Summer 2016 Mid(Late)-Season Status Report

Time may fly when you’re having fun, but it doesn’t really get up to speed until you try keeping up with a packed anime season. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the summer season just got underway, and yet we’re already well past the halfway point. Out of the ten shows I’ve been following weekly, we’ve got a couple that I feel like we all knew were going to be good, a few unknown quantities that turned out to be pretty great, an unusually high-quality pile of moefloof, and one show that has become a monument to the worst side of my personal taste. This is the time of the season when I think we can start making some educated guesses about how a show is going to end up given its current trajectory, and fortunately, as of now I’m expecting to stick with all ten shows to the end. But given that things like budget issues and shoddy plot resolution often don’t rear their ugly heads until later in a show’s run, it’s entirely possible that the whole season is gonna be downhill from here. Remember, if it happens that way, you heard it here first.

One more quick thing: I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to think of a way to “rate” the anime I’m watching this season without giving them a numerical rating. I’ve used numerical ratings for years on sites like MyAnimeList, but over the years as my tastes have changed and (hopefully) matured, I’ve found that my numerical ratings no longer represent my current opinion of many of the series I’ve seen in the past. I have not been able to figure out a solution that I’m comfortable with as of yet, so for now I’m going to settle on organizing the anime I’m watching this season into a rough subjective ranking based solely on my enjoyment of each show. This system will definitely change going forward, but I’m already late with this post, so it’ll have to do for now.

All right, without further ado, let’s jump in!

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#1: Mob Psycho 100

I tend to see Mob Psycho 100 as the anime version of a contradiction in terms. Its crude lines and ostentatious color palette appear at first glance to be pulled straight from the scribblings of a slightly disturbed child, but in motion it is a thing to behold. Bones have truly outdone themselves with this show, taking the somewhat ugly aesthetic from the original manga and transforming it through ambitious direction, stunning camera work, and silky smooth animation into one of the most visually remarkable shows of the season. Its messy style is clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is perfectly suited to a story about the not-always-tidy life of a middle-schooler with godlike psychic powers. While the plot of Mob Psycho 100 takes a few episodes to pick up and still lacks a well-defined antagonist, it does provide a compelling backdrop to the individual struggles of its characters, which ultimately are what drives the story forward. But ultimately, whether or not you enjoy Mob Psycho 100 will depend on whether you appreciate its unconventional visual aesthetic and the bombastic sense of movement created by its animation. I make no secret that these things are right in my wheelhouse, which is why Mob Psycho 100 is thus far my favorite anime of the summer season.

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#2: Amanchu!

If you follow me on social media, you probably already know by now that I absolutely adore Amanchu! I was a little worried at first about the show’s character development and Teko’s generally bland initial characterization, but fortunately my fears proved unfounded. In fact, many of the most emotionally satisfying moments in Amanchu! revolve around Teko as she develops confidence in herself and learns to face her fears and overcome them (with no small amount of encouragement from Pikari and Katori-sensei, of course). But perhaps the sweetest side of Amanchu! is its portrayal of the friendship between Teko and Pikari, which has blossomed into something truly beautiful over the last few episodes. It is simply heartwarming to watch Teko gradually let down her guard in response to Pikari’s guileless friendship and enthusiastic encouragement, allowing Pikari’s infectious zest for life to light up her own formerly dreary outlook. As for Pikari, her impish goofiness and genuine desire to uplift and encourage Teko, to share her joy and sense of adventure with someone who clearly needed it, speaks volumes to me. Behind its amusing and relaxing vibe, Amanchu! espouses the ideal that life is an adventure waiting to be discovered and shared with others. It is a beautiful, inspiring, and uplifting story, and I can’t recommend it enough.

