Vox Artes’ Winter 2017 Overview: When Monsters (Humans Included) Ruled!

Vox Artes’ Winter 2017 Overview: When Monsters (Humans Included) Ruled!

Well, we’re (already!) in April of 2017, and the Spring season of anime has just started. As with the past seasons, we’ve reunited and given Winter a thorough look back, picking what that stood out… for better or worse. What were the shows to watch? What were those to avoid? For those of you who haven’t yet watched all the series on this list and aren’t sure what to pick up, this Overview will surely be helpful. And for the shows you’ve watched, it’s a great opportunity to confront other opinions; which is why, whenever possible, we featured several contributions for one show. As such, our Overview has a twofold purpose:

  • Help those who haven’t watched a show to get an idea of what that show is like. Having several opinions is not at all confusing; rather, it helps the reader find a writer whose critical mind is closer theirs, and as such, get a more accurate idea of what they’re likely to think of the show.
  • Encourage critical thinking and discussion by letting readers who’ve already watched a show confront various opinions on it, some which may be close to theirs, so which may be widely different. This will surely help them envisage different perspectives on one show, which can only be enriching. We encourage those who disagree with a writer to leave a comment, or engage a discussion on the forums. Whichever means you use, it’ll be a pleasure if our writings made you think and want to engage in discussion.

Let me give my thanks to those who made this now traditional project possible: Yamada II; Tsukelhm; Samui (I’ve also put in a few contributions of my own).

And that’s it for the introduction; all that’s left is to navigate this post using the help of the menu below. On behalf of all the contributors, I hope you enjoy this Winter 2017 Overview!

daysofsummer

3-gatsu no Lion / March Comes In Like a Lion

samui

Perhaps no studio can go wrong with animating the critically acclaimed 3-gatsu no Lion manga. All SHAFT had to do is animate the series normally and trim the dull parts to make this series more emotionally resonant. The first episode aired and those who expected to see an adaptation on par with Honey and Clover were left disappointed. Unfortunately, this is easy to see why.

The anime adaptation feels like a slave to the manga. Every panel had to be adapted, including the cringe-worthy jokes which rendered 3-gatsu no Lion bloated and disjointed. The timing of these gag moments was really inappropriate and made many episodes schizophrenic in terms of mood. One minute you are suffering from the talking cats, the next thing you know – you are suffering from despair courtesy of Rei Kiriyama. It also does not help that SHAFT’s usual quirks were carried over in this series and boy, they are distracting most of the time.

Rei is also insufferable in the show’s first half. We know the dude is depressed but why the hell did it take thirteen episodes before the catharsis hit him? While he was relegated as the show’s narrator in the second half, he was thankfully given some character development as a bystander.

Nonetheless, the other characters made 3-gatsu no Lion a good watch in the end. The Kawamoto sisters had their own compelling moments in the series, and act as support to Rei both in terms of making his life good and making 3-gatsu no Lion tolerable. Even better, Kyoko is a force that amplifies the usual gloomy nature of this show and her complicated relationship with Rei was one moment SHAFT did tastefully. For the better? Yamada’s dominating presence in the show’s second half elevated 3-gatsu no Lion from a disappointing adaptation to an above average experience. He kept Rei’s rants short while giving the latter a chance to develop on his own.

With the second season coming in Fall, one can only hope 3-gatsu no Lion continues this upward trajectory despite the questionable production choices.

ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka / ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

daysofsummer

ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka’s a slow-burning story of mind games. Jean, a man as apathetic as the show’s own pacing, travels the land in the name of ACCA, making sure all is well in every district.

The show is… strange, to say the least, and not without its flaws. First of all: yes it’s a slow-burner, yes it takes time to unfold until the final acceleration… but that doesn’t excuse the time wasted, either. The main issue here is that the show tries to establish a sense of danger: it attempts to make us feel that something is hiding in the shadows, ready to jump out and endanger the characters’ lives at any moment… but as it turns out, our protagonists are barely ever in danger. There are a few instances where they are, but these are quickly solved and prove little influential.

This creates another contrast. While the show’s tone is relatively serious (and so is much of the cast), there is something strange about ACCA’s world. Yes, it is nice to see Jean go from a district that prides itself on its flowers to a no-man’s-land; but is it really coherent? How can two neighboring districts have such wildly different environments? It seems that ACCA picks some serious elements, picks some gaudy elements, mixes everything together, and creates a mysterious dish which is best described as “random” and “unstructured”. Furthermore, it’s true that said environment is overall beautiful; however, it’s also easy to interpret why most would pick it as one of ACCA’s standout aspects: it looks very westernized, appealing to our own tastes rather than being truly original or stylish (in the context of anime, western sights are automatically exotic).

Food is also one of those randomly prominent aspects. But there’s a more positive interpretation to it: in the world of ACCA, food has a precise value: it represents freedom. In a story where the characters always have to put up a front, they find that they can only be themselves while they taste delicious food. It allows them to be honest and open, which is a contrast with how calculating and wary they have to be most of the time. It allows us to see them in their intimacy, too. In other words: in the difficult world of ACCA, food is the object which symbolizes the simple pleasures and sincerity our protagonists long for.

And these protagonists, as well their relationships, are all quite colorful; Jean, Nino and Lotta have a beautiful dynamic all throughout, while people like Schwan and Mob are all charming for wildly different reasons.

