Thursday, 1 December 2016

Streaming: Autumn 2016 anime first impressions

I've finally caught up with the start of the current anime season, less than a month before it's scheduled to end. Taking back control of my life is a slow process! Everything changed once again this season, as Funimation have turned their new service into a dub-focused portal while letting Crunchyroll have the rights to their subtitled anime. It saves me some money as I no longer require two subscriptions. Meanwhile, however, The Anime Network has made another attempt to lock content to their own home-grown service to tempt people away from the market leaders, but it's a poor value proposition with only one exclusive show streaming to the UK. No thanks. I'll stick with Crunchyroll and pass on that one show. Animax UK have no acquisitions at all (hurrah!) but Daisuki and Amazon Prime have a couple. I've also had the good fortune to be able to see a few films in the cinema across the UK recently, including Your Name. (Kimi No Na Ha.), La Tortue Rouge and the first two parts of Kizumonogatari. All were great.

The excellent JoJo's Bizarre Adventure was my only ongoing commitment so I would normally have avoided picking up too much this season, except that a whole bunch of titles I was previously following have returned with sequels. So there hasn't been all that much room for completely new shows in my weekly schedule.


So without further ado - I need to start work on my final impressions post soon - here's the current rundown of UK simulcasts!

ALL OUT!!
One of several sport-themed anime airing this season, ALL OUT!! stands out for its artwork which places a much more detailed emphasis than usual on the players' varied physiques. I actually really like the designs; they're far from 'pretty' but they have a feeling of weight and power to them which contrasts with the skinny boys we usually see in shows about team sports. The focus is rugby this time so for once I actually know the basic rules of the game they'll be playing. Our hero Gion is a short newcomer who ends up joining the school rugby club after he tags along with a gentle giant they're trying to enroll, and because he's completely new to the sport everything is explained clearly by the more experienced players. His enthusiastic, somewhat violent personality is a good fit for rugby and while I'm not expecting anything groundbreaking I'm sure the series will be a fun watch if I can manage to get caught up.

Sorry about the boring screenshot, but nice muscles!

Ao Oni The Animation
A series of horror-themed comedy shorts about a bunch of colourful teens(?) who end up in an old house with a spooky blue oni with a taste for human flesh. It's simple and harmless, yet not something I'd watch regularly.

Nice designs, mediocre show

Bernard-jou Iwaku. (Miss Bernard said.)
If the literary references in Bungou Stray Dogs aren't enough for you, Bernard-jou Iwaku offers another dose, this time in the form of a short comedy series about a young poseur calling herself Miss Bernard who swans around the school library pretending to know everything about a bunch of books she's never even read. The titular character is probably completely unlikeable to anyone who has ever cared about books in any way, but if you want to load up on trivia about authors, genres and international novel adaptations it's a decent comedy show. The long-haired science fiction fangirl is clearly the best character.

How can the lead be so annoying?!

Bloodivores
Originating as a Chinese webcomic, Bloodivores tells the story of a world where some people have been transformed into 'bloodivores' (effectively vampires) due to a mishap with a drug used to treat the outbreak of a mysterious disease. These bloodivores are regarded as dangerous but otherwise participate in society as normal. The hero, Mi Liu, is a half-human, half-bloodivore who has apparently had huge expectations piled on his shoulders from an early age as the celebrated 'Child of Peace' who links the two groups together - so of course he goes completely off the rails and ends up involved in a crime which gets him locked away with a death sentence. He's also an annoying know-it-all. Mi Liu realises very quickly that something is wrong with his conviction but lacks the power to investigate further, and his (so-far awesome) evil dad is no help at all. Bloodivores is ok. There are some good ideas but it doesn't really stand out in any way.

The social elements are more interesting than the main plot

Bungou Stray Dogs season 2
It's back! And right from the start it launched into a multi-part flashback story to ease viewers back in with an important event from Dazai's shady past with the Port Mafia. The plot was nothing special but I found this flashback arc very interesting for answering a lot of the questions I had about how Dazai ended up working for the good guys in the present; he's a fantastic character who deserves every bit of exposure he gets. And the series is prettier than ever. Definitely one for my regular viewing schedule once again.

The nice designs don't come across so well in stills

Cheating Craft
After the most laboured introduction of any series I've seen in a while, Cheating Craft finally gets to its point halfway through the first episode and explains that it's a melodramatic action series about a highly competitive academic exam with stakes so high that it can change the course of a person's life. People go to insane lengths to pass and this has ended up creating a situation where half of the test-takers are 'learning types' - people who study and strive to do their best on their own merits - while the other half are 'cheating types', intent on copying answers from their more studious counterparts. For reasons which make very little sense it's become the custom for people to take the test in pairs, with the cheater secretly protecting their designated learner from attacks while they answer all of the questions to guarantee both participants pass. The lengthy explanation which ended with a complete story reset was unnecessary because the concept is very simple. It's also an awful lot like the chuunin arc in a certain well-known shounen action series that was popular a few years ago. As in it's almost exactly the same only with fewer ninja and no likeable characters. What's the point?

