Sunday, 19 October 2014

Streaming: Autumn 2014 anime first impressions

It's looking as though I'm going to have a quieter time this autumn after the sensational summer, which probably isn't a bad thing with travel plans and seasonal deadlines looming at work. The recent abundance of female-orientated fan service and hot-blooded action has given way to a schedule full of schoolgirls and fantasy instead. There are still some gems to be found, but as several are blocked from viewers in the UK by regional lockouts I'm going to have to wait until they appear on home video before giving them a try.

The tangled mess of UK anime streaming services continued to disappoint last season and there's no sign that much has improved since then. Animax UK continues to be slow and annoying (I gave up on waiting for them to actually announce anything this season and went ahead with this post without them), Daisuki will probably end up replicating part of Crunchyroll's library, and Viewster has managed to get one exclusive title which has yet to appear (correction: they're now also streaming the new Gundam series). Wakanim are not streaming anything at all this season in order to work on a website overhaul and relaunch which will probably never happen. Once again, Crunchyroll is the go-to service for timely streaming on a set schedule.

The only one of my summer titles which is continuing into autumn is Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal, so I'm starting with a relatively clean slate. Let's see which shows made the cut.

Spoilers: Fate was one of them
Akatsuki No Yona
I can't resist a good shoujo series with historical themes, and this one blends elements often seen in Korean, Chinese and Japanese period dramas to create a fantasy setting that is exotic no matter where you hail from without tying itself down by having to be too realistic. Yona is a pretty - if rather spoilt - princess whose head is filled with plans to marry her beautiful childhood friend, Soo-Won. She's so busy chasing after him that she completely ignores the gallant, honourable retainer Hak who is always watching over her, but for some reason her father adamantly refuses to allow her to pursue the man of her dreams. Before the first episode is over there's a major political upheaval and enough drama to keep any fan of shoujo romance satisfied, so I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes. From the opening and ending sequences I'm guessing that at the very least, Yona will be meeting up with a large number of impossibly handsome potential suitors over the course of the next few episodes.

The one complaint I have about the series so far is that the direction is all over the place, darting hyperactively back and forth in the timeline. The cool action scenes with Hak compensate for this flaw, but I do hope that the staff settle down soon and concentrate properly on the story they're trying to tell.

His gruff personality adds to his charm, I promise
Bonjour♪ Koiaji Pâtisserie (BONJOUR♪ Sweet Love Patisserie)
For a series all about hot guys they sure spend a lot of time on the super-pretty ladies! This is a typical fluffy bishounen title with a heroine who dreams of becoming a pastry chef. She's just starting out at an elite new vocational school and already there are hints that she's about to become the central figure in a tangled, chaste love polygon - it's the kind of scenario which would annoy me under normal circumstances but when the episodes are just a few minutes long, it's tolerable. I might keep watching it for the promise of pretty young men and sumptuous desserts.

I want hair like that
Celestial Method (Sora No Method)
After watching the first episode I concluded that there's nothing wrong with this show. It's just that there's nothing interesting about it either; it seems to be a pretty-looking fluff show about dainty young girls with some mild fantasy elements.

It's only been a few days since I watched it and I've already forgotten everything that happened. Perhaps it will turn into something deeper later on. Unless I hear that it takes a turn for the dark later on, I'm done with this Celestial Method and its feel-good cuteness.

At least the designs are quite nice
CROSS ANGE Rondo of Angel and Dragon (Tenshi To Ryuu No Rondo)
Viewster's sole unique simulcast for the UK arrives a few weeks later than the version which people in better countries get to watch ad-free on Crunchyroll, which isn't the greatest start. As it's looking as though CROSS ANGE might be rather mediocre and there's no news on when to expect its 'simulcast' to begin, I'm skipping it for now - it can go in the corresponding 'final impressions' post at the end of the season if Viewster have it online by then. It looks as though they're keeping track of their simulcasts at this link so the details should be there soon.

