Monday, 24 July 2017

Streaming: Summer 2017 anime first impressions

Wow. Crunchyroll nearly completely wiped out when it came to licensing high quality titles this season; if I wasn't already subscribed for a year I'd have seriously considered taking a break if they hadn't snagged Jigoku Shoujo. It's not a strong season to begin with - the majority of titles are 'ok' rather than 'unmissable' - but it's the first where Crunchyroll's dominance in the UK has started to show major cracks. The main culprits are Amazon Prime, who have grabbed some high quality titles once again, and Sentai's new venture HIDIVE. Netflix are also sitting on the sidelines, singlehandedly justifying piracy for many viewers by withholding all international access for anything they touch and treating the anime community like a mindless cash cow. Screw Netflix.

Amazon's anime push is nothing new for this season, but Sentai's relaunch is actively frustrating. To draw attention to their homegrown service they have stopped allowing other anime sites to show their content, which means that none of their shows can be viewed on half my devices and there are no apps whatsoever since the new site is still in beta. In addition, the billing/trial system is poorly described and confusing. Even though their support team is friendly and responsive, by now we've all gone through this many times before with overly ambitious new site launches in legal streaming and it's never fun.

Manga Entertainment's Jerome accidentally hit the nail on the head in one of his characteristic Twitter rants recently when he said, "Isn't that weird? Usually consumers see monopolisation as a bad thing, but anime fans r screaming out for 1 source for everything."

In my mind, there's a simple explanation. Competition is important. The ideal anime streaming market would have sites like Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon, Funimation and HIDIVE all streaming every show, worldwide, with subtitles in multiple languages. If Netflix wants to push this stupid enforced 'box set' marathon model, let them do so. If HIDIVE think they are best positioned for providing a unified streaming-and-physical service to the US and English-majority regions, let them. If Crunchyroll think a completely free service on a delay is worth more to fans on a budget while Viewster think fans deserve day-and-date with adverts, fine. The customers can pick which site they find easiest to use, and everyone has legal access to as much anime as possible. The best sites will get the most customers and the anime industry will get feedback on what works best, without all of the lies, exaggerations and excuses.

What we have now is not competition. It's the opposite. As a fan, I don't want to watch some random shounen anime on my platform of choice, so I have to follow the shows I want to watch to the platforms where they end up even if it destroys my viewing experience, as it can easily do when a service is poorly run (Animax UK, I'm talking about you). Fans can't afford to subscribe to half a dozen different platforms to watch half a dozen different shows. Fans can't afford new computers just to have something which works to stream through a certain badly-written website. Fans can't afford to spend hours each week trying to piece together the puzzle of working out which site has the show they want to see for their region (if anyone has it at all) and which language options are available where. It's even worse for casual or new fans, who have no real investment in the industry to encourage them to put up with all of this disorganisation.

Piracy is flourishing because of this baffling parody of the spirit of competition, where the services with the most money grab all of the best shows and lock them away from potential viewers. For most of these sites the distributors aren't being paid based on the number of viewers, they're being paid based on how exclusive their contract is. Distributors like Jerome are incentivised to give exclusivity contracts to each service (or not stream at all, thanks Jerome), and thus we end up in a situation where almost every single title this season is exclusive to one streaming service in the UK. The services don't even specialise in anime genres, so one season you'll have to go to Amazon Prime for your mature, female-orientated entertainment and the next that stuff will be on Crunchyroll instead and Amazon Prime only has action fantasy shows. The cheapest way to subscribe is via annual subscription, but to subscribe to each and every streaming site costs several times more than most fans' anime budgets. Ironically, this current interpration of 'competition' is probably crippling the spending power of Jerome's own physical anime buyers more than he realises.


In short, anime streaming is still a huge mess and the distributors are completely to blame. But as I love anime and hate piracy, I'm forced to put up with it and can't do anything about it other than complain.

So let's switch topics and talk about my first impressions of this latest batch of anime. On top of the titles I liked from the selection below, I'm still streaming Boku No Hero Academia, Nobunaga No Shinobi and Sakura Quest from previous seasons. Crunchyroll's lineup page still has a blank slot which I'm guessing will be filled later in the season too.

18if
A surreal adventure based on a smartphone game, about a world where girls are falling into mysterious comas in what's being called 'Sleeping Beauty Syndrome'. One night, when Haruto goes to sleep, he's pulled into a dream world which turns out to have been created by one of these girls, now a gigantic, sadistic virtual 'witch' who toys with others for her personal amusement. After meeting a humanoid cat who claims to be a researcher, our hero is warned that death in the dream world will lead to death in the real world too; a warning which is subsequently ignored as Haruto has his arm torn off and endures a bloody decapitation with no permanent ill effects. It doesn't even slow him down at all as he gives the witch a scolding for being so selfish in the climax of the show. While the hero is rather irritating, 18if would be watchable if every episode had a different female seiyuu revelling in the role of the villain - Endou Aya certainly has a lot of fun in the first outing. As for why the disease only affects pretty girls? I'm pretty sure it's because the witch's clothes vanished as soon as Haruto told her off and saved her from the dream. There's a very distinct target audience in mind here, isn't there?

