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Jan 14

Winter Anime 2018 First Episode Impressions – Part 2

Return of the Queen

After the first part of this season failed to bring any must-sees, how will this second selection fare? Well, considering it’s headlined by the return of Cardcaptors, I’m optimistic. That ain’t the only long gone show making a comeback either, as straight from the 00s we’ve got Basilisk! Man, between those and Devilman, this really is the season of old shows making comebacks…

This part includes… Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou // Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen // Gakuen Babysitters // Gintama.: Shirogane no Tamashii-hen // IDOLiSH7 // Jian Wangchao // Karakai Jouzo no Takagi-san // Kokkoku // Micchiri Neko // Mitsuboshi Colors // Ryuuou no Oshigoto // Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion The Animation // Yowamushi Pedal: Glory Line // Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen

Length – Regular ~ 26 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation

Sequel to the late 90s original. One night, Sakura dreams she is surrounded by clear cards, and when she awakes, all her Clow Cards have become transparent. And when random magical forces start attacking her all over again, how will she adapt to this Clowless world?

When you ask someone to name the magical girl series, you’ll get one of three answers. Some will point to the modern Madoka Magica for its grim look at the genre. Others will say Sailor Moon as one of the shows that defined anime in the west. And then kids from my generation will likely point to Clamp’s masterpiece, Cardcaptor Sakura. And now, roughly 20 years since that series debuted, she’s back.

This first episode is a whistlestop tour of everyone from the first series, though none of the appearances feel shoehorned in, and the show doesn’t dump a textbook of terms for new viewers either. If anything, the fast pace to cover all the cameos, as well as updating the magic cards from Clow to Clear, ensures the show can’t get bogged down with complexity in its debut. Plus this episode has many parallel’s with the original first ep, right down to Sakura’s first card being Windy. Sorry, Gale. Totally different.

It’s not all perfect. The narrative sends Li (Sakura’s rival / boyfriend) back to Hong Kong for literally one minute in a totally pointless bit of narrative. It’s also weird to see supreme magical beings be both clueless about non-Clow magic and just accept that their life’s work is gone. Plus there’s no real catch-up for new viewers, and the palette and aesthetic aren’t as crisp as the 90s show. Oh, and dub veterans are gonna be weirded out by everyone’s high pitched voices, a far cry from the Nelvana ones.

The VerdictKEEPER

Sure, I’m biased. This was a core piece of my childhood, the distinctly anime show airing alongside Pokémon and Digimon. But it hasn’t lost a step, and while Sakura’s card count may be reset, the bonds and character developments of the original have not, giving the show more character and life than most others. So, yeah, I’m watching this. And I think y’all should too.

IDOLiSH7

Length – Regular ~ 17 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

It’s Tsumugi’s first day working at her father’s company, so obviously she’s thrown in at the deep end and tasked with managing an all new idol group. Will she able to get along with all seven new stars and help them rise to the top of the industry?

A male idol anime? With a brand new female manager who has no experience? What a shock.You even get the obligatory rapid fire introduction where everybody’s name flashes by so quickly you don’t stand a chance of remembering a single one.

To give Idolish7 some credit though, it does try to flesh out a few of its cast. While some of them just have one-note quirks such as being foreign or grumpy, one of the cast talks about how becoming an idol is revenge for him, and another laments having auditioned many times and falling short in every one. Plus the story of this first episode sees the president try to force Tsumugi to just pick three, leading to a nice moment when she defies him and chooses all seven… until the “exactly as planned” reveal which sucks away a lot of the triumph of that moment.

