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Apr 06

Spring Anime 2018 First Episode Impressions – Part 1

Dream Daddy

With Movie March and the Top Ten in the past, it’s time to set our sights on the future once again, with the Spring season first impressions! And what a season we have, with new Tokyo Ghoul, Lupin, Persona, Sword Art Online and Fist of the North Star amongst some exciting debuts.

This first part though focuses on the stuff that aired between our Winter impressions and now, including the not one but four Netflix originals, the return of a 50 year old franchise, PreCure’s 15th series and… horse girls. Yep. Anime man, it has everything.

This part includes… A.I.C.O: Incarnation // B: The Beginning // Douluo Dalu // Gegege no Kitarou (2018) // Hugtto! PreCure // Lost Song // Mi Yu Xing Zhe // Spiritpact: Yomi no Chigiri // Sword Gai: The Animation // Uma Musume: Pretty Derby // Wangu Xian Qiong 2nd Season

Hugtto! PreCure

Length – Regular ~ 4-cour
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming On – Pending

15th season of PreCure. Hana Nono wants to achieve her dreams of being a stylish, sporty and popular grown-up. But her life turns upside down one day when a baby falls from the sky alongside a talking hamster, and she transforms into a PreCure to fight off villains trying to steal happiness and Mirai Hearts. Alongside Saaya and Homare, will she be able to protect peace and happiness?

PreCure airs at one of those inconvenient times between seasons, hence why I’ve not written about it since 2014. Still, it’s got quite the following, as evidenced by this being season 15 with no end in sight. For those not familiar, it’s a children’s show revolving around school girls transforming and fighting off baddies. And nothing’s changed here, except the addition of a baby.

It feels more than a tad weird for a show with an ending song and writing dedicated to “you can be anything you want” to heavily revolve around raising a child, right down to the designs of some of the gadgets (such as a milk bottle and feeding spoon), and a wailing child is about as much music to the ears as Hana’s “hooray hooray” catchphrase which is wearing thin by the second time she says it.

Throw in some cookie cutter personalities (the slightly ditzy but well-meaning lead, the smart companion, the sporty companion, the we’re bad because we’re bad villains) and the usual ultra-bright palette of pinks and other primary colours, along with the obligatory talking animal companion, and, er… wait, how did this last 15 years again?

The VerdictDROPPED

I get that it’s a kids show, and I get it’s a Japanese kids show that doesn’t involve lots of shouting and flaming passion idiocy, but I feel like I could watch any one of these 15 series, or any of their competitors, and have a similar if not better experience. There’s nothing unique about this outside of the baby… and that’s not a reason to stick around, for me at least.

Spiritpact: Yomi no Chigiri

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

Second season of Spiritpact, aka Bond of the Underworld. The continuing adventures of spirit shadow Jinghua, who died in our world but was reborn in the realm of spirits and given a contract with Xi, the strongest Youmeishi ever seen. Will they continue to be able to keep the peace in the world of spirits now Jinghua’s reputation is starting to precede him…?

I never know if it’s good or bad when I watch a sequel season and can barely tell that fact. On the one hand, it makes it easy to jump in, on the other, it doesn’t exactly imply much character development or narrative progression has occurred. For example, I couldn’t tell you what the long-term plot is outside of Mr Spirit Shadow wanting to get stronger, and the final scene implying somebody somewhere wants to cause trouble.

As such, this episode instead decides to show how much Xi mistrusts youkai spirits, refusing to meet some random little kid for perfectly plausible reasons despite Jinghua’s protests. But neither of them make themselves look sympathetic or smart for the interaction and “debate”. Heck, I didn’t really care about any of the characters in this show, with nobody taking command or showing complexity at any point, hammered home by one of the cast literally saying they have no purpose in what they’re doing besides killing time.

The animation on the other hand was alright, with a hint of Bleach et al to both the designs and some of the world mechanics (which we are told, but are never explored, at least in this ep), but when we get to the fight the episode was semi-building up to, it never delivers. Even when Xi joins in, it just means a lot of bright light and little else. Disappointing, to say the least.

The VerdictDROPPED

I feel like I’ve seen a bunch of these life after death shows by this point, but this one does next to nothing to stand out. Even the yaoi relationship between the leads that the opening championed turned out to just be a very one-sided affair with Xi forcing himself on Jinghua, in classic anime yaoi fashion. And that was the show really. Building expectations and then never even remotely delivering on them. If anything, this just makes me want to watch Bleach again…

Douluo Dalu

Length – Regular ~ 26 eps
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming On – Pending

aka Soul Land. Tang San spent his life mastering the secret powers and weapons of the Tang Sect, but when he is discovered, sacrifices himself to be reborn anew in another world, memories intact. Now a 6 year old kid, he struggles to regain his old powers in this whole new realm…

Firstly, yes, this is full CG, for better and worse. There’s some great environments that feel more like they’re ripped from a game than created for a series, and sometimes characters are capable of showing subtle nuance in facial expressions or movement… but then there’s a lot of awkward shots with mostly still people jumping around the screen in a weird manner. It’s not so bad to make it unwatchable, but it never gets good.

The writing itself is also patchy, having some nice touches like the reborn lead remembering his old powers and past and striving to get them back, but also having a lot of questionable moments, like the sect leader completely forgiving a thief or the very, very sudden end where a guy shows up, the music changes and then we fade to black roll credits. Very bizarre.

Hard to judge characters at this point too. Tang seems alright but doesn’t do much in this episode besides running, and the female lead… hasn’t shown up yet. The sect leader seemed like a well-meaning enough bloke but who knows if we’ll ever see him again as the show appears to have moved past that, begging the question of why he got to monologue for several minutes…

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There’s some charm to the visuals and the characters, to the extent I’m not dropping this outright. Heck, I kinda dig the female lead from the next episode previews alone, which says a lot about how cool the show can be… but then I remember how rough all areas of this production were, and that enthusiasm vanishes. One I’ll consider if I exhaust all my other options, but not a go to show, sadly.

Mi Yu Xing Zhe

Length – Regular
Staff & Info – aniDB ~ MAL
Streaming On – Pending

aka Uncharted Walker. When various people start waking up on an island full of death traps, will they fight amongst themselves in a struggle for survival, or team up to conquer the horrors that await them?

The string of Chinese animation continues, and on paper I was kind of interested in this one. I enjoy escape the death trap style scenarios, and combined with the upswing battle royales have had recently, this could have been a classic. Except it’s not.

From death traps only going for the kill when it’s convenient for dramatic tension, to numerous objects ignoring real world physics (this ladder is made of paper, this crushing wall ignores the giant iron bed we established), to poorly setup flashbacks that come and go as they please and don’t really add a whole lot… yeah, the writing’s pretty bad.

And then there’s the characters. Sure, they have their moments, but you can never sympathise because they all act like knobs at various points. The lead guy insults the lead girl a fair bit, calling her fat and wondering why she’s crying in a literal death trap, and said lead girl keeps jumping to idiotic conclusions like hating all men after being abandoned by a mixed gender exploration party and diagnosing the guy with blunt force head trauma when they’ve been floating in the sea for five seconds. Doesn’t exactly make you pull for them against the island.

The VerdictDROPPED

No doubt somewhere down the line there’ll be some cool creative solution to a fiendish machination, but the bad writing and realisation of both characters and death traps in this episode doesn’t exactly make me want to wade through the rubbish for maybe one half-decent moment. I’ll go invest my time elsewhere.

Wangu Xian Qiong 2nd Season

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

Second season of Everlasting Immortal Firmament. Having successfully stolen the princess from the Gods, their last blow is to inflict her with a deadly disease. Will our unlikely band of heroes be able to claim the peach of immortality before she meets her end?

