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Apr 18

Spring Anime 2016 First Episode Impressions – Part 3

Cool guys and gals only

Cool guys and gals only

Fifteen more shows reviewed as I reach anime critical mass. While part of seeing so many new ideas is cool, there’s also a part that gets bogged down from the sheer numbers and piles of crap. I do this to myself though, so can’t complain.

This third part covers April 5th to 7th, and includes Bones’ latest series Bungou Stray Dogs, current comedy darling Sakamoto, a show dubbed to be the next Attack on Titan, and a dozen more ranging from surprisingly good to “this show feels like it’s 10 years out of place”. But which ones which? Or are they all just terrible?

Shounen Ashibe: Go! Go! Goma-chan

Clocking in at just nine minutes, Go Go Goma is a short comedy that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but doesn’t stay in your mind either. It revolves around a kid and his pet seal (called Goma), who he met when it… fell out of a truck in front of him. Yep, that’s your origin story.

The show is essentially a series of simple sketches, like how do we disguise Goma from Mum, how people react to him in school, how the kid beats a bully via hugging (really). Oh, and there’s a kid from his old hometown who really pines for him. Really, really pines for him.

The artstyle is really simple but it works, helping make that seal, and the show in general, pretty dang cute. Sadly, his constant arfs very quickly become an irritant, as does our lead kid’s random habit of saying “Peace!” a lot. No, seriously, he says it two dozen times in a row in one scene. That’s not a joke.

For what it is, it’s perfectly alright. 90 seconds of the runtime is eaten up by the opening and ending, but they’re alright too, and… yeah. I wasn’t bored but I wasn’t entertained, so unless you’re desperate for cute cartoon seals, it probably ain’t worth it.

UNLIKELY

Joker Game

Well this was different. Set around the start of the Second World War, we join what can only be described as a hellish school for spies, training them in a hard and brutal fashion to be the best of the best, with only eight people surviving to the end. Or, as our lead refers to them, eight monsters.

See, he’s from the traditional military system, and sees a spies work as that of a coward. To him, it’s kill or be killed all for the greater good of Japan, making him completely out of his depth when surrounded by master tricksters. As such, he quickly becomes the butt of what those spies call the “Joker Game”, which is all about manipulating others rather than the actual charade of whatever game they’re supposedly playing.

This very quickly escalates from poker to a life or death scenario, as they perform a seemingly doomed to fail raid on a foreign ambassador, with the episode brilliantly ending at the critical moment where it seems like the lead is up shit creek and doomed to die.

It should be pretty obvious that I’m enamoured with this. There’s some brilliant backgrounds and visual effects, and while the characters obviously aren’t flashy, they suit the period perfectly. The music helps amplify what’s happening, the opening’s great, and the writing and pacing is spot-on, though considering it’s based off a series of novels that shouldn’t be surprising. In a world of endlessly similar anime, this stands out for all the right reasons, and is a definite must see of the season.

KEEPER

Sousei no Onmyouji

I didn’t even realise until about five minutes in this was Twin Star Exorcists. I’ve been meaning to pick up the first volume of the manga for a while, so I was interested to see what the series was like. The result is a solid, if all too familiar show.

The mostly evil alien species this time is the Kegare, who are essentially demons from another plane trying to invade our world and fuck with people, which exorcists, like our lead couple, have to destroy. The lead girl is from out of town and is shown to be strong, capable and untalkative (though that seems to get forgotten in record time), coming into her element in the other plane.

Our lead guy, who essentially meets her by accident, keeps getting flashbacks to when he badly screwed up and let a massacre happen, but over the course of the episode comes to terms with it, and at the end unleashes his ability, annihilating the strongest Kegare in the episode in one hit. It’s a really jarring difference in power levels, especially as she’s meant to be super strong by herself.

