Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan. If there’s one takeaway for me from the Fall 2016 anime season, that would probably be it. I talked a little bit about why I didn’t watch much anime this past season in my New Year’s post, so I’m not going to go into that here, but suffice it to say I really only ended up watching three shows and dropping all but one of the rest. Most of the shows I dropped from last season I still plan to watch at some point (especially Girlish Number and Occultic;Nine, my two most anticipated shows from the past season); in fact, only two of them were dropped for reasons other than lack of time. I’ll briefly discuss those two below, but since I dropped most of these shows after just the first episode or two, I’m not going to write about them in this post.
Matoi the Sacred Slayer – Underrated Gem of the Season
If there was one anime this season that I’m very glad I did not miss, it would be Matoi the Sacred Slayer, not because I necessarily think it was the best anime of the season, but because I suspect I never would have gotten back around to it if I’d dropped it. And that would have been a terrible shame, because in spite of a slightly pervy first episode and a premise that does little to distinguish itself from your average mahou shoujo plot, this anime is legitimately excellent. Now, I don’t want to oversell it to those of you who may have dropped it after the first episode or two, especially since I was biased towards it from the start. I freely admit, the tone of the show and the cute, slightly cartoonish character designs for Matoi and Yuma pushed a lot of the right buttons for me. But my appreciation for Matoi the Sacred Slayer stems not from superficial stuff like that, but rather from the way the show consistently exceeded my expectations at every turn, especially when it came to Matoi’s relationship with her father. I am not in the least exaggerating when I say that this show has one of the better portrayals I have seen in anime of a father struggling to learn how to relate to his teenage daughter (that awkward scene in the first episode notwithstanding). For that element alone, Matoi the Sacred Slayer is well worth a watch.
The rest of the show is full of pleasant surprises as well. The story is tight and quickly paced, and the writers avoided the temptation to over-explain everything with a lot of extraneous exposition. For most of the show the plot remains pretty simple, offering context but letting the characters’ motivations and the superb action sequences drive the story forward to its conclusion. The end result is a show that feels light and fun to watch, while offering some poignant moments and a few twists that elevate it above… well, above the kind of show that unfortunate first episode made it out to be. All in all, Matoi the Sacred Slayer is easily one of the underrated gems of this year. If you’re in the market for a light mahou shoujo story with a touch of human drama, I recommend it.
Not So Hot
Bungo Stray Dogs 2 – Close But No Cigar
The first four episodes of Bungo Stray Dogs 2 is perhaps some of the finest anime I have ever seen in terms of visual storytelling and writing. It features the story of three men making their way up the ladder of power in a crime syndicate. One of these young men is torn between the conflicting demands of his two masters. Another young man seeks to atone for his past and build a better life for those he loves. And one young man is looking for a way out even as he makes a name for himself in the organization though his unbridled ruthlessness and cunning. It’s compelling stuff, and I was entirely taken aback that the team responsible for the first season of Bungo Stray Dogs could produce a story so powerfully evocative of the great mafia stories of our time.
But perhaps the best part about it is that the story stands on its own, connected to the past season only by the presence of one character. Thus, I can easily recommend those four episodes on their own, and advise you to skip the rest of this scatterbrained mess of a show.
I say this partially in jest, but on some level it is true. The quality of these first four episodes only makes the inconsistency, lack of focus, and sheer predictability of the rest of the show so utterly frustrating. To be entirely fair, this season did have a few more quality moments than the first–the introduction of Lovecraft and Steinbeck, Kyouka’s progression as a character, the final battle with the Guild–but most of them played out within the context of a plot that anyone with half a brain could have called the moment the Guild was introduced in season 1. To make matters worse, many of the supposedly tactical decisions made by the leaders of the Armed Detective Agency and the Guild made little to no sense whatsoever, and appeared to have been made solely for the purpose of moving the story forward to the next big showdown.
If it seems that I’m being excessively harsh on this show, that’s because I desperately wanted to like it. I did enjoy watching it for the most part, but every time I started to get invested in the story, inevitably one of the supposedly intelligent characters would make a wildly nonsensical decision, or the plot would deftly sidestep any possibility of a twist to follow the most obvious, least entertaining path forward, and eventually I just got tired of wanting to like it. Bottom line, if you’re in it for the action scenes, fun abilities, and winks and nods to literary works and famous authors, by all means go for it. You’ll probably have a fun time. But if you want a story that doesn’t subvert itself at every possible turn, with meaningful characters instead of one-note archetypes, stick to the first four episodes of the second season. That’s the only part of Bungo Stray Dogs that I can recommend to anyone but the most tolerant viewers.
