By Redhotchilimist 10 Comments
We're only three months away from the end of the year, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to write about all the anime I wasted my time on so far in 2018. If only so I feel like all the hours spent resulted in me making something. There've been a lot of animes I liked, and a lot I disliked, too. Ultimately I don't expect you to share my opinions, most of this stuff is entirely subjective, but I would be happy if a recommendation lead you to a show you ended up having fun with too.
If you're a regular in the anime thread, you might recognize a couple of these paragraphs - I copy and pasted the ones I had written exhaustively about already. If you want a fuller picture of what kinda monster is writing this, here's my Myanimelist account. Buckle up.
I watch a lot of anime just to check and see if I like it, and as a result there are many shows I don't continue watching long enough to have much to say about. Violet Evergarden, WotaKoi, Darling in the FranXX, Cutie Honey Universe, Gegege no Kitarou, Pop Team Epic, Record of Grancrest War and Yuuna and the Haunted Springs were all shows I dropped this year.
Gegege no Kitarou used a very typical spirit detective kinda premise, and while it's revered as a classic over in Japan, the execution didn't exactly capture me. Yuuna and the Haunted Springs is the only harem show I watched this year so far, and one episode was about all I could take. The story is about this monk kid who was ostracized for being able to see ghosts, and ends up living at a haunted hotel with a lot of cute girls, including a cute ghost girl. It subscribed to so many cliches of the genre and had such a pedestrian sense of humor, run of the mill of character designs and mediocre animation that it isn't something I could get into unless I was 13 years old again and hadn't seen anything better.
Cutie Honey Universe was this year's second Go Nagai reboot, after Devilman Crybaby. If you're not familiar, Cutie Honey is an android that fights evil by transforming into different disguises and getting naked a lot. I'm pretty sure she gets credit for inventing the magical girl genre. I was pretty excited for this one, but my Cutie Honey fanboying only extends to one piece of media: Re: Cutie Honey's first episode. It's one of my favorite things Hiroyuki Imaishii ever directed back when he was at Gainax, a fast, fun, funny and energetic self-contained story. The other two episodes of the OVA are nothing special, 'cause he didn't direct them, but the first one is great. Then Cutie Honey Universe comes out and is dull, plodding, and just overall nothing to write home about. Better luck next time.
Darling in the FranXX was a big talking point this year, being the Trigger staff's first proper return to the mecha genre since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann back when they all worked for Gainax. Now, Gurren Lagann is fantastic, but Darling in the FranXX didn't really do much for me. It was slow, it was largely colored grey, the mecha designs were pretty damn lame and the story wasn't exactly riveting. The themes were about as subtle and elegant as that latest Deus Ex game coupled with that latest David Cage game, although Darling in the FranXX is not about robot racism.
For me the anime only came moderately alive in the action scenes, which suddenly looked like Trigger's other work. I watched more of it than anything else that I dropped, but seven episodes was still all it took for me to just get bored of it. Props for starting out strong with the doggystyle cockpits, I had a good laugh at those the first time they were revealed.
Darling in the FranXX might wear Trigger's name, but it's also made by A1, a studio that craps out mostly trash. Having not looked that deeply into it, it's hard to say how much of the blame lies with either of them. I'm inclined to give Trigger the benefit of the doubt here, but while they've made several high profile shows since they formed Trigger, none of them have reached the heights of the Gainax classics for me. Kill la Kill is my favorite of their shows, sharing a lot of the creative team with Gurren Lagann, and even that I'd give like three stars. I'm still waiting for them to return to the glory days of Gurren Lagann, FLCL and Evangelion, and to a lesser extent Panty & Stocking, Dead Leaves and Re: Cutie Honey.
I believe Imaishi is gonna direct a show called Promare next, and I hope that's more my thing. Trigger's house style is very much my taste, and judging by their popularity, I'm hardly alone. I just wish they'd make something better with it. It's so rare that the imaginative directing and appealing artstyle is also paired with a good plot and likeable characters.
Violet Evergarden is a very typical Kyoto Animation production, in my experience. It uses a lot of filmic techniques and camera tricks, it's got gorgeously realistically rendered environments and it has stellar animation. Also it's got dull-ass generic anime character designs, generic sappy movie music, a boring and melodramatic plot and characters I think are terribly unrelatable. It's absurdly pretty, but it's not for me, and I'm still waiting for them to adapt another property that works for me again the way The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Nichijou, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and Full Metal Panic did.
WotaKoi is a romcom about this nerd couple and their relationship problems. The character designs reminded me of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun hard, which is a good start, but in terms of writing I just thought it was boring. I don't feel like it captures the international subculture of nerdery especially well, and what jokes were there didn't make me even smile, so I'd rather just watch something else. Bit of a disappointment for me, 'cause on its face the concept of two adult nerds dating is definitely in my wheelhouse. Ended up only giving it two episodes. I've got another nerd couple I dig much more further down in this blog post.
Record of Grancrest War was so thrilling I forgot to put it on Myanimelist and promptly deleted it from my memory, only remembering it after writing everything else in this blog post. It only stands out for me by having one of the highest contrasts between grounded, beautiful medieval castles and landscapes and modern-looking JRPG anime character designs.
Finally, Pop Team Epic's sense of humor didn't work for me. A bunch of supershort skits and pop culture references, ten minutes long, then you get them all again with different voice actors for the second half of the episode. Wohoo. I'm still thinking about Hellshake Yano though. That sketch is golden.
