Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Streaming: Spring 2016 anime final impressions

I have to start this post with a brief rant, unfortunately. I complained in my first impressions that Sakamoto Desu Ga? (Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto) - which happened to be one of the shows I most wanted to see - was unavailable to us in the UK. At the time I blamed Sentai for only picking up US rights even though they serve UK customers on their streaming site, but it turns out the real reason is much more dumb and depressing.


Manga Entertainment are one of the biggest (and oldest) anime companies in the UK. At the MCM Comic Con event at the end of May they formally announced that the rights for Sakamoto Desu Ga? (Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto) lay with them. The head of the company, Jerome Mazandarani, went on Twitter to explain that he had the streaming rights but deliberately refused to make it available here because he wasn't offered enough money to allow the simulcast sites to show it (the amount he indicated was $150 per episode - which actually sounds quite generous given the size of the UK streaming market).

You would think that turning down a free offer of cash of any amount sounds crazy, but it makes sense when you understand that the staff at Manga are furiously conservative and believe that allowing viewers to watch anime legally makes it impossible to sell on home video. This puts them in a weird position where they don't want to allow people on low incomes to have legal access to anime (streaming is much cheaper than buying DVDs) but they also hit out at the companies who support fans by offering premium editions on disc and free simulcasts for those who can't afford the disc releases until prices come down. I personally think that Manga UK's business model is completely unsustainable, but if they want to lose goodwill and the benefits of the advertising potential simulcasting offers then there's nothing I can do to stop them.

However, in one final twist of the knife, footage emerged from the Manga panel at the event which showed Jerome telling the audience how he'd recently watched the latest episode on Crunchyroll (via a VPN or proxy of some kind, because it's not available in the UK thanks to him). He's worried about legal streamers reducing his sales, yet not pirates or those who watch streams from other countries to evade barriers he created?

Screw you, Manga UK. You're the reason I'm not buying your discs, not Crunchyroll.

With that off my chest, here's what I thought of the spring anime season shows that I followed. Funimation Now and Crunchyroll combined to satisfy all of my requirements this season, making it easier than ever before to stay up to date on all of the shows I wanted to watch (other than Sakamoto Desu Ga?). Both services publish a schedule and release episodes punctually with warnings of any service interruptions to allow fans to plan ahead, and for the first time I was able to finish the season when it actually ended because nothing was held back for weeks in this country. I suppose I should be disappointed that Funimation Now delayed the launch of their console apps but I'm honestly so frustrated about Manga and other UK-specific concerns that nothing else seems all that important.

First and foremost, the post-season ranking.

1. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
2. Joker Game
3. Kiznaiver

Hey, my prediction was quite accurate this time! There were a lot of average titles and very few gems, but JoJo, Kiznaver and Joker Game were definitely the most interesting shows I most looked forward to watching each week. JoJo is continuing on into the summer season, thankfully. Morikubo Showtaro has been my favourite thing about the episodes to date.

Fourth place isn't that bad, Atsushi...

Boku No Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
An unremarkable yet enjoyable shounen superhero title which doesn't attempt to be anything grander; while it's more Naruto than Tiger & Bunny it's still worth a watch if you're a fan of heroic action shows. This first season shows Deku struggling to gain (and master) his new Quirk power straight after he enrolls in a school for training superpowered youngsters to risk their lives fighting evil. He makes plenty of odd friends along the way, and it isn't long before the kids are forced to demonstrate their true mettle when a bunch of villains attack in the climax of the show.

This idiot is my favourite character and I have no idea why
The best part of the show is probably the wild hero designs, from the endearingly froggy Tsuyu to Ochako with her horseshoe-like boots. And Cementoss is just funny. I'll keep watching when the promised second season makes its appearance in the future.

Best girl? Best girl!

Bungou Stray Dogs
An enjoyable entry in the ever-growing genre of episodic female-orientated shows about cool people with cool powers going on cool adventures and bickering affectionately with one another. The artwork is magnificent. Dazai is wonderful. All of the characters are fun to watch - male and female alike - and they're also unusually well-dressed at all times. The moodiness of the ending sequence is absolutely sublime, even though I don't especially like the song. Bones have certainly put a lot of effort into giving the popular manga a worthy anime adaptation.

I can't put my finger on anything especially unique or noteworthy about Bungou Stray Dogs; it's just enjoyable entertainment with the right blend of action, mystery, drama and glorious visuals. Season two will be going on my list when the time comes.

