Winter 2017 Season Kick-Off!

Winter and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, I love the holiday season and the chance for new beginnings represented by the arrival of a new year, but on the other hand, where I live right now it can get really cold and even icy at times, but with no fluffy white stuff to make the chilly weather worthwhile. But looking on the bright side, the unpleasant weather makes sitting inside with a cup of coffee, a blanket, and some good anime all the more appealing, so I guess it all balances out in the end.

So far, the Winter 2017 anime season is shaping up to be a lighter season for me. Other than a handful of anticipated manga adaptations, there haven’t been that many shows that caught my attention right off the bat, so I’m relying pretty heavily on first episode impressions to decide which I’ll be sticking with. This means there’s a higher chance that I’ll end up dropping a decent number of the shows I start watching, but hey, I’m sure I’ll be able to find plenty of shows on my MAL backlog to pick up in their stead.

I should also note that the reason Little Witch Academia is not on this list is because Netflix got the exclusive license for it, and because Netflix is a butt, those of us who stick to legal options have to wait for the entire two-cour show to finish airing before we get to watch it. At least Amazon Prime got their crap together and made Onihei and Scum’s Wish available, although the additional $5/month charge is making it difficult to be grateful…*grumble*

Have I mentioned before how much I hate exclusive licensing?

Shows I’ll Be Following

Masamune-kun’s Revenge

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One of the manga adaptations I was looking forward to was Masamune-kun’s Revenge, a series that caught my eye a while back with its unusual-if-edgy premise and appealing character designs. The plot follows Masamune Makabe, a young boy with weight issues who gets harshly rejected by a beautiful girl from his neighborhood, Adagaki Aki. After years of diet and exercise, Makabe finally makes his high school debut as a handsome, athletic young man. But more than a successful high school life, Makabe wants to get revenge on the notoriously mean-spirited Aki by making her fall in love with him and rejecting her just as harshly as she did to him all those years ago.

I was initially hesitant to get into this series due to the obvious potential for this kind of plot to devolve into full-on sleazy wish-fulfillment fantasy. I had no interest at all in watching some narcissistic high schooler set up an elaborate plot for the sole purpose of embarrassing a girl for rejecting him, no matter how mean and petty she was when she did it. Fortunately, apart from some questionable camera angles early in the episode, the season premiere seems to be avoiding any uncomfortable perviness, at least so far. The flip side of that is that it set my high school rom-com anime senses tingling, to the point that I’m fairly certain exactly how the relationship between the two main leads is going to end up developing. I don’t want to call it just yet, but if the writers don’t throw out some curve balls within the first few episodes, there’s a good chance that I’ll be dropping Masamune-kun’s Revenge before the halfway point.

Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki)

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Youjo Senki was a bit of a weird one for me. I had never heard of the original light novel until I saw the anime announcement, but the premise is intriguing on the face of it. The anime begins in media res, so I don’t know the full story behind Lt. Degurechaff’s appearance just yet, but the concept of a blatantly evil protagonist fighting for at best a morally ambiguous, warmongering empire is so different from the usual storylines in anime that I had to check it out. (And to those of you snarking about Nazi lolis, it’s pretty apparent from the first episode that the Empire in this show is modeled after Germany circa WWI, not WWII). Although the first half of the premiere almost lost my interest completely due to its generic wartime fantasy trappings and shoddy visuals, the episode hits its stride around the halfway mark as its focus shifts to the show’s titular evil protagonist. Even the visuals seem to recover a bit by the end, with the final engagement being legitimately well-animated for the most part (aside from those funky-looking CG flying horse statue things–no idea what that was about).

One concern I had going into Youjo Senki was that the show would attempt to have it both ways when it came to portraying Tanya as actually evil. In my opinion, far too many stories that feature anti-heroes or villains in the protagonist role go out of their way to make them likable or relatable, which more often than not ends up neutering their evil nature in the eyes of the viewer. Basically, the show says they are evil, and they might do one or two unsavory things, but in the end they make the right choice and save the day (see, every American comic book anti-hero ever). I won’t spoil why, but after watching the first episode, suffice it to say I don’t think that’s the route this show is going to take. Tanya might be the protagonist, but she is most definitely evil as the show’s Western title suggests, and her actions do bear that out, at least so far. Provided the show sticks to its guns and offers a substantially different take on the “alternate universe World War” genre, I’ll probably keep watching it.