It looks ok, but where's the heart?

ClassicaLoid
There's a lot of interesting design and inspiration to be found in ClassicaLoid, a quirky show about famous composers living in modern day Japan. Beethoven is the star of the show, reimagined as a gyouza-loving eccentric prone to burst into moments of reality-bending musical rapture whenever the impulse takes him. Somehow, though, the presentation isn't clicking with me and the gyouza thing feels more forced than comical. If I have some time later on I might come back and give it a second chance.

Not a massive fan of the designs but it's gorgeous anyway

Dream Festival (Dorifesu!!!!!!)
You have to feel sorry for DoriFesu. It's a successful series in its own right, but as things turned out its anime adaptation aired in the same season as the latest UtaPri and the production team have effectively sent it out to die. There was never any chance of it looking good next to the behemoth of the genre even if the songs are better (a potentially controversial opinion). Anyway, I decided to give it a shot in case it somehow ended up even more ridiculous than the other big male idol show of the moment as there might have been enough room in my heart for both. Kanade is a good-looking normal guy who gets scouted by a famous idol producer attracted to his eagerness to please his audience, and of course he ends up going along with the invitation and persuaded to join a brand new boy band. Things soon end up getting weird though as it turns out that idols are working towards acquiring magical trading cards from their fans' praise, which power them up into special costumes via mildly risque transformation sequences with wobbly CG animation. They stay in CG form for the dance sequences, which are on par with Love Live's. Ultimately though it was the card thing that killed it for me; that and the fact that none of the guys were edgy enough to appear interesting. I know the anime is meant to promote the card-collecting app it came from but it would be nice if the references were a little more subtle...

Nice music

Drifters
I've been a fan of the Drifters manga for some time and with its glacial release schedule combined with the intense enthusiasm of the Japanese fans desperate for more, it's been tough waiting for an anime adaptation! Fortunately, this new television series seems to have been worth the wait. Drifters is a bloody, gritty action series about a world where heroes and villains from all different countries and periods are thrown together to battle to the death. There are major factions with their own goals who try to support the warriors and make them collaborate, but ultimately most of the main characters are so fiercely independent that it's often difficult to say who's really leading who.

Our hero is Shimazu Toyohisa, a samurai from Satsuma who is whisked away from a glorious death in the Battle of Sekigahara and brought to this alternate world. He ends up teaming up with Oda Nobunaga and Nasu No Yoichi - Toyohisa giving Nobunaga an update on everything that happened since his death helps break the ice - and the three of them soon get to work organising rebellions and turning the world's status quo on its head.

I love the crazy way the Shimazu clan is portrayed here
There's a lot to like, from the comedy to the (actually very interesting) battle strategies, and the studio has clearly put a lot of effort into being true to creator Hirano Kouta's exaggerated artwork while keeping the animation quality high. This is a very appealing production. The voice acting makes the comical moments even funnier than they were in the manga; the natural chemistry between the leads is rewarding to watch on screen.

I managed to see the first episode a few months ago at this year's Japan Expo, where original creator Hirano Kouta came on stage to answer questions and observe the French audience's reactions. He's adorable! Needless to say, I loved it, and it was therefore my first confirmed autumn show well in advance. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

The art isn't 'pretty', but it's always entertaining to look at

FLIP FLAPPERS
I keep seeing stills from FLIP FLAPPERS which make me regret my decision to drop it because it looks absolutely stunning; it's visually inventive, colourful and dainty. The problem is that even after watching the first episode I struggled to find anything to latch onto. The characters weren't interesting to me, the initial story was pure fluff and the underlying science fiction plot (?) was too vague. However, I can certainly see why people are praising it; if I was able to sit back and let the lovely animation of these two sweet girls wash over me I'd have a lot more fun with its eccentric storytelling. Probably one to watch for yourself before forming an opinion. I'll be keeping an eye on reactions to see where it goes.

Better than most shows about cute girls cavorting

Gakuen Handsome
The infamous parody game has somehow managed to be animated in this series of terrible-looking shorts, which have the enviable quality of being more effective the worse the characters are drawn. I wonder how hard the animators had to restrain themselves to keep the characters intentionally off-model and crazy in every scene? In any case, for those who don't know Gakuen Handsome is a deliberately-silly approach to a BL harem scenario, with our hero stumbling across a selection of 'attractive' young men intent on charming their way into his pants. These guys all have exaggeratedly pointed chins to mark them out as bishounen, lest the viewer get confused, and the result is a funny diversion that will likely appeal just as much to people who hate BL romance games as it does to those who have played enough Gakuen Heaven to appreciate the humour. I'm sort of looking forward to meeting someone who misses the joke and uses it as a complaint about how female-orientated fan service is low quality. It's going to happen.

What a cutie. Not.