Weirdly, there’s also no music or performance in this debut. The seven’s auditions all happen off-screen, and you never see them so much as do a few moves, let alone dance. That could be because this show debuted with a double episode and it’s all in the back half, but still weird to put nothing in the first 20 mins. Elsewhere, the palette’s bright enough, and all the characters look distinct, but there’s no defining moment where you can see why Tsumugi was so sold on them, which is more than a little anticlimactic.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There’s potential here, especially if the show leans deeper into giving all of its cast backstories like they hinted at in this debut. But everything else feels just like another idol series… actually, no, most other idol show’s have a song and dance, and this doesn’t even have that. Plus a lot of the cool moments and tricky choices get undermined later in the same episode, so I’m erring on the side of doubt with this one.

Mitsuboshi Colors

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

Meet the Colors, a three girl gang intent on protecting the peace and residents of their city. Hanging out together, they’ll solve mysteries, play games and annoy the townsfolk. But hey, they’re kids, and this is their childhood bursting with colour.

I had my doubts about this show going in based off the “girls hanging out with no real long term plot” premise. Lord knows we’ve all seen enough of those in anime. But I’m happy to report that Mitsuboshi isn’t like that. It’s closer to Yotsuba in many ways, showcasing the joy of childhood for those in the single digit age bracket.

And yes, that does mean often the cast are little shits. Sacchan talks about poop a lot. Kotoha has a sadistic side, enjoying stepping on people. And Yui… well, is fairly normal, but cries a lot, regularly winning the “aw, they’re only kids” vote. And it’s not just them, even the support cast shine, like cop Saitou who is usually on the receiving end of their mischief, and the attempted foil to their schemes.

The animation looks solid too, working well with the bright palette and a cast who actually change clothes, like they have a wardrobe or something. Splitting the episode into multiple skits also kept things moving along nicely and let more of the humour and charm shine. There were a few misses and odd cuts, like when they were searching for a cat and skipped straight to them presenting said cat to Saitou, but I was chuckling along more than I was eye rolling.

The VerdictKEEPER

A pleasant surprise, Mitsuboshi Colors radiates childhood glee out of every pore, from animation and palette to humour and characters. The premise and pacing should also allow it to come up with continually fresh scenarios and (hopefully) never drag. Roll on their next adventure.

Gakuen Babysitters

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

aka School Babysitters. WIth their parents dead, Ryuuichi looks after his baby brother Kotarou, until one day they’re taken in by the chairwoman of a school. In return for his board, rent and studies, Ryu ends up in charge of the school’s daycare, babysitting all the teacher’s children.

I forgot how anime loves to make toddlers the smallest things imaginable. Sadly it’s not a case of big personalities in small packages, because most of the 5 and under cast in this are bland and one-note. This kid is more boisterous, this one cries a lot, and this one does girly things because she’s a girl. That’s not to say all the cast are write-offs, I like a lot of the adults, who have real problems and life stories… so obviously, we barely see them.

It leads to the show feeling really bland, which isn’t helped by a generic animation style and a lack of weight given to… well, anything. You’d think events like having to deal with having no parents or Kotarou collapsing from fever would matter, but the show barely has the energy to give them any import before sweeping the problems away. Both brothers’s bawl their eyes out at the end, but it’s not a moment that ever feels like it was earned or properly built to.

There were a few cute moments among the mundanity, such as one scene where the kids did a name train song and dance, and the chairwoman’s relationship with the two lead’s could play out in an interesting way, but then you watch as all the kids who had previously ignored Kotarou suddenly become his best friends despite him never saying a word and realise this show’s never gonna learn.

 

The VerdictDROPPED

I’m sure some people, maybe actual parents, will get a rise out of this, but it’s too forgettable for me to even consider. Plus I’ve now remembered the other anime about toddlers I’ve seen, namely Gainax’s Hanamaru Kindergarten. It was just as meh. And if Gainax can’t pull this off, let’s be honest, no-one can.

Kokkoku

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnAmazon

Straddled with a crappy father and brother, and unable to get a job and escape home, Juri’s life sucks, and gets even worse when her nephew and brother are kidnapped for ransom. With no hope of saving them, her grandfather reveals an ancient family trick that lets them stop time. But will that be enough when they realise they’re not alone in this new frozen world…?

