Saturday, 23 January 2016

Streaming: Winter 2016 anime first impressions

What a bizarre season this is shaping up to be! The UK streaming situation is always a mess, with a different jumble of underfunded, confused companies splitting all of the simulcasts haphazardly between themselves and leaving the average viewer struggling to watch the shows they want.

This time, Funimation have finally stepped up to the plate after years of grabbing UK rights for titles they had no intention of allowing UK viewers to watch and announced that they'll be giving us access to their relaunched 'Funimation Now' streaming service in February. To help us wait for the Funimation content to become available, Daisuki are streaming five of their shows on a one-week delay. Not ideal, but at least Daisuki always publish titles on a regular schedule.

Crunchyroll have an excellent lineup this time around too, with (mostly) worldwide rights for most titles. We also had some activity from The Anime Network (Sentai) who decided to announced that they would stream their titles to the UK themselves instead of adding them to Crunchyroll. In truth their own service is exceptionally expensive for what you get in the UK - three simulcasts and half a dozen catalogue titles - but it's nice to be remembered.

It's easily the best anime season we've ever had in terms of UK availability.

Viewster and Animax seem to be sitting the next few months out entirely - Viewster has one new delaycast but it's a continuation of a title licensed for a previous season, and Animax was completely quiet until a handful of Funimation shows were silently listed on its site. No episodes are available at the time of writing this three weeks into the season, however, so I'm unable to add any further commentary. Neither Viewster nor Animax can keep to a regular schedule and they're difficult to recommend.

Several series are continuing from autumn, namely Haikyuu!!, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and Gintama.

Some shows are continuing from previous seasons, too

Active Raid: Kidou Kyoushuushitsu Daihakkei
Mixed feelings about this one. It's extremely flashy and entertaining, which is a good start, yet at the same time it feels like a lot of familiar elements have been chaotically jumbled together and I'm not all that keen on the characters. Active Raid is a typical action series about a division of extremely well-financed police officers who use all kinds of neat gadgets and techniques to combat futuristic crimes. Unfortunately, this particular unit has gained a reputation for being reckless and sloppy, so Asami joins as a new recruit in order to try to reform them. It seems obvious that she's going to end up sinking down to their level and becoming a valued member of the team herself so for now the main entertainment value is probably going to be in seeing the ridiculous missions playing out as we learn more about the individual members. Although the weird mechanic seemed interesting and the stupid bickering between the two officers in power suits is a highlight, I ended up dropping the show after the second episode was just as weak as the first.

Is it nothing more than a poor man's Tiger & Bunny?

Akagami No Shirayukihime season 2 (Snow White With The Red Hair)
Viewster's only simulcast of the season, and it's the follow-up to a show they licensed previously. Considering how much time and money they have spent launching their 'Omakase' premium streaming service it's sad to see them fail to actually add any content at all this season. I'm glad I didn't subscribe; the enforced bundling of merchandise makes it too expensive and awkward and there isn't even any reason to do so if they aren't licensing anime for the UK.

I'll stick with Viewster for this series because I love Akagami No Shirayukihime enough to put up with the wishy-washy schedule and irritating ads. There's not much to say about the show itself because so far, it's the same feel-good romantic fantasy adventure we saw in season one. No matter how the plot develops I'm sure I'm going to enjoy this.

One half of the show's cute couple

Ao No Kanata No Four Rhythm (AOKANA)
It didn't take long before I became suspicious about this show and looked it up; as suspected, it's based on an erotic visual novel. While the hero didn't immediately annoy me - for some reason, the leads in adult games rarely do compared to their light novel counterparts - the traditional dizzy pink-haired girl managed to get on my nerves extremely quickly. Not much happened in the first episode other than a parade of introductions as various girls showed up and bickered with one another. The unique gimmick of AOKANA is that the students living on a set of islands are able to fly around using special gravity-defying footwear, leading to a sense of freedom - and almost unlimited opportunities for panty shots, which oddly the staff imply rather than show outright.

In all honesty this show is actually pretty good, it's just not my kind of thing; if I was going to spend time on it then I'd rather play the original game and see all of the lewd content too.