The Goddamn Ninja Batman
Ninja Batman(or as it's translated in English, oddly, Batman Ninja) was a big old CG movie put out by Kamikaze Douga, a studio best known for making the amazing CG openings for Jojo's Bizarre Adventures seasons 1, 2 and 3. Shows made with 3d models get a bad rap because they look almost universally awful. They don't fit in at all with the 2D artwork, they seem to be animated at a framerate that looks too low for them, they look uncanny and cheap and aren't very expressive. Western CG cartoons aren't all lookers, either, natch. I've watched a few episodes of that Turtles show from 2012, and the difference from TV show level graphics to proper movies is astounding. But I think anime in particular has a hard time of it because of the ways it looks like 3d anime tries to ape the conventions of 2d anime animation.
There's nothing revolutionary about the way Ninja Batman does it, it's just done very well. The models all have enough shading, textures and details on them to not make them appear flat and featureless. The direction is fun and lively and feels like it hits hard, the same way the Jojo openings do. The plot allows for a lot of robots and armor to be involved, which always helps. I wouldn't take this over some well-animated 2d, but for once I actually think it looks good enough to not be an issue.
So what's it like besides the looks, then? Pretty good! The plot isn't anything to write home about - an experiment by Gorilla Grodd goes haywire, pulling all of Gotham's criminals and the extended Bat family into feudal Japan. The biggets criminals then promptly build giant mechas and became warlords, 'cause this is Japan and that's what you do. Batman arrives in the past after everyone's had time to set all this up, and then has to find a way to beat them all and bring everyone back to the future. It's not a story written to do a compelling character study or whatever, it's a story written to have a bunch of samurai mecha action scenes with all of your favorite Batman characters in rad Japanese cosplay. I thought it was a ton of fun and a way better Gurren Lagann-like than Darling in the FranXX was, even if it is a pretty shallow thing. It doesn't exactly feel like all the dialogue was gone over by people who did Batman TAS, if you see what I mean, but it still left me grinning for a majority of its runtime. Regardless of the quality of its banter, seeing a giant Batman "mech" made out of bats and monkeys punching out a giant Joker mech is the kinda spectacle you just gotta see for yourself.
Netflix' Devilman Crybaby
The first Go Nagai adaptation this year, this thing felt like all anyone were talking about for a while. If you're unfamiliar with the source material, Devilman is about demons awakening after having been frozen for thousands of years. They can be summoned into or possess people on their own, and unless the person is pure of heart, he'll be taken over by the demon. A kid named Ryo discovers all this after his archeologist father turns into a demon and tries to kill him. He gets his kind friend Akira to be possessed by a demon so that he can get the body of a devil with the consciousness of a man - a Devilman - and together they fight to defeat the demons that are invading. There's more to it than that, and the story takes one depressing turn after the other, but it's all spoiler territory. Despite the original being 40 years old or something it's probably not worth getting into. I only started on the series this year, watching the two OVAs and reading the manga before checking out Crybaby in the same week. They're all fairly short.
From what I've been told by people way older than me, the old Devilman is supposed to have been controversial with regards to violence and sex, so I guess the creators managed to inherit the spirit of that. As a Netflix anime, it completely dodged any TV regulations it'd have to adhere to in Japan, and you regularly have people both ripped in half and fucking for the entirety of the runtime. At one point the main character cums so hard his semen sticks to the roof of his room and drips back down on him. At another point he rapes a harpy monster in mid-air. It's pretty wacky. I can see how this anime got so much traction between its Christian imagery, bleak outlook on humanity and absurd explicit content. There's even a gay bloke or two in it.
Devilman Crybaby was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, everyone's favorite trippy animator turned director, who'd never draw a person on-model if he could help it. At his best, he's got spectacular visuals and directing that build up the atmosphere or emotion a scene tries to convey. His characters move expressively, his camera angles are exciting, his colors are bold, everything looks funny and engaging. At his worst, everything looks like a mess.
And I'm sad to say, I definitely don't think this is his best work. The characters aren't so much expressive and impressionistic as they just look off-model. The colors are, for the most part, muted and dark. Almost every action scene takes place during pitch black nights where you can't see anything. Whenever someone moves around, attacks or gets injured severely, there's little impact to it. It's more like watching water balloons burst than a human or demon actually getting cut into seventeen pieces. It feels like Yuasa on a budget, or perhaps more pressingly, on a deadline.
And on a story level, I don't think this version is all that. This is to my knowledge the first time there's been a full adaptation of the plot of the manga, so props for that, but the characterization of everyone feels severely off. Ryo in particular is insane in this version, and I don't think the framework the characters are placed in works anymore with everyone's new personalities. It was a story that fit the old characters. With the new ones, it feels stupid. Whenever Ryo explodes an old woman to death or whatever, I wanted the kindhearted Akira to go WTF DUDE and have some serious issues with him, but the most you get is some pouting. Akira just seems like the world's biggest idiot. Between the storytelling not working that well for me and the visuals looking jank, I couldn't get that behind Devilman Crybaby(I also thought the music sucked, but I don't expect to get a lot of support on that one). Overall it's a better, more unique experience than most of the drivel that every studio craps out every season, every year. It's got good moments, it's got some fun jokes, and I for one was touched by that one rapper dude's rap. But while Devilman Crybaby stands out in a crowd, I don't wanna stand too close to it for fear of smelling weird afterwards. I'm not entirely with the hype on this one, sorry.
