Sunday, 24 July 2016

Streaming: Summer 2016 anime first impressions

This season is crazy; between Funimation and Crunchyroll viewers in the UK have been utterly spoilt for choice! Even though my money is worth less than it was last season thanks to political upheaval, I feel I'm getting a lot of value for money from my Funimation Now and Crunchyroll subscriptions. The Anime Network and Animax UK haven't really done anything noteworthy but Daisuki have grabbed a few of Funimation's titles on a delay to provide an alternative for those in other regions, and Amazon are showing a single series for those who already have a Prime account or consider one show worth the cost of a subscription. I was in Paris for Japan Expo at the start of the season so it's taken me longer than usual to get caught up on all of the new first episodes.

In addition to the embarrassment of riches provided by the two main streaming services this season, Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney) and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure are both continuing from spring. It was tough to pare the available titles down to a shortlist to fit my schedule and some may still be dropped later on to accommodate the realities of working life.


Here's my slightly belated rundown of the simulcasts available to fans in the UK this summer!

91 Days
An awesome, dark show about a young man out for revenge against the mobsters who executed his family and forced him to flee his home several years ago. The setting revisits the romanticised Prohibition period similar to that portrayed in the excellent Baccano!! - there's gunplay and trickery to keep the plot moving along, and the character designs are looking great so far. Both of the first two episodes have managed to keep the suspense high as young Avilio gambles his life on the chance of being able to carry out his long overdue revenge. I'm in. I can't wait to see where 91 Days is going.

The moment I knew this show was going to be good

Amaama To Inazuma (Sweetness And Lightning)
Kouhei is a recently bereaved father taking care of his adorable daughter Tsumugi while holding down a teaching job. He doesn't have an easy time of things as a single parent and when he realises that his habit of buying ready-made meals and letting Tsumugi eat on her own is robbing her of the chance to experience nourishing home-cooked meals with her family, he's racked with guilt. If the setup sounds like Usagi Drop that's because there are a lot of surface similarities between the two titles. However, while Usagi Drop focused on the underlying mystery and the bond between its father-daughter duo, Amaama To Inazuma takes a step back and looks at how those around Kouhei can enrich his relationship with his daughter (and one of his students) passively by sharing food and encouragement. It helps that Tsumugi is cute as a button - who wouldn't want to drop everything to make her smile? It's cute and I'm going to keep watching.

I wanted a picture of Tsumugi but this shot was too lovely

Amanchu!
I first started to suspect Amano Kozue was behind Amanchu! from the soothing atmosphere, figure-hugging school uniforms and glacial pace (even the opening sequence felt as though it lasted an eternity). The design of the strange mascot character sealed the deal.

Amanchu! is about Futaba, a shy young girl who starts attending a new school where she meets the zany Hikari ('Pikari'), who loves diving and acting like an absolute nutcase. Although the two girls have completely different personalities, Futaba can't help respecting Pikari's zest for life and it seems clear already that they're going to form a firm friendship over the course of the series. It's charming, lovely stuff - while being deeply boring if slow paced iyashikei titles aren't your thing. I think its target audience will be satisfied with Amanchu! even if it's probably not for me.

It's not my kind of show but Pikari is great

Ange Vierge
Ange Vierge makes no secret of the fact that it's based on a mobile game about collecting cards, with in-universe references to card hierarchies and an insane amount of dithery bishoujo being paraded past the viewer right from the very beginning (naked, no less). It's fun to compare it with the nudity in the first episode of Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu LOVE! LOVE! as Ange Vierge required a significant amount of censoring to make it onto television, while the other show kept things clean and cheerful. In any case, there's some kind of Strike Witches-style plot about the girls having to fly around fighting in teams; however, there was so much jargon being thrown around with the clunky, unnatural script that I found it hard to follow what was going on. It was really noticeable when characters keep stiltedly mentioning one another's names and statistics to drill the details into the viewer's mind and it took me out of the show. Another thing which took me out of the show was that it sort of sucked anyway, so I don't think I'll be watching subsequent episodes.

I couldn't tell you a single character's name

Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu (The Heroic Legend Of Arslan season 2)
A late addition to Funimation Now's UK-ready simulcasts for the season courtesy of Universal, I was delighted to be able to delete my rant about being unable to watch the second part of the Arslan Senki television adaptation. It was one of my very favourites back when the first season aired and it's been back in my mind more recently since the UK Blu-ray release is imminent. The new series opens up with a quick introduction to the main characters from the previous series in the heat of a savage battle, and as soon as the beautiful Aoi Eir opening theme kicked in I felt all of my memories from earlier episodes flooding back. There were already several major revelations in the first episode; it seems that there are only eight planned for this season so I'm going to try to savour every single one.