Rebelliously using a picture of a guy for a bishoujo title

Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (Erased)
This was interesting. Satoru is a guy in his late twenties who delivers pizza to supplement his income from drawing manga. One day, he risks his life trying to save a little boy and wakes up injured in hospital. It turns out that Satoru has a special gift which lets him jump back in time and prevent dangerous situations before they occur - something which ends up coming in useful when he's blamed for a shocking murder and needs to delve into the past for answers.

The premise wouldn't be out of place in the average irritating light novel adaptation but what makes this series work for me is that the main character is older, more jaded and actually capable of getting through the superb introductory episode without pointlessly groping any of his female friends. The mystery is also potentially interesting. I think I'll keep watching.

Great first episode, nice and dark

Bubuki Buranki (BBK/BRNK)
A mysterious fantasy series which teleports the viewer to a strange world of unique weapons and people with special powers. Most of the first episode is devoted to showing the lifestyle which young Azuma and Kaoruko experienced growing up, yet the exposition left many questions unanswered when the story skipped forward in time a few years to follow an older Azuma in a completely different setting. The CG quality in the animation was extremely varied; there were some moments where it looked quite good and others where it was extremely clumsy. In honesty, I find this kind of awkward CG off-putting to the extent that it makes it difficult to become attached to the characters. When each frame is drawn from scratch there's a warmth to the characters' expressions and motions which is missing here. Still, when viewed objectively I think Bubuki Buranki has a lot of promise. It's just not for me.

There's some nice design work going on here

Dagashikashi
Dagashikashi is the latest in a long tradition of stories about a youngster who doesn't want to take over their family business - in this case, an old fashioned sweet shop in a sleepy Japanese town. Kokonotsu has a natural talent for the job but what he really wants is to become a manga artist, so the arrival of a highly motivated, sweet-obsessed girl who colludes with his father to persuade him to give up on his dream certainly shakes things up. This girl - purple-haired lunatic Hotaru - is the main draw of the series as she waxes lyrical about the charms of various different treats and dominates every scene in which she appears. Given that the show didn't air on Daisuki until well after everything else on my list, it might be a victim of my full schedule making it difficult to keep up with another new simulcast. I do like the eccentric character designs, though.

How is she so slim when she eats so many sweets?!

Durarara!! x2 Ketsu
The final arc of the second season of Durarara!! is here at last! The gaps between these adaptations make it difficult to adjust to the extended cast of characters whenever it resumes; I'm still disorientated two episodes into this run. Shinra and Celty are still one of my favourite couples and it looks as though a lot of ongoing mysteries are going to be addressed in the coming weeks.

Please have a happy ending

Garakowa -Restore the World- (Garasu No Hana To Kowasu Sekai)
I didn't know what this show was from its title until I stumbled upon the Japanese name and remembered the initial press releases some time ago. A standalone movie, Garakowa is a stunningly pretty self-contained story about a group of three girls in a bizarre science fiction setting. It sounded potentially cool from the concept so I was disappointed when it couldn't keep my attention at all; I think it's the kind of film you probably have to watch twice through to make sense of everything and I just don't want to. Fans of 'cute girls doing cute things' will probably get a lot more out of it than I did because there was way too much of that kind of thing in between the strange virtual reality action. Oh well.


Gorgeous visuals, though


Haruta & Chika (Haruchika ~Haruta To Chika Ha Seishun Suru~)
An odd school series about Chika, a playful young girl who is desperately trying to reinvent herself as an elegant beauty. Her plan is threatened when she joins a struggling wind instrument club at her new school only to discover that her childhood friend Haruta is also a member. Things take a strange twist when the club has to solve an unexpected mystery - and then another twist with a bold declaration of love towards the end of the first episode. Although I'm not really sure where all of this is going any more, I'm interested enough to keep watching.