Girlish Number
I'm ashamed to say that I misjudged Girlish Number, the latest in a long tradition of idol-style shows with key art which makes them look much more terrible than they are. There's nothing particularly creative going on here, but it's easy on the eyes, self aware and - so far at least - perfectly watchable, even if everyone looks and acts like school girls rather than the fully grown professionals we're supposed to believe they are. It also has Nakai Kazuya playing a creepy producer which automatically makes everything better. Our heroine is a moderately popular new voice actress who is getting increasingly frustrated that her career isn't going in the direction she'd imagined, until one day she's given an offer she can't refuse. It feels a lot like a poor man's blend of THE iDOLM@STER and Shirobako, but it's not bad. I enjoyed the first episode.

Multicolour hair remains the best thing about digital painting

Hagane Orchestra
Hagane Orchestra is probably the most self aware anime comedy I've ever seen. It opens up with the bold declaration that it's a glorified advertisement for a smartphone game then goes on to have all of the cutesy characters argue about the best way to promote it. I have no interest in the original game at all but these irreverent shorts are certainly funny enough to make it stand out. They're better than a lot of serious, full-length fantasy anime.

Who cares about the fourth wall?

Haikyuu!! season 3
The hot-blooded volleyball guys are back once more for another helping of tears, sweat and scowling. This time, they're battling against the powerful Shiratorizawa Gakuen for a place in a major tournament. The spectre of Shiratorizawa has been looming over Hinata for some time now, as we were introduced to star player Ushijima quite a while ago, so it's going to be interesting to see how the team fare against the strong players on his team. The animation quality is still high and I've managed to avoid any spoilers so I'll be tuning in yet again to find out what happens!

If you like Haikyuu!! this is more of the same

HEYBOT!
Sometimes, shows aimed at kids are still just as entertaining for adults. And sometimes, they're like HEYBOT! which is nothing but jokes about screws and toilet humour from beginning to end. Screws. It's almost impossible to take a screenshot without a screw or two hidden in it somewhere; even the lead's eyebrows are shaped like the things. If I was about seven this would probably be hilarious, but as it is it's doing absolutely nothing for me. HEYBOT! requires a different kind of sense of humour, evidently.

Least charming show of the season?

Kaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku
The kaijuu genre has been enjoying a mainstream resurgence in recent years with big hits like Godzilla and Pacific Rim drawing fans to its strange world of city-destroying monsters. It was only natural, then, that someone decided to make a comedy reimagining monsters as cute girls who suddenly discover they can transform. Kaijuu Girls isn't pretending to be anything other than a lighthearted dose of silliness, though fans of the genre will probably get a little more out of it than I did.

The ditz on the right is the most fun to watch

Keijo!!!!!!!!
The dumbest thing I've seen in a while, yet not entirely lacking in entertainment value even for those who aren't especially attracted to dizzy-looking schoolgirls attacking one another with their butts. This is fortunate because there's nothing else of note going on here; our two plucky leads have enrolled in a school devoted to training up the next generation of superstars in the women's sport of butt combat (it's ostensibly about hip motions, but let's not pretend that anyone's here for anything other than the lovingly-animated bottoms). The two girls started out in judo and gymnastics respectively before switching disciplines in search of fame, fun and cute swimsuits, and now they have to fight against the odds against countless other hopefuls with shapely rears in order to prove they have what it takes. This is a terrible, terrible series, and absolutely perfect for watching when you just want to sit back and laugh at increasingly ridiculous situations which make no sense at all. While I doubt I'll keep up with the simulcast I might be in the market for a cheap Blu-ray set one day.

You cannot make this stuff up

Kiitarou Shounen No Youkai Enikki (Kiitaro's Yokai Picture Diary)
A short series about the youkai encounters of a petulant young boy and his zashiki-warashi friend. While it looks great, it doesn't really have much to it and better shows about Japanese monsters aren't exactly rare; if I wasn't in the UK I'd be watching the latest season of Natsume Yuujinchou instead.

Fun but there's nothing to make it stand out from the crowd

Long Riders!
I don't really enjoy watching anime on Daisuki because of the ads, so I'm lucky that the only exclusives they picked up this season were a pair of cutesy 'cute girls join a school club' slice of life shows. Long Riders! is about a young girl who is suddenly swept away when she spots a bike she likes, and immediately goes out to buy one for herself and makes friends with other cyclists at her school when she meets them on the road. She's a novice cyclist and it's only thanks to her friends that she survives her first few excursions intact. It reminded me a lot of Bakuon!! only without the strange anthropomorphised motorcycles. Not essential viewing for those who don't care about blushing girls (or realistically-drawn bicycles, I guess), but it's ok.

Dizzy girls with competent friends are way too popular

Magic-kyun! Renaissance
Another female-orientated title with broad similarities to Uta No Prince-sama, apparently daring to challenge the dominant series head on. Kohana is a cute, good-natured girl who has transferred into a very strange school which collects all kinds of handsome 'artists' who weave magic and give off visible sparkles when they're creating new work. It's daft, and it knows it. The silliness makes it oddly watchable.

