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Jan 07

Winter Anime 2017 First Episode Impressions – Part 1

The crazy begins again

Time for another year of anime already? But I’ve still got shows to watch from 2016! Well, time waits for no weab, as the changing of the years means its time for the winter season of anime. We’ve got a bunch of sequels coming up, some surprising, others less so. There’s also adaptations of a few big names, with Trigger’s Little Witch Academia the most notable… but that’s a ways off yet.

This first part dissects Fuuka, a surprising popular romance manga, Akiba’s Trip, which started off as a game you can already visualise, and sequels to shōnen series Blue Exorcist and one of 2016’s big stars, Rakugo, amongst other shows. You’ll also notice a format change to how I break down shows, which should hopefully make the turnaround on these a bit quicker! Right, let’s dive straight in.

Koro-sensei Quest!

Length – Half (10 mins)
Studio – Lerche (Assassination Classroom, Danganronpa 3 Future and Despair)
Director – Yoshito Nishouji (episode director on Amagami SS and Ah! My Goddess)

Spin-off of Assassination Classroom. Instead of trying to kill Koro with guns and knifes, now they’re using swords and sorcery! Can the chibi version of deadly Class 3-E survive school and defeat the Big Bad Demon King Koro-sensei, or is the world doomed once again?

The Good – There’s some good JRPG parodying and references, including Dragon Quest. Heck, seeing Level 1 enemies talking trash was great. The idea that the kid’s are special because they all have abilities that stem from bugs is cool too. Oh, and the one-liner referencing that each pupil’s potential power is directly tied to their popularity was hilarious.

The Bad – The animation was… non-existent. Even in the opening and ending it felt like the barest of bones and the most stretched of budgets. Also the designs for the kids outfits were all pretty much the same bar the one half-armour dude. Oh, and a random whipping scene in the middle which might make sense to long-term AssClass fans but to me… was just weird and creepy…

The VerdictUNLIKELY

I mean, it’s not a lost cause, as there’s some decent JRPG parody, but it’s been done far better elsewhere, like in The Hero Yoshihiko, or even webcomics like Cucumber Quest. Plus, I never really bought into Assassination Classroom to begin with, so there’s no prior investment on my end. Sorry Koro-sensei.

Chou Shounen Tanteidan NEO

Length – Short (4 mins)
Studio – DLE (Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm, Channel 5.5)
Director – Kazuhito Oomiya (Yasamura Yasashi no Yasashii Sekai)

Based off of a series of novels by Japanese author Edogawa Rampo, focusing on Yoshio Kobayashi, the apprentice to Japan’s greatest detective, Akechi Kogorou. Set in the future, this shows how the war between the detectives and The Fiend With Twenty Faces has continued to this day.

The Good – The ten second intro helped kick the show off on the right foot, and while the ending dragged on a bit more I still liked the vibe it gave off. And… er… some of the character designs were… okay?

The Bad – As you may expect from a short anime based on some fairly serious origins… it’s dumb comedy. The three leads fight a bug, which they all flail against as it’s super strong or something until he shoots it with a bullet containing 100 years of newspaper’s data! Jokes! Random! Terrible! Also, the flash animation style was really stiff when any degree of motion was involved, and needed a ton more inbetweens.

The VerdictDROPPED

Every season has terrible short comedy anime, so here’s hoping we got this one out of the way early, eh? Just watch the ten second opening, go “neat”, and then move on with your life.

Ai Mai Mi ~Surgical Friends~

Length – Short (3.5 mins)
Studio – Seven (Okusama ga Seitokaichou!, Strange+)
Director – Itsuki Imazaki (Ai Mai Mi, Recorder and Randsell Mi)

Third season of Ai Mai Mi. About three girls (Ai, Mai and Mi) who make up their school’s manga club, but always find ways to distract themselves and solve problems in the most madcap way possible.

The Good – Er… well, the manga drawings the one character was doing looked cool…

The Bad – Where to start. Most of the character designs looked rough and drawn in about 5 seconds, though considering this is the third season, I guess that’s intentional. The lolrandom humour was as grotesque as usual, and there were no real core plot beats? The closest we got was “one girl doesn’t own a coat” which… barely even make sense…

The VerdictDROPPED

Shorts tend to be hit or miss, and oh boy did this miss. No idea how this made it to a third season either, it’s not like it’s unique. Thank the lord I only had to sit through a few minutes of this.

Nanbaka S2

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – Satelight (Macross Delta, Disappearence of Yuki Nagato)
Director – Shinji Takamatsu (Gintama, Haven’t You Heard I’m Sakamoto)

Second season of Nanbaka. Nanba Prison is the most secure, inescapable prison in the world, yet the residents of cell block 13 always find a way to breakout and cause mayhem.