The first episode had a very effective opening sequence

Bananya
A one-note series of shorts about a secret feline banana which drifts around chirping 'nya!' when nobody is around to see it revealing itself from inside the banana skin. That's it. There's really not much else to say about the series when it's blatantly nothing more than an excuse to make people smile at the absurdity of it all; it's not doing it for me but I'm sure there are other viewers who will shed tears with laughter at the spectacle of mewling fruit wandering around a deserted house. I'm grateful to Crunchyroll for enabling this kind of show to make it to an overseas audience because it wouldn't have had a chance a decade ago, and that would have been a great loss for GIF creators all over the world.

Bana...nya!

Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu LOVE! LOVE! (Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE!)
This series will also be airing on Funimation Now on a short delay. I liked the original Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu LOVE! enough to buy the unwieldy Ponycan USA Blu-ray sets, so naturally I was champing at the bit when the sequel was announced. Thankfully it's available as a simulcast so I don't have to wait longer than necessary to get reacquainted with the onsen-loving schoolboys of this ridiculous magical girl parody show.

So far, so good. This sequel has successfully recaptured the silliness of the original without getting too caught up in reintroductions. For some reason the guys were stark naked for most of the first episode too until the action started; I think they're going to be providing a light hearted dose of fun every week throughout its run.

But can it justify the cost of Ponycan USA's BDs again?

Berserk
Disappointing. However good an adaptation of the manga this may be, it's hampered by the CG art style - which is, to its credit, reasonably well done. Unfortunately, when it comes to anime well done 3D CG is still worse than all but the very poorest 2D and I'm really struggling to get into this and relate to the characters the way I should.

The problem with this kind of animation style is that I don't see it as having value; I wouldn't even think of importing discs of a show like this because I don't like watching it. I know that sounds weird coming from a fan of 3D games, and it's unfair to the artists who worked hard on every shot. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure gets a free pass here because it keeps the CG use to appropriate moments (like the opening sequences) and overloads my senses with colours and interesting textures to distract me from the medium's drawbacks. With its dull colour palette, slow pans across dark environments and slow burning plot, Berserk immediately draws attention to the medium and exposes its weaknesses.

In any case, I'll keep watching for a few more episodes in the hope it grows on me. The second episode was a big improvement (perhaps I just like Serpico).

The sketchy pencil textures look nice. They really tried...

Cheer Danshi!! (Cheer Boys!!)
A sports series with a twist. Haruki is a student from a family full of judo lovers. Although he's not bad at judo himself, he doesn't have the personality to be as good at it as his sister and is secretly relieved when an injury puts an end to his chances of competing at a high level. Haruki's best friend, Kazuma, then quits the judo club and decides to form a male-only cheerleading club instead so he can stay at his buddy's side. According to Kazuma, what Haruki lacks in judo potential is more than made up for by his enthusiastic personality which will make him perfectly suited to cheerleading!

The designs are nice, a little dated but appealing
The series isn't especially innovative but it's fun and sometimes that's enough. It reminds me of a mix between Free! and Prince Of Stride. In a good way.

The comical moments work well too

Danganronpa 3: The End Of Hope's Peak High School - Mirai-hen (Future Arc)
Do I group these two Danganronpa 3 series together as one? They're airing one episode of Mirai-hen each Monday with an episode of Zetsubou-hen each Thursday, so they're technically two separate anime titles. However, it seems pretty likely that the plot is going to overlap as they're based on the same timeline. Mirai-hen follows on from the events of the first two Danganronpa games (with a few shots from Danganronpa Another Episode: Zettai Zetsubou Shoujo to boot) so it's best avoided unless you're already familiar with the series. It will completely spoil the second game, which has never been animated.

With that said, Mirai-hen follows the 'good guys' of the Future Foundation and introduces a whole host of new Ultimates to the series' already-large cast before dropping them into a situation which is sure to get long time fans interested. As with any Danganronpa title there are two mysteries to unravel - the immediate puzzle introduced in the episode and the overarching plot, which is always absolute nonsense until later on when there's better information to work with. While I'd have loved to have seen a proper adaptation of the second game, this is much more interesting as I have no idea what's going to happen next. Exciting.

The whole episode was dark! Super dark!

Danganronpa 3: The End Of Hope's Peak High School - Zetsubou-hen (Despair Arc)
The other half of the Danganronpa 3 anime is a flashback to an earlier period referenced in the games yet never really explored. As with Mirai-hen, there are a huge number of spoilers for the games and it's not recommended as a replacement for playing them so there's not much more I want to say about the plot. I found this even more exciting than Mirai-hen since it explains some of the backstory for the new content as well as being a parade of fan service for those of us who are already attached to the whimsical Super Danganronpa 2 characters. It's made clear from the very first episode that watching both series together is the best way to fill in all of the gaps in the plot, so that's what I'm going to be doing.