All in all, ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka offers a mixed experience which we can’t help but call disappointing. Its initial originality often descends into complete randomness; however, the heartwarming finale coupled with the high moments (often offered by the show letting its charming characters express themselves) make us want to forgive it. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for a recommendation; rather, it belongs to the famous “if you have the time” category.

Alternative Take: Yamada II

ACCA 13-ku Kansatsu-ka is one of those shows which leaves you in awe of everyone’s coolness.

The show is basically about a country with 13 autonomous districts overseen by an organization called ACCA. The focus is on Jean Otus of the inspection department as he makes his trips to each district’s ACCA office for their audits. It sounds like a boring job and even Jean agrees. Each episode is pretty much consistently uneventful as we see all 13 districts in their unique glory.

ACCA shines with its world as each district is drastically different from the other; no two districts are the same. And we have Studio Pablo’s amazing background art to thank for most of the beauty of this show. Each episode shows a different district with a different culture; you get a barren wasteland in one district, Dubai-like skyscrapers in another, stunning architecture somewhere else, and Las Vegas in yet another district. Studio Pablo has always been amazing with their background work (the amazing art of the very recent Flip Flappers is another good example of their skills); this is yet another proof.

But ACCA isn’t just about the cool characters and the amazing artwork; it does have more than that to offer. It has a very slow start where they spend almost seven episodes just to set up things. In these seemingly uneventful episodes, there’s this feeling that there is something big going on in the background. It takes some time for the plot to really kick in with the revelations and all; but when it does, the result is pretty satisfactory. The hints thrown around make perfect sense towards the end.

ACCA may have a slow start but it does manage to keep the viewer’s interest till the end through its interesting setting and amazing world.

Alternative Take: samui

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka is another example of an acclaimed manga whose magic was lost in anime format. It had the makings of a modern classic and the premise had potential gven its political nature. Too bad, the final product is just a disappointing show.

The series might as well be renamed ACCA: Foreshadowing the Animation because all it does is talk about the imminent coup without the action. They say ACCA is vital for the Dowa Kingdom to stay intact but the show never bothered to tell us why. It is also a failure if we talk about the role of the government to its citizens. We get the intricacies of the royal family albeit this angle was really limp. Yet what about the role of the king himself to the commoners? We get snippets, such as the incident which killed Jean’s parents, but that was not enough. Also prepare for some bad anti-climax and some bad speeches that worked like band aids in this show.

Moreover, the characters sans Nino lacked development. Jean is the same person from beginning to end, Lotta’s presence in the series is questionable and the Chief Officers are just there. It is hard to give them a description beyond their looks or how they act. Some might say ACCA prioritized the plot but this was not the case either. The show is a dozer at worst and it spent half of its time talking, all for ann ultimately had an underwhelming outcome. When it tried to show some action, the execution was hilariously bad, like the scene where Lotta was chased by the royal guards.

Yet all is not lost in ACCA. The opening and ending sequence are the best of Winter 2017 thanks to their brand of delicious Jazz. Nino is the best character and had the most depth, and his stalking skills are fun. For fujoshis, you get an episode where two dudes meet a la shoujo manga, and the story of how they’ve been inseparable since then. ACCA is also a good show about food and there are times I drooled over what was presented on the screen. There are also some episodes where its placid nature worked, such as the cases when Jean visited Pranetta and Suitsu. Those were just simply poignant.

You know there’s something wrong in a series when you are busy shipping the characters rather than paying attention to the plot. This is a shame, since ACCA probably boasted the grandest story last season, but delivered it in the lamest way possible.

Akiba’s Trip

Yamada II

Akiba’s Trip is an anime based on a video game of the same name. The show’s basically about a kid who should get a life (an otaku), who gets caught up in something weird happening in Akihabara. There are these weird creatures which are trying to take over Akihabara as if it’s some holy land and their weakness is, of course, the atmosphere; strip them down to their birthday suit and they’re defeated.

Akiba’s Trip isn’t anything worth noting by any stretch. The episodes follow a set pattern: focus on a kind of otaku whose interest is being exploited by the bad guys; then Matome, Arisa and Tamotsu strip the villains to save the day. The problem isn’t exactly the set patten though, it’s the inconsistency in everything this show tries. A show of this kind isn’t meant to have some deep story or explore some themes; it’s supposed to be fun. If a show of this species manages to make you laugh, then it’s a success. The problem with Akiba’s Trip is that the amount of poorly executed comedy outnumbers the hilarious parts. It has some ridiculously fun episodes where it parodies other shows or simply goes full dumb, but then there are also those outright boring episodes where the stupidity just doesn’t click.

Akiba’s Trip also has some sakuga, though just like its comedy, it’s scattered throughout the show. Anyone who has watched that far superior comedy show airing right beside this one, KonoSuba, would immediately recognize a similarity between the two’s style. They don’t go for consistency in the art department, which is perfectly fine as it allows for the key animators to show off their skills more with fewer restrictions. After seeing the cool scenes in the opening sequence and some sakuga in the initial episodes, one is left wanting more of that; but we never get that level till the last episode. There are some isolated scenes of goodness, but the majority of fight scenes look pretty bland. It is perfectly understandable though since not every studio is a Ufotable or a KyoAni which can pump out consistently good-looking anime.