Chika, not the most relatable lead despite her best efforts

Kono Subarashii Sekai Ni Shukufuku Wo! (KonoSuba - God's Blessing On This Wonderful World!)
There sure are a lot of series about people who die heroically in the first episode lately, aren't there? This is typical light novel fluff about a nerd who dies saving a girl and ends up meeting a mean-spirited goddess called Aqua who persuades him to travel to another world instead of heaven in order to overthrow the Demon King. He agrees to do so, then surprises the nasty goddess by choosing her as his special power for the other world rather than something more conventional. This is the only good scene in the first episode as she's immediately fired from her role and sent away, protesting all the while. The rest is a fairly standard fantasy parody with weird upskirt shots of Aqua's butt whenever the dialogue dries up.

I don't like her and don't want to see her butt, thanks

Koukaku No Pandora (Pandora In The Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn)
This series somehow flew completely under my radar despite the involvement of Rikudou Koushi and Shirou Masamune. Nene is a young cyborg who meets a mysterious older woman and her cat-eared cyborg companion when travelling to live with her aunt on an unfamiliar island. The show has a little bit of everything; battle scenes with girls wielding weapons, a sad past for the lead which is doubtless going to be explored more later, strangely skeevy fan service of the young female leads, and some soft science fiction elements with the cyborg technology which is obviously going to feature heavily in the ongoing story. Perhaps it's the involvement of the creators talking, but this feels a little more solid than many similar shows in recent years. I didn't like the main fan service scene halfway through the first episode - it was just too weird - but the rest wasn't bad.

Please keep your clothes on, Nene

Luck And Logic
Mixed feelings about this one. The first episode of Luck And Logic skips merrily through the usual checklist of generic story components, from the bland male lead with his doting little sister to the long-winded explanations of the inner workings of the series' world, peppered with the same tired old jokes I've heard a thousand times before. They were doing quite well with fan service until the guy fell over onto a girl for no reason and from then on it was all downhill. The lead is soon pulled into a world of superpowers and excitement when he meets a cute girl who unlocks his hidden potential through a marriage-like ritual, and he ends up living with her in a compound full of feisty teenage girls. I see where this is going.
I wish the whole show was like this scene in the intro

Lupin III - L'avventura Italiana (Lupin The 3rd Part 4)
Whoa, first Meitantei Conan's broadcast suddenly opened up to the UK a couple of weeks ago, and now we're actually included in the region list for this new Lupin III simulcast! It's impossible to watch most of the earlier Lupin III outings from the UK other than a couple of the films and the recent Fujiko spin-off, despite its longstanding popularity over in mainland Europe, so this is a fantastic improvement over what we had before.

There's not much point in summarising the Lupin III world at this point; it's a classic series and most fans have probably seen some by now. I checked out the first episode of L'avventura Italiana and loved it enough to marathon the following fourteen which Crunchyroll uploaded at the same time; the heavy blend of old fashioned design and sexiness is never a bad thing, and the episodic stories contain a rich blend of different themes to keep things fresh. Excellent.

New recurring character Rebecca is a welcome addition

Macross Delta
I was tempted to skip this as I'm not keen on streaming on YouTube, however, Macross has unusual circumstances thanks to some copyright thieves in the west and I guess I can make a compromise this time. The official stream is not subtitled. The preliminary version of the first episode aired ahead of the rest of the series (it's due for the spring season) and my impressions were that it got off to a bland start. However, when it came to the climax of the episode with the main idol group singing their hearts out, it was impossible to avoid being swept away by the excitement. What a spectacle! Assuming that it's possible to watch the series proper when it airs, there may be some CD purchases in my future...

Gorgeous

Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara
A simple four-minute series about a young student reluctantly forced to work as a magical girl. It's a gentle parody of the genre and not terrifically funny unless you like looking at disgruntled young girls in swimsuits.

Perhaps I've seen too many magical girl parodies?

Musaigen No Phantom World (Myriad Colors Phantom World)
I wanted to say that Musaigen No Phantom World was so bland and inoffensive it annoyed me, except that the creators had to add lots of incongruous, highly awkward fan service moments because they weren't confident enough in their subject matter to let it stand on its own. I like fan service as much as the next person but this was just stupid.

