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Jan 07

Winter Anime 2018 First Episode Impressions – Part 1

Happy New Year to you too

While I don’t do my Top Ten list until March, I can safely say 2017 is a hard year to top, with numerous great shows making for compelling viewing. How do you follow a year which had Made in Abyss, Rakugo and Land of the Lustrous, to name but a few?

Well this season’s gonna give it a damn good go, with the highly anticipated KyoAni show Violet Evergarden waiting in the wings. But in the meantime, we’ve got adaptations of renowned yuri manga Citrus, renowned horror manga Ito Junji Collection, and… whatever the hell Pop Team Epic is. So let’s anime!

This part includes… citrus // DEVILMAN crybaby // Grancrest Senki // Hataraku Onii-san! // Ito Junji: Collection // Pop Team Epic // Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san // Sanrio Danshi // Slow Start // Sora yori mo Tooi Basho // Toji no Miko // Yuru Camp

Some housekeeping first though, as I’m slightly changing the way I do rankings.

KEEPER – A great debut that enthralls me and demands to be viewed. I’ll watch these shows to the end, for better… or worse. *looks at Flowers of Evil*

POSSIBLY – A show with promise, but lacking a spark somewhere to be a must see. Used to be my “reserve list”… except I watched like 5 shows from this category in 5 years. So now, after all the ep 1s are done, I’ll pick 5 of these to watch up to episode 3 to give them one more chance.

UNLIKELY – Has a few redeeming features, but mostly bland and uninspired. The old “if people really like it” class which again meant I saw none of them. Just one of these shows will be given a chance to win me over in 3 episodes.

DROPPED – Trash tier. Either through bad animation, writing or terrible anime humour and fanservice, I have no interest in this show at all. Of course, even here I’ve made some boo-boos, like Saga of Tanya the Evil and Classicaloid which went over fairly well. Whoops.

So yeah, the main change is half a dozen shows getting one more chance after I’ve seen all the first episodes, though there’s no guarantee any of those will pass that. Anyway, enough fluff, to the anime!

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka A Place Further Than The Universe. Mari wants to go on a grand adventure while she’s still young. Shirase wants to follow in her disappeared mother’s footsteps and go to Antarctica. Can highschoolers make it to the South Pole? So begins their journey…

Oh joy, the season starts with a “cute girls doing x” show. Thankfully “let’s go to Antarctica” is a bit different from the usual assortment of highschool club nonsense. We also focus mainly on the two lead characters, instead of trying to shoehorn everyone in from the start, letting Mari and Shirase showcase more of their individual personalities. The former dreams big but wusses out of going through with those dreams, while the latter chases her dreams without hesitation but has been isolated because of it, so the two connect well when they inevitably cross paths.

This show also does well with the little touches. Most obvious are the sign gags littered throughout, but there’s some nice playing around with focus, and several good montages that fit in with the show’s adventurous vibe. The seeds are also nicely set for the third of the quartet to join, presumably sooner not later.

The main flaw is lead character Mari. While being paralysed by the fear of failure isn’t a bad character trait to have, it also doesn’t make for the most engaging lead, with the story piggybacking more off of Shirase’s desire, and Mari providing little more than a friendly face at this early point. And that’s before we get to the fundamental question of whether they’ll actually leave Japan or not…

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

A Place Further Than The Universe certainly evokes that adventurous spirit of youth, and the idea of standard anime characters in the frozen wasteland is something that I don’t recall ever really being tackled. It’s enough to make me curious, but not quite enough to keep me around.

Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles. Yep. Also there’s this girl called Yuu who wants to be her friend and keeps stalking her to ramen shops but she really doesn’t care to be with her and just wants to eat ramen.

This is a full length show. About a girl who loves eating ramen. And another girl who is the audience in to a girl who loves eating ramen. Sometimes the one girl will make some silly assumption and the other girl will lecture her on her ramen knowledge deficiency. Sometimes she makes a blissful face about eating ramen (not full on orgasm ala Food Wars though). And all the time she’ll tell Yuu to go away because they’re not friends and she’s frankly stalking her.

