Saturday, 2 April 2016

Streaming: Winter 2016 anime final impressions

What a solid season this has been for anime! There have been the usual trials and tribulations of trying to watch everything legally without the opportunity being yanked away by the industry at every turn, but I've still managed to have a lot of fun in between the challenges of my real life duties.

Crunchyroll and Daisuki have been providing the most attractive service this season with most of the big shows covered, though Daisuki is crippled by lengthy delays for its Funimation titles even though there's nowhere else to watch them. Exclusivity sucks. Still, we have Funimation's new UK service starting up soon and things should improve if that's a success. I didn't bother subscribing to The Anime Network in the end because three shows (only one of which I wanted to see) aren't enough to be worth a subscription and their push for exclusivity annoyed me. Viewster has crashed and burned and I don't think that they're going to be offering anything to UK fans for a while if the rumours are to be believed. It's a shame; I really wanted them to work out as a Europe-wide alternative to Hulu. As for Animax UK... well, I keep hoping they'll quietly give up and leave the country if they can't commit to providing a basic level of service. They're an absolute joke.

Here's my ranking at the end of the winter season.

1. Osomatsu-san
2. Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (Erased)
3. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

It was a tough choice. The quality of my favourites has been insanely high lately, and several of the shows which didn't make the top three would easily have qualified in quieter seasons. I was surprised by how much I ended up looking forward to each new episode of my top choices.

The season in which I become obsessed with this weirdo

New titles

Why must Animax UK suck so much?! They licensed a handful of Funimation titles but posted the first episodes several weeks late, which meant I was on holiday on the wrong side of the region lock and couldn't watch most of them before they expired. I wish Animax UK would stop getting exclusive content and ruining the experience for fans. If they were decent this section would also include my thoughts on Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (Assassination Classroom) season 2, Dimension W and Divine Gate but as I don't want to reward Animax with a subscription I'll have to wait for the BD releases.

Hai To Gensou No Grimgar (Grimgar Of Fantasy And Ash)
One of the better examples of the current crop of light novel adaptations, mostly due to its larger cast and lack of awkward boob-grabbing shenanigans. A group of youngsters ends up living in a dangerous fantasy world with no idea how they originally got there. While there's obviously some kind of underlying mystery as to how a group of amnesiacs apparently from modern Japan ended up in the world of Grimgar, the early episodes focus on the weaker members' struggles to survive and adapt to some very difficult circumstances. Due to the Animax delay I was unfortunately exposed to a spoiler which dampened the impact of the first big plot twist. Even so, I still found the series enjoyable and the light jokes were more realistically written - and, dare I say, actually funny. I'm also automatically biased towards fantasy settings which show clerics being cool.

Unfortunately, I had to drop Hai To Gensou No Grimgar at episode six because Animax streamed two subscriber-only versions of that episode instead of the usual arrangement of one subscriber-only version alongside one free version. Their gross incompetence actively upsets me; what a waste of my time to watch half a series, become attached then be forced to drop it for no reason because they didn't care enough to check that their service worked properly. If they think their screw-up and lack of communication will tempt me into purchasing a subscription to get around the problem, they're sorely mistaken. I've sent them emails when this has happened before and they simply don't care about their users. It looks as though the same thing happened with Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (Assassination Classroom) too. I'll catch up with this show again one day when it comes out on Blu-ray from a company which cares about the viewing experience. How depressing.

I wonder how the series ended :(

Kanojo To Kanojo No Neko -Everything Flows- (She And Her Cat)
A very short series four episodes in length with a title which may sound familiar to Shinkai Makoto fans. The story is a simple, understated collection of vignettes featuring a cat reminiscing about his owner, who gradually blossoms into a young woman over the course of her pet's short feline life. It's charming and a little sad.

Missed opportunity for a cat picture, oops

Kono Danshi, Mahou Ga Oshigoto Desu. (This Boy Is A Professional Wizard)
The latest 'Kono-Dan' series is a satisfying little story about a young man who works as a wizard. His job isn't really the main focus, though, as that honour goes to the light romance plot involving a cool stranger he meets one night at a bar. It's another short series, four mini-episodes in length, so there was no reason not to go ahead and watch it all, especially after enjoying the previous Kono-Dan adaptations. The only potential issue the series has is that Yamamoto Soubi's whimsical animation might alienate some potential viewers. Personally, I adore her style, which hides cheap, simplistic animation underneath layers of dazzling effects to produce something distinctive and utterly bewitching. Even if you're not interested in male-male romance or find the character designs unappealing, those interested in animation techniques will probably enjoy taking the time to check out an episode for the creative visual spectacle alone.

