It Gets Better - Echoes' Fall 2015 Impressions
Fall. If only it were so. Readers residing in a warmer, more pleasant climate may not be able to relate, but if whatever I am experiencing now is fall, I have but one thing to say: Don’t show me winter. The only upside to this blistering cold is that my worn, patchy jacket has bigger pockets than my usual options of black and gray jeans. But we’re not here to talk about the weather. Let’s hope the anime season is not as devastating as the cold and rain are, and that I possess enough impartiality not to let the poor anime suffer in place of the weather gods, whom I unfortunately cannot reach. No matter how hard I rant.
Saitama has a problem. He’s too damn strong, and every opponent bores him.
Let me begin by paying compliment to the show’s title. It is excellent. Falling in line with what will prove to be the trend of the season, the first episode of One Punch Man did not blow me away. It is not a show you can sell on the strength of its premise alone. In fact, the idea of a super-strong guy who kills everyone with the flick of his wrist sounds rather boring. I had already made up a disparaging name for it in my head before I watched it: “One-Joke Show.” A few more episodes in, however, and I was totally sold. I don’t have any interest in superheroes, and I have little interest in shonen action in general, so you would think a show parodying either, never mind both, would bore me. This one doesn’t. One Punch Man is pretty damn entertaining.
Get Madhouse to animate, JAM Project to sing the opening, and Sawashiro Miyuki in there to voice one of the villains? Yeah, I’m in. The show looks stellar, moves along at the speed of light and has a unique identity. It is hard not to enjoy your time watching the show, as the effort of the production team really shines through on every level. The beauty of the show is all in the execution of the fights, the timing of the jokes, and the direction. While a little outside my usual sphere of interest, One Punch Man is an unambiguous success.
Owari no Seraph: Nagoya Kessen-hen
Owari no Seraph returns for another installment of dystopic, vampiric fun. I had very warm words for the series first season upon its initial release, praising its visuals, pacing, as well as its touch of surprisingly disturbing scenes, which added a much-appreciated sense of gravitas to the whole experience.
While the first two points remain largely true, I feel the show has grown complacent in its use of tension and dread. The tragic events at the series inception remain an isolated incident, a catalyst for our protagonist to act, and not at all a representation of how most other events in the series are handled. This disappoints me, as I had hoped the series would dare to be darker, more tragic, and thus invoke a stronger sense of tension and anticipation in the viewer. Perhaps that is yet to come.
All my highly subjective wishes about where I wish the series would go aside, the series is still a treat to watch. The visuals are, as mentioned, still looking stellar. The characters are well designed, the backgrounds have a painted look which is simply gorgeous, and the fight scenes are very well animated. Shinoa remains one of the coolest characters around. No one’s going to argue with a beautiful, sarcastic girl voiced by Hayami Saori and wielding a scythe. At least I hope no one is that suicidal. Another slight point of detraction for the series is the stereotyped nature most of the cast possesses. While we learn more about them, I don’t feel anyone else has truly grown beyond the handful of traits which make up their basic type. What we learn rarely expands upon their character, it merely confirms the traits we already know them to possess.
They are a fun bunch to watch, but a little less reliance on the same jokes and the same basic situations popping would go a long way. The plot does seem to be moving towards a larger confrontation, with internal struggles on both sides in addition to the greater vampire-human conflict at the series’ core drawing ever closer to their inevitable blood-soaked eruptions. My greatest hope for this season is that we get to see more of that, and less of the characters attempting to master the demons they wield, which while interesting, essentially amounts to a variation on the training arc.
I still can’t decide if this is an awesome name for a series, or a really, really terrible one. The contents of the show itself leaves me feeling equally ambiguous.
Heavy Object takes place in an alternate world, where the eponymous “Objects” are the only things sent to the battlefield, replacing traditional warfare as we know it. Of course, things don’t exactly go as planned, and before you know it, there’s shootin’ and C4 explosives blowin’ stuff up real good.