The most enjoyment I got out of this came from the two support cast, like Misa getting jealous of Yuu being totally into Koziumi instead of her. But after a minute of that it’s back to ramen and noodles and broth. The animation’s fine, I kinda liked the ED, Yuu’s optimism is nice, and yes, I learned a bunch of things about ramen, but… that’s it. There’s no meat to this show. At all.

The VerdictDROPPED

It’s been interesting seeing a bunch of food shows crop up in response to the success of Food Wars, but this one… isn’t good. It lacks any hook or substance, and would work far better as a short where you can sort of get away with having minimal narrative and continuity. But at a full fat 20 minutes… no more, please.

Yuru Camp

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka Laid-Back Camp. It’s about girls going camping. Rin’s a seasoned veteran, but tends to go alone, until one day a girl called Nadeshiko moves to the area and bumps into her. Combined with the camping club girls from their school, they discover a new side of camping as they head out as a group.

Three for three on “cute girls doing things”. Kind of funny to see one about regular old camping after the more epic scope of A Place Further Than The Universe too. This does feel a lot more grounded though, with a good chunk of the episode dedicated to lead girl Rin showing you how to actually set up a tent, build a campfire, and take care of yourself in the cold hard night. I dug the almost grandmotherly look she had going on for herself too.

She also plays off well with the other girl in this episode, Nadeshiko. While Rin is always very still and deliberate, Nade is always bouncing around and full of energy. There’s some great moments too, like the Mt Fuji reveal and the adorable pine cone voice, as well as a few nice background audio pieces, along with a curious OP that has all the credits in English. Sadly, the episode ends with both girls going to school as it dawns on you that this is a highschool girl club anime and oh no.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

Putting aside the whole “it’s a highschool girl club anime” and my many worries about how that’ll affect the show, this seems like a solid series. Rin is an endearing lead – calm and smart but not unsociable, and with a fairly unique appearance for an anime character. And the in-depth focus on camping makes it more interesting than a lot of similar shows, including the other anime camping show from a few years back, Yama no Susume. But my fears, including the potentially idiot black hole of Nadeshiko if the show goes down that route, means this goes on the reserve list. Still worth checking out for yourself though.

DEVILMAN crybaby

Length – Regular ~ 10 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnNetflix

Ryo reunites with his old best friend Akira because he needs his help tp stop devils and demons taking over the world. To do this, he forces Akira to become one of the damned, making him Devilman, a guy with devil powers but human heart.

What’s this? A true Netflix original anime, instead of something they got the rights for? And it’s a new adaptation of a show that aired almost 50 years ago? Interesting. Most interesting of all though, is the sheer amount of style this has going for it. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, it is directed by the man who did Kaiba, Ping-Pong and Tatami Galaxy, which were all stylised as fuck, but every shot feels distinct and crazy, beyond even the likes of Studio Trigger. From an animation standpoint, this is as epic as it gets.

The other striking thing though, is how much the show relies on that. The latter third of the episode especially revels in a 15 year old’s idea of maturity, with drugs, booze, sex, nudity, blood, violence and somebody ripping someone’s heart out. I was rolling my eyes at the whole scene.

That’s not to say there weren’t interesting narrative beats beforehand. You had Miki, nicknamed the “running witch” who seemed to have some kind of relationship involving playing the shadier side of society, and Akira who could showcase the emotion others hide, both of which I was far more intrigued in than what the show became with its lurid adult madhouse of a climax, which ended up overshadowing everything else the show brought to the table.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

If you’re a sakuga fan who likes animation tour-de-forces, then by all means, Devilman Crybaby is that and then some. But if you champion storytelling over visuals, this is a much harder sell, with the less interesting parts of the story and a child’s concept of maturity seemingly set to define the show. Not one I could get invested in, but with this being a Netflix series, it’s all out now, so if you want to binge or read more complete reviews from others, you can do so right now.