I like the designs, personally

Noblesse: Awakening
An interesting one-shot OAV based on a Korean webcomic. The story is a standard modern day high school vampire tale loaded with blood and gore. While the Korean setting is interesting, it's sadly quite watered down and if the subtitles didn't insist on using the Korean names (the spoken Japanese dialogue localises them) then it would be impossible to tell it wasn't a regular Japanese manga adaptation. I imagine that the name changes are even more disorientating to fans of the original work.

It's interesting; while I'd never even heard of the original manhwa the Crunchyroll broadcast has hundreds of ratings and comments and there are officially-sanctioned fan translations of the comic in many languages, so there's obviously a healthy demand for more adaptations in future. While it's still unclear whether the story is special enough to stand out, it's hard to complain about good quality animation, attractive designs and a free worldwide release.

I like his cold vampiric moments better than the school stuff

Osomatsu-san (Mr Osomatsu)
Osomatsu-san isn't a winter title. However, word of its meteoric success eventually persuaded me to pick it up again partway through its run; going on a trip to Tokyo during the height of the Osomatsu-san craze served as very effective brainwashing. It helps that Gintama has been deathly serious for much of the winter season which left me in dire need of some unpredictable comedy antics not involving vapid guys walking in on girls changing and getting slapped. Osomatsu-san certainly delivered on that front with its irreverent, crude, mean-spirited humour and now that I've had some time to get used to the characters I've become terribly addicted. Here's hoping it will return later in the year!

It would seem that I'm an Ichimatsu person
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Series I watched

Akagami No Shirayukihime season 2 (Snow White With The Red Hair)
The only simulcast offered by Viewster this season after their lofty plans to be taken seriously as an anime streaming platform crashed back down to earth This season of shoujo fantasy Akagami No Shirayukihime was as great as ever. Shirayuki continues her studies to gradually edge closer to her goal of becoming an official court herbalist, while Zen tries to balance his duties as a prince with the fluttering of his heart. All of the supporting characters manage to squeeze in short character arcs as well to give everyone a decent amount of character development. I also loved that this season included some great Obi moments. He's the best.

These two need to be happy forever

Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi (Erased)
Absolutely fantastic. I don't remember when I last watched a suspense show that managed to keep the pressure at its limit with every episode. Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi ran out of steam a little right at the end - you can't keep up the tension when the audience knows the story has reached its climax, no matter what happens - but I really loved the show. Easily the biggest surprise of the season in terms of how much I ended up enjoying it after a synopsis which could have gone either way. Can't wait for the opening and ending songs to arrive on my doorstep!

It was a decent ending, so I'm content

Dagashikashi
I'm cheating a little with Dagashikashi as there's still one more episode to go in Daisuki's delayed stream. However, I don't want to delay my roundup until the spring season is well underway as it's too confusing, and the show is so consistently fluffy that I'm confident in being able to sum it up by now. Nothing much has changed since the first episode. Hotaru is still absolutely crazy for cheap junk food, Kokonotsu is still accidentally encouraging her, and everyone else is still bemusedly being carried along by their wave of sugar-fuelled strangeness. By far the most interesting characters in the show are the sweets themselves, lovingly described through rose-tinteded anecdotes from the characters' childhoods. I'd go as far as saying that I don't actually like any of the human characters, fan service shots or scenarios all that much; it could have been a documentary about old fashioned candy and remained every bit as entertaining. The opening and ending songs were top tier and I still like the wild-eyed character designs. It's just that the series itself is thoroughly average.

Not sure whether I liked Hotaru, but she was interesting

Durarara!! x2 Ketsu
I can't believe it; Durarara!! is finally over. The series was hard work at times; it threw a whole bunch of new characters at the viewer in quick succession and only the best of them succeeded in being memorable. Fortunately, even amongst the crowds of faces I can't put names to there were plenty of great characters, from Simon to Shizuo, Akabayashi and Celty, and the show defied all of the odds to be able to wrap the tangled plot up coherently right at the last minute. The excessively complicated issues the three 'leads' (Mikado, Masaomi and Anri) found themselves in were all resolved by the end. Walker got to be cool. Shinra was cute. Shizuo and Izaya got to fight again. They immortalised my very favourite haunts in Ikebukuro as background art. And however silly it was, the climax focused on a rare display of genuine, adult love between characters instead of the usual coy romantic fumbling. Thanks for the fun ride, Durarara!! - I look forward to checking the bonus OAVs out too someday.

Shinra is an angel

Gintama
What happened to my lighthearted parody show?! Gintama has never been afraid to turn serious now and again but even so it was a surprise to have so many brutal episodes lined up one after another. Knowledge of the history the series is (loosely) based upon just made it worse. And then it suddenly ended, when I was expecting (hoping) that it would be running through into the spring season. Sob.