He wasn't interesting at first, but I warmed to him

Joker Game
Consistent in both atmosphere and quality, Joker Game has been an absolute joy to follow over the course of the spring anime season. It was the first series on the list to reach its conclusion and my immediate reaction was to feel disappointed that there wasn't going to be more.

When I started out I was expecting a linear storyline about Sakuma working with the team of secret agents on various missions with some overarching plot. What I got was a charming show which lurched back and forth in its own timeline, gradually exploring the question of what it means to devote yourself fully to spycraft through a series of vignettes following individual characters as they travelled around the globe. The mysterious young agents spent as much time misdirecting the viewer as they did their opponents, gradually revealing little hints about their agency and techniques before the tables would turn and reveal a whole new perspective on the situation which wasn't obvious at the outset. This is the kind of anime which contradicts the stereotypes that everything is aimed at sex-starved action-obsessed teens, and it's a crying shame that it isn't on more lists of recommendations. If you have any family members who are particularly interested in historical works it also offers a self-aware glimpse into a Japan of the late 1930s that we very rarely get a chance to explore.

The dark, dull visuals are a perfect match for the mood

KIZNAIVER
It's not been selling all that well, yet now that it's finished it's safe to say that KIZNAIVER has been the very first Studio Trigger show to make a proper emotional connection with me personally. I loved it! The main characters are sweet and ultimately very human, which makes it appropriate that I gradually became very fond of every single one of them over the course of this series about friendship, empathy and bonds. The artwork is absolutely fantastic as well, with bright colours, highly detailed visuals and expressive facial expressions in every scene. Beautiful. While I'm sure that the prickly cast will grate on some viewers, as a flawed, prickly person myself the series even made me reflect on some of my own lapsed friendships from the real world. Perhaps it's something older viewers might appreciate more than younger ones, despite the vivid art and sexy designs.

I can't afford to import the Japanese version now that my country's economy is in free fall but this will be a day one purchase when Anime Limited release the UK edition. Great stuff.

I loved his funny faces, but all of the characters were great

Kumamiko (Girl Meets Bear)
There's been quite a lot of complaining about the resolution in the final episode of Kumamiko, and I think that's because a lot of people were watching it primarily as a character drama - in that respect, it was definitely a weak finale with some creepy undertones and a disappointing lack of character development. Personally though, I was watching it as a heavily romanticised glimpse into the disappearing rural world Japan has been steadily leaving behind, with Machi's journey a metaphor for the struggles of countless aging communities in the areas outside the urban sprawl of the modern world. The way her social anxiety was depicted was difficult to watch and the love the original creator has for traditional Japan really shone through. Perhaps some reviewers have strangely high expectations of Natsu as Machi's guide; when all is said and done he's a bear. He's no older than his teenaged companion and no more in control of his emotions, in spite of his uncanny aptitude for learning about new technology (Yoshio has no such excuse for being so insensitive...)

I think the show would have strongly benefited from a follow-up OAV showing Machi learning to be comfortable in her own skin once the craziness of the final conflict had settled down rather than abruptly ending where it did on such a questionable note. Still, it was a decent series for the most part.

You'll be ok, Machi!

Mayoiga (The Lost Village)
Not what I was expecting. The first episode made it seem as though Mayoiga was going to be a slightly cheesy horror series, yet it turned out to be a mystery show about human psychology - executed with all of the finesse of a rampaging bull. Watching the episodes weekly was a bizarre experience; none of the characters were appealing and I still wasn't really sure what the show was ham-fistedly trying to say even when the final episode rolled around a few months later. It wasn't the worst viewing experience of the season (that honour definitely goes to the atrocious Big Order) yet it certainly wasn't something I'll be rushing to rewatch again. Not really recommended unless you want to watch a lot of people frowning and looking sad in the dark. I'll give it credit for having a funny ending.

Bright screenshots aren't something Mayoiga accommodates

Netoge No Yome Ha Onna No Ko Ja Nai To Omotta? (And you thought there is never a girl online?)
I'd like to say I'm disappointed, except that I was never really expecting Netoge No Yome to be anything other than trashy wish fulfilment and that's largely what it was. Titles about vulnerable girls being rehabilitated by barely-more-capable boys don't really sit well with me in general but I was attracted by the occasional moments of brilliance in between all of the cleavage and nostalgic school club pandering, and the latter gradually took over. Still, the show wasn't ever pretending to be anything more than that, so it would be silly to complain that it didn't manage to reach beyond its original target audience as well as it might have.

