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Jan 09

Winter Anime 2016 First Episode Impressions – Part 1

2 sweeeet~

2 sweeeet~

Yeah! On time! Man, remember those days? There’s 40 or so new shows airing this Winter season, and over the next week or two I’m going to be enjoying and / or suffering my way through every last one. In this first part (of three), I tackle 13 shows from the winter season, all of which aired on or before January 7th. There’s KyoAni’s latest series Phantom World, video game adaptation Phantasy Star Online 2 The Animation, and the return of everyone’s favourite octosquid assassin in AssClass 2.

So let’s get this done before I blink and it’s summer or something, like I did last time

Kochinpa!

This also being known as Aira – Pachinko and Slot Island.

But right. 15 seconds. I mean. Maaaaan. I almost wanna watch it when the seasons over because it’d take like 5 minutes. Three girls,who I assume are idols, with their distinguishing characteristic being one has red hair, one has blue, one blonde, as you can see. The two sidekicks introduce themselves and then the episode cuts out as the lead goes to do the same. I mean, they were decent looking CG chibi girls, but… yeah, 15 seconds. You’re not exactly gonna get invested here. More of a curiosity than a classic.

UNLIKELY

Prince of Stride: Alternative

Relay the anime! Okay, not our baton relay, but Stride, where you get designated takeover zones and the courses can be urban freestyle if you want. And as a parkour (read – Mirror’s Edge) fanboy, that is a bit cool to me. Our lead characters include an intense guy who used to excel in the Under-15 bracket, but has some issues with being a bit too intense and touchy feely at times. Then there’s a more all-rounder guy who seems to excel at most sports, with a surprising turn of speed when required. Lastly, our girl who opens the show and just loves Stride after seeing a video of the Honan highschool team at their peak, inspiring her to manage the school team.

Sadly, that was then, this is now, and the Stride club has fallen apart a bit since, with the old president, Heath, lacking the motivation, and the two all-stars from the video now retired third years. It’s the passion of his new members who want to see the Stride club soar again that reinvigorates him, resulting in a 2 v 2 race across the school (at night, for some reason) between the old guard and the new recruits, ending in a tie (which still counts as a win for the veterans, again for some reason). Of course though, the one left out of the running is the girl, as she takes the role of “Relationer” aka the person who times the switches aka that’s a bit silly why not just have them do it themselves.

The animation was better than I expected, thanks to Madhouse being their usual selves, though having such a powerful studio doing a pretty standard sports anime felt like a waste, even if they brought some flair to it. The opening was decent but nothing memorable, and… well, that sums up the anime really. A couple of funny moments, a couple of “oooh, pretty” moments but mostly plain old been there done that stuff.

And I know it’s an anime trope, but why did the whole school come out to see insert event here. At night. They could’ve have gone home hours ago…

UNLIKELY

Sushi Police

Short, 3-minute anime in many ways have it trickier than their full length cousins. Often made on a budget and revolving around one gag, it’s hard to make them really stand out. There is the odd exception, like Fireball or Chi’s Sweet Home, but usually they crash and burn. Did Sushi Police beat the odds? Fuck no.

I did like the opening’s sort of papercrafty style and the endings Apple meets web flash animation with sushi trivia, but the show itself just sucked. In (admittedly not terrible) CG you see a couple of guys go “raaaa, this isn’t how you make sushi” and “oh no, the robot is leaking soy sauce” as they take out a restaurant for committing some faux pas against sushi traditionalism. Also, they were in a giant airship for some reason. I don’t know. I didn’t care. Next.

DROPPED

HaruChika

Or to use its long title, Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru. Yes, the two main characters are called Haruta and Chika, how did you know? We start with the high school brass band about to play a concert, and this series reflects on the events building up to there. They like to think of them as “mysterious circumstances”, but… they’re really not.

Chika, the lead girl, having been a tomboy growing up and dedicating her life to volleyball, ended up burning herself out, instead discovered a passion for playing the flute and resolving to be a cute girl from now on. But as she goes to enroll, she bumps into old childhood friend Haruta, playing the French horn. And as it turns out, they both have a crush on their music teacher, so it’s a sorta musical battle for his affections between childhood friends.

