Charm and Brawn! Chroma's Spring 2018 Impressions
Welcome back, friends! I've been really busy over the last few months, so on top of not having enough time to focus on my own projects, I didn't hit my usual 10 series per season goal to share with you all. Still, I stayed dedicated to the ones I started, and I'm back to give you my honest, personal opinion about them.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen
Cardcaptor Sakura was an absolute gem of an anime when it aired 20 years ago. It took CLAMP's gorgeous artistry and masterfully crafted a 70 episode series that managed to maintain its quality and care for its entire run. Supplemented with a timeless visual quality, unforgettable soundtrack and constant touches of intrigue sprinkled throughout, the 1998 series never failed to remain close to my heart ever since.
Out of the blue, a surprise direct sequel was announced almost two decades later. While catching a really short glimpse at Anime Expo 2017, I was thrown back into a time when my only access to anime was through an old CRT TV hooked up to cable access. The original seiyu not only returned to reprise their roles, but they somehow managed to sound exactly like they did before. However, that's about the only thing that Clear Card-hen leans on for its list of strengths. Not only does it perfectly modernize its visuals without damaging the respect for the original, but it also fuses a new soundtrack with nods to recognizable tracks and brings an incredible refresh to the mystery with new "clear cards". These transparent cards are completely different to their Clow counterparts, offering bizarre confrontations with mesmerizing metallic spirals and fluttery giant ribbons that should be given its own adorable character entry into the cast. The battles themselves are always a joy to witness, closing off Sakura's victories with towers of crystalline beauty. I can't wait for the next continuation of this new series, and I only pray that we don't have to wait another 20 years to get it.
Boku no Hero Academia: 3rd Season
Is it me, or are superhero movies starting to wane a little bit in interest? I remember when the Iron Man era kicked off, I could not peek outside of my front door without having someone jump uncomfortably close to my face to talk about anything Marvel or DC related. I've really tried to get into the genre, but it's just really not my cup of tea, minus the Christopher Nolan's Batman films and some of the weirder parody heroes like Kick-Ass. Maybe that's why I manage to find intrigue in Boku no Hero Academia, but sometimes fall out of it for a short period of time.
This series runs strictly on the idea that superpowers are a quirk that humanity generally acquires as they age. While mostly cultivated for good in several hero schools, there will always be the rotten eggs that view their powers as opportunities to instil fear and control among the civilian masses. While these crews of villains are undoubtedly strong, the world of heroism always stood strong behind their most Americanized wall-of-pure-muscle-and-power symbol of justice, All-Might. The only issue is, his power is waning in secret. This really starts to rear its ugly head as All-Might desperately tries to pass on his legacy throughout the show, and as the enemies get more and more unpredictable, it keeps the moments nice and tense. The absurdity of the powers mixed with the charm of most of the characters is what always keeps me on board, and the lulling paranoia of an unexpected villain attack is the little cherry on top.
Superhero lovers unite! This series is definitely for you. "DELAWARE SMAAAAAAASH!!!".
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Man, I've given the Sword Art Online franchise so many chances, looking back at it. I found that when the series focuses on the elements of the world and its parameters of gameplay, it was actually kind of fun in many ways. The idea originates from Sword Art Online, where players strap a virtual reality helmet to their head and eventually find out they need to fight to the top of a vicious 100 level tower to escape permanent entrapment or even death. It kicked off strong, appealing to gamers with the ambitious hope that we could one day play games with this level of immersive realism (without the win-or-die-IRL element, preferably). However, it fell through for me in its second half, where it injected elements of the gaming community that many of us don't want anything to do with: creepers, unnecessary fanservice elements, incest and even rape. It soured the overall experience for me.
Sword Art Online II honestly fared better with me, with less focus on the creepy groping (but still not gone for good) and more focus on a new game built around gunplay, Gun Gale Online. I appreciated the season's tighter focus on the game world itself, even if it was still littered with short nods back to the creepy groping and cousin-loving. I just wanted an entry from this series that took a world, stuck with it and built around its parameters and ability to create intrigue for gamers.
