Friday, 9 October 2015

Streaming: Summer 2015 anime final impressions

This season has been a chaotic mess, with a disappointing number of shows announced at the start and then several more joining them every week as deals were done behind the scenes to liberate the licenses FUNimation was witholding from us. My personal life has been a nonstop whirlwind too - as the drop in the frequency of my blog updates shows - and I'm looking forward to finally having some time to catch up on my online life over the next few months. Hopefully.

The stars of the anime season have to be the folks at Viewster, who have been expanding their UK simulcast offerings at a phenomenal pace. Crunchyroll has been reliable for the titles they managed to license here while Daisuki at first seemed to be fading away like so many streaming services in the past. They acquired a few delayed broadcasts with little warning, though, turning things around for now.

The only thing stopping Viewster from being as good as Crunchyroll is the roll-out of their ad-free subscription, which so far seems rather costly and limiting for what I want. Still, it's early days yet and hopefully they'll consider an international-friendly digital-only subscription option for those of us who don't want to receive boxes of merchandise with our simulcasts. Meanwhile, Animax UK added a couple of 'simulcasts' (on an eight-week delay) without actually announcing them properly, but they still haven't managed to get organised enough to communicate their schedule to viewers.

My ranking hasn't changed much from the previous final impressions post since the continuing titles remained strong:

1. Arslan Senki
2. Gintama
3. Shokugeki No Soma

It should be called Daryun Senki, though.

I say that, then use a screenshot of someone else

New titles

First of all, here are all of the shows which weren't available in the UK until long after my first impressions post went online. The fact that this list is so long is because the UK streaming services are quite disorganised about getting things in place until several weeks (or months) after the season has begun.

Akagami No Shirayukihime (Snow White with the Red Hair)
This is a lovely shoujo romance in a fantasy setting. I wasn't feeling it at first; it's almost too sweet and innocent! Over time, however, the love story between the leads blossomed in a very satisfying way and I was rooting for the pair of them by the time the final ending sequence played.

The titular Shirayukihime is a studious young girl with an interest in medicine, whose life is turned upside down when her unusual red hair gets the attention of the king. To escape his amorous advances she flees her country and becomes mixed up with a band of travellers, earning their respect. She ends up staying with the group even after discovering their identities as a prince and his retainers from a neighbouring country. The rest of the series follows Shirayuki's training as she puts her skills with herbs and potions to use for the good of her newfound friends.

In many respects Akagami No Shirayukihime is rather similar to Saiunkoku Monogatari, another romance story about a motivated young girl whose intelligence and hard work earns her a place in court. I'm weak to fantasy settings to begin with and ended up marathoning most of the series in two days when Viewster finally put it online. There will supposedly be more episodes coming at a later date; I wonder what will happen next?

Everyone in the entire show is cute and likeable

Bikini Warriors
I was relieved to find that this sleazy fantasy parody show has short four-minute episodes, because it's based on a single long-running joke about how all four ladies in the party are dressed in the skimpiest of combat bikinis. Its irreverent silliness is funny for a few minutes then quickly starts to grate, so it's fortunate that the ending credits start rolling shortly after that point each time. Still, this is best left for those with a deep interest in jiggling breasts and butts; there's not much else going on in Bikini Warriors. It makes Queen's Blade look deep.

Dark Elf is clearly the best of the bunch

Hetalia: The World Twinkle
It's more Hetalia. I like the series so naturally I'm watching this, though it's very similar to the manga and by coincidence I read the corresponding chapters only a few months ago which makes it less exciting than something completely new. The other bad thing is that the ads are almost as long as the five-minute episodes themselves. Hetalia is not really aiming to broaden its appeal at this point; if you liked the previous adaptations this is more of the same historically-themed tomfoolery making light of how different - and yet, how similar - everyone is deep down. If you didn't like the previous seasons and find the series annoying, this instalment isn't going to change your mind.

Countries, reimagined as people, reimagined as cats

Kangoku Gakuen (Prison School)
There were rumours that this title would never appear in the UK at all due to its risque content so I was happy when Viewster announced it, even if it was close to the end of the season. The main characters are five perverted (and not very smart) boys who are accepted into an otherwise all girls' school, and because this is not a feel-good romantic comedy they end up getting into trouble quite quickly. The female students discipline them by imprisoning them and subjecting the boys to all kinds of humiliating cruelty. It's all a shallow excuse to show a bunch of horny young men bullied by assertive (and often barely clothed) young women with impossible figures, obviously, and the word 'crass' doesn't get close to describing how vulgar some of the scenarios can be. I wasn't sure whether I'd love Prison School or hate it from the previews since I was worried that the sexist themes would be played straight and annoy me. The creators are definitely in on the joke, though, and in the end I found it entertaining enough to keep watching.

