Up until now my seasonal anime posts have been completely UK-based so if a series isn't available here with a legal stream I've simply given up on it until the home video release. However, years have passed and we're still in the situation where numerous shows end up locked to specific regions - and since missing Sengoku Basara: Judge End isn't an option I've decided to stop obeying arbitrary restrictions which benefit local western distributors and nobody else. Enough is enough. With its obsession with region locking and draconian exclusivity arrangements, the foreign anime industry is doomed to keep alienating fans who want to watch their anime legally and support the creators.
Still, I've given the UK services a chance. Animax UK made a major play for my attention this season. Not only did they reduce the cost of their subscription and add a PlayStation 3 app, they also arranged to stream a number of FUNimation titles which have traditionally always been locked away from British fans. Apparently the reason this didn't happen sooner was that Animax had some kind of exclusivity deal with Viz Europe; I'm not sure why a streaming service would ever agree to an exclusivity contract in the first place, but this is a promising opportunity for UK fans now that things have opened up. Unfortunately Animax UK has no credibility when it comes to communication or releasing its streams on time (they're always several days later than in other English-speaking regions) and it looks as though this will continue for this season. How frustrating.
My favourite simulcast site Crunchyroll has done its best to license everything that its lesser rivals have avoided this season, while Daisuki has launched a slick new interface, Viewster has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, Netflix is giving anime streaming a try and French service Wakanim has returned with a couple of new titles after lying dormant last season. Even Japanese video portal Nico Nico Douga has returned to the headlines with its simulcast of the new Sailor Moon series. It's becoming very confusing to remember when each episode is going to become available and where it's going to be available, especially when certain websites don't publish schedules in the first place.
There are two continuing titles which I'm going to keep following on Crunchyroll: Haikyuu!! and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. Everything else in my list below is new for the summer season.
|It feels like a dream come true: Sengoku Basara is back!|
Akame ga Kill
The first show in my list is Akame ga Kill, an orthodox fantasy adventure featuring a naïve hero who journeys to the shady capital city to try to help his hometown. The designs are quite cartoony yet there's a startling amount of blood and death in the first episode alone as the lead becomes mixed up with the titular Akame and her group of renegades.
While watching Akame ga Kill I suddenly realised that all of the recent titles which use the plot device of a character being trapped in some kind of video game have made it harder for me to take actual fantasy stories seriously. The colourful designs and outlandish weapons don't help. Still, if I was in the mood for a shounen-style adventure I'd probably continue watching; the brutality sets this series apart from its peers even if the rest seems formulaic.
|The series is named after her so I guess she's important|
Aldnoah Zero is also available on Daisuki but I chose to watch it on Crunchyroll.
The list of names tied to this science fiction mecha title is impressive, with Urobuchi Gen and Aoki Ei joining forces and both Sawano Hiroyuki and Kalafina involved musically. The seiyuu cast is promising too, so it's fortunate that (so far) the show itself is as good as it ought to be. The characters are nuanced, the artwork is attractive, the action is attention-grabbing and the politics are interesting - the first episode was instantly memorable and I'm not sure what's going to happen next! It looks as though Aldnoah Zero will be a decent option for fans of titles like Mobile Suit Gundam 00 who have been waiting for another serious mecha show full of backstabbing.
|Villainous adults and complicated politics; yes please|
ARGEVOLLEN (Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen)
The second mecha title of the season. I had a bad feeling about this one after seeing the promotional artwork and realising that the cast was full of gorgeous girls and dull-looking guys. Indeed, it's a by-the-numbers romp with a military theme and deeply forgettable characters. I had to replay part of the episode after realising I'd zoned out due to boredom. Even after one episode I was certain that the generic atmosphere of ARGEVOLLEN would be unable to compete with mecha shows like Aldnoah Zero. It's not aimed at me.
|Just get into the bally robot, it's cooler than you|
Viewster swiped the UK rights for Bakumatsu Rock away from Crunchyroll, as far as I can tell, which is a little annoying - especially as they still hadn't made the first episode available two weeks after the stream had started everywhere else. At the same time, it presented an opportunity to try out their service. While I'm not a fan of the repetitive advertisements which pop up mid-episode (there's no ad-free subscription option) and the delays are annoying, it's not too bad overall.
