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Ride the Skies! Chroma's Spring 2016 Impressions!


With great anticipation for the upcoming 5 days, I begin to compose this article as I sit aboard an aircraft heading to Los Angeles. Hard to believe that I’m already off to my fifth year of Anime Expo, but looking back at it all, Hiroi Sekai drew its first breath in the cold winters of 2011. Yes, 5 years has blown past in what can’t even begin to be described as an instant.

But this little trip of mine is for a different article. I do admit I’ve been quite boggled down with an incredible job and the new life changes around me. I’ve been really hoping to post up this seasonal impressions post before I got on the plane, but alas, the cards did not turn up that way. 3 hours sitting still seems like an excellent time to write all of this and keep my head clear. So, what did I end up watching this season, and did I enjoy it all?


Kuma Miko

 
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When I read that a series featuring a talking bear and a shrine maiden who spent their days away from suburban life, I didn't really know what to expect. A comedy? Something serious? Or perhaps for all of you talking bears and shrine maidens out there...a relatable slice-of-life?

That may have been a little joke, but it's strange how Natsu the bear is actually one of the most relatable characters from the show. Almost having to constantly play the role of father to a timid shrine girl named Machi, you almost forget over time that Natsu is indeed...a giant furry bear. They gave him a deep voice that spends most of the series talking about societal expectations, progression of electronics, and various other humanistic topics, which is endlessly amusing to witness. It's almost like if Aristotle reincarnated into modern day Japan, but accidentally landed inside the body of a sentient bear.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is shrine miko Machi, who has been sheltered for so long that talking to people has become a traumatically unrealistic task for her. The series spends most of its run having characters try and get Machi into the nearby cosmopolitan city to introduce a little bit of modernism into her life, but Machi's usual reaction to such antics is to imagine people mocking her for looking/acting like a "country bumpkin". You can see the pure terror in her eyes, and it only makes it that much more satisfying and engaging when she tries her best to overcome those traumatic fears.

So yes, the settings are another fun part of this series. Budget clothing shopping, handing out food samples at a grocery store, filming a promotional video for their village- it's all so colourful, and it's only accentuated further by our titular shrine maiden.

It all reminded me of a sort of Barakamon meets K-On! sort of vibe, which I had a lot of fun with. Not gonna lie, kind of want a massive, cuddly, overprotective fuzzy bear as a close friend now.


Gyakuten Saiban: Sono "Shinjitsu", Igiari!

 
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Franziska, what did they do to you?

The better question is...what did they do to Gyakuten Saiban? This originally charming and endearing video game series has taken a huge nosedive for me in its anime adaptation. When I heard a notable company like A-1 Pictures was initiating an adaptation under the watchful wing of the original creator himself, I was naturally very excited. The riveting adventures of greenhorn defence attorney Phoenix Wright and his struggles to determine the hidden truths behind the most mysterious murder cases was perfect for anime, or so I had thought.

One solitary word comes to mind for why this adaptation is failing hard for me: pacing. I originally had thought it fails because the concept of the original games required so much player input to dictate its own pacing and experience, but then I remembered how memorable Hyouka's mysteries were because they were paced so beautifully. It's not the fault of the source content that the anime feels horrendously rushed and completely lacking in character and case investment, in my opinion.

There's also a nasty curse that comes with the length of the series, mixed with how the adaptation team decided to tackle this overall presentation. The original Phoenix Wright arc of the Ace Attorney games were bound up in an insanely satisfying trilogy, slowly evolving that world's characters and introducing new challengers in the form of prosecutors, witnesses and detectives. However, since the anime team selected to adapt the first two games only, there's already going to be a solid chunk of story missing. Not only that, but they have to leave out what is widely considered to be the best game in the series overall. Why didn't they just spend their 2-cour runtime adapting the first game and taking more tender care with it?

It's such a shame too, as some of the characters become a lot more likeable with a fully voiced interpretation. Witnessing that constantly gives me hope that they could pull off a really enjoyable series, but the poor pacing tied to honestly a lackluster animation quality plummets it right back into disappointment for me. The ultimate offence is that they almost entirely replaced the amazing original soundtrack and replaced it with generic tracks with little feeling.

My best recommendation is to play the original game on GBA for Japanese, or on the DS for English, then maybe take a peek at the anime for comparison. If anything, my personal feeling is that starting with the anime would taint the potentially great experience you could have otherwise. Just a personal thought, and I do hope the second cour improves on things.


Usakame

 
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Wow, it’s not Tekyu, so I guess I can skip my usual 1-line impression! Putting a halt to Tekyu’s long running 7 season marathon, Usakame hits the courts as a spin-off that still focuses on a high school girls’ tennis club. You know what though…there’s something interestingly different about this show. Oh yeah, they actually play tennis from time to time.

I know, it’s some sort of crazy miracle- a tennis show where the characters actually play tennis. All joking aside, the mindless charm of Tekyu for me came from the unrealistically fast-paced barrage of senseless jokes, sanity be damned. Usakame tries to continue this tradition in a sense, but also slows down the pacing a tiny bit to perhaps make a more solid connection to the protagonists. The pacing may have only slowed by a tiny fraction, but it’s immediately noticeable, and it’s immediately intrusive for me. The jokes just don’t feel senseless anymore at this pace, so it would have been better off as a somewhat lengthier runtime like Wakaba*Girl to give it the charm it needs.

The artwork has a very likeable stencil look to it, and while it’s nothing astounding, it certainly is intended to look better than Tekyu did, even if it was intentionally drawn frantically as a part of the presentation. I think that’s where my small attachment to the series lies, along with the cute designs of all of the main characters. In the comedic department, it’s not really doing for me, but my expectations were definitely tainted by expecting the same level of humour as Tekyu brought. As a standalone production, you may still find it funny. I think if you need a very short series to watch this season, this one might just be for you. If you do like it, make sure to check out its spiritual predecessor in its full 7 season glory. That gargantuan-sounding task will honestly not even take you 3 hours, it’s THAT short.


Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu

 
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Replays or second-chances always intrigue me. That burning question of “if I had a second chance at experiencing something, would I do anything differently?” always sits with me. Re:Zero kicks off a pretty enjoyable setting revolving around this premise.

Normal kid Subaru finds himself transported to a strange new world where anthropomorphic beings coexist with humans. A world where magic is not only real, but practiced by a myriad of people, from half-elves to demons and princesses as well. Having been dropped into this bizarre environment, it doesn’t take Subaru long to run into trouble and get himself killed (trust me, that’s not a spoiler). This triggers a strange force that has Subaru awakening again at an earlier point of his life, granting him a new chance to fix the problems that stand before him.

This basic premise evolves rather quickly, after Subaru stumbles upon a mysterious half-elf named Emilia who is unknowingly constantly thrown into dangerous situations. As only Subaru realizes the time reversal, he essentially has to play the role of God to the skeptical onlookers who question exactly how he can predict these treacherous outcomes. As the series moves forward, so does the colourful pair of Subaru and Emilia. Their chemistry is overall likeable, and you do gain a small sense of attachment to what Subaru is fighting for. It’s a bit hard to be fully invested in what he does when he’s a bit of a reckless idiot that spends too much time making cheesy remarks at Emilia’s beauty. Despite all that, it’s the determination to give your own life for another that is respectable, even if they remain oblivious to the saintly sacrifice.

Emilia is not even the only one Subaru needs to protect. As he meets with new characters, he grows attached to them as well, forcing him to put himself in more danger to achieve his perfect setting of happiness. A lot of this growth and attachment comes from just watching him run through his life, so I won’t mention anything else. I think there are still a ton of mysteries left to be solved, but I’m certainly more than happy to go along for the ride.


Mayoiga

 
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Coined the “bus show” between my friend and I, Mayoiga really doesn’t even focus on a bus ride much at all. The initial premise is that a large group of misfits who are simply done with society and are on this bus to escape to the Lost Village of Nanaki for a second chance at life was rather interesting to me. With Mari Okada backing the project with her writing, I was already picturing a dark setting where the characters would engage in solid growth whilst dealing with some bad blood drama in between. Admittedly, Okada has been hit and miss with me with her writing, with series like Toradora! and AnoHana clocking in at my top 5 series of all time, but also with series like Golden Time where it just didn’t do it for me. I was going to be taking this bus ride with a grain of salt.

The first impression I received was a musky scene dripping with brownish-greys, moody faces and almost horror-esque music. I could definitely see how it could potentially bring about a really dreadful environment that the characters would not be expecting. Then the characters started standing up one-by-one and introducing themselves. It’s been a long time since I felt uneasy about such a large cast, but both Shirobako and THE iDOLM@STER brought about similar concerns within me, and they’ve turned out to be some of my greats. Despite all of the characters looking either ridiculously over-the-top or just plain boring, I wasn’t giving up yet.