Koyasu's smug cat-man is the best sidekick

Action Heroine Cheer Fruits
Mikan is a sweet (and rubber-faced) girl who is devastated when a nationally-famous 'local hero' cancels a show her younger sister was looking forward to. She persuades another of the hero's fans to help her stage a special version of the show with themselves in the star roles, and in doing so attracts the attention of the school council's president who wants them to use their passion to help promote their local area! It feels a bit like LocoDol and a bit like Sakura Quest, but Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is surprisingly good in spite of being packed to the gills with squeaky schoolgirls, proving that it can, in fact, be done. The characters are entertaining to watch and the animation is pretty good, with a lot of care put into making the hero show segments as spirited as their real world equivalents. I like it. If it was on another streaming platform I might continue; as it is I'll wait for the home video version.

Mikan makes the funniest faces

Aho-Girl
An unapologetically dumb comedy about a less-than-intelligent girl who spends her entire life harassing her violent male friend and fantasising about eating bananas. If she was replaced by a talking monkey, the show would remain identical. I think this might work for people who haven't already seen the same jokes a thousand times before, or for people who find pretty schoolgirls making silly faces and eating bananas the height of entertainment. In my case I felt the fun angela opening theme was wasted on this nonsense. My friend took a shine to it after we watched the first episode together - and that friend will be watching the rest without me!

Make it stop

Ballroom He Youkoso (Welcome To The Ballroom)
Thank goodness, something that's genuinely good. I'm not at all keen on ballroom dancing but Welcome To The Ballroom is so tightly-directed that the first episode was a joy to watch, especially after some of the other clunkers I had to sit through before I got here. Wimpy schoolboy Tatara blunders into the world of ballroom dancing quite by accident when he (involuntarily) visits a local dance studio, and he quickly becomes impressed by the star dancer who teaches there. One thing leads to another and before he knows it, Tatara is begging to learn to dance himself. And as it's the first thing he's ever been passionate about, it turns out that he's a very eager learner. Production I.G. have mobilised key members of the excellent Haikyuu!! anime for this project which has given the animation a solid, distinctive look which immediately stands out. I'm not sure I'd watch this in a busier season but in this weak one, Welcome To The Ballroom is a breath of fresh air.

I'm interested to see how graceful this goofy kid becomes

Battle Girl High School
Possibly deserving of the dubious honour of being the most generic title of the season, Battle Girl High School is based on a mobile phone game and involves a huge cast of flushed schoolgirls who are, for some reason, humanity's last hope against mysterious invaders of some kind. It's nothing but one-liners and prettily-dressed saucer-eyed girls. If you weren't sick of this kind of series the first dozen times it was rehashed, and you're interested in the girls from the mobile game, this might be tolerable. Maybe.

I already forgot her name even though I just watched it

Centaur No Nayami (A Centaur's Life)
Hime is a centaur girl who attends high school with a throng of other weird and wonderful humanoid creatures such as angels, demons and satyrs. That's pretty much it. Centaur No Nayami is a slow-paced, lighthearted comedy about Hime's daily school life, with most of the jokes revolving around her size; being a centaur, she's quite big compared to her classmates and more than a little insecure about it. Yet at the same time she's a daydreamer who doesn't seem to think too hard about things. I found the show as dull as dishwater, those who like this kind of fluffy, idealised, girly humour might smile at the novelty value of a heroine with four legs and a tail. It's not a bad series, just not something that works for me.

Getting changed for PE must take her a long time

Dive!!
It's inevitable that Dive!! will be compared to KyoAni's successful Free!, with both series being about watersports, struggling clubs, background shots of refreshing-looking water, and a close-knit male cast with members who spend most of their screen time dressed in nothing but swimwear. The important difference is that Free! was actually enjoyable to watch for those outside its target audience. Dive!! panders so desperately to its intended viewers that it feels very awkward, with the leering camera angles (deliberately cut to make the guys appear naked most of the time) being the most obvious example. But aside from being generic and cringe-inducing, the biggest issue I have with Dive! is that the guys aren't hot. They're skinny, dithery little teenagers being sexualised as much as possible in an effort to sell merchandise, rather than the more nuanced, damaged, interesting guys who stand a chance of capturing my imagination. If you really like sports shows and can tune all of the pandering out, this is watchable as a cheap-looking diving show. However, there are far better titles out there in both the sports and female-orientated fan service categories. I shan't be giving this any more of my time.

They look like children...

