Friday, 13 January 2017

Streaming: Winter 2017 anime first impressions

It feels so good to be back on schedule after a truly exhausting six months. This season was looking like a light one for a while, being comprised almost entirely of fluffy moe shows about giggly schoolgirls and a bunch of sequels. Somehow, though, I've ended up stuffing my schedule with a whole bunch of titles; it remains to be seen how many cling on for the whole season!

Now that Crunchyroll has devoured most of its competitors in the UK streaming scene, it looked as though they would be making a clean sweep of most of the worthwhile licenses this season - The Anime Network, Amazon Prime, Daisuki and Netflix have grabbed a few titles yet almost everything else is coming through Crunchyroll directly. The service really does represent incredible value for money for a fan in the UK these days.

Still, things are always unpredictable in the world of anime licensing. Right before I finished mopping up the last few first episodes to finish this post, Amazon announced that they would be entering the anime streaming business properly with a dedicated anime service named Anime Strike! At first glance it seemed like a pretty good deal; the Amazon exclusives each season are annoying, but for less than $5 fans could subscribe to have full access to the simulcasts and also the rest of Amazon's rather impressive digital anime catalogue. If anyone was going to rise up and become a true rival to Crunchyroll, perhaps Anime Strike would be the first to succeed!

Upon closer inspection, however, Anime Strike is a really, really bad deal. You have to pay $4.99 per month, which is comparable to Crunchyroll's subscription fee. And on top of that, you have to pay the $99 per year for an Amazon Prime account, making the true cost of Anime Strike more than $13 per month - around twice the price of a Crunchyroll subscription if you're signing up for anime alone and don't need the other Prime features. Meanwhile, Crunchyroll offers a free ad-supported service for those who can't afford to pay, along with more languages, more regions, scheduled simulcasts on a proper timetable and more content. The icing on the cake is that Amazon's Prime Video player is nowhere near as good as Crunchyroll's unless you're using it on Amazon hardware, while the market leader supports a huge range of devices to stream the anime you're paying for onto your consoles, phones and tablets. Paying twice as much for a tiny fraction of the content (Amazon Prime has two simulcasts compared to Crunchyroll's sixty this season) isn't appealing at all, and it feels as though doing so would send the message that Amazon's tactic of grabbing the worldwide streaming rights for new titles straight from Japan and releasing them only to a small subset of regions is acceptable. It's not acceptable. It encourages people to pirate anime.

Thankfully Anime Strike is US-exclusive at the moment (hello, region locking!) and if the online reactions are representative of Prime customers' feelings on the matter it doesn't look as though it's going to be a roaring success over there. Perhaps it will be rethought before daring to step outside its home turf to be steadfastly ignored by the rest of the anime-viewing world.


With my commentary on that brand new drama over, I'll move on to my first impressions! The ongoing titles I'm still following are ALL OUT!, March Comes In Like A Lion, Nobunaga No Shinobi and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. Everything else is new.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsuka (ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)
I had no idea what to expect from ACCA, and coming out of the first episode I'm not even sure what it's about. But it had a great opening and somehow, despite the intentional lack of focus in the plot, it was really interesting! So far, we've been introduced to an unenthusiastic-looking man named Jean who is an inspector for a bureaucratic office which overseas the thirteen local governments running his country. Jean is soft-spoken and detached, but his eye for detail and natural discretion make him the perfect weapon against shady people undermining the agency's work. Is the story going to go anywhere from here? That's not clear yet; at the moment ACCA could be one of the most addictive spy dramas since Joker Game or an offbeat slice of life story charting the staff members' daily cake purchases. To my shame I didn't even notice creator Ono Natsume's distinctive style at work at all until the episode was long over. One of the most intriguing debut titles of the season.

