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Jan 21

Winter Anime 2018 First Episode Impressions – Part 3

Tooo sweeee-wait I made this joke two years ago

Time for the third batch of winter shows. We’ve got the long-awaited KyoAni series Violet Evergarden asking that age old question “what is love”, noitaminA’s newest entry Love is Like After the Rain, and sequels to a few popular shows from the past few years in Overlord II and Dagashi Kashi 2! Oh, and an SAO clone. What more could you want?

This part includes… Dagashi Kashi 2 // Dame x Prince Anime Caravan // Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku // Hitori no Shita: The Outcast 2nd Season // Kaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku 2nd Season // Koi wa Ameagari no You ni // Märchen Mädchen // Miira no Kaikata // Overlord II // Takunomi. // Violet Evergarden

Kaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku 2nd Season

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

Second season of Kaijuu Girls. We live in an era where the souls of kaijuu resides in girls across the land, allowing them to transform in times of need to save the day and protect us all from the evil Shadows.

I’m surprised this show got a second season, and on TV no less (the original was net only). Kaijuu Girls still looks like a web series though, with a chibi meets Flash style for designs and movement… except for one scene which I guess is where the budget went, as the show goes “full” anime for a transformation sequence, which just feels out of place, especially when it snaps back to the normal style immediately afterwards.

There’s little to talk about outside of the visuals though. None of the characters in this episode exhibited anything coming close to personality, and the plot was nigh-on non-existent, with the lead girl being “security” for an autograph signing, and doing a bad job as one of the fans has a fit. And then another random girl interrupts, does that transformation I talked about… and that’s it. Roll credits. We did get one cool joke about a fan saying he’ll never wash his hands again, but that was the one and only high point of this episode.

The VerdictDROPPED

I always feel like I’m harder on shorts, but this is the latest of many throwaway series that struggles to fill even a 3 minute runtime. Save yourself the effort, and use the time saved to make yourself a brew. It’ll be more worthwhile.

Overlord II

Length – Regular ~ 13 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation & AnimeLab

Second season of Overlord. Life in Yggdrasil continues for Momonga, as he and his NPCs turned loyal minions continue to try to find out why this expired game world lives on, and whether other players are out there.

Overlord originally aired in 2015, the year where I took a vacation from anime, meaning I had no clue of the premise of this outside of “the SAO genre show with the big skull man I think”.  And this episode… doesn’t really help new viewers like myself, with the first five minutes and the final two cutting to various groups and factions of which I have no clue who they are or what they’re doing in the grand scheme of things.

Even when the show leaps back to its main players, skull man Momonga and lewd demon girl Albedo, Overlord struggles to establish the past or future. We do get a neat scene with a newly discovered map being used to update us on the location and current actions of some of his minions, but little else. If anything, the episode is more concerned with having Momonga feel awkward… which gets old quickly.

On the visual side though, I really enjoyed some of the designs. It’s nice to see a wide variety of villain-esque appearances for the cast, from a brain tentacle monster acting as bartender, to a totally not a Prinny butler, even to the dog waitress. However, the animation itself was disappointing, with a particularly bland action scene early on managing to make killing a giant lizard in one blow look dull. And the soundtrack also fell flat bar a nice ED theme.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

This feels like an odd return for a show gone for two and a half years, neither trying to refresh lapsed viewers or particularly educate and entice new ones, like me. There’s some potential, and some nice looking characters, but they all feel background to the more anime antics the show decides to focus on. Disappointing.

Hitori no Shita: The Outcast 2nd Season

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll

Second season of Hitori no Shita: The Outcast. Chulan Zhang and Baobao Feng continue to try and figure out the mysteries of their past in a world of outsiders competing for the powers they wield. And with a big tournament on the horizon, are the two ready to fight for real?

So fair notice, the first episode of this that aired was actually an episode 0, to recap the events of the first season. And I ain’t complaining about that. Afterall, cherry picking various scenes and narrating over them should help to show the series at its best and prep people for the new season, right? Welllll… sorta kinda maybe?

This recap does cover the main beats, but struggles to go into any more depth. Frequently you’ll see a portion of a scene that talks about some revelation, but fails to go in-depth. If anything, you cotton on to Outcast’s habit of having characters say they know a little on some subject and then not actually say anything. You’ll also see other bland storytelling tropes, like “I was holding back my truuuuue power all along” and “I’m dead… not”. And the portrayal of lead Chulan in the scenes shown never makes him look anything more than a generic shōnen lead.