Better than DoriFesu
It has the problem that Kohana and her female roommate are both significantly cuter than any of the bland male love interests the viewer is supposed to find appealing - the plot revolves around a male and female student being chosen as the stars of the school festival - but it's not a bad way to spend some time nonetheless. There's also some mysterious backstory about Kohana's dead mother, whose reputation still lingers at the school years after she left. In any case, I hope the two girls end up together.

Who could care about the guys when these two are so cute?

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku (Magical Girl Raising Project)
This series really, really wants to be Puella Magi Madoka Magica. A popular mobile game (which is implausibly more popular with cute doe-eyed schoolgirls than the genre's main audience of male otaku) offers its players the opportunity to be selected as real-life magical girls by a creepy mascot vaguely resembling Danganronpa's Monokuma. Young Koyuki is consequently thrilled when she's given the ability to transform into the heroine Snow White, and even happier when she meets the other magical girls and finds common ground with some of them. However, there are currently too many heroines in Koyuki's region so the decision has been made to thin their ranks by having them compete against one another to help the most people - or die. It's ultimately a contrived mash of great ideas which have already been done better in other shows, but if you like the concept and don't mind the lack of originality I think it will be a worthwhile watch. I can already see some death flags so I'm going to step away rather than waiting to see it all playing out.

I'm unlikely to become a fan

March Comes In Like A Lion (3-gatsu No Lion)
The scratchy, untidy artwork is the perfect accompaniment to this tangled story about a young professional shougi player and his adoptive 'family', a group of three sisters (and their extended family members) who take care of him from time to time. Some people have complained that the subject matter is too difficult to understand since they don't know how to play shougi but to me that's irrelevant; this is a simple story about humanity told in a complicated way, mirroring the often-silly, often-depressing struggles of human life. Having seen the first two episodes at the time of writing, I'm still not really sure where it's going to go from here (if anywhere) but I'm interested enough to keep watching nonetheless. The animation is capably handled by Shaft; titles about human relationships often receive low budget, serviceable adaptations so I'm pleased to see that March Comes In Like A Lion is an exception. And rightly so, given its pedigree. I've heard nothing but praise for the manga so my expectations are high!

Emotion first, shougi second

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu No Orphans) season 2
Gundam fans have it good at the moment; the Origin OAVs are absolutely superb and Iron-Blooded Orphans is back on the air. It took a little while for me to remember all of the happenings from the previous season - I spent most of the first episode in a confused whirl - but the show is still great and my favourite television outing since 00. Tekkadan have come an awfully long way from their humble beginnings and I can't help but feel desperately worried for them, as a major betrayal or upset of some kind seems almost inevitable. But every time I start to think that they might have lost their edge, Orga or Mikazuki do something cool and make me want to root for them all over again. I'm watching the delayed stream on Crunchyroll since it works with more of my devices than the speedier Daisuki broadcast.

The entire series still rides on Mikazuki's shoulders

Monster Hunter Stories: Ride On
A lot of Capcom titles are receiving anime tie-ins lately! I would have liked to watch a full Monster Hunter anime but this is a kids show in the same vein as Pocket Monster; our heroes are wandering around making bonds with monster hatchlings and learning to ride them. It's probably great if you're either a kid or a big fan of MonHun, but as I'm neither it's all a little beyond me. Still, it's a million times more watchable than HEYBOT! in spite of the weird CG monsters and creepy-looking airou mascot.

I want to say the CG looks bad, but it's strangely acceptable

NANBAKA
A strangely retro comedy about a group of four prisoners who are notorious for being able to break out of any facility in which they're incarcerated, thanks to their unique individual talents for lawbreaking. They've finally ended up stuck in a real fortress of a prison staffed by a bunch of crazy guards who seem to have a peculiar affection for the quartet of escape-addicts, and so far it's a high energy romp showing them trying to escape and gradually dripfeeding a little information about their backgrounds. Something about the whimsical pacing and insane character designs gives NANBAKA a 90s anime feel, except that there are sparkles, dazzling colours and gradients everywhere to remind the viewer that the animators have packed it full of modern techniques to guarantee that it's as visually interesting as possible in spite of the bland prison decor. I don't dislike the show, though I'm not convinced that the core plot will be able to retain my interest for very long in a season loaded with more interesting fare.

The colour designers worked really hard

Nazotokine
A cheap-looking anime about a hot otaku businesswoman who gets sucked into a magical dimension and needs to solve simple puzzles to escape. She also has to transform into a magical girl wearing a skin-tight bodysuit for some reason or the solution won't trigger. I thought this must be based on a mobile phone game of some variety but it seems to be an original project, and now I'm confused about the target audience; the puzzles are too simple to be satisfying for adults but the pandering elements make me question whether it's for the youth crowd, and it certainly seems to be a late night show. Kudos to Crunchyroll for not bothering to translate the trivia quizzes during the end credits which actually make up the bulk of the puzzle-solving content of the entire show by runtime. I feel as though this was a bit of a waste, especially because I had to watch the first two episodes together to get the full plot.

