Highlight: Spring 2017 anime season

Tsuki ga Kirei header 2
“I want to tell her that no matter how far apart we are, my feelings for her will never change” — Kotarou Azumi

Two years of blogging seasonal reviews and I have yet to see any anime season as powerful as this season. Three shows made it to the top for their successful delivery of one awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping moment. It is always delightful to watch the story slowly building up to that decisive moment, and to see the climax being executed beautifully.

Erwin, you glorious bastard! Advance!

But not everyone can stomach eleven episodes of slow burns for that one explosive moment. Thankfully, Spring 2017 also features stories that deliver mini-climaxes every few episodes. Boku no Hero Academia (HeroAca), Sagrada Reset and Tsuki ga Kirei got this strategy nailed. In term of writing quality, I must say HeroAca and Tsuki ga Kirei are on equal footings. But, highlight goes to the latter because HeroAca is still ongoing and it is difficult to judge an incomplete show.

And then, there’s the nostalgia trio Clockwork Planet, Little Witch Academia and Tsugumomo whose character interactions and art styles are so dated, they give off the vibe of shounen anime in the 90s. I can’t complain, at least they fared the test of time much better than Warau Salesman did.

Seasonal Selection
Show Expectation Rating
Tsuki ga Kirei Star Highlight (1)
Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? Question mark Highlight (2)
Boku no Hero Academia Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Shingeki no Kyojin ss2 Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Sagrada Reset Star Decent (Pending)
Eromanga-sensei Star Decent
Sekaisuru Kado Question mark Decent
Re-Creators Star Decent (Pending)
Clockwork Planet Question mark Decent
Little Witch Academia Star Decent
Tsugumomo Star Decent
Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records Question mark Mediocre
Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho Star Mediocre
Alice to Zouroku Old dog Mediocre
Warau Salesman Old dog Nope
Highlight: Tsuki ga Kirei
(As the moon, so beautiful)

Tsuki ga Kirei is a poetic romance novel set in modern time. The story revolves around two junior high students, Kotarou Azumi and Akane Mizuno, as they meet and grow attracted to each other. It is a slice of life story about growing up, seeking common grounds, supporting one another and pursuing dreams.

In a sense, Tsuki ga Kirei is the purest manifestation of classical literature in anime form. It retains the subtlety and intricacy of classical literature.

Characters are recognized by their personality traits and less obvious differences in body shape rather than princess Cotton Candy’s hair color, eye color or her over-saturated accessories. Plus, for once, common sense is actually common in anime and realism is actually…realism and not grim dark masquerading realism.

Tsuki ga Kirei snapshot
Body language says it all

Its greatest strength lies in its ability to capitalize on body language in storytelling. Strategically placed shots of minute changes in gestures and expressions speak louder than internal monologue, actions speak louder than spoken words; and where spoken words are called for, they are natural and casual.

Show, don’t tell” is a storytelling rule often forgotten in modern writing. It is all too easy to write a dialogue (internal or vocal) that says “I’m so nervous” but it is much harder to convey the same idea using actions. Tsuki ga Kirei managed to pull this off in its animation, its character interactions and voice acting: fidgeting, having stiff posture, conversational hiccups and becoming easily startled.

If I have to draw a parallel, Tsuki ga Kirei is the junior high version of Rakugo Shinjuu, with more focus on romance than death. Both shows use monologue device sparingly, both shows manage to capture real conversation (with all its flaws and hiccups), and both shows put great emphasis on body language.

It is not just the gut feeling that tells me the show is thriving to be a work of classical literature. The show makes explicit references to what it wants to be. The poetic title “Tsuki ga Kirei”, the quotes from classical author Dazai Osamu, the male lead is striving to be an author in “serious literature”, and the author’s not-so-subtle allusion to the dreadful distinction between serious literature and light novel.

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How I feel when the credits roll.

In term of memorable scenes, I can’t put my finger on one particular in the show. There are simply too many of them: the night scene at the shrine, the one at the park, the one in the bookstore, the one under the rain, that one at the festival, that other one before the exam, that other other one by the riverside, and that last one on the train. They are all accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack for completion.

Studio feel. lived up to their name. Every week, I feel nostalgic as I watch a shy boy and a shy girl trying to start a conversation (there was a time, I was in their shoes, oh these times when just being there together would be enough, words did not matter). I feel the warmth rising in my heart as I watch Kotarou’s parents quietly supporting him chasing his dream. I feel joy when their relationship reaches a new stage. I feel frustrated when things did not go their way.

And, I feel sad that the show is over.

Highly recommended for those who want a good slice of life romance. Extra recommendations for those who are still recovering from the heart break that is 5 Centimeters per Second. This show is essentially the hopeful version of that depressing movie.

Runner up: Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka?
(WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?)

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? (SukaSuka) embraces a different strategy to remain competitive. The show bets everything on the finale. It has one climax, one big climax instead of lots of many small ones. The show in its entirety is a long build up for that one epic finale and, by the fact that this show made it on top of Shingeki no Kyojin season 2 so far, its bold investment paid off.

The show is about a post-apocalyptic world where child soldiers fairies are born to fight monsters and die in battle. One such a fairy, Chtholly, begins to develop feelings for her caretaker Willem and…well, like that is going to end well ever.

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasuka Isogashii Desuka Sukutte Moratte Ii Desuka snapshot
Bombastic, graceful and grievous at the same time. Dammit, where’s my jaw?

Very similar to Narcissu‘s premise, SukaSuka, for all intents and purposes, is straightforward; painfully so. It has small twists here and there though these are rather predictable twists. The viewers are given the ending from the get go and they get exactly what they expected. Straightforwardness is an appeal, not a flaw, and I can name a good number of highly regarded shows in which the audience can see how things go down from miles away.