The uncute artwork is greatly appreciated

Akiba's Trip The Animation
I already have some familiarity with the tongue-in-cheek silliness of the Akiba's Trip game series, which has a relatively straightforward plot about a nerd tasked with the job of stripping a bunch of hot girls (and not-so-hot guys) in combat to save the streets of the Akihabara electronics district from an invasion by photosensitive vampire-zombies. By tearing their clothes off in broad daylight, it exposes them to the sun, effectively exorcising them. The games take this to ridiculous lengths, having the hero able to strip nubile young women down to their underwear with a single tug of their outer garments and chaining attacks for more aggressive combat-stripping; the first episode of the anime felt almost subdued in comparison! It's absolute trash, of course, but not unwatchable (and with so many series this season shamelessly aimed solely at the male otaku audience, that's higher praise than it should be). The first episode of this show was also notable for incorporating the most awkward-looking kiss scene I have ever seen, animated or otherwise. Decent, even though I'm still unsure whether I'll be continuing.

The cool two-tone glowing hair aesthetic is appreciated

Ao No Exorcist: Kyouto Fujouou-hen (Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga)
Also available on Daisuki. I don't think we ever got a proper simulcast of the original Ao No Exorcist in the UK so this sequel going up without the earlier episodes is annoying, especially as it makes it harder to flick back to the end of the first season and catch up. Fortunately, I watched it all on DVD at some point and vaguely remember what happened. The first episode of this sequel jumped straight into a mission and I can't quite figure out how all of the continuity works (didn't the first season end with anime-original content?) but it seems to be a follow-up to its predecessor, with Rin training under Shura and Yukio still being strangely useless for someone so naturally superior. It turns out that Rin's former friends are a little upset by the revelation that he's the son of Satan, so after the drab introductory mission there are a batch of flashbacks to bring new viewers up to speed and explain why everyone is annoyed that they're being asked to work together in this latest campaign. Never mind all of that, though; I'm upset that the new character designs have changed the way that Izumo's eyebrows look! They used to be much cuter.

I don't have an eyebrow obsession, honest

Chain Chronicle -Haecceitas No Hikari-
I accidentally deleted my thoughts on this when I was setting this post up, which is annoying as it was quite forgettable and I can't remember exactly what I said. But I don't want to watch it again. Chain Chronicle -Haecceitas No Hikari- is a long one-shot story initially split across four episodes for streaming, and the animation is pretty good! Before viewing, all I knew about Chain Chronicle was that it was a mobile game with the curious distinction of being in the news a while ago for having one of my all-time favourite voice actors, Ishida Akira, playing no fewer than 46 individual characters. That kind of fact sticks in a person's mind. Unfortunately, fantasy stories based on mobile games are a dime a dozen and the pretty animation cannot hide the fact that the world building is a bit flat, even though I liked the lead character's atypical personality. Not one I'll be continuing to follow now that the full television series has also arrived.

She seemed fun

ChäoS;Child
I have never forgiven ChäoS;HEAd for being the most disappointing anime viewing experience I have had since my only access to the medium was via expensive dubbed VHS tapes back in the 90s, so it's unclear why I thought watching the first episode of its successor might be a good idea. ChäoS;Child starts out by reminding me how much I hated the earlier series; the first episode rapidly recaps some of the key events, and if I'm honest, the entirety of ChäoS;HEAd works better as a twenty-minute recap sequence than an actual show in its own right (my apologies go to fans of the original games as they were probably far less annoying). In spite of the improvements to the animation and pacing, it was still nothing special. The second part of the first episode moves onto the new content, skipping forward a few years and introducing a new cast of characters to replace the old one. While I'm not going to continue further, the new lead seems a lot better than the last fellow and this series might be a lot more watchable if you like twisted supernatural mysteries with cute girls and the occasional splash of gore.

Admittedly, it doesn't take much to improve on ChäoS;HEAd

Chiruran 1/2
I thought this short comedy series was awesome at first, until I realised that it was a spin-off based on an even-more-awesome-looking manga called Chiruran Shinsengumi Requiem. So we're getting the silly spin-off without the original material, which is a bit vexing. It invariably makes it harder for me to get a feel for the characters (other recent offenders have included OZMAFIA!! and last season's Touken Ranbu spin-off). In any case, after suffering through a bunch of cute shows about dippy girls in school clubs, a hyper gag series about the officers of the Shinsengumi was a good antidote. I'll probably keep watching simply because I lap up anything about the Bakumatsu period and two-minute episodes aren't a massive time investment.