Fox Spirit Matchmaker (Enmusubi No Youko-chan)
The dreamy Chinese opening song was rather lovely. This is yet another from Tencent's apparently endless backlog of Chinese webcomic adaptations, and it's one of the better efforts I've seen so far. The story is rather jumbled; a young fox spirit with no talent escapes her mentor and flees into the arms of a powerful young monk in an ill-fitting suit. The two of them are destined to be married yet don't know their partners, and as they unwittingly struggle against the arrangements the bond between them (presumably) grows stronger all on its own. Throw in a complicated mountain of world building involving the various fox spirit clans along with an urgent need to fill in our hero's back story, and there's far too much going on in this first episode for anything to come together. The art is variable too; while petite fox maiden Suusu is always as cute as a button, everyone else periodically suffers from off model artwork and much simpler designs. I think the main problem is that I'm outside the target market for Fox Spirit Matchmaker and a younger viewer would forgive the unpolished feel much more readily. I hope it finds its audience.

A million times better than the usual harems at least

Gamers!
The description of Gamers! is about as generic as they come; a nerdy boy called Keita gets asked to join the gaming club by the hottest girl in school when he's out buying a batch of dating sims. The club's other members are a strange bunch, from the bad-tempered hardcore FPS player to a spacey fighting game addict (the sight of her in a perpetual state of undress whenever she's alone with the angry guy make it seem as though there's a seedy subplot going on in the background). Just as it looks as though Keita is about to embark upon the high school life of his dreams, however, he backs out and declines the invitation. The reason is that all of the other members seem to be gifted, hardcore or both when it comes to games, and he just can't keep up in their highly competitive environment. I'm sure that the gaming club will manage to get their claws into Keita in the following episodes, and while 'boring guy joins a school club' has never been my favourite anime genre, the humour in this is reasonably well done. Will it be this generation's gamer-focused successor to Genshiken, or just another pandering school life comedy? There's potential.

I wonder whether she actually does anything later

Hajimete No Gal (My First Girlfriend Is A Gal)
A very, very trashy show about a weak-willed schoolboy who allows his equally lame friends to push him into asking an assertive female classmate out in the hope that she'll be promiscuous enough to take his virginity without any effort on his part. Unexpectedly, the first part of the plan actually works - the tanned, uninhibited 'gal' they target takes pity on the young loser and decides to give him a chance. The humour is mostly from the male characters, who are unsympathetic losers with no redeeming qualities, completely oblivious to their own pathetic natures. There are also a lot of leering shots of the girl's underwear, except they're hidden by tasteful (not really) decorations to avoid things becoming even slightly risque. It reminds me of a cheap, less sophisticated version of Prison School without the social commentary so far. As it turns out, however, I'm quite a trashy person. I'll keep watching for a few more episodes to see where things go.

Gals really don't have a great reputation in anime, do they?

Hitorijime My Hero
Masahiro is a troubled guy whose single mother is an escort and her work issues affect his home life on a regular basis. He ends up falling in with a gang of tough guys to run away from his problems at home, until a chance encounter with a friendly boy his age helps him turn his life around just in time to avoid the wrath of his new friend's older brother, who acts as a vigilante to keep thugs off the streets in his spare time. Things get awkward, however, when Masahiro's old buddies come looking for him just as his friend's brother appears at the boys' school as a new teacher! I had no idea that this was going to be a BL series until the opening credits started, and it's a lot more subtle about it than some other recent titles so far. The central couple (presumably Masahiro and his teacher, from the way that the narrative is going) has the potential to be plausible and so far the story isn't too silly, which I like. Another one for my potential home video list, assuming that it doesn't nosedive into the gutter too far later on.

The designs are pretty good too, modern and grown-up

Isekai Ha Smartphone To Tomo Ni (In Another World With My Smartphone)
A fairly generic romp about Touya, a calm teenaged boy who dies accidentally and meets God. It turns out that God feels so guilty about Touya's death that he decides to reincarnate him in a fantasy world armed with superhuman capabilities and a (magically assisted) smartphone. Touya can't interact with his previous world directly from beyond the grave, but with his smartphone's access to the Internet's repository of knowledge and GPS mapping he's very well-equipped for fumbling through the rocky introduction to his new life, and it's not long before he's making friends, going out on quests and sharing exotic knowledge from 'back home' with the local bounty hunters and townspeople. Even though it's obviously going to end up as a silly harem show and I'm not going to keep watching, IseSma isn't actually all that bad. It knows the premise is utterly stupid and doesn't bother apologising for it; there's a levity to Touya's reactions to the ridiculous situation which makes it funnier than most light novel shows. And hey, he even made it through the whole first episode without groping or falling into any of the girls!

You can tell everything about these girls from one picture

Isekai Shokudou (Restaurant To Another World)
Is there something wrong with me? I found this strange show about a magical restaurant which opens to a fantasy world oddly dull. Even the very attractive female dragon couldn't save it. The humour of the series is in the interactions between the diverse selection of diners who congregate at this human-run eatery once a week, but the pace is more like that of a 'healing' anime rather than the hot-blooded bickering I was expecting, and the laughs weren't flowing at all. It's getting good reviews elsewhere, so I'm going to assume it's just not my cup of tea.