Stylistically this show’s not too shabby. Some solid animation, plenty of neat backgrounds in the other world, and some nice effects shots when they’re in combat. The show also uses talismans to introduce characters and locations, which is a cool touch. Sadly, both the character and Kegare designs are less inspired, with the lead kid having a really fangy mouth, which makes sense when he has his exorcist weapon active but in the regular world looks… really odd.

Maybe I’m being a bit kind because I’ve had prior interest in this, but I feel when they start scaling up this could be alright. Not enough to put this high on my reserve list, but enough to make me keep an eye out. That or I’ll just buy the manga like I’ve been meaning to. We’ll see.

POSSIBLY

Bishoujo Yuugi Unit Crane Game Girls

Ranking high up on “things I never expected to see anime of” is Crane Game Girls. I was morbidly curious at what the actual heck this show would be, and the somewhat unsurprising result is “pretty naff”. A four and a half minute short (well, one minute is the opening), the “plot” is that we’re told three girls are needed to save the world from a meteor in 3 months! Because! No, really, that’s all the explanation you get.

So our hapless agent tricks them and their families into thinking the girls are gonna become idols, before getting them to work at an arcade where they’ll have to play the… Idol Training Crane Game! No, I don’t see the connection between that and saving the world either.

If the non-existent plot and lame humour wasn’t enough, the animation in this show feels like something off the net 5 years ago. It’s not awful, but it has that style and the distinct lack of smoothness in movement you always used to see. And now I’m out of things to say. Give this one a miss.

DROPPED

Super Lovers

And not just regular love, but homosexual love between a kid and a (I assume) young adult. Oh Japan, never change. A little kid called Ren is adopted from an orphanage, and is essentially feral with a history of abuse, so during summer vacation the adoptive parents call in their son, Haru, who’s been living with another family (no idea why), hoping to shirk their responsibilities onto him, like the amazing responsible adults they are.

Luckily for their plans, the two hit it off after a couple of days, with Ren not exactly going dere, but at least allowing Haru into his life. At this early point in the show it’s more affection than romance… though they’ve already kissed once (mouth to mouth) because that’s how all westerners greet each other isn’t it Japan.

The weird part is both how laid back and undramatic the show can be at times, while simultaneously having intense and foreboding moments, such as some calamity which is set to strike Haru at some point in the future. They just feel really out of place and fail to engage you in the desired way, making things more weird than tense.

The animation is alright, with designs about what you’d expect for a boys love show (I’ve watched too many first episodes), but nothing special, and the soundtrack is fairly forgettable. The show is at least taking things slowly by not rushing straight into the relationship, and there’s enough future beats set up to make for some intrigue, but it’s still fairly bland. If you desperately want a BL anime this season, sure, otherwise, I’d say pass.

UNLIKELY

12-sai. ~Chicchana Mune no Tokimeki~

Well, that was something. Age 12 is a show about… 12 year olds. A very sickly sweet show about 12 years olds who think themselves no longer children but not yet adult (even though they are still very, very much children).

We see the lead girls talk all about what they want their first kiss to be like and which boys they’re into, and watch the obvious pairings springing up. Heck, this first episode rapidly establishes the lead couple with the main boy and girl falling for each other out of mutual respect for them standing up to the usual assortment of bullies that make up their class. This means there’s a lot of dumb moron schemes and playground banter from the rest of the cast, and while it’s not inaccurate, it’s annoying as shit to watch.

It’s weird, while I respect that this show does a lot right, including setting up couples in a logical fashion, having kids be terrible at playing the damn recorder, and giving a good demonstration of the physical and mental shitstorm that is a first period (well, I assume), I just can’t get myself to care about barely out of primary school tier kid politics and romance.

Also some of their eyes are too big. The animations boring too. And the musics benign. Sigh. I don’t hate this, I just… can’t find a reason to care about it either.

DROPPED

Onigiri

Another short, clocking in at 3 minutes 30 seconds. Onigiri is the name of a group of 6 girls and just one guy (I know, I was surprised too) who fight random monsters called Kamikui. Except the guy speaks through speech bubbles because they didn’t give him a VA hahaha hilarious.

