Great Gals Galore! Chroma's Summer 2016 Impressions
It's not often that I find a season so filled with series that intrigued me to the point of returning to them week by week. There were naturally some disappointments, but overall it was quite enjoyable. There's a lot to go through, so let's begin the subjective dissection.
Gyakuten Saiban: Sono "Shinjitsu", Igiari!
Objection! It's no big trade secret that I am a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series. The prospect of playing the role of defense attorney in a courtroom sounds just about as boring as watching paint dry, but change your outlook a bit and imagine you're stuck investigating impossible murder crimes and have to corner the true criminal behind the crime while defending a potentially innocent client at the same time. Sounds much more interesting, right?
Ace Attorney may have individual cases to solve, but its intertwining storyline filled with memorable characters is what keeps it all together. So when an anime adaptation was announced, with the original creator on board with A-1 Pictures to animate, it was something to be pretty excited about. Sadly, I would slowly learn that instead of covering the original unified trilogy of games, the series would rush through only two games, even cutting out a couple cases along the way. The animation felt cheap, the soundtrack's impact was reduced by creating a less exciting one, and they even added in this effect where pointing out lies blasts the liar with a strong gust of wind, but annoyingly use it pretty much everywhere. It definitely works in providing newcomers with a condensed version of the story, but that's how you lose the magic of Ace Attorney, in my opinion. I strongly recommend playing the games before watching this, as these games continue to get produced and provide great gameplay, story and character development, while I can't see this adaptation going much further than this.
The season is absolutely riddled with sweet, adorable, and dangerously risqué girls, but I can't hold a candle to this little ball of absolute joy, Freyja Wion. Let me tell you, Macross Δ has been an absolute joy for me in many, many ways.
My exposure to the Macross world has been somewhat short, but delectable. Unlike many die-hard Macross fans, I discovered this "space opera" (seriously, how awesome does that genre sound?) extravaganza with the series' special 25th year anniversary, Macross Frontier. It featured furious space battles, an unforgettable soundtrack, and a love triangle to tie it all together. Delta, in my eyes, doesn't reach the same zenith as Frontier. However, it acts as a brand new chapter, while still maintaining what it needs to do well. The space battles are still fun and dynamic. The soundtrack still kicks ass. As mentioned, Freyja Wion I might even like more than Ranka Lee, and that might just be treason I just committed in saying that.
I always loved how Frontier incorporated kabuki into how the main character flies. This time, protagonist Hayate incorporates smooth break dancing into his mech piloting, giving a life to the bots that you don't see that often. When it comes down to it though, the soundtrack is what I love best about Macross, and I just hope Delta can continue to belt out albums after the show's conclusion. The music team is absolutely stellar and we never got to hear an official version of Nakajima Megumi's iconic song 'Seikan Hiko', performed by newcomer Suzuki Minori. However, we did get a first-time group version of one of Macross' oldest hits, 'Ai Oboete Imasuka'. If you never check out this series, you absolutely need to experience the soundtrack at some point. Oh, and juggernaut Toyama Nao is here too, along with JUNNA, a powerhouse voice you'll never guess was 15.
Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu
A great way to gauge if you're truly disconnected from the Summer 2016 season or not is to see if you know of the great Emilia VS Rem wars. There's a reason why this blue-haired maid overtook her pink-haired sister and the titular silver-haired half-elf in popularity in a flash.
Let's start at zero though, shall we? This series doesn't really waste time chucking its protagonist into a strange new world filled with magic, anthropomorphic entities and a struggle for rule over the entire kingdom. In this mad world, Subaru is but a mere human without power. What starts off as a brush with death within a small town expands into a global series of disasters, riddled with regret, pain, sadness and redemption
What I like about the series is its setting. The world it creates is unfamiliar, but is still ruled over with a unified set of iron fists, ranging from the tactical to the brutal. They all face similar threats, yet can't find enough similarities to work together. The questionable bits revolve around the protagonist Subaru, whose negativity irked one too many viewers past the point of no return. In my eyes, it was a great move to bring more attention to the star, Rem. Do you remember the sweet little Chino, who served coffee in a relaxing café in Gochumon wa Usagi desu ka? She returns this time as an absolutely savage beast who can mow down fields of evildoers, yet still has the voice and smile of an angel. She brought about some of the series' most kickass, enjoyable and also heartbreaking moments. Although Re:Zero definitely has its ups and downs, I'm really glad I checked it out.
Love Live! Sunshine
A spiritual successor, huh? In my eyes, it doesn't really get the "spiritual" part down. But let's take a closer look, why don't we?
Love Live! School Idol Project may have been a very simplistic series when it came to story, but its characters were where I could give it credit. Off the top of my head, I could list off the heart and soul Honoka, the prim and proper Kotori, the dedicated Umi, the talented tsundere Maki, the tomboy Rin, the rice loving Hanayo, the prodigal beauty Eri, the rascal Nico, and the playful fortune-teller Nozomi. When I squeeze my brain for this cast, I can only get Honoka-clone Chika, her friend-who-wears-her-own-name-on-her-hat You, the stubborn class president Dia, her little sister Ruby, the chunibyo Yohane, and the quite-possibly-false-accent Mari.
But you know, that's not too bad, 6 out of 9. My issue is that I don't really like any of these characters, nor the setting they're placed in. From the beginning, this idol group is built under the shadow of the original girls, and they are permanently kept in that shadow. There's no real arcing story, and every bit is (in their words) going from 0 to 1, or taking that first step to recognition. In a sense, I see their reasoning for this type of approach. However, if you're going to make the destination different to your predecessor, you have to take a different journey, not the exact same one. The melodrama and newcomer's story only worked in Love Live! School Idol Project because the girls eventually did garner attention and saved their school. Here, their competition views them as an absolute waste of time, and a really solid performance bit from an opposing duo easily proves that. My best guess from my experience is that too much emulation and focus on recreating quirky stereotypes was placed here. With more love and care put into developing the characters, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.
Amaama to Inazuma
"Itadakimasu!" This is the traditional way to express thanks for your meal before eating, and a series based entirely cooking and the sense of family is sure to showcase that blessing often.
After the death of his wife, teacher Inuzuka has been raising his only daughter Tsumugi alone. With little knowledge of the culinary arts, he has been giving her an insufficient diet comprised of ready-made meals, much to his regret. That is, until he is invited to his student's restaurant, where he begins to learn not only how to cook, but how to appreciate how the art can bring him closer to his daughter. As this is a food-based series in a manner of speaking, I'll quickly mention that learning the sciences behind food and how cooking them in certain methods bring out different results is always fascinating.
But the magic of the series resembles Usagi Drop more than it does Kofuku Graffitti or Shokugeki no Soma. It's all about that parental bind to your own flesh and blood, with a well-played element of "friends are family" tossed in. The little girl Tsumugi is not a perfect angel, swapping moods in the blink of eye. She goes from extremely playful and cooperative, right to unresponsive and tantrum-throwing the next. While we're fine-tuned to find that a bit irritating, guess what? That's what kids are! The series does a great job presenting this character as not a hindrance, but a pillar of strength, and I appreciate that. The wild imagination of this child is something any grownup could appreciate, and there's even an incredibly charming visual representation of how street lines can become platforms above shark-infested waters in her eyes. I think it's an excellent series, but I'll always have a soft spot for series like these, so I'll leave it at a simple recommendation, not a mandate.
Shokugeki no Soma: Ni no Sara
Let's continue the food theme, shall we? I'll admit I boarded the food war train late, but the intrigue of a few ridiculous scenes of this I saw on YouTube enticed me to catch up.
After a solid marathon of season one, I found myself back to the week-by-week release of this new season. Shokugeki no Soma definitely utilized a visual "food porn" element, often taking that term a bit too far in its first season. Admittedly, the first few times people took a bite of delectable dishes and their clothes exploded (with juices spraying into their crotches) was amusing, but it was a bit overused by the end. Season 2 took in a lot more of what I found fascinating about the show, the many different languages of cooking and the sciences behind them.
Quick blurb about the plot. Soma works in his family diner "Yukihira" with his talented father, learning everything about cooking from him. One day, Soma's father acquires a job that requires him to close up shop, leading to Soma being sent away to a prestigious culinary school, where the best of the best in Japan are bred. At this school, students can challenge each other in "shokugemi" or food wars, which is essentially how the Iron Chef series ran. Characters of many different unique cooking talents are showcased, and it's just fun to see how the wildcard Soma ranks amongst them. It's animated quite well, and I felt like both seasons were a worthwhile watch.
Planetarian: Chisana Hoshi no Yume
Mankind has been all but devastated, with landscapes littered with destruction and rust. The last of humanity takes the form of "junkers", who hunts for useful scraps in the ruins. This story follows a junker who stumbles upon a little planetarium during his escape from the automated war machines that only spread the bloodshed further. Inside this dying building, one operational robot remains functional, a stargazing hostess.
