Saturday, 21 October 2017

Streaming: Summer 2017 anime final impressions

Another season has come and gone. Summer 2017 wasn't the strongest season of anime I've followed; in fact, it was rather weak overall, which is probably for the best as there are suddenly plenty of interesting games I want to play! I'm currently working through New Danganronpa V3 and the mobile port of Gyakuten Saiban 6 (or Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice, to use its long-winded localised name). Both are fantastic and titles I have been looking forward to for a long time, so it's going to be tough going to tear myself away and watch all of the first episodes for the upcoming season in between gaming sessions!


A final impressions post requires the usual completely arbitrary top three, and accordingly here it is.

1. Tsuredure Children
2. Owarimonogatari second season
3. Saiyuuki Reload Blast

Tsuredure Children was simply the best. I looked forward to it every week despite it being different to my usual favourites in every conceivable way. Owarimonogatari was its usual self and worthy of a spot despite having a short run. And Saiyuuki was sort of average except I needed a third series for the list and it felt good to revisit the past every week.

One notable omission from the full list below is Hajimete No Gal (My First Girlfriend Is A Gal), which I finally dropped two thirds of the way through the season for being persisently mediocre after all. I had hoped for something better; instead, it got worse, and there wasn't even any worthwhile fan service to make the plot feel less awful. I also discovered later on that all of the creepy child molester jokes were actually added for the anime, a fact that is probably going to haunt me for life. I'm not easily offended but they weren't even slightly funny and just added an awkward atmosphere to something which wasn't good enough to rise above the poor taste; what on earth was the team thinking?

Shows which started late in the season

There were quite a few one-shots and late starters this time.

Blade Runner Black Out 2022
I haven't been following the Blade Runner sequel news at all, so I went into this promotional short with a lot of ignorance. Fortunately, it explained the scenario very quickly and set to work showing a short adventure set a few years before the events of the new film. I'm assuming that it's skippable if you only want to see the movie itself, but if you are excited about the Blade Runner universe this animation helps flesh out some of the history leading up to whatever happens in Blade Runner 2049. The story is simple; it doesn't have enough time to be more complicated yet even with its short runtime there's still an impressive amount of world building. The artwork is decent (if not all that attractive whenever the cast are off-screen - lots of atmosphere and special effects, not so much of the very nice character artwork). The thing that kept throwing me was the English voice acting, though; it was rather cartoony, which felt out of place in such a serious, gritty animation. I'm not sure why the tone felt so wrong. In any case, Blade Runner Black Out 2022 is a neat little diversion which probably won't stick in my mind all that long despite the impressive names in the credits. Perhaps I'll revisit it if I ever get around to watching the film to which it's attached.

If only the whole thing had been pretty shots like this!


Children Of Ether
An interesting pilot episode from an international team, Children Of Ether is Crunchyroll's first attempt to start creating its own original anime content. There are quite a few respectable names attached to the project which is headlined by animator LeSean Thomas, and the animation is reminiscent of the Avatar and Legend Of Korra series - that's a good thing. We're introduced to a young woman, Rhonda, who is on the run in a dangerous environment for some reason. She meets a few strange people on her way, and gradually we begin to unravel a few details from her past which explain why she's making her journey. Even though a film with such a short run time doesn't offer much scope to develop its plot, it's already clear that the creators have a lot of ideas prepared to flesh out the Children Of Ether universe. The other interesting element for me is the voice acting as I seldom hear English-language dubbing these days. It was variable, though I did think that Camille Winbush did a particularly good job as female lead Rhonda, giving her an appealingly rough voice that didn't sound anything like the dizzy affected style popular in most English anime dubs. As for everyone else, the voice acting style reminded me strongly of Legend Of Korra too, which is strange as I don't see any significant crossover in the list of actors. I liked the pilot episode. If it returns, which seems likely, I might well pick it up.

A rare example of an anime-inspired art style that works


Hikari No Otousan (Final Fantasy XIV: Dad Of Light)
This isn't even anime, and I can only apologise for the poor picture, yet I wanted to record it here nonetheless. Dad Of Light is a unique project based on a blog written by 'Maidy', a real-life Japanese Final Fantasy XIV player who described his adventures in the game's world of Eorzea while he was engaged in a secret project. He had managed to get his emotionally distant father hooked on the popular MMORPG to try to improve their relationship, then sneakily set things up so the two of them could adventure together, with Maidy recording every pitfall along the way until they cleared what was then the hardest battle in the game. The story became popular and eventually, an eight-episode Japanese television drama adaptation followed. Since I enjoy both J-drama and Final Fantasy XIV, I subscribed to Netflix's free trial for the sole purpose of watching the show; once again they had swiped exclusive streaming rights and arranged a delayed release as a so-called 'Netflix Original'. In fairness to Netflix, it was unlikely that anyone else was ever going to license this one and I didn't pay a single penny to marathon it. If schmaltzy Japanese drama isn't for you or you think Final Fantasy sucks, you'll hate it, because Dad Of Light is as cheesy as a soap and works as a glorified advertisement for the game. If you're not in one of those two camps, it's a cute, sappy story which will probably put a smile on your face through its human portrayal of the two socially awkward men learning from one another even as adults. The use of in-game background music for the various dramatic moments in the scenes from Maidy's home and office was a hilarious touch. I liked it a lot.

Netflix does not want me to take screenshots

Owarimonogatari (second season)
The seven-part follow-up to Owarimonogatari abruptly appeared on Crunchyroll without much fanfare partway through the season, bundling the separate parts of each arc into a total of three extended episodes. I was warned not to watch it without having seen the parts of the series I've missed (namely Koyomimonogatari and the third Kizumonogatari film) but as neither was going to be available legally in English for months I just went ahead and watched out of sequence anyway. Great distribution work, Aniplex!

As usual, each of the short arcs in this batch of Monogatari stories focuses on an individual character, with Koyomi's ongoing story pinning all of the different story threads together. In the course of these episodes, he travels all the way to the afterlife (meeting an old friend along the way), spends some time with his challenging girlfriend, and then ultimately resolves one of the major mysteries of the series. I always enjoy arcs which feature the creepy, androgynous Ougi so as expected Owarimonogatari's second season was a real treat for me, and easily one of the better anime titles in this quiet summer selection. Now I just need to get my hand on the two missing parts of the series to catch up on any cues I might have missed!

Her design pulls me right in every time

Shows I completed

Boku No Hero Academia (My Hero Academia season 2)
It feels as though this second season of Boku No Hero Academia has been running forever! After some non-serious antics the show took a swerve into more emotional territory partway through, then went back to more school adventures with the increasingly-capable trainee heroes before teasing some more villainous plotting for a future arc. I feel as though the storyline has settled into its rhythm now and the characters have really come to life, with great scenes from almost everyone (even my dorky favourite, Aoyama, had a few brief moments). The anime adaptation is colourful, shiny and, when needed, rather impressive visually; some of the battle scenes earlier in the season had me on the edge of my seat. Although it's probably never going to be one of my all-time favourites, I enjoy Boku No Hero Academia and I'm ready for the next season when it arrives. Though I don't like Bakugo. Or Mineta. Mineta sucks.

A rare shounen series with decent female characters


Jigoku Shoujo: Yoi No Togi (Hell Girl: Fourth Twilight)
The first couple of seasons of Jigoku Shoujo really touched my heart back in the day, so I had impossibly high hopes for this revival. It was disappointing that it was only six episodes long before turning into a highlight reel of episodes from previous seasons, and it was also a pity that the original cast took a back seat to a short story about a brand new character, who was yet another naïve child with a dark past. I think that both Kikuri and Yamawaro each had more lines than Wanyuudou, Ichimoku Ren and Hone Onna combined, and even Ai herself was sidelined a few times. The main story was good, yet the conclusion makes it difficult to believe that any future continuations will return to the formulaic perfection of the series' early episodes. Still, this abbreviated fourth season wasn't bad, even though it was far from the best the series has to offer.

Nobody can beat Ai at being the ultimate Hell Girl

Nobunaga No Shinobi (Ninja Girl & Samurai Master)
The second season of this irreverent historical chronicle of Oda Nobunaga's life abruptly ended right at an important part in the story, with the Azai and Oda clans preparing to give everything in a decisive clash. Is it finished for good? Nobunaga No Shinobi may only have had three-minute episodes but as historical comedy goes it was one of the better efforts. I'll miss its jokes every Friday night. There's going to be a third season one day, right?

Who wouldn't be rooting for these guys after watching?

Re:Creators
This was a wild ride. Back when I started Re:Creators mid-season it was being hailed as something truly fantastic. A lot of people subsequently complained that the series fell apart later on, and having caught up I can agree that it felt a lot less tightly plotted after the halfway mark. There was a lot of surprisingly abrupt character death and the revelations came so thick and fast that they lost all meaning very swiftly. My biggest disappointment, however, was that some of the minor characters were woefully underused. I would have loved to see less focus on the creators and more interactions with the various creations. It felt as though Altair's plans were underdeveloped and her stranger decisions could have made more sense with a lot more time allocated to fleshing out the complicated character relationships. Still, even though it was never a perfect series, it managed to be entertaining throughout (and that entire episode of product placement for Oedo Onsen Monogatari made me chuckle). Not bad.

Two pictures this time because I couldn't decide
If they ever make any spin-offs, I would definitely watch the two series that Magane and Yuuya originally came from. Both certainly looked interesting!

Yuuya's relationship with his creator was also very funny

Saiyuuki Reload Blast
Following this belated sequel to the meandering Gensoumaden Saiyuuki series was never going to be a bad thing. At worst, it was a whole season knowing I'd be hearing Ishida Akira's voice in every episode, and at best it might actually be watchable in its own right. Now that it's over, I can safely say that it was a decent enough return to form for a series which has always known how to have fun with its stupid, excessively gritty premise. Our grumpy team of heroes finally (!) make it to 'the West' this time around and actually progress the plot very slightly, which is a rare treat for a series which managed to drag their road trip out for so many episodes previously. For some reason they decided to cover the Nataku backstory again (my memory is hazy, but didn't we already see most of this in Saiyuuki Gaiden?) which reduced the amount of new content substantially, but the fluffy character development episodes at the start of Saiyuuki Reload Blast combined with the dramatic climax more than made up for the repetition. In addition, the animation was reasonable and the gag scenes geniunely funny. I enjoyed it. Bonus points for there not being a single wimpy harem lead in sight - the women in Saiyuuki are far too tough to put up with anything like that.

You're still the best, Hakkai

Sakura Quest
Strangely, the innocuous slice of life story Sakura Quest has been one of the most divisive shows I've followed in a while. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it and for many, that opinion is that it's the most boring series around. It's true that very little happens; every few episodes, one of the characters will stumble upon a minor drama in their dwindling rural town and everyone will eventually have to draw on the power of the local community to find a solution. The struggle ends up tightening the bonds between the five heroines working to increase Manoyama's draw as a tourist hotspot... and that's all that happens. But it doesn't bother me. I wasn't expecting anything more from the first episode, so it's difficult to get annoyed that Sakura Quest never reaches for anything greater over the course of its run.

I suspect that the series works better if you have some familiarity with the tiny tourist groups and local campaigns scattered across Japan - my time travelling around sleepy castle towns hunting for Sengoku Basara tie-ins has clearly paid off! The passion that the cast felt for their jobs rang true; I've met people out there with that kind of enthusiasm and know that it's based on a real way of life, however silly all of the 'Chupacabra Kingdom' hijinks were. If there was one criticism it would be that the series could probably have worked better with half the number of episodes, which would have forced everything to progress more quickly and perhaps made a point that more viewers could appreciate before the constant scenes of repetitive bickering with the local trade association wore them down enough to drop the show.

Incidentally, Shiori was my favourite of the girls

Tsuredure Children
For an understated skit show based around romantic high school mistakes, Tsuredure Children was utterly superb. I liked most of the characters - possibly all of them - and that's quite impressive given how many goofy schoolkids were jostling for my attention as they fell into every single possible pitfall of young courtship over the course of the series. They all deserve to find happiness! Its stablemate (of sorts), Aho Girl, never managed to win me over though I did end up watching most of it in the background each week while preparing dinner. It simply could not compare. Tsuredure Children is everything I usually hate about modern anime, except done really, really well. I love it! I don't think there's been a high school romantic comedy as good as this since Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, and that's very high praise from me.

Still coming to terms with the fact that it's over

--

I'm going into the Autumn season with only two continuing simulcasts (Shoukoku No Altair and Ballroom He Youkoso). This is a good thing, as there are at least half a dozen sequels appearing which I will want to follow even before adding some fresh blood to the mix.


It's going to be busy, so I'd better hurry up and finish my games!

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