Still, those two old Devilman OVAs were very cool, and I heartily recommend them to anyone who wants to watch the early parts of the story again with amazing visuals and a more coherent plot. You know how great that old Jojo OVA with Dio looks? That's the Devilman OVAs, an awesome, grounded and expanded take on the original manga, with the kinda quality drawings you can't get from a TV show. And if you want another time Yuasa made an anime where people turned into monsters and ate their loved ones, Kemonozume hasn't gone anywhere.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan (it's good)
In this anime, it turns out dragons existed all along. To hide them from public view, the JSDF has taken responsibility for them and camouflaged them with airplane parts. You can even pilot them, by being eaten and messing around with their innards through the stomach walls(ewwwwww). However, the dragons choose their pilots themselves, and the one on Gifu military base hasn't had one in three years. Then Hisone shows up, and it turns out the dragons will only eat the most insecure and dependant chicks out there, and so she starts her new life as a dragon pilot.
This was a pleasant surprise for me! Mari Okada worked on it, which usually means I won't like it very much. And it does exhibit a lot of the same traits and themes as those other shows I've seen her work on. Like a lot of focus on dialogue and banter, too much melodrama and self-consciousness, some very arch characters with predictable character development, several main characters with personality and communication issues that they have to work out or work around, and what I can only describe as weird behavior. Stuff happens for weird reasons, let's put it like that.
But this time around, all that stuff is married to a cute artstyle, largely excellent animation, a surprising variety of memorable character designs for such a simple style, and dragons that transform into fighter jets to disguise themselves, which is just about the best concept I've heard of all my life. There's some tastefully underused CG models, it's got a comprehensible and decent story that is completely told in 12 episodes, it's got some good comedy and just a little bit of good drama. Most importantly, it's got a fat cat that hides itself in a bookshelf.
It's not the best thing I've ever seen, but I enjoyed my time with it. Wish there was a bit more of flying around in dragon jets and a bit less melodrama, but I'll take what I can get. It's good!
Hinamatsuri (it's really really good)
As a succesful yakuza lieutenant in a peaceful area, Nitta's got a generally comfortable and unproblematic life and a penthouse apartment when a superpowered kid assassin accidentally crash lands in his living room. The kid is called Hina, and she's just a regular emotionally stunted kid in every way besides having telekinetic powers. Nitta ends up taking care of her as a surrogate dad on the side of his mob job, and the rest is a slice of life comedy as he tries his best while suddenly having become surrogate dad to a powerful psychic.
What makes Hinamatsuri so amazing is its comedic writing. Comedy shows in Japan tend to fall pretty flat for me. A lot of them go for the old tsukkomi & boke routine, which tends to boil down to someone doing or saying something stupid - and someone else then tells them it's stupid. It's always predictable and often boring. In the case of Hinamatsuri, it blends tragic circumstances with lighthearted comedy extremely well. You view something dark in just the right light, and suddenly you've got comedy gold, the above clip being an early example. Hitomi's life gradually evolves into the life of a hardworking twentysomething woman, and it's both hilarious and sad to watch.
The author is also well aware that once you've made someone laugh, it's the easiest thing in the world to make you cry. So there are several heartwrenching or touching episodes in Hinamatsuri, and they feel like they belong in the narrative instead of coming out of left field because of the mixing of dark circumstances and funny gags. When a spoiled little kid is suddenly living with homeless people, situations are just naturally gonna go from funny to sad and back again. It never becomes either sickly sweet or darkly sinister, and it manages to actually subvert expectations at every turn. On top of all this, it's one of the few well-animated comedy shows out there, with just enough of an aesthetic of its own to stand out, and some really funny voice performances from the Japanese Hina in particular.
It is not a finished story(being based on an ongoing manga), which leads to some odd scenes. There's one character with a whole episode to herself that never even meets the other characters. But don't let that stop you from watching the anime this year that probably made me both cry and laugh the most. This is one of those anime I'd recommend even to people that don't like anime, 'cause it's both good and approachable, not one of those where I'd have to step in and explain about maids to an uninterested third party.
Lupin III part 5, Lupin Trois
After not having a proper TV series since Part 3 in the eighties, Lupin III finally saw a resurgence in the 2010s. In 2015 we got Part 4, an awesome retro-styled adaptation that's now essentially gotten a season 2. If you were born in the last, say 30 years and know who Lupin is, odds are you're familiar with him through Castle of Cagliostro, a Hayao Miyazaki movie from before Studio Ghibli got formed. His original format are a ton of episodic adventures where he and the gang go on pulpy slapstick journeys together. You've got Lupin, the ingenious master thief, Goemon, a stoic and old-fashioned master swordsman, Fujiko Mine, the sexy femme fatale, and Jigen, a faithful gunman. They're hounded at all times by the honorable detective Zenigata of Interpol, who's got a Tom & Jerry relationship with Lupin in particular.
This is all you have to know to watch any Lupin. The fun is in the adventures they have, while the characters are hardly more than archetypes. Part 4 and 5 have a bit more of an arc than I imagine those older parts have, with some added returning side characters, but no more than say, Cowboy Bebop did. The gang is technically a bunch of assassins and thieves, but you know how this goes, all of them have a heart of gold. They only steal from bad people, or they steal something that helps people out in the process, and they only kill when attacked by killers. The tone of can wary wildly between episodes, going from serious showdowns with professional murderers in one episode to wacky comedy bank heists in the next, but the characters work equally well for both scenarios.