Argh

Anyway, it's a fairly generic story about an underachieving boy with special powers who teams up with a small group of significantly more effective girls to wisecrack his way through a bunch of ghostly encounters. He's a nerd, so he explains basic things about how the world works to new people he meets even though it's obvious they already know - this makes no sense at all, and is sloppy storytelling. The team goes around subduing strange supernatural foes in the typical way, and presumably collects more cute female members over the course of the series if the hints from the first episode are to be believed. Perhaps I'm being unfair and the plot actually takes some dark twist later on. I doubt it.

The one thing I will say in its favour is that the art style of Musaigen No Phantom World is very appealing; I loved the generous use of colour (fortunate, given the show's title) and willingness to take ridiculous hairstyles a step further than usual. The glitch effects were quite disorientating given that I watched this as a stream and most of the UK streaming services are prone to visual distortion at the best of times.

In any case, this miniature girl was cute

Norn9: Norn + Nonette
The first of this season's two otome game adaptations, and a timely one since the game came out with an English translation late last year. I started playing it briefly, then stopped due to time and because I didn't want the anime adaptation to be a retread of something I'd just played. The anime version drops the introduction from the game so it's disorientating right from the beginning and I can already see the people who didn't like Amnesia running in fear as soon as Koharu started showing signs of memory loss. Personally, I'm not sold - there are far too many characters for this to work well as a single cour anime adaptation and nobody is going to be satisfied with the results.

I seldom go for main characters but he's ok

Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R
I used to like the Nurse Witch Komugi-chan series back in the day. This new spin-off keeps the basic premise yet somehow, it comes across as insipid. I just don't find it all that witty or enjoyable and my attention kept wandering throughout the first episode. Changing the voice actresses was a weird decision too, even if Momoi Haruko still has a minor role as a background character. I think I'll stick with my memories of the older Komugi-chan anime adventures and avoid this new version.

At least it's colourful

Oji-san To Marshmallow
A charming, rather strange series of shorts about a plump older man who really likes marshmallows. This somehow leads to one of his female colleagues taunting and harassing him with them at every opportunity. It's weird, yet compelling.

Probably the cutest guy of the season, hands down

Ooyasan Ha Shishunki!
I'm not sure how well this paper-thin premise will work after the initial gag setting is revealed; our young hero recently moved into a new apartment only to discover that his landlord is a little girl! That's it. Thankfully, the episodes are only two minutes long. I'm going to take the opportunity to bail here.

Is there anything little girls can't do, in anime?

Oshiete! Galko-chan (Please Tell Me! Galko-chan)
A series of short episodes about the inherent culture clash between Galka, Otako and Ojou, a trio of girls as different as their names imply. More Joshi Kousei than YuruYuri, the script is packed full of dirty jokes which often poke fun at Galko's curvy body or complete lack of shame, and there's light social commentary with regards to the way that the girls are unfairly stereotyped based on their appearances. It might be worth continuing watching just for Noto Mamiko's chipper voice presenting lewd facts between scenes in her role as narrator, if nothing else.

Otako has amazing hair

Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation
Since I've never played the games I wasn't expecting to stick with the anime adaptation, and the first episode of Phantasy Star Online 2 did nothing to change my mind. The lead, a typical schoolboy at Seiga Academy who is somehow oblivious to the Phantasy Star Online 2 MMO craze the other kids are all talking about, is hand-picked by the hotter-than-hot female student council president to be her vice president. Naturally, his first task is to start playing PSO2 to save the game's future at the school. Living up to his reputation as the blandest character in the history of anime, he creates a character who looks exactly like himself and uses his real name as he follows a step-by-step guide to logging on (?!?) created by his long-suffering friend. It feels exactly like a promotional spin-off designed by committee because that's what it is, though I will grudgingly admit that the soundtrack is pretty good. Still, I prefer my game tie-ins to have a little more heart.

