other than that I'm not sure there's any point to continuing when the interactions between the two leads feel so stilted and hollow.


Fantasista Doll
Coming across as an odd blend of Cardcaptor Sakura, Yu-Gi-Oh and Angelic Layer, this is one of several card-based magical girl anime this season which have clearly been designed to appeal to a male audience. A young girl ends up as the master of a bunch of card-based 'dolls' who fight for her. I didn't find either the premise or execution of Fantasista Doll very interesting at all.


Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA ILLYA
In my opinion, the Fate series is at its best when Gilgamesh is strutting around sneering at everyone. Unfortunately there's none of that here. If the superb Fate/Zero took the series to its darkest, most serious extremes, Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA ILLYA goes in the opposite direction, reimagining the Fate world as the setting for a male-orientated magical girl show full of cute girls. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that given the series' origins... it's just that this kind of magical girl show doesn't tend to interest me. I'll be sitting the show out unless I hear about Gilgamesh making a glorious debut later on.


FREE! (Free - Iwatobi Swim Club)
After the hype I had started to worry that FREE! might fail to be as thrilling and full of female-orientated fan service as I was hoping. Fortunately, KyoAni have delivered with a school series which involves very little school and a great deal of swimming. The boys seem to strip down to their swimming trunks (or less) at the slightest provocation. Rin has been the most interesting character so far with his jagged teeth and surly attitude; in comparison, lead Haruka needs more time to develop and show off his personality. I'll definitely be continuing with FREE!, and while it was clearly designed to appeal to a particular audience, it's worth noting that the female characters are cute too.


Gatchaman Crowds
The spiritual successor to the original Gatchaman series from the 70s, Gatchaman Crowds is a feast of beautiful colours, unique character designs and unapologetic entertainment. I found myself sucked straight into the plot, which definitely has an appropriately classic feel blended in with its futuristic sci-fi elements. The fight scenes use Tiger and Bunny-style computer graphics to realise the characters' unworldly battle suits. Even if Gatchaman Crowds is probably not going to be the deepest show I watch this year, it will certainly be a great way to end each week!


Genshiken Second Season (Genshiken Nidaime)
I had some reservations about the new series of Genshiken, which would be more accurately titled 'Genshiken: Second Generation' if they weren't trying to match the English adaptation of the manga. While the original manga was very enjoyable, the Genshiken Nidaime arc feels as though it's pandering too much to a different type of viewer. To add further insult to injury a new cast of voice actors has replaced the seiyuu used in the older Genshiken anime projects; I love Fukuyama Jun but having him replace Ishida Akira doesn't sit well with me at all,

As it turned out, the goofy anime adaptation was more enjoyable than the manga. I have to give Production I.G. special credit for the tiny Sengoku Basara reference they slipped into the opening sequence too (along with a good helping of Kuroko No Basuke). It's another one for my list of parodies, and a cunning way to ensure I'll keep watching even if the doubts I have about the series as a whole continue to linger in the back of my mind.


Gifuu Doudou!! Kanetsugu To Keiji
I'm refusing to acknowledge this show's westernised title as 'Gifu Dodo' makes me think of an extinct bird from central Japan; the title card Crunchyroll displays during the credits uses 'Dazzling Sengoku Period Story: Kanetsugu and Keiji' which works a lot better. The plot is very simple: famous historical figures Maeda Keiji and his close friend Naoe Kanetsugu reminisce about the time they met and the adventures they had together as a pair of flamboyantly manly warriors in their primes. The artwork during their big entrance and the ending credits is often stunning.