The only memorable scene in the first episode

Jigoku Shoujo: Yoi No Togi (Hell Girl: Fourth Twilight)
I've been looking forward to more Jigoku Shoujo for years! It seems that this belated sequel is only going to include a handful of brand new episodes, though, and in all honesty the first wasn't the greatest I've seen from the series. Still, I'm sticking with it. Jigoku Shoujo is one of my all-time favourites; Noto Mamiko singing beautiful, fragile songs and calmly telling bitter people to die while their worlds collapse around them is a winning formula. Cruelty wrapped up in traditional Japanese imagery; it's powerful storytelling. If there's any room for complaint, I did like the series' formula better before the newer characters arrived in season three, and regrettably they're still hanging around in this fourth outing.

They don't make creepy anime girls like Ai any more

Jikan No Shihaisha (Chronos Ruler)
An action show about a pair of 'Chronos Rulers' who use time magic to fight time demons and pontificate about human regrets. From the fluidly-animated introduction showing a handsome guy waving a katana around with clock imagery everywhere, it felt quite a lot like Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu, a comparison which probably won't do Jikan No Shihaisha any favours when it's competing for attention this season. In the first episode we're introduced to Koyuki, an orphaned schoolgirl who is still feeling the pain of losing her brother to an accident for which she was to blame, and this leads her to try turning back time to undo her past mistakes. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of monstrous time demons, and Koyuki is only saved because she's recently made friends with a pair of heroes who can defeat the enemy in a flashy, CG-aided battle. These two bickering young men have a few secrets between them, however, and their ongoing war against the demons has left a few marks on their lives as well. It's yet another show which isn't bad at all, without being compelling enough to tempt me into watching further.

Not a BL series, the screenshot was an accident

Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu
The second adaptation of the phenomenally popular Nitsuplus/DMM Touken Ranbu browser game has now arrived, and this time it's a dark fantasy action series rather than the fluffy hijinks we saw in Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru. Going by the first episode, studio ufotable have turned in a lavishly-animated project full of dashing swordsmen and special effects, following the adventures of a few select warriors as they battle with time-travelling armies intent on shaping Japanese history in their own image. I like it a lot more than I did Hanamaru, and I don't feel quite as alienated by my lack of familiarity with the original game this time around. It even looks as though some characters that even I recognise will be showing up on a regular basis. Having said that, Katsugeki! Touken Ranbu is not really connecting with me in terms of story. Whether I continue will depend on how many other titles get my attention this summer.

Visually, it strongly resembles Tales of Zestiria The X

Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun (Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun)
Aoyama-kun is an ace footballer who has just joined his school's club, and one of the regulars cannot stand his aloof personality. The reason for his attitude, it turns out is that Aoyama absolutely detests dirt. Getting muddy during a game of football is his worst nightmare, and he hates touching his teammates in case their filth rubs off on him. He's often late because he's cleaning things until they sparkle and loses track of time. Rather than being a sports series, this is a comedy all the way, except that it only has one central joke and recycles this in various ways throughout its full-length episodes. I have to say, I relate more to the angry guy who can't understand Aoyama's fussiness. Having a complex is a real problem, but having picked one of the messiest school sports around the guy seems to twist his fear of grime to suit himself with no consideration for anyone else. It's impossible to be that harsh on it since it's obviously just a silly premise to set up various comedic situations, but I can say that I don't think this show is for me. Even if it did teach me two real-world football terms I'd never heard before in the very first episode.

Apologies to Aoyama for choosing a shot where he's dirty

Knight's And Magic
There's no attempt to hide the wish fulfilment in this nicely animated yet generic fantasy show. Our hero is the reincarnation of a well-liked, talented programmer with a passion for Gunpla models who ends up dying suddenly in his prime, his soul full of regrets. In his next life, he takes the form of Ernesti, a young mage-in-training from another world who longs to pilot one of the ancient mobile suits his father works with. Years pass, and Ernesti begins to draw from the knowledge of his past life as inspiration. He persuades a blacksmith to make him a flashy magic wand shaped like a gun, and longs to build his very own upgraded mobile suit one day. The main problem with this show is easy to identify: Ernesti is so perfect that it's embarrassing to watch!

Another mediocre show with amazingly pretty designs

Koi To Uso (Love & Lies)
Yukari is just about to turn sixteen when he decides to confess to his first love. To his delight, she reveals that she loves him too and the pair of them share a tender kiss, swept away by their surging emotions. Moments later, however, a pair of government officials show up and tell Yukari that he has to marry a girl he's never met before. This is the beginning of the end in Yukari's mind because in this future version of Japan, romance is strictly controlled and all couples are specifically set up by the government. Arranged marriages are not just normal, they're mandatory, and while the teens who have yet to be matched naturally have misgivings, the older generations seem pleased with the system's success. The scenario is novel and there's a lot of potential for some great romantic tension. My only reservation is that the presentation so far reminds me of ReLIFE; an interesting idea stifled by the need to present it in a family friendly, tidy way to avoid alienating the target audience. I'd be surprised if the darkest social commentary makes it through to this show, yet it may still be a fun watch for the love triangle alone.