This guy sucks

Prince of Stride: Alternative
A bonkers sports series about a free running school club which is barely scraping by with a handful of members, until a highly motivated young lady applies to join and encourages them to put together a new team. Although it's based on an otome game I've never played, Prince of Stride: Alternative probably has enough general appeal to reach beyond that audience and attract the same kind of general anime fans who enjoyed Free! - it's brainless, exhilarating, entertaining stuff.

Sorry Norn9, this is my fun bishounen title for winter

Saijaku Muhai No Bahamut (Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle)
If you have ever watched an anime adaptation of a fantasy romantic comedy series before, you have already seen everything that happens in the first episode of Saijaku Muhai No Bahamut. It's the usual sleazy tripe about a boy who ends up in a school with a massively skewed boy:girl ratio and 'accidentally' sexually harasses the most tsundere girl around repeatedly while gradually earning respect for his prowess in combat. A decent opening sequence cannot save it from being an utterly forgettable, unadventurous retread of a hundred other titles. No.

Oops I walked into the girls' baths and insulted them teehee

Schwarzesmarken
I didn't realise this was a Muv-Luv spin-off. Muv-Luv is linked to KimiNozo, a bishoujo game series I had very mixed feelings about, and I never got into the spin-offs. It would probably have been better to have dropped Schwarzesmarken after realising there was a connection but I persisted and checked out the first episode anyway. Unfortunately, it was absolutely gobbledegook from start to finish for someone with no familiarity with the source material, so I think I'll leave Schwarzesmarken to the existing Muv-Luv fans who can make more sense of its gritty setting, skintight pilot costumes and European politics.

It's hard to avert my eyes from the gigantic melon breasts

Sekko Boys
A dorky comedy about a young woman who joins a talent agency and ends up working with an idol group of four stone sculptures. The first episode didn't really grab me; last season's Osomatsu-san beat them to the punch with ridiculous idol jokes while Thermae Romae has already wrung most of the comic value out of blending stoic Romans with modern day Japanese culture. Perhaps I'll give it another episode but in spite of the voice cast I don't think this is a keeper.

Sekko Boys' hottest upcoming stars

Shoujotachi Ha Kouya Wo Mezasu (Girls Beyond The Wasteland)
Buntarou is a cool-looking yet dull guy who seems pretty popular at his school for someone with no real interests. Somehow, his writing skills end up getting him noticed by the gorgeous Kuroda who singles him out to... help her make a massively successful dating sim? It's a typical wish fulfilment premise carried well by its upbeat pace and lively voice cast. If I was less busy I might try to find a way to squeeze it into my schedule because it's one of the better examples of its genre.

Overly intense, weird bishoujo in a post-Senjougahara world

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
It's as though someone in Japan read my mind and decided to make an anime packed full of things that I love. A nostalgia-tinged post-war setting? Ishida Akira in a key role? Yusa Kouji, Kobayashi Yuu, Chafuurin and Seki Tomokazu all in the cast list too? Hayashibara Megumi singing a theme song written by none other than Shiina Ringo? A serious character drama without any pandering panty shots and boob grabs? My expectations were sky high even before the series aired. I was pleased to see that the double-length first episode was nicely animated on top of all of this and so far, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu hasn't disappointed me. I feel very privileged to have been able to see real live rakugo performed in the past; perhaps that made the show more accessible, but as with any good hobby anime the characters' passion is all a new viewer needs to appreciate their preferred activity without any prior exposure. The seiyuu cast outdid themselves with the rakugo performance segments too. Splendid.

Not an art you can convey accurately via screenshots alone

Tabimachi Lateshow
I wanted to like this. It's experimental, sweet and artistic. But man, the first episode of Tabimachi Lateshow is boring. Two people talk about cooking tomato sauce as the backdrop for a short story about partings. The animation is simple to keep the viewer focused on the vocal performances and emotions.

There's probably something missing in my soul because it's supposed to be soothing and I feel bad for my lack of interest. The series is only four episodes long so I might come back for the rest later in spite of my misgivings.

Zzz

Yamishibai season 3
It's another season of jump scares and minimalist animation! I dutifully watched the first two seasons of Yamishibai and I think it's about time I stopped. There's nothing wrong with the new episodes. It's more that once you've seen a few dozen stories with the same kind of pacing, the scary atmosphere loses its effectiveness. A shame.