Well, maybe. This episode took a more Hyouka route by having some random musical cipher puzzle be the focus of the episode as it established the main two characters, and it seems unlikely music will be the focal point, with a cast of characters shown at the start still to introduce and join the brass band club.

The animation was fine, the songs themselves were perfectly quaint and I didn’t hate anything, but then again there was nothing that screamed must see. An innocent and fluffy story with love and music, but no real substance to grab onto. Though I will admit it is cute to have a guy crushing on his male teacher, pretty sure I’ve never seen that in anime before.

UNLIKELY

Phantom World

Myriad Colours Phantom World is Kyoto Animation’s first foray in 2016, which I probably should’ve guessed sooner from the animation style and some scenes giving me strong Chuunibyou flashbacks. While they weren’t as jawdroppingly pretty as that series, the fights scenes were cool as fuck and some of the monster designs were brilliant to see and watch.

Phantom World opens by telling us about optical illusions and how a biohazard facility being bombed by terrorists caused people’s brains to be able to perceive the fictional, now known as Phantoms. Some kids are born with the power to fight them, and that’s who we focus on, as highschool clubs dedicated to ridding us of the bad phantoms constantly recruit new members, and are rewarded with supplies for their efforts.

Lead guy Haruhiko can seal phantoms in his sketchbook, while his Team E sidekick Mai is a badass fighting chick who can also use elemental magic… by fondling parts of herself. Yeeeaaaah, I dunno, I thought KyoAni was always above this, and while they don’t make too big a deal of the fanservice, it is there and you will have to suffer through it while pondering why KyoAni bothered to include it (though as Twitter pointed out to me, Free is still the king of KyoAni fanservice).

Anyway, this opening episodes introduces that duo’s quirks, as well as another new girl in Izumi who can suck up and eat phantoms Kirby style. Oh, and there’s a stupid fairy like demon who makes crap jokes but you can get away with ignoring her as she adds very little. I can’t even remember her name, that’s how important she is. There’s a couple more girls to come too because harem wish-fulfillment, and the ending was nicely animated with a pretty cool song.

Again, this seems a little too anime tropey at times for KyoAni, but their style and flair still shines bright, and I enjoyed enough of what I saw to look past the dumb shit. I don’t think this’ll be remembered as an all-time KyoAni classic, but it’s engaging enough to be worth a punt. Don’t let me down Kyoto Animation.

KEEPER

Active Raid

There’s a long subtitle for this show but you don’t need to know it. Set in some future Tokyo, this revolves around Unit 8, a special division of the police who deal with special crime cases involving Willwares, which are essentially exoskeletons with some special powers. We see events unfold through the eyes of Kazari on her first day transferred there from the main force.

Except Kazari’s pretty stuck up with a by-the-book definition of justice that makes her frequently say the dumbest shit, including trying to call off an operation while the Unit’s two Willwares are halfway through successfully capturing the random villains of the episode. There’s more dumb moments too, as Unit 8 having seen through an attention drawing mislead, are immediately tricked by… another attention drawing mislead… yeah.

Heck, the show’s writing tried to carry itself in a “man, look at these crazy smart guys countering these criminals who think they’re clever” but the whole thing just whizzed by so fast you didn’t really get time to process or care at all, especially with Kazari’s regular dumb interruptions, or other poor throwaway humour like anime being involved in politics. Yes, really.

The rest of the unit are introduced at a similar mile a minute rate and get mere seconds to try to showcase any personality, other than “we’re all used to this shit unlike Kazari”. The Willware mecha exoskeletons were decent to look at, and the opening was alright maybe, but I’m really stretching for complements here. It didn’t offend me or anything, it just didn’t make me care at all.

DROPPED

Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu

I think that translates as Girls Beyond the Wasteland. Which makes no sense until you watch the show. And then still makes almost no sense. Our leading kid is Bunta, a hardworking, do anything for anyone type who’s pretty popular and gets along with everyone. He has a couple of friends, the guy being a bland toadie to make him look better, and the girl a talented actor and martial artist but seems mainly there for comedic stints.