I hope I don't end up with healers like Ako in any online games I play though. Seriously. Kyou all the way.

She's the best but I wish they'd kept the in-game avatars too

Super Lovers
Mixed feelings about this one. There was a little too much melodrama, the core relationship was occasionally awkward with its age gap, the incest themes don't really add much to the story and I'm not really sure that the leads are such an incredible couple that the bold claim of the series' title is justified. But there were a few tender moments here and there which made this BL adaptation worth the time spent.

When Super Lovers first started I praised the realistic depiction of human emotions in spite of the loopy storyline about a globe-spanning extended family and its handsome sons. Things took a strange turn right after that introduction; the parental figures were swiftly removed from the picture to allow hero Haru to nurture his brotherly instincts taking care of a newly-adopted younger sibling while struggling to regain his lost memories of the summer they spent together in the first episode. It's completely unrealistic and the lead couple are siblings in name alone, which makes the incest situation conveniently easy to ignore for those who find it awkward (and of questionable value in the first place). Ultimately though, Ren is too young for me to feel comfortable with him even after seeing him maturing considerably over the course of the series.

A second season is on the way, so perhaps I'll find out how things go later on.

They're cute, I guess

Uchuu Patrol Luluco (Space Patrol Luluco)
Uchuu Patrol Luluco wasn't on my schedule at all. However, my partner really loved it and watched it weekly so I ended up seeing the whole thing anyway. It was an entertaining, thoroughly silly romp full of dazzling visuals, zany music and a plot which hurtled around at breakneck speed, parodying various other shows along the way. Not bad.

Trigger certainly know how to make things pretty

Ushio To Tora season 2
I fell out of love with Ushio Tora towards the end of the previous season and the reason was that the everyday scenes with Ushio and his harem of young girls, which were wince-inducingly cheesy and dull. The endless tsundere protests from Tora were just as bad. Still, with just one batch of episodes left to watch it felt like a shame to stop so I persisted and watched to the end which was a big improvement; characters started dying and the stakes rose dramatically for a final confrontation between our heroes and their ultimate nemesis, Hakumen No Mono. The battle scenes are competently done and the finale was great, it's just a shame the stuff in between was so painful to watch.

"Ushio! I-It's not like I like you or anything..."

--

In the end, the spring season wasn't all that strong. There were several shows I loved and several I would probably have dropped had there been more competition. Having said that, the unprecedented UK support from Crunchyroll and Funimation made it one of the smoothest, least-frustrating streaming experiences I've had to date. Every delay was communicated in good time and explained, and every single episode I watched was aired on a schedule so I could arrange my life around it without having to struggle to keep up. Good work, anime companies.

The next Gyakuten Saiban game is being animated too!

I'll be watching more JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Gyakuten Saiban over the summer, of course, but the rest of my schedule is clear. There are quite a few interesting titles on the horizon, so it's time to put the sad thoughts about my country's disastrous referendum out of my mind and start work on a new first impressions post!

2 comments:

  1. Manga just seem content to screw UK fans over - no wonder they've lost franchises like Tiger and Bunny and the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist to All the Anime. At Comic Con I did ask if they would release SenBasa Judge End physically, but the response was a pretty big fat no (not that I was expecting it with Funi showing it here, but I was trying to be hopeful!) though they did announce that they're releasing Samurai Warriors. They also made some comments about picking SenBasa up originally as an action series, but were surprised at how popular it was with young women in Japan. If that's the case...why didn't they actually market it properly? No wonder both the anime and game sold so badly here when it can't even be advertised to it's target audience properly.

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    1. The comments about how they discovered the series was popular with women then panicked and didn't know how to market it because women don't buy anything (?!) annoyed me. I went to an MCM Expo event once and they had all of the DVD cases turned to the wall like they had no confidence it was going to sell so weren't going to try. The series deserved so much better; even if people aren't fans of Sengoku Basara as a whole I bet a lot of anime fans could appreciate the gorgeous animation and silliness.

      Manga constantly seem to dismiss anything popular with women because they don't know how to market to them at all, leading to Ouran and other big hits doing poorly in the UK despite their colossal popularity online and in the US.

      Good to know that they have confirmed they won't be releasing Judge End over here - of course it's not good for the series or its fans, but it's nice to have clarification instead of waiting for something which isn't going to come. I hope that Anime Limited can give it a chance someday via their new distribution deal with Funimation. They're so much more positive than Manga.

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