Akiba’s Trip‘s main problem is in its comedy. It gets pretty stupid at times but it doesn’t always work in its favor. There really wasn’t going to be any deep story or intricate focus here anyway so we’re not complaining. It just had to be consistently fun to become much more enjoyable, something it apparently failed at.

Ao no Exorcist Tokyo Fujouou-hen / Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

samui

People waited five years for an Ao no Exorcist sequel and it is easy to see why. Despite the first season’s horrible anime ending and its tendency to cling to tropes, the endearing characters made up for these shortcomings. The plot, while simplistic, made room for awesome action sequence and peppy presentation. Now that the sequel focused more on plot developments and adapted a widely-applauded manga arc, how did it fare?

Mildly disappointing, to say at least. Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen may be the best-looking show last season but the execution sucked the life out of the characters and the grand plot it promised. The pacing is so clunky that you got an episode full of set-up. Also forget the bouncy presentation in the first season, as A-1 Pictures decided to portray the characters as somber as possible. Combine the two and it’s hard not to yawn at some of its parts.

Another point where this sequel failed to live up to the hype is when the action kicked in. Sure, the climax was awesome but there is too much of everything happening on screen. Perhaps it is the consequence of the deliberately slow pacing in its earlier episodes, but it killed the excitement from Rin fighting against the Impure King. The other characters also got their own circumstances but it can be a little hard to cheer for them when you only see snippets. Worse, Mephisto is just there despite him being the most interesting character in the first season.

Similarly to Durarara!, Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen might please the die-hard fans, but it wasn’t worth the wait. Perhaps it is high time now to stop wishing for sequels from series that ended long time ago.

Alternative Take: Tsukelhm

Six years after its first season, Blue Exorcist got a sequel that is supposedly faithful to the manga instead of making stuff up just to end the cour, which was one of the biggest flaws of that first season. Kyoto Saga follows up from episode 17, when everyone finds out about Okumura Rin’s powers from being Satan’s son. It deals with the fear and resentment his teammates have for him for keeping that big of a secret from them.

Ao no Exorcist’s second season explores Rin as he faces execution because of his nature, and how he decides to help humanity fight back with it, while Okumura Yukio recognizes his jealousy and resents himself for not being able to be just as strong as his brother is. Rin’s team goes to Kyoto in order to assist the defense of an ancient object that might trigger the return of an old devil. And the worst happens when it turns out the organization in charge of protecting had been infiltrated by a mole. Bad guys appear, the Okumura brothers fight them throughout a couple of episodes and end up having a power upgrade and defeating them after some drama, while more hinting on Mephisto’s intentions start getting tiring.

One of the good things about Blue Exorcist was the world building; it had a pretty interesting premise that kept on giving with every character it developed, and even if one never liked it, Hiroyuki Sawano’s music was a solid reason to watch the show as it accompanied the scenes so well. While some characters were good and some bad, the voice acting was somewhat mediocre for the most part, as even Hanazawa Kana and Kitamura Eri did a pretty bland job back then with the girls they played. Sadly, this time around the show went on with just what was bad about the first season and ignored the only good things it had. While the voice acting improved, as it should’ve in the first place, Kyoto Saga feels isolated and low-stakes, as most of the time the problem is in the protagonists’ minds and not in the seemingly powerful foes they face. The side characters are just so plain and pointless than even one of the best ones from season 1, Tatsuma Ryuji, ends up suffering and becoming a pain every time he’s on-screen. The music is recycled to the extent it feels this season was made up in such a rush that there was no time to make distinct pieces aside from the opening and ending songs. The animation was never better than average, and the designs stayed pretty much the same, giving the show a 2011/2012 vibe and making it feel outdated.

If you were someone looking forward to getting something good out of this adaptation after enjoying Blue Exorcist’s first season (and hated the anime original content, as everyone should), it’s a shame, but you must be warned that this season is not something you’ll enjoy, and you’d be better off ignoring it.

Chaos;Child

Tsukelhm

Remember that 2008 anime adaptation of Chaos;Head by Madhouse? Well, Chaos;Child is pretty much it all over again, this time by Silver Link. It’s an adaptation of the visual novel with the same name, which is a sequel to the Chaos;Head visual novel from the 5pb’s science-adventure (SciADV) series. Following the events in the ending of the previous show, Miyashiro Takuru survives the earthquake and grows up into a highschooler who loves investigating weird cases with his newspaper club, which is why he ends up being involved in the rebirth of the new generation cases that happened in the previous anime.

Making a good show about hallucinations and world-changing delusions is extremely hard to pull off, much more so if you only have 12 episodes to do it. The main problem with both Chaos anime adaptations is that they’re both trying to make the hardest things in the least time, ending in two rushed, awfully structured and badly developed stories and casts of characters. Chaos;Child seems to try and replicate the unsuccessful attempt of a Chaos adaptation, with a paranoid protagonist that encounters a lot of weird people who can do ‘impossible’ things. He involves himself in a series of murders only to find out that everyone around him in fact also has powers. Furthermore, it also falls into the same pit of making the protagonist an overpowered guy who knows nothing yet manages to beat everything in the end. This time around though, the story closure feels much more irrelevant, as it turns out not even the committee was directly going after him and instead it’s all just the hero’s fault from the start.