Nice hairstyle, Gundham

Days
Shy young Tsukushi is a good kid who steps in to play in a futsal (indoor football) match when his new classmate's team is short on members. Even though he's extraordinarily clumsy, he does his best to keep up with the more experienced players, proving to the entire team that there are no limits to his determination. Tsukushi's resolve is soon tested again when he tries to join the competitive football team at school and is forced through a trial aimed at trained athletes rather than amateurs. Throughout all of his struggles, the young hero ends up catching the eye of self-assured blond Jin, who decides to watch over the new recruit and learn from his attitude. There's a charm to Tsukushi's good natured personality which makes the show easy to watch and if my packed schedule had been able to accommodate it I'd definitely have continued with Days; unfortunately I had to drop it after the third episode to claim some free time back.

Tsukushi is a sweetie, and even worse at football than I am!

Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu (The Highschool Life Of A Fudanshi)
This is a series of three-and-a-half minute episodes about the daily life of a normal high school boy with an unusual hobby: boys' love manga. He simply happens to enjoy the genre, and feels mildly aggrieved when others assume he must be gay to enjoy reading stories about boys making out, or question his motives for various other reasons. This is the setup for a gag series about the struggles poor Sakaguchi faces as he tries to keep indulging himself and faces the consequences of being in an often-misunderstood corner of what is already a rather niche part of fandom. It's entertaining enough so far and not exactly difficult to keep up with, so I'll check out the next few episodes.

Ah, being young enough to be shy about your purchases

Fukigen Na Mononokean (The Morose Mononokean)
A surprisingly ordinary series about a high school boy, Hanae, unexpectedly possessed by a cute, fluffy youkai which unfortunately makes him too ill to attend lessons. In his desperation he applies for an exorcism, a decision which leads him to the aloof youkai specialist Haruitsuki - who turns out to be another student in Hanae's class. From the next episode preview it looks as though the two will end up working together to investigate more cases of youkai around the school.

There's nothing wrong with Fukigen Na Mononokean but I feel as though I've seen this show a dozen times before. Natsume No Yuujinchou did the episodic tales about youkai and their place in the modern world, while xxxHolic was a better story about an unfortunate student teaming up with an experienced specialist in the supernatural. I'll pass for now.

Haruitsuki is pretty

Handa-kun
I was going to skip this Barakamon prequel as I haven't yet had the chance to watch or read the original, but I decided to give it one episode for now and return to it later. The first half of the episode was nothing more than in-jokes about how much everyone loved Handa-kun, which fell rather flat for a viewer who had never seen him before.

The Japan Expo reference was unexpected and well-timed!
Things picked up in the second half when the titular Handa-kun finally showed up and took over as the main character. Completely oblivious to his own popularity, he used his calligraphy and singleminded personality to deal with his latest challenge: a love letter from a classmate. It's a straightforward comedy series and reasonably fun, so perhaps I'll return to it after getting the chance to watch Barakamon properly.

He's so uncool that it's funny

Hatsukoi Monster (First Love Monster)
A peculiar shoujo romantic comedy about a teen girl who moves away from home and immediately falls in love with a mysterious stranger who saves her life. The twist is that he - along with most of the other hot guys in the series, it seems - is actually significantly younger than he looks and still goes to primary school. And of course the two leads live in the same apartment complex. There's nothing seedy about the way Kaho acts but the core premise of the series is inherently questionable, and I'm not really feeling the characters; an early joke relies on the 'cuteness' of a bunch of adult-looking ten-year-old boys talking about their crotches, which is a very awkward and unnecessary reversal of the annoying trope of underaged girls groping one another in male-orientated shows. Ugh. Hatsukoi Monster is a rare example of me dropping a shoujo title from the very first episode; it can probably be enjoyed as parody if you're able to distance yourself from the inherent creepiness of the whole thing.

Sorry Kaho, your series bothers me

Hitorinoshita - The Outcast
An unusual project which adapts a Chinese webcomic into a full-length supernatural anime. The first episode drops the viewer right into the middle of a story about the mysterious Zhang family. Our hero is Zhang Chulan, a spunky young man who has travelled back to the country to visit his grandfather's grave. Once there, he discovers that the grave has been tampered with and a mysterious girl is wandering around telling people that she's his sister - a sister he never knew he had. He decides to visit the graveyard at night and ends up embroiled in a tale of rampaging zombies. It's meatier than I expected for a webcomic-based show; if it wasn't for the fact that I'm not interested in zombie titles I might have continued watching.