The art style just makes me want to watch Kuzu No Honkai

Konbini Kareshi (Convenience Store Boy Friends)
An insipid high school romance title about a local convenience store and the relationships which (presumably) bloom amongst the boys and girls who shop there. Despite the convenience store angle, the first episode had nothing to do with the place other than a slightly unnatural fixation on showing the characters visiting it every few minutes while the two handsome male staff members shuffle around politely in the background. The character designs aren't all that great - the girls look much cuter than the guys - and nobody really has any kind of chemistry with anyone else. And does it bother anyone else that the leads never actually pay for anything? People who block up the aisles reading all of the magazines for free are the worst!

Sorry guys, I think I came away shipping these two instead

Made In Abyss
I've had my eye on this for a while as my friends are big fans of the artist whose work this is based on; Tsukushi Akito (aka Doorbeetle) has been producing highly detailed artwork in an unusual style for a while now. Made In Abyss is, I believe, his first commercial manga project, and it seems as though Tsukushi's talent for illustration has carried over well to his storytelling. A little orphan girl with big ambitions stumbles upon a mysterious robotic boy one day while she's out working; there's a vast, potentially-bottomless cavern near her home which explorers and child labourers alike have been investigating for many years now. Is this kind-natured robot boy the key to unlocking the cave's mysteries? The childlike character designs are set against intricate backgrounds and the underlying premise is interesting enough to keep a viewer watching. Though it's not something I'm willing to endure HIDIVE's beta website to watch this season, I might be back one day when it's more easily viewable.

The visuals certainly aren't boring

Mahoujin Guru Guru (Magical Circle Guru-Guru)
Once upon a time, I was at a local Japanese market in London and chanced upon a VHS tape of an episode of the original Mahoujin Guru Guru recorded from television. My Japanese wasn't so good back then so I couldn't understand it at all, but it had a lovely mystical feel... and now, years later, I'm actually watching it! This new Mahoujin Guru Guru series is actually a remake of the original start to the series, which will apparently diverge from the source material later on. It's a parody of the classic console RPGs every Japanese geek grew up with, and the animation style embraces this whenever possible with liberal use of pixel art to emphasise how silly and stereotypical the setting is supposed to be. Nike is a sarcastic boy whose pushy parents decide he needs to become an adventuring Hero and save the kingdom, so they send him off to meet the local crone on his way to starting his new career. The old lady introduces him to Kukuri, a silly young girl with a talent for conjuring peculiar creatures using special magic. The two of them team up and it's not long before they're on their way to save the world via every possible fantasy trope. It's silly, old fashioned and good, harmless fun. I like it.

They certainly recaptured the classic aesthetic

Musekinin Galaxy Tylor (The Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor)
Following in the spiritual footsteps of Ai Tenchi Muyou!, we now have another much-loved older series brought back as a series of cheaply-animated shorts which abandon the main storyline in favour of silliness. It's the fourth remake or reimagining of an older title this season this season! Banjou Ueki Tylor (he carries a banjo...) is a happy-go-lucky boy with a robotic companion - who seems to be the exact same character as QT from Space Dandy in personality and function. One day, Tylor meets up with a red-headed girl with an attitude, and from there the comedy begins. Supposedly. I don't know how this show actually managed to become boring when the episode was less than four minutes long; it's almost impressive. Where did the atmosphere from the previous Tylor series go?

I miss the original cast

Nanamaru Sanbatsu (7O3X Fastest Finger First)
I had never heard the expression 'quiz bowl' before, but it seems to be the correct translation of the activity our wishy-washy hero's future school club revolves around. The group enjoys battling to answer tricky trivia questions competitively, using buzzers like those you'd find in a television panel quiz. It's an interesting choice of topic and in many ways Nanamaru Sanbatsu reminds me a little of a less stupid take on Phi Brain; despite the cookie cutter plot it's also quite fun to try to answer the questions before the people on the screen! If it wasn't for the characters being on the obnoxious side (what kind of library-loving student eats lunch sprawled on the floor leaning against the bookcases?!) and the unwholesome fixation the lead has on girls' underwear, this show could be worth a watch. Unfortunately, when I start seeing repetitive tropes creeping in already during the very first episode it doesn't bode well for the rest of a show's run.

Get away from those books, you barbarian!

Netsuzou Trap -NTR-
I wanted to like this! The plot sounds quite creative; two girls go on a double date but find out they prefer one another's company to spending time with their boyfriends. Cue the fan service. The manga was licensed a while ago and whenever I see the stylish cover artwork it catches my eye. Unfortunately, the pacing in this version of the story is a jumble, the pretty artwork doesn't translate to very high quality animation and the ten-minute episodes are far too short to develop the scenario or characters properly. So far, it's nothing more than a titillating parade of 'sexy' stolen kisses interspersed with the more innocent of the girls frantically questioning herself and it's not really doing anything for me at all. What a shame.