Other jokes include Kamikui randomly showing up, the girls effortlessly killing them when they don’t bicker, RPG references (well, it is based off an MMORPG), and of course, fanservice. At one point they get separated but who cares, it’s not like there’s any personality beyond “the only guy” and “the really fanservicey one”.

It’s crap, and I’m out of things to say. Avoid.

DROPPED

Bungou Stray Dogs

Every season there’s usually one show where the promo art catches my eye. Sometimes it’s led to me watching some great shows too, like Soul Eater and Black Butler. This season, that show was Bungou Stray Dogs, which is all about a detective agency comprised of the supernatural investigating the supernatural.

But what you’ll notice more in this first episode is the mad jokes. Everything is eccentricated (is that even a word), from zany character personalities to jokes that last just a beat too long to the animation style itself falling back on simplistic gag stylings far too often. It makes it difficult for the show to get any momentum rolling.

Which is a mild shame, as when you look past the comedy, the writing and animation is pretty solid. The characters do play well off each other, the show knows when to reveal key elements (the swerve in this episode, while not hard to guess, was still well executed), there’s some nice backgrounds and cool character designs, and the powers said characters use look good. The animation for the opening and ending were sweet too.

There’s plenty of potential here, and assuming Stray Dogs has gotten past its almost over-eagerness to tell jokes all the time, I think you’ll get a compelling experience. Sadly, I’ve learned to be cautious instead of optimistic over the years, but I imagine the average viewer will still get a kick out of this, so I’d say its worth checking out.

POSSIBLY

Aikatsu Stars!

Oh boy, I’ve missed watching the first episodes of idol shows and trying to remember which one’s which. Aikatsu is the one where they use cards to define their clothes. At least, I think that’s its unique thing.

The lead girl is the usual blend of theoretically not all that talented but amazing on stage, and then there’s the more shy girl sidekick and the not quite arrogant but definitely more talented third girl too. It’s like the people who make these shows have it down to a science! Honestly the only person with any individuality was the rock and roll homeroom teacher, who proceeded to lecture people on… individuality! Clever girl.

The plot is “oh my god I love insert idol band here (S4, though I dunno if they were the stars of past Aikatsu series) I want to be just like them kyaa”. The music’s the same cheery upbeat and totally forgettable J-pop, the animation full of pinks and blues and bright colours that merge into an utter directionless mess, and there’s the traditional CG dance sequences, except these ones are on stages that look nothing like where they’re performing.

Honestly, the only bit that surprised me was that this school has a boy’s section, but we move past that plot point in under a minute because who wants to see the one different thing about this show. I’m coming across as incredibly jaded, but it’s not that I think idol shows can’t be good, I am a Love Live fan afterall… but… this one ain’t no Love Live.

DROPPED

Kuromukuro

Y’see, this is why I do this. I had no idea what Kuromukuro was or any hype for it whatsoever, and then I check it out and oh hey, this is a pretty neat show! Yukina is our leading lady, and she has a dream. A stupid dream of going to Mars. But her superstar mother, leader of a UN research facility, wants to believe in her daughter, even though she can rarely be there for her.

One day while she and her friends are wandering around said facility though, an asteroid like object crash lands right outside their door, and lo and behold, it’s actually an assortment of evil mecha launching an attack. The action is cool to behold, with lots of nimble little mechs with blades for limbs leaping around against the more traditional human exoskeleton / dreadnought designs, and then there’s some unique giant enemy mechs fighting our superunits.

Meanwhile, some of the weird tech they’ve been investigating in the facility starts to stir, with Yukina waking up some samurai guy, presumably from the past, who has experience combating the baddies, or “demons” as he sees them (considering they bleed too, maybe he’s on to something). There’s tonnes of other neat touches too, from the way characters are tied together, to plenty of backstory nods and the portrayal of humanity as not useless incompetents, which considering how much we love war makes sense.