Toji no Miko

Length – Regular ~ 2-cour
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation

aka Katana Maidens. Evi beings called Aratama threaten the peace, and can only be beaten by katana-weilding shrine maidens chosen by divine swords. Every year a tournament is held to find prospective talents, but when one girl swings for the leader of katana maidens, it seems there’s more going on behind the scenes.

Generic cutesy girls fight with swords. One of them has a frowny face, the fiend. I’d love to go into more detail, but my brain switched off from the blandness of it all. None of the characters have any personality outside of “I frown a lot” for that one I mentioned. Even more inexplicably is when she tries to kill the leader of them all, our main character decides to help the attempted murder perpetrator escape for no reason other than she wanted to finish the fight they never had. Which in her mind justifies crimes, I guess? It makes no sense, and if the OP animation is to be believed, that’s the defining event that sets their paths, so… yeah.

Throw in bland animation and designs, a forgettable soundtrack, surprisingly dull fights and the desperate naming of various stances to make it sound like the show’s cleverer than it actually is, and… I’m struggling to think of positive things to say. I like the glowing mechanic that lets them swing to kill, not for points… I guess? One of the girls having a ten foot weapon is… different? Yeah I’m reaching.

The VerdictDROPPED

Poor animation, poor writing, poor execution, poor me for watching this. There’s nothing here you’ve not seen done better in literally hundreds of other shows, so give it a hard pass.

Hataraku Onii-san!

Length – Short
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka Working Buddies! Two cats from the same school on various work experience placements.

I loved the OP and ED of this. The former was string puppets ala Thunderbirds, the latter either clay or felt, I couldn’t quite tell. As for the actual episode? Ehhhhh. One cat was chipper, one more focused, and the company boss kept zoning out. That’s it, really. Heck, the fact they’re cats never really played into it.

What else to say? There were some gags of which you can probably guess half based on those character descriptions, some of which went on for a beat too long. It had the same simplistic style of animation a lot of shorts had. Business as usual in the 5 minutes and under category.

The VerdictDROPPED

The first bland short of the year (but definitely not the last). Working Buddies is inoffensive enough, but there’s no reason to choose this over any other short. You want cats in a short, why not go for Nyanbo? That’s got some charm to it, at least.

Ito Junji: Collection

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation

This series adapts numerous short stories from the master of horror manga, Junji Ito.

In 5 years of doing this, I don’t recall ever seeing a regular length horror show. Plenty of shorts, but not a full 20 minute one. Though considering this is done in an anthology format, adapting many smaller stories, I guess it’s closer to shorts than a serialised show. And having never read a Junji Ito story (horror manga has never been my go to), I was interested to see what he brought to the table. Sadly, the end result left a lot to be desired.

I’ve seen a bunch of people saying manga horror, which can do hyper-disgusting full-page panels to freak you out, doesn’t translate to anime, but I’d argue that the two stories of this episode just aren’t scary. One, taking up most of the runtime, revolves around some creep of a kid cursing random people on a whim, instead of targeting the family he despises, and him generally being a prick. Then there’s one minute on some girl who turns into a doll then a weird as fuck creature and oh that’s over. The latter might’ve gotten somewhere in the spooks department if it didn’t last literally a minute.

So yeah. I have no problem with the animation, which adopts a similar style to most of the other horror shorts which is well-proven by now, or the soundtrack, which has haunting ambience down fairly well. But if you’re versed with horror literature or cinema which tends to go for slow creeping suspense or jump after jump, you’ll find this show offers neither. Heck, it has more laughs than spooks, which kinda says it all.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

This is a tough one to place. The production values seem fine enough, and with this being various stories, there’s a chance that this episode just picked a lame one to focus on. Plus I get the sense there’s better horror to be had out of Ito. So I won’t outright drop this, but be warned, if you go in wanting to be scared, this first episode will leave you fairly disappointed.