The premise of Bakumatsu Rock is as straightforward as it seemed from the synopsis of the game it was based upon; Sakamoto Ryouma is a rebellious guitarist who often seems to have trouble keeping his clothes on. He wants to use his guitar to perform spirited rock music - except that as rock music has been outlawed by the shogunate, Sakamoto will have to go up against the ruthless Shinsengumi if he wants to be able to express himself. It's mindless entertainment; my only complaint so far is the lethargic animation. Are the creators saving the entire budget for the song battle sequences?
|Katsura Kogorou as you've never seen him before|
Black Butler: Book of Circus (Kuroshitsuji)
I thought that Daisuki would be the only website showing this series in the UK, then Crunchyroll suddenly announced they had the rights as well at the last moment. Still, I watched the first episode on Daisuki instead because Crunchyroll only had a choice of Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, both of which are equally distracting.
The first episode of this new Black Butler reintroduces the familiar characters from the previous anime adaptation and at the same time makes it clear that the original developments in the previous show are to be ignored. I've already read this story in the manga and hopefully they'll avoid changing things around too much this time. The previous season was a bit of a mess.
The circus theme means there's a host of vibrant new characters joining the cast and the series has already delivered memorable scenes of Sebastian being Sebastian, which means it's a guaranteed addition to my streaming schedule.
|I am enjoying the emphasis on his demonic side|
Bladedance of Elementalers (Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance)
This is actually the worst anime series I have sampled in recent memory (even though I watched it after Momo Kyun Sword below). It's a haphazard medley of every popular light novel trope desperately flung together with an extensive cast of angry tsundere spellcasters. There's ostensibly some kind of plot about the lead being a rare male who can use spirit magic, usually the domain of maidens, but it's nothing more than an excuse to push the nondescript main character into the centre of a harem full of angry young ladies. I've seen it all before, done better, and I'm staying well away from this extremely conventional fantasy series. Fans of the genre might have more luck with it.
|Originality isn't this title's strong point|
I was planning on picking up the original DRAMAtical Murder game when I finally set my equipment up to allow me to play PC games a while ago. The anime adaptation was announced before I got around to buying a copy, and even though I'm wary of the obvious compromises required to turn an adult BL video game into an all-ages television anime it seemed like a good idea to check it out before investing any time in the raunchier version.
The plot of DRAMAtical Murder is clearly bonkers even at this early stage, plunging the airheaded Aoba into a world of dangerous virtual reality games and gangs. The designs are dazzling and everyone has unique, colourful dress sense. I don't like the music at all, but I'm definitely going to keep watching the show to find out what happens!
|The flashy designs seem pretty close to those in the game|
Free! –Eternal Summer-
The first episode of the new series of Free! was so full of references to the original that it felt like a fanservice-filled recap episode. And what fun it was! Kyoto Animation's team know exactly how to craft an entertaining show and they seem even more confident about Free! this time around, teasing the audience mercilessly whenever they can. I'm obviously going to keep watching this even if the plot turns out to be paper-thin.
The only downer is that I had been hoping we'd see more of the magnificent Captain Mikoshiba this season. However, it transpires that the new characters are probably going to have a more important part to play than my favourite guy - darn.
|Maybe he'll somehow appear more often in future anyway!|
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun)
This romantic comedy is far funnier than it has any right to be. Chiyo has a crush on her tall, mature classmate (the titular Nozaki-kun) and finally plucks up the courage to confess her feelings to him one day. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding foils her romantic intentions and she ends up helping him with his secret career as a popular shoujo manga creator instead. It's a silly premise which works very well and the show's production values are a perfect match for the crazy script.
I was very amused when a lanky redhead called Mikoshiba appeared in the show just as I was fretting over the character with the same name in Free! - what a coincidence...
|Chiyo's so cute!|
Something about Glasslip didn't click with me. The detailed animation is lovely but the rest feels contrived; it's all so cute and well-meaning without any elements which stand out. The first episode reminded me of the reactions some viewers had to the infamous 'choco cornet' scene from Lucky☆Star as the characters mused aimlessly to themselves about things which I didn't care about. It was boring. Even though there are hints of a deeper mystery involving a strange transfer student, nothing managed to capture my imagination. Perhaps there should have been more of a focus on the glass-blowing elements at the start to set the show apart.