The animation is Silver Link-tier while the music only has two tracks worth noting, one piano piece and one string piece played in the last episode twice. The voice acting feels lacking for the most part, as the characters are so badly showcased that it’s painful to see such a good cast go to waste; Uesaka Sumire’s Onoe Serika, Sarah Emi Bridcutt’s Kurusu Nono and Mimori Suzuko’s Arimura Hinae are pretty bad. It’s not their fault though, as it’s pretty hard bringing to life such plain characters with limited screen time and bad dialogue. Matsuoka Yoshitsugu’s performance was noteworthy though, considering his work consisted of a confident and naïve kid who spent the second half of the show screaming in despair and crying for his life.

For anyone who watched and disliked Chaos;Head’s anime adaptation, if you’re interested in 5pb’s megalomaniac sequel then you’re better off reading the VN instead of watching this anime; for those who missed Chaos;Head and are new to this series, please skip it. And for those who actually liked that awful 2008 anime and expected something similar, rejoice, as your bad taste has been blessed with a new satisfying offering.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai / Interviews with Monster Girls

daysofsummer

It’s rare enough to be worth underlining: two of an anime season’s gems are about monsters. Demi-chan wa Kataritai is the second, falling behind Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon. But that doesn’t mean Demi-chan lacks standout qualities of its own; it’s quite the contrary.

Firsly, it focuses on school as a setting. Takahashi Tetsuo is a teacher fascinated with what his world calls Ajin or Demi: beings which are now an integral part of human society, yet possess the characteristics of legendary beings such as dullahan or vampires. It just so happens that four are present at the school where Takahashi teaches. He decides to interview them in order to better understand them.

Demi-chan’s great trait is that it doesn’t put its own demi on a pedestal. Takahashi finds a subtle mix: he treats them as normal humans while also grasping their uniqueness to ensure that they can best live with their condition, which can pose issues in a society centered on humans.

We have three students: Hikari the vampire, Machi the dullahan, and Yuki the yuki-onna. The cast of demi is completed by Takahashi’s fellow teacher Sakie, who happens to be a succubus. Takahashi thinks very hard about the legends surrounding them, their truthfulness, how these affect their lives. But he also realizes they’re normal young girls; legends surrounding yuki-onna are largely filled with sadness, but Yuki’s life is far from that. He treats them with a touching amount of humanity. His earnestness in the work is a beautiful thing to see.

Although the show is lighthearted in nature (it even insists that discrimination has essentially disappeared from its society), let’s not forget its Japanese context. In a society which largely focuses on the group over the individual, Takahashi’s methods are unique: he focuses on each student individually and acknowledges them in their uniqueness without ever judging them based on some sort of norm in the process; something all too common in Japan. And Demi-chan gains substance through this contrast. Although a critique is likely not the show’s purpose (otherwise its tone would be more serious), its context bestows it a greater meaning.

And, in the end, this is what makes Demi-chan so fun and heartwarming: it paints an ideal teacher-student relationship. Takahashi’s behavior even encourages others around him to also think about the demi more.

In the end, Demi-chan wa Kataritai shows how colorful the world is when students have a balanced relationship with their teachers. What’s also great about all of this is that the show’s lessons can very much be applied to real life – it’s not just a theory of how we’d have to act if monster-like beings suddenly appeared. It is not, after all, our duty to look at others both in our common humanity and in our individual differences? Is it not the balance that can create healthier communities? Although Demi-chan may not be the most eloquent expression of this – partly, it is true, due to its lack of seriousness, but also due to its lack of artistry –, the inherent value of what it expresses should not be ignored. It can stand proudly in front of many other shows.

Alternative Take: Yamada II

Demi-chan wa Kataritai is an anime about a vampire, dullahan, succubus, and a snow girl, and their daily lives. The show has a rather unique concept and it shows these mystical beings in a very different light than most shows about such creatures. They attempt to answer many questions about these demi-humans, and try to explain many of the folklores and legends surrounding them.

You get questions regarding vampires and their aversion towards garlic and crosses; how a succubus’ charms work; how food goes from a dullahans head to the body despite being disconnected; and how a snow woman’s cold air works, among others. Sometimes they come up with satisfactory conclusions and sometimes they’re as confused as us viewers; however, each discussion on these otherworldly girls is really engaging and makes one think about it too for some answers. They also show some of the problems these beings face while attempting to blend into modern day society, and how they overcome these problems.

The characters are all likable and their development is also mostly good. Takahashi-sensei comes off as one of the better teacher characters out there as he doesn’t indulge in any relationship with any student other than a student-teacher one, despite having such cute girls around him.

The show manages to stay entertaining through its fun characters, well-executed comedy and intriguing discussions. However, that’s not enough for this show given its premise. Demi-chan wa Kataritai was capable of far more than what it achieved. There were a number of topics and themes which could have been explored, but at every opportunity they took the safe way out. The show didn’t realize its full potential, which resulted in this becoming a slight disappointment. That’s not to say this is a bad show or anything; Demi-chan wa Kataritai is a thoroughly entertaining show with each episode being well upto the mark. But the problem is that it could have been much more, and it wasn’t.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai, while delivering well on the lightheartedness, just couldn’t reach its full potential to become one of the best shows in Winter 2017.

Fuuka

samui

To say Fuuka is reminiscent of early 2000s romances is an insult to the shows that aired back then. Fuuka is a series comprised of twelve episodes of trashy teen drama, questionable plot development and subpar production values that induced nothing. One would wish the series would have at least redeemed itself with the music but it also sucked in that regard.

