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Jul 30

Summer Anime 2017 – Three Episodes Later…

Abyss Boy

First episode impressions may be done and gone for the season, but that only means the real test begins now, as I get to see how the shows I championed unfold over the coming months.

Half a dozen summer series stepped up this time around. From gamblers to spies, princes to pashas, ballroom dancers to orphan explorers… this season has provided an interesting variety of shows, that’s for sure, so let’s check in on them all three episodes later.

Kakegurui

For a show that truly idolises madness, Kakegurui sure becomes predictable real fast. Somebody approaches the lead girl Yumeko about gambling, which she instantly agrees to, they play a few rounds before she reveals that she’s known how her opponent has been cheating since the get go, and the match ends. That’s the plot of all three episodes. Oh, and “lead” guy Suzui is also there. No reason, he’s just there, as his usefulness as an outsider perspective has long since become unnecessary.

Having a narrative that’s gotten progressively shakier hasn’t helped matters. After an interesting game of voting roshambo in the first episode, we move on to two deck memory and… some weird version of roulette with swords in a cup. Neither of them can provide the same stakes or appeal, and having villain of the week opponents doesn’t help. The monetary bets are all over the place too, with Yumeko not having 20 million to bet in the second ep so having to loan money… then laying down a bet of 40 million in the third ep which takes place immediately afterwards despite having not made any money in the last game. Episode three also ends on a weird cliffhanger which’ll no doubt make far more sense in the next ep… but at the time is just meaningless.

And then there’s Mary. The girl who gets her comeuppance in the premier, the writer’s apparently have a hard-on for her suffering, kicking a girl while she’s down. This is a habit seen elsewhere too, as Yumeko goes fully mental in her moments of triumph, with the show failing to see how little intrigue there is in ridiculing somebody already defeated. Speaking of defeat, even Yumeko’s first taste of bad luck is portrayed almost as a joke, with her opponent suffering far more despite the 9 figure debut our lead is now in.

As for the show’s style, it’s still going strong, but toned back a little as you might expect. There’s less crazy faces now, making their appearance mean a little more, even if they don’t always make a whole lot of visual sense. Still, a few animated sequences look amazing, such as the one I pictured from episode two with Itsuki gloating at her seemingly imminent victory and how she can’t wait to tear Yumeko’s nails away to add to her collection. And the opening really does stand up as one of the best of the year.

There’s still plenty of time for the show to turn it around, but with the student council cast already shown, a “you can only fight the council when you’re in debt” rule introduced, and this being only 12 episodes… it seems fairly likely she’ll off one member each week until the final showdown with the president. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mary and Suzui will find something meaningful to do in the narrative. Maybe Yumeko will actually lose for real. Maybe the show won’t be so formulaic. But that’s an awful lot of maybes.

Knight’s & Magic

This is certainly a show that knows its goal and sticks rigidly to it. Ernesti, the lead, wants to build his own Silhouette Knight mecha, and so every action he does is focused towards that. Every. Single. One. Which provides for a lot of great moments, from a combat focused second episode slaying a giant magical beast, to a mechanical third one as he works to improve the Knight’s from a structural level, but very little in the way of actual character development.

Him having no problems coming up with designs not seen in their universe, such as twisting fibre’s ala rope instead of straight threads and recoding entire mechs so that he can use them, despite being too small to operate them normally, also makes everything feel like too much of a pushover. Sure, there’s a reason for it, with him being a reincarnated genius coder from our world, but the show always seems to dodge the question whenever anyone starts to press him on how a 12 year old can think this way.

The positive effect of all this is the show is always moving forwards, with fast pacing and clear goals. “I want to skip this class and get to mech design” “I want to pilot a Knight” “I need to build a new body to gain access to the engine designs” and so on. At times this can make it hard to keep up or fully appreciate what the latest breakthrough was, but the focused nature of the show makes it easy enough to fill in the blanks.