It seems like an appropriate moment to mention that following English subtitles for series with Chinese-language content always feels confusing when the dialogue uses Japanese pronunciations which have little resemblance to the clumsy romanised Chinese names (Thunderbolt Fantasy suffers from the same issue, and it's always a problem in Sangoku-era content). As much as I like Japanese voice acting, having the Chinese dub as an option would have been interesting.

She's pretty, and a little creepy

Kono Bijutsubu Ni Ha Mondai Ga Aru! (This Art Club Has A Problem!)
I feel I've seen this kind of show far too much lately and it's hurting my ability to be objective. KonoBi is a sweet, rather formulaic series about a school art club dominated by a meddling female lead and a spacey guy who is amazing at painting fictional girls he's in love with. Naturally, there are also various other crazy people around to stir up trouble, but the main story in the first episode is about Usami's frustrations with her buddy's singleminded devotion to his non-existent babes when he should be putting his effort into traditional art. It comes across as a blend of K-On! and Tonari No Seki-kun. Since it's obviously not the kind of series which is going to lend itself to groundbreaking drama or action I won't be watching further. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the show, it's just that it's not the kind of anime I find interesting.

The understated art is clean and attractive

Love Live! Sunshine!!
There was disappointment when the latest Love Live! was announced to be region locked on Funimation's service, followed by relief when UK distributor Anime Limited revealed that it would be available from Crunchyroll here instead. And now it's here. In the Sunshine timeline, μ's are already an established idol group gathering fans from all over Japan and the stage has shifted to a quiet coastal town, where a new legend is presumably about to begin. A chipper girl single-mindedly begs new friends and old to team up with her and start an idol group in a local school. The starlets she admires from the city are her inspiration but she faces numerous challenges as she heads towards her objective, from struggling to write original music to getting permission for setting up an official school idol group from the prim student council president.

In other words, the plot is very similar to the original Love Live! except that everyone has slightly different names and looks. So far nobody is standing out as much as Nozomi, the coolest girl from the previous series, but I'll keep watching for a while longer; it took a while for Love Live! to grow on me and I'm sure its sequel will be the same way.

An early candidate for weirdest girl in the group has emerged

Mahou Shoujo? Naria☆Girls
Flitting between barely-animated CG characters posing awkwardly and badly-animated CG characters wriggling around unnaturally, the first eight-minute episode felt as though it lasted for a lifetime. With designs borrowing from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, character animation borrowing from RWBY and a script borrowing from, uh, JK-MESHI, it is difficult to see the appeal of the series for anyone who isn't into schoolgirls chatting about nothing sandwiched between strangely-eroticised magical girl transformations. Please make it stop.

...

Masou Gakuen HxH (Hybrid x Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia)
I thought it had been a while since I last watched an outrageously over-the-top fan service show, and now thankfully Masou Gakuen HxH has come along to break the dry spell. This is absolutely braindead stuff and it knows it. Kizuna is a typically unremarkable male lead clad in a full body pilot suit with a pecular role: he has to 'Climax Hybrid' with the babes at his military academy on a regular basis in order to help them keep their combat stats at peak levels. There are no prizes for working out what the act of 'Climax Hybrid' involves. In many ways this is no different to all of the hundreds of similar light novel shows I always complain about, except it's so unashamedly dumb and unafraid of taking the bonkers premise as far as it can that I can respect it for what it is. It's way better than seeing angry redheads angrily slapping guys who trip and fall into their bosoms as a greeting. I would actually keep watching this weekly if not for the fact that it's heavily censored - better to wait for a Blu-ray edition.

I somehow managed to take a screenshot with no boobs in it

Mob Psycho 100
The One Punch Man fever has died down a little since its anime run ended but creator ONE's zany webcomics are back with an adaptation of Mob Psycho 100. The plot is typically simple so far - a conman is using young 'Mob' to make money by having him perform exorcisms in the name of 'training' under his tutelage. Unlike his so-called master Mob is a powerful psychic, and there's a conspicuous countdown scattered throughout the show which seems to imply that his powers are building up to something.

None of that is all that important though. The unique selling point of Mob Psycho 100 is that it has a crazy, experimental art style which resembles the wilder episodes of Space Dandy mixed with simplistic, charming designs (even if everyone does look like One Punch Man's Saitama dressed in an assortment of wigs - including the women). I think there's a lot of potential for this to find an audience, but it was a little too wild for me.