The show doesn’t rock in the visual department either, with a dreary palette, character designs that struggle to remain consistent, and slowdown in a bunch of busier scenes, such as combat or rain. The fact this is coming across in a summary that should show Outcast at its best is beyond worrying. And as for hyping you up for what’s to come? There’s mention of a tournament, but that’s it, with none of the intriguing mysteries promised at the start of the episode coming to fruition.

The VerdictDROPPED

When you can handpick the best of an entire season and still have an end result that feels like bland action show #95467, that speaks volumes. Maybe it was just a poor selection, but I’ve no inclination to find out for myself after this. Let this show drift back into the realm of the forgotten.

Dame x Prince Anime Caravan

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

Ani is a princess from the wee nation of Inako, surrounded by far bigger countries with far bigger armies. But during a signing ceremony to promote peace between nations, poor Ani realises the princes that surround her are quite the eccentric bunch…

I’m confused. Isn’t the goal of reverse harem shows to make the guys likeable? Maybe there’s one douche, but underneath he has a well-meaning heart? Because here, your four bachelors are a kid who can’t think for himself, one who can’t think of anything but himself, one who rates himself as a far better ladies man than he actually is, and one who… isn’t in this episode, but the OP / ED imply he’s a total shut-in. Sure, they all look pretty as heck, but their personalities are maddening.

Maybe that’s the point. Afterall, this episode seems determined to drive home how Ani (and her knight Theo) are the only people with a modicum of sense, and that everybody she will presumably have to interact with in the name of keeping the peace is utterly cuckoo. That could work as a basis for comedy, I guess, but they rely on the same “god these people are weird” line so much it’s getting old before this episode ends. Especially when she returns home to reveal her parents are also fairly out there.

Looking past all the characters, there are some good elements. The visual style does well enough with what it’s given, there’s some neat foreshadowing in the writing about the two far bigger nations sizing each other up, and Ani is genuinely likeable. I only wish the show focused more on that and less on “man, look at this nutjob, imagine having him as a prince, eh”.

The VerdictDROPPED

I can tell you right now if I was to watch a whole series of this I’d go insane from the idiocy of nigh-on every cast member. What’s more, you have better options for fantasy, comedy, and even pretty boys this season, so I’ll stick with those and send this one straight to the reject pile.

Violet Evergarden

Length – Regular ~ 13 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnNetflix

Most anticipated show of the season. War is over, and Violet Evergarden must now find her way in this peaceful world. A tool of battle, injured along with the major she served, she has a long roads to recovery, both physically and mentally, while trying to figure out the meaning of her major’s final message.

The only grand prize winner in almost a decade of Kyoto Animation writing competitions, Violet Evergarden certainly showcases a nuance and depth beyond a lot of other series, including KyoAni’s own back catalogue. While trying to figure out the meaning of love is far from a new concept, I love this show’s execution of it – a soldier desperately wanting to be of use to the one person who cared about her, living for his orders, and so being utterly lost in a world without him or war.

The depiction of mental anguish being buried away in Violet really does drive the whole show, as you see her throw herself into work, try to fit in and be honest to her new family (often too much so), and not really understanding what her words and actions mean, or that she can have agency herself (until the end of the episode, anyway).This can lead to the show sometimes feeling slow or maybe repeating a point too much, but it ensures every scene works to build the cast and narrative.

And of course, the animation is top notch. While not distinctive in the same way Masaaki Yuasa’s work is (Devilman Crybaby), KyoAni have always been masters of the minute, with tons of little details and touches, from hair to facial expressions to tensing of muscles and so much more you just don’t see from pretty much any other production. The soundtrack too manages to do great with sombre and low key tones, doing more to elevate emotions than a loud and gaudy score every could. Each elements builds upon the others, and ends up creating a show quite unlike any other.

The VerdictKEEPER

Kyoto Animation have produced many great shows over the years, from Clannad to Haruhi to Euphonium, but this one feels like such a leap out of their comfort zone, with nary a highschooler in sight.It’s a refreshing change of pace for the studio, and if the story continues to build upon what was touched in this debut, this could be their magnum opus. Netflix made the right call to buy into this, and I urge you to do the same.

Märchen Mädchen

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

Hazuki is a girl who loves stories, using them to escape all her real world problems and social awkwardness. So her dreams are made one day when she discovers that fantasy realm is a reality. Using a mysterious book that appeared out of nowhere, she crosses over to the other side, where her magical adventure awaits.

Oh. Right. Back to normal anime now that glorious fever dream is over. And boy oh boy, when you have five minutes of the lead girl running around naked with nothing but a book to censor herself, you know you’re back in the realm of anime hell.