The show’s pacing comes off as extremely uneven, as the first episode moves along at a snail’s pace, while the proceeding two rush through events with hardly any time to catch your breath. Additionally, the show tries to maintain a delicate balance between developing its setting, its antagonists, the objects themselves and the three presumed protagonists. It has a lot on its plate.
Sadly, the biggest issue I have with the show is one that could have been easily and thoroughly avoided with but a few strokes of the authorial pen. He could have simply not used Milinda’s (the female lead) breasts as a device for comedy. That would have been it. Don’t have Qwenthur (yes, that’s really his name) think stuff like “Wow, she’s stacked!” in the middle of a scene where they fear for their lives. Don’t have him let her come close to being choked to death due to fear of touching her chest because it would “defile her” either. That’s just straight up dumb. Find a better way to implement your fanservice. (Which I have no problem with, and in fact love, in the proper context and/or show.)
Despite its floundering, Heavy Object is not a bad show. There is clearly a detailed, interesting setting to discover here. The characters, while sometimes needlessly stupid, are for the most part likeable. The Objects look badass, and I get the sense we will learn much more about both them and the nature of the series’ unique brand of warfare down the line. If they work out the kinks, this could end up being a true great. What I am expecting at this point is more along the lines of “solid, but unremarkable.” In other words, pick it up if the setting/designs/creators interest you. Otherwise, give it a pass.
Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru
“Sakurako-san” (as I will be referring to the show as henceforth) is a strange mystery series which takes us into the world of the eponymous Sakurako. She is somehow able to channel her love for skeletal remains of man and beast alike into nigh-supernatural detective abilities. It is, if nothing else, a unique super power.
The show’s premiere episode left me with a worried outlook. The music seemed overbearing, and other than Sakurako’s obsession with bones, everything from personalities to the first mystery’s setup seemed pulled straight out of “The Great Book of Anime Clichés.” The way Sakurako solved the mystery in record time was there purely to make us understand that she was, indeed, a genius who should not be discounted. On the other hand, Ito Shizuka voices her in what is a case of perfect casting. Her performance goes a long way in selling the character and is reminiscent of earlier roles such as Koko from Jormungand, where she is in complete control and feels effectually born to do the role.
The second and third episode, however, puts the series in a very different light. Despite a clumsy introduction to the setting and its characters, it quickly gets back on its feet and devotes the following two episodes to mysteries which do more than flirt with the darker side of humanity. The series never gets morose (there always seems to be a silver lining to end things on), but the cases Sakurako stumbles into are tenebrous enough to elicit your interest for the full episode. On the topic of stumbling into cases: The way Sakurako and her partner Shotaro find themselves involved in these mysteries by mere coincidence requires you to really put your suspension of disbelief to work and roll with punches. It isn’t realistic or believable, but perhaps that itself will be touched on later in the series. It is a mystery, after all.
Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid
Poor Mamori. She’s short. She’s meek. Her last name, which at the series’ start is imprinted on the t-shirt she wears, is always misread as “virgin.” And now she’s stranded on some strange island where no one seems to be around. That is, until she is attacked by some very mean lesbians.
Luckily for her, a woman who seems to be her polar episode swoops in, gives her a deep, tongue-filled kiss and turns her into a sword. Phew. Crisis averted.
As you have no doubt guessed, Valkyrie Drive is one of those shows. Produced by studio Arms, filled to the brim with fanservice, suggestive situations and supplemented by a healthy amount of battles and action. What I do like about Arms is that they usually insist on taking the ecchi genre out of the typical high-school hijinks setting and give us an actual plot, as well as plenty of sexy, bad-ass girls kicking butt all over the place. And while the plots are unsurprisingly not of the Shin Sekai Yori or Neon Genesis Evangelion caliber, they are frequently ridiculous and action-packed enough to make them very fun to watch. Valkyrie Drive is exactly that so far. The sexual content is at about 80% on the Queen’s Blade-meter. Which means there’s a whole bunch of it. Turn your partner on to turn her into a weapon you wield. What’s…not to love? I only hope the series stays fun, and doesn’t delve too deep into the darker, creepier side of these concepts. As long as it doesn’t get too serious, I think it will be a stupidly entertaining ride.