The 'hero', an everyday guy who kind of sucks

Milpom
Not sure why I watched this; it's a mini series about stop motion dolls excitedly conversing about everyday topics. If you like weird stuff or girls with cute voices, you might find it a pleasant diversion. In my case it's sort of creepy and I don't understand why it exists.

???

Overlord
One of two decent-looking shows held hostage by Animax's incompetent streaming service this season. I was trying hard to enjoy this and to take a screenshot that fairly represented the show, but forget it, Animax sucks too much for that. Here is an actual screenshot of the 'HD' footage I get on their (two month late) simulcast service.

I have no idea what is going on here either

Why even stream something in the first place if you can only provide such low quality that nobody can enjoy it properly?

If I reloaded the stream a few dozen times I could eventually read the subtitles so I persevered and watched the first episode. The skeletal lead, Momonga, is hanging out by himself as his favourite immersive multiplayer game is reaching the end of its life, but when he goes to disconnect for the night he finds that he's stuck there and the controls don't work any more. It sounds like half a dozen other series already. I was hopeful that the tongue-in-cheek atmosphere would set it above the other shows in its genre but it swiftly became apparent that it was just another pandering wish fulfilment show about a socially awkward guy stuck in a fantasy world. I might have given it more of a chance if it had been available on a real streaming site; it's almost good and might improve in subsequent episodes once the writers have run out of stupid recycled gags.

Ok, I'm out of here

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
I had a rocky time watching this one too as Animax's shambolic service couldn't keep the free version online in a consistent fashion. In the end they spontaneously re-added everything at the end of the season without a word to their customers. Their business model baffles me.

Ranpo Kitan is a freaky mystery series inspired by the work of Edogawa Ranpo. A pair of schoolboys become entangled with genius teenager Akechi and end up helping him solve crimes. There's a strong theme of weirdness in the supporting cast, which includes an overly excitable incontinent villainess and a harmless pervert with a paper bag over his head. One of the two male leads also has an obvious crush on the other, which manifests as him being cutely overprotective of his friend whenever he throws himself into the thick of danger.

The show is based on two of my favourite things - fun characters and murder mysteries - so it was an easy sell, especially when the character designs are so easy on the eyes. It was also the first time I noticed seiyuu Takahashi Rie who has turned in a fantastic performance as the young Kobayashi. I hope that she'll be getting a lot more work in future.

Akechi reminds me of Setsuna from Gundam 00

Wakako-zake
A series of very short clips about a young woman who likes to go out drinking and savouring various (mostly) meat dishes every evening. I intended to drop it after the first episode yet ended up watching half a dozen stories back to back; it's charming to see our heroine enjoying her food so much, and interesting to see the light-hearted elitist attitudes people have about their favourite meals.

Don't watch it when you're hungry - if you like meat

The other show which was streamed belatedly was Aquarion Logos, a sequel to a series I'm not up to date on. I decided to skip it for now, and instead squeezed in Kekkai Sensen (Blood Blockade Battlefront) which had a delayed stream on Viewster. The final episode of that is still in limbo due to its weird schedule so it's going to end up spanning the spring, summer and autumn seasons in spite of its short length.

--

Series I watched

Aoharu x Kikanjuu (Aoharu Machinegun)
I said I was dropping this show yet here I am at the end of the season admitting that I eagerly watched every single episode after all. It turns out the addition of the gloomy Yukimura was what it took to get me interested; it's a good thing the staff put him in the next episode preview of the first episode.

I still don't care about survival gaming, or never-to-be-resolved plots about girls who are mistaken for guys and become too shy to ever clear up the misunderstanding. That doesn't matter though; Aoharu x Kikanjuu is a cute show and the main story worked well to keep the tension high from episode to episode. The twisted rival team was also fun to watch.

I'm also a little ashamed to admit that I only noticed that the male leads were called Masamune and Yukimura towards the end of the show's run.

Most moe character of the season, hands down

Arslan Senki (The Heroic Legend of Arslan)
I've loved my time with Arslan Senki so much! Objectively speaking, it's not all that special; fantasy stories about feuding royals and bands of adventurers are a dime a dozen. But it does so much right with the characterisation and sense of heroism that I'm willing to forget that I've seen similar stories a thousand times before and just go with the flow. This is great entertainment.

The best thing is that I have no idea what happens in the story. There was one arc where I was genuinely worried for my favourite character and waiting for the next episode a week later was absolute torture. That's so rare nowadays with almost everything being based on popular series followed by fans who are all too ready to spoil surprises in advance. Thank goodness that I don't know any talkative Arslan fans.

A picture of someone other than Daryuun!

Durarara!!×2 (Ten)
Why is the new Durarara!! getting panned on most of the anime websites I follow? It's true that the animation quality dips from time to time, and it's also true that the convoluted timeline makes it necessary to pay more attention than usual to keep track of what's going on. But most of the complaints aren't about those things at all; people are actually saying that these last few episodes have been boring! My favourite part about Ten has been learning about grizzly yakuza Akabayashi, who has swiftly risen through the ranks to become one of the most interesting characters to watch. I'm looking forward to seeing the third part of the story when it returns early next year.