*cough*One Punch Man*cough*

Watching SukaSuka is like reading Narcissu all over again. The parallel is so great. Both shows start with the declaration that the main characters are not going to survive the ending. Both show draw inspirations from the conflict between the dying patient and the care taker. And…both shows have that one place where the residents all have their days numbered.

These kinds of story do one thing exceptionally well: turning innocent and joyful moments into melancholy and heart bleed.

Unlike Narcissu, however SukaSuka really did spend all its capital on the finale. It is a combination of heroic sacrifice, last stand ending, scenery porn, graceful yet badass animation and right-on-the-theme soundtrack. Right, I didn’t mention the poetic exchange between Cththolly and Willem in that last moment, which resonates with the story behind Scarborough Fair song, gives light to which memories these characters felt most endearing, at the same time contrasting their views on her sacrifice.

In other words, the finale packs more layers of information than that meets the eyes. It blows every other scene in this series, and some in other series, out of the water and takes the cake for the best scripted finale this season. It is one of those franchise-defining moments that will linger in mind for a long, long time.

Although, other than the finale, I find the build up not so impressive. It is decent but not great. I recommend SukaSuka for those who seek a fond memory, not recommend for those who are looking for a great overall viewing experience.

Special mention: Sekaisuru Kado
(KADO: The right answer)

Sekaisuru Kado tried to be different. It’s been a long time since I last saw a story on friendly alien contact. For a change, the aliens would be the reasonable and civilized ones and humans are the true monsters. For a change, negotiation and the voice of reason would be mankind’s greatest weapon and not tanks, jets, nukes, laser cannons, power suits or giant robots.

That was the premise Sekaisuru Kado tried to sell at the start. A professional–the best there is–diplomat, Koujirou Shindo takes on an unknown anisotropic life form named Yaha-kui zaShunina whose goal is to remove the limitations of nature on the potential of mankind.

But turn out, this is just another case of misleading advertisement. There were power suits, there were evil alien overlord, there was no negotiation. As soon as a second “native” alien life form appeared to defend the traditional life and exposed the seemingly zaShuina’s hidden agenda to…(you guessed it!) destroy humanity in the most convoluted manner possible, I know the show is not salvageable.

Going mainstream is NOT the right answer.

In the end, despite the jarring, all CGI, art style and the broken writing in the later parts, Sekaisuru Kado did two things right: its soundtrack and its final plot twist. While I still have mixed feelings about the resolution, the twist did surprise both Yaha-kui zaShunina and myself. Do I recommend the show? No. I’m only mentioning this because I’m genuinely pained to see this much potential going down the drain.

At least Sekaisuru Kado has some redeeming qualities. Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, with all of its lost potential, has zero.

Project Sekai visual novels bundle

Okay, visual novels; Japanese counterpart of tale-tell games, packed with big eyes, otaku subcultures and typical Japanese fetishes. But wait, don’t close this tab yet. Take a look at this new bundle offer from HumbleBundle and Project Sekai. Take a look at the offering on “beat the average” tier. See the one in the middle?

https://www.humblebundle.com/sekai-project-bundle

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HOLY MOLLY! That is Narcissu 10th Anniversary Anthology Project!

THE GOLD STANDARD OF MODERN JAPANESE TEAR-JERKERS

Every time a sad story popped up with elements like sick girl, hospital, and death, it is inevitable that I would pay homage to Narcissu franchise. I have mentioned Narcissu in my seasonal anime review for two of the most memorable tear-jerkers in recent time: namely Plastic Memories and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. I expect to continue doing so should such a show ever pop up again.

Why?

Simply put, I consider Narcissu as a franchise the absolute best of modern tear-jerkers.

It is vastly different from Clannad, Angel Beats! or the any of those critically acclaimed works from Key Visual Art’s in that it has little to no comedic moments. It sets the stage very clearly from the start, Plastic Memories did, that the purest and most beloved character in the story will perish. All joyful memories will turn bittersweet, not at the long last ending, but at the moment they are experienced.

These stories are dreadful, they are melancholic and depressing. But the message they carry is powerful: overcome losses and live everyday like it is the last.

In the case of Narcissu, it carries an even more powerful dilemma. The question to abandon or not to abandon loved ones in sickness; especially when they sincerely wish not to burden the living; is a question without a good answer.

But that is enough spoilers for now. The original Narcissu 1st & 2nd are available for free and it only takes a few hours (and a few boxes of tissues) to read. I believe the franchise will make the case for itself. I guarantee; after a few hours of beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous pastel graphic and deep storytelling; any sensible human being with a heart will realize the price tag of $12 for the entire Narcissu’s digital package is a disgusting steal.

Better yet! Ame no Marginal -Rain Marginal- (from the same author) is also in the bundle and it has a Narcissu Bonus Episode!

Narcissu Bonus Episode

Included in the game is a copy of Narcissu 1st, as well as a brand new VERY short bonus episode.
It’s very short, but hopefully is interesting for Narcissu fans.

I fell in love with this franchise when it was off Steam in 2011. I asked my Secret Santa in mangafox back in 2012 for a Setsumi signature + avatar set (which is the featured image, the header, of this post). I shipped the drama CD and the OST disk from Japan when it had only 11 tracks. I campaigned to greenlight this visual novel on Steam way back in 2013.

Am I a fan of Narcissu? Hell yes am I!

This bundle is an instant sold for me just for Narcissu Season Pass.

Beyond that, the rest of the offers are…cat girls, bunny girls, dog girls, magical girls, loli with the body of a mother, idols, beach episodes, micro skirts, maid etc. It is not missing any typical Japanese fetishes here except, maybe, shrine maidens and tentacles.

Yep, I won’t even touch those with a ten-feet pole. Just one Setsumi-chan and one Professor Croquette please!