Seiren

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Although I’ve come across the Amagami series a few times in past MAL searches for new anime to watch, it never really captured my attention. Although the concept of a series divided into several arcs, each telling the story of a different romance, is pretty refreshing in light of the number of infuriating “will they-won’t they” rom-coms out there, something about the show’s mundane presentation and uninspired key visuals kept me from picking it up. But judging from the first episode of Amagami‘s spiritual sequel Seiren, perhaps I ought to revise my preconceptions of the series, because even though I didn’t expect to like it much, it turned out to be one of the more entertaining premieres of the season.

I should note here that much of the character of Seiren, and presumably Amagami if it’s anything like its spiritual sequel, isn’t really communicated by any of its promotional material. One major area where this comes into play is the show’s characters. All of them are normal in appearance and attire, to the point that it can initially be difficult to distinguish them one from another–at least, until they start talking. Each of the show’s main characters (at least so far) has a distinct, engaging personality that leaps from the screen through a combination of believable voice acting, realistic dialogue, and expressive, well-animated body language. Basically, the cast by and large feels like real people, which makes them instantly relatable and interesting to watch.

The other factor that makes Seiren so darn entertaining to watch is its intensely sensual atmosphere, which is borne largely out of the same elements that make its characters so good. More so even than what the main couple are saying to each other, the way they say it and the body language they exhibit while saying it betrays the electric undercurrent of sexual attraction in their interactions with each other. With this approach, the show avoids the awkward contrived situations used in most anime rom-coms, allowing the characters themselves to show in a natural, realistic way the progression of their feelings for one another.

At this point, having never seen the prequel series, it is hard to tell how the show’s relationships are going to play out; but so far, it seems to be taking a refreshingly mature approach to high school romance. Provided the show manages to transition between its relationship arcs without undermining that approach, I expect Seiren to remain a fixture on my schedule for this season.

Interviews With Monster Girls

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Interviews With Monster Girls is the first show so far this season that I am almost certain I’ll be watching through to completion, if only because its first episode demonstrates many of the iyashikei qualities that I so enjoyed in Flying Witch and Amanchu! over the past few seasons. While perhaps not as much of a visual feast as the aforementioned series, this show’s gentle lighting and relaxed color palette contribute to a delightfully pleasant atmosphere. But perhaps the biggest contributors to this atmosphere are the monster girls (or “demis”) themselves. Their charming personalities and the show’s creative (and often funny) references to monster lore in both their character designs and their interactions with Takahashi-sensei are perhaps the most engaging part of the show’s thoroughly delightful first episode.

But while the “demis” certainly steal the show in the first episode (especially Hikari, the vampire girl), I’m also looking forward to getting to know more about Takahashi-sensei and the reason for his fascination with demi-humans. Unfortunately, since his motivations are not clearly defined in the first episode, some of his curiosity can come off as a little inappropriate, not only because the girls are significantly younger than him for the most part, but also because he could be interpreted to be viewing the girls less as people than as creatures to be studied. Overall, this didn’t bother me too much, especially since Takahashi-sensei’s characterization so far is incomplete due to the first episode’s focus on the girls themselves as the clear stars of the show. I expect as we learn more about sensei in the coming episodes, those concerns will go away pretty quickly.

I tend to really enjoy shows that use a dash of the surreal to illuminate the delights and wonders of the ordinary world around us, which seems to be precisely what we can expect from Interviews With Monster Girls. If the rest of the show is as good as that great first episode, I imagine I’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

Nyanko Days

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(I don’t usually include short-form anime in these posts, just because I usually watch a lot of them on the side in between meatier shows, but I did want to take a moment and mention that they’ve finally created the perfect anime, and it is Nyanko Days. And now back to your regularly scheduled season kick-off.)

