Reach for the Stars - Chroma's Winter 2016/2017 Impressions
Another season, another pile of shows to talk about. Right before the anticipation of the Spring season (Uchoten Kazoku and Shingeki no Kyojin's second seasons in particular for me), let's have a look at how I kicked off my 2017. At the very least, it was a very interesting mixed bag.
Kuzu no Honkai
If you ever needed more convincing that the world is filled with terrible people, fuelled by their own self-interests and falsehoods they shroud themselves behind, Kuzu no Honkai is a perfect poster child for your very depressing desires.
The story revolves around several people, each with their own personal agenda that is built almost entirely out of lies. Protagonist Hanabi appears to be in a romantic relationship with her classmate Mugi, but the cold fact is that their connection is a manufactured contract. Hanabi truly loves her childhood friend, who as her new homeroom teacher, cannot be with her. Mugi, on the flip side, loves the music teacher of the school, who used to privately tutor him. Both torn over their unrequited loves, they agree to structure a relationship simply to fill the emptiness within themselves.
I immediately fell in love with the show's beautiful designs, both in movement and especially in its stills. I was shocked to later discover that this was a Studio Lerche work, a studio whose style I haven't exactly preferred in the past. Even more fascinating than the visuals however, is Kuzu no Honkai's character interactions. It starts off rather simple, with the idea that Hanabi and Mugi have a forged relationship, and in turn, that affects other characters who love them. Against an outcry of nudity-fearing viewers, Kuzu no Honkai cleverly utilized sexual interactions to not only portray glimpses of intimacy, but to really cement just how terrible these characters could act in exchange for their own self-satisfaction. It was a really different take on the romance genre and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it, despite how slowly it can move at times. I suppose that just let me appreciate Lerche's visuals and the incredible voice and sound work all the more.
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon
Kyoto Animation's light-hearted comedy about a maid dragon and her bizarre adventures in the human world was definitely something that I had a lot of questions for. What sort of funnies could be explored with a dragon protagonist? Would there be elements of fantasy or would it be purely a comedy?
Kobayashi spends her days stuffed up in an office, being yelled at by an irritatingly noisy boss about her programming work. To relieve the pressure, she frequents places that will serve her alcohol by the gallon. On one particular drunken excavation, she completely misses her stop and chances upon a lost dragon and offers to bring her human form back to stay in her apartment. The next morning, her hangover supersedes her memories of the meeting, but the two are reunited when Kobayashi opens the door to go to work.
Sounds insane, right? Well, it is. Not only does Kobayashi deal with the eccentric dragon Toru, but slowly, more dragons appear to reunite with their lost companion. Having lived alone for so long, Kobayashi is probably one of the few people in the world that agree to foster the madness in exchange for indulging her strange maid fetish. I found the typical Kyoto Animations to be expectedly nice, with a great blend of colours that expertly makes you feel at home, even with these dragons from another world practically invading. While the character designs are all creatively fun to gaze upon, I was only truly drawn to a select few once the show made their quirks known. Particularly annoyingly, one of the girls seems to have just been crafted to a breast-joke factory, creepily paired to a very young boy in the neighbourhood. I still found myself letting these scenes pass, just because the other ones are so much damn fun. You can go from Toru garnering more street cred in a few days than Kobayashi (which is funny) to a grand battle between dragons, filled with magic and explosions (which is epic). The comedy hit well a lot of the time for me too, which was my biggest concern before jumping in. It was just genuine good fun, and it made me want to see other Kyoto Animation funnies like Nichijo and K-ON! again, which is never a bad thing in my eyes.
Little Witch Academia (TV)
Now here's one I've been following for a while now (4 years to be exact). Little Witch Academia began as an incubator project known as Anime Mirai (now called Anime Tamago), and quickly garnered enough praise to launch a Kickstarter, receive a second season, and now a full length anime series.
Kagari Atsuko (nicknamed Akko by her friends) witnessed an incredible magician named Shiny Chariot as a child, blossoming a love for magic and its power to make people happy. In her teenage years, she finally packs her bags and sets foot upon the renowned magic school for witches, Luna Nova Academy. The problem is, Akko is absolutely terrible at using magic and quickly becomes the laughingstock of her fellow students. It's going to take determination and a little bit of guidance for Akko to become as good as Chariot was, to say the least.
I'm actually really glad this one-shot work drew enough people to it to warrant a full, two-cour anime. While it was a pretty generic idea with the underdog rising to the betterment of themselves through discovery, the world setting and childlike wonderment of it all had me interested in the original idea. It's exposing this idea to the full length of a television series that shows me some of the cracks in the seam. The animation style is typical Studio Trigger, incorporating a lot of slapstick-speed cuts like in Kill la Kill. My problem here is that, ironically, Little Witch Academia is not a bizarre enough setting to warrant these barrages of zippy animation. A lot of time is spent accentuating Akko's discovery of her own merits, and when that's contrasted by a cut to her screaming while being tossed around like a comedic ragdoll at slapstick pace, it feels really off to me. But I don't really let that skew my personal opinion of the show itself. It's a really innocent message set in a Harry Potter-esque setting and gives off that same sense of childish joy most of the time. I quite enjoy it and its incredibly beautiful ending song, which I've done nothing but repeat over and over since I heard it.
I really, really, really wanted this to be better. I truly did. A spiritual successor to Amagami SS, even set in the same universe? It's been so long since I lost myself in that charming world that a return to it sounded like a little miracle of potentials. Sadly, it ended up being my least favourite show of the season by far.
Seiren follows a similar formula to Amagami SS, dedicating arcs of episodes to the protagonist's romantic advances on different girls in his school. The difference here is that there are half the number of heroines: stubborn-but-popular princess of her class Tsuneki, socially awkward gamer girl Toru, and honour student and childhood friend Kyoko.
My biggest gripe with this series was how little it cared about subtlety. Seiren spends every single episode finding ways to shoving unnecessary fanservice in your face, even if most of them don't contribute to romantic advancements at all. Remember when I said Kuzu no Honkai was viewed with a razor's edge because people were too sensitive to its characters using sex to propel their own desires? Seiren spits things like "milk bath artwork" and rabbit cosplays with pubic hair right in your face, and it does so to follow up with the protagonist making the tired embarrassed reactions. I'd almost call it a parody of the Amagami series, except for the fact that they copy everything else from it, minus the charm and subtleties. Personally, it frustrated me enough to dread watching almost every single episode, and I hope to never come across it again. I was actually debating whether I disliked this more or less than Photokano, and this ultimately won out. If this sort of segmented harem stories idea appeals to you, I'd personally recommend checking out Amagami SS first, then compare it to the likes of this and see what you like more. I think it'd be interesting to hear what others lean towards.
Tales of Zestiria the X - 2nd season
Essentially my weekly trip to the movie theatre, Tales of Zestiria the X has most definitely been a big adventure from its very birth. With hints and tie-ins to the now-released 'Tales of Berseria' game, it truly was a force to be reckoned with.
In a world filled with malevolent energy, a chosen one must rise as the Shepherd of the people and purify the evils that threaten them. That role falls upon Sorey, a village-dweller who has the ability to see and interact with an ancient race known as the Seraphim. As the malevolence spreads faster and births grander beasts of terror, Sorey must find allies in both human and Seraphim-kind to vanquish the source of the darkness. The only problem is, not everyone seems to value the Shepherd's quest as is necessary for survival.