This picture reminds me how bad the dialogue was

Nobunaga No Shinobi (Ninja Girl & Samurai Master)
The second decent show this season starring Oda Nobunaga. This time it's a cute story about a young Iga ninja who meets the famous warlord in her youth and vows to serve him one day. It's charmingly animated for a comical series of shorts and makes a fun contrast with the grittiness of Drifters, portraying Nobunaga as a wise (and uncharacteristically reasonable) leader who takes young Chidori's naïve personality in his stride. It's cute and full of gags about famous Sengoku-era figures and culture. What's not to like?

Imagine if this got licensed in the west one day... ha ha ha

Nyanbo-!
I've never sat down and read Yotsubato! but I feel sorry for its fans that it has had so many mainstream tie-ins without a single trace of a proper anime adaptation having surfaced. Nyanbo-! is a mixture of computer animation and actual photography and it's genuinely stunning; some very artistic staff members have obviously put the visuals together. The main characters are a group of tiny catlike aliens who resemble the Danbo robot from Yotsubato! and wander around getting into trouble. They even encounter real cats, who are (mostly) seamlessly merged into the animation through green screening. If you are desperate to see Yotsuba's world animated in any form this is the show for you, and even if you're not it's still sort of cute for the cat cameos and pretty CG animation.

It's dumb but cute as a button

Occultic;Nine
The mind behind several other famous titles punctuated by a lone semicolon is back for another offbeat multimedia project about otaku culture. Chaos;Head has the distinction of being one of the worst anime titles I can remember watching, while Steins;Gate was significantly better (though nowhere near good enough for me to consider it a favourite). Occultic;Nine starts out by introducing its hero, Yuuta, who is trying to earn money by curating a referral blog which summarises news and articles about the occult. The first episode then parades several other eccentric-looking youngsters before the viewer, and it seems that they're all going to be connected in different ways. The stakes were raised in the last few seconds of the first episode by the discovery of a bloody corpse so it looks as though the plot will be heating up quite swiftly from now on. I'm not entirely sure where this is going yet, and all of the otaku references are more overwhelming than fun - Steins;Gate handled that side of things a lot less hyperactively. Perhaps it's best if I wait to see what other viewers think rather than risking another clunker like Chaos;Head.

Extra points for a character voiced by Noto Mamiko

Persona 5 The Animation -The Day Breakers-
I haven't played a Persona game in years and was tempted to skip this prequel anime since it's designed to hype the newest game, which I'll probably never play because Persona titles are always handled horribly overseas and I'm still annoyed about the dub-only anime release and region-locked game incidents half a decade ago. However, I watched it anyway just in case it could change my mind. The animation is stylish and, as always, the chilled out soundtrack stands out from the crowd - this isn't a low quality cash-in adaptation. The plot, however, reminded me a little of the meandering fist bumping nonsense of Final Fantasy XV Brotherhood. It's a simple 'detective club' setup where a bunch of attractive teens are teaming up to go up against a gang of thieves, and with this being Persona there are some funky supernatural sequences as soon as everything has been established. It didn't change my mind about the upcoming game, but I did enjoy the time I spent watching the show.

Nice design work!

Sengoku Choujuu Giga
I should like this. It's a series of skits about famous Sengoku-era warriors reimagined as animals (representing their real-life traits or reputations in various ways) and animated in an old-fashioned style reminiscent of the Choujuu Jinbutsu Giga. As projects go it's difficult to imagine anything more interesting, but it's not working for me. The experimental animation is fantastic for screenshots but because it's completely flat and simplistic it's actually a little hard to follow during action scenes, reminding me more of a cheap newspaper comic strip than a beautiful classical work of art. I think it would have worked better with a more traditional spin on the idea, like the stylish art in Kanashimi No Belladonna. And then there's the voice acting. Rather than going with the usual anime style of expressive voice work, Sengoku Choujuu Giga uses a very casual, relaxed script which I just don't like. I might come back to it later when I'm in the right mood. There's potential there.

At least it's fun spotting the parodies of the real people

Shakunetsu No Takkyuu Musume (Scorching Ping Pong Girls)
I am way outside the target demographic for this series. It's a standard school club series about a bunch of really, really dizzy girls who all act half their supposed ages. They're very passionate about table tennis and seem to have the drive to go far - which is cool. However, this is very much a series for fans of shows about 'cute girls doing cute things', not fans of table tennis. Despite the young-looking designs they don't hold back on pandering to the intended audience at all (the series' peculiar focus on breasts is difficult to overlook). One for anime fans only.

What is it with the perpetual blushing in moe shows?!

Shuumatsu No Izetta (Izetta: The Last Witch)
From the stunning key artwork I assumed this was going to be some kind of awesome historical fantasy about two girls with a shoujo feel. I was wrong, and as it happens I'm actually not sure whether I like it or not. Finé is a beautiful, independent, slightly-too-perfect blonde princess who has set out on a dangerous journey to try to protect her tiny nation from the threat of invasion from Germania, a country which has instigated a major war with the nearby regions (such as Britannia). She runs into some enemy soldiers in the very first episode and ends up encountering a mysterious witch named Izetta, who was being held prisoner by the Germanians to prevent her from using her incredible powers against them. What's the connection between the two girls, and how will Finé save her home from the impending threat of military suppression? I strongly suspect the two answers are linked.