Admittedly, the opening song is good but its appeal wore off after being repeatedly played out in the show. The other music pieces used are okay, then Fuuka screwed them by coupling them with mediocre animation. Worse, the characters are basically empty shells as if the writers only had their background information, and they talk without personality. They are one dimensional and never went beyond their tropes. Koyuki is tolerable but the show put her in some stupid and contrived situation later on. Mikasa is the best character but Fuuka did not bother showing his circumstance in full. Fuuka, on the other hand, is just plain irritating and Haruna is a doormat lead from the beginning to end.

The worst part of Fuuka is perhaps its attempt to make the show about romance and forming a band. White Album 2 only succeeded in that aspect because it dealt with one issue at a time. Then there’s Fuuka that tried to chew everything at once and the result was a jumbled mess at best. At worst, you can wish a meteor hits this fictional Tokyo and obliterates the characters – but you will still not care about their fate. The romance is your typical trashy teen drama that leads nowhere, and the band aspect was so conveniently presented as if Fuuka was collecting some Pokémon. Seriously, the latter was an insult to those who struggle to form a band in real life.

In the end, do yourself a favor simply avoid this series. Watching paint dry is still a better activity than watching Fuuka.

Alternative Take: daysofsummer

Romantic comedy is the most difficult genre to pull off. It really is. The reason for that is simple: it’s a limited genre that offers few possibilities for originality. And since it’s the most popular genre, there isn’t a human being who doesn’t know its tropes. The creator of a romcom is forced to find a subtle equilibrium between the genre’s requirements and a search for originality so as to keep true to the rules of romantic comedies while not spitting out the exact stuff everyone’s read or seen all too many times. Those who have original ideas can be forgiven for a few mistakes in execution; their idea is still fresh, and they still dared to invent. The romcom creator has none of that luxury; he’s like that man walking a tightrope between two mountains hundreds of feet off the ground. One mistake in execution, and the fall could be deadly.

But apparently the people behind Fuuka are suicidal and jumped to the rope not caring that they’d fall into the abyss the moment they did it. Because none of the execution is anything other than terrible.

The show’s one redeeming aspect is its cast, the titular character, Fuuka, in particular; she’s lively and brings positive change to Yuu, the protagonist, thanks to her determination and inexhaustible energy. She sometimes behaves idiotically, but that’s generally a consequence of her qualities, which have the drawback of not making her one to plan ahead. Her qualities are essential, and her flaws, understandable; she’s a likable girl in many ways.

As for the other main girl, Koyuki, she’s also a nicely sensitive character; she’s genuine about everything she does, and although that sometimes costs her, she makes it hard to be against her. In fact, all the characters in Fuuka are at least passable, except perhaps for the dull Yuu; they have their charm, and although they’re not exactly the most original (but that’s a given with romantic comedies), they mostly blend well into the story, and aren’t exactly bland enough to be hated.

The problem, as you’ll have understood, is the abysmal story. It indulges in every imaginable trope of the genre; it does nothing to deviate from them or even add some spice to them. The developments are all predictable, and as we know the exact progression from about a million pieces of media to have come before, it’s impossible to be invested in it. Even though the characters leading the story deserved a better fate, they couldn’t do anything to save themselves from the poisonous formula the creator had in mind for them.

What’s more, the animation is utterly terrible; the direction is boring, and when it tries to do something, it only feels out of place. The staff didn’t even care to match the songs with the character’s performances! As such, it’s impossible to recommend Fuuka under any circumstance; if anything, it’s a reason to be glad Winter 2017 has passed.

Gundam Tekketsu no Orphans / Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans

samui

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans is a series that packed potential and then nosedived, all for the sake of calling the plot realistic and edgy. It is as if the production staff decided to write about an organization just to make them fall in despair as the episode count increased. That worked for Danganronpa, but for a show that has about two or three prominent characters, the dramatic scenes did not resonate that much.

The first season boasted a promise about Kudelia being the Lady of Revolution and the show made so much effort that its mid-part was ridiculously heavy-handed. For those who were expecting her to be in the center of the second season, throw those hopes away because she is on the sidelines for most of the time. They also say Gjllarhorn is corrupt but the series never showed or told us why. There is still continuity in this sequel, but it is hard not to get frustrated when it left some glaring issues in the dark for blood and drama.

Who else rolled their eyes when they realized the reveal about Vidar’s pilot, or the apparent stupidity of McGillis’ plan? What the hell did Hush Middy and Almiria accomplish in this series? Do not ask, because the show is busy on its killing spree in the last third. Worst, Rustal got away from his atrocities, and suddenly became good? How To Get Away With Murder should be the show’s more appropriate title then. There’s something wrong with the series when you sit there feeling indifferent to the death scenes.

To be fair, the show’s message about greed and trusting someone too easily are apparent. It’s just that we had to spend fifty episodes of sloppy execution to see this underlying message.

Idol Jihen / Idol Incidents

Yamada II

Idol Incidents is a show about idols becoming members of the National Diet. Yes. That’s right. Idols, most of whom are supposed to be in high school, being elected to the Japanese National Diet. Idols have saved their school from closing and have saved the world with their songs before so why not save their country from corruption with their songs?

