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Apr 30

Spring Anime 2017 First Episode Impressions – Part 3

Those two can pull off literally anything

As April comes to a close, what better way to spend your bank holiday weekend than watching anime? Well, besides playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Anyways, this third part of our spring first episodes coverage features shows that started on April 6th and 7th.

That lineup includes the return of another child’s idol show in Aikatsu, the latest series of the always controversial Berserk, a new ye olde Japan inspired series in Kabukibu, and if all that wasn’t enough, then Renai Boukun brings back that most classic of anime personality tropes, the yandere. So I’d click that link to read more before she stabs you or something…

Aikatsu Stars! 2nd – Hoshi no Tsubasa

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – Bandai Namco Pictures
Director – Teruo Satou (episode director on Tales of the Abyss and InuYasha)

Second season of Aikatsu Stars. Having established themselves as the top idols at Four Star Academy, Yume and the rest of S4 now face a new challenge in the global school known as Venus Ark, and its perfect idol leader Elza. Faced with the best in the world trying to scout Yume and other top idols the world over, how will she react to this new challenge?

The Good – You can tell time’s passed, with each of the lead girls having a bunch more responsibilities both at school and maintaining their individual brands. The costume designs for S4 also do a good job of looking stylish but not ridiculous. Elza trying to ensure perfection by essentially recruiting anyone and everyone with talent makes for a good arc too. There’s some good comedy moments, and I liked the ending sequence.

The Bad – It’s an idol show so there’s still meh CG performances and forgettable J-Pop songs. Some of the writing also seems to flip during the episodes, with characters saying one thing than later doing another. It’s also surprising how some characters almost roll over and give up in the face of the more talented Elza, which feels contradictory to the show’s message.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

What a difference a year makes. Maybe it’s because this episode isn’t another origins story but one midway through a character’s journey that I warmed to it more, but there was a charm and radiance to this that so often feels missing from these types of shows. I have no idea how well it could sustain that for a year or more, but as a season debut, Aikatsu done good. Better than PriPara, for sure…

Tsuki ga Kirei

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – feel.
Director – Seiji Kishi (Angel Beats, Persona 4)

aka as the moon, so beautiful. Akane and Koutarou have just entered their third year of middle-school, entering the same class and noticing each other for the first time. Apparently this is also going to be an examination of relationships and adolescent romance in the most volatile period of our lives. Looked like plain old awkward romance to me…

The Good – I dug the artstyle. There’s nothing special about it, but it feels pleasant, with no mad colour palettes but at the same time not being washed out. And kids… acted like kids. No overexaggerated lolrandom humour. In fact, there were some really human touches, such as the girl having a stress reliever and the boy awkwardly trying to deal with puberty.

The Bad – Bland. So bland. There was no energy to anything as both characters are submissive and nobody else steps in during the episode. Makes it hard to latch on or care about either of them. Also some shots combined CG character models with traditional animated ones for next to no reason, and they stuck out like a sore thumb.

The VerdictDROPPED

It’s cruel to be this dismissive of a shot that really doesn’t make any missteps, but it does nothing to draw you in either. There are plenty of more engaging romance orientated series out there, lord knows there were several on my Best of 2016 list. One for diehard fans of the genre only, to be frank.

Clockwork Planet

Length – Regular (24 mins) ~ 12 eps
Studio – Xebec
Director – Tsuyoshi Nagasawa (MM!, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san)

Naoto is a wannabe clocksmith, which is convenient considering the Earth died a millenia ago and was rebuilt using gears. One day, a broken automata doll would crash into his house, and after repairing it, his fate would be changed forever.

The Good – The gear motif really does run throughout the entire being of this show, incorporated everywhere into the resident’s lifestyles. The humour about Naoto being a pervert because of his gear obsession worked well too. Some of the side cast were interesting too, like Marie, a company owner and master repair women (and child, because anime) and her antagonistic relation with the military.

