It feels like the start of 2016 has been a mad rush of post-holiday preparations, with people jumping on resolutions and starting projects they should’ve begun before the festivities. With all of our new winter shows finally out, below are the ones that I’ve decided to stick with for now–as you know, the list is subject to changes. I’m always more than happy to try out something new recommended by a reader. This season is one heck of an addition to my plate since there are so many more pleasurable surprises than originally expected from glancing at the line-up. This just validates me giving at least every one of the new releases a try, no matter how much I think I’ll hate it.
- Musaigen no Phantom World
- Prince of Stride: Alternative
- Boku dake ga Inai Machi
- Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri – Enryuu-hen
- Bubuki Buranki
- Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
- Dimension W
- Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
- Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season
- Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm
- Dagashi Kashi
- Ojisan to Marshmallow
- Nijiiro Days
- Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!
- Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu
- Tabi Machi Late Show
- Durarara!!x2 Ketsu
Musaigen no Phantom World (3 eps.)
The beautiful art of KyoAni is back, but with a mixed bag of questionable accompaniments. It’s hard to not make comparisons after the studio’s phenomenal contribution last season, and I feel like a bit of an outsider in my liking of this show. The characters look like rehashed members of other stories, and youkai are a popular way to add a fantastical element. The humor opts for a slightly perverted tone—one of the main girls has to massage her boobs in various ways each time she executes a magical attack. The second girl brought into the group encounters our male protagonist in a scene straight out of any awkward fall and boob-grope skit. I typically see these as red flags, but wanted to give the series the benefit of the doubt given their good track record with my approval.
The major pulls to me will likely be obvious to long-time readers of my blog: the youkai-filled setting, the light humor, and the sealing ability via ingestion. That last addition focuses on the second girl, who can seal peculiar phoenomena simply by opening her mouth and inhaling sharply. She’s a girl after my own heart with her bottomless stomach. I’m also curious why she lacks the need for a trigger when all the others chant long-winded sentences each time.
Prince of Stride: Alternative (2 eps.)
Parkour has always been something of a magical sport to me, the seemingly impossible that only the most gifted of the fit can pull off without immediate death. It suddenly seemed a lot closer once I found out a friend of mine took parkour lessons once a week at a nearby facility–she showed up at our bouldering sessions with fresh bruises almost each time. I still associate it mostly with adults, but thinking back on the act of sprinting, leaping, and contorting the body to obstacles, beginning as a child seems the better choice. There’s never really another age where you’re as fearless and immortal than in your youth.
Somehow, the world of Prince of Stride consists of middle schools and high schools that permit and even promote the sport, which goes by “stride” instead of “parkour”. The likelihood of such institutions allowing students to run through hallways, classrooms, and all grounds is pretty nonexistent, but it’s a fun idea. The characters of the show, so far, are pigeonholed into easy archetypes. I only really dislike one of them, Yagami Riku, who acts like a moody brat wherever stride is concerned, and like an energetic bunny at all other times.
Boku dake ga Inai Machi (3 eps.)
I’ve been digging thrillers lately, particularly of the supernatural and possibly horrific kind, so Boku Machi was an obvious YES. After watching a slew of mediocre and terrible new shows, this one came along and reminded me to not give up hope just yet. After two episodes, I’m still entranced and hoping that Satoru can save the people for whom he cares. Part of me hopes that he can’t, that he’s slave to the passage of time and will be forced to watch the same people go through their predestined paths. We don’t often see this negative of an outcome since it tends to either piss off or alienate fans, but there are cases where the darkness catapults the work into a cult classic.
One of my favorite aspects of the show so far is the fact that Satoru retains all his memories of life and adult outlook despite his return to childhood. Hearing his thought process and seeing the related expressions on a child’s face creates this odd disconnect that perfectly captures his situation. There are only a couple other classmates who almost equal him—his friend, Kenya, and the girl who started it all, Kayo. Kenya comes across as a fellow time traveler with his calm demeanor and understanding. I cannot believe a child his age would speak the way he does without something having forced him to grow up quickly, as in Kayo’s case.
Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri – Enryuu-hen (3 eps.)
This continuation started out a bit odd in its shift away from many of the familiar characters—while we still had Itami, the main stay girls only appeared in a few glances. Rory Mercury is my favorite of the series, so I was hoping she would return soon. The first couple of episodes almost fake you out with focus spent almost entirely on politics between the Empire, their neighbors, and the JSDF. The rough and bawdy interactions come across as trying a little too hard to shock viewers–take for instance Prince Zolzal and his sex slaves. We watch him rape a bunny girl who we’ve never met, then reveal a young Japanese woman held captive from the early raid on Tokyo. Everything about him repulses and he seems the next boulder to peace between nations. Yet it turn out that he’s nothing but a dumb, self-pitying puppet to a father unwilling to relinquish power to anyone. The dramatics are over-kill, but I thought them a tiny step in the right direction towards addressing the larger issues of nations. As much as I missed the original cast, their comedic antics started to feel like another kind of show entirely.