After a rapid recap showing how our lead rose to become the highest rank of war general he could possibly be, conquering all the nations of the realm, then stealing a girl from the gods themselves while some guy talks about hemorrhoids, I kinda gathered this show was going to have a weird sense of humour. I don’t know if I’d say Chinese Gintama, but it feels a little like it to me.

Which of course means a whole heap of terrible humour, from references (you’re already dead) to characters being idiots and contradicting things they said mere minutes earlier, to… well, downright racism.If I tell you one of the characters is called Popo, you can probably fill in the blanks.

With such a focus on the “hilarity”, it means any decent writing ideas of attempts at emotional moments get completely washed away. This potential princess girl is dying and needs a magical peach to save her, but who cares about that, look at this guy talking about how smooth his skin is! The animation is equally lacklustre too, with bland fights and uninspired designs completing this show’s mission to be utterly forgettable.

The VerdictDROPPED

Happily this was only 16 minutes or so, meaning I got to be free from it early compared to the million other all “jokes” no meat shows in this medium. I guess if you dig this style of humour, and can get past the “that’s not okay” bits involving Popo, maybe you’ll find a show you can palette, but I’m staying well away from this.

B: The Beginning

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

The mysterious serial killer and slayer of psychopaths Killer B roams the streets of Cremona. Chasing him down is a specialised crime unit, now joined by detective legend Keith Flick. And when their chase leads them directly to a mysterious and powerful criminal organisation and those with superhuman powers, who will end the day standing tall.

The first of the bunch of Netflix originals (actual Netflix originals, not “we licensed a show so it’s totally ours”) this season, you can certainly see that this series has more of a budget than most, with some brilliant action sequences and all around strong animation. It’s not a unique style, like Devilman Crybaby was, but it is crisp and clean and… well, pretty. Even the CG elements look cool, with a super tank running around blowing everything up alongside car stunts and flips.

As for the story, it’s not breaking new ground for a show of this genre, especially when your contemporaries include Death Note, but it does well with what it has. B seems to be an interesting murderer, with some way of ordaining whether his victims are despicable enough to be killed, and a bunch of powers like transforming himself, most frequently to have raven wings. It’s harder to judge the antagonistic group he’s fighting with at the moment, though they have some interesting character designs, and I sense more narrative for them will come in time.

As for the police faction, only Lily, the protagonist’s sister, leaps out as having charisma, mainly as the show focuses a lot on her. Keith Flick, the super detective… just sleeps a lot, and his whole “writes a million equations to solve crime” shtick is kinda laughable more than intriguing. And yes, you’ll notice I said protagonist earlier. That’s Koku, who shows up for 30 seconds. So unless he’s actually B or some… thing… oh. Ohhhhh.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

There’s certainly a lot more to this show than everything else I’ve seen so far this season (thank God), but a few dull characters and standard genre tropes, along with some weird directorial decisions like cutting to somewhere else for 10 seconds then back to the main cast, hold this back from being at that must-see level. It’s all on Netflix right now though, so if you like this type of series, I’d still give it a whirl.

A.I.C.O: Incarnation

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

Set two years after a research incident unleashed Matter on the world, an all-consuming beast of a science experiment gone wrong, we follow the wheelchair bound Aiko as she meets new transfer student Yuuya, who tells her her body isn’t all that it seems…

Firstly, the show does a bad job linking the past and present together. If you’re gonna open with a flashback, you have to tie it in better than this, because I’d much rather watch the show with the roller skating exoskeleton clad people fighting the Resident Evil flesh monster thing than the *actual* show.

Saying that, there’s still a bunch of things to like about the real story. Having a wheelchair bound lead character in Aiko was a brave choice,and there’s a lot of nods and hints to the deeper backstory of the world. Besides the cool opening sequence, the show drops several terms here and there such as Burst and Border Zone, and a car chase comes to an end when the chasers can’t enter a certain district, which is utterly perplexing but again builds the lore. Sadly implications are all you get in this episode, as it sets a stage rather than invests you in it.