When the characters are on model, they look nice

Nora To Oujo To Noraneko Heart (Nora, Princess, And Stray Cat)
Calling this series of shorts animated is something of an exaggeration; it hardly moves! In exchange, the designs are lovely and colourful, barely giving any hint as to the show's seedy origins as an adult video game. Nora's life takes a weird turn when he is suddenly transformed into a cute black cat by a mysterious girl, and he finds himself surrounded by gorgeous young women who find his new form adorable, funny or both. There's not much more to it so far - it's a gag show - so whether you like it will depend on your tolerance for humour and cute girls. It's ok.

The art is rather inconsistent, but overall quite nice

Princess Principal
Joker Game this is not. A crack team of doe-eyed schoolgirl secret agents get involved in a political plot while aiding a defector, but thanks to their well-oiled teamwork and individual skills for driving, snooping and, uh, flying around excitingly with a magical futuristic device, they save the day in a bittersweet way. Princess Principal features some absolutely sublime music and its solid production values are evident right from the stylish opening sequence. There's also the novelty of it being set in an alternate London after some kind of Victorian-era civil war, though it's so sugary in between the action scenes that it would probably take a very different type of viewer to fully appreciate what the series has to offer.

Princesses evidently make the best spies

Re:Creators
Actually a spring 2017 show, I only got the chance to start Re:Creators recently when Amazon slashed the price of a Prime subscription and tempted me into giving their video service a proper trial. It's had some positive buzz and I was lucky enough to hear the theme song performed live by Sawano Hiroyuki a while back, which whet my episode for seeing it in its proper context. Souta is an anime fan who is relaxing at home, looking forward to seeing the next episode of an anime adaptation he's been enjoying. Relatable. As he waits for the anime to air, he fiddles with his tablet and is unexpectedly transported into the middle of a dramatic battle - featuring a beautiful redhead called Selesia, who happens to be the lead character from the series he was about to watch! When Souta returns to his room as abruptly as he left, the heroine is pulled back along with him. She's baffled when Souta shows her that her life story is documented in his light novels and magazines, and even more shocked when the girl with whom she'd been fighting suddenly materialises in Souta's world to try to cause them harm. It seems that to those who live in anime, manga and games, the writers who create the original stories in our world are effectively deities with power over life and death. The first episode of Re:Creators walks a fine line between feeling like yet another cheesy fantasy light novel and something much more ambitious. This is somewhat intentional when the series which gave birth to Selesia is obviously meant to evoke comparisons with various popular anime titles, and I want to believe it's done with a certain level of self awareness. In any case, I'm interested. The setting lends itself to having a great many characters arriving later on, and if they get the balance right this could be a fun watch.

I wonder how many people will recognise them in the flesh?

Saiyuuki Reload Blast
I never thought I'd see the day when Saiyuuki would return with a new animated television series. Previous adaptations eventually hit some real lows in terms of animation quality and storytelling, on par with the worst filler episodes of certain long-running shounen action series, and I wasn't exactly upset when the main characters' journey to the west ended prematurely. While there's nothing much new here aside from improved animation quality, this sequel actually benefits from its dated feel. There isn't a single wimpy high school boy to be found. The Saiyuuki leads are gangly, ugly, bad-tempered and flawed and in a season stuffed full of losers and idols, this group of shameless thugs stands out in a good way. Give me more flowing blood and overpowered demons squabbling. I never knew how much I missed it.

So far little has happened in terms of story; Hakkai keeps mentioning that they're almost at their destination but I don't believe him. The Saiyuuki crew is going to be driving towards India in their jeep for the rest of time. I should also mention that the Ura-Sai short skits at the end of each episode are rather funny.

It's a sad world where Saiyuuki is the grittiest thing around

Shoukoku No Altair (Altair: A Record of Battles)
I can't work out whether this series is trying to be historically accurate or not, since the tone is quite cartoony at times then veers closer to more serious political machinations. It's based on historical events from the Turkish Ottoman empire and surrounding nations, here thinly disguised as a generic fantasy setting by remixing some of the location names. Our hero is a teen with some kind of as-yet-undisclosed dark past. He's recently achieved the distinction of being recognised as a pasha, which means having direct involvement with government affairs, and he's already discovering that the people in power aren't necessarily as wise and noble as they ought to be. I love the clothing and designs, and historical fantasy is always one of my favourite genres, but there's something off about the storytelling; the plot darts back and forth with major revelations made far too obvious in advance. My friend said that it felt more like a doujin anime than a commercial series. Still, I don't dislike it and Mahmut Pasha has an awesome eagle companion, so I might keep watching anyway. Even if it does mostly remind me how much I want them to make more Arslan Senki. I hope Shoukoku No Altair will find its own identity in the coming episodes.

Most androgynous male lead of the season, easily

Tenshi No 3P! (Angel's 3Piece!)
Kyou is a shut-in musician who never goes to school, preferring to laze around in his room and upload his homemade music to video sharing sites. One day, he receives some fan mail out of the blue and ends up meeting his secret admirer in person. This fan turns out to be one of a group of three precocious young girls who have set up a professional-level three-piece band in the basement of a church. Somehow. Despite being musical geniuses, the girls need some help - so after showing Kyou what they can do with their instruments, they beg and cajole him into assisting them with preparations for an upcoming concert. The music side of the show is ok but the seedy leering over underaged girls really isn't, and it really doesn't help that the designs make everyone look as though they belong in an eroge.