This is not an upbeat show. You’ll quickly cotton on to the fact Juri seems pretty locked in for a crappy life, even before the kidnapping happens. And then in their moment of triumph during frozen time, they get the shit kicked out of them. Combine that with even their tiny victories coming across as a big struggle, and you’ve got one heck of a downer debut.

Look past the depression though, and there’s certainly some strong writing. Plenty of elements get foreshadowed before they’re revealed, though some of that is in random scenes that don’t tie in to the rest of the story. You also get a good sense of most of the main family over the 20 minutes, with all bar the mother getting several scenes and lines, alongside establishing concepts like stopping time, teleportation and… whatever the hell the giant Chthonian abomination was at the end.

As for the animation, it’s a mixed bag, being kinda meh most of the time, but putting effort in to showcase time stopping, as well as having a cool OP with lots of contrasting colour shots (think like one of those four colour pop art pieces). The accompanying OP theme was great too, but the only standout song in the whole thing.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

A show of two halfs, for every neat shot or cool idea, there’s a truckload of misery and visual lifelessness. Which is even more frustrating as I want to root for lead character Juri, who comes across as someone who wants to make something of her life, but stuck in a world that will always stomp her back down, to the extent where mustering up enthusiasm to come back is hard. Best bet is probably to see how this pans out, and choose based off of that.

Jian Wangchao

Length – Half-Length ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming On – Pending

aka Sword Dynasty. Taking place in the last years of the Qin Dynasty, this follows a young man who will bring that era to an end and start the Sword Dynasty. Not that any of that comes across in the first episode. It’s just factions and swords.

If there is an elaborate world to this show like the premise promises, it’s impossible to tell, as the first episode is just a string of random people fighting. Any character who gets a modicum of time gets offed, and there’s a bunch of factions that mean absolutely nothing. Should I root for this kid? This girl? These scuba divers!? Oh, it doesn’t matter, they’re already dead. It’s a mess. That carries across to the chronology of it all too, which flows whatever way it wants to and moves characters and events as needed for that particular moment.

The animation isn’t that great either, though this was a Chinese web series, so I can get the overuse of stills. What I don’t get is the weird shot choices, like misplaced bandages, six people deciding to attack from the same angle (see above), and this mad obsession with heavy rain which isn’t where your budget should’ve gone. Though I imagine the OP song might’ve cost them a bit too, considering it’s the best part of the whole thing.

The VerdictDROPPED

Random people with random alliances attack each other randomly. Layer poor visuals on top of the narrative mess, and you’ve got a recipe for a show that ain’t worth it in any way. Next!

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion The Animation

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming On – Pending

Hayato loves trains, and has always wanted to ride the legendary Shinkansen. However, when his dad has to cancel on the dream trip, Hayato follows him and winds up getting involved in a decade-long battle against mysterious alien invaders, with him as the only one able to pilot the train mecha Shinkalion and save the day.

So take ToQGer and sprinkle a few Evangelion concepts over it, and bam, that’s Shinkalion. Which could make for a great show if done right, but here just results in yet another kid’s mecha series. Some child wanders into a world they knew nothing of thanks to an innocent act, is seemingly destined to save the world, and forced into their first fight with no training. There’s even a cute mascot character! It’s so by the books it’s painful.

The writing manages to fit in some idiocy amongst the clichés too. The staff make quips about how a kid couldn’t possibly pilot a Shinkalion, but the ED reveals all the pilots, including the two for the existing units, are kids. The dad loses his pass to this top secret national defense facility but is still able to get in. Moreover, so is a kid using just that said same pass! And of course, the ability to play a rhythm action game well makes Hayato perfectly ready to pilot the robo. Ugh.

I will give this show some props, I warmed to most of the cast, from the “enough of your shit” Mum to the “YouTube famous” female lead to the earnest but always knackered Dad, and even Hayato seemed alright as child leads go. The mech’s looked fine too… though considering they remind me more than a little of Gundam, that’s not surprising. But it’s hard to get excited for any of that with a narrative this uninspired.