The only thing I can really say about Tekyu now is this: Start watching Tekyu. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of the formation of an and utterly insane, genuine cult following. Trust me, people will be looking back on this show and wonder just how this complete gem of undiluted retardation (it’s a good thing) eluded so many people. And I will be there to say “I liked Tekyu before it was cool.” And so can you! You can be that guy!
What? My pitch sucks? Well, here’s another one. You can watch an entire season of Tekyu in about as much time as it takes you to watch one episode of a regular show. That’s a bargain. That’s value. That’s time efficiency. Sure, you may feel like you need an aspirin once you’re done, but you still won’t be sorry you indulged.
In full sincerity: Thank you for being you, Tekyu. Thank you, fanbase, for letting this pants-on-head stupid show exist this long. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk
Did anyone else just get a weird sense of déja vu?
Ayato joins a magical high school, an academy where the students are trained in battles using all sorts of superpowers. Haplessly, he enters the window at an inopportune time to witness a pink-haired, princess-like girl wearing nothing but her underwear. The fire-wielding sorceress wants to duel him to show him what’s what after his indiscretion.
This description sounds like the most generic light novel synopsis you could possibly imagine. However, that is not what makes it notable in this case. What makes it interesting is its nearly identical twin, which is also running this season! But we will get to him later. He’s an evil, evil twin. Think 'Basket Case'. But, uhm, I digress.
I watched the first episode of Gakusen Toshi Asterisk and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry back to back, and thought they were of roughly equivalent quality at the time. In retrospect, I was clearly a fool. While Asterisk bears the hallmarks of utter mediocrity on the surface, it works meticulously on its details, elevating itself to a show which genuinely entertains and even endears itself to me. The characters, slowly but surely, are fleshed out enough to rise above their tropey bases, and the excellent presentation shows sincere effort from the production staff. The visuals are very pretty, and the music adds to every scene. (Not to mention the mesmerizing ending credit tune.) A special mention goes out to Toyama Nao for voicing Claudia in the show. An upper-class lady with a soft, seductive voice, she is the polar opposite of Toyama’s typical performance. (notable examples of her typical work being Kiniro Mosiac’s Karen and Kongo from Kantai Collection) She is nearly unrecognizable in the role, and knocks it out of the park. Her voice is virtually allure incarnate.
While I was shocked by just how enjoyable this show was, the actual plot is thus far thoroughly average. If and when that changes is when this show will evolve from “a pleasant surprise” to an actually great show. For now, it is well worth watching for the reasons discussed, and should be a shoo-in for anyone with an inkling of interest in the genre.
Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry
Also known as: "Chivalry of the Failed Knight" and a bunch of other names. Why is it called that? Did the author confuse “cavalry” for “chivalry”? I don’t mean to nitpick, but if you’re confusing a chivalrous knight for a knight with a cavalry, you could be in for some trouble. I have digressed in the first paragraph. This does not bode well.
I called Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry “Gakusen Toshi Asterisk’s Evil Twin”, but perhaps that was a bit off the mark. Rakudai Kishi is more like the cousin who shows up at every major family gathering, just to get blind drunk and ask everyone to lend him money. He smells too. Like a sweaty gym teacher. But you keep letting him back in. Because he’s not hurting anyone. Not really. And he’s family, right?
Ikki goes to a magical high school. One day, he happens upon a princess-like, pink-haired girl changing in his room. And she’s in her underwear! Hapless Ikki has to duel her now, and would you imagine, she has the power of fire at her command. The loser has to obey the winner’s commands absolutely for the rest of their life!
Did anyone else just get a weird sense of déja vu? Wait, what was that about lifelong servitude?
Here you begin to see the two shows differentiate themselves from each other. Where Asterisk does it best to assemble basic building blocks into a simple, but beautiful form, Rakudai Kishi does the exact opposite. It starts with even simpler building blocks, and makes absolutely zero effort during the assembly. The outcome is predictable, mediocre and largely unappealing to anyone already familiar with the blocks.
