Mori no Yousei: Kinoko no Musume – 01 (First Impressions)

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for a short period of time, this character was on fire for some reason…

The Gist: A nationalist tourism piece for Japan that asserts that Anime (or Anime-chans) are real there. It’s set in a magical realm past the mushroom circles and gates found all over Japan.

It looks vaguely like an MMO running on a Sega Dreamcast and features looping character animations and empty conversations with random Anime-chans that can be found there, narrated and guided by a male fairy. There is forgettable JPop in the background.

The Verdict: thankfully, Mori no Yousei: Kinoko no Musume is only ten minutes long. That’s ten minutes longer than it could be and I have no understanding who this program is for, as it the low-poly models, hyper saturation, wash out, and light bloom make it look worse than most modern tablet games?

I don’t get this at all…

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Spiritpact – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: You Keika is from a long line of exorcists but his generation is nothing more than fortune tellers who repair computers on the side. He’s also a bit of a lazy asshole who offhandedly trash talks anyone who talks to him. One night, while rummaging through a dump for spare computer parts, our hero witnesses a real exorcist fighting a spirit.

The Verdict: While visually sub-par, what really kills Spiritpact is its reliance on a sitcom style of humor. Characters slide-pan into the scene to fling one liners as if there was a laugh-track, which there isn’t but even that would have made it more interesting.

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The soundtrack is similarly cliche or out of place. Ironically, it works well with the pacing, in so far as it emphasizes how terrible the pacing is. Here’s some dialog, accompanied with ‘thoughtful’ piano music:

“Who the heck are you?” squints Keika, who is lying on the ground of the junk yard, awash in red sparkles.

“I am Tanmoku Ki, a Youmeishi.” a gray haired man in your dad’s vision of cool clothes you can find at Nordstrom replies. He’s standing on a pile of trash, with You in the background and this static shot remains un-animated as he continues talking. “I purify the wold that has been defiled by evil spirits.”

“In other words, an exorcist.”

This is followed by You being a proud asshole about how great his ancestors were and how much better that makes him than Ki, which is animated like Charlie Brown and the Peanuts, the piano still plodding away…

You have no reason to watch this anime.

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Seiren – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kamita Shouichi is a second-year student who is always being messed with by Tsuneki Hikari, the prettiest and most popular girl in his class, but doesn’t think he has a chance, as she’s rumored to be going out with an adult.

Instead, he focuses on studying for exams with his friend Ikuo so he can get into college, which leads him to a summer course at a mountain inn. One night, to his shock, a soaked Hikari ends up entering his room through the window.

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Seiren is nothing if not earnest and straightforward. Characters are blunt in their banter and assessments, and they sound the way high schoolers might sound. Shouichi lives a pretty good life, and he’s commendably average and lacking in annoying quirks or gimmicks.

He calls his high school life “gloomy” and is starting to think about what comes next…but this show’s OP heavily implies he (or his friends) be going along several different routes with various girls, similar to Amagami SS.

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Seiren is also a very cleanly-animated, attractive show, whose creator, series compositor, and character designer are all the same person. It’s full of subtle expressions, gestures, and poses that wouldn’t be out of place in a KyoAni joint, albeit with less lushness.

That being said, Shouichi and his studying saga aren’t terribly compelling, as I’m sure they’re not yet meant to be. The best parts of the episode are when he and his would-be love interest Tsuneki are interacting. How exactly she ends up where she does at the end of the episode, I don’t know (I guess she went to the study retreat too, maybe on a different bus?) but it’s a good hook for the next episode.

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Urara Meirochou – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: a Cat Girl from the mountains travels to a town of fortune tellers to become an apprentice. She has misadventures along the way, largely due to her acting like an animal and showing her belly/forcing others to show their bellies when they are saying sorry.

Through these adventures we are introduced to the rest of the cast and various forms of divination and the town itself, which is a sort of hub for the art. The cast includes a capable young girl, a rich girl who may be a thief and doesn’t know anything, and a shy girl who’s sister is already a mid-level fortuneteller. There’s also a sheriff of sorts who’s embarrassed by all the tummy showing and tries to arrest the cast at various points. It’s an all female world by the looks of it.

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The Verdict: you may like this if a line of sugar sounds like an appetizing meal. It’s cute, harmless, and everyone is nice to each other while info-dumping world details at you. The art style is serviceable, as is the animation, especially of all the woodland creatures that hang around cat-chan.

You can probably skip Urara Meirochou if you have anything else to do. While not bad in any particular way, there are no stakes or conflict setup in the first episode, and the girls themselves are so harmlessly safe that there isn’t anything interesting about them either. Unless you like jokes about acting like a cat or drinking too much tea and not being able to read the left over leaves, there isn’t anything to laugh along with either.

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Demi-chan wa Kataritai – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Takahashi-sensei is a high school biology teacher who wanted to study demi-humans, but has never managed to encounter any… until now. New teacher Satou Sakie is a succubus, new student Takanashi Hikari is a vampire, and there’s also a headless dullahan and a ‘snow woman’ (yuki-onna).

But this show is less about the magical-ness of these creatures and more about Takahashi-sensei breaking through stereotypes and forming charming bonds with his students.

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Takahashi and Hikari are the first to connect, in no small part because his staff room is protected from direct sunlight, which is good for his teaching materials and preferable for a vampire.

In exchange for letting her stay, Takahashi gets to interview Hikari, which is full of playful back-and-forth banter, world- and character-building. The way they repeat each other’s quips back at different points in the conversation was cute and really saved the scene from feeling like exposition.

We get similar scenes between the headless girl and her classmates and, eventually, a cute scene where Hikari convinces her to ask if she can hang out in the biology office too. (she sends her headless body to sensei with a note)

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The Verdict: Demi-chan is very efficient with its animation. None of it will wow you but it has some great subtle gestures, facial expressions, and pop. This is especially noticeable in Sensei’s conversations with Hikari, which are lively where a lesser show would be static and dull with the same material.

You’ll like this if you enjoyed the friendly warmth of shows like Flying Witch but wanted a little more pep and humor. It’s not quite Nozaki-kun, because the character’s aren’t that weird, but it gives me that vibe and having it from the adult teacher’s perspective, a perspective that understands teenagers’ quirks and misconceptions, keeps the show fresh from the student POV standards of school dramedy.

This one is definitely worth a watch.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 12

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I watched this episode in a similar environment to the one Rei keeps finding himself in after recovering from his illness; a place very hard to leave once you’re there, like a kotatsu. It’s currently 20 degrees F and snowing outside, but I’m nice and toasty in my apartment with a hot mug of cocoa, and because it’s Saturday and I don’t have a possibly career-defining tournament to participate in, I’m more than content to stay right there!

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Now that he’s better, Rei has some serious things to consider. Chief among them is ‘not losing anymore this year’, including the huge highly-publicized Lion King Tournament. He just barely defeats one opponent (who has a bizarre way with words), and may well have to go up against Gotou, the guy who calls Kyoko a “stalker girl” and who once beat him up. If it wasn’t for Smith, he’d have gotten beaten up again.

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Instead, he heads to the Kawamotos with bags bursting with freshly-caught fish from the association president, and Akari couldn’t be happier, as it means they can save on food expenses for a while. As usual, the home is warm, fuzzy, full of love and hard to leave…but Rei has to leave. He can’t be the best shogi player he can be if he doesn’t go home and study. So he tells Momo as earnestly as he can, and she and Hina tell him to do his best.

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Perhaps like no previous episode, this one really strongly marked the contrast between the Kawamoto Kotatsu and the world outside, using every visual method at its disposal. As bright and warm and colorful as it is in the sisters’ house, it’s dark and cold and bleak, even threatening outside.

But Rei is determined to become someone who can live in both worlds, and neither be trapped in one or unable to endure the other. Joy and pain are both inescapable parts of life he must learn to balance. And the beast inside relishes the potential opportunity to deliver a blow or two to Gotou, not with his fists, but on the shogi board.

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Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Maiharu Hiromi has moved to a new town from Nagasaki. It’s a beautiful town, full of cherry blossoms, stone lined hilly streets and a picturesque train station. Unfortunately, Hiromi has chosen to ride her bicycle to school on her first day, which her mother reminds her is something she has not done in a long time.

After 8 minutes of Hiromi falling off her CGI bicycle, complete with product placement logos, I turned it off. Much of that 8-minute arc presents Hiromi as an imbecile, incapable of even pulling her handle brake to stop, nor following the instructions of others. She literally says “Oh right. Bicycles don’t move forward unless you turn these things, right?”

There is a remarkably slim chance you may enjoy Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu if you can survive the opening 8 minutes of Hiromi-chan ‘relearning to ride a bike.’ The color pallete and the backgrounds are very nice and there’s probably a story of schoolgirl friendships and/or bike club adventure to be had.

But you better be a hardcore bicycle otaku because everything else is goddamned terrible. This is the first toon-shaded show I’ve ever seen where the term ‘uncanny valley’ applies. The bicycle itself is fine, but Hiromi’s animation around it, which is sometimes CG and sometimes hand drawn, is distorted in a jarring way. Sometimes its not animated at all, choosing to lurch wildly from keyframe to keyframe.

The Verdict: skip it. Pretty backgrounds are not a reason to watch an anime and Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu has nothing else going for it.

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Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel – 01 (First Impressions)

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To find our King Arthur, of course…

The Gist: this is the story of an all girls’ school’s semi-secret monster fighting team, that exists because monsters are appearing mysteriously more often than usual. While monster fighting and mystery are on tap, the true conflict appears to be cast need to balance their school lives, quirky friendships, and monster fighting lives at the same time.

You may enjoy SSAC for its visual gloss and character designs. Nothing is remarkable, especially the heavy use of CG for backgrounds, but the heavy use of color overlays for the technology and the bright pallet give it a rich feeling and pop.

The humor may also give you a smile, especially Protagonist-chan‘s quest to fabricate 7 Mysteries of the school, to make the school more exciting and possibly less likely to be criticized by the School Board in the process. (Cute concept, right?)