Grancrest Senki

Length – Regular ~ 24 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Hulu & AnimeLab & Wakanim

aka Record of Grancrest War. Chaos and its minions infect the land, and the nation is at war after a royal wedding gone wrong. One Lord, Theo, wants to put an end to that era and protect the people, so Siluca, one of the strongest Mage’s around, decides to put his dreams into action. Whether he’s ready or not.

If you’ve seen any swords and magic show, then you’ll be right at home here, from the visual style to the narrative to the soundtrack. They all do the job just fine, though on the flipside, none of them ever go above and beyond to sell you on this show being anything unique.

This is perhaps most noticeable in the cast. Theo is a wet blanket, the most cookie cutter of “Imma save everybody” types, though that does help set the stage for the show’s one intriguing element, the mage Siluca (who keeps reminding me of Saber in terms of her design). Her drive to get stuff done and sassier nature make her happy to throw Theo into situations out of his depth, determined to realise his dream of making the world a better place, or kill him trying. Why she takes such a sudden interest in him though? Who knows, she almost 180s in their first conversation from being annoyed at him to becoming his personal mage.

That’s from the only writing blip either. Nobody seems to follow any kind of logic. A demo devours the leaders of both nations at a peace wedding, so naturally they go back to fighting each other and not Chaos. Theo nicks the arm of one of a group of bandits, so they all flee. Several people break mage contracts in the same scene, but only the one gets punished, while our heroine gets rewarded. Combine that with limp action scenes and bland enemy designs, and it’s hard to muster any real enthusiasm for Grancrest.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There is some potential here, mainly from Siluca throwing Theo into situations he’s not remotely prepared for, but it’s hard to see this rising above anything more than another generic medieval fantasy style show, which isn’t exactly an underpopulated genre.

Sanrio Danshi

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka Sanrio Boys. It’s a show about highschool boys who like cute mascot characters such as Hello Kitty, and how they overcome their embarrassment of it. No. Really. That’s it.

Alarm bells were ringing when the show opened up with a flash forward to the end state and it’s just that they’re all friends and performing a play together. Though when your premise is what Sanrio Danshi’s is, maybe having an ending that low key shouldn’t be a surprise afterall.

That being said, there’s nothing inherently bad here. I like some of the character designs, and I certainly didn’t dislike any of the main cast, even the fairly bland lead. Said lead even gets a “liked cute things until I was bullied” backstory that ends with lifelong regret from turning his back on his childhood ways. There’s some solid humour, a nice bright palette, and even a toy that reminds me of good old Wooser. It’s a silly concept, sure, but the execution is far from bad.

But that loops us back to the problem, which is the core premise. I can’t see how anything compelling is going to come out of some guys accepting they love plushies and pink, no matter how many times Hello Kitty appears. And beyond that? It’s just another slice of life show, plain and simple.

 

The VerdictDROPPED

A harsh ranking, sure, but there’s nothing to the premise. I struggle to even see how this became a show. They learn to accept they like cute things and become friends, the end. It’s fairly well made fluff, but fluff nevertheless.

citrus

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation

When Yuzu transfers to her new school, she’s in for a shock as her gal ways aren’t tolerated in the slightest at the prestigious academy. What’s more, the student council president is the daughter of the man Yuzu’s mother is hitched to, making them stepsisters. How will she learn to live with someone her exact opposite?

Well spoilers. this is a renowned yuri manga, second only to Girl Friends in terms of popularity, and the opening of this shows the two tongue kissing, so I’ll give you one guess how it ends. Though speaking of tongues, it is nice to see more shows in the last year or two be more comfortable with that instead of the childlike innocence of so many anime relationships.

Back to the show. The narrative seems to be following a fairly normal opposites attract template. Yuzu is a full on gyaru obsessed with fashion and love, while Mei is from a dignified upbringing, set to take over the school the show takes place at when she’s older. And then there’s the other holdover seen in a lot of yaoi shows, which is that the tone can get a tad rapey at times. Mei in particular forces herself on Yuzu several times, and while there’s an in-story reason for it each time, it still feels a bit uncomfortable.