The Good – Character designs. Everybody looks different, and to some extent has a different personality too, which in a comedy show with this many characters is a pretty good feat. Also, the show isn’t afraid to own up when it’s reusing jokes, and the running gag of “this has to get serious eventually, it’s season two!” did kinda work.

The Bad – Sadly, the rest of the comedy was a misfire. Utter gibberish about characters changing hair colour or interacting with cats. It also seems to have lost total interest in the main plot which I remember from the first episode. Also the palette, while colourful, goes too far so everything just merges into a patchwork mess.

The VerdictDROPPED

Much like the first season, it’s straight to the reject pile for Nanbaka S2. The one in a million good joke funnily enough does not outweigh the garbage humour for the rest of the show. Plus it doesn’t feel like it’s advanced at all bar a cavalcade of new characters.

Akiba’s Trip: The Animation

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – Gonzo (Hellsing, Blade & Soul)
Director – Hiroshi Ikehata (Robot Girls Z, Toei Robot Girls)

Based off a video game of the same name, Akiba’s Trip is set in the otaku paradise of Akihabara, which has been beset by an alien race known as Synthisters, sapping people’s will to live. Their only weakness is exposing their naked bodies to air and sunlight, so our heroes strip the enemy naked to defeat them and save the day!

The Good – Some decent animation. And the lead girl is kinda cool, swinging her baseball bat and fighting with gusto. The show also had a couple good jokes, like the lead kid using some crappy story idea he had as a kid to get rid of some salesperson. And it didn’t really get bogged down with otaku stuff, even poking fun with the inane figures they were collecting.

The Bad – But c’mon man, a show (based on a game) about stripping essentially female zombies because the thing making them like that is sensitive to the air. Credit for the bullshit explanation, but no. It’s hard to invest in anything when that’s your premise. Also the enemies look really bland,

The VerdictUNLIKELY

Y’know, I honestly didn’t hate this as much as I thought. Some of the characters were enjoyable, and a few of the jokes worked. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t in a rush to see any more of this, but considering the premise, it stayed… fairly above aboard… kinda?

Masamune-kun no Revenge

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – Silver Link (Watamote, Fate/kalied liner Primsa Illya)
Director – Mirai Minato (Fate/kalied liner Prisma Illya)

As children, Aki Adagaki rejected Makabe Masamune because he was a fat little git, christening him a pig. Embittered, Makabe spent years of his life transforming himself into a smart, popular and handsome guy, unrecognisable from his past self. Now he sets out to make Aki fall for him so he can crush her heart the way she crushed his, but who knows how their relationship will play out as time passes?

The Good – The two lead characters play off well with each other, both with their own mild psycho tendencies and obsessions. Actually, all the character designs were pretty good too, distinctive without going crazy. I think the premise offers plenty of scope for comedy and drama too.

The Bad – Almost the entire cast appears to be female, and with this being a romance, and the lead dude a handsome guy who plays to the crowd, I can’t help but worry about harem nonsense. Oh, and his mother looks like she’s barely reached her teens. Everybody else looks fine, but her? Weeeeird.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

As I said, there’s plenty of potential in this one, but it lacks anything concrete to take it to the next level and become a must-see. I also fear that if the entire season is “so close but nope” for the lead pair’s relationship then it might get old fast. But it does look good, so if you’re down for romance, give this a whirl.

Seiren

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – Gokumi (Pandora in the Crimson Shell) and AXsiSZ (Wagamama High Spec)
Director – Tomoki Kabayashi (Akame ga Kill, Hundred)

Kamita Shouichi is a regular highschool boy, trying to figure out his next steps in life as he prepares for university and studies for exams. This anime will focus on the relationships he develops with three different females in his life, and how his pure honesty affects them… I think…

The Good – Everybody looks like actual highschool students. No bright hair colours or outrageous personalities, just kids working hard and teasing each other. There’s also a few good callbacks to stuff set up earlier in the episode, such as a bit about kabuto beetles. Having the lead rank high in his own school then low in a summer study camp made sense too.

The Bad – All the characters bar the two leading guys kinda blur together into one mass, with nobody really recognisable, which hurts the climax of the episode. Actually, the entire show feels like a blur, with nothing really special or significant happening. Oh, and the opening and ending have a touch of the lewd.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

Seiren doesn’t offend… but it doesn’t justify itself either. It is very, very vanilla, and there’s very little to get attached to, at least in this first episode. The writing, the animation, the characters… none of it sticks, and so I couldn’t recommend this except to diehard romance anime fans.