It’s an absurd premise which makes one think that this will either be terrible or some ridiculous fun. The first couple of episodes do deliver on the ridiculous comedy, but that’s where it stops. Episode three onwards is a sleep inducing experience. The kind of stupidity we see in the beginning is nowhere to be found in later episodes at all.

This is clearly not MAPPA’s flagship product as they’re probably focusing on Spring’s Rage of Bahamut sequel. It’s obvious that this show didn’t get much attention; it only has two songs which are slapped in almost everywhere, there is reused animation here and there for the CGI dances, the overall animation and voice acting are subpar, and the story is nothing worth noting. Despite being about idols, elections and the National Diet, expecting this to have any politics is just asking too much. When it does occasionally have some politics, it’s really a treat, though such moments are pretty scarce.

Overall, if being boring was Idol Incidents‘ purpose, then it pretty much passed with flying colors.

Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon / Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon

Yamada II

Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon is Kyoto Animation’s latest entry and boy does it have a misleading setting. It’s basically about a woman who takes in a dragon as a maid and the comedic events that follow. Such a premise would easily make one dismiss this as a gag anime with no real story or anything else other than jokes. But that’s not what this show is at all; Maid Dragon explores different themes and talks about different topics throughout its 13 episode run.

It depicts the Kobayashi house as a family and explores the theme quite nicely to make for a rather touching show at times. Tohru and Kobayashi come from different cultures with obviously different kinds of families. The differences between how the two perceive the notion of family is quite interesting. Kanna, being a dragon child, didn’t get the love and attention a human child would get, and how she attempts to get some attention from Kobayashi is interesting as well.

There’s also a little commentary on human nature through a different perspective, that of a dragon. Tohru believes she’s superior to the puny humans. There’s almost an entire episode dedicated to Tohru observing how humans live, plus more such scenes interspersed throughout the show. Tohru has had quite some nasty encounters with humans while she was in the dragon realm, and through her time with Kobayashi, she comes to like this dimension more and more and also comes to not hate humans. There are also some little talks on different topics as well from time to time, because Maid Dragon likes to get a bit deep at times too. The character interactions are all lovely and occasionally quite heartwarming too.

KyoAni is known for having consistency in their visuals. There isn’t a single scene in between where one could say that this is where the folks went lazy or something. KyoAni has always had brilliant management for their shows and this got a similar treatment. The backgrounds stand out in every episode for being so unbelievably beautiful. There are even some changes in styles, but regardless, the background art is superb. This isn’t a very animation heavy show; it even lacks in character acting scenes. But when we occasionally get some random sakuga explosion or some simple character acting scene, it sure is a treat. KyoAni is one of the best out there when it comes to consistency in the artwork department.

Despite having some commentary on different topics, Maid Dragon also has consistently on spot comedy. The comedy is overall well-executed throughout. Each attempt at being funny is successful and will leave you laughing.

Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon just does everything so well that you can’t help but like it. The characters, the visuals, the comedy, everything is so superb; plus it’s consistent in all that, which makes things even better. Even its slightly down episodes are better than most of the episodes airing that week. Ending with a finale you’ll never forget, Maid Dragon is by far one of the best shows of the winter season.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 / God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! 2

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The second season of Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o! remains faithful to what the first one built: hit or miss comedy between nice characters in a slow-paced adventure. This time around, they went for more deformation and variation of visuals for a comedic effect while retaining the soft and good animation the show had in its first run. Although some episodes felt like a drag, it was expected given the type of show KonoSuba is; that being said, if the comedy is the type of thing you liked the most in the first season, this won’t be a downside for you.

The music is amazing and the voice acting is top notch, the show having one of the best endings in the season, as it perfectly represents the show’s vibe and is sang perfectly by the voice actresses. It’s also worth noting how better the ending theme is compared to the previous season; while Chiisana Boukensha fit really well with the show’s vibe and was accompanied but a great sequence, the song was edited heavily to the point where it felt weird listening to the seiyuus’ near breathless singing. This time around the song feels a lot more natural and fresher: while still having a nice and fitting composition, the actresses’ performance is much more impactful. Amamiya Sora’s Aqua feels pretty simple-minded and straightforward, Takahashi Rie went for a more childish tone this time around and gives a great contrast to the experience and controlled Darkness we hear from Kayano Ai. Subtle changes like this show how much the staff cares for this anime, and make us viewers appreciate how good their work ends up being thanks to these changes.

A fairly enjoyable second season that gives more of what was already good in the first season, and a third might not be bad after all.

Kuzu no Honkai / Scum’s Wish

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Kuzu no Honkai revolves around two teenagers, Yasuraoka Hanabi and Awaya Mugi, who fall in an impossible love with their teachers, and as a result end up dating in order to replace that heart-brokenness with physical pleasure and a hollow relationship. Furthermore, Hanabi’s best friend is also in love with her, while Mugi’s childhood friend follows the standard trope too. From the get go, this show doesn’t look that special, as it’s filled with pretty much every romance cliché in the book, but Scum’s Wish is not about the drama as much as it is about the execution.