The Bad – Sadly, regular fanservice elements popped up a bunch in the second half. The narrative doesn’t make a lot of sense in this first episode either. A company dropped an automata so they pass the problem to Marie but at the same time there’s a military repair job or something and also they want to kill off Kyoto and it’s 20 million residents for some reason. Oh, and there’s probably too many gears. Doesn’t make sense half the time.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There’s definitely some intriguing elements to the setting, not least this underlying theme that after a thousand years the Earth needs some repair work done, but it makes no sense that nobody else really understands gears and that they haven’t just… built over them. With concrete. Also the needless fanservice elements further drag this show down. Maybe it’ll turn out good, but I think it’ll distract itself too much.

Kabukibu!

Length – Regular (24 mins) ~ 12 eps
Studio – Studio Deen
Director – Kazuhiro Yoneda (Yona of the Dawn, I’ve Had Enough Of Being A Magical Girl)

Kurogo Kurusu loves the performance art of kabuki, so decides to make a club for it when he joins highschool. However he’ll need at least three more people to join to make that dream a reality, and convincing the youth of today to take part will be quite the challenge, let alone what awaits when the club is formed…

The Good – Kabuki certainly isn’t an overplayed theme in anime, so helps this show stand out. This episode also did well at introducing the characters who will inevitably join the club, leaving hints to their backstories and then moving on to the next. The ending was also cool, and some of the character designs looked good, but Clamp was behind them, so.

The Bad – Even with a different theme, this is still fundamentally another highschool club anime. And kabuki, certainly what they showed, doesn’t lend itself as well to masterful performances and vocal nuance like, say, rakugo. There’s also the second in command character being dull as ditchwater, and a few weird writing choices (the main character loses a tooth, but then it’s back the next day).

The VerdictUNLIKELY

The obvious comparison is Rakugo, which knocked it out of the park in both seasons, and this has nowhere near the level of depth of nuance of that series. That’s not to say this series drops the ball, but there are a lot of beats you’ve seen before many a time. And honestly? The kabuki performance at the start sounded like someone strangling a cat, which kinda put me off wanting to see them reach that… pinnacle…

Renai Boukun

Length – Regular (24 mins) ~ 12 eps
Studio – EMT Squared
Director – Atsushi Nigorikawa (Anitore EX and XX)

aka Love Tyrant. Guri is a cupid angel wielding the Kiss Note, a book that ensures the couples who are written in it will kiss and get married. One day she accidentally writes Seiji’s name in there, and while trying to work out who to pair him with, ends up create a three-way between him, her and his yandere admirer. And that’s just the start of this harem…

The Good – It kept the comedy and ridiculousness up throughout, knowing when to tell a more serious joke and when to poke fun at itself. Akane plays her role of yandere well, and having Guri’s immortality passed onto everybody in the harem helps tell jokes and stories you just couldn’t otherwise.

The Bad – Inevitably, there is fanservice, there is nonsensical humour, there is a childish attitude towards love, kissing and relationships, and there’s yuri incest, because of course. It’s not gonna evolve into anything meaningful either, as if it starts getting stale they’ll just add another gal to the mix rinse repeat ad infinitum.

The VerdictDROPPED

A small part of me can appreciate that this knows what it wants to be and goes all out to be it. “Holding back” is not in this show’s vocabulary. Sadly it is just another harem fanservice comedy show in an industry fairly full of male pandering. But hey, at least it’s not trying to hide that, I guess…

Hinako Note

Length – Regular (23 mins) ~ 12 eps
Studio – Passione
Director – Tooru Kitahata (Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate, Haganai Next)

Hinako is a girl from the country who sucks at interacting with others, freezing up and becoming scarecrow-esque. However, her love for theatre means she moves to a school in Tokyo and boards in a bookshop meets café, forming a theatre troupe with the residents there.

The Good – They got a lot of mileage out of the scarecrow joke. The artwork was cutesy, and the show gave segments to introduce each of its main cast and their loves and quirks. The opening song did some cool things by having multiple singers too.