In the history of KEY works, this is the only one that is originally classified as a "kinetic novel", where the player of the game has no dynamic input choices that can change the story. In that sense, this adaptation is an absolutely stellar way to experience a story you may not want to sit through detail-to-detail. In my opinion, it's a progression that is fully realized within its short 5 episode run, and it shouldn't be looked upon in the same expectations as what a longer series can do. It's not difficult to estimate what conclusion a Key work will amount to, but this series definitely had me thinking of some interesting potentials. I suppose it was the surprising lack of characters that caught me off guard, only really focusing on the main junker, the robot and glimpses of the people who are no longer of this Earth. It may be short, but that may be a good reason to take a quick peek.
I saw banners for this series sprawled across the halls of Anime Expo 2016, and the pedestrian male character designs shown certainly kept me away for a bit. However, I have to say that the choice to release every single episode on the first week left me very curious. With the prospect of being able to slam through every episode early on, I jumped in.
A quick bit about the premise, as I had no idea what I was getting into at the time. A washed out middle-aged man is granted the opportunity to fix the mistakes of his youth with a magic pill- all part of an experimental program known as ReLIFE. Kaizaki awakens the next morning with his high school youth reborn, but the athletic, social and academic challenges ahead will be meticulously studied.
It's always interesting to see an older, more experienced mind travel back into a younger age. While they've been through this era themselves, times change and so do the trends. Immediately, Kaizaki struggles to fit in, and ironically, it only seems like his washed out life was better. However, this opportunity will only serve to help him realize what mistakes from his past lead him to his unfavourable position in his adulthood. While I mentioned the male characters felt pedestrian, the ladies were a lot more fun, including an overly competitive girl, a socially awkward brainiac, and my favourite, the sly Onoya An. While many series have gone through the drama of high school life, it's neat to see how much the formula can be spiced up with ReLIFE's offerings. It's all set to a pretty memorable soundtrack, featuring a new jukebox-style ending theme every episode. This is a show that gave me a ton of little rewards to really enjoy all at once, and I'd be more than happy to come back and watch it again.
Imagine you received a letter from yourself from the future, dictating your life choices to you and warning you of some that leads to a tragedy. Wouldn't it be strange, not in the sense that the actual events are playing out as the letter reads, but that it's written to you in your own method of speaking?
Well, Takamiya Naho received such a letter. The series plays out showcasing her and her tight-knit group of friends going through high school together, along with a new transfer student named Kakeru. Regrets from Naho's future self flash by as the events play out, leaving you wondering if her timid nature will allow her to actually go through with the changes mentioned in her letter. It's a really interesting premise and I definitely appreciated the time the series took to meld its present and future times together.
What doesn't hit as much is the animation quality. I'm not sure why the cuts were in place, but dips in quality were most certainly noticeable throughout the series, making the experience feel a bit underwhelming at times. That said, it does a solid job portraying the fragile nature of the human soul, and how one person can make all the difference in your life. It's a series that I think was just the right length, and it doesn't really need any padding to satisfy.
Tales of Zestiria the X
Not literally "the X", but "the cross". Tales of Zestiria was one instalment in the Tales franchise, but this series also gave us a little peek at what the brand new Tales of Berseria had to offer.
If you've never experienced them, the Tales games are world-saving Japanese role playing games, featuring dungeon exploration, massive boss fights and a dynamic combat system. I'm personally a huge fan, just so you know. In the past, I've seen anime renditions of Tales of Phantasia, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia, and now, we get Zestiria and Berseria as well. My opinion of this series is very similar to that of the ones that came before it- it's enjoyable in a quick burst for its setting and character designs. For the second time (Symphonia being the first), studio Ufotable adds the element of eye candy animations to the bundle as well. If you recall, they are well-known for their contributions to the Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works series, along with the Kara no Kyokai movie series. There's no doubt that their animation prowess is valid.
As for the storyline itself, this season didn't really go through a whole ton due to its length. The average Tales game takes anywhere from 30-60+ hours to complete, and that is difficult to stuff into a 12 episode series, especially when you have to share that 12 episode limit with a crossover series. Despite that, a second season has already been announced, and I'll be sure to check it out. Just for the record, my favourite Tales game is Tales of Vesperia.
This show reminds me of my last job, with both the good parts and the bad parts. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much. Or you know, maybe it was because all of the characters were adorable.
I like these "inside look" series where a character enters a professional workspace. Shirobako focused on anime production, and New Game! looks at video game production. Suzukaze Aoba (despite looking like she's 12) is donning her new executive blazer and entering her new role as a 3D character modeller at Eagle Jump, a studio that is known for developing her favourite game series, Fairies Story. Finally nabbing your first professional job in the career you love is a daunting, but exciting experience, and little Aoba does a great portrayal of this. In an office environment, you quickly feel part of a team, but you also feel very segmented, rarely talking as opposed to producing results. Once again, this is showcased with the Eagle Jump staff.