Animated by Lerche and aired in the Noitamina timeslot, Kuzu no Honkai is able to show a much more grounded take on sex and desire, while having a fairly cutesy look and vibe taken straight from the manga it adapts. The use of paneling throughout the show accentuates the emotional struggles and the dichotomy between Mugi’s pleasure-driven “love” and Hanabi’s fairy tale-like wishes, as well as how the other characters’ emotions flow or set them apart from the rest of the cast, with the downside of losing a lot of animation (although the animated scenes are also pretty good). The way this anime bluntly portrays how their sex life affects these high schoolers as they come to terms with their feelings feels bold. The music in the show is also brilliantly composed, fitting greatly with every scene and aiding the visuals on presenting each shot with the amount of emotion it needs.

While every technical aspect of the anime is on point, aside from the animation issue, the very strong part of this show is how amazingly the voice acting goes with all of it. Shimazaki Nobunaga’s Mugi is as detached and pessimistic as is expected from a teen that lost his virginity to an older ‘friend’ while stupidly following his love for a ‘special’ teacher. Chika Anzai’s Hanabi is also filled with a similar pessimistic vibe, but she retains much more hope in that love of hers as she copes with the hatred she feels for the teacher who stole her love from her; her performance is the best of all in the whole show. Aki Toyosaki’s Akane is brilliant; the seiyuu who’s famous for her cutesy-airheaded girls has nailed it twice with the sexy-yet-melancholic type as Concrete Revolutio’s Kino Emi and this nymphomaniac teacher that is Minagawa Akane. The rest is easily overshadowed by the main cast, but Tomatsu Haruka, Nojima Kenji and Izawa Shiori did a nice work even if their characters were pretty bland.

Overall, this is a pretty good show with amazing music, great voice acting and really nice visuals and scene composition. The story, while simple, can feel fresh and believable because of how real the characters feel, but that depends on how relatable it is to the viewer.

Alternative Take: samui

Beyond the gratuitous sex scenes, Kuzu no Honkai is a story about broken people who were too afraid to face their own demons. People wrote off this show as needlessly provocative, but to present nudity without the porn is already a big achievement in this medium. There’s nothing much in terms of plot development but the character development compensated for this issue. All were given their circumstances to solve and Kuzu no Honkai went ahead to break them further until they found themselves.

We get to see the story mostly in the eyes of Hanabi and it was an emotionally heavy ride. Her insecurities as a girl, her unrequited love and her need to feel warmth drove her to places she might not have liked. She destroyed Ecchan by making the latter as an outlet, and she used Mugi for her convenience. When Hanabi was about to feel something, karma struck back and she was alone in the end.

That was so painful to watch to be honest, and Lerche made this more uncomfortable by putting all the right production values. To say this anime is visually beautiful is an understatement, because the water color style worked wonders in its favor. The disturbing piano pieces elevated the scenes to something special, and so with the characters’ monologues.

Kuzu no Honkai does not also rely on shocks or happy endings when it comes to plot resolution. Instead, it showed full restrain in its climax.

If you want an emotionally palpable show, or are just tired of endless portrayal of idyllic romances in anime, Kuzu no Honkai is a welcome experience in this regard.

Masamune-kun no Revenge

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Masamune-kun no Revenge has a pretty weird premise: Masamune, former fat boy, built his body into the stuff of dreams… all to exact revenge on the girl who once rejected him. It’s obviously not a very good idea from the start… thankfully he doesn’t get to realize that, since the show adapts an ongoing manga series and ends on a perfectly inconclusive note (read: plain bad).

Thankfully, it’s a fun ride to the concluding facepalm! Masamune is in a constant life-or-death situation – either he keeps the farce going, either he gets found out and kisses goodbye to a livable high school life. The show makes itself entertaining by exaggerating everything; the sense of danger, Yoshino’s threats, Aki’s terrible behavior contrasted by sudden bursts of cuteness… the regular use of colloquial language and other set phrases help make the show lively.

Yet the stakes are definitely there for Masamune. He’s very serious about getting his revenge on “that damn Adagaki Aki”. And that’s what makes him an entertaining guy – he’s handsome and smart, yet often finds himself cornered by others’ suspicion, or simply by his own stubbornness. His façade as a caring guy is contrasted by his burning hatred for Aki; yet he’s sometimes genuine, and even quite observant. We don’t know what to think of him, and that’s a good thing: he can’t be perfect given what he’s set out to do, yet a Kazuma-like guy wouldn’t work in a show that tries to be occasionally serious. Aki is a mysterious girl whose cruel front sometimes reveal a weakness she spends her life trying to hide; it’s a shame we don’t learn more about her secrets within the show’s runtime. Neko also has her issues, and these are indeed explored; some of them in vain, unfortunately. She’s entertaining, and her sudden appearance fortunately adds spice to the story rather than mark the show’s descent into a dull harem. It is, however, unfortunate to see Yoshino be so withdrawn and reveal close to nothing about herself when she’s such a crucial part of the story; she feels like a plot device. Worse, she seems to be willingly putting herself in this position. Futaba Tae is also a charming character, though she’s not too important in the end.