By the end of the third episode, we’re back with the old crew and on an unsanctioned mission to destroy the fire dragon. I’m surprised Itami left without his squad–as much as he wants to protect him, they would have likely forced their presence if they knew his objective. Without them, the harem flag waves wildly with Itami outnumbered as the only male in the group. Here’s hoping Gate ignores that cue…
Bubuki Buranki (2 eps.)
Please, oh, please, don’t disappoint me! After the fake-out last season with Comet Lucifer, I’m worried that Bubuki Buranki will only bring me high and toss me low. The first episode impressed me with its detailed and smooth CG art and animation. We’re seeing more and more shows leaning heavily on the technology, and the quality looks to be improving. I’ve become much less prickly towards CG after shows like Sidonia and Ronya proved to me that a great story and memorable characters do much to overshadow qualms about block-y faces. Considering character design, BBK BRNK look significantly more approachable with faces and hair than the aforementioned series–Kogane’s flower garland is downright adorable and her outfit reminds me of Liz Lisa wear.
The story and setting don’t quite make sense yet, even after two episodes, but it’s laid solid groundwork and caught my interest. We start with Azuma still a young child in the company of his parents and sister in a beautiful and strange world. While nature mostly surrounds them, mysteriously motionless robots stand scattered across the landscape as if frozen in an act of war. He later moves to a lower world, our world, and shows us a life not unfamiliar to our own. Countries hold the same names and people still travel freely between heavily populated cities. Despite advanced technology bordering on sentience, what bothers me the most is the age division. We see adult cops unjustly detain and question Azuma, then later see an older group of buranki users use deadly force on a group of buranki-wielding kids with vastly inferior skills. The normal populace doesn’t seem perturbed, or they willingly turn their eyes.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (3 eps.)
I’ve seen snippets of rakugo performances on television, but I’ve never paid full attention to the art. An air of the past surrounds it–the stage devoid of settings and props, the single actor, the dated stories told. I get the distinct feeling that it’s the type of performance that can only be truly appreciated in person sitting in the audience and drinking in the voices, movements, and expressions. Yet here is an entire anime centered on rakugo that successfully draws the viewer into its world. Rakugo Shinjuu is a story of storytellers. At first, it looks like an adult drama, with the present time cast members featuring a recently released prisoner with dreams of entering the rakugo world, and an elderly, sour-faced master. The two could not be any more different, but there’s something about the “Yotaro’s” earnest desire and comically rough demeanor that appeals to Yakumo-sensei, the eight generation master.
Then we’re transported back in time to shortly before the war when the master was still young. We find out that his introduction to rakugo was not through choice, but through abandonment. The master of that time takes him on as a student, along with one other: a boy whose energetic spirit reminds us of Yotaro. Instead of being a short flash back, their story of growth in a tumultuous time period takes over the senses. We see the young men struggle during a fruitful period for storytellers, then almost lose themselves once the war begins. I’m only three episodes in, but I feel like I’ve experienced more with them than with some standalone films.
Dimension W (2ps.)
Renewable energy has been a long held dream of mankind, so seeing it in actuality in Dimension W is pretty awesome. Unfortunately, its success brings with it a whole slew of underground dealings and illegal products. Our main characters come from vastly different backgrounds–one is a man with a love for gas-powered engines and extreme dislike for the coils of the new era; the other is a female android seeking to carry out her maker’s will. The unlikely duo come together in the hunt for illegal coils and their source. Mabuchi may be surly, but his skill as a collector is unparalleled. Mira adds to their teamwork her abilities to see what the human eye cannot. I love seeing them play off of each other both verbally and skill-wise.
Something that bugged mostly KWoo was the unbalanced nature of the dimension. We are briefly shown a graph that is supposed to represent the extra dimension of renewable energy. It sticks out on its own axis without fully extending on both ends. Can someone explain that?
Hai to Gensou no Grimgar (2 eps.)
I can’t think of any other video game anime that feels quite the way that Grimgar does. We’ve had several shows come out recently where the characters cross over from what looks like our world into a video game that prevents their return. The reactions span everything from joy to confusion to fear. Grimgar differentiates itself by giving us players with no memories of their lives prior to awakening in this new world; they simply have the universal feeling of wrongness that this place is not where they belong. Random words like “cellphone” and “video game” pop out of their mouths, but hold no meaning. What is important is the here and the now and the fact that the only way to survive is to choose a profession and complete quests.