The hook for the story this time around is that Lupin and the gang have gotten too old for the changing world, which is more than a little meta. Lupin suddenly gets hounded by all sorts of assassins and police as he can't escape social media and sharing of #content, which is a rough spot to be in for anybody. The new party member for this season only is naturally a hacker chick, and she's a pretty good addition to the crew. She's resourceful and smart, but too much of a kid and an amateur to be anywhere near as equipped for adventure as Lupin's gang is, and her crush on Lupin is contrasted neatly with Lupin and Fujiko's love. This time around there's some fun interplay between the gang as they try to suss out not just what their relationship to the world is, but what relationship they have to each other.
I dunno how to say much more about it besides just praising it. I love these adventures a lot, and they've got just about the right mix of romantic spy fiction, wacky hijinks, slapstick comedy, emotional weight and just a hint of edge with the occasional explicit violence and naked boob. There's a heart to it all, you get the distinct sense that not only do the characters love each other even if they dislike expressing it, but the studio absolutely loves working on them.
There's a limit to how much a studio can do in a weekly TV anime format, I don't want anyone to expect the same kind of amazing movement you get in Castle of Cagliostro here. But the backgrounds are absurdly beautiful, and it's definitely animated enough to work, with an art style that looks retro but has that modern touch to it. It feels like it got slightly more modern than in the last season, but the differences are negligible. I absolutely recommend it if you can find it in you to love a bunch of old macho dudes straight outta the seventies, and a lady who's answer to every problem is to seduce it. I think it's all very cool, in an aged, retro sense. It's just a tad more mature than the usual shonen fare that gets all the views, but not so mature it isn't still extremely silly.
Shoutout to the finale for a move out of nowhere that really surprised me. I guess you could view it as an earth-shattering retcon, but I think we're going with the mood of the story at the moment rather than lore. I thought it was very fun, the little extra push that made the season go from good to great. There is definitely going to be another season - there are some key characters here with unresolved plots, especially Lupin's new rival character, Albert d'Andrésy. I look forward to seeing that in a few years.
Megalo Box aka Ashita no Joe 2018
This is another remake of an old property, somewhat of a trend for anime, at least recently. And unlike some other trends, doing a retro manga or old anime over again in 2018 tends to bring with it some unique stuff by default. Anything old enough is new again, so suddenly you actually get shows that look distinct visually, even with a makeover more in line with current shows. Megalo Box doesn't particularly look like Ashite no Joe, which is nearing its fiftieth birthday in just a few years. But it does look partially like a show about two decades out of time. The artwork is going for a sketchy look, with what straight up looks like artifacting on it. I don't entirely appreciate that, it fucks with my eyes, but I do like the character designs. It's an art in itself to make something that appears to be retro while looking nothing like the ancient original.
Anyway, Megalo Box is a bit beyond just a modern adaptation of Ashita noe Joe. Instead of retelling the story of the Japanese boxer in the 70s boxing his way through dudes in Tokyo(if this summary seems a bit light, it's cause the anime is old as balls and I only really knew two things about Ashita no Joe going in), Megalo Box takes place in some unspecified location in the future. Everyone wealthy is in a beautiful futuristic inner city, everyone poor is out in the slums which feel like they could take place whenever. JD is stuck doing staged matches for the mob in an underground boxing ring there, but when the champ unexpectedly pays them a visit, his fighting spirit is ignited and he won't just stand there and lose on purpose anymore. He wants out, he wants it all to mean something, he wants to show what he's got. The local mob boss now wants his head, but JD's coach manages to convince him: They win the big boxing tournament to earn back the loss and then some, and they're free to go.
Look, in order to say anything specific about the later plot here, I gotta just throw up a right here and tell people who haven't watched it to duck out.
The two things I knew about Ashita no Joe going in was this: At one point he invents the cross counter, and in his last fight, Joe dies. The creators of Megalo Box are very much aware of this. I get the impression that in the original, Joe's death was sudden and unexpected. In Megalo Box, from the first shot of the episode, they're hinting at the death. There's crosses everywhere, Joe's idea of a hobby is riding as fast as he can to the edge of a cliff and stopping just before falling off, and there's all kinds of imagery about dead dogs(he originally calls himself Junk Dog). Everyone knows they're in dangerous territory, and the mob will kill Joe if he doesn't keep working for them. But even beyond the plot, there's just hinting of an early grave at every turn, to the point where I felt they were being maybe a little too unsubtle.
So when the ending came and Joe didn't die, I was . They played me like a damn fiddle. I'm conflicted on it. When watching the show, I really liked coach Nanbu, the little kid, Joe himself. I wanted everyone to make it. But then when they did, rather than feeling relief, I just felt fooled. I dunno how I'd feel if I watched it again. Even just looking up images for this blog post made me remember how fond I am of the cast, though.
Like Hinamatsuri, Megalo Box is one of those shows I can easily recommend to people that don't like anime, by which most of them mean they can't stand this or that common anime trope. Like bizarre, out there plot threads where people are force fields or representations of the planet's love. Or fetish maids. Or weird, neon-colored hair. Or absurdly jiggling tits. Megalo Box is relatively classy and has no cheesecake I can think of, it's fairly Western in its aesthetic, it's grounded, it's focused on one guy beating up a lot of other guys with exoskeletons and it's a short, intense plot, done in 12 episodes. It's even got hip hop music in it. If you clicked on the anime blog and you wanted a cool dude anime for cool dudes, this is the one for you.