As mentioned, this series is just pure eye candy from beginning to end. Very little detail is left out, and it's a series I can comfortably enjoy for its great blend of 3D and 2D work. The character designs pop, and it's exactly how I'd want an anime portrayal of the 3D models from the game to look. Speaking of the characters, the show did a good job to give important characters the screen time they deserve, while ensuring others acted as they should as side characters. Princess Alisha is a refreshing look at how princesses aren't mere damsels in distress, but can be forerunners in politics, combat and wisdom. Sorey and the Seraphim also share an intriguing look at the ideals behind entities that can't be seen by most, but must be depended upon. Rose in particular is a show-stealer, combining a lovable playfulness with her own righteous ideals driving her badass combat prowess. I just wish we got a bit more of a look at the 'Tales of Berseria' universe because it was so neat, but I appreciated the tie-in nonetheless.
Rewrite - 2nd Season
I wish I had the ability to rewrite my brain cells, so I can make even the tiniest bit more sense out of this absolutely packed-to-the-gills anime. So much has happened since the show launched, and it all happened in sporadic order, so there definitely was some piecing together work to be done.
Rewrite is set in many locations. Primarily, it is set on an Earth overinfested with greenery, with jumps to desert warfare and even the moon. It all revolves around Tennoji Kotaro, a boy who abandoned his family's cultist followings, trained within harsh settings to gain a special power to rewrite his body into situational necessities, then tried to prevent a warring faction from discovering and destroying a girl acting as the key to changing humanity. In between, he makes friends in his high school's occult club, which ironically sports members from both of the warring factions fighting for the key.
Got all that? I sure hope so, because watching these scenes play out in a completely different order with constant flashbacks definitely threw my brain for a loop. The first season focused mostly on Kotaro meeting the key, building relationships with the members of the occult club, then ultimately engage in combat when the war between the Guardian and Gaia factions begins. As reference, Guardian is the group searching to kill the key to ensure she doesn't destroy the human race, and Gaia aims to capture the key to use her world changing powers to destroy humanity and potentially be reborn as something better. Both seasons had several moments of intrigue, but were also scattered amongst dreadfully slow scenes of confusing exposition, and ultimately, it didn't play out to my interests. I feel like sometimes, KEY doesn't feel like it has to earn its despair badge anymore, clinging to its prior successes but not putting in nearly as much effort to build up personalities for their characters to get us invested to the point where tragedy does heavily impact us. "Some men like to watch the world burn", as was once said, and personally, I could care less if this one is engulfed in flames.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
This is a tale...a tale of a time long past. A time where theatrics were performed by a single person upon a stage utilizing only his voice and a couple simple props. This is a tale that takes us through the age of rakugo.
Fresh out of prison, yakuza member Yotaro ventures forth to pursue the passion he discovered, rakugo. Seeking mentorship from one of the most distinguished performers of his time, Yotaro begins to study in hopes of leaving his life of crime behind. The first season of the show delves into the mentor Yakumo's past, his run-in with the eccentric performer Sukeroku, and their lives together as the dying art of rakugo struggles to keep itself alive. This season, Yotaru earns his place in rakugo history by carrying on the art in the name of Sukeroku. It also peers into an aged Yakumo and how his brushes with death seem to be drawing closer and closer.
This was an absolutely enriching experience for me. As someone who lives frenetically in a digital media world, I am woefully unaware of the likely vast world of the performing arts of olde. Within rakugo I found a truly expressive art, where the engagement and beauty of the performance has to entirely come from the storyteller's ability to convey multiple voices and bring the suspension of disbelief to his onlookers. This show takes these performance scenes and gives them such flair, using unique angles, framing, lighting and music to draw out the joy that is rakugo. This second season not only continued to impress me with its stellar settings and characters, but also managed to squeeze in some truly surreal scenery. It requires that you pay close attention to the little details and rewards you if you comply. In a sense, that's the same as how rakugo works.
I think I may have found it. The first series that Echoes recommended to me that I am just not gelling with. I can't speak for its entirety as it has a delayed release schedule, plus Echoes had only seen one episode at the time and gave it a really baseline recommendation. Regardless, let's take a closer look.