DENKI-GAI (Denkigai No Honya-san)
It's not great. This referential comedy about a bunch of people working at a certain major doujinshi retailer in Akihabara originally caught my eye because of the nostalgia value it offers. The parodies of real-life shops and locations are very well done! The weakest part of the series so far is its cast of characters; the guys are ok but the girls are the most irritating group of childish brats I've seen since Mitsudomoe, which is weird when the entire premise of the series is about people who work in an adult doujinshi store. While I understand that the target audience likes that kind of character, they could at least have included one intelligent-looking female to even the odds a little. There's way too much blushing and squealing so far.

Still, Denkigai No Honya-san will probably stay on my schedule purely as a title I can watch with my partner each week, since there's little else on offer this season that we'd both enjoy.

One interesting aspect of this show is that it's been chosen to spearhead the new range of international offerings from Pony Canyon ('PonyCan'). It's been getting rave reviews online from fans of the original manga (I'm not entirely sure why) so I hope their first attempt at releasing anime to an English-speaking audience directly will go well. Even if the show itself is sort of annoying.

The behind-the-scenes gags are the only parts I like
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
After hating most of the original Fate/stay night television series then loving the Fate/Zero spin-off, I was cautious about this new adaptation. Not being all that familiar with the Unlimited Blade Works route from the game (the standalone movie blitzed through the content awfully quickly), I was worried it would be similar to the first series which spent altogether too much time on insipid romantic comedy tropes rather than awesome Servant battles.

Thankfully, however, the first episode of this new series absolutely blew me away. It's beautiful. The animation is first rate - the action sequences are easily the best of the season - and even though my favourite Fate character doesn't have much of a role Rin makes a great heroine. The second episode didn't quite manage to live up to the first, but there's still an awful lot of promise here. I'm looking forward to it.

The best characters so far are Rin's fabulous thighs
Grisaia No Kajitsu (Le Fruit de la Grisaia)
Wow, I was expecting to hate this adult game adaptation but it ended up being surprisingly entertaining. A strangely capable guy yearns to lead an ordinary school life, which leads to him enrolling in a school with only five other students. As it happens, the other students are all attractive young girls with a habit of showing their underwear or stripping off without any provocation. While it sounds absolutely terrible, the first episode sets up plenty of mysteries about the cast while packing in enough bawdy humour to keep things interesting; even though I'm unlikely to watch more, I'm impressed with how capably the show punches above its weight.

It's also worth noting that the staff spent an unusual amount of time depicting the male lead stark naked for some reason.

Rampant male nudity in a bishoujo title? Ok!
Gugure! Kokkuri-san
An inquisitive little girl accidentally summons a handsome fox apparition, who ends up taking pity on her pathetic life and looking after her as best he can. His terrible attempts to provide advice lead to a variety of comical situations. I found this gag series light and enjoyable so I'll probably keep up with it each week.

It's a little odd watching this at the same time as I'm catching up on my Blu-ray set of Kamisama Hajimemashita, as both have silver-haired male fox spirits as main characters. They look very similar indeed.

It's impossible not to root for the hapless Kokkuri-san
Gundam: Reconguista In G
The streaming arrangements for this season's highly anticipated new Gundam title are a little experimental. Since Crunchyroll won't talk to UK licensor Anime Limited for some reason, they've been trying to get it on as many alternative platforms as possible to make up for Wakanim's absence. The first service to offer Reconguista In G here was Vimeo (its first UK anime simulcast, I believe?) and after waiting a few days I ended up paying the fee to watch it there. Vimeo's On Demand service is very professional compared to the dedicated anime sites; there's no advertising or on-screen clutter, the video player works properly, the episodes go up on time, you can download them without any kind of DRM and you can watch your saved shows anywhere. The only criticism I have so far is the inability to remove the subtitles, which may be some kind of bonkers UK-specific licensing requirement. A subscription model like Crunchyroll's is best for websites with large catalogues but as the chance of me watching anything else in the Vimeo library this season is remote, I was happy to pay for Gundam: Reconguista In G on its own.