It does have its limitations, of course. As a 12 episode anime, you can't get the kinda training sequences and build-up and amazing fights of a boxing show like Hajime no Ippo. And similarly, despite wearing exoskeletons, none of the punches here are anywhere near as impactful as the punches in Hajime no Ippo. But it's a solid drama with some decent action scenes and a strong look to it.
Sorry guys, not so sure about this one. The first Steins;Gate is one of the most respected shows out there, and I personally loved it when I watched it back in 2012. The nerd self-insert aspect is one thing, certainly. Since the anime was about a bunch of different kinds of nerds in the nerd capital of the world inventing a time machine and then fighting back international agencies trying to take the time machine for themselves, it's no wonder anime nerds love it so much. But even aside from that aspect, it's a thrilling story. Easy to sum up, too, which for a time travel story is nothing short of a miracle. Okabe Rintarou invents a way to time travel. He uses this ability to help all of his friends attain their dreams, by sending a message back in time that changes an action they took at some point. This leads to a new future in which agencies kills one of his friends while trying to get the time machine. In order to make this death not happen, he has to travel back in time and redo all the changes he made. It's simple and it's easy to follow. There's a lot of tension, some occasional action and some nightmareish turns of events that have to be done over. It's a great anime that I think you should watch if you like anime.
Steins;Gate 0 is at a disadvantage right out of the gate because it is so unnecessary. Instead of continuing the story from where we left off, it continues from the perspective of a bad timeline that made a minor appearance at the end of the last show. We're essentially viewing a "Bad End" we never needed to see, and there are instantly contrivances to make us even have material for another season.
Several new characters are introduced, with a whiff of the retcon about them. Makise Kurisu, a major player from the first season who in this timeline is dead, is reintroduced through an AI called Amadeus that contains her memories. It also turns out that the time machine that's sitting around didn't just bring the character we thought it did to the past in season 1 - it also carried an entirely new character who was never brought up before. Retcon aside, this new character is terrible, a composite of amnesia, mommy issues and brainwashing that I couldn't stand at all.
Not all new characters are a bust, though. The scientist that made the AI, Maho Hiyajo, is a very cute and enjoyable character I would have liked to have seen in season 1. Though of course, she was never mentioned either, despite being Makise Kurisu's best friend and colleague, and her major character issue is a feeling of inferiority towards Makise Kurisu. We're doing a lot of Makise Kurisu expys here, in all shapes and sizes. Even the new character from the future looks somewhat similar to Kurisu for no discernable reason.
The problem here is this: Season 1 was a thrilling, self-contained story. It was easy to understand what happened, but it was hard to predict what was gonna happen next. In Steins;Gate 0, the story entirely relies on having seen season 1, but also in being invested in a problem that the original already solved. The villains are very obvious, but the precise nature of the timelines gets muddled and confusing. It's hard to understand what's happening, but it's very easy to see where it's all going to end up. It's confusing and annoying instead of interesting and thrilling.
So this one I can't recommend, personally. It's not completely without merit, but an individual strong scene here and there does not make this an anime worth watching. I've been told the visual novel it's based on is much better.
Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory (season IV, I get it)
Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory is the fourth season of FMP. It's remarkable that this even exists, 13 years after the last season aired. This all began in 2002, so if you've been watching it since then you have my condolences.
It's pretty great having it back. As far as I can tell all the voice actors are the same, and their performances haven't notably aged. Sagara Sousuke sounds identical, as does Kaname Chidori. Some of the music I feel like I recognize, and some of it feels new, but it's all cool bombastic stuff that fits with the heroic military mecha thing the anime is going for. The best thing here is just seeing a continuation of the story. Some details have gotten cloudy over the years, but it's cool to just have an unifinished story roll on like nothing happened. It's a strong season, too! Mithril enters all-out war with the bad guys, mechas invade Sousuke's neighborhood to get a hold of Chidori, some serious shit happens in this season. It changes the status quo considerably from the previous seasons of staying undercover at Chidori's school and then occasionally going on missions, and it's all very exciting.
Few shows blend military action, mechas, heroics and just a touch of romantic comedy as well as FMP does. Despite fantastical elements like the lambda driver, grounding everything in equipment and the military gives FMP a good tangible setting for all the action. And the artstyle, which used to look painfully stereotypical of anime, has now gotten so old that it looks positively retro. It stands out, and has a touch more realism to its character design than many modern shows, so it still works.
On the negative side, this is definitely just another 12 episode season. The anime might get another season next year, or it might go dormant for another decade depending on sales. Regardless, this story isn't done. The animators involved are also either not skilled enough or not given enough time, 'cause people just don't look on-model very often when they move around quickly. Some shots look great, and then suddenly the bad guy runs away and it's like looking at a stick figure. I really miss that Kyoto Animation level of quality here.
It kills the mood when something serious is happening, or a gun fight is going down, and instead of the kills looking suitably horrific as the bystanders scream, it just looks like some blobs sprung a leak. There's this cool scene where Chidori takes a midnight bath outdoors to wake up and start taking some initiative. She jumps into a pool, partially undresses and swims around for a bit, emerging with renewed determination. That's a moment that could be in a potential "Best Moment or Sequence" category, but it doesn't play because the studio hasn't have the money/skills/time/whatever to make it look good.