Contributing to the uncanniness are the watercolor visuals that paint our setting. I was surprised at how pretty this show looked when the initial premise seemed so uninspired. The art took the first step in proving the oddity of the place and the story. The second step appeared in the objective of beating monsters for rewards. Usually the monsters in these type of settings appear to have no human intelligence. You feel no pity cornering and killing them simply because a line of text tells you to. When they die, you feel a sense of accomplishment, not a sickening turn of the stomach at wiping out lives that obviously wanted to continue. Grimgar instead humanizes the first monsters our group must defeat: goblins who laugh and eat together, who fight ferociously when attacked, and who will even fake their own deaths to try and survive once your back is turned. As badly as I felt for our human party for staving off starvation, I felt sicker watching six of them ambush one goblin and stab him repeatedly.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season (2 eps.)
There was no question that Akagami no Shirayuki-hime would be part of my winter line-up–the first season was one of my favorites of 2015, and the lead one of the strongest characters of that year. Romance and politics combine without submitting fully to the other and create a balanced story with Shirayuki at its center. As the namesake of this series and the focus of so many of the powers that be, it would be easy to end up with an overbalanced character. However, Shirayuki has earned her place not through physical beauty alone, but also with her technical skills and commendable spirit. We see her strengths and her weaknesses, and love her all the more. It’s easy to understand Zen’s warring feelings that both want to protect her and to see her fly free.
This sequel looks like it’ll shift outwards to Clarines’ neighboring nations, beginning with Shirayuki’s home kingdom, Tanbarun. As the second prince of Clarines, Zen may not have the responsibilities of a king to consider, but he still must conduct himself in a manner beneficial to his people. Those he holds close need also consider their influence on him and outside viewers. We see this in Shirayuki’s acceptance of Tanbarun’s invitation to visit. I think we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing Shirayuki with Zen close behind–we know she is an independent woman, but it’s easy to forget that with romance building between them. Now that she’s on her own at a distance much too far for immediate rescue, I’m excited to see her handle troublesome situations.
Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm (2 eps.)
Did I ever mention that as a kid I used to have a reoccurring dream of flight? I would hover around the playground parallel to the ground. When I woke up, I couldn’t understand why lifting both my feet at once never resulted in anything more than a jump. Ao no Kanta no Four Rhythm brought back those memories with the power of flight as the focus. Yet another high school anime, there’s a bit of a reminiscent feeling surrounding the character of Kurashina Asuka, who reminds me of Air’s Misuzu. Her clumsy cheerfulness makes her seem younger than she is, and her love for flight is irresistible. Her character design looks fashioned after a flying fish, the mascot of the islands where they live and her favorite creature. I have a soft spot for these kinds of touches.
Right now the drive of the story is Asuka’s desire to not only fly, but to fly as a part of a Flying Circus team. Simply put, FC is an air sport requiring speed to score points and evade touch. Strength is also a factor affecting the player’s command of his or her body and grav-shoes. Asuka looks to have a natural affinity for the sport, but lacks the know-how and physical strength to fly well, let alone perform consistently. Thankfully, she already has a group of friends from the very first episode to help with that. I’m looking forward to seeing her improve!
Dagashi Kashi (2 eps.)
Was there ever a question in your mind that this anime would be on my list? Of course I’d pick up a show about snacks, especially with a character with as much golden material as Hotaru. Looks and passion-wise, she actually reminds me a little of Anna from Shimoneta. She loves Japanese snacks with unparalleled enthusiasm. I’m quite envious of her already knowing her direction in life at such a young age! In contrast, protagonist Kokonotsu has no intention of taking over his family’s snack shop. We repeatedly see him turn down his father and mention leaving their town after school to become a mangaka. Underneath that denial, though, is apparently a mind gifted at creating and improving sweets. I’m still skeptical at the point since I haven’t really heard him describe a combination that surprises me, but I do agree with is critical eye regarding the shop’s appearance and organization.
One thing to keep in mind for Dagashi Kashi is that it doesn’t strive to astound us with anything new. It’s more a nostalgia trip for Japanese viewers who grew up with the many snacks mentioned, as well as educational in teaching us of the backgrounds to their creation and rise in popularity. Many of the ones mentioned are surprisingly familiar from other anime and from the gift boxes sent to me by my exchange sister. The strangest one so far is fue ramune, a candy you can whistle through while in your mouth. Next time I’m in Uwajimaya, I’m hunting it down to try.
Ojisan to Marshmallow (3 eps.)