Stella, the pink-haired girl, of course loses the duel. Because Ikki has hidden and immense strength no one else understands. Of course he does. This establishes a very unfortunate power-dynamic where she is (by both herself and by others, but thankfully not Ikki…) referred to as his servant. In what might sadly be the series’ best scene, she takes off her top and washes Ikki’s back with her bare breasts. Soon thereafter, Ikki’s little sister joins the fray and gives Ikki an open-mouth, deep kiss in front of everyone. Yup, she wants to bone him. We are then introduced to some of the lamest criminals ever, and a rival for Ikki so cartoonishly jerkish you might as well replace his facial features with a note reading: “Audience, please hate me!!” The visuals are similarly unimpressive, with a few spikes in quality producing actually nice-looking action scenes strewn in. The fanservice is far from overwhelming, but the tacky way in which it is implemented makes it a stark contrast to Asterisk, where it comes across as a pleasant, relatively tasteful addition. Stella’s design is lovely, but even I am not enough of a sucker to let one pretty girl sway my opinion of a series as a whole.
In short, this series has very little going for it. Mediocrity makes itself manifest in every aspect of this show, and it might dip into outright bad very soon if it continues along the same path. There is hope for recovery (the quick pace of events at least makes it possible that it will shift focus rapidly), but the signs are growing ever-fainter.
Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen
Utawarerumono! Now there is a title I never thought I would see another season of. Between this and Aria the Avvenire, I feel like someone out there really likes me.
As you might have gathered, back in 2006, Utawarerumono really connected with me. The beautiful scenery, the cool setting and action, and of course, most of all, the beautiful, adorable girls. Utawarerumono was possibly the first show that showed me how cute girls with animal ears and tails could be. Now, this is not the sum total of Utawarerumono, it actually has plenty of attractive qualities about it. I just thought I would be honest and up-front about where I’m coming from.
Now, that was 2006, and this now. It’s been 9 years. (Jesus Christ, it has been 9 years). Utawarerumono does not directly follow its predecessor (at least not yet), but instead introduces a whole new cast of characters, living in a frostier setting. Per the third episode, there has not been much in terms of plot. The setting is being developed, as are the characters and their motivations. Our lead, Haku, needs to find a place for himself in this new world. He doesn’t remember much about himself or his past, which oddly does not seem to bother him much. He is work-averse and rather lazy. Luckily, the indomitable Kuon is there to both show him around, and forcefully provide him with some much-needed fire in his belly. Kuon is really the heart of the show. She is amazing. Strong-willed, bossy, full of wit, charm and wisdom, Kuon is exactly the sort of female character I love to see. Taneda Risa’s voice infuses her with raw energy. She better stick around.
I have high hopes for Utawarerumono. The initial batch of episodes has given me every reason in the world to be positive about future developments, and the grisly death by decapitation of an incidental character also reassures me that the series won’t end up being too tame by omitting bloodshed during battles entirely. This is my pick for best of the season. Followed closely by…
Yuru Yuri San☆Hai!
Yuru Yuri is back. With a new studio backing them, the girls are ready to once again lay waste to productivity and engage in suggestively lesbian shenanigans. Most of all, though, they are back to be cute and funny. Which they succeed at in equal measure.
My love for Yuru Yuri has been well documented on this site, so the greatest, truest, compliment I can pay this third installment in the franchise is that it is just as good as Yuru Yuri has ever been. With a new studio in charge, I was a little worried something would be lost in the transition, but this worry has been completely ameliorated. The only parts of the show which have not returned in full force are the opening and ending themes. They are comparatively dull. Which is a shame, given that Yuru Yuri has some of the most catchy, energetic and addictive openings I know of. When the content remains this good, it makes little difference to the overall product. But it did give me something to complain about. And that’s just it, I have no other complaints.
Yuru Yuri continues to be an unadulterated success. Cute comedies seldom get much better than this. There are a lot of cute shows out there, but very few make me laugh like Yuru Yuri does without losing any of the moé appeal. Yuru Yuri deserves to be treasured, and if this style of anime ever falls out of fashion, I suspect this will be one of the shows people look back on fondly while rhapsodizing to themselves about how much better things used to be.