Outside of that though, there’s not a lot to talk about. Neither of the leads comes off as particularly endearing. The mother character is just there, and seems to have no problems with her new husband ditching the house before they even arrive. There’s a lady who looks like one of Japan’s drag queens lecturing Yuzu on appearances. The only other thing of note is a bit where Mei and one of the teacher’s are making out, but that has no consequences in this episode other than raising the kiss counter. There’s a few cool moments, like the one I used for the picture, but otherwise…

The VerdictUNLIKELY

I think my main issue with this is once you strip back the “oh hey it’s yuri” overlay, underneath is a fairly standard romance story, albeit one that maybe gets too forceful in its attempts to prove it’s a mature show where people kiss. It lacks the heart that Girl Friends had underneath, the interesting characters of Just Because, or the distinct themes of Scum’s Wish, so I don’t see myself keeping up with this one.

Slow Start

Length – Regular ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Wakanim

Hana enrolled into highschool one year late for some reason. How will this slow start affect her school life!? It doesn’t. At all. Sorry.

They’re highschool students? They look closer to elementary school age! Classic anime. Heck, Hana is meant to be 17, but looks about 11. Anyway, the supposed gimmick to this of her being a year behind everyone isn’t mentioned at all until the stinger, where it’s just a thought in Hana’s head. Meaning the entire show is just slice of life cutesy girls chatting about benign stuff. Except Hana’s socially awkward, so it’s actually the other three talking and her occasionally going “S-s-sure”.

Don’t get me wrong, those three have chemistry, and listening to them talk about their name origins and play off each other wasn’t soul destroying, but hardly a reason to tune in. Everything else is as typical as it gets, from the bland visuals to the generic music to the obligatory fanservice shots of Hana’s cousin, because why not.

The VerdictDROPPED

I feel it says something when the premise of your show, the thing that makes it unique, is a total non-entity. There’s a billion fluffy cutesy shows about girls talking and/or doing things. Heck, we’ve covered a few already, so I’d just stick to them. Any of them.

Pop Team Epic

Length – Regular? ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation & AnimeLab & HIDIVE

In this adaptation of a 4koma series, anything goes. Join the short and angry Popuko and the tall and caring Pipimi on a journey through everything otaku and beyond.

No doubt if you follow any weabs on social media you’ll have already seen these two on your timeline. Pop Team Epic is truly unique, a rapid fire series of skits that never lets up. One minute it pretends it’s some idol anime, the next it’s a video game reference, then a Shinkai parody, then Ghibli. It leaps from style to style, joke to joke, even making you wonder where it begins and ends. Well, until it actually does.

In a weird choice, the episode repeats itself halfway through, with different VAs (though to be honest, I didn’t notice until someone told me). I thought maybe it was going to be some kind of timeloop gimmick to further mess with people, maybe like Endless Eight many years ago, but no, it’s just a repeat. Which begs the question of why even bother to make this a full-length show if you can’t come up with the content to fill that runtime.

As for the humour itself, it’s all over the place. Sure, some of them got a wry smile or chuckle out of me (much to my surprise), with the format making me think of a kind of anime asdfmovie, but any enjoyment drained away on the second forced viewing. And in terms of the hit to miss ratio, Pop Team falls short more than it triumphs, at least to me.

The VerdictDROPPED

If you factor out the whole repeat nonsense, I’d class this as Unlikely. But then again, when you can take in the best parts of each episode by looking at images and gifs on social media… why watch the show in the first place. Sorry PTE, I appreciate what you’re going for, and know you’ll find an audience (the fact it’s streaming literally everywhere helps), but you ain’t for me.

No keepers? And only two reserves? Maybe I’ll get off lightly this season. Part 2 will hopefully be coming within the week, though I’m starting a new job so I make no promises. But make sure you do come back, because when we return its time for CARDCAPTORS A MYSTIC ADVENTURE, CARDCAPTORS A QUEST FOR ALL TIME~