A thoroughly lovely story about a mousey schoolgirl who becomes interested in learning more about yosakoi dancing after meeting a foreign transfer student. It's the kind of show you can watch after a hard day at work when you need to revitalise your faith in humanity since the girls are all so adorably cute. The opening sequence was one of the most pleasant of the season; it's unlikely to make the cut for my regular weekly viewing but I could definitely recommend HaNaYaMaTa to people who want a quirky take on the popular 'cute girls doing cute things' genre.
|Everyone secretly loves yosakoi deep down|
Invaders of the Rokujyouma!? (Rokujouma No Shinryakusha!?)
Didn't I watch the first episode of this show last season back when it was called Nanana's Buried Treasure? Replace the treasure hunting plot with even more ghost girls and make everyone younger and cuter, and it's uncannily similar. Since I dropped the other, more interesting show in a less busy season I'm unlikely to warm to this one now - the generic harem elements and awkward gags don't really help it stand out.
|This screenshot might not be representative of the show|
Locodol (Futsuu No Joshikousei Ga Locodol Yattemita)
Nanako is a cute girl who ends up working for her (weirdly enthusiastic) uncle to promote her area as a local idol. These 'locodols' are designed to attract people to regions which lack unique specialities of their own, and Nanako swiftly makes her debut with an angelic beauty as her partner.
Although idol shows tend to be hit or miss for me, Locodol is one of the good ones. How can it not be entertaining when it's not afraid to poke fun at itself and everything is so cheerful? If there isn't enough time to watch the series weekly this summer I may end up coming back to it later to find out what happens next.
|I planned to use a picture of the girls but...|
As someone who has been a fan of creators Eiki Eiki and Zaou Taishi for many years, I'm so happy to see one of their joint projects turned into an anime for the first time. Love Stage!! is a cute comedy with its roots firmly planted in the boys' love genre. The designs do a great job of adapting the original manga artwork to the medium of animation, and I loved that they even included shots of the artists in their animal mascot forms during the eyecatch segments. It's not going to win any prizes for technical artistry or reinventing its genre, yet this series is packed full of heart and a few autobiographical elements from the authors' real lives. Before the first episode was over the shy otaku main character had been caught up in romance, misunderstandings, cross-dressing and a stolen kiss, so I'm expecting the story to blossom quickly from here on in.
|His eyes are pretty|
It feels unfair that there's a UK stream for this silly magical comedy and not one for Watanabe Wataru's other series, Yowamushi Pedal, a title I've been wanting to watch for ages. Magimoji Rurumo is about a typical perverted schoolboy who meets a petite witch with a serious expression permanently etched on her face. The two soon find themselves teaming up - except that the witch's cat reveals that by doing so, the hero's life will be shortened! I don't have much to say about this series; it's entertaining enough but not something I'm going to keep watching. Can we have Yowamushi Pedal now too, please?
|Is it just me or are witches' hats getting bigger?|
Momo Kyun Sword
This is a series about how much peaches look like breasts. Sure, there's a flimsy storyline involving a gender-swapped version of the classic hero Momotarou, but that's nothing more than an excuse to show Momoko's blushing breasts bouncing around furiously as she defends her loved ones from villainous oni. I'm sure this is a fantastic series if you happen to be into dizzy female interpretations of legendary Japanese heroes.
|They're so shiny, I cannot stop looking at them|
Saburou is a typical schoolboy who couldn't care less about his stuffy Japanese history lessons, until one day he finds himself in Sengoku-era Japan, forced to stand in for Oda Nobunaga himself! Trapped in an unfamiliar world (and having nothing better to do) he ends up throwing himself into the role of the ambitious warlord and romancing his beautiful wife. The floaty animation of Nobunaga Concerto is unusual and - dare I say - rather ugly, but the series makes up for it with stylish designs and perfectly pitched humour.
|It looks weird when his body moves and his face stays still|
Persona 4 the Golden Animation
Persona 4 is also available on Daisuki. I've chosen to try it on Crunchyroll instead.
I sometimes think I'm one of the only anime fans out there who isn't into Persona 4. Although I played the early Persona games in Japanese many years ago on the original PlayStation, the school setting doesn't really interest me any more and I couldn't make it past the first episode of the previous anime adaptation - though the reason for that was partly because its UK stream was so bad and partly because the US Blu-ray discs were released with no Japanese language track. The way that the series tends to be treated overseas is appalling; one of its spin-offs has the dubious honour of being the only region-locked PlayStation 3 game ever.