Kasumi is on the hunt for something she calls the "star beat", a sensation she experienced through sound as a child. One day, she stumbles across what appears to be an abandoned warehouse and finds a star-shaped guitar locked up within a dusty case. This discovery eventually leads her to the local live house "Space", where she is blinded by the performance of a girls rock band called "Glitter*Green". She begins to search for band members to unite and impress the live house's picky owner to gain permission to play on stage.
Here's the problem, Kasumi doesn't know anything about playing guitar. Unlike Hirasawa Yui from K-ON!, she also lacks the superhuman adaptability to learn, so the show portrays her and her bandmates progressing at a normal human's rate. Basically, this means they can play to the extent of those songs you used to play on the recorder in elementary school, and boy, does the show bathe those songs in their own spotlight. For a good three episodes, Kasumi is obsessed with playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" as onlookers giggle at the childish simplicity of it all. It had a particularly cringe-worthy 5 minutes at the end of the third episode, and the other performances from Kasumi's band is equally difficult to listen to. Granted, it's neat to hear a newfound band actually sound like they're learning how to play, but it's not an appealing follow-up to the enticing performance from "Glitter*Green" in the first episode. I also dislike how lazily animated (if animated at all) the performances are, neglecting any timing in the characters' playing. To cap it off, I cemented in the fact that the story is frighteningly predictable when I pointed out a cliffhanger before it even played out. I'm just not a fan of anything in the series minus its quirky character designs.
Yami Shibai - 4th Season
I sure hope you don't enjoy sleep, because the fourth season of creepiness kicks off to ensure that you'll be leaving the lights on when you sleep. No matter the fact that these are short stories, they are still definitely strange, and they are still definitely frightening at times.
Each episode features a different story spanning about 3 minutes in length, which can't really be summarized without spoiling much. Talking about the look and feel of the show, this season plays with a new element that really added to the creepiness of it all. By incorporating cutaways where a shot of a live action hand rises up to show it stained in blood, it makes these otherwise bizarre stories feel much more rooted to reality. The only thing that takes me out of the experience is the expectation of the unfittingly cheery song acting as the ending. But hey, it's almost like a lifesaver tossed out to me after shivering in fear, so I'll take it, as awkward as it is.
Following off the colourful streak of Aikatsu!, I've been following the alternate world of Aikatsu Stars! ever since. There's a lot that's different with this series, but a lot that's similar as well. What do I think of this series intended for young children?
If you haven't experienced it, Aikatsu! was a series built around young idols utilizing a system built around their own self-promotion and discovery. Without putting in the effort, their popularities will plummet without any apologies or remorse. It featured an incredible soundtrack and many unforgettably charming characters, and I enjoyed it to the point of watching all 178 episodes. Aikatsu Stars! features Nijino Yume, whose goal is to earn a spot in the S4, a grouping of her academy's best idols.
Just like before, Aikatsu Stars! has a stellar soundtrack that blends beautifully with its insanely vibrant colour scheme. It still baffles me how the best selling series Love Live! School Idol Project can have such awkward 3D performance animations, but the considerably bypassed Aikatsu! series holds what I feel should be the standard for idol performance scenes. These stages are extravagant, the dance moves are varied and there are even appeal cutaways to spice up the experiences. Being a children's show, there are a lot of simplistic morals, but I still think they're good morals to remember. My big complaint with the series is that it assumes your ignorance of character traits disappearing into thin air is okay, often leaving out important expository scenarios and just letting the show play out and hope for the best. I know it's a less solidified nitpick because it's ultimately a children's show, but I really press on this matter because Aikatsu! was filled with so much enjoyable content that it deserves to be watched by a wider demographic. I sincerely hope many more of you will check out this series.
That concludes my interesting mixed bag of a winter season. Were there any series I didn't watch that you discovered? Are there any points you agree or disagree with? Let us know in the comments! I always love reading about what I may have missed.