In case anyone from the anime industry is reading this and rubbing their hands together in glee at the idea that people will pay per episode for anime simulcasts, I should add that Gundam is rather special. There is no way I would pay for a dedicated subscription for an average title.

The show has since been announced for a UK stream on Viewster as well, so fans can choose between the deluxe Vimeo service and the free, ad-supported Viewster stream. Everyone wins. Viewster's free stream can be accessed via this link if you're in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland or the UK.

Gundam: Reconguista In G is a campy throwback to the early days of the series which takes great pains to try to emulate the details of classic cel animation and harebrained plots, and it's jolly entertaining to watch. I have no idea where it's going, but having been in a Gundam drought since 00 I'm happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

And people say that Gundam shows are full of weird jargon
Danna Ga Nani Wo Itteiru Ka Wakaranai Ken (I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying)
A normal woman falls in love with - and marries - an otaku guy, then shares her strange experiences adapting to his lifestyle in these short three-and-a-half minute episodes. It's easy to relate to and quite sweet, with each episode being better than the last. I think I'll keep watching.

They're a good couple!
Girl Friend (BETA)
This is so cute. It doesn't appear to have any plot at all, spending all of its time so far on depicting its enormous cast of idealised schoolgirls rushing around doing adorable things. Still, that's exactly what fans of the original smartphone game probably want to see. Girl Friend (BETA) isn't something I can tolerate for more than a few minutes without getting cavities but if you're into this kind of show it's a decent effort.

This has always bothered me too!
Kaitou Joker (JOKER)
Kaitou Joker is a hyperactive kids' show about a flamboyant masked thief who continually tricks the police despite announcing his crimes in advance. It's not exactly original, but it's a fun show for its target audience. I don't think I can manage more than a couple of episodes before the harmless mischief begins to grate. It's a pity that this is available while Magic Kaito 1412 went unlicensed.

The designs are pretty cool for a show aimed at kids
Karen Senki
I was planning on passing on Karen Senki right from the start as I'm not a big fan of this style of CG cell-shaded animation. It's actually not that bad in motion, but the breakneck pacing of this show made it hard to enjoy unless you're someone who can just sit back and enjoy sexily-dressed babes romping through a science fiction setting and reeling off sassy one-liners. Actually, now that I read it again that description makes the show sound pretty good - but the way it's executed isn't to my taste. The way that the action kept abruptly shifting between scenes made it feel like a compilation of cutscenes from a game.

It's one of the better-looking CG anime titles, I guess
Mushi-shi Zokushou season 2 (Mushi-shi: The Next Passage)
It's more Mushi-shi. That's a good thing. This is a direct continuation of the previous television series, and since it had that bonus episode over the summer it feels as though it never really went away.

Ginko is as understatedly awesome as always
Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji (Wolf Girl and Black Prince)
Insecure schoolgirl Erika lies about having a gorgeous boyfriend one day to try to to impress the fashionable girls in her class. This moment of stupidity has lasting repercussions; the other girls demand proof, and the guy she chooses as her fake boyfriend turns out to be a cruel sadist who bullies her whenever they're together. It's not exactly a healthy foundation for the relationship that is obviously going to develop later on, but it's entertaining. I like the way that Kyouya instantly shifts between his friendly everyday personality and his inner brute the moment nobody else is watching.

He's throughly evil and cunning, so why am I so happy?
Orenchi No Furo Jijou
This series of comedy shorts reminds me of the experimental anime Kono Danshi, Ningyo Hiroimashita. (This Boy Caught A Merman) - except much, much sillier, and with a significantly scarier opening sequence. The story begins with a male student rescuing a hunky blonde merman, only to find that he's not all that interested in leaving the comfort of his saviour's bathtub once he's become used to it. It's light and fluffy, making for a good start to the week.