The VerdictDROPPED

I could see myself liking some of the character interactions in this, before being bored to tears by the actual story, and going to watch a proper mecha or sentai show instead. And besides, I get enough disappointment from Kyuuranger already, without needing this to double the dose…

Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru

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

Second season of Touken Ranbu. No, not the recent ufotable one, the one before that. Based off a browser game, famous swords become pretty boys, and have to stop time from being messed with by evil forces. But when not on the clock, they have their own daily lives to lead too. And no, this came before Fate GO, despite the stunningly similar premises…

Back in 2016, I found that despite the flaws, Touken Ranbu had a charm to it, helped by its two lead characters. Then ufotable focused on the combat in 2017, and lost a lot of what made the original show solid. But now we’re getting a sequel to that 2016 original! Which opens by showing one of the lead duo has gone off to better themselves. Well shit.

What follows is mostly slice of life antics on New Year’s Eve, with most of the now dozens of characters getting maybe a line or two and that’s it. Hi, I’m still here, bye. Even the ones this episode focuses a little more on don’t really do anything, just chat, go “oh that’s a thing”, and carry on. We get a new fox and a pair of new swords, but even they do little outside of one action scene. Nothing matters, and there’s no depth to characters or interesting discussions. Heck, even that action scene comes and goes in mere minutes, and then it’s back to mundanity.

The one thing that does stand out is the character designs. As expected of a game where pretty art pieces have to sell you on parting with money, all the characters are a little overcomplicated in their outfits, but look pretty cool because of it. The animation is alright too. Not ufotable standard, but fine for a show not as obsessed with action. And there’s a chance the longer arc of the season which the show finally mentions at the end, where the remaining lead has to figure out how to evolve himself now his bestie has gone, could pay off and make for something interesting. Maybe.

The VerdictDROPPED

But I wouldn’t bet on it. With so many characters the show lacks focus, and the fact it decides to bring up a potential longer arc in the final minute hammers that home. A sad fall from grace for this series, but hey, if you’re a fan of the idea, I know a game you might like…

Gintama.: Shirogane no Tamashii-hen

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

Seventh season of Gintama, aka Silver Soul Arc. The Earth is completely surrounded by aliens from far and wide, just waiting for an excuse to blow the planet to smithereens. Will these be our final days, or can the Odd Jobs crew save us all?

Apparently this is the final arc of Gintama, which I can believe. The first half of this episode is all setup, establishing how the show has now reached universe impacting levels, and the subjugation Earth has been put under because of it. It drags on for too long, with too many rara speeches that are immediately undercut, but it does build the moment when Gin finally returns.

And then magically everyone remembers how to fight and kicks the alien’s ass. Huh. If I’d been watching a shōnen for years and saw this, I’d be kinda insulted at how pathetic and cowardly it made every non-main cast member look prior to the lead trio rocking up. Plus those action scenes which the show spent so long building to look bland as heck, with half the cast just flying through people as a still with a sword and action lines.

Then there’s the classic Gintama comedy, the usual lame mix of characters being morons, pathetic or just random, and I’d be lying if I said any of the cast came out as remotely interesting. The only thing this show really nailed was that climatic feeling I spoke of before, which is cool and refreshing for a series like Gintama… but that’s all I’ve got.

The VerdictDROPPED

There’s always been a load of people who love Gintama, and I’ve never got it. But maybe if the entire show had been more like this and less random hijinks, I could’ve sort of understood what they saw in it. Either way, if you’ve avoided Gin up to now, this isn’t going to change your mind, so instead let’s just celebrate the end of this curious piece of the anime world. Sayonara, Odd Jobs crew.

Ryuuou no Oshigoto!