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The Verdict: Unfortunately, SSAC’s opening battle, which featured a dull gray CG rendered background and underwhelming sci-fi girls attacking a goofy-looking monster without any setup, followed by a GIRLS TAKE A SHOWER scene, completely tossed my interest out the window.

It’s neither quirky enough, nor is the action’s quality high enough, for me to get invested in what appears to be a large and forgettable cast. I didn’t even process any of their names! Unless Winter’s offerings are extra terrible, I can’t imagine reviewing this moving forward.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 01

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SGRS doesn’t miss a beat in its return after a year, recapping its first season in a very clever and entertaining fashion: rakugo-style, with Yotarou as the storyteller. His enthusiastic description of events are as vivid as any montage of footage from those events would be. While it certainly stood on its own outside the framing of the present day, last season’s epic flashback is essentially serves as a prologue to this one, imbuing it with emotional weight and significance.

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It’s been ten years since Yakumo VIII took Yotarou under his wing. Now Yotarou is a shin’uchi, the third Sukeroku, and wants to be a father to Konatsu’s newborn son, something she’s reticent about, since Yotaoru is “poor, stupid, an entertainer, and has no future”. The future of rakugo itself is in doubt too; Yakumo is seemingly the last extant great master, and the theater in Tokyo is also the last, with Kyoto’s last having closed.

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One could call these “Dark Times” for rakugo, but Yotarou/Sukeroku has other ideas, thanks to a productive encounter with cultural writer Higuchi Eisuke, who is eager to back him as a patron. The catch? Be open-minded to the fact that for rakugo to survive, it must change, and Yotarou must be the one to change it. Higuchi clearly expresses his passion as the two drink together, and much of what he says makes a lot of sense to Yotarou, who needs only to clear it with his master.

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Yakumo has, like a fine wine, only gotten better at rakugo in the twilight of his life. That’s not too surprising, as rakugo is about gaining and maintaining empathy. It’s a live performance in which the teller must draw the crowd in by turning words, voices and gestures into images in their minds. He’s been in front of crowds most of his life, and knows instinctively how to utterly capture them…and me! Both performances and conversation in this show is simply a joy to watch, especially when the jazzy score kicks in.

Yotarou, who became Yakumo’s apprentice out of adulation, naturally believes he will never surpass his master even if “hell freezes over”, but for rakugo to survive the future – and Yakumo’s partially-hearted efforts to snuff it out lest it become “corrupted”, Yotarou will have to think beyond surpassing his master, and find out how rakugo will have to change.

Yotarou believes fulfilling the “3 conditions” Yakumo gave him requires that he not only learn all of his master’s rakugo, but also find a way to keep rakugo alive, all while taking care of Konatsu and her child by moving in with them to create a family. It won’t be an easy path, but it’s the one Yotarou wants to be on, and I look forward to watching how he walks it.

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Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 01

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Five years, three months, and five days. That’s how long ago I last laid eyes on Ao no Exorcist. Back then, we hadn’t even split up writer accounts yet! As such, I was seriously worried about not knowing what the heck was going on, and was both hoping for and hating myself for needing at least some kind of recap to bring me up to speed. Imagine waiting until 2021 for the next season Game of Thrones!

The first episode of this sequel, “Small Beginnings”, largely drops us right back in the world of the Okunuma brothers, exorcists, and True Cross, and to my relief, it’s like riding a bike: it all started coming back. By starting small as the episode title suggests, the show avoids the need for too much lengthy expostition about what has happened (though there is a bit of that, in addition to exposition about what will be happening this season).

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This is the Kyoto Fujouou-hen, or Kyoto Impure King Arc, and one of his eyes is stolen by Todo Saburota, one of the grizzled mid-level exorcists entrusted with guarding it. Todo is disaffected by his station, feeling it too small commensurate to the effort and loyalty he put in, so he’s gone over to the demons.

After saving a kid hostage Todo didn’t seem terribly interested in, Rin, Yukio, and Shura join the rest of the gang aboard a Kyoto-bound Shinkansen bound to locate and retrieve the eyes of the Impure King, lest they be used to kill more people. On the train, Rin encounters some fallout from going berserk last season, and his friends, even Shiemi, express various combinations of fear, anger, mistrust and betrayal.

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That doesn’t seem like the ideal dynamic for a team with such a seemingly important mission, but as Shura says this shouldn’t be the toughest mission (it isn’t as if they’re dealing with Satan himself; Todo seems to have traded one mid-level role for another) and perhaps the best way to mend fences is through work.

The only one who deigns to sit beside Rin is Kamiki Izumo, who (in her tsundere way) doesn’t feel it fair to condemn Rin simply for being what he is, which isn’t his fault. Lots of exorcists having demon lineage, after all (and I for one wouldn’t mind sitting next to a kitty on a train). That being said, Bon and Konekomaru have lost family to demons, and aren’t so quick to trust Rin.

I’m not so quick to start liking Rin either. He has a point, but he could be a little less brusque about it, just like he didn’t need to laugh back in the immediate aftermath of his friends discovering his true roots. One of the most annoying elements of AnE is having to endure Okamoto Nobuhiko’s harsh, petulant depiction of Rin, but otherwise this was a far smoother re-entry into the worl than I expected.

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