For some reason, despite the entire plot being openly based on the events of World War II most of the country names and details are changed just enough to make it annoying to follow what's going on. I suspect this is because they want to incorporate fantasy elements which deviate from reality, without bothering to craft an actual fantasy world around them or explain anything properly. The series has a floaty, cinematic feel, and I've heard a lot of mixed impressions about how it develops. Everyone looks a lot like extras from Sword Art Online too which is a little disconcerting. I'll stick with it for a while and see whether it manages to pull the promising elements together, or whether it completely falls apart.

She's so incredible that she somehow became annoying

Soul Buster
There really is a lot of Chinese-influenced anime coming out this year! The generically-titled Soul Buster is a weird mishmash of anime tropes which land our wimpy male lead in a maelstrom of magical cards, talking beasts and summonable warriors of legend. It's based on the famous Romance of the Three Kingdoms mythos, though as the translation uses the Japanese names for everything I don't recognise a lot of the references I probably should from my time with the Sangoku Musou games. All of the scenes have a weird textured filter inexplicably overlaid over the animation which is probably supposed to be artistic but doesn't quite work. It just makes it look as though they're trying to hide cheap animation. Soul Buster should be much cooler than it is - the Three Kingdoms references are automatically interesting yet I can't help but feel that this is going to be a shallow Fate/stay night wannabe with half-length episodes rather than the epic fantasy adventure I'd really like to see.

Perhaps more ambitious than it deserved to be

Soushin Shoujo Matoi (Matoi the Sacred Slayer)
The Anime Network's lone exclusive simulcast in the UK this season. I watched the first episode via their ad-supported free service since it would have been awfully extravagant to subscribe for a single mediocre-looking magical girl show, and I'm glad that I trusted my intuition. The episode started off with a wobbly action sequence loaded with really wonky English then switched focus to the heroine's daily life as a shrine maiden. Her mundane routine is brought to an abrupt end when she becomes the unexpected recipient of the powers that were supposed to pass down to her friend, and suddenly she's forced to transform into a magical girl and protect those in need. There's nothing wrong with Soujin Shoujo Matoi, it's just sort of... average. It's a shame that there doesn't seem to be more to it; the visuals are appealing and Matoi's spunky shrine maiden friend is cool.

The girls look so cute compared to the guys

Stella No Mahou (Magic Of Stella)
Cute girls in a school club, this time busily creating their own indie games. It's interchangeable with any number of other titles of this type; one for those who find simpering girls talking to one another in an affectedly slow, cutesy way adorable. Anyone hoping for an insightful look into game creation would be better served elsewhere as this is fluffy and light on any actual details.

Zzz...

The Ancient Magus' Bride: Those Awaiting A Star (Mahou Tsukai No Yome)
A disclaimer first of all; I've never read the original manga and so this animated prequel was very difficult to follow. From what I gather, Chise is a young girl who escapes a life of hardship and misery by moving in with a tall man named Elias who has a skull instead of a face. He treats her tenderly and teaches her about the world of magic, and by the time the story starts she seems to be used to her daily life. Personally, I'm more interested in the things I don't know at this point - why is Chise a 'bride' according to the title, and what's the story behind Elias? The episodes are being released on Crunchyroll infrequently (they were originally bonus OAVs, I believe) so I guess I'll have to wait and see.

I'm interested to see how the romance develops...

Time Bokan 24
The latest in a long parade of updated reimaginings of classic anime titles, Time Bokan 24 is the spiritual successor to Time Bokan, a famous 70s time-travelling adventure from Tatsunoko I've never watched. The auspiciously-named Tokio is an ordinary boy who ends up going on expeditions to the past to discover the truth of history, which is, of course, a lot sillier than the version we're taught in the present. The team has to help famous figures of the past with various ridiculous problems and also fend off attacks from a trio of villains who are hoping to bend history to suit themselves, so each episode focuses on a particular snapshot of the past to keep things fresh. Time Bokan 24 is squarely aimed at younger viewers but has enough zaniness and flair to succeed with nostalgic older fans as well; I found the first episode reasonably entertaining in spite of my age and lack of familiarity with the original. Awesome opening song, too.

I love classic villains in all of their gaudy fashion

To Be HERO
A bewildering comedy from the same studio as Cheating Craft. Like its stablemate, To Be HERO has a Chinese pedigree and while I'm not really enjoying these titles it's good to see input from farther afield working its way into more and more anime productions. To Be HERO is apparently doing quite well with the international audience and having it up on Crunchyroll alongside the big hitters is a great way to let fans choose what they want to see. The plot is extremely odd. A good-looking divorcee toilet salesman with a feisty daughter has a strange encounter after falling into his toilet one day, and ends up becoming an ugly superhero who can save lives but no longer express his true feelings in words (instead, he just says crass, perverted things and upsets his daughter). There is a great deal of toilet humour, as might be guessed from the summary, and a distinct lack of elegance anywhere in sight. It's probably the better show of the two its studio has produced purely in terms of its originality, but I think I'll pass on seeing any more.