This is one short I cannot refuse. I’ve been cutthroat lately on shorts–the instant I see the length, I ignore it. But after reading this show’s blurb and seeing the main characters, I just had to see it. Hige is a large, cushion-y man who loves the snack Tabekko Marshmallows. His co-worker, Wakabayashi, takes a romantic interest in him and uses the marshmallows as bait to lure him in. Each of the episodes so far include a few situations involving the two with marshmallows as their common ground. Wakabayashi is completely open with her feelings, yet Hige continually misunderstands her approaches and keeps his eyes fixated on the sugary prize. I’m cheering these two on!
Nijiiro Days (3 eps.)
Wow, for once a show with guys that doesn’t feel like a cut-out for what could easily be a story about girls. That’s been my major issue with series like Free! and Kimi to Boku.–there’s nothing that differentiates the characters other than the art design. The best example of a group of guy friends I had up until this point was Danshi Koukousi no Nichijou, which if you haven’t seen you should add to your list right now. Nijiiro doesn’t actually do that much noticeably different–the most important thing I’ve noticed is the dialogue and mannerisms. And instead of harping on the bro-y love between friends, the show gives us a main character who has a crush on a girl he hardly knows.
The daily activities shown has been pretty low-key so far, with the biggest conflict so far being the threat of class failure. But that turned out to be a bluff and more of a reason to get Hashiba and Kobayakawa together outside of the classroom. Even though there is no real drive to the series other than the romance, I’m enjoying the gentle pace.
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (2 eps.)
Where Grimgar is noticeably somber in atmosphere, KonoSuba opts for the comical. Just look at the face above and you’ll get a feel for the relaxed nature of this show. Again, we have characters forced into a new world with nothing but their names and a basic idea of how to survive. In this case, Kazuma is given the chance to live again after dying in our world. Out of spite towards the goddess who explains his situation and laughs at his manner of death, he spends his one wish on yanking her with him into a fantastical land threatened by a Demon King. They have no money, no skills, and no real purpose.
Luckily for them, Kazuma is an experienced gamer with an idea of where they need to start to survive. Goddess Aqua is gifted in healing, but lacks knowledge in almost all other aspects. Another bitter fact to their reincarnation is that Kazuma has no apparent physical or mental skills. All hopes for knightly glory are dashed when he can’t even defeat a giant frog, much less take on high-ranked quests. When they pick up a supposedly powerful mage, it turns out she only knows one difficult spell–the instant she casts it, she’s useless for the rest of the day. This comedy of blunders will make for a light-hearted addition to my winter season. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even defeat the Demon King.
Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu (2 eps.)
Let’s make a dating video game! Like a ton of other shows before us! Initial sarcasm aside, I’m actually enjoying ShokoMeza. The drive to create the dating game is actually spurred on by Sayuki, an otherwise quiet girl who comes alive when discussing the game in question. Buntaro is the first and main target of her aims–he catches her interest with his surprisingly memorable script writing for the school’s drama club. Together, they hunt down the other necessary members for their creation who, unsurprisingly, are mostly female. We do have one token guy side character, but he has no skills yet apparent beneficial to their goal.
The two most interesting characters so far to me are the voice actress hailing from the drama club and the character designer. Neither really looks the part–most voice actresses I think of don’t give off a tomboy air. The artist is a painfully shy underclassman with an online persona famous for her eroge art. These juxtapositions always draw me in, but we’ll see if time will prove them more than just shallow bait.
Tabi Machi Late Show (2 eps.)
We actually have another series that aims to tell the stories of stories. First, we have Rakugo. Second, we have Tabi Machi Late Show, a short, four-episode series posturing itself as a teller of greetings and goodbyes. I’m already half-way through. One important thing to note is that these seven-minute long stories are independent of one another. The first episode focuses on a chef as both a teacher and as a student. The second tells an interesting tale of a grown up student reflecting back on a friendship that could have been. Another detail of note is the art which takes on a paper cut-out style. I imagine it might be off-putting to some viewers who are accustomed to the shiny graphics of most other shows. But if you just hold off the urge to hit the stop button, I think many of you will be surprised at the depth of feeling and nostalgia seven minutes can create.
Durarara!!x2 Ketsu (2 eps.)
We’re back with our gang of meddlesome high school students, motorbike-riding dullahan, psychopath assassins, and category-defying characters. This had better be the end. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Durarara has worn me out with its self-loving dialogue and setting, particularly whenever Izaya and Mikado are involved. But there’s a glimmer of light at the start of this continuation that I’m going to attempt to follow and hope I end up at the end and not rolled over by a train of nonsense. It was admittedly comical to see so many people present in Shinra and Celty’s home.
- Diamond no Ace: Second Season
- Garo: Guren no Tsuki
- Haikyuu!! Second Season
- Heavy Object
- Mobile Suite Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
- Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen