Take Flight, Fight, and Rewrite - Chroma's Winter 2015/2016 Impressions
Winter's chilly touch always makes my body feel dreary, muddled and unfocused, and I have to fight to stay strong during these times. It's little things like Christmas and the 31 Days of Stargazing that keeps me sane during these frosty times. Another thing is the potential for watching good anime series, and I sure was rewarded this season.
In a long awaited change, we're slowly beginning to roll out an entirely new system for Hiroi Sekai to reduce potential bias even further. As such, please don't take these seasonal impressions as suggestions. These are my very own personal impressions of the seasonal series, and I want each and every one of you to determine on your own accord if you'll watch, enjoy or even dislike a series. We may drift off into rambles about how we dislike certain things, but we do so to get our own thoughts laid out (and sometimes to release the mental strain built up over several weeks of airing time). Keep an ear open for the very exciting news upcoming for the site- I promise we have something in store that will get more undiscovered series delivered directly to your eyes.
Enough babbling for now. Winter 2015/2016 season impressions, commence!
Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: Everything Flows
Well now, what do we have here? A Makoto Shinkai original that gets a little additional love through a 4 episode short anime series? What's that? It once again stars Hanazawa Kana as the leading lady? Colour me intrigued indeed.
Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko was originally a very short OVA presented entirely in a greyscale world, gazing upon a girl and the stray cat she found one day. The enjoyment of the short story stemmed mostly from the fact that it's mostly a blank canvas with tiny splashes of metaphorical colour from our furry protagonist.
"She found me, that is why I'm her cat."
"She was crying. I don't think it was her fault."
"I think we both like this world."
That's all it said, and that's all it really needed. It was concise, set a very intriguing tone and for such a short length production, it really clung to me. Much like Shinkai's style, it takes a uniquely irregular love story and masterfully gets you invested in it.
2016's continuation titled Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: Everything Flows takes a very different approach to its presentation, but keeps its intentions pure. Brimming with colourful life and a more vocal cast, we see the world through the eyes of a different cat- one with a pudgier black figure and the name of Daru. His daily vision fixates upon the up-and-down life of his sweet owner, voiced by the queen of sugar kingdom, Hanazawa Kana.
While both representations present the same foundations of the story, there are a number of distinctions to be made here. There is an immediately noticeable pacing difference in speech, giving the impression that the girl and her cat in the original film may have been of younger ages to the modern anime's leads. There's almost this reversed approach where the characters from the Shinkai original feel younger, but the world sapped of colour radiates a more adult focus. One example is when both cats watch their owners weep over their internal struggles; the original follows up with the girl frantically whispering "Help me!" in her mind, while this modern version draws out the expression much longer and simply has the girl taking long contemplation on her situation as she cries silently. It's interesting to experience Shinkai's potentially younger interpretations placed in a more adult world, then taking in A-1 Pictures' more aged duo set in whimsical and vivid life.
Regardless of its differences, I really enjoyed this 4 episode short ride. It is drawn beautifully, doesn't try to do too much with itself, and ultimately is a new take on a classic work.
By the way, there's just something about this girl that convinces me that she is one of the best characterized representations of Hanazawa Kana herself. I don't know if it's her hairstyle, her sweet demeanour or something else, but I'm having an insanely difficult time seeing her voiced by anyone else.
Musaigen no Phantom World
It took a certain realization for me to actually start kind of enjoying what this show was trying to offer. About 4 episodes in, I was facing a horrendous wave of flashbacks to Kyokai no Kanata, much like John Rambo did with his recollections of torture in Vietnam. What made Musaigen no Phantom World easier for me was that I never got the feeling like it was trying to be a badass action series. It follows a more episodic arc approach, taking something goofy like a fall into a teddy bear kingdom and unapologetically having fun with it.
I always said that Kyokai no Kanata's best episode was its entirely unrelated bout with a stinky eye monster that the characters try and combat...by becoming idols. Taking away the villain that barely existed, the serious setting that was barely expanded upon, and focusing more on the quirky nature of the presentation itself, Musaigen no Phantom World is like an entire show comprised of Kyōkai no Kanata's idol episode.