The jokes may be funnier if you know the original manga

Choboraunyopomi Gekijou Dai San Maku: Ai-Mai-Mi- ~Surgical Friends~
This is the third season of Ai-Mai-Mi- but the first that I've seen available on Crunchyroll, so right from the start I felt a little lost (it seems one of the other seasons is here). It's one of many, many titles this season about cute, blushing little girls in a school club. The theme this time is a club for drawing manga, but it's really just a hyper slapstick comedy with episodes three-and-a-half minutes in length.

Cute girls with blushes everywhere

Demi-chan Ha Kataritai (Interviews With Monster Girls)
A strange show about a hulking biology teacher who is desperate to learn about 'demis' - demi-humans who live ordinary lives despite sharing traits with various supernatural monsters. He ends up meeting three such girls almost all at once when he discovers a vampire, dullahan and yukionna are students at his school, and to make things even more incredible the new teacher they've hired is a (very anxious) succubus. Rather than immediately setting himself up as the centre of a harem or discriminating against them for humour, however, the teacher invites the students to tell him about their everyday lives in his office during their breaks so that he can understand them better. That's it. It's a little sad to say but the fact that he doesn't immediately start checking out their underwear or asking lewd questions is a relief after some of the other shows of this type! Instead, the monster girls' unique problems are treated almost like disabilities which affect their daily lives but not their desires to socialise and find their place in the world. In spite of the art style - the girls are all as cute as buttons while the guys are plain and boring - it's reasonably harmless, and if it wasn't for the fact that I'm confident nothing is ever going to happen aside from the laid back interviews it could have made my viewing list. If the same creator made a spin-off series focusing on more adult drama between the teachers and the difficulties a succubus has in the modern world, I'd check it out.

Vampire girl, weird hairstyle and all

ēlDLIVE
Chuuta is an ordinary boy with a strange problem: he can hear a voice in his head which has conversations with him. One day, he's spirited away onto a mysterious spaceship populated by aliens and a cavalier man with an eyepatch, who tries to persuade him to join the ēlDLIVE space police force. His habit of shouting at himself confuses everyone about him but his otherworldly encounter is the trigger to him learning what's behind his 'imaginary' friend; a peculiar space-creature is living inside him as a symbiont, and when it pops out and makes itself known the space police are even more excited than before! Chuuta's problems are clearly only just beginning. This odd show feels like a blend of Level E, Katekyou Hitman Reborn, Kiseijuu and Uchuu Patrol Luluco, however it has done a better job of getting me interested than Reborn (they share a creator). It's not essential viewing yet it will probably entertain.

If this guy wasn't such a dork he would be quite cool

Fate/Grand Order -First Order-
Also available on Daisuki, this lengthy standalone movie is based on Fate/Grand Order, some kind of online mobile game based on the Fate mythos. I'm not sure what the game is like but in this anime the plot takes the form of a whole bunch of copy-pasted light novel technobabble as a bunch of generic-looking men and women are trained to unlock their master potential to save the world from its imminent destruction. Add a dollop of pseudoscience magic to let the bland lead and his newly-acquired 'demi-servant' Shielder visit unfamiliar alternate versions of a pivotal moment in the Fate timeline, and the stage is set for this parade of fan service for those who can recognise all of the cameos and references. Things start out with a Lancer version of Fate/Stay Night's Rider, then a very chilled-out Caster version of Lancer appears. The hackneyed story thankfully became more clear gradually over the course of the film.

An unlikely character steals the show
In any case, I've gradually realised that the only thing I like about non-Fate/Zero versions of Fate is Gilgamesh, and unfortunately he's not even in this. Tsk. If not for Lancer-I-mean-Caster's gratuitous exhibitionism I might have fallen asleep.