Highlight: Winter 2017 anime season

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“This is what you want, isn’t it?” — Yurakutei Sukeroku

Winter 2017 plays all the right tunes for a fantastic year ahead of us. I’m very pleased with the selection this season; a great deal of above average and top-notch shows. There are no mediocre shows this season but there are two bad shows. But even the bad ones are entertaining in their own ways.

Before I go into the winners and losers this season. I want to give ufotable a nod for their efforts this season. They flood a poorly written material in production value and pull off a decent adaptation out of Tales of Zestiria. Kudos to the studio.

Without further ado, let’s get to the highlights.

Seasonal Selection
Show Expectation Rating
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen Cash cow Highlight (1)
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 Cash cow Highlight (2)
Kobayashi-san chi no maid dragon Star Decent
Demi-chan wa Kataritai Star Decent
Gabriel Dropout Star Decent
Youjo Senki Star Decent
ACCA Kansatsu-ka Question mark Decent
Sangatsu no Lion Star Decent
Tales of Zestiria the X Old dog Decent
Rewrite ss2 Old dog Winning failure
Masamune-kun no Revenge Question mark Nope
Highlight: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
(Shouwa & Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo Descending Stories)

The winner this season is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Rakugo Shinjuu). The name is a mouthful and it encompasses all the elements that make the show great. It is a historical story spanning across multiple eras, about a traditional Japanese storytelling art–rakugo. It is also about love, death and descendant; all the intricacies of a human’s life in the flow of time.

It is necessary to watch the first season in order to grasp the context of Rakugo Shinjuu. The story centers on the childhood, ascension and decline of eighth generation Yurakutei Yakumo. The first season covers his relationship with the art of rakugo and Yurakutei Sukeroku–a man of talent and a brother-in-trade to Yakumo. The contrast and conclusion of the first season lead up to the second season in which Yakumo in his dwindling age now have to deal with end-of-life regrets and traumas.

As far as the sequel is concerned, the main character remains the eighth generation Yakumo but the narrative is placed on his apprentice Yotarou. Season two mirrors many events in season one. The story forces both the viewers and the characters sit through one deja vu after another. In a true descending story fashion, old characters who are thought to be long gone take the stage in new, younger characters.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu snapshot
I know nothing about this person, not even after his death.

It truly highlights how little I actually know about these people; even the ones whose entirely life and even after death I have been showed. It is not a lack of character depth. No, it is quite the opposite. The characters here are simply too complex and too multi-dimensional. They are as real as fictional characters can get. This is definitely a strong point of Rakugo Shinjuu.

And don’t get me started on the bone-chilling voice acting, the amazing camera cuts, the masterful execution of the plot devices, or the craftiness of narrative, dialogues and audio-visual cues. There are so many things done right in this show, one post is not enough to cover them all. Hence, with bitterness of heart, I’ll stop here.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Rakugo Shinjuu for those who can appreciate a good, thought-provoking book. I advise against watching it for those who just want to sit in on the comedy, the action or the fanservice; there is none of these in Rakugo Shinjuu. Finally, romance lovers, be warned. While romance exists, it’s not very prominent and, naturally, the only things that come out of Shinjuu–a double suicide–are grieves and broken hearts.

Runner up: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2
(KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! 2)

The runner up this season is another Studio DEEN’s show: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (Konosuba 2). Yet another mouthful of a title, the show is a fantasy comedy that runs on adsurdity, quirkiness and the glorious Micheal Bay’s explosion meme (he’s not among the staff, mind you).

Konosuba 2 takes on the “new fantasy world adventure” theme in a cheerful, optimistic approach. There is no dark twist, no tragedy, no deep political powerplay. Everything here can be taken at face value. The new world is simply wonderful and it is one heck of a time to be alive. The plot is non-existent, plot devices are few and far between, characters are portrayed at gag level; they are walking satires of the cliches and archetypes they represent; and the jokes, oh the jokes, are taken to the next level.

Konosuba snapshot
Oh the things I’ll always remember about this world…

Unlike Rakugo Shinjuu, storytelling is not the focus of Konosuba 2. The entirety of Konosuba 2 hinges on its crazy, seemingly out-of-the-blue conflicts that have equally insane causes and over-the-top resolution. It is basically Gurren lagann on crack; ramping up the hilarity and toning down the insanity just slightly. Since there is little I can say about the storytelling other than acknowledging its damn funny jokes. I’ll focus more on the studio and their animation for this show.

It takes me a while to get used to Studio DEEN’s miraculous comeback this year. Their track record prior to 2016 has put them in the lower bracket; two knots below the likes of Madhouse, ufotable and KyoAni in production quality, and on the same level as J.C. Staff. I remember when Little Busters! came out, there was the rage from Key Visual Arts fanbase; oh how the adaptation would not stick without KyoAni’s all-star team. And the punchline of a bad joke at the time was:

“At least it’s not DEEN”.

Yes, this is to show just how negative the studio used to be perceived.

But behold! They have two highlight shows this season, raking in praises and critical acclaims everywhere I go. It is almost as if they’re trying to make a statement, that they are capable of greatness in both serious and non-serious shows. I believe after this season, they have successfully acquired the attention they sought.

There are a few things I notice that have been improved since Fate/Stay night (2006) and Sakamoto desu ga (2016). For once, the backgrounds are much more detailed these days. Camera angles and placements are also much more professionally done. CG effects such as blur, flare, soft light and fish-eye lens are now employed by the studio better than before. These elements are subtle but integral to the viewing experiences.

As an adaptation of a light novel, the credits for all the awesome pose and countless of meme-worthy reaction faces in Konosuba 2 go to the animators. They did a good job on the animation and poses there.