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

aka The Ryou’s Work is Never Done! At the age of 16, Yaichi manages to rise to the rank of the world’s top shogi player. But one day, a nine year old girl he interacted with once shows up wanting to be his apprentice, and is able to push him to the limit in a friendly match. But that’s just the start of the chaos that is Yaichi’s life.

So I guess someone looked at how popular March Comes in Like a Lion was and wanted a piece of that pie. And clearly, people watched that series because of the shogi, right? Not the intense character dramas, obviously. And so that logic gives us Ryou’s Work, which is certainly the more anime of the two, if you know what I mean.

You’ve got a mostly female cast with plenty of eccentric nutjobs, the obligatory fanservice shot (of the nine year old, of course), crap jokes nobody would ever say (ever compared someone to an anteater before?) and national-level achievements trivialised as a bunch of school kids achieve them, with all the shogi titles held by people still wrapping their head around puberty. So yeah, like I said, anime.

There are moments that shine amongst the gibberish though. Watching Ai frantically thinking hundreds of moves ahead and seeing Yaichi going through genuine stress and slumps makes for more interesting viewing, and there’s some neat background touches, like famous players briefly mentioned at the start being in the background of later shots. Shame those glimmers of hope are few and far between.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

Despite the animeness of it all, I surprisingly didn’t hate this show. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no March Comes in Like a Lion, not even close, but between some neat touches in animation and narrative, characters looking their age and some potential for struggles about living away from home and being removed from a typical school life, it could turn out semi-decent. Or we could all just watch the second season of 3-Gatsu oh god why did I rank that as a Possibly and not a Keeper I promise I’ll catch up soon please don’t murder me.

Karakai Jouzo no Takagi-san

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

aka Skilled Teaser Takagi-san. Nishikata has one goal, to make classmate Takagi blush. All his attempts at embarrassing her always backfire though, as she is always one step ahead of him. Will he ever be able to succeed?

Going into this I expected a show that was either pretty cute or hella cringe. Thankfully it was the former. Some of that is down to some cool facial animation that manages to convey a lot of emotion even when nobody’s speaking.But on a more fundamental level, it’s because Takagi and Nishikata play off each other really well, making it clear right from the off there’s a long rivalry and friendship between the two.

The show doesn’t repeat itself either, at least not in this episode, with each of the three skits showcasing something different, from basic jump pranks to more elaborate ruses from both sides. That format also lets the show move at a fairly quick pace, though there was a tendency to focus a little too much on the overdramatisation of simple moments, making some scenes last a beat too long. Some of the twists are a little too obvious too, even for schoolkids. Plus if we’re being picky, how do any of the teacher’s never cotton on to Takagi being just as responsible for the mischief, especially when Nishikata screams out her name for all the world to hear.

And then there’s the other worry a lot of these series have, which is how long it can keep being inventive. In a show like Mitsuboshi Colors, the premise is broader in scope, so the three skits per episode format shouldn’t drain the well of ideas too fast. In a series like this though, where it’s more focused on two kids trying to embarrass the other, it’s hard to judge how long it’ll be before the cuteness wears off and the skits become stale…

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by a show, and that’s exactly what Takagi-san does. While I don’t see the show evolving too much, and maybe losing its luster over time, this debut is a real charmer by focusing on the natural feelings and back-and-forth interactions of its lead couple. In a word, d’aaawwwwww.

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou

Length – Regular ~ 24 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation

Second season of Basilisk, aka The Ouka Ninja Scrolls. Set 10 years after the original series in the depths of feudal Japan, the Iga and Kouga ninjas are still part of a never-ending war. How will both the older and next generations of ninjas survive and choose their sides?

If you’ve never heard of Basilisk, you’re forgiven, because it originally aired back in 2005. Heck, I only know of it from someone trying to sell me the manga, I knew nowt about the actual premise. Not that this episode does much to teach you, as you may have guessed from my vague as heck description up there.