Gabriel DropOut

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I’m not really a fan of the “Umaru-chan” character archetype–the lazy, gluttonous, selfish shut-in that does nothing but sit around and play games and watch anime. It’s not that I subscribe to some of the arguments about self-referentialism in anime or see it as an attempt to necessarily glorify the NEET lifestyle (although, in some cases, it does come across that way). It’s just that the idea of anyone, even a fictional character, living such a purpose-less life depresses me to the point that it becomes difficult for me to enjoy stories revolving around that kind of lifestyle, especially when it is the main comedic element of the plot.

That said, there are a few comedy anime that manage to feature this archetype while avoiding the trap of making every punchline about how the main character is lazy and unmotivated. Judging from its first episode, Gabriel DropOut is one of those anime. It is about the young angel Gabriel, a promising graduate of heaven’s angel academy, who is sent to earth to learn what it is like to be a human. With the best of intentions, she ends up getting sucked into an online game, and becomes so addicted to it that she eventually decides she likes sitting at home on Earth and playing games so much that she has no intention of returning to heaven. Although this might sound like the kind of show I was talking about above, much of the first episode’s humor revolves less around Gabriel’s attachments to online games than it does her and her classmates’ general incompetence in their roles as angels and devils. If you’ve ever read Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, imagine a few variations on Aziraphale and Crowley’s characters, make them middle school anime girls, and drop them in a classroom, and you’d have the first episode of Gabriel DropOut. It’s nowhere near as witty, but it’s charming, quirky, and irreverent fun nonetheless.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

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I’m not sure whether it’s a deliberate aesthetic choice or not, but ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. is a somewhat strangely animated show. The character models are pretty inconsistent, and the camera angles are just strange enough that I can’t tell whether they are intended to save money or foreshadow some ominous event with their often-claustrophobic perspectives. On top of that, the backgrounds are so washed out in the few wide-angle scenes there are in the first episode that it became somewhat difficult for me to put a finger on even what time period the show’s setting is modeled after. Initially, this distracted me to the point that I almost dropped the show outright when one character launched into a minutes-long infodump about the origin of the organization known as ACCA and its Inspection Department.

That said, worldbuilding issues aside, the show has an undeniable charm about it. Much of this charm might be attributed to the show’s jazzy soundtrack, which layers each scene with a mature, classy atmosphere that is almost too well-developed to be matched with the lackluster visuals. The other element of ACCA that draws immediate attention is its character designs. Eschewing almost any trace of moe sensibilities, the characters are uniformly tall and thin with facial designs that would almost be realistic if the show’s visuals were detailed enough to justify such a description. (I don’t mean to be excessively critical, but the show simply does not look that great.)

As for the story, I’m not entirely sure I have a grasp of what is going on or what the central conflict might be, if there is one. So far it appears to be about some kind of bureaucratic organization that polices corruption in the territorial governments of the show’s fictional, apparently oligarchic island nation. However, I did get the distinct sense that the show was hinting at hidden machinations going on behind the scenes, and that along with the ominous suggestion at the end of the episode that something huge might be coming down the pipe is enough to keep me interested. For all the show lacks in pretty visuals and snappy writing, the overall atmosphere and the suggestion of future plot twists has me just intrigued enough to give it another episode or two before I drop it.

KonoSuba 2

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I only recently finished watching the first season of KonoSuba, but it surpassed every expectation I had going into it. I’d heard it was a funny show, but the comedic timing, pitch-perfect delivery, and carefully crafted situational comedy made it easily one of the best comedy anime I have ever seen. But the show’s most impressive feat might actually be the way it manages to by turns utilize and subvert isekai fantasy tropes in a fresh and engaging way, rather than merely retreading the endless miles of parody and self-aware meta-commentary currently polluting the genre. I’m in the process of planning a post on a few of the elements that make KonoSuba such a funny show, so I won’t delve too deeply into that here. But if you enjoyed KonoSuba‘s first season, then I probably don’t need to convince you to join me in the hype for season two. And if you didn’t like it…I have nothing to say to you. (Just kidding!)

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is just the kind of comedy/slice of life anime that all but defines my wheelhouse, a show that throws a relatable character into a highly improbable situation and escalates from there. I’d been anticipating this series since I saw the adorable character designs on the cover of Seven Seas’ manga release, but its first episode still managed to surprise me with its execution. The artwork is gorgeous and detailed, with a thin-lined style reminiscent of Nichijou, and the animation is every bit as fluid and pretty as you would expect from KyoAni. It might not be the best looking show this season, but if it’s not, it’s pretty darn close.

But the reason Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid connected with my funny bone has more to do with the character of Miss Kobayashi herself than the show’s premise or looks. Miss Kobayashi stands out to me as eminently relatable–much like me, she is an IT professional, out of college, single, trudging through the drudgery of the everyday nine to five, and although she doesn’t say as much explicitly, it’s wearing her down. She desperately wants a diversion, something interesting to happen to her, which is why she goes drinking and discusses maids with her coworker every night after work. It’s not a matter of romance or socializing, for either of them–it’s escapism, pure and simple.

The degree to which this type of show appeals to me is usually directly proportional to the relatability of its protagonist. Most shows like this get it more or less right (hence the reason they are in my wheelhouse), but Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon knocks it out of the park in a way even the best of the genre almost never do. Naturally, this part of the show isn’t going to appeal to everyone else the way it does to me, since obviously not everyone is in the same stage of life as I am. But if the above description sounds like something you can relate with, then I’d definitely recommend giving Dragon Maid a shot.

Urara Meirocho

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Urara Meirocho is the first premiere of the season that manages to really defy my ability to come up with a description of what it is about, while still managing to capture and keep my attention purely on the strength of its cute fluff. It has something to do with three girls that travel to a famous town in order to become fortune tellers, but truth be told the plot so far seems to be little more than a thinly veiled excuse to have a bunch of cute girls doing cute things onscreen. Honestly, I’m not complaining, because so far it’s entertaining to watch, but I’m also not sure how long it will be until the novelty wears off and I start wanting a little more than gags about a girl embarrassing others by showing her belly because she was raised by animals and thinks that’s normal behavior. I don’t really have too much other than that to say about this show, because honestly there’s not that much to it, but I imagine I’ll continue watching it as a fluffy palate cleanser in between this season’s meatier shows.

Onihei

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Onihei was a bit of a long shot for me. Initially, I wasn’t expecting to even be able to watch it, since Amazon held the exclusive license for it and didn’t seem intent on doing anything with it until the announcement for their Anime Strike add-on service for Prime customers. But when it finally popped up on Prime, I decided to check it out, just to help make my purchase of Anime Strike worth it–and it turned out to be really good. The first episode tells the story of a thief in the Edo period named Kumehachi, who is captured by the infamous head of the Arson Theft Control police, Hasegawa. Kumehachi agrees to help search for a thief who appears to be impersonating his old master, the infamous but principled thief Tanbei of Chigashira, and tarnishing his name by raping and murdering his victims. I won’t spoil how the first episode ends, but suffice it to say its execution all the way through to its conclusion was excellent.

Historical dramas tend to be hit or miss with me, and I don’t know enough about the historical periods of Japanese history well enough to properly appreciate that aspect of their setting. But unlike many historical dramas, Onihei‘s strong points are not really dependent on its setting; rather, it shines as a multifaceted story about a thief with a code of honor and an honorable officer balancing a happy family life with the morally grey demands of his job. Even in the first episode, the characters come across as real people who react in realistic ways to the events that befall them, and each of whom are trying to live out their personal ideals to the best of their ability. It’s compelling stuff, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes as the season continues.

Scum’s Wish

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The first episode of Scum’s Wish is emotionally brutal. Not the kind of emotional that makes you cry or brings “the feels”, as the kids call it these days. No, the emotional brutality of Scum’s Wish is the masochistic brutality of clinging hopelessly to desire for that which can never be, while soothing the pain with the next best thing. It is the story of a young “couple”, each of whom is in love with someone else, and both of whom are acting as the other’s substitute for the one they truly desire. If that sounds painful to watch, that’s because it is. The premiere of Scum’s Wish was legitimately the hardest episode of anime for me to watch in quite some time, not because it was bad, but because it was really good at conveying the despair inherent in the situation I just described.