Youjo Senki

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – NUT (debut work)
Director – Yutaka Uemura (Dantalian no Shoka, Punch Line)

Aka “Saga of Tanya the Evil”. Tanya Degurechov has white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, and does whatever it takes on the battlefield to win. However, she used to be one of Japan’s top salarymen, but pissed off a god and was reborn as a little girl (this is news to me). As someone who priorities her own career, she is by far the most dangerous sorcerer in her army, and will shape the future of herself and her country.

The Good – Mage warfare in ye olde times always makes for an interesting clash of visuals, and that holds true here. The show also does a good job of showcasing that war is a miserable time. Oh, and grounding the mages as a difference maker for both sides, but not invulnerable, with a limited pool of abilities and counterable by regular dudes in some cases.

The Bad – The lead little girl is a psycho, but you know that before the show “reveals” it. But there’s nothing likeable about her, and her overpowered status also wipes out interesting conflicts. A lot of the other cast get given names and titles but they’re so irrelevant you wonder what’s the point. And there’s a few weird cuts where a scene should clearly be. And the designs of both female characters kinda suck, having giant eyes compared to the guys.

The VerdictDROPPED

It’s hard to get invested in anything here. None of the main characters are likeable, either being too strong and inherently evil, or too utterly weak and naive. The war feels like generic side A versus generic side B, and there’s next to no strategy on display. Compare this to Izetta from last season, another old war and magic show, and this just can’t even come close.

Fuuka

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – Diomedea (Girlish Number, Mayoiga)
Director – Keizou Kusakawa (Akuma no Riddle, Sekirei)

Yuu Haruna. a shy kid who spends more time on Twitter than looking up, has just transferred schools, and immediately runs afoul of Fuuka Akitsuki, who think’s he’s taking panty shots. Shortly after, his childhood friend Koyuki Hinashi, now a famous singer, gets in contact, and when the three meet, a love triangle is formed. How will Yuu’s life change now?

The Good – The show does a good job of setting Fuuka up as different, but not really weird. She runs a lot and listens to music and doesn’t use a phone, but it never makes her this bizarre entity. It also contrasts well with the fairly normal lead kid and his use of phone and Twitter. The show covered a decent amount of ground too, setting up the lead couple and threadlines for the future.

The Bad – …though admittedly, having one of those as an after credits scene where an ultra popular girl he’s not talked to in years suddenly messages him as he sets himself up with Fuuka is painfully cliché. And then there’s the ecchi elements like pantyshots which can go to hell, along with some of the extreme overreactions like when Fuuka destroys the dude’s phone.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

I do admire a lot of the writing in Fuuka, and the lead girl does a great job in her role, though the lead dude being a bland generic self-insert is kinda painful, as is the ecchi crap (he lives with his three sisters, so you can guess where that part goes) and other clichés the show occasionally relies on. All that adds up to too many negatives for now enough positives, which is a shame, as I did dig this at times.

Urara Meirochou

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – J.C. Staff (Toradora, Flying Witch)
Director – Youhei Suzuki (Aki no Kanade, Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat)

In the town of Meirochou, selected 15 year old girls gather to beyond fortune tellers and aim for the title of Urara. Chiya, a girl who has spent her life in the mountains, comes to the town for both that reason and to look for her mother, making friends with several other trainee diviners, and beginning their fun days of being together.

The Good – The town of Meirochou does a good job of bringing the more shrine and belief part’s of Japan’s culture to life, which fits the fortune telling theme well.

The Bad – Besides the constant “show me your belly when you apologise” shtick? It’s overly cutesy, with nobody looking like the 15 years old they’re meant to be, giving everything the moeblob feel from a few years back where nothing matters or sticks. Also the entire cast is female. Literally all of them. And none of them have a personality worth a damn.

The VerdictDROPPED

This is a throwback to the days when K-On dictated the anime landscape and everyone was making fluffy moe trash because that’s what sold. There’s nothing here that’s original or memorable, just a giant mass of what could vaguely be called cute. Not a chance.

Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – J.C. Staff (Food Wars) and A.C.G.T. (Freezing)
Director – Susumu Kudou (K, Magic Kaito 1412)

Aka “Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club”. Hiromi Maiharu has just moved, and decides to take her bike on her first day to highschool… but has forgotten how to ride one. She bumps into Tomoe Akitsuki who helps her relearn, as the two start their new school lives and join a cycling club.

The Good – The backgrounds. Like, damn, this show has some stunningly beautiful backdrops. Not only that, but there’s some really fluid moments of animation too, mainly revolving around the bikes, which help to sell the show visually. I kind of liked the pro cyclist homeroom teacher too, even if she didn’t get to do much this episode.