So far, Persona 4 the Golden Animation seems to be a high-speed retelling of the previous series with a completely different tone. My impression is that the previous season was designed to introduce newcomers to Persona 4 while this follow-up is hurtling through the plot in order to present existing fans with extra content and fan service. Is it my imagination or is the animation, pacing and music much better this time around?
Anyway, I'm not convinced that this is a good place to start the series and I'm still annoyed with Atlus for their poor treatment of foreigners in the past, so I'll pass on this show for now. I might pick it up on Blu-ray and marathon the whole thing later on, though; it really is pretty good...
|Style: that's what the previous adaptation was missing|
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal (Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Crystal)
Like Fate/Zero a few years ago, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal is being broadcast worldwide for a limited time by Nico Nico in a multitude of languages. Fortunately I already have a subscription to Nico Nico Douga and visit it daily, so the problem with having so many different streaming websites to manage isn't exacerbated further. It would be nice if all titles which weren't acquired by a local company could find their way onto Nico Nico like this for a worldwide broadcast; there's obviously a healthy market for it given the viewing figures on the barely-advertised official English-language stream.
This new season of Sailor Moon takes things right back to the beginning, following the manga closely in a fast-paced retread of the storyline. The new designs are skinny indeed and the copious use of CG cutscenes for the transformations will take some getting used to, but at its heart this is the same classic story that's won fans all over the world. The original show was very important to me back in the day - even though I had to watch it in German for years - so following this modern remake is a no-brainer. For half an hour every fortnight I'm going to pretend I'm a teenager all over again and get wrapped up in Usagi's heroic adventures!
|So much nostalgia|
I feel a little embarrassed admitting that I enjoyed the first episode of Rail Wars! as much as I did after blasting Bladedance of Elementalers for being dumb. It's a self-aware comedy which parodies the real Japanese train system rather cleverly - as well as adding a boatload of unsubtle fan service. There's something irresistibly charming about the way that all of the characters take their roles as rail workers so seriously, especially when it's juxtaposed with sleazy jokes and top-heavy character designs. I don't have time to keep watching this weekly on Animax's unreliable service but for some reason Sentai Filmworks has already licensed it for a home video release in the US, so I'll compromise by adding it to my future shopping list!
|Not quite as good as Miracle Train for trivia, but close|
Sagebu! - Survival Game Club!
Just when it seemed as though every possible idea for a comedy based around school clubs had already been used, Sagebu! arrives on the scene to introduce the world to a society full of girls crazy for rough and tumble 'survival games'. The creators know their audience and the show is loaded with gags, trivia and copious numbers of lovingly-drawn weapons. There's even a hot spring scene before the end of the very first episode (with hints that it may be a regular occurrence). Sagebu! doesn't really try to hide the fact that it's pandering towards a certain kind of viewer at all, and while I'm not going to continue I have to admit that I have a little respect for this kind of brazen silliness.
|I feel that the artists spent most time on the gun|
Sengoku Basara: Judge End
I've already written extensively about Sengoku Basara: Judge End in my weekly episode-by-episode reviews so I won't say too much here other than that I love it! It has a very different feel to the previous Sengoku Basara anime adaptation and I'm hooked already. It's a shame that it's been taking so long for its simulcasts to appear (most of them still missing in action three weeks after the season began). More people need to be watching this.
|I hope we get a scene with Kingo eating nabe every week|
The absurd comedy shorts of Strange+ are back and once again nothing makes even the slightest bit of sense. I find the series' focus on toilet humour and stupidity strangely relaxing on a Thursday evening so it will remain on my schedule; it's easy enough to watch it if I'm visiting Crunchyroll anyway for Kuroshitsuji each week!
|This was the most normal snapshot I could manage|
Space Dandy season 2
I almost overlooked Space Dandy as it's only shown on Wakanim. They didn't stream anything at all last season so for a moment I forgot they existed.
Anyway, this sequel carries on straight from where things left off in winter with more madcap standalone adventures featuring the crew. The first episode was a strong one but I know from the first season that this anime is going to offer a very uneven viewing experience depending on which staff members are behind each episode. I'm proceeding with caution.
|The craziness is back|
Sword Art Online 2
Sword Art Online 2 is also available on Daisuki. I chose to try it on Crunchyroll.
I enjoyed the first series of Sword Art Online (including the oft-panned Fairy Dance arc) for being well-made mindless entertainment. It didn't revolutionise the genre but the animation was pretty good; I could simply switch off my brain each Saturday to watch Kirito beating things up and gazing at Asuna for half an hour.
