In which I attempt to chronicle the full extent of my anime life from the past week or so, and lay out the path forward through the Winter 2016 anime season…
Eh, how do you blog, again?
When I left you all after my first First Impressions post, I had just finished up with the premiere of ERASED, which was, at the time, the most impressive premiere I’d seen. The very next day, it was topped by the double length opening episode of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which is currently my pick for being the overall “best” show of the season. Where the premiere (and second episode) of ERASED were smart, tightly-constructed, and imaginative, Rakugo Shinju was grounded, organic, and genuine. Which one is “better” is probably a nothing more than a question of personal preference, but as far as I’m concerned, through two episodes Rakugo Shinju looks to be one of those stories that filters a deeply universal experience through a specific lens (in this case, the art of rakugo storytelling) and thus allows its universality to blossom through particularity.
This, I think, is something that stands out all the more in contrast to ERASED. By the very esoteric nature of its chosen topic and its method of storytelling, Rakugo Shinju demands empathy. You have to enter into their world in a more uncomfortable and more unique way than you do in ERASED, which (as good as it really is!) sits closer to what I’d consider a more general type of goodness. Rakugo Shinju is just so darn focused—and the second episode’s willingness to give us two more full rakugo performances bears this out—and I can’t get over that. It’s just so personal to someone that’s not me. I love that.
None of this is to knock ERASED, which proved in its own second episode that it’s going to continue to have excellent direction, compelling sound design, and make the most of its somewhat outlandish premised. Among the show’s many strengths, the color work in the visuals has been the thing that’s caught my attention most—the use of the red/orange motif as a cue for regret and associated feelings has been both subtle and effective. On the whole, ERASED has been engaging at every turn—alongside Rakugo Shinju, it’s certainly earned its place in the top echelon of this season’s shows.
While Sunday last season was a day to celebrate robots, this season’s Sunday has a much different flavor. Having put Gundam Tekketsu on hold until after it finishes airing (it’s not really compelled me to keep up with it on a weekly basis), I’ve found myself left with two kind of quirky shows boasting their own unique strengths and weaknesses: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, and the show I was probably looking forward to most at the start of the season, Dimension W. One fantasy, one sci-fi, I think my feelings about these two can be nicely summed up as: “uniquely effective at their specific goals.” And also, “shows with good action and cute anime girls.”
Grimgar wasn’t one of the shows I’d initially pegged to check out, but some positive buzz about it pushed me to check it out and I left the premiere episode…confused. The lackadaisical motions of the opener, which I thought summed itself up well with the episode’s final lines—”Hm?” “Oh, nothing.”—paired with the fantasy MMO setting seemed an odd match, but the second episode gave the show more of a sense of direction. At least, it gave as much a sense of direction as you could expect from a slice-of-life MMO fantasy game thingie, pushing the characters (rather than the plot) to the forefront. Yume is a joy (though I don’t care for the show’s fanservice tendencies, which are an ugly contrast to the show’s pretty aesthetics), and the rest of the characters have at least some meat on their metaphorical character bones. Also, apparently we’re already getting some heartbreak, and of course it’s for best girl Yume. I’m unhappy about this.
Dimension W‘s appeal (while it also contains one stellar best girl candidate in the form of extremely moe robot Mira) is, amusingly, almost the opposite of Grimgar‘s. Dimension W is a driven, forward-motion show, using its first episode as a fun sort of character introductory thing and using its second as a semi-episodic tale to bring in what are sure to be the seeds of the larger plot. It’s also been filled with cool action bits (thanks to one of my favorite animators, Ryouma Ebata, serving as the series’ action director) and interesting lighting choices. I don’t think all of Dimension W‘s visual tricks have succeeded, but it’s certainly working with a particular aesthetic idea—something that makes it run parallel to Grimgar in my mind, however different the two shows in other facets. In short, I’m genuinely happy Dimension W has turned out to not be a flop. It’s one of those shows where all its little strengths will make it something I genuinely enjoy.