No.

THE REFLECTION
A much-hyped collaboration between some major western names (Stan Lee and Trevor Horn) and a Japanese production team, in the form of a classic superhero show. Even though the glut of terrible Hollywood superhero films have spoiled my happy memories of the genre, it didn't make the results of this collaboration any less disappointing. The Reflection utilises an unusual art style reminiscent of old fashioned comic book artwork - flat colours, uneven, inky lines and relatively simple character designs. Unfortunately, there's so little going on in this first episode that the simplistic visuals end up being the only thing there is to focus on most of the time, and they're not exactly appealing to look at. The music feels trendy and out of place, and the cookie-cutter plot about a mysterious event which awakened superpowers in various individuals is nothing we haven't seen before at this point. Tiger & Bunny or Boku No Hero Academia do the whole superhero schtick far better than this half-hearted effort. The Reflection is clearly too artistic for an ordinary viewer like myself to understand.

There really weren't any attractive frames to screenshot

Tsuredure Children
One of the surprise hits of the summer for me. Tsuredure Children is a romantic school comedy which eschews the usual formulaic love triangles and will-they-won't-they confession antics, instead taking the form of a series of short vignettes focusing on a variety of potential couples. The gags are genuinely funny (and occasionally rather rude), but the pacing is where it really comes together; each episode is half-length and divided up into individual skits, which prevents any of the situations outstaying its welcome. And the characters are actually likeable, despite being crazy - I'm rooting for all of them! The voice actors do a particularly good job of delivering the jokes, with Hanazawa Kana's cheeky character being a highlight, and I also like the shady student council president who could easily have been brought in straight from an otome game. It is still possible to make a decent, fluffy high school romance series after all!

I love her

Vatican Kiseki Chousakan (Vatican Miracle Examiner)
Full points to this series for having a relatively unusual premise. Josef and Robert are a pair of officials from the Vatican, charged with verifying claims of miracles in Catholic churches the world over. Their first case takes them south of the USA where a nun is insisting that she has conceived a child while still a virgin, a highly contentious claim to make. There are also indications that devil-worshipping and sinister rituals are taking place at the Church in that region so a full investigation is required. It's not a great series - Josef fills the audience in with exposition by constantly telling Robert what their jobs are, which feels stilted at best - but it's dark and bloody, and there isn't a single blushing schoolgirl anywhere in sight. Wretchedly the first episode didn't resolve the mystery of the virgin conception at all so I'm very tempted to keep watching, even though the show is exclusive to HIDIVE and it doesn't work on many of my devices.
It's hard to resist a good fantasy mystery romp

Youkai Apartment No Yuuga Na Nichijou (Elegant Yokai Apartment Life)
Yuushi is ecstatic when he manages to get into a high school with a dormitory, and subsequently crushed when that dormitory burns down. He'd been looking forward to living independently at last after burdening his adoptive family for years following the death of his parents. A hasty search for alternative accommodation leads him to a shady haunted house, where he's made to feel very welcome by a young female lodger and famous author. As events unfold, however, Yuushi soon discovers that the apartment is a gathering spot for an assortment of youkai - and his new female friend happens to be an exorcist who takes care of the troublesome ones. An excellent voice cast can't hide the fact that this is a fluffy, fairly pointless series, but supernatural comedies are a popular genre and it's perfectly watchable.

Ishida Akira was born to play suspicious-looking guys

Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi No Kyoushitsu He (Classroom Of The Elite)
A sarcastic loser with no hobbies enters a special boarding school for privileged children, and what nasty pieces of work most of the students are! They're all introduced as selfish jerks aside from one sweet girl who initially seems completely out of her depth. Upon arriving at their classroom, the kids are given a generous monthly allowance which they're allowed to spend on anything they like, so naturally most of them immediately squander it on entertainment and eagerly look forward to the next payment. Except that payment never arrives. It turns out that while the school staff pretended to ignore their bad behaviour, each and every incident during the students' first month of lessons was meticulously recorded and their allowance was adjusted accordingly. They now have to learn to work together to avoid suffering the effects of their own selfishness, which comes as a dreadful shock to this bunch of spoilt brats. My main problem with this show is that it requires the cast to be awful right from the start in order for the main plot twist to have any impact, and when you hate every single one of the stuck-up teens on the screen it's difficult to care about continuing to watch. Interesting premise with a flawed execution. At least the art is rather pretty.

The two-tone eyes are the best thing about this show

--

Here's the usual list of sequels to shows I don't follow which I'm not going to try watching partway through:

Hina Logic - from Luck & Logic
New Game!!
Teekyuu season 9
Yamishibai

Not a very long list this time around.