He wasn't all that great even before he transformed

Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru
I'm very slightly biased against Tourabu as it's completely gutted several of my favourite fandoms with its overwhelming popularity, just like the KanColle phenomenon did elsewhere a few years ago. While the KanColle anime sort of sucked, however, this adaptation works a lot better. The 'plot' of Tourabu is that a multitude of famous Japanese swords have been turned into handsome men whose elaborate designs incorporate characteristics of the weapons and the people famous for wielding them, for whom they seem to retain a powerful loyalty. The game version brought in popular character designers and voice actors to ensure that the roster was visually diverse and extremely appealing to its target audience, but as far as I know there's relatively little plot - which has worked strongly in its favour and allowed the fanbase to pick up the slack. This anime adaptation (there's already another on the way next year courtesy of ufotable!) keeps things light so far, introducing the main characters and teasing the rarer ones in a lengthy parade of introductions. I'm honestly not sure whether or not I like it from the first episode alone. I guess I'll watch a couple more, since I would genuinely like a proper introduction to the series without resorting to playing the original browser game.

Kashuu Kiyomitsu and Yamato No Kami Yasusada

Trickster: Edogawa Ranpo 'Shounen Tanteidan' Yori
Why is this series so boring?! I actually fell asleep watching the first episode and had to start it over again another day. It's not that nothing happens - it's an action-packed blend of a ton of viewer-friendly elements like hot-blooded rival boys, half-naked techie girls, surreal owl sidekicks and elements from the works of Edogawa Ranpo, whose stories seem to be inspiring more anime titles every day. The animation is decent, and the designs look a lot better in action than they do in the key art (sorry, Peach-Pit). It even has a decent cast and an opening song by Gackt! But in spite of the obvious effort to make Trickster into the next big thing, it's doing absolutely nothing for me. It's trying so hard to stand out that it makes the formulaic aspects of the series even more obvious, somehow; I like my mysteries more mysterious and my action shows more action-packed. Decidedly average. I'll come back to it if I'm having any trouble sleeping over the next few weeks.

First time I've noticed those trendy ball-chairs in use like this

Udon No Kuni No Kiniro Kemari (Poco's Udon World)
A rather lovely, slow-paced series about a young man returning to Kagawa from the capital after his father passes away. Souta has mixed feelings about returning to the run-down sanuki udon restaurant his father used to run; part of the reason he left to chase an urban lifestyle because he was made to feel ashamed of the family business back when he was growing up. While he's trying to get his emotions straight and sort out his father's unfinished business, he stumbles upon a few unexpected discoveries: a notebook with his father's udon recipes and a tiny, taciturn child who doesn't seem to belong to anyone. The latter turns out to be a magical tanuki called Poko (or Poco, if you prefer). I won't have time to follow it this season but I might come back to Udon No Kuni No Kiniro Kemari one day in future; it's a little like a blend of Usagi Drop and Amaama To Inazuma so far accompanied by a dash of magic. While it seems very predictable, it's the kind of timeless human drama which never gets dull.

Nice artwork, too

Uta No Prince-sama Maji Love Legend Star
It's a fourth season of UtaPri. I think most people will know whether or not they like the absurd boy band antics by now, as this outing is riddled with the exact same high quality, cheesy, meandering silliness as its predecessors. With the addition of HE★VENS we now have three groups of eligible boys obsessed with Haruka and her songwriting talents, and the first episode is mostly a parade of all eighteen (!) hot guys (along with their agency presidents) each speaking single lines in turn as they're reintroduced for the viewers. The plot is, so far, mostly a repeat of the previous season - but that doesn't really matter any more. It's fun, and the insane car/lorry/copter chase scene halfway through the episode showed that the staff have no plans to take the show too seriously this time around either. As for HE★VENS themselves, I'm still unconvinced. They seem to stand out less than the ST☆RISH and QUARTET NIGHT boys and exist primarily as foils to our heroes. I just can't seem to get attached to any of the members the way I have to the Shining Agency singers!

Best boy forever

Yuuri!!! On Ice
Yuuri is a professional Japanese ice skater who has fallen on hard times early in his career and returned to his hometown to figure out what he wants to do with his life. Yuri is a proud up-and-coming Russian skater with ties to Yuuri's idol Victor, a charismatic and internationally-celebrated champion. The three young men meet as a result of Yuuri's skating activities and his life is utterly turned around as a result as he heads into what will probably be his last season as a competitive skater, and his first as a confident young man. A lot of people seem to be judging Yuuri!!! On Ice as a female-orientated pure fan service show but to do so is selling it short; Victor is fascinating, the emotions are running wild and the designs are beautiful, but the real stars are the lovingly-animated ice skating scenes, which convey a real sense of weight and risk to the characters' dramatic moves. For me, it works on several levels. I've only watched ice skating once in my life; I was in Japan during the height of Hanyu Yuzuru fever and somehow ended up watching a televised competition. This has the same sense of grace that the real performances incorporated, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the skating world as Yuuri struggles to overcome his difficulties. If the show has the guts to continue to develop the blossoming relationship between its leads as far as it deserves to go, it could become a classic.