The animation is pretty good too, though on the flipside I can’t really say the music stuck out. But for a show which intrigues me as much as this, I’m still very much game to see where it goes. I dunno if it’ll be the show, but PA Works’s 15th anniversary celebration series is certainly one to watch.

KEEPER

Anne Happy

Fluffy cutesy girl centric school anime time yet again. This show’s gimmick is all about how unlucky they are, and the lead girl is called Anne. Hence why it’s called Anne Lucky! Wait.

Once you get manage to suspend your disbelief at their ability to break their bodies and such because they’re unlucky, you still have the more fundamental problem of there being nothing interesting about any of the characters. This one is hated by animals, that one’s good at both injuring and curing herself, and this one has a fetish for a workman on a sign. Really. Also there’s a pair of lesbians, but they get like one line each the entire show so who knows what their gimmick is. I’m guessing “they’re lesbians”.

Anyway, they all get put in a class for the unlucky to try and improve their lives because who needs actual education. Given an egg and told not to let it break, everyone manages to crack theirs except the lead girl because maybe she’s the most unlucky of them all. No really that’s how they close the episode.

I don’t even know what to tell you. It uses watercolour backgrounds to exemplify the fluffiness but it all merges into the same bleh palette in the end, the songs are exactly what you’d expect, and aside from the very occasional animation flourish, there’s nothing here to invest in whatsoever. So I guess you could say viewing this show makes me Anne Happy HAHAHAHAHA make it stop.

DROPPED

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta?

<<rewrite from dropped to unlikely>>

Hello light novels with pointlessly long titles. That lot translates to “And You Thought There Is Never A Girl Online?”. Yes indeed, we’ve jumped back a decade or more to a time when “gurls don’t exist online, right?”. Clearly, all people who play or act as females have to be guys in disguise. Yep. Oh wait what do you mean everyone in my guild is a female except me!?

Putting aside that hilariously outdated concept, it’s hard to talk about the story because there isn’t much to talk about. The show follows a guild of four playing online freemium game Legendary Age, who decide to have an offline meetup. And not only do they all live in exactly the same area, it turns out they’re all chicks bar the lead guy. Some of which he’s already familiar with from school. Also to hammer home the age-old stereotypes, they all seem to have varying degrees of problems socialising and interacting with “normal” people who have irl romances and relationships. I mean, what are they, mad?

The animation is perfectly fine, with some neat in-game action sequences, but it also has the usual fanservice fetish with a tendency to focus on the obvious. It has got a little bit of humour, such as one of them is happy to pay to win and be overpowered as fuck, to the free players chagrin, and people thankfully didn’t react in a completely over the top way for the main as I fully expected, but still…

Assuming the overall story is “online people come to terms with offline interactions and relationships”, then there’s a slim hope for Netoge, and maybe it’s that that’s stopping me from dropping this outright. But based off the opening and ending, I’m betting on the far more likely harem wish-fulfillment route. I’d love to be proved wrong though.

UNLIKELY

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri

The newest noitaminA show, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, also dubbed by some as “Attack on Trains”, had a lot to live up to after being compared to one of the current literal Titan’s of the anime scene. Whatever you may have thought of that series in the end, it certainly started off in phenomenal fashion, and is one hell of a series to pick a fight with. So the good news is that in its opening episode, Kabaneri manages to go toe to toe with its rival.

Roughly 20 years ago, an infection started spreading throughout humanity, turning people into what are now dubbed Corpses. They’re almost unkillable and very zombie-esque, being compelled to hunt down and attack the living, so humanity locks themselves up in giant fortresses and uses solid iron trains to get around. Sound familiar?

We follow engineer Ikoma, determined to make a weapon powerful enough to obliterate a Corpse’s glowing heart and kill it in one, and come to realise he’s one of the few humans still with courage and sense in a world gripped by fear. We see that 24/7 tense attitude of the populace, with arrivals strip-searched to ensure they’re not injured, and any scratch is cause for a firing squad thanks to the sheer terror even the idea of Corpses gives off.

The other main character so far seems to be a girl on a pilgrimage of some kind, called Mumei, who is very free-spirited, even when the Corpses inevitably break through and run riot in town. As for the rest of the supporting cast, they’re given enough time to showcase their personalities and help with world-building, but not much more thus far.

That’ll come with time though, as Kabaneri really does feel like a fleshed out world with plenty of backstory to explore and characters to learn about, which is aided not just by the writing but the aesthetic too. It’s well animated, has a cool steampunk style which works brilliantly, and I adore a lot of the design work that’s gone into the world and characters. There’s a lot to praise here and I’ve not even covered half of it, so I urge you to check out Kabaneri for yourself. Assuming it doesn’t collapse later on ala Attack on Titan after its first six episodes, this could be a potential AotY contender.

KEEPER

Shounen Maid

Shounen Maid starts on a cheery note, with the death of the protagonist’s mother after her heart gave out on her. With Chihiro, our lead boy, seemingly having nowhere to go, fortune smiles on him as his uncle Madoka takes him in, and introduces him to a family he never knew he had.

But as Chihiro discovers while he struggles to register all these sudden changes in his life, is that the mansion he now lives in is an utter tip, setting off his housewife tendencies as he sets to cleaning. So Madoka, to try and put the boy more at ease after an upbringing of “no work, no food”, keeps him around under the guise of hiring him. And then makes him wear a frilly maid costume. Because! Though considering he is a costume designer, it’s not as creepy as it could have been, not that that’s saying much…

Despite the show having a really vanilla feel, I found myself warming to something here. It wasn’t the animation or music certainly, they’re both alright but nothing to write home about, and it wasn’t like the series had complex writing or themes either. At a guess, it’s more just nice seeing a younger kid not portrayed as a moron, even if the adult figures in his life aren’t that engaging.

I kind of assume this story will be more about Chihiro finding his place in life without his mother, and Madoka, a relative recluse, learning to let other people into his life. And maaaaybe I’m being a bit too optimistic, but the show didn’t set off any warning signals, so I might give this a chance. Might.

POSSIBLY

Sakamoto desu ga?

Hm, this is a new one on me. I’m aware of some of the shows coming into a season, and I knew Sakamoto was the latest comedy craze. I’ve also sat through previous comedy crazes including Trigger’s work and Nichijou, which… well, weren’t funny. Anime humour has its fans but I ain’t one. So clearly Haven’t You Heard I’m Sakamoto was going to crash and burn, and these 20 to 25 minutes were going to be torture.

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. What I didn’t realise was Sakamoto was going to take inspirations from Cromartie and JoJo and create something… well, as the show puts it, cool. Sakamoto is a guy who exemplifies coolness and charisma in everything he does, winning those who would pick on him over to his side because he’s so damn flawless.

Most importantly, it rarely goes into silly territory. There’s a few slip-ups, like saving a bird from a sudden typhoon, but for the main it stays in the realms of sanity as he dances around fires and duels with hornets. i know that doesn’t sound sane, but trust me, it makes sense in context. The show also splits itself into two parts, helping keep the pace quick and the jokes fresh. It always left you wondering what’d happen next and pulled me in brilliantly.

Add in some neat animation with a knack for exemplifying his stylishness along with a cool opening exemplifying his… coolness, and you’ve got potentially one of the best comedy anime in years. Guess he won me over too.

KEEPER

Holy crap I can see the finish. Just one more part to come, going live in a week or so, featuring stuff like Kiznaiver and Sinbad. In the meantime, these four keepers make my Spring total up to six, pulling it even with Winter, and also dashing any hopes I had for a quiet season. How some people watch dozens of series regularly, I have no idea…