Region locked English simulcast titles (unavailable here):

Clione No Akari (Lights Of The Clione)
Fate/Apocrypha
Kakegurui
Ikemen Sengoku: Toki Wo Kakeru Ga Koi Ha Hajimaranai

Fate/Apocrypha is trapped in Netflix's anime-hating prison this season, condemned to miss the entire season and reappear later on as a delaycast when nobody cares any more. The localised title for Ikemen Sengoku is apparently Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time which is sort of cool; shame we won't be getting it. A disproportionate number of historical shows always seem to be locked to North America only which is odd considering what a niche it must be. Of course, there are still shows like Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ which never appear anywhere. Perhaps one day anime distribution will stop being such a mess.

--

The usual guesses for my top three shows this season:

1. Tsuredure Children
2. Jigoku Shoujo
3. Saiyuuki Reload Blast


I've been sitting on this post for a while trying to get HIDIVE working and there's still a slot on Crunchyroll's lineup page which is blank; I'm going to guess that it will be a certain popular title which doesn't air for several weeks. There's no point in holding back any longer with no news, so here's my current schedule:

Monday: Tsuredure Children
Tuesday: Nothing!
Wednesday: Hajimete No Gal, Saiyuuki Reload Blast, Sakura Quest
Thursday: Nothing!
Friday: Jigoku Shoujo, Nobunaga No Shinobi
Saturday: Boku No Hero Academia, Re:Creators, Shoukoku No Altair, Welcome To The Ballroom
Sunday: Nothing!

Hajimete No Gal
might end up being dropped as it's sort of terrible. We'll see.

5 comments:

  1. holy crap this is a lot of anime you watched O.o

    Also pick back up Aho-Girl plz. If you can deal with Hajimete no Gal you can totally deal with Aho-Girl you monster!!! Especially since it's short! xD

    - Justin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha, you sound like my friend who keeps trying to trick me into watching it by slipping it in next to Tsuredure Children. I've seen quite a few skits now and I'm still not convinced... maybe it will gradually grow on me.

      (Hajimete No Gal really sort of sucks. I don't even know why I'm still watching it. The series I was hoping it would turn into never materialised but I'm too weak to let it go ;_; )

      Delete
  2. Tsurezure Children is a nice anime! My favorite pairings until now are Takano and Sugawara (the girl that didn't realize she was confessed 3 times!), and Yamane and Chiyo (the guy with creepy face and doesn't have a single piece of self-confidence).

    Waaait a minute, you didn't like Isekai Shokudou? o_______o And did you really expect to see action with the word "Shokudou" (Restaurant/Cafeteria) on its title? XD XD XD No, no, no... And for being an Isekai genre anime, I'm liking this one more and more. It's not either a comedy anime (this is why it doesn't get much laughs as one could think), just like you said, Isekai Shokudou is actually more akin to a very strange but calmed Slice of Life. It's more a relaxing anime than anything else, so, with that in mind, is easier to enjoy this anime. But as you said, it's probably that "it isn't your cup of tea" (I didn't know this expression existed in English XD XD ). But definitely is NOT a bad anime.

    About Koi to Uso, is taking a direction I didn't expect, but I like more that way n___n It's getting more and more interesting *O* It's nice to see this combined with Tsurezure Children, like main dish and dessert XD XD XD

    I didn't expect you would see even a episode of Hajimete no Gal, since you don't like harem/ecchi animes o_________o Just seeing the promotionals and the absurd size of the short girl's chest made uncomfortable enough to avoid seeing this series XD XD

    Ehem, as last time, if you want, I would tell you my impressions of Koi to Uso when it finishes (of Isekai Shokudou I would suggest you to try to see it with other eyes. It's like seeing Sengoku BASARA expecting to see a great plot but not considering instead the amazing skills of its seiyuus and the epicness and emotions of its situations). See you again! ;o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I like every character in Tsuredure Children which is refreshing! Yamane and Chiyo are funny too. It's currently one of the highlights of my week.

      Ecchi shows aren't something I universally dislike, it's just that I'm very picky because I have to find the characters cute (and I don't tend to like school series unless they have unusual plots). As for why I'm watching Hajimete No Gal, it confuses me too. It's sort of not ecchi enough, so now it's in the weird position of being too rude for comedy fans and too fluffy for ecchi fans. And the thin plot had completely disappeared by episode two. Maybe I should just give up on it...

      Calm shows, however, do tend to bore me. I'm a terrible person. All of my friends love them, and find it hilarious how agitated I get trying to watch things like Amanchu! or Aria. Perhaps I have to be in the right mood for that kind of gentle, introspective experience. It's 100% personal opinion rather than an objective complaint about the quality :)

      Koi To Uso definitely had one of the best premises of the season. If it escapes from the HIDIVE service so I can watch it more easily, I'd like to continue with it eventually. Romance which actually goes somewhere and some interesting social bonds sounds like it could work well if they pull things off, so I'd definitely like to hear your impressions when you finish!

      Delete
    2. Oh, now I understand you XD XD And yes, like last time I definitely tell you my impressions about Koi to Uso.

      Delete

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!