The Bad – Neither of the two lead characters really leap out at you, especially when the lead overexaggerates, such as forgetting to pedal and thinking her entire school life will be hell when she’s already made a friend. Based off who’s going to join the cycling club too, there’s a sense it’s more box ticking personalities than making interesting characters, but that’s purely speculation.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

The show’s visual appeal and earnest theme of bike riding which ties into almost the entire thing works well… but there is the fundamental reality that this is just another girls in a club show, of which we’ve all seen our fair share. I’m sure it’ll be perfectly alright, but I can’t see it shifting gears into something memorable.

Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – J.C. Staff… again… (Maid-sama, Zero’s Familiar)
Director – Hiroshi Nishikiori (Azumanga Daioh, A Certain Magical Index)

In the near future, recently founded school Goryoukan Academy has a secret side, as it gathers Strikers who can fight an interdimensional threat known as O’Bli. Can the members of Fifth Force save the day while making it through their school lives?

The Good – The bunker where the Fifth Force meetup looks cool, with its neon wireframe aesthetic offsetting the rest of the show well. So does the alternate dimension where the baddies show up, with a monochrome palette helping make it feel more alien.

The Bad – The regular highschool parts of this one girl wanting to make school mysteries fall flat, as do the transformation sequences which do that bad anime habit of toning down the brightness. And why some of the girls in their transformed states are down to bra and panties is beyond me. Add in another cliché of an amnesiac as one of our lead five, and some really boring enemy designs, and it’s hard to get motivated for anything.

The VerdictDROPPED

I don’t feel this show’s terrible, but its normal people parts drag, and the supernatural elements and combat don’t feel exciting or energetic or… well, anything. At moments when the show should be firing on all cylinders it just feels lifeless, and tropes of fanservice and memory loss really don’t help. There’s a decent show in here, but it’ll never get to show itself.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – A-1 Pictures (Fairy Tail, Sword Art Online)
Director – Kouichi Hatsumi (directorial debut)

Sequel to 2011’s first season of Blue Exorcist. There are humans and there are demons, and the humans who hunt demons are exorcists. Rin is unique, being human born but also the son of Satan, and swears to slay his father, becoming an exorcist. But now his secret is out, can he survive the wrath of his friends, let alone his foes?

The Good – This episode did a good job of refamiliarising viewers old and new by keeping the focus on the lead brothers Rin and Yukio, and using flashbacks to the old series only in brief to show what happened but not to flood the viewer with unnecessary detail. Oh, and it set up the new plot and covered plenty of ground too.

The Bad – There were a few missteps, like the obvious villain and a random Rin outburst at his brother. Also with no real fight scenes, the show didn’t convey its shōnen elements at all. Plus from an animation perspective, it does enough, but never really goes the extra mile, even in critical moments.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

I wasn’t sure how this’d turn out, having zoned out of the Blue Exorcist manga a while back, but it did a solid job of getting me up to speed with the critical elements and directing the plot of this season. It never manages to showcase anything that makes it a top-tier shōnen, but it nails all the fundamentals and doesn’t feel like it’s missed a beat in its absence. Not bad at all.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – Deen (Konosuba, Sakamoto)
Director – Mamoru Hatakeyama (Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Sankarea)

Second season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Ten years have passed since Yotaro was released from prison and begged rakugo master Yakumo to take him on as his apprentice. Having earned recognition in the community, Yotaro now seeks to help keep rakugo alive in the ever changing world.

The Good – Characters have a lot of depth and personality, thanks to smart writing and brilliant facial expressions, perfectly showcasing emotions. The show has also clearly progressed since the first season (ten years so, in fact) but never confuses the viewer, and keeps the focus on the main cast and premise. There’s a ton of other neat little touches too, like the show opening with a rakugo play about the first season.

The Bad – There’s the occasional weird cut, where you feel like you’ve blinked and missed a scene, and the show’s palette is never what you’d call vibrant.

The VerdictKEEPER

Rakugo was one of 2016’s biggest success stories, and even the show can’t seem to quite believe it’s been given a second season one year later. Much like the original, this is a tour de force of showcasing emotion and character depth, and this episode highlights how much has progressed. I mean, the main couple has a child. How many anime do you know where that happens? A master at handling both the bigger picture and the minute details, this first batch ends on a high with a definite keeper.

Well, good to see I’ll be watching at least one show this season. Though as Twitter keeps reminding me, it’s almost time for the return of Little Witch Academia. Part 2 will contain my impressions on that and plenty more, like the Tales of Zestiria and Yowamushi Pedal sequels, so look forward to it~ Oh, and please let me know what you think of the shift in format for these impressions!