Naturally, the show would be boring if all the characters did was glare endlessly at their monitors without interacting. As a result, every character is given a few fun quirks and charms, and post-work events are given attention as well. Through Aoba's path of learning and growth in her new job, the series takes us all the way through to the finalization and promotion of the finished product, which is very rewarding to a creative contributor. It even touched upon the subject of completion taking priority over schedule, respecting differing opinions and many other good takeaways. I think it's a really charming series, and I hope they do a second season.
Finally, the KEY series that I always heard about, but never got around to experiencing in any way. I jumped in not knowing anything about this series, and to be honest, I jumped back out at the end, still with a boiling pot of unanswered questions.
Rewrite's world is quite large. There's the high school life of course, but there's also a pivotal key that two major organizations are fighting over. The world has been bombarded with afforestation, blasting scenarios and landscapes with greenery. The protagonist Kotaro holds the mystical power of "rewrite", which allows him to restructure his body at the expense of gradually losing his humanity. Interestingly, he also befriends a girl who is cursed to poison any living organism she touches with her bare hands.
The war between the Gaia and Guardian factions take up a good chunk of the series. While Kotaro befriended a clubroom of mates in the first portion of the show, they're torn apart by the continuing war. Gaia is comprised entirely of familiars, bent on claiming the key to ensure humanity's destruction. On the other hand, Guardian plans to destroy the key to ensure humanity's survival. There's an absolute ton to swallow here, and I initially thought this one easily felt too short and underdeveloped. However, I soon learned that another 11 episodes would follow in January 2017. So until then, I will hold off any conclusive takes I have on this series. For the time being, I didn't find too much to latch onto. Hopefully that changes in 2017!
Danganronpa 3: The End of Kibogamine Gakuen - Mirai-hen
Now this is an interesting one, without doubt. Much like the series itself, you'll have to take in both this arc and the one below it to understand how the two bind together into one experience.
A few years ago, Danganronpa saw an anime adaptation, filled with neon blood and the chanting of the despair (zetsubo) theme. Years later, not much has changed. The survivors of the first death game find themselves trapped in another terrifying scenario, forced to kill each other or risk a hidden murderer getting to them while they sleep. Each character is also tagged with a bracelet, which places a special restriction rule that they cannot break at all costs. Behind this horrendous game lies a mastermind- a remnant of despair, but who could it be?
What I never liked about Danganronpa was its obsession over despair versus hope. While strong staples of humanity, the world is not this black and white, and these characters speak about them as if they are. Moralities are hard to follow, but at the least, the tension of this death game has its moments of intrigue. On its own, Mirai-hen was certainly not a boring watch for me. However...
Danganronpa 3: The End of Kibogamine Gakuen - Zetsubo-hen
...we stumble upon Mirai-hen's sister series Zetsubo-hen. Taking a completely different tone to the tense bloodshed, this series that ran at the same time uses a more sketch-style, fast-paced tone.
Zetsubo-hen glances at the events leading up to the tragedies of Mirai-hen, with a newcomer teacher and her very eccentric classroom of students. While Yukizome-sensei originally works to ensure humanity's hope stays alive in dark times, she often narrates that this is a story that ultimately ends in despair, which I will leave to your imagination. The slapstick comedy really degraded my interest in this arc quickly, as I just couldn't take it seriously. However, in the later portions of the show, it began to tie into what was shown in the Mirai-hen segment, and I could definitely appreciate its darker, more serious moments a lot more.
Despite its tenacity in shoving loud scenes in my face that I personally didn't find amusing in any way, Zetsubo-hen does have some effective shocking moments. On its own, this arc would not leave a blip on my radar. Combined with Mirai-hen however, I would recommend you alternate between the two series to experience the true effect. It's no masterpiece in my eyes, but it's not really a pushover either. With my tilting-to-the-negative relationship I have with Lerche works, I would still say their Danganronpa contributions are my favourite.
Fun game to play while watching these: set a "zetsubo" counter, or make it into a drinking game. Now that will be true despair.
And that my friends, is the end. I'm a bit concerned for this Fall 2016 season, as I have a rather empty playlist of series to check out. A few have already failed for me, before I even finished the first episode. There's a chance I may use this slow season to fill in the gaps that my anime friends have opened with their recommendations throughout the years.
I suppose we'll see how it goes!