I won't touch upon the excellent visuals much, since we're all probably quite familiar with Kyoto Animation's style by now. The female cast is nicely varied, with lead combat master Mai becoming an instant fan favourite. I'm more a fan of the fiery redhead with the even more fiery voice, Koito. From Mai's battle style of channeling Chinese qi to Reina's massive spirit feeding frenzy, the conflict traits of the cast are colourful as well, to say the least. The only thing I once again dislike is that the male lead is considerably more boring in almost every way. This is obviously geared towards the target demographic of the series, but it really, really couldn't hurt to give lead Haruhiko a bit more distinction from other KyoAni leads. He's basically a less ridiculous version of Yuta from Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai!, and he barely has any unique traits that makes him stand out for me. At the very least, he doesn't have a cringe-worthy catchphrase that he spouts in every single episode.
Having mentioned the more silly nature of the show playing to its benefits, it ironically suffers whenever it tries to do slapstick between Haruhiko and his...whatever fairy thingie, Ruru. Seriously, she adds absolutely nothing to the show and it just feels like they made her one of those "dangle-keys-in-your-face-for-amusement" characters. She's loud, jumps into shots and just pulls you out of anything that's happening, kind of like Navi from the Zelda games. There was also some blatantly pointless fanservice thrown in at the beginning whenever Mai would "channel" elements into various parts of her body. In the second half of the show, they cut down on both of these detracting elements, and it does a lot better because of it.
My tip is, just go into this one with the intention of laying back and just letting yourself be amused by a new and strange setting. If you don't dive in expecting a heavy, action-packed extravaganza, I think you could come to mildly appreciate it like I now do.
HaruChika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru
It's a mystery why this series is doing so poorly on MyAnimeList's fan ratings. Then again, the fandom seems to be easily shaken by sharp changes and expect a little too much from studios at all times, so perhaps it's no question why it's suffering in popularity. Regardless, I had a very enjoyable time with this series, and I'm hoping you'll give it a chance despite its ratings after reading this.
The title HaruChika derives from the names of our two main leads, Haruta and Chika. Fresh into their high school years, they both end up in the music club for entirely different reasons. While these childhood friend rediscover how far apart they are in the personality spectrum, strange occurrences begin to arise, and the duo must find common ground to conjure up solutions. If this makes it sound like Haruta and Chika are mortal enemies, that is really not the case. Haruta is a much more calculating and calm individual while Chika is loud, energetic and always jumping into things headfirst, yet the two share a rather intriguing chemistry that only long-term friends can. They engage constantly with sarcastic quips towards each other and you can grasp the sense that they actually enjoy each other's company.
What really keeps me invested in this series is the unique mystery lineup it presents. Much like how Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru didn't only focus on murder cases, HaruChika also steers away from the norm and looks at "The Case of the Rattling House" and "The Unsolvable Rubik's Cube" instead. It gives each episode its own distinct tint and flavour, which honestly kept me coming back again and again without fail.
Where most mystery series suffer in the long run is from the fact that the "genius" investigator (in this case, Haruta) is unrelatable to viewers when they just blaze through a complex problem as if it was almost inhuman. HaruChika is semi-affected by this issue, and if we were to look at the numerous side characters it presents, it's an even bigger issue. Really, there are only about 4 or 5 characters total that are worth really getting invested into, and even with that, Haruta himself keeps slipping back between playful human to binary-crunching computer, so it's hard to keep him in the list too. It's really not that the mysteries themselves are that hard to figure out either, but the series presents them in a way where Haruta is never phased by them in any way. He just sits there and ponders, then takes actions on his own to solve them. He has almost transcended the intelligence levels of his peers and teachers, and doesn't even consider consulting others most of the time. The other characters just kind of come along for the ride, which is ultimately a shame.
But after all that, I still very much appreciate this series. It takes a very different path from P.A. Works' usual productions, even down to the more Uchoten Kazoku style animations and designs. The quality doesn't hold a candle to series like Nagi no Asukara or Hanasaku Iroha, but I don't think that's the point. In fact, if it followed that style more closely, I'd be concerned it almost felt a little too much like a strange Hibike! Euphonium/Hyoka hybrid. In the end, I think this charming little show is worth checking out, just as long as you enjoy the ecstasy of discovery and probably one of musical group fhána's best singles in a while.
I'm late to the party, but I just had one of those inexplicable urges to not sleep, so like your typical overly intelligent person, I tormented my mind with an overindulgence of Yami Shibai in pitch black night with noise-isolating stereo headphones on full.
Okay, so maybe that was not the brightest idea (get it, because it was pitch black? Hahahaha...I'm probably not in the best mental state right now), but I have always had this strange fascination with the concept of fear itself. By nature, I found myself to be a rather fearful person, yet that rush of chills that run up your spine is just somehow exhilarating to me. Despite being so over-the-top impossible most of the time, these stories always hold even a remote chance that they could happen, which I think is where the true fear comes from.
Yami Shibai is in its third season now, comprised entirely of short episodes with a new ghost story every week. It's like gathering around the campfire to tell spooky stories, except you're alone with a madman who may turn into something inexplicably demonic at any moment. These stories are generally hit and miss with how scary they actually are, but make no mistake, they are ALWAYS creepy. It plays upon a wide variety of fears and will likely find one that you personally are afraid of. The rest is just the rotten uncomfortable cherry on top.
From my own experience with this crazy ride, seasons 1 and 2 of the show ultimately fared a lot better with its stories. I found that while the first two seasons showcased a lot more realistically possible scares, this newest season has too many ridiculous warped-face monsters mashed up and disfigured for the sake of just being gross.
Definitely check this one out if you are interested in a quick, uncomfortable horror fix. The jerky paper-like animations and dreary colours mixed with eerie music works well for its intentions, and just beware...there are a number of jumpscares.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
As an aspiring designer utilizing modern technology for my needs, it's fascinating to pull back to a past where even the mere concept of expression was a dying and mostly unappreciated trait. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju grasped me by the shoulders and threw me headfirst into an art I had only heard about before, rakugo.
This series takes you through a very interesting journey. I definitely know the first episode pulled me in with its jazzy soundtrack and olden architectural backgrounds, but it was the tradition of rakugo that I wanted to immediately look up on the internet afterwards. At first, it sounds a little bit silly in our modern age; a form of theatrics where a single performer props themselves in the middle of a large stage, and by only using their own expressive voice and a couple simple props, performs an entire story and acts as every character by themselves. Conversations are portrayed by a slight tilt of the body, insinuating to the audience that two people are on stage at once. However, after a mere a few episodes, the performances really grew on me. One of my favourite elements of design is minimalism; using what you don't have as an asset to complement what you do have, and rakugo does that and more.
For those of us very attuned to the modern age and its ways, the stories the performers convey may be a little too traditional and even confusing. It has a very old style of comedy that you may not connect with, but I don't think it's in the understanding of the rakugo stories that you appreciate this series. It's the theatricality of it all: the performer walking out silently, taking a deep breath, opening up the story, then eventually reaching a climactic point where the audience is either bursting out laughing or just too frightfully invested that no sound emerges from the audience at all. Every moment of this journey is appropriately accompanied by well-timed musical cues and camera perspectives, and it's actually very exciting to watch.
To quickly summarize the overall plot, multiple lives unfold at once to reveal the initiation, rise and falling out of two young friends on their journey to reach a respectable status within the rakugo masters. One of the friends is traditional, elegant and focused, while the other loves to drink, party and perform on the edge. Being held within a very traditional era, the former is much more favoured by the masters, which slowly causes a drift between the budding performers. However, the show features a much larger gamut of interesting characters, and this story doesn't play out like a typical drama would. It's something that I strongly believe you should try, even if the art itself doesn't pique your curiosity from the get-go.
Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm
A fascinating concept for a series turned mediocre for me when I just couldn't comprehend the sport based around it. Whenever asked if I would prefer aviation or invisibility as a superpower, I always picked the former. Being able to levitate myself and propel through the skies without confining myself within a metal enclosure would be the ultimate piece of freedom for me. So initially, Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm presented a very intriguing possibility to me- a world where students can weightlessly fly with special shoes issued by the school itself.
So yeah, count me in! Somehow, they've discovered a way to build anti-gravity properties into a simple pair of school loafers, and I'd be the very first person in line to buy them (or to register for school). This is all well and good, but the main draw of the series is based around a somewhat confused flying sport called Flying Circus.
Picture for me if you will, a 400m race where you can also score additional points by slapping a competitor right in the back. What tactics would you incorporate to win? Even this series doesn't really seem to have a direct answer. Flying Circus matches always boil down to slapping matches, as trying to outrun someone just results in either a chase or an inevitable dogfight at the next checkpoint. I can't even get a clear sense of the momentum involved in the dogfights, as sometimes attackers will just streak points by pushing opponents constantly away from them, but sometimes, this doesn't work. It just seems like a game that you could very easily exploit.
Lo and behold, we have our antagonizing force from England who do exactly that. The show tries to make them menacing with this, but I can't even relate as it's exactly what I'd do playing this ridiculous sport. Speaking of ridiculous, while the floating loafers look subtle and appealing, the seagull-shaped jumpsuits with moon boots that would put Napoleon Dynamite to shame just look overly goofy. Every character almost seems like they might have some form of intrigue right up until they put on boots that are too big for even Godzilla to wear.
I will say this about the series though, it has a really fantastic soundtrack. Whether it's soothing a sunset beach scene or ramping up a Flying Circus battle, the tracks here are placed well and help accentuate excitement. I can't imagine how average the matches would have felt without this solid OST.
Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
Easily the best written and presented anime of the season for me, and I hope you'll let this rollercoaster of emotions and events draw you in slowly, just like it did for me.
Absolutely gleaming with strong characters, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi focuses around protagonist Satoru who has a very special power- the ability to jump back in time before a fatal tragedy occurs. Appropriately naming it "revival", Satoru wallows about his simple pizza delivery job days until something shakes his entire world. HARD. Satoru experiences the most potent revival yet, and in a desperate attempt to reverse what this tragedy has brought about, he finds himself back in the shoes of his 11 year old self. Seems like this case might be deeply tied down to a mysterious serial child kidnapping case from around that time...
As mentioned, every single part of this anime is placed upon a golden standard and kept there from beginning to end. The dreary grey filters down to the consistent letterboxed shots keep the entire production feeling like a really tense and exciting movie, and the somewhat underwhelming music silently accentuates everything that much more. Characters are incredibly strong and tight-knit, as they're the best source of protection and solace from the evils lurking within their own town. The children are crafty but innocent, adults range from destructive like our mysterious killer to unbelievably caring, like Satoru's amazing mother. It's a fight for everyone's future, and each step taken is incredibly important to the plot.
Almost a running joke for the show is that almost every episode ends with a gut-wrenching cliffhanger that is pure torture for weekly viewers like myself. "IT'S NOT OKAY, ALRIGHT?" In the end though, it only cultivated the strong emotional connections we had to the characters, and whenever the simulcast reoccured, we'd be crawling in line just like at a new iPhone launch. Week after week, I couldn't get enough of it. I got so invested that I was literally shouting at my monitor whenever I realized something new or something drastic occurred, changing everything.
Lastly, this has actually been running almost parallel to the manga's releases, so it's worth mentioning that while the overall presentation and art quality is inferior in the manga, it reveals a number of hidden scenes not shown in the anime due to time constraints. For the number of episodes they had to play with, it's a masterpiece in my eyes.
It's still Tekyu. Here's a picture of Marimo wearing panties on her head after fishing them out of the river. Enjoy. Now go watch it.
Durarara!! x2 Ketsu
When we were first introduced to the mad world of alterna-Ikebukuro in 2010, I never would have expected us to receive a full blown continuation that would stretch over the length of 3 seasons. Standing right at the very end of it, I do feel it overplayed all of its cards and was ultimately left a weaker series for it.
In the original season, we were introduced to a number of different characters leading different lives in different portions of the eccentric district. While not always directly confronting one another, these stories majorly played into other events that would affect the rest of Ikebukuro as a whole. At the top of the city stood Izaya, an information broker whose pure joy in life is to observe and play around with humans. Russians running a sushi bar, a demonic blade that can possess victims with a frightful curse, a dullahan that is on a constant search for her missing head, full blown gang wars, you name it, this show has it.
The fascination with the original season stemmed from the fact that everything was well contained within its own boundaries, and each step characters took was relatable and meaningful. Over the course of these three continuing series, the stories mentioned earlier grew way, way too big. The originally single demonic blade now has duplicates and new characters who wield them. The gang wars have blown up out of control, and Izaya's become such a big target even finding a Target store in America would be a harder task than hunting him down. When everything reached its climactic zenith, I felt like I was looking at a mutated creature not of my own creation.
Durarara still holds a very special charm that very few other shows can replicate. It's set in a consistently dreary district that I still can't believe manages to keep all of the mad events locked within, and watching so many different stories does keep things fresh and engaging. I just wish it had a little bit less talk and more action, to put it simply. Character motives have grown so ludicrous that they have to always sit down and validate why something is happening. In the end, I'm glad I got more Durarara, but I do feel a bit amiss for it not reaching its full potential.
Ansatsu Kyoshitsu - 2nd Season
This is another series I have come to accept on its own playing grounds, and have found much more enjoyable over its running time. I believe initially, I set a bit too high of an expectation after hearing just how insanely popular the manga series was, but I see now that I should take this at face value for what the anime presents me instead.
A reject class of the worst ranked students of a powerful school are branded the E-Class, and they've been assigned to try and assassinate their teacher by a certain time limit, or he will end up destroying the world. By the way, their teacher is pretty much a giant yellow squid alien thing with mach speed movements and regenerative powers, amongst many other hidden traits. This won't be an easy task, especially since they all get along very well and form close bonds with each other. With the world and a 10 million yen bounty at stake though, can they keep up this friendly connection?
Unlike what many people may think, the strength of the show does not lie in its goofy comedy or its actual assassination attempts. From my perspective, there's a big power struggle from the principle and his son to maintain the control they so desire, and the strikeback from what they believed was the worst class in school is what is enjoyable. In this season, the top A-Class and the bottom ranked E-Class are pitted against each other in studies, athletics, school festival rankings, you name it. The E-Class utilizes their quirky attributes and strengths to their full advantage, putting in great efforts and surprising everyone. It has this "wanting to belong" element added to the show, which many people can probably relate to.
Along the way, we also got a lot of extra backstory for several characters. In particular, main lead Nagisa got a pretty rewarding arc where he confronts his aggressively passionate mother and his own life choices. For what was a silly little comedy riddled show, it adds a very nice connection to the cast and the decisions they make. The show isn't anything amazingly masterful, but it's harmless and presents a really fun atmosphere. This second season only makes things better.
Hai to Genso no Grimgar
I've saved something special for last. While Boku Dake ga Inai Machi was my favourite overall show this season, Hai to Genso no Grimgar is the series I was begging for week after week. This is exactly how Sword Art Online should have handled its character developments, and I just cannot wait to talk about my personal experience with it.
This series thrusts our main character group into a unknown world in which they suddenly wake up in. Nothing more is needed, but the fact that they are all trapped, hungry and weak is very apparent. Bonding together for survival and strength, they form a party with widely varied skill sets and personality types. Haruhiro has good focus and decides to study the ways of the thief. Manato and his calming demeanour land him the role of cleric. Yume's sharp eyes and supportive nature suits her archer position. The list goes on, but it's a bit unorthodox to see a fantasy RPG setting where no actual "game" elements are present. They're not trapped in a video world trying to escape, this is their real life world, and they have to face the fight of their lives with what they have, no matter the challenge.
And what a challenge it is. The group has literally no experience or notable skills, so even the weakest goblin creatures are too much for them. They spend the first few episodes desperately trying to gang up and kill one goblin between 5 of them, but it still fights back strong and they keep failing. It gets to the point where they're starving and worry about how much longer they'll last. This is where the persistence and connection factor plays in, and it makes it so easy to like all of these characters. No potential is wasted on the entire main clan, and just like any good RPG story would do, you would feel shattered if anyone was ever separated from you. Later in the series, another party member is added, and even she gets the same love and appreciation in her development as everyone else does.
Another beauty of this series are the gorgeous watercoloured landscapes. Every piece of atmosphere is washed over with beautiful brush strokes that are so relaxing to gaze upon, and that plays into another great strength. For what would initially be perceived as an action show, it gives you so much room to just breathe in and take in the development and atmosphere of everything around you. People have complained that the show wastes way too much time on these, but I felt that they were a very welcome addition that only made me appreciate every character, event and location that much more. It's hard for me to praise it any more, I just ask that you give it a try.