How can anyone be depressed living with a merman?!
Parasyte -The Maxim- (Kiseijuu -Sei No Kakuritsu-)
What a blast from the past! I used to read the Kiseijuu manga in (heavily localised) English back when Mixxzine magazine first came out in 1997, but I didn't have the money to collect the compiled volumes and never found out what happened later on in the story. The designs have been modernised - Shinichi isn't as cool as he was before - but the core story about aliens invading human bodies in weird ways is still intact in this updated adaptation. I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

It's a shame they didn't use the more angular manga designs
SHIROBAKO
A fascinating look at the inner workings of an anime studio framed by a story about a group of girls who dream of creating an anime together when they grow up. The first episode focuses on one of those girls, Aoi, who has entered the industry and ended up desperately rushing around on an unforgiving production schedule.

I'm currently working on some big, exhausting projects in my day job so perhaps the show's themes hit a little too close to home. Still, there's a lot of humanity to SHIROBAKO and I'm always biased towards shows with large casts; P.A Works titles seem very hit-or-miss but this is one of the good ones. I'll stick with it.

I wonder if the Judge End team was like this each week
TERRAFORMARS
No conversation about TERRAFORMARS seems to take place in the English-speaking world without bringing up the issue of race, which seems rather misplaced to me when the villains of the show resemble no human being I've ever seen in my life, regardless of their ethnic background.

In any case, the series has far greater problems than the way a foreign audience views its portrayal of racial tensions. The first episode somehow managed to be boring even with its (censored) bloody cage fight and bonkers popcorn sci-fi plot. I can see where it appeals to its target audience, but with such unlikeable characters it's difficult to justify watching any more of the show. It doesn't help that the prequel OAV wasn't made available along with the television adaptation so those of us who don't follow the manga are missing out on part of the plot.

This guy looks much cooler than he actually is
Tribe Cool Crew
Tribe Cool Crew is about a spunky youngster who lives for the thrill of dancing. It's plainly aimed at a much younger audience (in case that isn't obvious from the character designs) but the funky dance sequences make it surprisingly watchable, and the subject matter makes a change from the endless card collecting series which dominate the market. It shows a lot of promise even though I don't think the simple concept is going to keep my interest.

He looks cooler when he's dancing, honest
TRINITY SEVEN: 7-nin No Mahoutsukai
Some guy enrolls in a special school for mages due to various circumstances, where he's told there are seven extraordinarily powerful female casters - a couple of whom he's already met. It's the usual blend of action and 'comedy' hijinks that these harem shows always degenerate into as soon as the bizarre setup is explained, and it's most definitely not my kind of thing.

How funny, recycled boob jokes
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (Inou-Battle Ha Nichijou-kei No Naka De)
A boy who acts like an even-more-annoying version of Okarin from Steins;Gate is a member of the literature club at school along with four cute girls who fawn over him even though he has no obvious redeeming features. Suddenly, everyone in the club manifests magic powers and then they... continue to lounge around in their club room doing nothing in particular. For fans of adorable schoolgirls and trope-filled light novel adaptations only.

I hoped it was going to turn into a sexy yuri show here
Your Lie In April (Shigatsu Ha Kimi No Uso)
Great opening! I'm not really feeling this coming of age story about a schoolboy musician whose negativity towards the piano is given a jolt by the arrival of a free-spirited young girl, but it's definitely very sweet even if it doesn't resonate with me personally. The key scenes are beautifully animated. It's a little disappointing that I'm not interested in continuing since this is a lovely looking show.

The probably-irrelevant male friend
Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru
Everything changes when the cute girls who make up their school's 'Hero Club' are selected to do battle against dangerous foes, calling on the power of a smartphone app to help them power up. This magical girl show clearly owes many of its best ideas to titles such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and having already watched a large number of similar titles before nothing really grabbed me. The most interesting element (the only interesting element, in fact) is the wheelchair-bound girl; she's the main character's enigmatic best friend and her worries appear somewhat relatable. The moments where everyone in the cast stopped doing anything in order to fiddle with their phones in silence reminded me way too much of real life.