As for those characters, Aiko loses that uniqueness halfway into the episode when she magically recovers her ability to stand and walk. That was kind of her defining feature too, which says it all personality wise. The only other character of note is Yuuya, and he just remains fairly quiet and foreboding and dragging Aiko along while giving away as little as possible. Character driven this show ain’t.

Animation wise, it’s a mixed bag. There’s some neat effects, like the blue vein bruises Aiko gets, and some cool vista shots of the city when they’re flying paper planes, but then you see CG cars moving across a deadly still background with people frozen in place and bland anime character designs, and suddenly a pretty bruise just doesn’t really cut it.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

There’s plenty of room for this to pick up, but without an engaging character for the show to revolve around it’s hard to care about what happens. Add that to lacklustre animation and often frustrating writing that poorly explains parts or focuses on the uninteresting, and I’d struggle to recommend this, at least at this stage.

Sword Gai: The Animation

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

Swords. Lots of people with demonic swords. The swords fight. For sword supremacy. Also there’s a baby cursed by another sword who is raised to be the one who fights all the other swords. I’m not sure if I’ve hammered home the swords part enough.

An entire episode of setup for what could’ve been accomplished in a minute or two, that’s the debut of Sword Gai. You’ll watch numerous groups and individuals kill in the name of acquiring swords, then see the sword’s evil presence or some such nonsense possess them, leading them to kill and fight more swords. That’s all this episode is, for 20 agonisingly dull minutes.

The rest of the show isn’t good either. From three trained people with guns failing to hit one guy slowly walking towards them, to blood obeying whatever the hell physics it wants, to a random transformation into the suits above only for that fight to end five seconds later… Plus, with the main character only just being born at the end of this episode, you instead have to watch a cast of jerkwads who haven’t got an ounce of personality between them, besides swords, and that isn’t even remotely fun.

Throw in bland animation that doesn’t even manage to make that clash above feel particularly cool or interesting, and a lack of any long-term plot setup besides… swords… and you’ve got one hell of a stinker on your hands.

The VerdictDROPPED

Even if you came up to me and said “Slazo, I want a show with swords and nothing more” I’m confident I could rattle off a hundred anime that do that and so much more, so much better. And failing that, I’d sooner learn to swallow an actual sword than put myself through more of this.

Lost Song

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

In a fantasy world on the brink of war, two special girls, Rin and Finnis, hold the power of song. One from the city, one the country, both can create magic with their voices and cause the impossible, from generating water to healing others… or harming them. When Rin’s village is burned to the ground, she sets off on a journey to use her songs to help the world.

There’s always been something pleasant about JRPG-esque fantasy life in the countryside, and that’s no different in Lost Song. Heck, with the “songs are magic” mechanic, and the journey of Rin going to the big city while war wages on, if you told me this was a JRPG adaptation I’d completely believe you.

Speaking of Rin, she’s a pleasant lead, and helps to spearhead a nice if unoriginal cast. There’s the familiar “you can’t do x thing you love” arc with her and singing, but she’s likeable despite the cliché. Her travelling companion Al is a dab hand with crafting, including making a cute little wooden dog, bark and all, and works well as the science / crafter “magic ain’t scientific” opposite for Rin. I like the city cast too, from the singing but clearly being used Finis, to the white knight honour and chivalry of Sir Leopold, to Prince Rude who is… well, that. A dick. None of them break boundaries, but all of them play their parts well.

The other strong part of the show is the songs, which you’d hope for when they’re a key part of everything. Rin’s performances go very Disney-esque, both with the music and the way she dances and spins around, and it works well with the fantasy visuals and mood. It makes for a show that doesn’t break the mould, but sticks to what it knows and does that well.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

A charmer of a show that will no doubt create an interesting and musical journey, albeit not a particularly original one. Still, it won me over enough with nice characters and good music to make it to my reserve list, so maybe I’ll come back to this at a later date.