Oh my

Fuuka
This could go either way for me; the constant panty shots and youthful feel aren't to my taste, the lead's tetchy girlfriend Akitsuki Fuuka is annoying and a lot of the scenes are downright stupid (I don't understand how anyone could fail to see the person they're waiting for at a tiny location like the Hachiko statue). However, even though there are problems the core storyline is interesting. And I like shows about music. It's like a tackier version of NANA, except NANA is still incomplete whereas this series actually exists. It was also a pleasant surprise to see the lead's handsome male friend casually admit to being gay right after his first appearance; it's not something you see every day in anime without it being used as comic relief. Hayami Saori is playing one of the main characters too. Maybe I'll keep watching a little longer.

I'm under the impression that things get more intense later

Gabriel DropOut
Gabriel is one of many fledgling angels sent down to the human world to go to school and learn more about people. It's all going well at first, until she finds that someone has inexplicably set up a laptop in her bedroom with an MMORPG running on it and created an account for her. She sees another player calling for help and immediately makes herself a character and speeds to his aid, quickly becoming intoxicated with the excitement of being able to help people so easily. It doesn't take long before she's addicted and her sweet, angelic personality has become corrupted and self-centred. The rest of the series follows Gabriel and her friends, a group which so far includes a deliberately sadistic angel, a too-helpful demon, and another demon who desperately wants to be villainous even though she's terrible at it. Thus the stage is set for this silly, fluffy comedy with a heavenly feel. Oh, and of course everyone in the entire show is a cute, blushing girl. The one question I have is who set the game up in Gabriel's room in the first place?! Why isn't this explained? It's bothering me!

I'm not sure that pairing angels and demons up was smart

Gintama.
Gintama is back again! It's moved to a late night slot at last so hopefully it won't offend quite as many flustered Japanese parents this time around, but after a few light gags the plot has gone straight back towards the serious storyline it was following at the end of last year's batch of episodes. With the manga heading towards its finale and not too far ahead of the content they're animating now, will we ever get to see any more absurd Gintama comedy arcs again or is it going to be grim, emotional combat all the way until the ending? I don't know whether I can bear to see it finish.

Please please please run some comedy episodes too

Hand Shakers
What a mess. The snazzy animation with copious CG-enhanced special effects can't really cover up the fact that this series doesn't really seem to have any reason to exist, being the same kind of weak pseudo-sci-fi school action nonsense we've seen playing out a thousand times before. An unremarkable schoolboy ends up forced to hold hands with a passive, pale girl who will die(!) if he lets go. Opening up with a woman being molested by a bunch of elaborately-rendered chains squeezing her thighs and breasts really didn't start things off on a positive footing, but Morikubo Shoutarou's bewitching voice in a bit part almost made up for it. The music playing inappropriately calmly on top of the action reminded me a lot of K, except that this title was even more unintelligible and didn't even have a cool angela theme song. I'm also mildly concerned that the exaggerated bouncing breasts wielded by one of the female characters might be a calculated attempt to hypnotise viewers. I'll be amazed if the staff manage to pull something coherent out of this disjointed chaos.

I can't decide whether the wildly inconsistent art is good

Idol Jihen (Idol Incidents)
Bizarre. In this series, Japan's solution to the myriad problems of national government is to form new political parties fronted by a bunch of amateur teenaged idols. The idea is that their peppy personalities will win over a public tired of the entrenched establishment. Hey, this sounds awkwardly close to reality in several countries. Idol Incidents could have been a clever commentary on the flaws of a modern society where people are dissatisfied with conventional solutions without knowing exactly what should be replacing them to create a fairer world. Except it isn't; it's just annoying (and I say this as someone who likes idol shows). The lead has no idea what she's doing and doesn't even care so long as it involves vapid smiles and increasing her popularity, and because she acts more like a cutesy hamster than a real teenager she's surrounded by starry-eyed supporters who never question her lack of drive. One for idol otaku only, I fear.