The rest of the show's artwork is much cheaper-looking, though it does the job. With its lame English title, subtitles which weren't properly proofread and a plot which benefits from some pre-existing interest in Japanese culture and history, Gifuu Doudou is unlikely to convert many fans in the west; however, I love the excessively masculine Hara Tetsuo designs and I know I'm going to enjoy watching this slice of feudal mayhem each week this summer.


il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion (Genei Wo Kakeru Taiyou)
What a mouthful of a title! As another magical girl show aimed squarely at male fans, this is very much not my kind of series and I won't be continuing. However, I did like the distinctive character designs that il sole penetra le illusioni offers; in a season of more realistic-looking shows its colourful palette really stands out. The story is a run-of-the-mill tale of a cute girl whose hobby is telling fortunes with tarot cards, until one day she ends up being able to use her cards in unexpected new ways to combat a supernatural menace. It looks as though this series could be attractive to fans of female seiyuu as it has a huge cast of characters.


Kiniro Mosaic (KINMOZA!)
A Japanese schoolgirl is visited by the cute English blonde she once stayed with as a child. Yet another show about school life, this one draws observational comedy from the clash between cultures as two very sweet main characters learn more about one another. In truth I probably wouldn't have made it past the halfway point of the first episode if it had been about any other country, but I loved seeing the famous landmarks in Piccadilly Circus and the minor details of British life that the staff chose to incorporate into the show (an Otaku News article has information about one of the locations they used). The communication problems caused by both girls speaking different languages at the beginning are also addressed, with the seiyuu doing a pretty good job with the English parts of the script. While Kiniro Mosaic is not my kind of series at all, it seems to be doing a good job with what it's trying to achieve.


Makai Ouji: Devils And Realist
William Twining is a pragmatic young British aristocrat who finds himself caught up in an occult battle between demons, who need him to help select a ruler for the demon world while Lucifer rests. The first of the demons William meets, Dantalion, seems to have some kind of shared history with one of our hero's distant ancestors, and as he encounters more handsome denizens of the underworld it looks as though the pair will be forming a tight bond. Objectively speaking, there's nothing in Makai Ouji which hasn't been done before by other titles and it doesn't look as though it's going to contain any surprises later on. Yet it's succeeding in pandering to me in all of the right ways and has a great cast. I'm not sure how long I'll keep watching the show; if I do manage to stick with it the worst that can happen is that I'll get to watch a show full of fantastically beautiful demons shouting at one another. It sounds like a deal.


Monogatari Second Season
I'm still unable to access any Aniplex shows on Daisuki at the time of writing this on the grounds that I'm not in the UK (except I am). Fortunately I already know I will like Monogatari Second Season so I'll add it to my schedule anyway!

We also get to see Nekomonogatari Black this season on Daisuki (eventually...).

Senyuu. (Senyu Part 2) 
As expected it's more of the same carrying right on from where it left off a few months ago. The first episode was rather confusing even by Senyuu standards. I'll keep watching; it's harmless fun and the short episodes make it easy to slip into my schedule.


Servant x Service
A series about civil servants working in a city ward office. It's not the most exciting of subject material to cover, even with clashing personalities, trivia and gags about office life thrown into the mix. Although it's harmless and some of the jokes made me smile, I don't feel that I'll be continuing on with the show. It's the kind of thing I'd watch in the background while doing something else.


Silver Spoon (Gin No Saji)
This is more like it! Silver Spoon is an adaptation of Arakawa Hiromu's latest manga masterpiece showing a normal guy trying to cope with attending an agricultural boarding school. It's funny whether you're already familiar with farm life or not; the other students, teachers and animals formed a very memorable supporting cast even after just one episode. I've not read the manga so I'm looking forward to seeing poor Hachiken continue to try to adapt to his new surroundings.


Sunday Without God (Kamisama No Inai Nichiyoubi)
Ai is a bubbly young girl who works as a gravekeeper in a strange world where people no longer die. Until, that is, a man calling himself Hampnie Hambart, the 'Man-Eating Toy', appears in her town, slaughtering people and telling Ai that they've all been lying to her. Though I'm not sure whether it's the extreme cuteness of the lead or the excessive need to be mysterious for its own sake, Kamisama No Inai Nichiyoubi really isn't doing anything for me so far. The bickering between the man and Ai was amusing to watch but this series is getting dropped for now.