Well worth watching for the delightful skating scenes

Zutto Mae Kara Suki Deshita: Kokuhaku Jikkou Iinkai (I've Always Liked You -Confess Your Love Committee-)
Last but not least, Crunchyroll also picked up this standalone animated film based on material by Honey Works, a group best known for their Vocaloid projects, of all things. The plot is a melting pot of the usual romantic teen angst, with a bunch of teens trying and failing to be honest about their feelings for one another in the most self-destructively frustrating ways. With its pleasant visuals, earnest characters and completely inoffensive dialogue, it will make a decent afternoon's viewing if you can't get enough of shoujo-style romances which make you want to scream at the screen as the various boys and girls torture themselves worrying about whether the objects of their affections like them back instead of simply asking them directly. There are also a few cheeky references to the original creators which are cute, even though the concert scene halfway through is rather lacking in excitement.

Misleading screenshot time

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Then there are a lot of sequels and spin-offs for shows I don't follow:

Anime De Training! XX
Bishoujo Yuugi Unit Crane Game Girls Galaxy (Crane Game Girls season 2)
Brave Witches: World Witches Series
Bubuki Buranki Hoshi No Kyojin (BBKBRNK The Gentle Giants Of The Galaxy)
Cardfight!! Vanguard G NEXT
Dragon Ball Super
Hibike! Euphonium (Sound! Euphonium) season 2
Lostorage Incited WIXOSS
Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara season 2
Oku-sama Ga Seitokaichou!+! (My Wife Is The Student Council President!+!)
Show By Rock!! season 2
Teekyuu season 8
WWW.WAGNARIA

There are also some missing sequels such as the second seasons of Ajin, Juuni-sai: Chicchana Mune No Tokimeki and Ameiro Cocoa: Rainy Color Waikiki. None are huge disappointments for their absence, but it's still worth noting.

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)

3-nen D-gumi Garasu No Kamen (The Glass Mask Year 3 Class D)
Natsume Yuujinchou (Natsume's Book Of Friends) season 5
Tiger Mask W
Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda (Kiss Him, Not Me)

The pettiness of locking certain seasons of Natsume Yuujinchou annoys me, and the loss of the current Dragon Ball (announced for the US to great fanfare) was a huge insult to European fans until the Daisuki stream came to the rescue for the latter. It's still hard to understand why fans in the US can choose to watch on either Daisuki or Crunchyroll while everyone else is forced to use the platform with more restrictive app support. In addition, Chi's Sweet Adventure, Furu Wo Amu (The Great Passage) and ViVid Strike! are all locked away to Amazon Prime members. So I won't be watching those, either. Watashi Ga Motete Dousunda is supposedly on its way to the UK courtesy of an early license by Anime Limited so when the simulcast arrives I'll add it to my list. I'm not sure it can be counted as a simulcast when it still hasn't appeared so late into the season. It's even slower than me.

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The traditional guesses for the most enjoyable autumn shows, with the caveat that I'm cheating since the season is already half over by now:

1. Drifters
2. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
3. Yuuri!!! On Ice

This list will probably be rearranged by the end of the season since I'm actually really enjoying quite a few shows, but at this moment it's probably Drifters which has captured my imagination most fully. And rightly so, given how long I've been waiting for this adaptation!


My schedule currently looks like this:

Monday: Gakuen Handsome
Tuesday: Nobunaga No Shinobi
Wednesday: Yuuri!!! On Ice
Thursday: ALL OUT!!, Keijo!!!!!!!!
Friday: Bungou Stray Dogs, Drifters, Haikyuu!!, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Saturday: March Comes In Like A Lion, Uta No Prince-sama
Sunday: Magic-kyun! Renaissance, Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans, Tourabu Hanamaru

5 comments:

  1. Hi there Raindrops! Was kinda wondering about the abrupt stop in posting.

    Oh man I think Yuri on Ice is already a classic and it hasn't even finished airing yet! I love it so much. Damn the writing and skating is so good. And the main character's relationship - finally an anime with guts to move from fanservice to something real.

    PS) Look what finally appeared on Amazon after 200 years-

    https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B01MQI8N2U/

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    Replies
    1. Whoa! A miracle!

      I badly need to catch up on Sengoku Basara news. I got a little depressed at how little had been going on in Japan.

      (And I completely agree about Yuuri!!! On Ice - it blew my expectations away many times over!)

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    2. Also - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LZVE6A6

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    3. Also - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LZVE6A6

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    4. SB as a franchise has been battling on intensively over the years so having a recharge period is probably a good thing.

      I’m happy though to finally have been able to buy and watch another of those DVDs after the Aceshop frustrations. The SB4 stageplay was great ^^

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