There’s a long bit where ninja kids from both clans are scrapping in some training game, and some (presumably) actual story of a messenger trying to get somewhere but being attacked and saved by various ninjas… but nothing that actually explains anything. You can tell people are at war, but who’s good and bad, what they’re up to, and even what was accomplished in the first series, is a complete mystery. It’s not a bad jumping on point because of that, sure, but it also doesn’t convey any past events having an impact like Cardcaptor Sakura did earlier.

Even the two kids(?) who I assume are the leads based off what other characters say and the OP/ED imply get next to no time to speak or do… well, anything. The guy stares down another guy, the girl tells him off for chopping a branch off a sacred tree, and that’s it for those two. You don’t even see either in actual combat.

Speaking of which, the animation. During the fight it’s fine enough, showing various ninjas clashing off well using their various contrasting methods, but outside of that it gets sloppy. Most notable is an over-reliance on still shots like that one pictured above. Heck, there’re scenes with one second of animation before a dramatic still, and it just looks unfinished. Not a good image for a show finally coming back after over a decade.

The VerdictDROPPED

Maybe Basilisk is this great ninja war epic with lots of interesting characters and cool fighting techniques that rivals Naruto, but boy does none of that come through here. Combined with what I assume is a rushed schedule or lack of budget, and I can’t think of a reason to keep watching this or go back and see the previous series. What a letdown.

Micchiri Neko

Length – Short
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

A short show full of skits featuring the many Micchiro Neko!

That really does sum it all up. A bunch of rapid skits (each lasted maybe 20 seconds or so) where the punchline was usually “boy there’s a lot of cats”. Trying to play soccer on a field of hundreds of cats. Trying to score a goal when it’s full of cats. Finding a pot so they can fill it with cats. That’s it. That’s the joke, and that’s the show.

I appreciate the rapid pace, and the ED sequence was kind of cool, with the tune gaining more instruments and complexity as more and more cats piled into the credits, but… well, that’s literally all the notes I have on this show, actually. Go figure.

The VerdictDROPPED

The second cat-based short of the season and it’s just as much of a non-entity as the first. A one-note punchline that gets old in the first episode, let alone a season of it. Want bite sized kittens? Go watch Chi’s Sweet Home or Nyanbo.

Yowamushi Pedal: Glory Line

Length – Regular ~ 25 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

Fourth season of Yowamushi Pedal. Onoda and the rest of Sohoku continue to battle Hakone in the Interhigh, but who will come out the grand winner in the biggest bike race of the year?

Good thing I’ve seen the third season of this,because it drops you straight into the middle of the big race the show is built around. It made no sense as an ending point back in June, and even less as a starting one now. As such, the show can’t really take time to re-establish cast and motivations, having to dial in on four specific characters who are far from the best guys to carry an episode, much less a return one like this.

The show generates a lot of needless dramas too. Characters fall several seconds behind but catch up just by going hyaaaaa and screaming a bit. There’s a panic about the support team making it to the rest stop in time to support the riders, which is then forgotten about for the rest of the episode. There’s a third school which are built up as a threat, but do literally nothing. Poor lead kid Onoda gets jack all to do too. It’s a misfire of a season opener, for sure.

That being said, some of the charm that made the third season a keeper is still around. The flashbacks giving us valuable character insights, the comedic post-episode skits, and the animation helping to highlight the intensity, they’re all still around. Just a shame we couldn’t start at a more natural point.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

Maybe if this had aired straight after the third season I’d be less harsh, but this show wants to dive straight back in at 11 intensity with weaker characters and no build and it just comes off poorly.If you’re a long term fan, by all means carry on, but if you’re new and want to jump in, this ain’t the place to do it.

And that’s us past the halfway point! And with two keepers, the expected Cardcaptor Sakura, and unexpected Mitsuboshi Colors. Part 3 should arrive next weekend, including the long awaited KyoAni show Violet Evergarden. Man I’ve built that show up and up…