And when the show decides to let loose in the combat scenes, it feels great. The demon beast they fight in episode 2 looks fearsome, and Ernie’s subsequent rampage to bring it down really hits home what a potent force he’ll be when he finally gets his own mech, even if the fight has a mildly letdown ending. There’s some mech on mech action in ep 3 as well which is an equal delight to watch.

It all makes for a good start then, and with the close of the third showing there are enemies within as well as the hulking beasties without, there’s intrigue going forward. As long as Knight’s & Magic remembers to not have Ernesti win every battle, and to give the support cast something more to do than just rub their faces against his (not a joke) this’ll turn out just fine.

Princess Principal

I get now why the first episode of this show was so packed to the rafter’s with things to digest. Because it was probably also the last episode. See, that one was titled case 13, while episodes two and three are cases 1 and 2, and as such roll the clock back to before the quintet of spies had formed. Which reveals a lot of interesting relationships and details not on display further down the timeline.

Sadly it doesn’t feel like there’ll be any more fun tinkering with the chronology of the show ala Haruhi, but considering how at times Princess Principal gets a bit too convoluted and dense with its fast pacing and numerous details, maybe that’s for the better. Some of it comes across well, like the gradual reveal of lead girl Ange’s backstory, while some feels a bit tacked on, like Beatrice’s weird part mechanical throat.

That’s a theme that runs throughout the show, with plenty of strong scenes like a battle of wits between characters or Ange running across a plane thanks to her anti-gravity device (which ties into the nuclear energy equivalent the show has which it’s yet to explore), but also ones that leave you confused, like a drowning scene with weird cuts or how thick some passersby can be at missing the obvious for the sake of narrative.

Much like in my first episode analysis though, I don’t find the show’s flaws to ruin the experience that much. It’s clear there’s a lot of long-term narrative depth that should wash away the confusion in the minute, and now the cast (well, four of them, Chise has vanished without a trace) have been properly introduced, they’re more capable of carrying scenes through personality as opposed to role. Barring the series overcomplicating itself in later arcs, we should have a solid show on our hands.

Welcome to the Ballroom

It’s been a weird start for Welcome to the Ballroom. While the first episode did some great work setting up characters and the premise of dancing your soul out, the second and third have stumbled a little. More characters are introduced, at the expense of other’s screentime, but none of them are particularly engaging. Karen and Jinbo are clearly just bit-players, while Kiyoharu, despite being shown as a hardworking genius, has a stoic and aloof personality that distances you from him.

Sengoku is the only one left who keeps the show moving with his energy and bravado, from chastising the cast to throwing lead kid Tatara in at the deep end when the opportunity arises. Tatara, to his credit, gives it his all, with the show playing up how amazing he is at visually absorbing and replicating what other’s do, but how out of his depth he is beyond those copied moves. Which leaves Shizuku, the lead girl, who… is there? She’s a hardworker, wants to go pro yadda yadda, but has had little impact so far outside of being the gal both Tatara and Kiyoharu mentally dance with.

The narrative’s also struggling. A good chunk of these eps revolve around competitions, but give you no basis for how each one matters or works, further hammered home in the tailend of the third ep where Tatara is apparently able to sub into a national-level competition and nobody notices the change despite a different stature, hair colour and… well, dancing style. It all feels like unnecessary cringe and drama for a series that has yet to properly establish the basics. And speaking of unnecessary, there’s a few fanservice shots in both these eps, which is just depressing.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though. With Tatara having semi-proven himself, it seems likely other cast members will now take him more seriously, letting us get back to a more regular style of sports anime progression, and the likely battle between Tatara and Kiyoharu could work well for developing both of them and Shizuku. Plus this show still has a flair for good looking stills and nice musical pieces which help carry it through its weaker moments.

My hope for Ballroom is that, in the long-term, it turns out well. As a 24 episode series, it certainly has plenty of time to fix the flaws I mentioned above. But as of right now, it’s not managed to live up to the hype it came in with.