The Bad – They make a joke about one character looking of elementary school age, but they all do. They overplay the whole scarecrow awkwardness card too, with loads of people randomly staring at Hinako for no real reason. There’s also a needless bath scene, weird act breaks with an out of context notebook and one of the girls eats books… for some reason…

The VerdictDROPPED

I’m reminded a little bit of “Is The Order A Rabbit” if you can remember that show. In that it’s cutesy fluffy rubbish with characters who look 3 to 5 years younger than they’re supposed to be. I see this series being benign anxiety and soft humour that never really gets you invested or caring about the cast. But hey, at least that pictured scene got one laugh of me.

Ani ni Tsukeru Kusuri wa Nai!

Length – Short (3 mins)
Studio – Fanworks
Director – Rareko (Yawaraka Sensha, Gakkatsu)

Two siblings from China, the elder brother and the younger sister, this series based on a popular Chinese webcomic focuses on their everyday life and disputes.

The Good – I could never quite tell if it was CG or some weird artstyle, but I dug the visuals. It looked unique in motion, and worked well to produce interesting freeze frames. The two titular siblings were alright characters too, believable in their affection and anger at each other.

The Bad – There’s nothing here you haven’t seen anywhere else in comedy involving siblings. One says one thing. The other says another. Cue hijinks and fighting but they care about each other in the end. Also for some reason they both liked repeating phrases as if the audience didn’t get how hilarious it was the first time.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

It’s well made, but it’s also entirely unoriginal besides the aesthetic and there’s no reason to care about the plight of brother or sister. It is a short though, so if you wanna check it out, it won’t be a big timesink.

Twin Angel BREAK

Length – Regular (23 mins)
Studio – J.C. Staff
Director – Yoshiaki Iwasaki (Hayate no Gotoku, The Familiar of Zero)

Part of the Kaitou Tenshi Twin Angel franchise. The latest generation of Twin Angels have arrived in the form of Meguru, who’s always wanted to be a hero since she was young, and Sumire, from a veteran family of heroes but with no interest in it herself. Can the Twin Angels protect their friends, beat the baddies and save the day?

The Good – I liked the cast and how they played off. The leads are a novice who wants to be a hero and a veteran who doesn’t, and even the supporting characters have their own charm. Heck, one of them’s a crossdresser and nobody gives him any sass for it whatsoever, which is awesome. The show does a good job of looking cute and colourful without going too far as well.

The Bad – This ticks a lot of the magical girl boxes without offering much new in itself. Heck, the villains just feel like a kiddy version of Shocker (Kamen Rider). The writing also has a “and now this happens” habit which means none of the characters really work for anything. And there’s even a few fanservice shots thrown in because of course there are.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

While there certainly was some charm to be had here, not least from lead girl Meguru’s enthusiasm and the sidecast’s supportiveness and friendship, there’s little outside of that to keep you around. The end of the episode makes out that the baddie they beat was the strongest of them all, which also kinda kills any stakes. If you want a simple magical girl show, sure, this is fine, but if you’re after anything more, look elsewhere.

Seikai Suru Kado

Length – Regular (24 mins) ~ 12 eps
Studio – Toei Animation
Director – Kazuya Murata (Fullmetal Alchemist movie, Suisei no Gargantia)

aka KADO: The Right Answer. One ordinary day in Japan, a giant cube, 2km in size, appears above a Japanese airport, landing and absorbing one of the planes in the process. How will Japan react to this new otherworldly presence, especially when a mysterious figure called Yahakui zaShunina emerges with one of the passengers.

The Good – The giant cube was fascinating visually, not just for the otherworldly theme but also the way it distorted the passengers as it was absorbing them. All the characters also exhibited actual intelligence, with events playing out kinda like how you would expect them to instead of anime nonsense. Good storytelling and pacing helped make the emergence cliffhanger really hit home too.

The Bad – Not sure why we’re using CG for everybody, makes some movements look awkward as heck. One of the characters also had a fairly childlike personality at times which contradicted everyone else around her. The show also had a habit of introducing cast members with about a dozen titles which is all meaningless information.

The VerdictKEEPER

A fascinating alien invasion show (I assume, anyway) that looks like instead of going down the shōnen path will be embracing communications and science. While there were a few flaws like the CG visuals and lack of strong personalities, the storytelling and pacing more than made up for it, and had me wanting more as the credits rolled, which is a good sign. Looking forward to seeing more.