After the events of the first two arcs, the action has shifted to a completely new game with a gunplay theme and the science fiction themes have returned with a vengeance. However, the underlying plot is becoming increasingly ridiculous; it's almost parodying itself by now in its desperation to set the lead up as an important main character. I think I'll take the opportunity to step away from the Sword Art Online world entirely. The recent swimsuit OAV was a low point and this doesn't look as though it's going to do anything too different to the original season other than introducing a new girl for Kirito to ignore in favour of Asuna. If I was less busy it would probably be a decent way to pass the time.
|This guy had a cool design even if it was wasted on him|
Tokyo Ghoul is set in a version of modern-day Ikebukuro where humanity is hunted by hungry 'ghouls', murderous creatures who look just like normal people and feed on human flesh. A normal boy's life is torn apart when he's partially transformed into a ghoul and thrust into a bloody lifestyle he was better off never knowing about.
I'm not completely sure yet whether Tokyo Ghoul is going to be amazing (like Shiki) or mediocre (like most manga-based horror stories) so I guess I'll keep watching until I find out. At the very least, it's holding my attention well so far and not holding back on gruesome shocks.
|It was difficult to take a non-spoilery picture|
Yamishibai second season
There's not much to say here; the second season of Yamishibai presents another selection of freaky lesser-known horror stories with the same simplistic animation employed by the earlier episodes. Each does a decent job of building up a scary atmosphere in its short run time - though whether the stories ultimately succeed at being frightening is very hit or miss.
|Just what I needed this summer: terrifying puppets|
Zankyou no Terror (Terror in Resonance/Tokyo Terror/Terror in Tokyo)
There are a lot of different 'official' ways to render this show's title so I've stuck to the Japanese one for the sake of simplicity. Zankyou no Terror is a look at the phenomenon of terrorism. While it's not revealed much about its main plot so far, it's plain from the first episode that it won't be pulling any punches in its violent depictions of the main characters' mysterious attacks. I'm intrigued!
|I don't know whether or not I like this guy|
There's the usual batch of sequels and spin-offs which don't interest me too:
Ai Mai Mi ~Mousou Catastrophe~
Encouragement of Climb (Yama no Susume) season 2
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya 2wei!
And then there's Hanamonogatari, which is apparently starting later in the summer. It should be available to the UK on both Daisuki and Crunchyroll so I guess I'll mention it in my 'final impressions' post down the line instead.
The new titles with no official UK stream at the moment are Barakamon, Shounen Hollywood -Holly Stage For 49-, Tokyo ESP, Sengoku Basara: Judge End and Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride). FUNimation also has the Psycho-Pass rerelease. I was hoping to check out Himegoto and Jinsei but neither seems to have a simulcast in the US, either.
I'd like to point out that while we are lucky enough to have so many titles available, they're split across seven different legal streaming services with minimal crossover, which means fans in the UK are being forced to use (and in many cases, pay for) a lot of different services to see a smaller number of shows than US-based fans who speak the same langauge as we do. I'm not watching everything this season and yet I still need to be a member of six UK streaming sites (plus one foreign one I'm having to sneak onto) to cover the titles I want to see. That's without subscribing to Netflix as well to catch Knights of Sidonia.
This situation is lame. Anime companies don't seem to realise that not everyone watches every single show. Spreading the titles out so much represents very poor value for the UK's small group of paying customers.
Complaints about the UK aside, this is proving to be a very strong season.
|Sakamoto discovers the best way to annoy British people|
Guessing my top three shows for the end of the season is rather tricky; there are too many contenders. At the moment it might be something like this. I'm not even going to try to hide my bias towards Sengoku Basara.
1. Sengoku Basara: Judge End
2. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
3. Zankyou no Terror
Lastly, here's the weekly schedule as it currently stands. I have some very busy weekends ahead of me.
Wednesday: Free! –Eternal Summer-, Love Stage!!, Nobunaga Concerto, Bakumatsu Rock
Thursday: Black Butler, Shin Strange+
Friday: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Terror in Resonance, Tokyo Ghoul
Saturday: Sengoku Basara: Judge End, Aldnoah Zero, Sailor Moon Crystal
Sunday: Haikyuu!!, DRAMAtical Murder, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Space Dandy, Yamishibai