The art style offers plenty of screenshot opportunities

MomoKuri
An ONA made up of 24 half-length episodes, bundled up in pairs to fit into a typical anime slot to air this season. The series begins with Kurihara Yuki asks blushing schoolboy Momotsuki Shinya out; much to her delight, he accepts. From this cute-looking setup a series of flashbacks reveal how Yuki is a little excessively enthusiastic about her new crush and this sets the tone for the comedy antics which follow. It's cute and even though the subject matter is potentially disturbing, it's not entirely inaccurate in its depiction of the stalkerlike habits young girls adopt when the objects of their affections are involved.

She's sweet when she's not going over the top crazy

Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou No Alderamin (Alderamin On The Sky)
Ikta is a surly youth more interested in lusting after women than assisting with the ongoing war between his homeland and its neighbour, but fate has other plans for his strategic talents. As he (reluctantly) travels out to start his military career, he finds himself shipwrecked along with a ragtag group of friends and a mysterious princess. It's the usual jumble of fantasy light novel tropes: an abrasive lead with an unusual talent, a spirited redheaded girl in skimpy clothes and daft dialogue. The character interactions and visuals are above average, but I'm not convinced that Tenkyou No Alderamin will rise above its genre and capture my interest when I'm so burned out on fantasy light novels in general. If the season was less busy I might give it a couple more episodes, however, because there are signs of some more worthwhile elements shining beneath the exceptionally generic premise. It's probably one of the better light novel adaptations I've seen lately.

Dialogue writing at its finest

NEW GAME!
Young Aoba has just finished high school and landed a job at Eagle Jump, a small game company apparently entirely staffed by gorgeous young women. Her coworkers patiently teach her the ropes as she settles in and tries to get used to office life. Everyone is constantly blushing and the camera knows its target audience well, playing up the (very light) fan service whenever it can. It's more K-On! than Shirobako as glimpses into the world of video game development go; even though it's pleasant and easy to watch, I don't think there are going to be many industry secrets to discover in NEW GAME!

Not a big fan of cutesy girls but I do like her beautiful design

Orange
I've already read half of the (incredible) manga - which is also available on Crunchyroll - so when I heard an anime adaptation was coming it felt like a good excuse to finish the story that way. I somehow managed to wait instead of hurtling through the remaining chapters of the original work. Or perhaps I was afraid to finish. The story has a wonderfully simple setup: one day, schoolgirl Naho receives a letter from her future self. The letter explains that she's been living her life regretting some of the choices she made back in her high school days, and sets out a plan for her younger self to change the way things turn out.

Regret is one of the most potent emotions and rather than focusing on the mystery of the time travelling letter, Orange delves into the reasons for Naho's future sadness, exploring her relationships with her close-knit group of friends. Why does Naho feel so melancholy ten years from now? Should she follow the instructions in the letter, even when they contradict her emotions or seem trivial? And what's going on with Kakeru, anyway?

The anime adaptation replaces the beautiful artwork from the original manga (which was far too stylised to survive the transition to television anime intact) with a capable voice cast and musical cues, offering a different perspective on the same material which makes it worth watching even knowing exactly how things will turn out in these early episodes. I like it.

A more relatable tale of high school angst than any moe show

OZMAFIA!!
This is complete fluff; a series of mini episodes which parade a bunch of attractively-designed characters in front of the viewer with some jokes which probably make more sense to people who have played the OZMAFIA!! game (now available in English). The plot, such as it is, involves a new student enrolling at a weird school and meeting the colourful characters who are already there. That's it. If it didn't look so stylish I'd definitely give it a miss.

It's pretty and short, the only reason I'm still watching

Planetarian ~Chiisana Hoshi No Yume~
This show made me feel like such a jerk because I could only appreciate it as a comedy, and I'm not sure that was the creators' intention. Yumemi is a robot created to guide those who come to visit her inner city planetarium. By the time the story proper begins, something catastrophic has apparently happened to humanity over the last few decades and the planetarium has been completely abandoned, along with most of the sprawling urban landscape around it. One day, a young scavenger ends up stumbling across the lonely forgotten robot, who forces him to accept her hospitality even though he has far more important things to worry about, such as staying alive and avoiding the attack robots stationed nearby. The result is tonally odd; I found myself wanting to laugh at the young man's aggressive behaviour towards the oblivious android, which is probably because I didn't really care about her or feel emotionally involved. Watchers are probably supposed to put a little more effort into emphasising with the cute little thing than I did.