That's why I actually can genuinely show some appreciation for Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online. While some tropes of Sword Art will never truly die, this show simply overviews the cute pink blur LLENN and her tactical prowess through two Free-For-All tournaments in Gun Gale Online. The show jumps right into the middle of the first battle, establishes the shortcomings and strengths of LLENN herself, and even manages not to sexualize her. While actually pretty fun as the main protagonist herself, LLENN is no match for my intrigue when compared to the absolute psychopath that loves killing in games a little too much, Pitohui. This insane girl voiced hilariously by Hikasa Yoko (of incredibly shy K-On! character Akiyama Mio fame) is crafty, skilled at killing and absolutely does whatever it takes to brutally slaughter while maniacally laughing her face off. There's a really solid connection formed between her and LLENN in respects to not only their gender, but their levels of skill in the game as well. Through the promise of finding out who is superior, we follow their incentives with genuine curiosity if Pitohui is actually a horrible person in real life, or just one of those gamers who is perfectly normal and just gets a little too drawn into the moment. Either way, it was worth the watch in my opinion, and that's great for my shaky relationship with the franchise.
This series was built to be a looming source of torment for me, I swear. However, the true suffering always comes through our mad scientist protagonist, Okabe. Ditching his insane schtick from the original show, Okabe's arduous road through time travel, secrecy and death has turned him into a social recluse, tortured by the horrendous things he's witnessed.
Everything started in Steins;Gate, where Okabe accidentally stumbles across the perfect parameters to activate time travel in his own one-room laboratory above a small CRT TV shop. In doing so, he accidentally opens up a metaphorical Pandora's Box, priming him as a high-priority target for warring factions hunting for the power of his newfound secret. Caught in the crossfire, his closest friends are placed under risk, and Okabe does everything he can to jump to an alternate world line where tragedy doesn't strike.
It was a brilliant premise, and the beauty was that it was executed with such precision. With no special abilities other than his own wits and a world line jumping parameter he calls the "Reading Steiner", Okabe has to fight a war against trained guerrilla mercenaries to prevent the theft of the technology and the birth of World War III. Steins;Gate 0 places focus on a world line where an acquaintance of Okabe's returns from the future to try and convince him to shift the world line to one that doesn't lead to the brutality of the third World War. However, even that noble cause is too much to ask, as shifting lines would mean reliving the traumatic experiences he's already developed severe PTSD over. It draws the fine line between sacrificing one for the greater good, and the inner turmoil of possibly giving up someone you love and cherish. If you are new to the series, I really recommend taking a look at it. It'll drown you in a scientific black hole of emotions that you just can't tear yourself away from.
Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katri no Nazotoki File
Look at that determination in Katrielle's eyes. You know there's a mystery to be solved when that level of determination can be pulled from just glancing at a character's face. Enter the spinoff series for the Layton Kyoju series, featuring one of our favourite English gentlemen, Professor Layton. This puzzle solving archeologist graced the Nintendo DS and 3DS with a huge array of fun mind-bending games that tested your intellect while presenting some pretty grand mysteries as well. They even did a mashup with my all time favourite game series, Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney in the west).
Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katri no Nazotoki File expands upon the world by introducing us to Layton's daughter for the first time. Katrielle Layton is, much like her father, a mystery fanatic. She can never turn down an unsolved puzzle, and as soon as she opens up her own mystery-solving business, a talking dog appears before her. Quite bizarre, to say the least. The series takes an episodic approach to the mysteries, usually only requiring one or even half of one for Katrielle to solve. While some of the cases have been pulled directly from the iOS/3DS game of the same universe, there are loads of new content as well, and with a forecast of 50 episodes total, we can expect to see a lot more of this charmer. Katrielle is absolutely a joy to watch, completely relinquishing my initial concerns of Hanazawa Kana voicing someone who is almost always in hysterics. When she donned that role in Tonari no Seki-kun, I could never really enjoy the character. However, in this show, there's a much healthier balance in characteristics, with Katrielle showcasing her intellect and strictly using her over-the-top hysteria to cement her genuine love for mysteries. I can't get enough of this character, and luckily, I won't have to worry about the show ending for a long while still.
If you find the premise interesting, the Layton games are definitely a treat as well. You can also jump into the iOS/3DS Katrielle Layton and the Millionaires' Conspiracy with no prerequisite lore as well, although having some of the world building exposure with Professor Layton does help accentuate the experience.