I'm a mean person who takes unflattering pictures of idols

Kemono Friends
A little girl somehow ends up wandering around in a safari park populated by weird CG animal girls. A serval takes her under her wing and shows her around, introducing her to some of the other residents and beautiful sights. The biggest surprise about Kemono Friends is that it has full-length episodes; the premise convinced me that it was a mini-series in advance and I was astounded that they had spun this tiny plot out into full 24-minute stories. The worst part is that it isn't even that bad. The animation is floaty and cheap, and being shown around by a dithery and self-confessed klutz of a feline did start to grate by the halfway point, but it's so harmless it's difficult to care enough to dislike it. The skinny, cute hippo girl was a missed opportunity in character design though.

Wild cats are well known for their clumsiness

Kobayashi-san Chi No Maid Dragon (Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid)
I should hate this. Maids are rarely good characters. However, the razor-sharp humour is pitched absolutely perfectly here, turning an ordinary-sounding story abount an office worker who meets a servile dragon into a lively, punchy comedy show. The 'dragon maid' of the title is Tooru, an emotional dragon who decides to move in with 'Kobayashi-san' and help her around the house after a chance meeting. To accomplish this, she transforms into a (sort of) human maid and invites herself to visit one day. Tooru is also fiercely possessive of her master, openly confessing that she wants her in that way and brazenly revealing her true form to her rivals, imaginary or otherwise. Whether it can sustain the energetic gags for a full run is yet to be seen, but the first episode was certainly entertaining enough to win it a place in my schedule.

Maybe maids aren't so bad after all...

Koro-sensei Quest!
It feels as though I've missed the boat with the Assassination Classroom series; I read the first couple of chapters of the manga a long time ago then the anime was locked away to Animax who failed to stream half of it properly at all, so I've yet to see the main story animated and don't know many of the characters besides Koro-sensei himself. Koro-sensei Quest! is the animated adaptation of a lighthearted spin-off series which is very close to the original except reimagined in a fantasy setting (and very slightly more hyper). The first episode was packed with parodies and silliness, but I found it hard to get too involved without knowing who anyone was. One to come back to if I ever get around to watching the original show properly.

Koro-sensei is as cute-looking as ever

Kuzu No Honkai (Scum's Wish)
The first of two anime simulcasts which are exclusive to Amazon Prime subscribers (and soon, Amazon Prime subscribers who are forced to pay an additional premium subscription just to watch anime). It's a pity, because the first episode of Kuzu No Honkai rather impressed me. Hanabi is crushed when the older man she's long harboured feelings for ends up falling in love with someone else. Meanwhile, her fellow student Mugi is in love with the other woman and nursing the exact same feelings of loneliness as Hanabi. The two teens meet up and share their secrets, then end up pursuing a damaged and unhealthy physical relationship in an attempt to fill the voids inside their hearts. It's easy for anyone who has ever had (or imagined having) a bad relationship to relate to their awkward emotional problems. I might have to switch to the manga on Crunchyroll to find out what happens next.

The scratchy art really stands out in this colourful season

Marginal #4: Kiss Kara Tsukuru Big Bang (MARGINAL #4 The Animation)
This game and music series has had a lot of pushing from Rejet in Japan so I'm glad it's finally been animated to allow me to get into it with minimal effort or expense. Opening with a CG-aided concert scene of the type that is now almost ubiquitous for idol titles, we're quickly introduced to the quirkily-named L, R, Atom and Rui, four members of the brand new boy band MARGINAL #4. In a peculiar subversion of the usual plot contrivances of idol shows, rather than joining a club at their school and working their way up to becoming famous, they start off famous then make a club at their school just so that they can chill out in a private room. The humour is cheeky and fresh, and the music isn't bad. I can see myself sticking with this all season, even though the other music group in the series were robbed and didn't get to sing a single song in the first episode. I want more LAGRANGE POINT!

Shy is a cool name, isn't it?

Masamune-kun No Revenge
The titular Masamune is a popularity-obsessed transfer student with a complex about how he looks after a traumatic past experience with a girl who made fun of his chunky figure. He's turned his life around and successfully made his debut as an attractive hunk, but before he can celebrate his success properly he has the misfortune of running into the girl who was cruel to him all those years ago, Aki. To make matters worse, she's infamous at his school for crushing the spirit of every guy around her in the coldest way possible whenever they approach her. Things take a surprising turn when Masamune discovers that Aki is secretly a huge glutton and thus begins an awkward romantic comedy about an unnaturally mean tsundere, her creepy servile friend and our hero, who is mostly irritating and already working on a twisted revenge plan. I do like the way his inner monologues poke fun at how well he's adjusting to being handsome at last; it adds a bit of levity to the awkward scenes of Aki being an out-of-control jerk with no redeeming qualities other than her nice hair.

In other news, Masamune's friend is called Kojuurou

Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitenshabu (Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club)
I knew I wouldn't continue with this from the title and key art alone. The viewing was just a formality so these low, low expectations allowed me to be impressed with the gorgeous background art on display in almost every scene, packed with blooming cherry blossom trees and colourful Kamakura scenery. There's a great opening song from AOP, too. I suppose I should say a little about the show even though its plot is very similar to that of last season's Long Riders! so far. Hiromi is an absolute idiot who feels dejected when she realises that riding a bicycle is harder than she thought, requiring you to actually turn the pedals to go forwards. Ugh. Rather than giving up and walking to her new school like a normal person, she continues forcing a gorgeous new friend to help her figure out how to use her bike then makes that same friend walk alongside her to school, a trip which feels far longer than any commute should thanks to Hiromi's dawdling. Somehow they get there before nightfall in spite of all of the difficulties. It doesn't take a crystal ball to work out that our heroine is going to end up joining the school's cycling club and making a lot of cute, bike-crazy friends. I moan but this was actually one of the better first episodes I watched and if I'd been into the genre I'd probably have been able to tolerate the lead long enough to get to the better characters who will undoubtedly be introduced in future stories. The awkward live action segment at the end of the episode was even better than the anime part.

Duhh

Mori No Yousei: Kinoko No Musume (FOREST FAIRY FIVE)
A horrific CG animation about a mystical 'fairy world' which exists alongside our own and is filled with 'anime-chans', who are cutesy little girls, I mean fairies. And at the same time they're also mushrooms. The narrator (who is, to be fair, trying his best to play along with the insanity) drifts aimlessly around a psychedelic technicolour fairy forest for ten minutes straight, interviewing these wobbly-looking animated monstrosities. I have nightmares like this show.

I tried to find a decent-looking scene but there weren't any

Nyanko Days
A short series about a shy girl reliant on her three cute cats, who act as her best friends. For some reason though, they're not really cats at all but tiny little catgirls. The first episode was so short that I had to watch it twice in a row to absorb everything properly. It's ok, but wouldn't it be even cuter with actual cats?

Fans of sweet girls must be in heaven this winter

OneRoom
Another of those strange short shows which places the viewer in first person mode and has characters address them directly. The first episode has you meeting a (very young-looking) female student who has taken it upon herself to welcome you and check you're settling in. Apparently, sisters will be involved later on. Although the art is lovely, I can live without slow camera pans up and down young girls' chests and thighs while they witter pleasantly in the background. It made me feel like a weirdo.

The Kantoku artwork is the main draw here

Onihei
I don't usually watch the shows Amazon Prime Video holds to ransom but I activated my Prime trial subscription temporarily over Christmas which meant I still had access to their video service just in time to catch the first episodes of Onihei and Kuzu No Honkai this time around. It was a bittersweet feeling since I knew I wasn't going to be paying out a Prime subscription fee to continue even if the first episodes were good, which made me feel emotionally detached from the whole experience. I'm not familiar with the original material beyond the Gintama character so it's impossible to comment on how closely this anime adaptation follows the Onihei mythos, but the first episode spent very little time on Hasegawa Heizou himself and instead told a story about other people with him lurking ominously in the background. It felt a lot like a live action drama with its muted palette and cold story. Not convinced so far. If it was available on Crunchyroll I'd give it a few episodes to win me over.