Perhaps a better series if the viewer has a heart

Puzzle & Dragons Cross (Puzzle & Dragons X)
Some kid shows are watchable even though I'm well past the intended target age group. Puzzle & Dragons Cross is not. The monstrously popular game has been translated into an exceptionally generic fantasy series, with its appealing art style not quite compensating for the bewildering parade of tropes masquerading as a plot. One for the young at heart or fans of the original game only. I will admit that it has a very good ending theme.

The dragons are cool, more anime should involve dragons

Qualidea Code
Not content with being a regular fantasy light novel adaptation, Qualidea Code is a series with a whole bunch of light novel tie-ins written by different light novel writers in order to plumb heretofore unknown levels of light novel fantasy tropes and combine them into a single series. The first episode is mostly banter between a sulky teen boy and his devoted childhood friend, a dizzy beauty who follows him around irritatingly. The viewer is soon introduced to the overarching scenario: a bunch of immature teens have been put into cold sleep and given unique special powers, or 'Worlds'. Now that they've awakened they have to use these gifts to protect Japan from the imaginatively-named 'Unknown'. In fairness some of the action sequences are pretty cool and Qualidea Code manages to avoid a lot of the things which annoy me about the genre but I can't help thinking it's probably going to annoy me within a few episodes when the fresh ideas start running dry. I also wanted to strangle the male lead every time he opened his mouth; dropping the show seemed like a good idea for my sanity.

Arrogant, rude and not especially attractive - no thanks?

Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars
The first episode of Regalia was all over the place; it started out looking like a very slow-paced slice of life series about some doe-eyed sisters, before a new character suddenly showed up and things swiftly escalated. Moments later, a foreign guy showed up and summoned a combat robot, forcing the girls to join together and repel him. It turns out that while they aren't actually related, both girls have their own special statuses: one's a combat machine and the other is secretly an empress. Squarely aimed at those who will cherish the frequent outbursts of tender sisterly emotions, this really isn't aimed at me at all.

If I'm honest I could tell I wouldn't like it from the designs

ReLIFE
ReLIFE started off unusually by having all thirteen episodes available right from the start of the season for some viewers (such as those with Crunchyroll Premium subscriptions) while others had to wait and watch the show week by week. This arrangement mirrored the Japanese format where the series could be watched through an app before the telephone broadcast began. It was strange, and means I can go right ahead and treat my first impressions post as my final impressions too.

The plot is simple by modern anime standards: Arata is a completely unlikeable guy at his wits' end, having left his job and found himself mostly unemployable. Racked with shame, he becomes a shut-in who keeps up the charade of being a salaryman, then subsequently has another crisis when his parents tell him that they won't be supporting his lifestyle any longer. Just when it seems that there's nowhere left for Arata to turn, a mysterious stranger offers him the chance to return to his teenage years and go back to high school for a year. If he can handle this assignment, he can turn his life around - and high school can't be that hard for a full-grown man to breeze through, right?

Obviously Arata has more trouble fitting in with people ten years younger than him than he expected, leading to drama, comedy and off-colour jokes about how excited he is to be around a bunch of high school girls. He's overconfident and brash despite the mess he's in and it's down to his fellow students to teach him some important life lessons he failed to learn the first time around. I should note that the show gradually reveals a few more nuances which make Arata less obnoxious by showing that his main flaw is simply insecurity rather than raw arrogance. It's fortunate that the whole series was available in one go as I might have dropped it before getting to the later episodes and that would have been a shame; the main romance story between two of the lead's classmates was great.

It took me a while to decide who ReLIFE was aimed at because it's too idealistic and simple to ring true for older fans while clearly being aimed at an audience with a rose-tinted view of their high school days. Perhaps the ideal audience is young adults in their late teens and early twenties, afraid of becoming the older version of Arata but still fresh enough to easily relate to the younger characters without the weird subtext I read into everything? In any case, I ended up watching the entire series at the start of the season, and it was a decent enough experience. Part of the reason I kept watching was because ReLIFE uses a different classic Japanese pop song as the ending theme for each episode. There were some great hits in there such as HOT LIMIT and Natsu Matsuri!

The main character is dull so here's Ooga-kun instead

Rewrite
A fairly ordinary Key adaptation about Kotarou, an ordinary schoolboy with some kind of special power which lets him increase his physical prowess in tight situations. He comes into contact with a typical bevy of cute girls and mysterious, nightmarish things happen involving a creepy girl festooned with red ribbons. The first episode was a double bill yet I still have no idea what's going on.

I feel the problem with Rewrite is that it eases the viewer in as though it's a visual novel, spending more than half an hour on boring introductions and scene-setting instead of establishing a hook to pull newcomers in or explaining its core premise properly. This makes sense for a game - you already bought it anyway, so you probably know what to expect and don't mind sitting through the typical panty flashes and emotionally-charged high school antics until the good stuff begins. For a television anime, however, it would make more sense to rearrange the story to make it compelling right from the outset. I was quite bored by the time the supernatural hijinks got going and it never really succeeded in recapturing my attention thereafter.