Shoukoku no Altair

We’re still early days in the season, but Altair has done a lot to impress me in its opening arc. After the fairly self-contained first episode established the core cast and Mahmut’s personality as a naive kid promoted beyond his years, but still smart and hard-working and wanting what he thinks is best for Turkiye, two and three offer a chance to see the other factions in more detail and how they all interact.

Taking place in Hisar, the kind of gateway settlement between Turkiye (the good guys) and the Empire (the bad guys), there’s conspiracies, double crosses, interfaction disputes, espionage, threats and… well, to use an overused analogy, it’s like a game of chess unfolding before your eyes. Altair also does a good job of reusing the cast of the first episode, with Ibrahim being a childhood friend of our lead and the leader of Hisar, to dancer Shahra acting as an inbetween with some of the foreigners, able to speak their language fluently.

The end of this arc too alludes to the greater game, with Mahmut being stripped of his title due to his rash actions (even if they saved the day) and the threat of war growing ever stronger. It seems a little weird then, to have this be his cue to set out on a journey of self-evolution, leaving the city and thus potentially throwing away a lot of the cast and elements that helped make these first three episodes enjoyable.

Still, the show’s strong in other areas too, with some enjoyable fight scenes which also highlight the music at it’s best, as well as making good use of flashbacks to evolve relationships and explain details. So while it’s a shame to seemingly lose characters like Ibrahim, Shahra, Halil and Zaganos from the core narrative for the time being, I’m sure Altair will continue to grow and tell an interesting story.

Plus Iskender’s still around. Damn I love that eagle.

Made in Abyss

 

Made in Abyss has risen through the ranks to become the most popular show of the season, and it’s not hard to see why. Visually the show offers some truly gorgeous vistas, with backgrounds to die for. The city around the Abyss looks like a lived in place that has evolved over time and built upon itself, while the titular Abyss has a tempting air of serenity with darker undertones, that’ll no doubt become more pronounced as we head deeper in later episodes. It’s well directed too, knowing when to pan across the world, when to zone in on specific characters, and when to add little flourishes.

That’d mean little if the narrative wasn’t up to task, but this opening arc has set the stage perfectly. Where the first episode helped establish elements like the Abyss and robot boy Reg, we now have a much better understanding of lead girl Riko, and her determination to go into the Abyss to hopefully reunite with her mother who risked life and limb to give her daughter life. Thanks to some well-implemented world building, we also understand why it’s such a big deal, with an equivalent of diver’s bumps coming in the “Curse of the Abyss”, meaning Riko and Reg’s journey to the bottom can only be a one-way trip. Even lesser characters like “Leader” and Kiwi get time and scenes to show their personality.

And while there’s certainly some familiar tropes here, like the mysterious message motivating a character to action for Riko, and the amnesia and desire to know one’s origins for Reg, the production and execution ensures it all feels fresh and interesting. Heck, I was actually getting emotional at the end of the third ep, with cast members having to acknowledge they’d probably never see each other ever again, despite the fact I’ve seen similar scenes many times before.

There’s a ton more I can praise too. The show has a surprisingly mature attitude at times, with characters capable of talking about death, relationships and genitalia without the usual anime furore. Some of the background songs are excellent, though the amazing couple from the first episode sadly don’t reappear, even as the opening or ending. And Abyss seeds some background mysteries nicely, such as why all the skeletons are in prayer positions.

So, er, yeah. Made in Abyss is pretty damn great. And while in Altair it felt weird to abandon a lot of established elements, it makes sense here, with the journey into the depths we all knew was coming. There are no certainties in anime, but with this strong a start, Abyss could well be one of the AotY contenders. We shall see…

Man are we at the end of July already? How fast time flies. We will definitely have some stuff going up between now and the Autumn / Fall season in October… though as for what it is, you’ll have to wait and see… Stay tuned!