Computer graphics have reached FMP at last, and they look as bad as they always do, a car chase in an early episode being a particularly ugly offender. The mechs are also all CG, and personally I think it's hard to look at the new ones and not think about how cool the old ones could look. There's technically more animation, right? You can move around CG models a lot easier than you can draw mechas jumping around, and that occasionally looks very cool. But they also look entirely fake and superimposed upon the regular artwork. The robots aren't the biggest offender, though. It's that car chase in an early episode that looks like it's ripped from an old video game. I think I can meet the animators halfway on this one, the CG is fine as long as it's used to depict the robots fighting with no people around, not so much for anything else.
Overall, I enjoyed it and could go for another season. Hopefully it won't take 13 years again.
High Score Girl
Now this is a great anime.
All of you nerds need to get on High Score Girl ASAP. A good while ago I asked in the anime thread for romcoms that were grounded, preferably with some likeable and funny protagonists and some nerdy crap. I'm not expecting everyone to share those tastes, but I think Giant Bomb should be ripe with people who can get very into a romcom set in the arcade scene of Japan in the 90s - essentially a couple of kids bonding over playing games while growing up. They're sniping my interests very hard considering all the Capcom on display here, so I'm not exactly trying to be objective.
But personally I' enjoyed it immensely. The characters are beliveable and likeable, and while not realistic in the strictest sense(the love interest barely speaks and communicates entirely with facial expressions and cartoon violence), everyone's emotions feel real. It feels a lot like the author himself grew up like this and is now writing a love story in the time of his own youth - as opposed to an anime like Gamers! from last year, which at best felt like playing with romcom tropes in a generic anime high school and at worst just was those tropes.
It reminds me of Genshiken in the sense that the entire setting feels true to life. And despite the differences between Japan in the 90s and say, my rural Norwegian town in the 90s, subculture is international. If you're spending your time on a video game forum, you can relate to this stuff. And if you can enjoy the setting, and then also enjoy some funny setup and good gags to make you like these characters before twisting the heartache knife, you're in for a good time. Haruo's an insecure, annoying, game-fixated nerd, but he's also a very caring boyfriend. Even when he's unable to acknowledge his exact feelings, he still acts on them and does the thing you want him to do most of the time. Oono's got no social skills, but together with Haruo she can straight up communicate through what she loves for once, and her relationship with him relieves the stress and pressure she feels from her home life. They have a lot of arguments and sometimes they don't get along, but in the end they care about one another so much. It's sweet.
I normally can't stand the look of these TV-level computer graphics shows, like I mentioned earlier. it's just such a wide gap from what those 3d models look like and animate like compared to any proper CG animation. However, the studio did a lot with color, framing and the lighting to make it look way better than it should, and heighten the atmosphere with some great emotional music. As ugly as High Score Girl is compared to most manga(I'd say the original manga looks worse than Mob Psycho 100, which is an achievement), the anime adaptation does its best to make it look good. I think the 3d models are a good fit for all the arcade cabinets, and integrating all the actual gameplay footage with the rest of the artwork.
It's an ongoing story, though the original manga is finished. Three more episodes are announced as OVAs, Genshiken style, so here's to hoping a season 2 happens. If it doesn't, jump into chapter 35 or something of the manga, and you're golden.
Planet With is awesome, and I would've been disappointed if it was anything else. The author isn't exactly a household name, but I adored Spirit Circle, and this is on that level. I began writing this blog entirely so I could write about this anime, I just remembered. But now that I'm here I don't know where to start. I'll try to be brief for once.
Planet With starts out with aliens invading Earth, and seven heroes manifesting their psychic aura as big glowing CG mecha and flying out to fight them. On their way back one of them is ambushed by a small kid, our main character Soya, as he is furious at them and wants them to stop. He's an alien himself, from a planet that was destroyed, and he can sense the power that destroyed his planet in the heroes. Also he's accompanied by a girl in a maid outfit and a huge purple cat that walks on two legs. So yeah, maybe this is one for people that like anime too.
And from there, I dunno where to go. Planet With's most admirable element, though you might not expect it, is making sense. Everyone involved is characterized as humans, making rational or emotional decisions based on their experiences and the general wish to help their friends, make a better world and so on. And it's very keen on making clear that this goes for everyone. You get some information rolled out here, some information rolled out there, and in the end you know exactly why everyone did what they did. And it's always for their own reasons rather than being manipulated, mind-controlled or whatever other contrived crap other shows might pull out of their asses.
It successfully paints a picture of people with good intentions who can't agree on what's the right path for everyone to move in, and instead of painting them all as morally grey or completely rotten in different ways, they're all largely good people. And it's not boring, unlike the one other show I've watched that tried this. But it's a constantly changing status quo that I have a hard time summarizing without spoiling the truth of everyone's motivations and history, and I don't want to do that. I'll just promise this isn't a mystery box with nothing inside. It's a twelve episode series, with revelations every episode. It's also not a tragic series. This isn't like Madoka, where three episodes in, someone suddenly gets decapitated.
Rather than spoiling, I'll praise the characters. I'll praise the tone. Everyone's fun and funny to be around, and when time comes to get serious, they can cry and be angry and it'll feel like it fits. The show has spectacular music that's just as good for comedy as it is for getting the blood pumping during the big mecha fights. The trailer music up there is great, and it returns often. I love how the personal character of everyone is integrated into the action. The aliens attack with devices that show you all your dreams in order to pacify you, leading to many instances of learning a character's backstory and desires organically. A lot of anime do this kinda introspective story about characters with extravagant settings and contrivances. But most of them only work as metaphors, and are completely bizarre if you just view the actual events. Planet With is not. Whatever trope it pulls from the big pile of anime cliches, it sets up, justifies, and smoothes over with funny dialogue. I appreciate the way it justifies the conflicts that happen, but don't excuse the extreme actions some characters take - Soya isn't gonna not fight some dude 'cause he knows he's a nice guy underneath when the dude's a danger to everyone.
Visually, I like the show. It's got an unassuming style, with the characters just registering as anime people, not especially grounded nor particularly crazy in their designs. When deciding on a design for the alien races, the author went for big cute chibi versions of animals. When it was time to to a villainous alien, it became a huge dragon. I like the way he thinks.
Pity that it's so hard to search for the name. It's a terrible title. But it's an outstanding show, and although I'm having a hard time arguing why, it's one of my absolute favorites. I very much doubt it's for everyone, but I recommend checking it out anyway, 'cause it just might click with you the way it clicked with me. This author has a voice unique to him, and I don't think you can know if you like it or not until you've tried.
Does Aggretsuko need an introduction? As a Netflix thing I'd be surprised if I told anyone anything new here, and if not, there's the trailer and myanimelist link.
I really dig Aggretsuko. It's fast, it's funny and I think it portrayed different types of humans in a realistic way instead of an archetype kinda way. They're broad enough that most people are gonna know someone like them, sure. But even the characters that are dirtbags on this show I enjoyed, 'cause they're just well-rounded enough to have some depth, while still being frustrating monsters to work for. Haida is the MVP. Retsuko is too relatable. I think the music is outstanding. While the whole show just looks like a simple flash thing, you can do a lot of comedy with just some memorable character design, some expressive animations, good voice acting and superb music. It's also tight, with only a limited number of shorter than usual episodes.
It speaks to the same kinda twentysomething angst that Night in the Woods does, in much the same way, complete with chibi animal people. But the setting is more than different enough to separate itself from it, being in a Japanese workforce environment and all. And the tone is much lighter, with better largely better jokes and a better ending, and not so much dialogue that resembles chat messages. And that's coming from a guy that greatly enjoyed NitW.
That's about all I've got, really. Aggretsuko is exceptional, and if you haven't given it a try yet you're missing out.
The summer comedies: Chio's School Road, Grand Blue and Asobi Asobase
You know when I talked about kinda bad-looking, predictable comedies up there under the Hinamatsuri banner? Yeah, here we go.
Grand Blue is a college comedy. It's about dudes in a diving club drinking and stripping all the time while occasionally remembering that they're supposed to do some diving, until they get distracted by their sexy cousins. You get a lot of tsukkomi/boke shit and you get more ugly reaction faces than you can shake a stick at. The issue here is that the jokes are all predictable - a comedy that doesn't make me laugh doesn't really have much going for it. I ended up liking the heartwarming moments where they actually enjoy diving the most, which was pretty weird.
Asobi Asobase is about a club of girls in a high school that argue with one another and get up to wacky hijinks. One of them is rich and has a butler with a laser in his butt. There's some great reaction faces and I liked the ending segments where they were all real life sock puppets. If I sound like I can't muster much energy that's because I damn well can't. I had to force myself to make it through both this and Grand Blue, and while neither was offensively bad, it sure didn't feel worth it.
I also gave Chio's school road a shot, and in theory, it was pretty funny. But the art was ugly, I forgot the music ten seconds after watching, and the comedic timing on the gags felt off. So I ended up checking out the manga after the first two episodes, and it's a pretty big difference, in my eyes. Those awesome, energetic drawings with all the speedlines and dark shadows get lost in the translation, so even though it seems very faithful, basically a frame by frame adaptation, I ended up reading it instead. They should've had whoever edited that trailer up there do the actual show, 'cause the difference is night and day.
I love the artwork in the manga and feel like it makes it way better. It isn't the jokes in Chio's Schoolroad that make it great - it's the characters getting absurdly invested in whatever catches their fancy that day(whether it be coffee, crossing a puddle of water in the street, or playing Pokemon Go) and portraying it with extreme energy and skill. There isn't a punchline as much as it's the situation itself. So yeah, I heartily recommend reading the manga, but with the caveat that you should not read it if a chapter where all the girls go to school commando sounds too pervy for you. It's up there for the raciest manga I've read. You take one look at this dude's drawings, you know instantly that he's drawn some art.
I'm assuming this might be the case for Asobi Asobase and Grand Blue as well. That the manga might be the way to go, I mean. But as of this moment I haven't bothered checking. Sorry for giving the fans of those a hard time, but I just didn't think they were that funny. There have been so many comedies only these last few years that were better.
The unfinished business
I usually save one or two shows a season that I can watch online with a friend, which has gotten a lot easier after rabb.it started existing. Currently we're going through Persona 5 the Animation, which is not a show you should watch. We're at episode 17, and it hasn't gotten good yet. Just play the game. It's very faithful, which is always nice to see in a video game adaptation after decades of shitty live action movies. But it looks cheap, it is paced horrifically, and it doesn't have any voice of its own. And unlike Persona 4 the Animation, which added a lot to the character of Yu Narukami and improved the whole story by doing so, the main character here is the blank slate that I feared Yu would be. It's not a terrible show or anything but it's just not worth it when you can watch so many better shows, you know. I think this was made by another studio than P4A, and if that's the case, Atlus should return to the previous studio for their eventual adaptation of Persona 6 whenever that happens. I watched the commentary track for P4A. It felt like those guys got it.
Next up we're gonna watch Attack on Titan season 3. I expect I'll like it. I already read the manga, and I enjoy all the Attack on Titan stuff. It's got this amazing action mix of slow horror segments with just people on the ground, giant mecha fights and spider-man sword-flipping which never gets old for me, and they mash up all of those in different ways to create some real spectacular setpieces. The characters are largely alright too, broad enough to be entertaining but with enough quirks to surprise. Most importantly, it seems like the author actually thought out his plot and setting before starting, so the slow dripfeeding of information isn't just some hollow mystery box. I figured out several of the reveals of this arc way in advance thanks to the old hints and felt pretty good about it.
I've caught glimpses of a gif where Levi does some amazing stunts, and I hope to see more of that kinda thing. The final fight of the arc could stand some additional filler moments. Unlike season 1, which got a padded out and melodramatic finale that ruined both Eren's character development and the show's pacing, this arc ends fairly suddenly. I'd actually appreciate it if the last battle got expanded upon, 'cause otherwise it's over in seconds.
I'm still watching My Hero Academia, and my issues with it are the same as ever. Top of the list, turning an exciting vigilante-driven genre into a show where you need government approval to get your new suit processed by the design company. Gimme a break! At least in One Punch-Man the pointless celebrity stuff and rank chasing and bureaucracy of the hero organization is there to show that they're all dumbasses while Saitama is the real deal. It's a comedic thing. In MHA, the only ones opposing it are villains, and the bureacucracy of it all is just worldbuilding. I just don't think superheroes as cops are a fun idea. That short-lived controversy over Spidey being too friendly with the police of New York City in his new PS4 game is ludicrous to me considering the heroes of MHA.
At the moment, I don't think there's a more popular anime than My Hero Academia unless you're willing to count Dragon Ball, and personally I don't feel like it's earned. It's a mildly above average shonen show with a few standout inspirational moments, and some good sakuga once or twice a season, usually combined. It's way better on an emotional side than the action and plotting side, with the villains generally being dull, the fights being weak, and the comedy being about as good as Yuuna and the Haunted Springs' comedy. It's not awful or anything, but I sure don't love it, and I get the distinct impression that much of its success has to do with its direct competitors trippng over themselves on a weekly basis. Most weeks, anyway.
As for this season in specific, while All Might's duel was riveting and touching, the hero license exam was so exciting I forgot it existed(I have already read the manga). At the moment I'm halfway through that arc and I plan on continuing watching eventually. I look forward to seeing this season's Deku VS Bakugou fight for myself. I think my favorite scene so far was Izuku and his mom discussing schools with All Might. That writing rang true, for all of the involved.
There are currently two sequels to FLCL airing, but I think they're on some weird website? Amazon's service or something? I might end up watching them eventually, but I don't have the greatest of hopes for sequels to one of the best shows ever, made decades later by different people entirely.
I might end up watching How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, which is the one harem show this year I've heard anyone recommend. I've got my doubts, but I'm not opposed to giving it a shot if I find the time. The level of fanservice in my shows this year has been scandalously low, so I kinda feel like I gotta go look for it if I wanna maintain a proper level of skeeviness. Can't say I'm that enthusiastic about it though.
The remaining three months
There are a few shows I've got some interest in. Karakuri Circus is an adaptation of a long-forgotten shonen fighting series about puppet characters, that most annoying of fighting game types. I'm not expecting much, what with it being completely forgotten about and all, but I was positively surprised by how much fun Ushio & Tora was, in a retro kinda way. I even recognize the voice of Tora as the voice of one of the characters in Circus, and looking a bit closer, that's the same director, too. Wait a minute, it's even the same original author?! Hopefully it moves at the same breakneck pace as Ushio & Tora, covering up the paper-thin characterization of 90s shonen protags with non-stop action.
When adapting Ushio & Tora, these people trimmed 300 chapters or so into a modest 39 episodes, and it looks like for Circus they're doing the same, only they're trimming 400 chapters down this time. This works better than you'd expect, 'cause it's one of those stories where you get a loose framework and then 100 largely episodic fights. When you get so many and they aren't all up to the quality of something like Jojo's bizarre battles, removing the fluff works wonders. You end up with this adrenaline-filled romp that's exceptionally entertaining. Until we reach a moment that's meant to be emotional, anyway.
Also, there's a new adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's Dororo coming out. This is another one that came out waaay before I was born, and I've never heard of it before. It looks like it stars a samurai with Sekiro arms, so that's alright.
That Time I got Reincarnated As A Slime is getting an adaptation. Having read the manga, I have zero interest in watching this, but if you want another lighthearted isekai anime about an overpowered protagonist working his way through a jrpg world, but this time he's a slime and occasionally a loli, then at least this adaptation looks like it had some work put into it.
What else... Is that all? I guess we'll wrap it up here, and maybe I can write another post come January. Thanks for rea--
oh GOD it's JOJO this month
I see Fugo still sucks