The main female lead is Kuroda, who constantly speaks in riddles and observes Bunta for a while before asking him out on a date. And so you watch them frolic at a water-based amusement park waiting for the twist as she forces him to take the lead. And then you wait some more. And a bit more. You know it’s leading to something, so it seems mad to make the viewer wait as long as the show does. But finally, a while after your morbid curiosity has vanished, she reveals that her reasons for observing and hanging out with Bunta are so he can… write bishoujo games with her, based on his talents at getting along with people and the drama skit he wrote which you see at the very beginning. Funnily enough, at that exact same moment, I stopped caring at all.

The music is generic, the animation style often looks fuzzy or out of focus, with only close up shots looking crisp, the cast doesn’t really inspire much interest and… yeah, that twist was just otaku bait. And that sucks, as up ’til that point I still had some minor interest. Ah well.

DROPPED

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

A-1 Pictures have a fun track record where they’re just as likely to produce a masterpiece as a stinker. Fortunately, Boku Dake ga… nope, too long, let’s call it Erased, is one of their better shows. What seemingly starts about mangaka Satoru being in a slump evolves into so much more. While out delivering pizzas, he spots a blue butterfly, and we learn about what he calls Revival, where he jumps back in time a few minutes before a bad event happens. In this case, he stops a runaway truck from mowing down a kid, but ends up in hospital.

That allows us to properly meet two other important characters, first his highschool co-worker Aira Katigiri, and second… his mother! Yes, an anime with a parent taking a leading role, I was surprised too. Weird circumstances lead to her talking about an event from back when Satoru was a kid, which he had long-buried in his past, where a girl from his school was abducted and killed, leaving him to regret not reaching out to and being able to save her, which you’d imagine is what lead to his Revival ability.

Sadly, that case still lingers on, with a couple more twists and leaps over the episode leading to his mother getting stabbed and killed to stop her from revealing more truths about the past, triggering Satoru’s biggest Revival yet, as he awakens back in his childhood self, circa 1988.

I really liked the way this episode was paced and laid out, as it felt like we covered a lot of ground without rushing anything. While Satoru starts as a pretty morbid guy, you see flashes of personality every now and again, and I imagine that developing will be one of many threads in the show, alongside solving the serial murder case and introducing the mysterious childhood girl. As for the animation, it’s not A-1’s top-tier work, but it still looks good. Yeah, I kinda enjoyed this, and can see it getting better and better as it progresses, so this’ll be one I watch, and one you should watch too.

KEEPER

Ojisan to Marshmallow

Another short and I… didn’t… hate it. Wow, this only happens like once a year. Middle Aged Man and Marshmallows is the story of two co-workers, an older bigger guy, and a younger slimmer girl. He likes marshmallows. She knows this, and so teases him and causes hijinks while staff look on laughing at how dense he is.

That could still be crap, but it… actually wasn’t bad. There was no reliance on exaggerated humour or lolrandom nonsense, just two characters having fun with each other. Heck, the first thirty seconds with just music, no dialogue and surprisingly good animation threw me for a loop too. It’s not something I’d watch while it’s airing, and there’s still a good chance it’ll fall into a cycle of repetition, but this is certainly one I’d consider. Maybe when it’s all done in a few months.

POSSIBLY

Assassination Classroom Second Season

Disclaimer! I haven’t actually seen or read Assassination Classroom yet. I do mean to check out the manga at some point, just haven’t got round to it. So I was a little intrigued in what being thrown in at the deep end of this series would be like.

You certainly won’t get lost as a new viewer. You’re quickly brought up to speed  – there’s a class of students trying to assassinate their octosquid teacher, and this season represents the second term. Or at least, the last part of summer vacation before the second term. As such, it’s hard to judge what actually happens in a normal episode, with this seemingly filler where they try to pair up a couple of the teachers and hang out at a festival.

So, er, yeah, not a lot happens, and with so many students nobody gets to showcase any kind of personality. There were a few cool moments, including the opening song and the chalk drawing animation of the ending, one or two jokes did get a smile out of me, and there was one (what I assume is) major plotpoint, though it’s hard to tell when I’ve not seen the first season.

It’s hard to judge, but it struck me as a series that should’ve had a lot more forward momentum than it actually did, and this essentially throwaway episode didn’t help that opinion. Maybe I’m being harsh and this is an exception rather than the norm, but I saw little substance behind the cool stuff in AssClass, so I don’t think I’ll watch it anytime soon.

UNLIKELY

Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation

It’s rare that I’m underwhelmed by an anime series in its first episode. After all, I don’t usually go in with expectations (it’s kinda the point of this, to figure out what rocks and what sucks). But man, I expected more from an adaptation of PSO2. And I’ve not even played the game.

Unlike every other video game adaptation I’ve seen, this is about characters playing the game, instead of the characters within the game. Our lead guy is a jack of all trades master of none, which somehow makes him perfect for the role of student council vice president, working under everybodies beloved president. And one of the main jobs of said student council is to do reports via PSO2! Why? Fuck knows, even the show fails to bullshit a remotely plausible reason.

And the PSO2 parts themselves come complete with janky CG and uninspired monster designs (which I assume are straight from the game), so even the action parts look and feel fairly bland. You can’t win. The only real laughs I got out of the entire show were the Sega references, like the Sonic flower garden. It’s poorly written, has no visual flair and can’t even justify its own existence. Heck, it doesn’t even manage to sell the game to its viewers. A missed opportunity.

DROPPED

Dagashi Kashi

I’d heard a few good things about this from people who watched it before me, and… yeah, I guess I can see where they’re coming from. Dagashi Kashi has a very distinct flair that makes it stand out from the crowd. Set in a sweet shop, we see the son Kokonotsu (or Coconuts) want to become a mangaka, while his dad wants him to carry on the candy shop they run. And as you discover, the kid does have quite a knack for it.

Enter Shidare Hotaru, who wants to recruit the dad for her own candy company, but to get him to part with the shop he needs his son to take over, setting up the basic premise. There’s also a brother and sister duo running a nearby café, with both her and our lead kid in a dense anime relationship which you’ve seen a million times before and a million to come.

There is one problem though, being that a lot of the humour revolves around individuals being so caught up in their world, be it candy based or otherwise, that it becomes a bit much at times. I did still like most of the characters, and some of the laughs were funny, but it feels like it goes to the well too often and doesn’t offer enough substance in between the skits.

Then again, I liked the opening and ending songs, and the character designs are certainly unlike most other shows. Especially those eyes, which look so weird but work so well. I’m in two minds here, and I get the feeling that’s the way I’d feel for the entire show. One for the reserve list, but certainly if the humour engages you more than it did me, check it out.

POSSIBLY

Norn9

Or Norn + Nonetto. No, I don’t know what that means, the closest I got to figuring out the title is that the ship they travel on is called the Norn. So, we have our lead girl, who’s been alone for so long she’s forgotten her own name, but remembers being told that one day a ship will come for her. And so, when she’s 17, what I assume is the AI of said ship (called The World) locks onto her, and she joins (not that she’s given a choice). Why? Because she has some kind of special ability that can help world peace.

The interior of said ship is beautiful, a sort of biosphere with trees, water, fruit and wildlife. You get to meet the ten other residents of the ship, with a couple of the cast asserting themselves more than others, including a long black-haired girl who takes no-nonsense from her crewmates, and a blonde guy who makes his move pretty sharpish. Wait, I mean for joining his job team, not love! Honest! Ish!

There are some darker overtones at times too, with the surface world looking like crap, and one of the occupants declaring “we’re all gonna be enemies eventually” as his reason for not being social. The episode even ends with the ship coming under attack, but from whom is yet to be revealed.

There’s plenty of lovey dovey moments, and you can see there are a bunch of positives, but still… I dunno. It’s another show where I don’t see much substance to it all, and while some of the visuals were pretty and it had a nice ending song, the animation wasn’t great, especially in the opening. I do feel bad slamming a show that really doesn’t do much wrong, but there’s nothing here that I managed to engage with.Sorry Norn.

UNLIKELY

And that’s a wrap for this first part! Y’know, I think 2 keepers and 2 reserves this early into a season could be a new record. For winter at any rate. Part 2 should be up sometime in the week, including Pandora, Gate and Durararararararararara…ra! See ya then!