What perplexed me the most though is the show’s shift in focus. The first half is obsessed with her having “Story Syndrome”, meaning Hazuki uses books as an escape whenever she gets anxious (which is all the time). But then the tailend involves her just entering some random magic world, which happens to use a book as a catalyst. I was expecting more of a journey through various genres of fiction or leaping into books themselves, but instead got just another stranger in a strange land show, where the lead character has super special powers and will no doubt change the world because of the prophecy yadda yadda yadda.

To complete the animeness of it all, we’ve got a selection of bland cutesy looking highschool girls with various hair colours. Genuinely, the most exciting thing visually was this one tomato that looked like it might have come out of Splatoon. And that really says it all.

The VerdictDROPPED

A series leaping from storybook world to storybook world could be interesting, but boy that is not what this is. With a bland and uninspired lead character, generic narrative you’ve seen many times before many times better, and the obligatory healthy dose of fanservice, you bet I’m dropping this shitshow.

Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku

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

aka Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody. Middle aged game coder Ichirou gets a shock when after sleeping off his latest crunch session, he wakes up in the world of the games he’s coding, bugs and all. After using one of his abilities to decimate a battalion of lizardmen and becoming incredibly overpowered, it’s up to him to find his way in this new yet familiar world.

Love it or hate it, Sword Art Online changed the industry forever, and those effects are still felt today, as this is the latest in the line of many SAO clones.Except most of them have a more… to the point setup. Here, there’s a good ten minutes of the real world that accomplishes next to nothing apart from showing that Ichirou’s a good coder. Heck, there’s a bit with a lost child which literally resolves itself seconds later.

Other shows also do better explaining why their characters are overpowered, from reprogramming the game to being a beta tester to God made it so. Here? He killed a few hundred lizardmen. That’s it. That makes him god-tier. It’s such a laughable way for the show to get to where it needs to be.

Death March really hammers home the game aspect too, showing loads of UI menus, maps and terms. It does work for the most, though the random UI pop-ups when he takes any special action get old quick.The rest of the show doesn’t look as stylish, with some badly animated running sequences, poorly coloured wyverns and general blurriness on many shots which just makes the whole thing look amateurish rather than stylised.

And this is before I get to the OP and ED. The former has a couple of neat shots, the latter a nice tune, and both show the other element of SAO clones, namely the incoming harem of girls. I mean, maybe they’ll have interesting personalities and provide a break from Ichirou’s endless monologuing. Or they’ll just want to sleep with him. Based on the writing quality of the rest of this episode, I know what I’m betting on…

The VerdictDROPPED

This first episode sets up so many red flags, from poor writing and execution of premise to lacklustre animation. And this is before considering the potential harem aspect that haunts almost every entry in the SAO genre. You know, if I wanted a new SAO, I’d probably just watch the cellphone one from a few season’s back. At least that was laughable in its absurdity.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

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

notiaminA show of the season, aka Love is Like After the Rain. Akira is a highschool girl working part-time at a nice little restaurant, where she has a crush on her 45 year-old manager for reason’s she can’t quite fathom. As the two slowly start to understand each other, will love bloom or will all those feelings be washed away in the rain?

If you enjoy shows where one character stares lovingly at another and all the various screen overlays and effects crop up, you’ll love this. After The Rain comes up with a bunch of fresh ways to convey that too, most notably with the “rain in her eyes” effect pictured above. In fact, the entire show does well visually, with some great panoramic shots, simple yet effective character designs, and plenty of interesting angles and perspectives to keep scenes varied.

The character work is a little weaker though. On the one hand, Akira is a great lead, a track girl who can no longer run due to injury (though that never defines her), who lives sort of in her own world, but still gets along well with others. But the portrayal of her feelings to her manager Masami is all over the place, as she goes from smiling to angry to intently staring to other mildly erratic behaviour. I get crushes make people act weirdly, but it never feels consistent. Masami also comes across a little flat in this debut, though very little of the episode is from his perspective, so I can let that slide.

There’s a few other weird writing blips too. In one scene he catches her sniffing his shirt… and nothing happens. Other characters say “he’ll be a manager for life” like that’s a bad thing. And then there’s times when the show tries to get too directorially ambitious, with one flashback scene interlaced with a present day one that doesn’t come off as well as it was no doubt envisioned, with the merge of the two being more confusing than co-existing. Luckily, at times like this it can fall back on the audiovisual elements, with the soundtrack in particular doing a great job, punctuated by good OP and ED ditties.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

A fairly straight romance show across generations, told pretty well with some great production values. Sometimes it doesn’t quite add up, from bizarre emotional responses to a mild over reliance on screen effects, but the well-meaning heart of After The Rain shines through all the same. It’s not quite at that must-see level, but certainly one to consider if you enjoy romance series.