Admittedly, the first few episodes do present themselves in an interesting manner where you don’t even get solid hints about what this Nanaki Village is really like. There’s no mention of structures, history or even culture. It did keep me engaged, thinking about just what the characters had to expect once they arrived. Ironically, the series starts to get very confused and forgettable once they arrive at the village itself. The discovery of a mysterious, faceless monster attacking the village should be just the spice that lifts the story, but it takes it in the opposite direction for me.

This decline doesn’t happen right away, with the characters frantically pondering just what the monster could be, and if any of these strangers they’ve come to the village are playing a part in it all as well. Tensions rise and the singular group begins to branch out into their own unions and alliances, almost like what actual society does (perhaps that was the intention). It all came tumbling down for me once you actually discover the identity of the monster, as the story quickly turned into something my inexperienced 16 year old mind would conjure up. The story tries to give you quick bursts of character backstories in an attempt to make these personal reactions to encountering the monster have more emotional meaning, but there’s just not enough time within these 12 episodes to give such a large cast that level of understanding. It’s something I feel I would have written mindlessly in my teenage years, but it’s not something I personally expected from this talented team. For me, it’s better if this lost villages stays well hidden away, but as it’s such a bizarre series as a whole, perhaps you’ll enjoy something about its macabre environment.


Ansatsu Kyoshitsu - 2nd Season

 
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The long-winded journey of a reject classroom of misfits fighting to be accepted by their school has finally come to an end. However, if one recalls, there was a much larger goal of protecting the world from a world-ending destruction known only as the classroom teacher, Koro-sensei.

I think the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the goofy overtones of the show mixed with just how many fillers soaked up the filling for the first season. This second season managed to gain a lot of traction and gave this rather large cast of characters a decent backstory. I even warmed up to the character designs and accommodating animations, as silly as they were at times. Something about the lighting in this show makes this much more dynamic than Lerche's other works, and it added a lot of flavour to the scenes that needed them most.

Enjoyment peaks for me with the student-teacher relationships. Season 1 spent a decent amount of time at the wacky gimmick of students trying to study how their mach-speed teacher avoids their attacks, then attempt lots of different tactics for assassination. While that was good fun in itself, I knew I couldn't handle another season filled with that. That's why I was ecstatic that character development was a much stronger focus this time around. Overall, the series is meant to be ridiculous and a few of the backstories fall under that same leaf, but others were surprisingly likeable.

Overall, I think the show ran a little bit too long, but I certainly don't feel like it wasted my time. Maybe check it out sometime, but be warned that you'll probably be in for the longer run.


Kotetsujo no Kabaneri

 
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What a shame. With such a hyped up series and team backing up this project, it was sad to see the show taking a slow plummet along with its score on MyAnimeList, week after week. Yes, this is the semi-tragic story of Kotetsujo no Kabaneri, otherwise known amongst my friends as "derailing train" or "Shingeki no Kyojin Zero".

Studio WIT started quite the phenomenon when it showcased its presentation involving a band of brave soldiers who struggled against gargantuan monsters who solely existed to destroy humanity. The action was solid, animations were pleasing to the eyes, and the soundtrack got everyone's blood pumping for more and more action. The one weaker point was Shingeki no Kyojin's character development, which was ultimately set aside for its heavily delayed second season. This wait is exactly why a large crew hopped on the Kotetsujo no Kabaneri train.

Naturally, after seeing the pretty exciting trailer, I drew interest in the series as well. I sort of placed the expectation that it would heavily resemble Shingeki no Kyojin, but I at least wanted the show to hold off on its own instead of leeching off of its much more successful spiritual predecessor. Plain and simple, the show provides little to no exposition for its viewers at all. The protagonists are special cases where they haven't zombified like all of the other "kabaneri", and you get a grand total of about 5-10 minutes of attempted explanation as to why that is.

On top of that, hotheads saturate the premise, running recklessly into battle and endangering the weak around them. Limbs fly, blood splatters, and it's such a testosterone-filled cluster that it's very clear that this is meant to be nothing more than a mindless action series. Whereas Shingeki no Kyojin has the promise of a second season to continue its development, this series simply just stopped without ever sitting down to explain anything.

It's such a shame too, as its visuals and overall soundtrack does live up to expectations. Close-ups of characters have an endearing painted look that showcases the tender love put into the work by the artists. At the very least, most of the elements of this series have been given proper care and attention. However, after watching the show, it almost makes me think that they ran development backwards, starting with the art and running out of time for the story. I can only hope there's a second season to fill in the massive gaps this one left behind.