щ(゚Д ゚щ)
--

On the live action drama front, I've decided to keep up with Crunchyroll's stream of Nobunaga Concerto. It seems as though they've shuffled quite a few things around and everyone is less expressive. It's not quite as fun as the anime version, but I'm still interested in seeing more - partly out of gratitude that they're showing it in the first place and partly because I want to see what happens if they ever get past the point where the anime ended. It's weird seeing Oguri Shun in the role of Saburou. He's not a bad actor, it's just that his face looks far too mature at this point in the story.

He isn't Nobunaga, but I like him more
I've also supplemented my streaming this season with the live action Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) movie, which is - by some miracle - currently running in UK cinemas all across the country. It was a fun movie and worth watching on the big screen!

--

There are quite a few region locked titles this time, including several I wanted to watch. Nanatsu No Taizai (The Seven Deadly Sins) is supposedly with Netflix which means there'll be no legal stream in English-speaking regions until winter at the earliest. A handful of other titles seem to be missing right the way across the English-speaking world.

On the bright side, there seem to be fewer services jostling for attention this season so I don't have to keep checking half a dozen websites for the latest unscheduled episodes they occasionally bother making available. Animax might just be slow to announce their acquisitions, I guess.

Region locked Crunchyroll titles

Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girl
Madan No Ou To Vanadis (Lord Marksman and Vanadis)
Ore, Twintails Ni Narimasu. (Gonna be the Twin-Tails!!)
World Trigger
Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road

Region locked FUNimation titles

Daitoshokan No Hitsujikai (A Good Librarian Like A Good Shepherd)
Donten Ni Warau (Laughing Under the Clouds)
GARO Honoo No Kokuin (GARO The Animation)
Ore, Twintails Ni Narimasu. (Gonna be the Twin-Tails!!)
Psycho-Pass season 2
Selector Spread WIXOSS
Shingeki No Bahamut Genesis (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)
Ushinawareta Mirai Wo Motomete (In Search of Lost Future)

It's fun when multiple services get the same title yet they're all region locked. I was hoping we'd get Donten Ni Warau and Psycho-Pass in the UK but I guess it wasn't to be. Thanks for nothing, FUNimation. Keep on sabotaging legal anime streaming in the west!

Finally, there's the usual batch of sequels and spin-offs for shows I never watched:

Aikatsu! season 3 (presumed to be airing on Daisuki once they catch up)
Bottom-Biting Bug (Oshiri Kajirimushi)
Chaika -The Coffin Princess- Avenging Battle (Hitsugi No Chaika)
Gundam Build Fighters Try
Log Horizon season 2

I'd probably enjoy Gundam Build Fighters Try if I caught up on the earlier episodes but the inconsistent region locking on the official website is too frustrating to deal with.

--

Although I wouldn't normally bother keeping up with weaker fare like Denkigai No Honya-san in a busy season, I think it will be possible to spare enough time to keep an eye on it this time. If things become tight it's definitely going to be the first show I drop.


My guess for the top three shows once the season is over currently looks something like this.

1. Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji
2. Akatsuki No Yona
3. Mushi-shi

I'd have had to think about this harder if FUNimation hadn't locked PSYCHO-PASS away from us as the first season left a very strong impression on me.

So, here's the weekly schedule as it currently stands. Since Thursdays are back to being the same chaotic avalanche of anime that they were a couple of seasons ago, it's fortunate that I can use Friday evening to catch up.

Monday: Orenchi No Furo Jijou
Tuesday: Akatsuki No Yona
Wednesday: Kiseijuu
Thursday: Denkigai No Honya-san, Gundam: Reconguista In G, SHIROBAKO, Danna Ga Nani Wo Itteiru Ka Wakaranai Ken
Friday: Nothing!
Saturday: Nobunaga Concerto, Sailor Moon, Fate/stay night, BONJOUR♪Koiaji Pâtisserie, Mushi-shi
Sunday: Gugure! Kokkuri-san, Ookami Shoujo To Kuro Ouji

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