Shokugeki no Soma: San no Sara - Totsuki Ressha-hen
Okay, I'm getting pretty tired of this food porn trope, to be honest. While strictly personal preference, seeing the same bit of delicious food consumption followed by torn clothes and shameless/unnecessary fanservice week after week for four seasons is getting quite repetitive in my eyes. The 'San no Sara' arc has already been pretty distasteful for me, focusing less on the show's stronger cooking and food sciences knowledge and spending it on edgy Disney villains and brittle clothing, but I just can't see what the point of this second cour served.
Apparently this entire arc is about a train? The only instance a train is even mentioned is when one takes our protagonists to a new location to do much more of the same stuff we've been doing for the last while. When the prestigious school of Totsuki is taken over by a villain and his faction of obedient grand chefs, our humble heroes must fight against them to take back their precious school and restore the good-natured reason of cooking itself. There's this constantly repeating broken-record element of having a crony face off against one of our protagonists under unfair parameters, only to *shocker* get defeated against all odds. Sprinkled all throughout is unnecessary camera angles between thighs cramped by shorts so skimpy that you might as well not wear them, and breasts so reflective that you could use them as crystal balls for fortune telling. I thought we were watching food porn, not porn porn.
It doesn't help that none of the characters really feel like they're earning their progression either, with the formula being so rinse-and-repeat at this point. Sure, they're fighting for the noble cause of winning back their school from tyranny, but the show lays it out in such a way that I just don't care. The villains are so cardboard and the results are so predictable that we're really just going through the motions at this point. To me, the title of the season says it all. When we have nothing more interesting to name the season after besides the solitary train ride that takes us to an alternate location, maybe it's time to revisit the recipe. For me however, I've just personally had enough of this series. It was fun in its earlier days and I enjoyed it, but it's time for me to move on.
On the flip side, let me just gush for a few paragraphs about how Aikatsu Friends! is the show I wanted out of Aikatsu Stars!. It may be quite early in this show's run so far, but it has done so many things beautifully that I just have to share it with everyone.
Now, if you're new to the Aikatsu world, the original 178 episode series from 2012 is a good starting place. This franchise does not do short length series, and as long as you're not completely opposed to the cute idol genre, you absolutely will not be disappointed. Aikatsu! distinguishes its own identity not strictly through competition, but the idea that a legacy is nothing unless handed down to another. The camaraderie between these characters in such a fiercely competitive industry is incredible, and the idea that everyone's in the game to push the whole industry forward is so much more progressive than most other idol series I've seen. It helps immensely that the original Aikatsu! was absolutely littered with incredible characters, illegally cute designs, should-not-exist levels of soundtrack mastery, and 3D performance work that I've still not seen matched to this day. For a show meant to be directed at children, that's insanely impressive.
Aikatsu Stars! also exhibited many of the traits that made the original so magical. Dangerously cute designs, an incredible soundtrack, and the idea that while working the idol industry, we should all be looking at the bigger picture rather than just the betterment of our own selves. Where Stars ultimately faltered for me was its lack of consistent focus on the big picture, and its intermittent laziness with its performance varieties. It spent far too much time on an ark/arc that ironically kept the show stationary, rather than sailing it to new horizons, and the supposed best-of-the-best only had her own interests in mind. That's why I entered Aikatsu Friends! with a looming sense of concern.
Thank god this show has surpassed all of the concerns and then some. Friends places the focus on Minato Mio and Yuki Aine, the former being a well-versed member of the idol world and the latter entering it for the first time. The concept of seeking out a companion or a "Best Friend" is brilliant, keeping alive the supportive elements of the universe while also involving the characters themselves in a deeper understanding of what strengths and weaknesses they need to play off of. There's an immediately noticeable different in episodic quality from Stars, and I don't mean that simply in the way it looks. Friends just has a much tighter focus from the beginning, and everything the protagonists have done so far plays into their grand plan and ambition. It returns to the idea of the best in the industry not sitting idly in their own success, but spending their knowledge and resources on finding how they can pass down the legacy to the next era. I literally cannot think of a single legitimate complaint for the show so far, except for the occasional instances where the animation quality dips without warning. Don't let that deter you at all though, this vibrant world that's fortunately rarely set inside of a school will encapsulate you nonetheless.