Berserk 2017

Length – Regular (24 mins)
Studio – Millepensee
Director – Shin Itagaki (Devil May Cry, Teekyuu)

Sequel to Berserk 2016. Guts’ journey of revenge continues, as he looks to settle the score with his former friend but now a demon Griffith, while being hunted by demons and bringing death and destruction wherever he goes.

The Good – Guts and Griffith still cut imposing figures through actions, speech and personality. This episode felt like genuine progress too, with Griffith making his move, and Guts getting to fight something that wasn’t just fodder.

The Bad – The animation… I’d say it’s a little better than last year, but still some pretty uninspired CG, combined with misguided editing and sound direction making fights sound weird and shots not match up. This episode also makes no attempt to refresh viewers, if anything building up the hunt for Griffith then just revealing he’s standing around feels hugely anti-climatic. Also no character outside of those two adds anything to the episode, including lead girl Casca.

The VerdictDROPPED

If you’re dead set on Berserk, wait for the BluRays, as they improve the animation quality a little. But even looking past that, I just have more fundamental problems with the show, that everybody else is just a bit character to the destined fight of destiny. Maybe the manga’s better, but I always get the feeling that the films covered the best parts of the series, and that the wait for more animated content, regardless of quality, wasn’t ever gonna be worth it…

Nobunaga no Shinobi ~Ise Kanegasaki-hen~

Length – Short (3 mins)
Studio – TMS Entertainment
Director – Akitarou Daichi (Fruits Basket, Now and Then Here and There)

Second season of Nobunaga no Shinobi, aka Ninja Girl and Samurai Master. Chidori is a ninja girl working for Nobunaga who helps him carry out his plans to unite Japan and bring about a new era of peace.

The Good – This series has charm out the ass. All of its cast manage to be endearing while true to their real life personalities, and the show knows when to transition from jokes to serious and back again. The simple animation style suits the content too, and the jokes tend to hit home a lot of the time.

The Bad – It can be a bit too short and simple at times, as well as throwing away some serious moments or a chance to build a character’s personality in favour of another gag. This episode also does next to nothing to teach you about the first series.

The VerdictKEEPER

Yeah, I’m biased, as I watched the first season and liked it, but this is one of the few shorts I actually enjoy. It does a good job of being turn to the story of Nobunaga while playing around with elements for its own gain, and the end result doesn’t fail to put a smile on my face. It’ll never be a masterpiece, but it’s fun, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul

Length – Regular (24 mins) ~ 24 eps
Studio – MAPPA
Director – Keiichi Satou (Asura, Karas)

aka Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul, second season of Rage of Bahamut. In an era where religion is no longer as prevalent among the masses, humanity enslaves demons and fights angels. In this new era of war set 10 years after the planet avoided annihilation at the hands of Bahamut, what does the future hold for all of us?

The Good – Nina’s an interesting lead character, full of energy, insanely strong and capable of carrying a scene on her own. There’s some good directorial work here too, with a few interesting shots from a character’s point of view or smoothly transitioning from rooftops to streets during a chase.

The Bad – I have no clue how related to the first season this is, as the show never really lets on about any consequences. There’s a fair chunk of ridiculousness here too, from Nina’s over-reactions and her transforming into a dragon when she crushes on someone too hard, to sending giant titans to subdue one guy running around in a city. Also, little is actually made of the whole angels, demons and humans setting, at least in this episode.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

I have heard good things about the first season of this, and certainly there’s some strong elements here in terms of visuals, but I don’t see a whole lot of narrative depth on display. A lot of the episode’s big moments just left me bewildered rather than intrigued, and while Nina does bring energy to scenes… she also overplays that into ridiculousness, which takes me right back out of them. Guess this one ain’t for me.

Well thing are starting to look up, with two more keepers in Kado: The Right Answer and the second season of Nobunaga no Shinobi. And we’re past the halfway point now, with only 20 or so shows left. So join us next time for Natsume’s Book of Friends, Kyoukai no Rinne and the latest work from Mr Oreimo… Ero-manga-sensei…