Miira no Kaikata

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

aka How to Keep a Mummy. Sora’s dad is always sending him weird objects from around the world, but he’s outdone himself when he sends Sora a lil’ chibi mummy to welcome into the family. What hijinks will ensue for Sora and friends as they all look after their own mystical pets?

How To Keep A Mummy isn’t going to win awards for complex narrative. What you read up there is pretty much what you get, and Mii-kun, the mummy in question, is a runt of a creature, crying every other scene, helpless without human intervention, and a weakling to boot. Well, apart from the time he manages to open his own full human-sized coffin. Pretend that oversight didn’t happen.

To me, what’s more compelling is the human element. Sora is a nice lead character, not because he has a deep and complex personality, but simply because he’s earnest, hardworking, and cares deeply about those around him, including his new lil’ mummy pet. He looks after Mii-kun, a dog and his brother while his dad gallavants across the world, takes the various murderous gifts he gets in his stride, and keeps on trucking. I like Sora. Heck, even other characters like Tazuki and Kaede come across as alright in the minimal time they get.

The show also does a good job at portraying emotion in Mii-kun, despite him having no real features besides his eyes. He shivers, cries, moves his head the tiniest of fractions, and you understand completely what he’s feeling. So while this series may be bland in so many aspects, I whole heartedly applaud it for packing so much into something so little.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There’s not much to this show, with it boiling down to kids looking after slightly weird pets, hence my rating, but it does well with what it has. If you’re after a cute fix, this is so much better than myriad other series which try to be cutesy with highschool girls and assorted fluffy nonsense.

Dagashi Kashi 2

Length – Half-Length ~ 12 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & Funimation & AnimeLab

Second season of Dagashi Kashi. Kokonotsu, with his family’s sweet and snacks business foisted upon him by his dad, continues to try and get out of that role and back to his dream of being a mangaka, though Hotaru, from one of Japan’s biggest sweet manufacturers, continues to try and change his mind…

Dagashi Kashi was one of the first shows I covered in this current run of first episode impressions, but I’m sad to say time has not been kind to this series. Most notably, the change of studio has impacted the animation quality, with less distinctive character designs and reduced fluidity of movement. If anything, it’s like trying to remember the show from within an alcoholic stupor.

As such, everything’s exaggerated and more minor details have faded away. Plot? Pffft, that’s just Hotaru waxing lyrical on some snack product to Kokonotsu and his friends. The dad? Nah, he was in the way, so let’s just say he went to become a YouTuber. And of course, everything has to be overly dramatic because that’s exactly the kind of girl Hotaru is. Yeah. That’s definitely what the first season was like. Probably.

That’s not to say I dislike the cast of this show, it just all feels watered down and simplified, from designs to writing. And this is in a series that’s now shrunk to half-length, with episodes clocking in at just 12 minutes. It makes for a very bittersweet experience, as you reminisce on better days gone by…

The VerdictDROPPED

One day I will go back and watch the first season of Dagashi Kashi. And then I’ll stop and not bother with this one. A poor imitation of a show that once brimmed with style and flair, this will be nothing but a letdown for fans both old and new.

Takunomi.

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

Moving to Tokyo for the first time, Michiru chooses to house share with several complete strangers. While they’re all of different ages and careers, they can bond over the one thing they all love – alcohol.

Girls get drunk, the show. Well, not even that, one of them gets wasted and the others just enjoy good booze and good food. Some people talk about how some of these shows over the years are because the author has a big interest in x, so does a manga with cute girls who love that thing to get published. And I get the feeling that’s the case here. Which is cool in one sense in that if you want to know how to pour a good beer this show has you covered, but if you want actual plot or characterisation or anything that makes a show interesting, you’re outta luck.

Visually the show’s alright, putting plenty of detail into beer logos and pouring liquids, and maybe a bit too much into giving all the girls permanent blush lines as if they’re eternally flushed or tipsy, and there’s a few solid jokes, such as the two older girls mocking the younger Michiru for having dreams and aspirations, but such highlights are the exception, not the rule. Look past that, and there’s nothing to see, because there was never anything of substance here to begin with.

The VerdictDROPPED

This feels more like an extended short, with a one-note theme dragged out for 12 minutes or so. There’s nothing to invest in, nothing to care about, and no reason to come back for a second glass. Just go to the pub for a drink with your mates, you’ll be doing what this show does but it’ll be ten times more interesting.

Man I was harsh in this part. But amongst the junk was one more show to watch this season, as Violet Evergarden earns its spot. So I’ll see y’all next weekend for the last batch, including Trigger, Fate and more!