Flying Witch

 
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A series that originally didn't start on my plan to watch list, but ultimately gave me a very relaxing and pleasant experience all the way through. This series placed a massive fluffy pillow right under me, and I simply plopped backwards and sank right into it.

There's no huge story driving this one. It follows the easygoing but not simplistic adventures of witches living amongst normal, everyday humans. While our host family housing these witch visitors have never seen magic in their lives, the simplicity of the spells they use are so comforting and immediately gratifying, there's very little time used in the series to showcase shock or mystification from the humans. Instead of spells of grandeur like summoning massive explosions or reviving the dead, Flying Witch features chocolates that have transformative properties, colourful beads that can read fortunes, and a special concoction that can act as a smoke signal for crows. It's a really pleasant look at magic where it used as a secondary element, and it certainly shows with Flying Witch's characters.

Not only that, but you get glimpses at clever uses of everyday items for cooking and other forms of enjoyment. I think the charm lies behind the fact that with magical abilities, you can essentially summon anything you want and enjoy the easy life, but these characters use it cautiously and allow the gifts of nature and human creation to provide them with everything they need. While there are many signs of this in the series, evidence is immediately visible when the characters take walks instead of opting to fly, title of the show be damned.

I had no idea what to expect, and this one was a pleasant surprise. It's a wonderful example that less is more, and hopefully this one entices you if you have a very frantic season to slip it into, just for a little change of pace.


Gakusen Toshi Asterisk - 2nd Season

 
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Well, it may have started off a little bit slowly, but what initially seemed like an average harem series heightened slightly by its solid action scenes has evolved significantly. Gakusen Toshi Asterisk's second season starts off right in the middle of its climactic showdown tournament, the Phoenix Festa. Right from the get-go, it's packed full of unique combat scenes that are infused with visual flair.

Not only does the action make major strides, but when this second season cut out most of the fanservice and lowered the harem elements to a tertiary element, it really accentuated my interest in these rather fun characters. It's so rare that I see a second season actually deciding to dump its weak points as opposed to staying safe with what is guaranteed to just generate revenue, and Asterisk gains a ton of ground because of it.

Naturally, as the Phoenix Festa kicked off at the end of the first season, it does not take up the entirety of this season. Instead, we get bigger glimpses at an antagonistic movement that was merely hinted at before, and this portion of the story cleverly plays out under the protagonist's pressure of competing in the festa itself. It was a really solid mix of action, character design and progression for me, and it ended up being one of most anticipated shows of the season.

Closing props to Rasmus Faber for creating yet another encapsulating track for the ending theme. Much like his work last season with Sakamoto Maya, this one is also unforgettable.


Macross Δ

 
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And to my very own surprise and delight, my favourite series of the season is a mecha. Macross Frontier was a really big turning point in anime for me, combining really pretty flying combat visuals with even more beautiful music empowering the combatants from behind. It introduced me to the starstruck voices of Nakajima Megumi and May'n, and left an everlasting impression on me.

From that point, the Macross series has drawn me in, even just for the soundtracks alone. I can't emphasize just how many unbelievably unique songs there are in this universe. One sampling and it's almost guaranteed that you'll never forget it. But intertwined with the soundtrack for Frontier was a love triangle that served as the raw fuel for the melodies and lyrics of the songs themselves. The romance was overall quite predictable, but it was handled in a way where every interaction between the interests was brimming with satisfaction.

While Frontier utilized love as its airplane fuel, Δ (Delta) focuses more on unity and the very fundamental feel that music gives a person. In Frontier, protagonist Alto originated in the graceful art of kabuki, which reflected in his unique style of flying. In a very similar fashion, Hayate spent a lot of time inventing his own method of operating mechs to work efficiently as he controls them in a colourful dance. It's really fun to see him form this majestic dance into his combative skills, which are powered by the songs of this galaxy's heroes, Walküre.

What a vocal cast they gathered for this talented group. Superstar Toyama Nao may be included in the group and certainly gives her usual charming performance, I have to concede the queen and princess seats to leader JUNNA and newcomer Suzuki Minori for their outstanding performances. Macross has been a huge gateway anime for newcomer vocalists, and with Minori at age 18 and JUNNA being at a ridiculous age 15, these two will undoubtedly find future success like Nakajima Megumi did when she started in Frontier.

The songs are excellent, the action is fun, and with a new approach to the series, I'm on the edge of my seat wanting more CD and episode releases. I sincerely hope you'll check this one out, and pop over to Frontier as well. They're both beyond excellent.

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