Somewhere In Between
Flip Flappers – Not My Cup of Tea
I will be the first to admit that behind all of the fantastical imagery and metaphorical elements of Flip Flappers, there lies a pretty solid show. While I do believe the show got a little too wrapped up in the abstract visual elements and metaphor after the halfway point, to the degree that I had difficulty understanding the characters’ motivations or what exactly was going on with their personalities, by the end of the show its overall message was fairly clear, and the narrative wrapped up about as nicely as it could have. But that said, Flip Flappers was not a show for me.
Two things I tend to appreciate more than anything else in anime (and other media, for that matter) are story and character development. And while I don’t have any particular issue with stories that are written to convey a message, for that message to be effective, it has to be couched in a well-crafted and relatable story. Therein lies my primary issue with Flip Flappers–behind all the artsy visual symbolism and metaphor, and all the gorgeous artwork and fluid animation, there really wasn’t that much of substance to the actual story. Further, I never seemed to get more than a surface-level picture of the personality and motivations of most of the cast (with Cocona and Papika being the primary exceptions). Even characters who do eventually become important, like Salt, did not show up enough in the early episodes for me to develop any kind of attachment to them. As a result, when their big climactic moments came later on in the show, they fell almost entirely flat with me.
Again, all of this is not to say that Flip Flappers is an awful show. There are plenty of reasons to like it: the animation and visuals as a whole are some of the best I’ve seen in a television anime, the music is incredible (especially the tune that plays when the girls transform), and the various environments of Pure Illusion rival anything else I’ve seen in terms of creativity and sheer imagination. But for someone like me who looks for those things not to stand on their own as the primary substance of an anime, but rather to illuminate and substantiate a story and the characters that populate it, Flip Flappers is ultimately a bit of a letdown.
When it became clear that I’d procrastinated far too long on the season and wouldn’t be able to catch up on all the shows I planned to watch, I was torn between dropping Drifters or merely relegating it to my ever-growing “on-hold” list. Even as I say that, my decision to drop it might not even be final, depending on the recommendations of a close friend who has decided to stick with it. However, as much as I wanted the show to be a callback to beautiful, edgy, gory action anime like Hellsing and Basilisk, the first few episodes jumped around way too much and featured too many comic interjections that undermined the development of the show’s characters for me to take it seriously. But what finally led me to drop the show was its use of Jesus Christ as the antagonist, or more specifically, the way the show casts Him as a violent revolutionary bent on the destruction of the human race as revenge for His crucifixion. Obviously, all of this is a fictional take on historical characters in a fictional fantasy afterlife, and it is entirely Kohta Hirano’s prerogative to create that kind of a story. But that said, my faith is an extremely important part of who I am, so the show’s portrayal of Jesus was bound to make me uncomfortable. That said, you may like Drifters quite a bit if the above issues don’t apply to you. Either way, there’s no denying it’s been a while since we’ve seen gory, stylized action violence done quite as well as Drifters does it.
As much as I joked about Keijo!!!!!!!! in my season preview post, I didn’t expect it to live up to the expectations it set in its first episode. And indeed, after an episode or two of outlandishly immature shenanigans, made all the more hilarious by the way the show played them entirely straight, Keijo!!!!!!!! devolved into the usual sports anime routine, complete with training exercises, budding rivalries, and the usual awkward “getting to know your team” mishaps. While these scenes are all injected with a healthy dose of boobs ‘n’ butt-related humor, they don’t really live up to the gloriously insane chaos of the first episode’s actual matches. I’ve been made aware on social media that once the matches resume, the show somehow successfully continues to up the ante to ever more ridiculous levels; however, by the time I learned that, I was well past the point of slogging through the less entertaining parts to catch up. Perhaps at some point in the future when I’m down for a good laugh I’ll pick the series back up, but until then, I will be considering it dropped.
Well, that about covers it. The past season was a bit underwhelming for me, overall, not so much because the shows weren’t good, but because I feel like for the most part I chose the wrong ones to catch up on late in the season. Hopefully sometime in the near future I’ll be able to rectify that mistake, but in the mean time, the Winter 2017 season premieres are well underway, and I should have a post up detailing all the shows I’ll be keeping up with by the end of this week. I do plan to do a bunch more writing about the shows I watch this season, so hopefully you’ll be looking forward to that.
If you have any comments or thoughts about the Fall 2016 anime season, whether they be shows I should go back to watch or the top 100 reasons my analysis of Flip Flappers is entirely wrong, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!