However, the quality of character art remains lackluster and so is the lighting. Compare DEEN’s art to any of the top-tier studios and the differences will become quite obvious. They have fewer stroke count, ergo, fewer strands of hair on the character’s head. The coloring for DEEN’s characters consists of base color and a shadow. KyoAni, in contrast, colors their characters in at least three tones: base, mid tone (or highlight) and shadow. Some shows will have even more tones for each color.

And those are just the basics.

In the end, their poor character art quality is hidden behind the new background, atmospheric and animation techniques. The viewing experience is fantastic and I’m willing to put them on the same tier as the current White Fox. There are still rooms for improvement but for now, I’m happy with what I’m seeing.

So, the recommendations for this show. This is a fun, fun show in all regards. Anyone who can enjoy good ‘ol Tom & Jerry will enjoy Konosuba 2. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Winning failure: Rewrite

Welcome to the part where I award a dunce’s cap to the worst of the worst writings in anime. The first winning failure award goes to….Rewrite!

This show panders too much to novel readers. Good luck understanding what is going on without reading the base novel. The main character is a Marty Stu by the book, who then, in moon’s arc, becomes God momentarily for no reason. Only thing good in earth’s arc is the side plot in a not-Afghan battlefield, the rest of the main plot devolves to circle-jerking.

Without spoiling the mind boggling mess of irrationality, I give my honest summary of the plot as follow: “This is a story of a young girl’s overly complicated suicidal, genocidal and selfcest turns twincest relationship involving the planet earth, the moon, and a harem of strangers.”

This anime seriously needs a rewrite.

Highlight: Fall 2016 anime season

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“I don’t want to say goodbye”, “Then we won’t.” — Tanaka Asuka

What a fantastic season! Kidding, it’s just a short one.

I picked four fewer shows than I did in the last season but only two of them are rated below decent. I thoroughly enjoyed the cash cow that is Hibike! Euphonium and I didn’t have any doubt it would make the highlight this season from the get-go. I also got the witch show I asked for in the last review albeit it fell short of my expectations.

Long story short, KyoAni, keep doing what you’re doing this season and, Wargaming, you suck at making anime, go home!

Seasonal Selection

Show Expectation Rating
Hibike! Euphonium 2 Cash cow Highlight (1)
Sangatsu no Lion Star
Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan Star Decent
Nobunaga no Shinobi Question mark Decent
Bungou Stray Dogs ss2 Star Decent
Occultics;Nine Star Decent
Nanbaka Question mark Decent
Shuumatsu no Izetta Star Trash
Classicaloid Question mark Trash

Highlight: Hibike! Euphonium 2 (Sound! Euphonium 2)

Hibike! Euphonium is hands down the best anime KyoAni has produced since…Hyouka. I might have a faint memory of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai but it’s definitely not on the same level as Hyouka, et al.

Hibike! Euphonium tells a story of Kitauji high’s brass band club on their journey to the National competition. The story follows the perspective of Oumae Kumiko–a freshman who plays euphonium–as she discovers club drama and personal insecurities of people around her, and grows as a character. This show is essentially the longer, better thought out and more serious version HaruChika.

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I indeed made one of the two shows worse by making a comparison. My apology.

Behind the gorgeous lighting, ingenious camera placements and beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds was an industry leader: Kyoto Animation studio. There is one thing that has never changed about KyoAni. Their production quality is consistently top-notch, comparable to that of Madhouse and ufotable, and a notch higher than that of P.A Works and White Fox.

Even bad KyoAni shows like *cough*Musaigen no Phantom World*cough* or *cough*Amagi Brilliant Park*cough* has some of the best audio visual money can buy. When I pick up a KyoAni show, I can expect 1) distinctive moeblob character design, 2) detailed background with soft lighting and 3) girls showing off the curve of their hip while a catchy tune is playing in the background in the opening.

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See what I mean?

KyoAni never fail to deliver those features regardless of the execution or the story.

On the other hand, they are terrible at anything remotely fantasy or magical. Unfortunately, that includes everything they have produced since Kyoukai no Kanata. The fact that Hibike! Euphonium is the first show they made in a long time without fantasy tag and it is an instant hit just reinforces my suspicion. I think KyoAni is best at heart-warming Slice of Life sprinkled a bit of light-heart drama. Anything else, especially fantasy, will just throw their shows into disarray.

And, thanks God, Hibike! Euphonium is right up their alley in term of genre. The heaven aligned and a brilliant star was born as predicted.

More on the show itself, the strongest point of Hibike! Euphonium is its cast. The characters felt real. Most of them didn’t wear their their heart on their sleeve. They kept secrets and lied to one another in order to avoid hurting or getting hurt. They ran into conflict, dilemma, and, when they couldn’t reconcile, they were not afraid to make the difficult, and sometimes cruel, decision. These people were much bolder than the average anime character.

Quit the band for good because it’s not going to enjoyable anymore? Aoi did that and the show kept reminding me of the fact by making her appear wherever possible. Leave the house and move out in pursue of her dream? Been there, done that. Denying someone from joining the band because they had a history with another band member? Looking at you, Asuka-senpai. Denying a talent of the lead role because of a senior–oh wait, that was first season but you get the point.

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And to let go of the past, and to make friends anew

If there was a crime Hibike! Euphonium had committed, it would have been the lack of the final performance. KyoAni delivered first two performances and even the marching band event and yet they refused to show that one singular performance the entire show had been all about!? I have one word for this outrageous omission: “Sad!”

In any cases, I highly recommend this show to seekers of that fuwa fuwa fuzzy feeling and daily people drama. I don’t think Hibike! Euphonium will do much for those who are looking for romance, or comedy, or tear-jerking shows but give it a shot nevertheless. There’s a little bit of all the above in there (Action fans keep clear!).