Unsexy picture of a guy in a bath

--

Then there's a tiny list of sequels and spin-offs for shows I don't follow:

GATE season 2 (GATE: Jieitai Kare No Chi Nite, Kakutatakaeri Enryuu-hen)
Teekyu season 7

And here are the legal English-subtitled streams that people in the UK have no access to because we're not as important as people who happen to live in America:

Region locked Funimation titles (unavailable elsewhere)

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu season 2 (Assassination Classroom)
Dimension W
Divine Gate
Fairy Tail Zero
Hai To Gensou No Grimgar (Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash)
Nijiiro Days (Rainbow Days)

Funimation's announcements were just as devastating for foreign fans as usual, but then there was a twist - they announced that they were going to make simulcasts available to UK viewers in February. Too late for this post but I'm cautiously optimistic about what this means for future anime seasons, and they popped five shows up for UK fans on Daisuki as a peace offering. Animax is also promising to have delaycasts (falsely advertised as simulcasts) for Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, Dimension W, Divine GAte and Hai To Gensou No Grimgar - actual evidence of the episodes has yet to appear.

There's also Ajin: Demi-Human, which is Netflix's latest show to be held back and prevented from simulcasting for no real reason. I'm not subscribing to Netflix for one delaycast every couple of seasons so it may as well be completely unlicensed here. The short series Gundam Thunderbolt is also missing in action for reasons unknown, and it's still unclear what's happening with Koyomimonogatari (will Daisuki get it for us after a delay?).

--

Since the next update will be in February when Funimation Now releases those last few locked titles, I'm going ahead and posting my first impressions now rather than waiting. I don't anticipate any movement from Animax or Viewster to hold things up.


The top three shows so far are as follows. Last season's Iron-Blooded Orphans has become more exciting so it's risen up through the ranks. There are a lot of very solid, interesting titles this season.

1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
2. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
3. Gintama

Here's my schedule at the moment. There's an element of randomness as Akagami No Shirayukihime has no fixed airdate on Viewster (grr) so I just put it on Monday to make the list look more balanced.

Monday: Akagami No Shirayukihime
Tuesday: Nothing
Wednesday: Gintama, Prince Of Stride Alternative
Thursday: Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi, Haruchika, Lupin III, Ojisan To Marshmallow
Friday: Oshiete, Galko-chan!, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Saturday: Durarara!!, Haikyuu!!
Sunday: Mobile Suit Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans

4 comments:

  1. I'm glad to hear Dagashikashi is actually turning out to be good. Saw the initial designs, was like "these are neat looking characters", then sighed when I believed it was probably gonna be some fanservice anime. Will definitely check it out. Feels like the complete opposite of when I saw Ninja Slayer's designs then learned it wasn't that good and the character design I liked the most unfortunately belonged to a young woman who ended up a damsel all too often. ;;

    I'll probably also look into the Rakugo show, Marshmallow man, and Galko-chan, they seem nice too.

    Still need to try to get into Gintama, just keep getting sidetracked and like most shonen, gets so far ahead hahaha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have to admit that Dagashikashi is the most in danger of being dropped from my schedule at the moment, for no real reason other than a lack of time to actually get everything watched ;_;

      When I was visiting Japan last month the shops had made amazing displays of cheap candy to promote the manga which was really cute.

      Starting long shows late is hard work! Good luck with Gintama :D

      Delete
  2. Gintama's latest arc is quite easily the best in the series' history. Animation was amazing and the story was incredible

    Best thing is that the arc coming up next is arguably just as amazing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The current arcs are breaking my heart way too much even if there are a few jokes here and there. I don't know how things turn out in the manga either, so all I have to work with is my knowledge of actual history which just makes me more anxious!

      I had to start watching Osomatsu-san in the end to make myself feel better in between Gintama episodes, hehe.

      Delete

I'm really sorry that I had to switch on authentication for comments. The blog had started to receive dozens of spam comments each week. I hope that this new setting will help!