The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku)
I wasn't too sure what to expect from Uchouten Kazoku until I started watching. What I got was a wonderfully whimsical show about modern life in Kyoto blended with Japanese mythology, as the series follows a young shapeshifting tanuki going about his daily life - which is complicated by other supernatural creatures and his own difficult personality. There's an underlying plot which hasn't yet been fully explained too, so it looks as though I'm going to be watching this weekly to find out more about the tangled world of these quirky characters.


The World God Only Knows: Goddesses (Kami Nomi Zo Shiru Sekai III: Megami Hen)
For some reason the third series of Kaminomi has chosen to skip ahead from the place it left off previously, blasting through a recap of the missing material in the opening minutes of the first episode. I can't help but feel as though I'm being cheated by not having read the manga when the summaries make the skipped conquests look so fun, and even when the recap finished there were constant references to previous plot points I'd never seen. Yet the series seems just as well-made as usual, despite it being difficult to enjoy the way I'm being treated as a viewer. I'll watch a little longer and see if it can do a better job in later on; the climax to the first episode was excellent, after all.


A dark comedy about a girl who has a dreadful shock upon entering high school: it seems that no matter how many times she's played her favourite otome games, she's completely failed to become worthy of anyone's attention in the real world. She struggles to rectify the situation before it's too late, annoying her brother and startling strangers everywhere she goes in a misguided quest to be popular. WATAMOTE's brutal look at high school from a different perspective to normal is refreshingly funny; Tomoko is plausibly unappealing while still being somewhat cute, in a creepy way. It looks as though this is one I should keep watching for now.


Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
With only four-and-a-half minutes in which to tell its story each episode and a cheap style which can barely be described as anime at all, Yamishibai is a Japanese horror series which successfully manages to be a little scary! It's difficult to make a judgement after the first episode since it was so short, so I might keep watching this series whenever I'm in the mood for being made a little uncomfortable. The creators also deserve credit for using a song by Vocaloid producer AVTechNO! as the ending theme; the unworldly sound of a synthesised singer is the perfect way to close a ghost story.


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The new series which are locked away from the UK due to FUNimation this season are Dangan Ronpa: The Animation, Hyperdimension Neptunia (Choujigen Game Neptune The Animation), High School DxD New and Brothers Conflict.

These titles join Crunchyroll's Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3 (Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-Bu) and the reimagined Rozen Maiden Zur├╝ckspulen in having no legal UK stream. Even Viz has given its streaming services a boost this season, picking up the rights to some older shows and also the summer shounen title Blood Lad. Sadly they've gone for the usual region locking so this is yet another title I won't be watching.

That leaves quite a few shows apparently unaccounted for. It's possible that some may be with the silent Anime On Demand if they're still in business. The missing titles are Love Lab, Kimi No Iru Machi, Futari Ha Milky Holmes, Senki Zesshou Symphogear G, Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ and Rou-Kyuu-Bu! SS.

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As a result of the high quality in evidence this summer, my current streaming schedule isn't very balanced:

Monday: Mushibugyo, The World God Only Knows: Goddesses, Watamote
Tuesday: Gifuu Doudou, Senyuu.
Wednesday: FREE!
Thursday: Silver Spoon
Friday: Gatchaman Crowds
Saturday: Monogatari season 2, Genshiken Nidaime
Sunday: Attack On Titan, The Eccentric Family, Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist

Mushibugyo and Attack On Titan are continuing from the spring season. It seems impossible that I'll have enough free time to maintain this schedule for long...

Unlike last time it would be challenging to rank the best shows based on their first episodes, so I'll save that for the final impressions post a few months from now instead.

3 comments:

  1. They're showing Monogatari on Crunchyroll, It appeared earlier on my list of titles (I am from the UK and have a subscription)

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  2. Feel absolutely free in deleting that last comment I didn't realise it couldn't be undone after I just thought I 'd let you know :-)

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I wasn't sure it would be available to the UK so it's handy to know. Though Nekomonogatari Black seems to be missing so I'll finish that off on Daisuki first...

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