On another note, KyoAni will have a Slice of Life, Fantasy show next season (Kobayashi-san no Maid Dragon). I’ll watch it just because but I’m putting a Question mark expectation on it because Fantasy and KyoAni don’t mix well, ever.

Runner up: N/A

Picking the runner-up was very problematic.

My top picks are Sangatsu no Lion or Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan and they are double-season shows. I normally give highlights to double-season shows at the end, not in the middle of it, so Sangatsu no Lion is out of the question as it is still airing. As for Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan, I made a mistake and didn’t check that it was double-season so I gave runner-up slot to it in the last season. Doesn’t seem right to give it runner-up slot again.

Third choice? Nobunaga no Shinobi is also a double-season show so…damn me! No runner-up this time then.

Extra: Shuumatsu no Izetta (Izetta: The Last Witch)

The premise of Shuumatsu no Izetta was enticing: a story about the last witch fighting for a fictional Austria, dubbed Elystadt, in World War 2 against a fictional Nazi Reich, dubbed Germania. On the production team was Wargaming Japan, the people who made World War 2 related games like World of Tanks, World of Warships and World of Warplanes. Yes, these people know the dreadful machines of war better than most, if not all, people who are in anime production and their name on the staff list means the show won’t fail history.

Except that, and the Ghibli-like enchanting soundtrack, they failed everywhere else. From logic, to fanservice, to character development, and to how to make witches…witches and not someone from Dragon Ball universe!

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Fighting to the death and having a casual conversation. Plus, subpar quality for a close-up shot

I could hear logic’s scream of anguish when the GENERAL discussed national military secret to the head of state intelligence on the river bank in the wood instead of, I don’t know, how about a bunker!? And they were eavesdropped on too! By pure COINCIDENCE! Then, the guy who eavesdropped on them immediately shared the secret (or at least planned to) with his platoon leader who was COINCIDENTALLY a spy.

Then that spy conveniently discovered a secret room and a secret map that holds the key to Izetta’s only weakness. By some MIRACLES, the map was not destroyed and the passage there was not sealed shut with dynamite blasts. They got a copy of the map at the HQ and they decided to keep the original lying around unchecked because of…what?

What’s next? Oh yes, the badass captain from episode 2 got a new top-secret fighter jet and he ended up using it ONCE before the show just conveniently forgot all about his existence. So Izetta would need a new counter-balance and who better fit the bill than ANOTHER WITCH?

Wait, wait! I thought the show was about the LAST witch.

I might not read Japanese kanji but I do know German and “Die Letzte Hexe” on the title card is literally “The Last Witch”. Oh just fantastic! She was not just another witch, it was a zombie, vengeful, vampire witch resurrected by the power of Frankenstein’s pseudoscience!

By the way, when an unidentified, mysterious intruder decided to smooch off your national superpower weapon at a ball. The natural reaction should be “Sound the alarm and lock down the entire castle!”, not “Oh, it’s nothing, never mind then”. That is Rewrite‘s garbage-tier reaction, don’t copy that crappy show!

This is getting ridiculous but that’s still not the end of it. They topped it all with a clash of two giant spheres of untamed powers, Dragon Ball style, and an ultimate sacrifice of self for the greater good before undermining the sacrifice with a “Oops! She’s not actually dead!”, Kyouka no Kanata style.

Oh my God! This rant is getting out of hand. I’ll stop here. Shuumatsu no Izetta is a massive failure, characters are idiots and so are the writers, period!

Highlight: Summer 2016 anime season

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“I’ll leave the small fries to you” — Arataka Reigen

Oh I felt cheated alright. I felt the dire lack of witch show this season and the nauseous Re-something naming trend.

In the case of Rewrite, it was a huge train-wreck expected. I have yet to hear any decent novel from Key since Little Busters! (last time I heard, even the novel adaptation of Angel Beats! was a train-wreck!) so I was positive that disaster of a visual novel had no hope from the start. Planetarian was pretty decent, if anything, so I’m leaving here a positive note for that old Key show.

ReLIFE is the second Re-something show this season. It’s a webcomic on my read list and I rate the story highly. Perhaps, I would have liked it better had I not known all the spoilers before the show even began. And the fact that it was a marathon release and not a weekly made reviewing ReLIFE a little bit awkward.

Finally, aboard the hype train Re:Zero! Regardless of what fans of the series might say, I personally think Re:Zero was a massive shipwreck. The first ten episodes were alright, they were quite amusing to watch and they did kinda remind me of Steins;Gate. But then came the courtroom scene during which every character in the show took a minus 100 IQ penalty. The author, clearly not knowing where to get his plot from next, fell back on the classic idiot ball. Once the idiot ball was set rolling, damn with plot, down with the show!

As for the other disappointments this season, Amaama to Inazuma ended up being a cooking show. I suppose it was quite educational but not fun at all to watch. New Game! and Handa-kun turned out alright but since I’ve already read the manga, I’m bored by these shows quite easily.

91 Days pulled a commendable attempt to be entertaining. However, the entire premise failed to entice me and the actions were quite predictable. They got me with the same art style last season with Joker Game! but mediocre plot only works in episodic format. Gangsters are not at all hip without any evil mastermind scheming the shootings so things in 91 Days fell apart easily and all events seemed so random in hindsight.

Seasonal Selection

Show Expectation Rating
Mob Psycho 100 Star Highlight (1)
Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan Question mark Highlight (2)
ReLIFE Star Decent
Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru! Star Decent
Planetarian Old Dog Decent
Handa-kun Star Decent
New Game! Star Decent
Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu Star Mediocre
91 Days Question mark Mediocre
Amaama to Inazuma Question mark Mediocre
Tales of Zestiria Question mark Mediocre
Rewrite Old Dog Trash
Qualidea Code Question mark Trash

Highlight: Mob Psycho 100

Mob Psycho 100 was the show that ended up on top of my list this season. The show didn’t roll any idiot ball in my face, or hand-wave its way out of sheer genre blindness (I’m looking at you, Rewrite, I’m looking at you!) and for that I’m grateful. This season had been plagued with no plots and bad plots and I’m starting to get cancer watching shows like Qualidea Code trying to be the cool kid Shinsekai Yori.

Mob Psycho 100 got it rough. Just imagine how difficult it was to get out of the overwhelming shadow of One Punch Man. Frankly, I didn’t think ONE (artist) could pull it off. His original art was no where as good as Murata-sensei and his art style got on my nerves initially (it still does). It sucks being compared to One Punch Man all the time and that was just the kind of superstar older brother Mob Psycho 100 had.

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Yes, Mob. FML moment indeed!

What ONE lacked in art department was made up by his writing. I have to give it to him. He knows his stuffs. His storytelling, albeit nonsensical at times, is solid, compelling and meaningful. When played for gags, he made it clear that he was playing for gags and when things got serious, they got dead serious. Characters were gradually introduced into the story, woven into the world naturally. One plot point led to the next and what came up at the climax was the accumulation of the actions the characters had taken; which sounded straightforward enough but damn me I haven’t seen anything else this entire season with a better plot than Mob Psycho 100. It was great! It was so simple, nothing was convoluted about the writing and yet at the end of the day, there was still moral lessons to be taught. Be it the consequences of greed, the responsibility of great power, or the value of humility.

Really now, either ONE has been too awesome with his simplicity or every other writers have done goof. I strongly suspect it was the latter but, just to stay on the optimistic side, I will say ONE is just that great of a writer. With his level of cohesive storytelling, I could care a bit less about the studio that made this show, or the animation. But, alas Mob Psycho 100 had been in good care. Being a BONES studio production kinda guarantee its animation quality to be top notch. The sound quality was also great, I love the opening sequence and the ominous battle music. Still, ugh, the art style was so different. It’s like every unimportant character that’s not named underwent plastic surgery from hell. They looked so bad…it hurt to watch them on screen.

One thing I particularly love about Mob Psycho 100 was the “shisou” character Arataka Reigen. The guy was a fraud but he was a respectable fraud, a glorious bastard one couldn’t help but look up to. He led admirable ways of life and he had his monkey’s ways out of unbelievable situations. He had never failed to put a smile on my face throughout the show. I just love this character and how he was depicted. Knowing just how difficult it is to design a street-smart character without overdosing the viewer on expositions and informed abilities, I’m all the more respectful towards ONE’s writing. “Wow, I cannot hate Reigen at all,” was how I felt at the end of the series.

Runner-up: Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan

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Davids and Goliath

The runner up this season is a show about another psychic. I was recommended to the show by a friend of mine three weeks into the season. He was right, Saiki Kusou no Psi-nan was worth the time. The show was about the daily life of a powerful psychic. Having psychic power didn’t make life any easier, if anything, it made life complicated. The show at its heart was a simple slice-of-life comedy with some supernatural elements. It didn’t take itself too seriously and it played its satire cards right.

There wasn’t any plot to discuss here. The art and sound were just right; production wasn’t stellar but it was good enough. J.C. Staff took the helm of this show so I didn’t expect much in the animation quality anyways. The show was cut into episodic shorts that unfolded and wrapped up a situation in a few minutes (kinda like the old-school Doraemon show). Overall, I like the comedy and I can’t recommend this show enough. Comedy fans should definitely check this bite-size humor gem out!

Highlight: Spring 2016 anime season

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The only thing that awaits you all is black, empty solitude — Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki

Let’s not talk about Camp NaNoWriMo in every seasonal review, okay?

Oops, did I just…never mind!

The majority of shows this season are decent. Among those “decent” ratings, some fell short of their potential while others exceeded it.

Kumamiko had a strong lead almost the entire season. I was expecting it to be highlighted but the last few episodes did not live up to the standard. Sakamoto desu ga consistently delivered; the first episode felt the strongest but the “cool, cooler, coolest” idea got dull fast. On the flip sides of things, we have Space patrol Luluco, which started off weak but got better later on (typical Trigger production).

For a brief moment, Kiznaiver (also by Trigger) showed immense potential. Really now, that love pentagram was wickedly mind-blowing but talk-jutsu ending ruined it. In the end, the highlight this season went to a show that is both Sakamoto-fabulous and Kiznaiver-philosophical.

Seasonal Selection

Show Expectation Rating
Joker Game Star Highlight (1)
Flying Witch Question mark Highlight (2)
Boku no Hero Academia ss1 Star Highlight (3)
Kuma Miko Question mark Decent
Sakamoto desu ga Star Decent
Space patrol Luluco Question mark Decent
Bungou Stray Dogs Star Decent
Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Cash cow Decent
Kiznaiver Star Mediocre
Haifuri Question mark Mediocre
An Happy Question mark Trash

Highlight: Joker Game

The formula-breaker and the highlight show this season is Joker Game. Featuring gentlemanly James-Bond-like (but less flashy) spies, super cool gadgets and espionage mind games; this is an anime series without disproportional female characters, without humors and even without an overarching plot.

If you’re looking for a story-rich show, you’re looking at the wrong place, Joker Game is in episodic format, there is no single plot in this show. In fact, this is the most criticized flaw (?) of the show, mainly because of the viewers’ unrealistic expectations from the premise. I’ll be honest, I was disappointed as well but that’s just how it is.

Joker Game told the story of the secret agents of D-agency, an espionage agency in Imperial Army, Japan, during the war. Each episode revealed a story and a facet of their unglamorous life. These stories told their cold and pragmatic philosophies, so pragmatic that they are often discounted and looked down upon by the idealistic team, symbolized by the various “mainstream” hard-head militants who came into contact with D-agency men.

This show is created by Production I.G., one of the wealthier studios of the industry, so I can expect the animation to be detailed and excellent. The washed out color and more serious art style are atmospheric to the theme of Joker Game. The OP is a true ear-worm, I can’t get that song off my mind since I started taking screenshots from the show for this review.

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There are also very bright and colorful shots as well and that guy with the cane is so not a “just a random passerby”. Shhh, don’t blow his cover!

The majority of show, though, involves a great deal of talking, close-up shots and dark room or night scenes so it is difficult to judge just how well their sound or art department did. I only know that they didn’t get anything wrong…noticeably wrong that is.

I will recommend  this show to fans of mystery and spy genres, and to the older audience who can appreciate the seriousness of this show. As for those of who prefer something more…light-heart and mainstream, check out the runner up this season!

Runner up: Flying Witch

My first impression of Flying Witch wasn’t a terribly good one. Let’s just say, I hold grudges against J.C Staff, the studio behind this show, for their blunders against my previous favorite series. However, I have to admit, the show they made this time is very decent, production-wise, and that’s all they need.

As always, they hog the best materials there are and slap their “from mediocre to acceptable” animation on top of it. Many times, when they do roll the “acceptable” rating on the animation side, it’s an easy overall “decent to good” for the show. This time too, the majority, if not all, of the background are CGs; extremely obvious CGs they are.

At least I know there’s one thing J.C Staff don’t fail to deliver: their music. Despite their horrible directing skills in ongoing series and meh art style, J.C.Staff (kinda like Kadokawa) are good at songs and they got another catchy OP right this time.

The juicy part of Flying Witch lies in its unconventional ideas of the world of witches and the serene tone of the show. I like how the writer mingled magic in normal life. Magic is neither flashy nor complicated, as long as it is effective and it is capable of incredible feats, it is magic. It can be as simple as burning some hair or a drawing on paper and no light, no special preparation, no channeling.

Also, when a witch rides a broom, she’s not “riding” on a flying broomstick, she’s flying herself while holding a broomstick. It’s a simple and brilliant justification for the concern of…her crotch. You did it wrong, Makoto!

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And then, there’s the giant flying fortress that is a living sky whale. Blow my mind away!

The humor isn’t very well done in this show. I personally feel the jokes were a bit scattered and slow. Perhaps a light chuckle here and there but not a burst of laughter like when I watched Kuma Miko (shame, that show had a lot of potential). The strength of this is its ability to induce an unbelievably calm feeling in my heart. It is a very relaxing anime, it is healing and amusing at the same time.

Extra: Kuma Miko

Let’s talk about Kuma Miko. I strongly believed this show would be the highlight this season from the get-go. It consistently delivered strong comedy scenarios in the first…eight episodes? Then, it went downhill fast. So fast it wasn’t even funny.

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Oh boy she did go downhill too fast, but it was funny in this case.

The first symptom of its mediocrity was, perhaps, from Shiomura shopping episode (which wasn’t that funny). And in the following episode, they committed blatant advertisement for Shiomura. Discreet advertisement is fine but damn obvious advertisement is not.

The good bits and the ugly bits maintained an acceptable ratio until episode 9 hit.

The entire village advertisement shooting seemed to me like a lampshading attempt the studio took at their sponsors. And that was its sole purpose. Nothing was funny there except very awkward and facepalm-worthy scene. The entire idol arc after that was complete garbage, chock full of cliche and insanity. Insane was the right word to describe Machi’s reactions in idol arc. Her paranoia was no longer cute, it was disturbing, the same kind of mental-disturbing episode 1 of Gakkou Gurashi! was.

Okay, so it has 4 good episodes, 4 decent episodes and then 4 horribad episodes. In short, it disappoints me, I cannot give highlight to a show like this but if anyone want to try some partial recommendations, I recommend the first 8 episodes of this show.

Extra: Boku no Hero Academia

This show is worthy of the highlight. However, I dislike how mainstream-shounen the show is. It’s not entirely a bad thing, it’s personal taste. The fight scenes are good, the philosophies are good, the characters are likable and All Might is plain awesome (so is his theme song). Since there’s a second season, it’s natural that the show feels incomplete and thus I’ll reserve judgment for the time being.

That being said, in the past there was a show which received two seasonal highlights. Yes, I’m talking about Akagami no Shiraiyukihime. The difference is that, Akagami no Shiraiyukihime season 1 wrapped up most of its loose ends and can be considered a complete open-ended story, good enough to secure highlight as it is. Boku no Hero Academia isn’t. It will take a bit more time to develop the story further, otherwise, I fear it would fall out of favor if I were to consider its plot in the current state.

Highlight: Winter 2016 anime season

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These are the stories of relationships so strong that they withstand the test of time, transcend destiny and overcome personal differences. Also, best anime mom of the year!

NaNoWriMo Camp is still going on but I suppose it’s time I spare a few thousands words for the long-awaited seasonal review.

This season, we have quite a number of continuations; we have another Monogatari Series installment right away, the second season of lovey dovy story Akagami no Shiraiyukihime, and the second season of the military fanatic GATE. There’s also a double-season show Heavy Object, which turns out to be better than anticipated, and the new comedy short Ooyasan wa Shishunki, which not only reminds me of Komori-san wa Kotewarenai but also features Komori cast as cameo. And, we have the second half of the much delayed God Eater anime.

Other than the flashes from the past, we have 5 brand new shows. I kinda expect Musaigen to be meh since Kyoto Animation flopped most of their anime last year, actually, more like they failed all of their releases because Kyoukai no Kanata the movie was very debatable. And, the highlight winner this season is, funny thing, a new show about flashes from the past.

Seasonal Selection

Show Expectation Rating
Boku dake ga Inai Machi Star Highlight (1)
Akagami no Shiraiyukihime season 2 Cash cow Highlight (2)
Koyomimonogatari Cash cow Decent
Ooyasan wa Shishunki! Star Decent
Haruchika Star Decent
Heavy Object Old dog Decent
Dimension W Star Decent
God Eater Question mark Mediocre
GATE season 2 Question mark Mediocre
Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm Question mark Trash
Musaigen no Phantom World Question mark Trash

Highlight: Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED)

The top pick this season Boku dake ga Inai Machi. Frankly, I feel Akagami no Shiraiyukihime season 2  would fit the top pick better, by a large margin, but the series has already won highlight back in Summer 2015 so I’m putting it in runner-up position in favor of the new show this time.

So, about Boku dake ga Inai Machi…it’s a solid show, the visual is, of course, top-notch since A-1 Pictures is behind this show. Remember! Bones, A-1, Madhouse, ufotable and P.A Works are the studios to follow; they don’t mess up the visual aspect. Audio-wise, the music arrangements are exceptionally done, I can’t possibly complain there.

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I’ll just ignore the fact that he was NTR’d hard by a childhood friend who used to be a frigging trap!

I’ll be complaining elsewhere, let’s talk about the story instead. It’s nigh impossible to talk about the plot without spoilers, there are usually no spoilers in my reviews but let this be the special case, SPOILER ALERT!

The author is good at keeping the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, I have no problem with the entire Revival deal or the lack of concrete motive behind the murderer’s evil; nothing concrete beyond a psychopathic condition, of course.

When I evaluated the show a few weeks later, I realized a few flaws of the story. First and foremost, what happened to the kid and everyone Satoru had saved using his Revival for the past 15 years in the new reality that he had been in coma for 15 years? I guess, that means…rest in peace for them. Basically, he saved 3 lives and wasted a lot more lives plus his own as a result! Nameless mooks don’t matter much, I suppose?

Secondly, how did he survive the ice lake? Well, realistically speaking, given the scene, there was nobody around to save him immediately except, maybe, Yashiro with a turn of heart? Bahahaha, nope. Here comes the dilemma, if no one else was around, Satoru would be brain-dead long before anyone got him out, if someone was around, they would be the witness of an attempted murder and be damn Yashiro would not get away with it that easily. So which was it? Yes or no to people who saved Satoru? Yeti?

So, in a nutshell, the plot was full of holes in retrospect. But, I enjoyed the show while it lasted and I did not notice these flaws while I was watching the show. Therefore, the willing suspension of disbelief was maintained just nicely and because it did, I have no right to judge the story based on Fridge Logic. This review is, therefore, a positive criticism in favor of the author.

For those who are unclear what the theme is about, the theme is an exploration of interpersonal trust and belief. I mean, the protagonist unleashed a torrent of philosophical narrative on how saying “I believe in you” is unnecessary and likely to be a sign of distrust. Plus, the final punchline is “I never stopped believing” and before that we have the whole deal about “you don’t have to fight alone anymore” from Kenya. It can’t get frigging more obvious than this!

Runner-up: Akagami no Shiraiyukihime (Snow White with the Red hair) season 2

I absolutely love this show. Akagami no Shiraiyukihime is no doubt the classic of the classic romance done right. I’m not going to waste my time discussing the flawless visual and music of Studio Bones again. If anyone were interested in my opinion on these aspects, please refer to Summer 2015 review.

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Atta boy! She’s feeling it!

I’m very pleased to say that the second season lived up to its expectation. The guys at Bones were still abusing Lens flare filter as always. The songs were the same as the first season albeit the OP and ED sequences were new. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it eh? I kinda have go agree with them in this case.

About the story and characters, which is the strong point of the show last season, this season most characters were fleshed out even more. Prince of Tanbarum, Prince Raj, got his own story arc with Shiraiyuki and some degree of character development. Obi got on a short heist with his old street-mate. Mitsuhide and Kiki received a flashback when they first met and each got an entire episode to develop the character.

More importantly, the main couple were ready to for the next step. Yup, hint! Hint! It’s marriage! And, she got the approval from her dad. Parental approval, checked! Romantic confession and acceptance, checked! Smooching, checked! Sexually smooching her neck…errr, I’m not sure this is that kind of show but…CHECKED, LOVE IT!

I love how the author kept dodging meaningless cliché; no mood-killing comedy, no fanservice, no gender trap, no incurable disease trick, no dramatic farewell and no harem crap in Akagami no Shiraiyukihime! This is 100% wholesome classic romance of natural progression by God’s approval.

The ending was open-ended. Will there be a third season? A sequel? I doubt there will be, judging from the “Fin” card, but one cannot help but hoping.

Extra: Heavy Object & GATE

The entire show might be a failure but one good moment can save the day.

The scene at 15:00 in Heavy Object episode 19 got me shudder in anger every time by the sheer powerlessness and the realization of how ugly, cruel and treacherous mankind can be. Also, mother of god that sound effect and filler music is so fitting!

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Surprise feel! I don’t remember signing up for feel-team-six…

Within 2 minutes 41 seconds, Heavy Object successfully evoked terror, powerlessness, anger, sadness, disbelief, betrayal, relief, hope, joy and determination. In other words, the single most emotional anime scene that’s not from a tear-jerker. I can’t recommend the show as a whole but I can recommend that one scene in episode 19 and the rest of the season. It’s a must-watch!

Meanwhile, GATE could have been a great story in the theme of humanitarian in war as hinted in the similarly emotional rescue scene in episode 14 but it rejected its potential and turned into a military circle-jerker. Good for eye-candy and propaganda purposes but (saved that one scene) trashy otherwise.

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But yo! That slave outfit is hotter than Nocturnal clothes in Skyrim! I’m giving GATE the Mediocre rating for this.