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby
Finally, I wanted to close off this list with a show that I really didn't think I'd enjoy, but ultimately did on the grounds that it follows a lot of what makes Aikatsu Friends! so good.
In this world, all eyes are set on the sport of horse racing, but the catch is, the horses are anthropomorphic girls. If this sounds like something ridiculous birthed from something like a mobile game, then hey, you're right. However, while I really don't have much personal interest in the upcoming mobile game myself, P.A. Works took this ludicrous concept and gave it their bread-and-butter family charm they're so good at presenting. Uma Musume: Pretty Derby starts off with a newcomer racing girl named Special Week, stumbling into the sport with ambitions to become the fastest in Japan. She may not have the mastery of the sport yet, but in her initial race, her stamina really shows when she bursts past the competition.
As the series progresses, we're introduced to the other horse girls, all named directly after actual racing horses in Japan. Special Week, Silence Suzuka, El Condor Pasa, Vodka, Narita Brian, the insane list goes on. Each character is well placed in the series to direct the focus in the right spot, directly between Special Week and Silence Suzuka. These two share a loving bond where they constantly push each other through thick and thin to perform at their very best level. Even the rival factions and girls all have a refreshing understanding of how to show no mercy during the races, but also show respect to one another afterwards. That's how true sportsmanship should be portrayed, not through the narrow focus on individualistic achievement alone. Due to that reason, Silence Suzuka (shown on the right of the photo) is my absolute favourite character. She has a godlike speed and skill in racing, yet never lets it overthrow her immensely charming and likeable personality. She also strives to be fastest race horse in Japan, but will do everything in her power to bring Special Week and anyone else she can with her to the finale, where pure skill alone will determine the winner.
The races themselves are also quite exhilarating, showcasing some high-octane movement and tense moments of close calls. I can't really say much more than "I thoroughly enjoyed it". It was a series I just picked up on a whim, but I really wouldn't mind going back and watching several more times. I could just watch those two friends lovingly support each other forever, it's so wholesome.
That friends, wraps up my Spring 2018 for anime. Now if you're looking at the posting date of this article, you'll notice that Anime Expo's first day is also today. Having gone to every single one since 2012, there's something I have to bring up. I am not at the event, nor do I plan to go this year. Unfortunately, the spikes in cost along with the disappointing turnout of guests just did not pull me in this year. My last saving grace was the fact that Anime Expo was set to announce three AniSong Matsuri quality concerts this year, and I was fully ready to go down just for one good concert alone. However, one of the concerts was strictly Love Live! Sunshine! based (which I really just don't have any attachment to), another was based on idol series that I just found myself putting on the bottom my list for the genre, and I just wasn't familiar enough with the other artists in the final concert to warrant such a big spending dump. I just hope that Anime Expo isn't slowly starting to ditch the Japanese guest turnout strictly for Western guests, and I hope we can get a return to the J-Rock days of the AniSong Matsuri concerts.
That first year of the AniSong World Matsuri with artists like T.M. Revolution, JAM Project, FLOW and Eri Aoi was unforgettable. I'm not even opposed to the focus on idol concerts, as the following year of Macross Delta, THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, Wake Up, Girls! and Love Live! Sunshine! was a lot of good fun. There's just so much constant focus on Love Live that it takes away from the great pool of other music that exists. And you know, I get it, the franchise is easily the top seller by far, but it puts us into such a narrow-minded view that it makes me sad to think on what's not being experienced as a result. I don't consider this decision of mine to be permanent. I sincerely hope Anime Expo tries a little something different next year and opens up the slots to more variety, and I'll be down again in a heartbeat.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I've been really saying this for a while and am disappointed in myself for not fulfilling this promise, but I still have the hopes to produce a lot more content for this site. By the end of July, I'm dead set on starting with the unfaltering face-to-face support of someone I've known for a very long time. We will absolutely not back down this time, and you can hold me to it. Please check back for great waves of upcoming videos, gaming experiences, podcast chats about anime, and lots more. We're just raring to go.