Between the title and some of the promotional images (or the cover of the manga), you might think (as I did) that Scum’s Wish is some kind of ecchi or adult series. And indeed, this is not a show for kids. There is overt sexual content in the first episode, and judging from the bit I’ve read of the manga, that is likely to continue to some degree or other. However, if the premiere is any indication, anyone going into this show expecting sexytimes galore or the usual playful anime fanservice will probably be painfully disappointed. For my part, I hope the series continues to explore the emotional effects of the decisions made by the main couple with the emotional gravitas evoked by the first episode. I’m not expecting a happy ending from Scum’s Wish, but I’m definitely in it for the long haul. I’ll be keeping a playlist of happy music handy, though, just in case.

Shows I Won’t Be Following

Spiritpact

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I wasn’t expecting much from Spiritpact, since I’d never heard anything about it before and its previews looked pretty generic. Sure enough, five minutes of it is all I needed to turn me off watching it entirely. The only character that isn’t utterly generic is kind of an asshole for no apparent reason at all, and the plot setup is hackneyed and utterly unconvincing. The character animation is choppy and, in roughly half the shots I saw, the camerawork was either oddly off-center or drawn from an odd angle, as if the animators were trying to minimize the number of complex frames necessary for any given scene. The whole production felt shoddy. But all that aside, if the best way you can come up with to convince me of the main character’s supposedly impressive familial legacy is giving him a family sign from the emperor reading, “THE BEST EXORCISTS IN THE WORLD”…well, perhaps you shouldn’t be writing anime. I highly doubt I’ll be giving Spiritpact a second chance.

ēlDLIVE

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From the beginning of the first episode, there’s no denying that ēlDLIVE has a style all its own. It’s so conspicuous, in fact, that my interest was held less by the story itself than by the cool scene transitions and visual flair of the episode’s first half. Which is not to say that the story is necessarily bad, but…well, it’s just not my kind of thing. It plays out very much like the beginning of a long shounen series, with the weak main character stumbling into the role of hero by virtue of some weird quirk (in this case, a voice that speaks to him inside his head) turning out to be related to some source of immense power or potential. Admittedly, the show’s unique sense of style and fairly solid presentation sets the stage for something that could be good, but only if you can get past the excessively generic premise that undergirds it. Unfortunately, I’m at the point where I’ve seen too many shows with a fundamentally similar premise and plot, and I’m looking for something different. I don’t see myself revisiting ēlDLIVE this season unless it turns out to be some kind of sleeper hit that blows away everyone’s expectations. That said, I’m not holding my breath.

Hand Shakers

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I don’t really have any desire to go into all of the reasons why I did not like the first episode of Hand Shakers, but the vast majority of them have to do with the camera work. Suffice it to say, all of the criticisms I lumped onto Taboo Tattoo a couple of seasons ago with regard to its visuals and camera work are at least twice as valid when leveled against this absolute mess of an episode. I can’t remember a single time in the episode that the camera ever sat still, no matter what was happening on screen, and I also can’t remember a time when I thought the camera movement contributed to the action on screen in any way. Now, you might say that makes sense, since the point of the camera is to show the action well and not draw attention to itself, and you’d be right. Unfortunately, when I said that I could not remember a time when the camera movement contributed to the action, what I meant was that I was so completely cognizant of every nausea-inducing pan or incomprehensible zoom in and out, that I had trouble concentrating on what was happening on screen for all the ways the camera was distracting me from it. So it is with the utmost finality that I say Hand Shakers is off my schedule, good bye and good riddance.

In Conclusion…

I’m writing this part of this post having finished watching all of the premieres that caught my eye this season, and I have to say, I’ve got a few more shows to watch than I expected to have at the start of the season. There are definitely more wild cards on my schedule than there were in past seasons, though, so it’s entirely possible that things will get lighter for me as we go along. If so, I expect to start working on one of my New Years’ resolutions, which will be watching (for the first time) and writing about Code Geass! Not only that, but this is going to be the season in which I finally follow through on some of my past promises to add a new weekly column to the blog, which I’ll be starting soon. And of course, I am now outlining the KonoSuba post I mentioned above, so I think I’m well on the way to fulfilling another one of my ani-resolutions for the new year: the “two quality posts a month” standard.

So I guess this season might not end up being the calm before the upcoming Spring storm of high-profile sequels and major series premieres…but hey, at least it’s better than a boring season, right?

If you got this far, thanks for reading, and if you like, let me know what Winter 2017 anime you are most excited about in the comments below!

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