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#3: 91 Days

As I said in my preview, I love historical dramas set during Prohibition, and 91 Days has proved to be no exception. Through its setting, the show offers a compelling revenge story that reminds me a great deal of Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York. The way Angelo ingratiates himself into Nero Vanetti’s inner circle, helping him and even saving his life on several occasions in order to gain his trust and get closer to Don Vanetti, is extremely reminiscent of Leo DiCaprio’s character in the aforementioned film. The downside of this is that the story seems to have slowed to a snail’s pace over the last couple of episodes, a development which the cynical side of me wants to attribute to the writers padding the story out to last the season. But that said, Angelo is supposed to be playing the long game, working not only to take down Don Vanetti from the inside, but also presumably to maximize the pain inflicted on Nero by his eventual betrayal. Although Angelo’s hatred has consumed him to the point that he is, of necessity, a somewhat one-note character, the story has been using the time Angelo spends gaining Nero’s trust to flesh out the surrounding characters and grant some level of humanity to the members of the Vanetti family. Truth be told, 91 Days has been tragic and morally grey from the beginning, but the juxtaposition between Angelo’s single-minded quest for vengeance and Nero’s concern for his (admittedly brutal) family’s well-being is effective enough to make me wonder who is really the bad guy here. Angelo Lagusa has gone through a great deal of suffering and bitterness and rage over the loss of his family, but I suspect that will not dull the pain at all when he finally visits his vengeance upon Nero.

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#4: Orange

There is quite a lot that I want to write about this show and the themes it presents around regret and suicide, but for now all I will say is that Orange deals with an extremely important topic in a respectful and accurate manner. That aside, it is also one of those anime that improves in almost every way upon its source material, while still remaining faithful to it. Orange the anime seems to be an almost perfect frame-for-frame adaptation of the original manga, but with better artwork and some nice enhancements, such as fleshing out some of the conversations and adding some prettier backgrounds. The music also serves to significantly enhance the impact of the story’s more emotional scenes, which if I’m honest make up quite a large portion of the show. But what really makes Orange a great show is its characters. Anyone who has had a close-knit group of friends will immediately relate to the way they goof around and joke with each other, as well as the way they clearly care about one another. It is also refreshing to watch a high-school drama anime where the main cast are all reasonably mature individuals, making them fairly relatable even to old fogeys like myself.

 

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#5: Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan/The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is perhaps this season’s shiniest hidden gem, but you might not know it from the small number of people that seem to be watching it. Perhaps it’s a matter of taste, but Saiki’s rapid-fire deadpan delivery just does it for me. Most of all, I appreciate that the show doesn’t go the easy route of making all of Saiki’s super-powerful abilities the center of every joke. Instead, the humor often revolves around Saiki trying not to stand out while still using his powers to get out of increasingly ridiculous situations. All of this is hilariously colored by his incredibly cynical running commentary on all of the crazy characters around him. Many of these characters aren’t that unusual on the outside, but because Saiki can hear their every thought, he is able to see past their normal actions to their often outlandish thoughts and motivations. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. is surreal humor at its finest, and it deserves far more recognition than it’s gotten this season.

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#6: Amaama to Inazuma/Sweetness & Lightning

What can I say about Sweetness & Lightning that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the more popular anime this season, and for some very solid reasons. It’s heartwarming and sincere, with characters that are very relatable and well-acted, and is centered around a topic that most people can appreciate–enjoying good food with friends. But beyond that, the show features one of the best anime portrayals of a young child in Tsumugi. The way she latches on to small things and gets really excited over them will be immediately familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time around children–as will her exhausting but heartwarming effect on those who take care of her, particularly Kouhei. The show hasn’t really explored the effects of Kouhei’s wife’s passing on him that much, instead opting for a series of mostly happy vignettes about Kouhei and Tsumugi joining Kotori and occasionally some other friends to cook a good meal. Which is fine taken at face value, but I was really expecting a bit more depth from the show in the emotional department, especially given the events of the first episode. I wouldn’t call it one of the best anime airing this season, but it is still one of the shows that I consistently look forward to every week.