I accidentally paused the episode on Okita looking cool

Haikyuu!! season 2
A scorching end to a great season. The animation quality in the final match was great even by Haikyuu!! standards, and I doubt anyone who has been following the show this long managed to get through the final moments without holding their breath in anticipation. This is how a good sports series should make you feel! All that's left is to wait for the next season to appear later in the year.

You've come such a long way, Hinata!

Haruta & Chika (Haruchika ~Haruta To Chika Ha Seishun Suru~)
To this day I'm not entirely sure how or why I kept watching this show all the way through. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it as a quirky high school show which mixes mystery, adventure and music club antics. Some episodes were pretty good, others were weak. I just felt no emotional connection to anything that was going on whatsoever.

Well, the character designs were nice

Lupin III - L'avventura Italiana (Lupin The 3rd Part 4)
I'm still not quite over my shock at the good fortune of getting a legal UK stream for a Lupin III series after all these years. L'avventura Italiana was everything I love about the series; cool antics, an old fashioned aesthetic, bizarre fantasy elements, wonky (but likeable) character designs and a whole lot of adventure. You'll be missed, Lupin!

A future 'part 5' cannot come soon enough

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Although the hyper-cartoony art style never did grow on me, Iron-Blooded Orphans occasionally soared right up to the top of my personal ranking from week to week thanks to some seriously emotionally-charged episodes once it finally got going. Mikazuki's singleminded piloting style is incredibly exhilarating stuff, and the tragic themes underpinning the adventures of the titular orphans give the show a strange gravity that the many Gundam wannabe shows can't even begin to equal. I care about these boys and their desperate quest for happiness. The strange love triangle around Mikazuki is also more compelling than it sounds on paper. To nobody's surprise, the series is scheduled to return in a few months to tell the rest of the story so I'm sure there'll be heartbreak aplenty to look forward to soon. See you again later this year, Tekkadan.

The craziest mecha piloting I've seen in a while

Oji-san To Marshmallow
I somehow watched the entire show. This romantic comedy about an older man and his love for marshmallows was fluffy, pointless and (strangely) sexy from start to finish. I enjoyed using it to unwind every Thursday after work. It wasn't until I reread this summary that I realised that my choice of words made it sound as though the main plot was about the lead's romance with his marshmallows...

I was rooting for her by the end

Oshiete! Galko-chan (Please Tell Me! Galko-chan)
Despite all of the promotional material focusing on Galko's generously proportioned bosom which made the series look like the sleaziest show of the season, Oshiete! Galko-chan is rather sweet as comedies go and is noticeably low on excessive fan service. The main themes are friendships and dirty jokes; a winning combination in my eyes. It offers a much more relatable depiction of stupid girly conversations than any idealised high school romance show and I rather liked my time with it.

Don't judge a book by its cover, ok?

Prince of Stride: Alternative
I expected to enjoy this more than I did; it was probably a victim of my heavily constrained free time. It's unusual to have a season where both of the otome game adaptations failed to impress me even though this had a much stronger start than Norn9. It was a decent watch, just not the most memorable of silly bishounen shows about made-up sports. In the end I prefer my harem titles to avoid the typical school club setting.

A little too predictable, ultimately

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Sublime. The nuanced voice acting and simple artwork made this one of my favourite shows of the season from start to finish. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu swept me up in its emotional, complicated world and had me on the edge of my seat for the duration of most episodes as I worried about these characters and the sad situations they kept hidden when performing on stage. The depictions of the performing arts - rakugo, dance, traditional theatre and music - were extremely interesting to watch. It was a surprise to discover that most of the series was actually an extended flashback to the previous bearer of the Yakumo name rather than the characters introduced in the first episode. After a tumultuous final episode, my hopes couldn't be higher for the freshly-announced sequel!

Anyone voiced by Ishida is automatically my favourite
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And on that note, my adventures with the winter 2016 anime season are well and truly over (aside from that final episode of Dagashikashi).

Farewell, winter

I have a clean slate for the spring season and I'm not expecting it to contain as many hidden gems as the last few months did. The most exciting event is definitely the launch of Funimation's new UK service and I hope it will shake things up here; the failing services like Viewster and Animax need some strong competition to force them to either try harder or give up entirely. Companies sitting on licenses and refusing to give them the simulcasts they deserve is infuriating! I'm also a little anxious about what Amazon's entry to the market means for fans in the UK in future. Are we going to keep ending up in a situation where we need to maintain half a dozen different paid subscriptions just to watch half a dozen anime shows? Is Sentai going to keep withholding anime from rival streaming services without offering proper UK coverage? And is the delayed Funimation service ever going to actually launch?

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