The first (and last) time I will use a picture of this jerk

GANGSTA.
Hmm. I have mixed feelings about GANGSTA. On one hand, I really like the series; its cast is huge and full of people with interesting stories to tell. The adaptation doesn't balk at the more challenging elements such as having a deaf protagonist or showing the cocktail of abuse, drugs and prostitution which underpin the main plot. On the other hand, the animation was really ropey and it wasn't even paced well enough to end at a logical stopping point. It's a terrible shame that studio Manglobe suddenly announced its bankruptcy right at the end of the series; I had hopes that we might get some OAV episodes or a cleanup of the animation and that no longer seems possible. At least the manga is receiving a good quality English release from Viz so I can keep up with the ongoing story that way.

I'm also annoyed that I forgot to take a picture of Galahad as he's easily my favourite character in the series and it's so rare to have a decent black guy in this kind of show. Next time, Galahad!

Of course Loretta is cool too

Gatchaman Crowds Insight
I've talked about my trouble following some of the more whimsical elements of Gatchaman Crowds before so I was relieved when things settled down after a couple of episodes. The story is completely unsubtle - it's the most thinly veiled social commentary I've seen in a long time and it could easily irritate anyone who likes a little finesse with their allegories. An exceptionally naive alien ends up threatening the political structure of Japan in a relatively peaceful way by taking advantage of the locals' blasé attitudes, and it's down to the Gatchaman team to untangle the mess. The new member of the team is naïve and idealistic to the point where she made Hajime seem like a beacon of wisdom. By the end, the meandering story somehow managed to pull all of the story threads together and it was the series' trademarked hyperactive presentation which made it stand out.

Um, political stories are all well and good, but I sort of wanted to see more cool Gatchaman action.

He barely did anything, like most of the main characters

Ore Monogatari!! (MY Love STORY!!)
Anyone who dislikes Ore Monogatari!! is probably lying about having watched it. It just doesn't seem possible to harbour any negativity about such a feel-good, healthy romance series which shows that there's more to relationships than walking in on a girl changing and making her blush (I've seen one too many terrible light novel adaptations lately). Takeo is a fantastic lead, loving and willing to question himself without being unrealistically perfect. His best friend is a wonderful guy who supports the couple in a playful, caring way, and the heroine Rinko - portrayed as the embodiment of cuteness to fit Takeo's image of her - is valued for her kind, genuine nature. Anyone can see themselves and people they know in these simple, very human characters, and the characters actually act their ages - even though Takeo's monstrous size is a running gag. This could potentially be a worldwide smash hit if its target demographic outside Japan would ever have the chance to watch it. I'd have loved to see something like Ore Monogatari!! back when I was in my teens.

I failed to get a good picture of Rinko again!

Rokka No Yuusha (Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers)
What I was expecting was a series about the six titular heroes heading out into demon territory to fulfil their grand destiny. What I got was a peculiar mystery story about seven paranoid meatheads chasing one another through a forest for twelve episodes. None of the characters were very well fleshed-out - presumably because if they had been, it would have been easier for the viewer to work out who the 'seventh Brave' was and become frustrated with the pace of the storytelling. As a result, however, I have to admit I wasn't that interested in who it was either. It's difficult to get emotionally invested in a story about a group of strangers who (mostly) all hate one another, even if the lead was an affable guy.

Whatever I felt about the way it treated my expectations, the end of Rokka No Yuusha set itself up for a much-needed sequel so I really hope it gets one. It will be very annoying if I never get to see the cast actually working together as a group - and the scene of another character (voiced by Ishida Akira, no less) deciding to get involved right at the end was a dreadful way to tease the viewers!

The cool Hans - the only non-colourful thing in the show

Shokugeki No Soma (Food Wars!)
Why was this series so good? I loved the cooking theme and the ridiculous rivalries, and even the lead was a genuinely likeable guy. The only thing I didn't like about Food Wars! was the heroine Erina, who mostly paraded around being an irrational jerk without any satisfactory explanation for her behaviour (beyond 'the readers like prissy girls', I guess). Oh, and the second ending song was awful.

After setting things up for the struggle to be recognised as one of the school's elite I certainly hope that we'll be seeing more of Soma's adventures animated in the future. I'd also quite like to see more of the outrageous fan service which somehow never felt inappropriate despite its lack of connection to the subject matter.

It's a cooking series, I swear it

--

And thus another season of anime is over. It was a pretty good batch of titles in the end, though the delays and poor communication meant the final few weeks were packed full of dozens of delayed episodes to make things as hard as possible for a UK viewer trying to keep on top of all of the worthwhile titles.


Only Ushio And Tora and Gintama will be continuing into the autumn season. I've already started watching some of the new titles and so far, they don't hold a candle to the summer offerings. I'll miss you every Sunday, Arslan Senki!

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