Gegege no Kitarou (2018)

Length – Regular
Staff & InfoaniDB ~ MAL
Streaming OnCrunchyroll & AnimeLab

Remake of the 1968 original to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Kitarou helps seal and defeat the various youkai terrorising humanity to keep peace in the world, and is joined by Mana, a human who is just discovering there’s more to the world than she ever knew.

50 years, huh. There’s definitely an old school charm to this series, from the relative straight-forwardness of the premise and execution to the idea mysterious youkai are mainly just eyeballs. This is most obvious in the way Kitarou fights, using hair needles, thrown sandles and finger guns. Really, he wins the fight by going pew pew. Coming from a world of crazy gizmos and exaggerated finishing manoeuvres, this stands out as a massive throw back.

Unfortunately, that’s the main part of Kitarou that stands out, as otherwise he’s a fairly bland protagonist. Of more note are the other characters, Mana and… Daddy Eyeball. Who is Kitarou’s dad. And is just an eyeball with a tiny body. Struggling with modern technology. He’s surprisingly adorable. Mana is fairly neat too, a proactive female lead who is determined to learn more about this world she’s now been introduced to, but never gets a chance to shine. Even when Kitarou gets offed halfway through, she just sits around until he returns, which is disappointing.

The writing isn’t great either. From a weird obsession with eyeballs to the villains of the episode being vampire trees who possess no vampiric traits, from random location swaps to “she tripped over a bottle but this caused a huge chain of events to swing a crane at the monster haha how crazy”, it all feels rather mute, meaning even the shock ending where Kitarou is shot through the heart by an arrow struggles to carry weight. Shame.

The VerdictUNLIKELY

This comes down to how much you like throwbacks to a bygone era of manga and anime when things were simpler. It has solid production values, most notably with the songs which do sound a little spoopy and different, but also comes across as very simplistic and lacking depth compared to more modern takes on these themes, like Mushishi. If you’ve liked previous iterations or want a flashback to the past, then maybe give it a whirl, but otherwise I don’t think I’d bother.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

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

Based on the upcoming mobile game, watch horse girl Special Week as she joins the Traincent Academy to chase her dream of being the best horse girl in Japan. Can she and her best friend and inspiration Silence Suzuka outrun the rest and inspire a nation?

For a mobile game adaptation, this looks… damn good. There’s interesting character designs, the races feel fast and fun, the sense of scale when Special Week (yes, all the horse girls have racing names not real ones, you get used to it) walks onto the track for the first time hits home surprisingly hard, and the idol aspect even lets the show play around with some nice music and loud sound effects. Better production values than a lot of other shows, for certain.

Sadly, lead girl Special Week is… less inspired. With a bland dream of “I wanna be the best” (no matter how much the show tries to make that a big deal), an overeager yet unknowledgeable and mildly ditzy personality, and even the age old “eats way too much” trope, she ain’t much of a frontma… er, horse. Number 2 girl Silence Suzuka doesn’t do much either off the track, being fairly quiet and just relying on “traditional anime beauty” with the long hair and such. And then there’s the trainer who’s defining trait is he’s not a pervert honest governor.

Still, the show zips along at quite a pace, for better and worse. It quickly establishes all the base concepts of how leagues and races work, but also names about a hundred characters of which only half a dozen will likely mean anything. The show struggles with keeping time too, skipping a week in the name of comedy and having a bright afternoon literally transform into late evening in the space of five seconds, which makes no sense whatsoever. More misses than hits in the writing department, basically.

The VerdictPOSSIBLY

Clearly I’ve been taken in by all the pretty horses then, because despite the fairly bland premise and writing, the production values kept me engaged throughout, and I imagine the wider cast who seem to have a bit more personality could help to make things more intriguing, especially if the hinted stable vs stable rivalry becomes a plot point. So one for the reserve list. Now excuse me, I need to get my iPad for… reasons…

No keepers as of yet then, but fear not, as our second part dives into some of the bigger names from this season, like butch magical girl series Mahou Shoujo Ore to new entries for Lupin and Tokyo Ghoul! See ya in a week or so.