Nobody wanted to see your knickers anyway, girl

Saiki Kusuo No Ψnan (The Disastrous Life Of Saiki K.)
Yet another show with a strange release pattern; in this case a bunch of four-minute shorts which are compiled into a full-length episode each weekend. Funimation seems to be trying to match the same format so I checked out the first mini-episode as soon as it was available. Saiki Kusuo is a gifted psychic who was able to perform miraculous feats from an early age. With this being a comedy, however, he's just trying to get through everyday life rather than fighting crime or saving the world from invaders. The style of the humour is reminiscent of Gintama but the plot is much simpler, lending itself well to the four-minute format. It's watchable, without really making me desperate to keep following to find out what happens next.

Lime green shades and magenta hair; psychic fashion

Sca-red Rider XechS
The latest entry in a long tradition of titles based on a school for pouty teens who can combine with their monstrous familiars and do battle with invaders, except this time it's based on an old PS2 romance game for ladies and the lead is a rather annoying bossy blonde girl. The character designs are tall, skinny and full of potential for sulky, pensive facial expressions. The show is set in the Ryuukyuu islands which gives it an interesting backdrop of Okinawa-style folk music during the quieter scenes, and there's more musical fun in the form of the male leads' rock band aspirations - but the main draw is the combat and potential for budding romance between the leads. It's really the same old repetitive nonsense I've seen played out dozens of times before but it takes itself way too seriously at times which just makes it painful - those with a higher tolerance for brooding teens with guitars will probably find it absolutely hilarious. It reminds me of a blend between Strike Witches, Macross Frontier, Star Driver and Weiß Kreuz, which is in itself a rather impressive feat.

Unimpressed dude is unimpressed

Servamp
One day, schoolboy Mahiru comes across a stray cat and takes it home to save its life. This simple act of kindness turns out to have life-changing consequences when the little black cat he names Kuro transforms, revealing his true identity as a gloomy shut-in vampire. One thing leads to another and Mahiru finds himself in a contract with his lazy 'servamp' pet to fight against the more dangerous vampires threatening humanity. If I wasn't watching so many shows already I might give Servamp a chance, it's reasonably entertaining and the colourful designs are fantastic. One to reevaluate during a quieter period!

Kuro looks so cool...

Shokugeki No Soma (Food Wars! The Second Plate)
One of my favourite Shounen Jump titles has returned with a second season of fan service and sumptuous recipes. It drops the viewer right back in the action - the first season ended after the first round of a major tournament, and this one starts off with the first match in the quarter-finals which follow. I love watching Yukihira triumphing in his quest to raise the problem of honest, quintessentially Japanese dishes as he battles all of the elite chefs training at his school; sign me up for more!

Welcome back, Soma-kun

Taboo Tattoo
Taboo Tattoo is set in a world not dissimilar to modern Japan, except that a small number of people possess magical tattoos which grant them extraordinary powers. Ordinary schoolboy Akatsuka Seigi finds himself the recipient of one of these special tattoos one day after a chance encounter with a strange old man, and suddenly he's being pursued by strange superpowered schoolgirls wanting to know why he's in possession of one of this secret weapon. The fan service is subtler than usual but all the signs point to this being an excuse for our hero to do battle with hot angry girls and the underlying high school fantasy plot simply doesn't interest me, even though it's quite well done. The coolest thing about this entire series is the way that the hero is known as 'Akatsuka Justice' based on a trendy reading of his given name. How awesome.

Our hero, reenacting one of the oldest tropes in the book

Tales Of Zestiria The X
Ooh, they made an anime based on Tales of Zestiria, the game which had a crossover campaign with Sengoku Basara 4 Sumeragi not too long ago. If ever there was a justification for watching an anime adaptation of a game title I've never played that's a great one. The first episode focused on Naotora - I mean Alisha - as she charged around fighting cool battles for reasons I didn't really understand. I thought Sorey was the main character? Some proper context as an introduction would have been nice.

I watched the older Tales Of Vesperia: The First Strike movie without knowing the plot of the game it was based on and found it perfectly enjoyable, yet Tales Of Zestiria The X has me lost. Really nice visuals, though. The opening is beautiful.