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#7: Konobi/This Art Club Has a Problem!

Konobi has been a really pleasant surprise for me this season. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the first episode, since apart from the painting sakuga and generally high production values, everything about the story and characters felt forced and lifeless. But in spite of its mediocre first impression, Konobi is one of those shows that just keeps getting better every episode as new characters are introduced and existing characters are developed through some of the best situational comedy I’ve seen in anime since Haganai. The progression from normal to ridiculous in each segment never feels contrived, with much of the comedy coming about due to either the quirks of the characters or the kinds of misunderstandings and mishaps that could very reasonably happen in real life. This lends an air of relatability to the humor which makes the series that much more engaging to watch. I imagine I would tire of Konobi pretty quickly if I tried to binge it, since the setting and characters really don’t stray too far from the usual high school anime comedy fare; but watching it as it’s airing week to week, I’m having a blast.

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#8: Momokuri

After watching its first episode, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Momokuri, although I did enjoy the trope subversion in making the girl the creepy stalker instead of the guy. But over the course of the next few episodes, the writers managed to parlay that subversion into a fairly entertaining comedy anime. This is due in part to the inclusion of a great supporting cast, all of whom serve not only as foils for the ridiculousness of Momo and Yuki’s relationship, but who also have personalities and desires of their own. Granted, these have not been explored in any great depth, but it is nice to see a romantic comedy like Momokuri not treat its supporting cast as disposable cardboard cutouts just thrown in for the sake of a few jokes. I’ll have a lot more to say about trope reversal and subversion in Momokuri and why it is effective in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that the fact that this show has kept me entertained in a season rife with slice-of-life high school comedies perhaps speaks more to its worth than anything else I’ve said here.

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#9: New Game!

Early on, New Game! was shaping up to be one of the better moe “cute girls doing cute things” anime of the last couple seasons, with a really fresh vibe brought out by an energetic presentation and some surprisingly witty workplace comedy about the graphic design side of the game development industry. Unfortunately, recent episodes have started trending away from the smart topical humor towards more generic situational comedy. Although the pastel-laden artwork and charming sound design remain as solid as ever, the story and humor have fallen back on cliche character archetypes and situations which, while entertaining and often adorable, feel stale nonetheless. Given how many people seem to adore this show, I’m willing to chalk my creeping sense of “been there, done that” up to a difference in taste, but I will maintain that New Game! hasn’t been living up to the potential inherent in its unusual setting.

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#10: Taboo Tattoo

Finally, we arrive at the only truly bad anime on this list, Taboo Tattoo. I hate to throw its creative team under the bus, but each new episode only strengthens my unshakeable impression that no one on the team behind Taboo Tattoo could give a rat’s buttocks about the show. The plot is incomprehensible and tonally chaotic. The dialogue is banal, and the characters speaking it are utterly unlikable and, aside from the protagonist, inexplicably horny all of the time, almost to a one. The character animation is robotic and inconsistent, which is highlighted by the stark contrast with the unnaturally smooth CGI animation. The backgrounds are almost entirely made up of ugly generic CGI buildings. The camera is jumpy, and the shot selection is questionable at best. The musical score and sound effects are tinny and abrasive. Taboo Tattoo is thoroughly awful in almost every conceivable way. So why am I still watching it? Because occasionally its failures in one or more of the above categories are so breathtaking that they become unintentional comedy gold. This happens at least a couple times per episode, and trust me, if it ever wavers–if this show ever gets its stuff together just enough to eliminate its most spectacularly funny failures–I will drop it immediately. But for now, I cannot deny that Taboo Tattoo is one of the funniest shows currently airing, just not in the way it was intended to be.

Well, that’s about it! The summer season has been unexpectedly great so far, and now that I’m finally caught up on all ten shows I’m following, I’m really looking forward to seeing where they all go from here.

Except Taboo Tattoo. That show’s going absolutely nowhere but the trash bin, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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