Didn't really live up to the outstanding key artwork

Piacevole! My Italian Dining (Piace: Watashi No Italian)
A slightly dim young girl signs up to work at a rustic Italian restaurant she's never been to before, and gets a crash course in Italian cuisine from the surly young acting manager and friends there. If this was about a more exotic (to me) style of cooking it might be more interesting, but the general dizzy cuteness of it all is a little overwhelming. Food Wars this ain't.

How come this is hardsubbed, Crunchyroll?

Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel
Schoolgirl Strikers is generic even in a season stuffed to bursting point with identical-looking shows about blushing girls in school clubs. Our five leads are short-skirted schoolgirls who end up being recruited to a special squad trained to fight weird monsters most people can't see in a parallel reality. These teams of all-female fighters dress up for combat - in gear such as bikinis or maid uniforms, of course. The weird thing is that it's quite well-made; the art is decent and it has a good vocal cast. You can almost smell the desperation when a shower scene is inserted less than two minutes into the first episode and the camera continues to cling to breasts and butts throughout. It feels as though it's trying to appeal to two different crowds at once, and needless to say I'm a member of neither. Dropped.

Schoolgirl fetishists need their fun too, I guess

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Descending Stories)
Now this is how you do a sequel! The lead gave a recap of the previous season in character and in the medium of rakugo right at the start, so when it was time for the curtain to rise and the story to begin I felt as though the months between the seasons had melted away. The lengthy flashback to Yakumo's youth has well and truly come to an end, and this season looks as though it will be focusing on Yotarou - now the third generation Sukeroku - and his ongoing exploits in a world where the sun is gradually setting on the traditional art of rakugo storytelling. This also means more of Konatsu, whose understandable frustrations left many questions unanswered at the end of the previous arc. The saddest part is seeing Yakumo growing progressively older and more frail with every performance. It's very unlikely that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu won't be in my top three at the end of the season. It's just perfect. Easily the strongest first episode of the season.

Please live forever, along with your rakugo

Spiritpact
Another one of the growing number of series with Chinese roots, Spiritpact is the Japanese version of an existing series which has apparently already aired in Chinese. I wasn't really sure what to expect; there hasn't been much hype for it and all I'd heard anyone say before it arrived on Crunchyroll was that it was a supernatural BL action show. Which sounded sort of awesome. The first thing I noticed after the very pleasant opening song was that it's very obvious that the Japanese audio isn't the original soundtrack. Japan has an active dubbing industry (like many European countries) and I'm used to seeing foreign content dubbed into Japanese on television when I travel, but here the pacing of the dialogue felt very awkward. I don't think it was that the acting was bad, necessarily, but the actors were really having to speed through their lines to fit them to the animation and what may have sounded perfectly natural in the original Chinese comes across as flat and rushed in this version. It would be nice to have both audio tracks available on Crunchyroll for comparison.

In any case, the plot starts out with a simple setup where our (rather irritating) hero Keika has a run-in with an evil spirit and meets a mysterious, handsome stranger - then immediately gets hits by a truck and dies. A convenient side effect of this is that now he's a ghost, he looks much younger than he used to be because he's gone back to resemble the way he looked when he was happiest in life (hmm). Keika is still trying to process all of this new information when the aforementioned stranger asks him to stay in the human world permanently and assist him as his spirit familiar. Keika resists at first, but the two of them naturally end up teaming up and presumably their relationship will gradually develop over time. While the animation is very cheap, the staff have done a good job disguising this for the most part and the ending sequence teases some cool-looking characters. It's got promise.

The surly exorcist guy has zero personality but looks cool

Super Lovers 2
The BL show with a central romantic pairing so questionable that it caused the Crunchyroll marketing team to criticise their own service for licensing it is back for a second season! I don't honestly like Super Lovers all that much; it lacks sincerity and I'm really not that interested in young characters. But it's goofy and melodramatic so I keep watching it anyway. I wonder what's going to happen this season?