Aside from my hopes for new stuff like Rakugo Shinju and Dimension W, Winter 2016 was always shaping up to be a season of sequels for me, with Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, Haikyuu!!, Durarara!! x2-3, and GATE all returning to my roster. Sadly, the later three have mostly been disappointments for me. Haikyuu!!‘s still failing to really excite me the way the first season does, and at this point I’m willing to lay that blame at the feet of the source material rather than the anime’s staff. Structurally, Haikyuu!! is just not working the way it did in its first season, and this is true to an extent that the adaption just couldn’t have fixed. Durarara!! is still messing around with story threads that only tease at the Anri-Mikado-Kida dynamic I’m still watching the show for and GATE‘s ability to amuse me with its absurdly dumb politics may be nearing its limit (possibly due to the general exclusion of Lelei from the first two episodes, a trend I’m hearing is not likely to reverse any time soon).
I’ll likely stay the course with Haikyuu!! and Durarara!!, but GATE could be gone soon.
Fortunately, as sequels go, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime has returned to prove just why it was one of my favorite shows of last year by quickly claiming its spot as my favorite show of the season. Everything seems as we left it, and there really couldn’t be better news than that. I don’t really have anything more to say about it than that. It’s just such an incredible delight to have this show back, and so see that it hasn’t lost a step. So many time I’ve seen split cour shows really go off the rails in the second cour (see, GATE), but with Masahiro Ando helming this ship, we seem to be sailing in the same smooth, beautiful waters for the foreseable future. The OST is finally available for pre-order (releasing in March). Spring really will be a season of wonders.
Of course, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime being good really was no surprise. What did come as a surprise was Konosuba, a show I’d really decided to avoid 1) getting a chance from me, and 2) rallying from a fairly unimpressive first impression to end up being the only premiere I’ve watched four times. Konosuba is basically a lock for the position of my pet show of the season, held up by the same sort of endearing charm that Danmachi had. Despite the tempestuous beginnings of their relationship, by the end of the episode Aqua and Kazuma have developed the sort of genuine camaraderie that can carry an entire show for me. The heroically mundane montage at the end of the episode and the group shenanagins promised by the sakuga-filled OP lay out the forward path for this show to be a good-natured sort of derpy adventure—light, maybe heartwarming, but mostly just one of those shows where you get to root for the main characters knowing they’re going to fail at every turn, and it’s going to be okay anyways. It’s got that pet show aesthetic, and there’s no way I’m going to let go of it.
Another happy surprise of the season was full CG anime Bubuki Buranki. Despite the (tragic, really) CG, Bubuki Buranki has a very specific sort of feel to it—opening with a pastoral, sleepy, vaguely magical flashback set on an island in the sky and closing out its second episode with the main quintet heading off on an undefined adventure after clashing with (presumably) the main villain of the show, BBK/BRNK. It’s a ballsy sort of show, running mostly on adrenaline and the sheer creativity of its action sequences and the Bubuki weapons that will inevitably be a big part of the story. The exact appeal of Bubuki Buranki, beyond its wild nature and generally solid visual direction ends up being somewhat difficult to quantify—the CG varies from passable to genuinely bad and the story seems liable to getting out of hand quickly, but something about the end result just feels different. And I guess that feel is something that I’ve always just got to reach out for, even if I’m not sure where it’s going.
Elsewhere, Phantom World continues to hang around my watch schedule because I just can’t quit Guppy quite yet, Active Raid and Luck & Logic have bit the dust in spite of their respectively good character designs, and Assassination Classroom‘s second season is getting saved for a later marathon. I did watch the second episode of Prince of Stride and had no problems with it, but even Isizuka’s direction and Ryouhei Kimura’s voice acting couldn’t quite get it over the hump.
In summary, then—Rakugo Shinju is my pick for the all-around best show of the season, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2 is my all-around favorite show of the season, Konosuba has claimed the pet show spot, and Dimension W is some kind of weird mix of those three categories. And with interesting peripheral stuff like ERASED and Grimgar going on, too, this season has proved to be a genuinely fun and good one. Hope you all are enjoying it as much as I am!