If only the story was as arresting as the artwork

Thunderbolt Fantasy: Touriken Yuuki
I was lucky enough to see the actual puppets used in Thunderbolt Fantasy back at last winter's Wonder Festival event, so when I heard that Crunchyroll would actually be simulcasting the show I had to give it a try in spite of it not actually qualifying as anime. An excellent voice cast, some star names on the staff and a T.M.Revolution theme song; if anything could give me an interesting first experience with the Taiwanese puppet magic of PILI, this was it.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is a fairly ordinary story about mystical warriors in a dazzling Asian fantasy land. The plot isn't anything to write home about so far, yet the show is easy to watch because of its stunning wooden puppets. They're incredible; far more expressive than most CG (sorry, Berserk) and far more detailed-looking than the average anime, yet they're somehow able to perform complicated physical acrobatics with a blend of traditional and technology-aided wizardry. The result is a surreal experience which is part martial arts film, part anime and part supermarionation.

Crunchyroll has also made an 'episode zero' documentary available which offers a fascinating look behind the scenes to see how the crazy special effects were actually created during filming. Whether you love it or hate it, you owe it to yourself to give Thunderbolt Fantasy a look just to see this unique art form captured on film.

Wouldn't it be awesome to see this on Adult Swim?

Time Travel Shoujo: Mari Waka To 8nin No Kagakushatachi (Time Travel Girl)
Another series about young girls and time travel! Mari is a slightly dithery high schooler whose father supposedly mysteriously disappeared on a long research trip some time ago. I suspect that this plot point will be addressed before too long as Mari herself soon ends up pulled into the world of one of her father's books, which throws her back in time to Victorian England. There she meets famous astronomer William Gilbert, who manages to teach the heroine a few things about the scientific process despite her futuristic origins. From the title I'm guessing that Mari will be meeting a few more famous scientists before the end of its run and even though I'm a bit old for the series it's quite charming in its efforts to encourage the audience to learn a few facts as they watch. Not bad.

I want a magical time travel book too!

Tsukiuta. The Animation
I've been aware of the Tsukiuta. phenomenon for a while without ever taking the time to check it out for myself. This anime adaptation consequently presented a good excuse to take a closer look. The series is about two six-man boy bands, with each member representing one of the months of the year and getting a single episode to introduce themselves properly. The first episode focused on Kakeru, a gentle, kindly blond idol. Too ill to attend an event in person, one of Kakeru's fans sends her younger brother so that she can at least get the exclusive event merchandise and make the most out of her wasted ticket. The bewildered boy somehow ends up mixing with the stars backstage and becoming a fan of the group himself. I wasn't too impressed with the episode overall; the pacing was slow and the entire thing lacked any sense of excitement. And although the music was good, the CG dance scenes left me with mixed feelings too.

The designs are nice, if perhaps a little ovely conventional

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Then there are the usual sequels and spin-offs for shows I don't follow:

Active Raid Second: Kidou Kyoushuushitsu Daihakkei
D.Gray-man HALLOW
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 3rei!!
Show By Rock!! Short!!

The long-delayed sequel to D.Gray-man would have made my list if I was up to date on the original series. Unfortunately years of neglect from localisation companies has meant that I'm way behind with no way to realistically catch up before the season is over.

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 English simulcast titles (unavailable here)

B-Project: Kodou * Ambitious

I was heartbroken about Arslan at first but thankfully it finally popped up on Funimation's site, so it's only B-Project we're locked out from completely. It could have been a lot worse!

Battery, this season's Amazon Prime exclusive, also gets a mention here. It's technically available even though I'm still not interested in subscribing to Amazon Prime to watch one random show per season, but when I logged in through my work account the subtitles wouldn't work in any browser I tried and I was too frustrated to keep fiddling with it. So I'm skipping the show for reasons beyond my control.


Here are my guesses for the most enjoyable spring shows:

1. Danganronpa 3
2. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
3. Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu Love! Love!

A massive bias towards the Danganronpa series is skewing the rankings here but I'm loving the new double-dose of weekly despair and it will take a lot for it to drop down in the list. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has gone from strength to strength and Rohan is even more amazing to watch than Okuyasu. Third place will be a tight battle; Shokugeki No Soma and Arslan Senki could easily pull ahead and topple Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu once they've all had a few more weeks to settle into their stories.

My schedule currently looks like this:

Monday: Amaama To Inazuma, Danganronpa 3
Tuesday: Cheer Boys!!, Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu, Servamp
Wednesday: OZMAFIA!!
Thursday: Binan Koukou Chikyuu Boueibu Love! Love!, Danganronpa 3
Friday: 91 Days, Berserk, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Thunderbolt Fantasy
Saturday: Gyakuten Saiban, Love Live!, Shokugeki No Soma
Sunday: Arslan Senki, Orange

1 comment:

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!