Be good to Ren, Haru

Urara Meirochou
I almost missed out on seeing Urara Meirochou entirely as it's this season's unlucky title to find itself selected as an exclusive on The Anime Network. Even though the first episode could still be watched for free, its absence from the big hitters like Crunchyroll made it easy to overlook and The Anime Network didn't even bother putting it on its own front page. Our heroine is Chiya, a happy-go-lucky (and slightly feral) girl from the mountains who has just turned fifteen and travelled to Meirochou, a town populated by 'urara' fortune tellers, in response to a mysterious invitation. The main gag is that Chiya thinks she has to lift up her top to show everyone her belly and lower breasts whenever she apologises for something; as she keeps screwing up, her midriff is frequently on display, and this upsets the conservative local police chief. In spite of The Anime Network's attempts to kill it, Urara Meirochou has been attracting quite a few positive reviews so I'm just going to conclude I'm entirely immune to cute girls unless they're proven to have brains. It's just too silly for me.

In fairness none of the others are quite as dumb as Chiya

Youjo Senki (Saga Of Tanya The Evil)
What a weird, weird series. I've never heard of the Youjo Senki light novel series before; it seems to have its fans. In an alternate universe's answer to warring 20th century Europe, there's a tiny girl fighting in the military who takes obedience and tactics very seriously. She also happens to be a rather savage mage who can fly through the sky and decimate enemy squads in spite of her tiny frame. It all sounds a lot like Shuumatsu No Izetta which I dropped a couple of months ago, except that the beautiful colours and elegant princesses have been traded in for earthy tones and dirt-smeared faces, and almost every single line in the first episode's script is intended to emphasise how terrifying and amazing and incredible and small Tanya is, which ended up grating on me. If she's awesome, please show her doing more awesome things rather than ramming the narrative down my throat at every opportunity; it felt like being at a recital run by her private fan club. There are no characters of note thus far other than Tanya herself and the useless, buxom soldier who interacts with her to highlight how uncannily hungry for combat the pint-sized bombshell can be, and I can only assume the main audience is the healthy demographic of military otaku in love with fantasy stories about girls on the battlefield. It's a shame that I didn't like it because along with Onihei it had the best key art of the season.

The only nice-looking scene in the first episode

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I'm following a lot of sequels and spin-offs this season. There are also a few for shows I don't follow which I skipped for obvious reasons:

Kono Subarashii Sekai Ni Shukufuku Wo! 2 (KonoSuba - God's Blessing On This Wonderful World 2!)
Rewrite season 2 (Moon-hen/Terra-hen)
Tales of Zestiria The X season 2
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories season 4
I would like to watch Yowamushi Pedal but there's still no stream or physical release of any kind for any of the earlier content if you're in the UK so anyone wanting to watch the latest arc is coming in blind. Another well-planned distribution strategy from the anime industry.

Region locked English simulcast titles (unavailable here):

Seiren

Only one title available in the US has been region locked completely which has to be some kind of record for the UK, especially as it doesn't look like something I would have enjoyed anyway. A special award goes to Little Witch Academia, which is this season's unlucky title locked away by Netflix's usual disastrous licensing strategy. Nobody's allowed to watch it legally until next season when they'll release it bilingually long after everyone has stopped caring. No thanks.

There's also BanG Dream! which might be available to the UK and might not. Sentai haven't been clear about The Anime Network's strategy outside of their home turf and I can't be bothered to delay my impressions post for two weeks to find out whether we've been left out yet again.

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I'm going to guess that my top three will look something like this when the end of the season rolls around:

1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
2. MARGINAL #4
3. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept

Kuzu No Honkai would be fighting for a position on the list if there was a chance that I could actually continue watching it. Thanks for nothing once again, Amazon!


As it stands, my winter streaming schedule currently looks like this:

Monday: Chiruran 1/2
Tuesday: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept, Nobunaga No Shinobi
Wednesday: Kobayashi-san Chi No Maid Dragon
Thursday: ALL OUT!!, MARGINAL #4, Super Lovers 2
Friday: Ao No Exorcist, Fuuka, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Saturday: March Comes In Like A Lion
Sunday: Gintama, Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans

1 comment:

  1. We may crave vacations or a break from the routine, but at the end of the day humans are creatures of habit. Feels so satisfying to return to your old routines.

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