The cast is, in the end, quite colorful and pleasant for the most part; and for a show of this nature, it’s often enough. The animation, while not exceptional, does its part supporting the fun and other intense moments. While Masamune-kun no Revenge ends on a very disappointing note, it avoids most of the traps its premise poses to give us a good piece of entertainment. It can’t be strongly recommended, but for those who want a simple bit of fun, it’ll do the work.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu Sukeroku Futatabi-hen

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The first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is already considered a modern classic by the anime community. Hence, this sequel had a lot to prove, as it would show the story’s present-day timeline. Yotaro was a little grating in the first season, and some were probably worried with the apparent tonal change in the second season’s premiere. We were used to heartbreaks and despair with this series, after all. Surprisingly, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen was all about straying away from the darkness while effectively dropping the drama bombs.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen exceeded the already excellent first season by solving the latter’s shortcomings. As the series focused more on its characters’ resolutions rather than the rakugo itself, it made them very human. Yotaro moved beyond grating, then Konatsu and Yakumo finally made up with their angsty selves. Those in the afterlife, Sukeroku and Miyokichi, also received their closure. New characters fulfilled their roles by making this sequel distinct from the dreary first season.

Ironically, realistic is probably the last thing you would say about the plot this time. Yet who cares when you are given vividly drawn backgrounds and presentation in a way these themes did not feel out of place? Yakumo’s meeting with the shinigami is probably the spookiest this series gave. The eleventh episode about the afterlife was perfect and it is not hard to get teary-eyed when the original trio had their reunion after decades. On the other hand, the ending neatly closed this series.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroki Futatabi-hen is not just an anime that defined Winter 2017. Its time enduring appeal should welcome anime watchers years from now and make them realize anime is more than just finding the best waifu and husbando or appreciating sakuga. As Yotaro said in the ending, “Something good like this will never go away.”

Rewrite 2

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Remember Rewrite’s first season? Tormentors of the source’s admirer, slayer of Key’s credibility among anime-only fans… it was a wild experience with much significance – albeit none of it in the right place. Yet, at the height of their folly, the 8-bit staff realized the monster they’d unleashed upon the world. They took a breath, and had a realization: if a random patchwork of visual novel highlights ended up with the appearance of the Pandora Box, why not just stick to the original script? And so that’s what they did for this second season.

Thankfully, this is the reason behind a massive improvement: this season carefully follows the original novel’s story, which results in a coherent story. Although some of it does feel rushed, many episodes are well paced and do well to underline the visual novel’s best moments. The ending is wonderful; however, it is the only time the anime deviates from its source a little. And here is Rewrite 2’s weakness: it hardly takes any liberties and feels like no more than the novel made less eloquent due to cramming and replacing Romeo Tanaka’s beautiful writing with generally poor animation. There’s little to no added value to this adaptation; it’s just a competent summary for those who don’t have the time for the full experience. Furthermore, it suffers from being built on the foundations of a disastrous first season. Newcomers surely didn’t understand much from the first season… and yet, they’d need to in order to fully enjoy the second.

At the very least, Kotarou and his friends are great as always, and faithfulness makes it a good experience thanks to the quality of the original work it adapts. Its main questioning, more visible this time around, is genuinely important and thought-provoking: the future of humanity on an Earth it is slowly smothering. It’s a reminder of the power and preciousness of life; and in the end, a call to live on and believe in the possibilities of humanity, even when a look at the world around us may convince us that nihilism is “the truth”. At its best, Rewrite is a genuinely engaging ride; yet the sorry conclusion remains that one season is one of the worst imaginable attempts at improving on a source material, while the other is a deeply regressive process which barely allows itself the smallest attempt at adding anything to the source.

Conclusively, Rewrite can only confirm the age-old maxim: “read the visual novel”.

Seiren

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Any fan of Amagami SS probably felt both tense and excited when they started playing the first episode of Seiren. Here it is, the legitimate heir to the beloved dating sim adaptation! But can it recreate the charm of that famous show? Well, here’s the kicker: it mostly manages to.

Seiren follows the Amagami formula with almost strange precision. Being a dating sim, Amagami naturally had a generic self-insert protagonist; but did Seiren, an anime original, have to follow this path? Surely the show could’ve benefitted from having a more colorful main guy rather than the dull Shouichi. But never mind that, for Seiren has three heroines who largely make up for that.

Unfortunately, they don’t quite have the charm of Amagami’s Haruka or Ayatsuji; but thankfully, they’re still more than good enough. Hikari, in particular, is a playful yet surprisingly resolved young girl who takes her arc to the most original ending of any story from either of Amagami and Seiren. She’s fun to watch as she establishes an entertaining dynamic with Shouichi; her arc is never boring, much like her.

The other two girls (Kyouko and Toru) are somewhat more banal, however; Toru feels too withdrawn to ever stand out even though she’s got a very nice relationship with the main character. Kyouko, on the other hand, is a much brighter character, and her long-standing friendship with Shouichi is cute; she doesn’t stand out like Hikari, but she makes her arc a fine spectacle.

All these romances, like Amagami’s, are all successfully lighthearted and comedic; they also retain Amagami’s fetishistic tendencies. While some are obviously exaggerated, the characters’ slightly perverted behaviors are always in good fun, and always between two people who’re attracted to each other. It’s part of the franchise’s identity, and Seiren did well to keep it; these elements are always well integrated, and as such, they never feel out of place.

Moreover, Seiren somewhat improves on one of Amagami’s main faults. While Amagami’s stories were all fun in their own right, the lack of episodes made some of the romances feel rushed. Seiren’s romances are all convincingly built, and there’s never the feeling that the staff are assuming we’d just so happen to know about a development they never showed us (Ayatsuji’s arc in Amagami, for instance, suffered from such a sudden acceleration).

In the end, while it may not have as many memorable characters, Seiren reexplores much of the charm that made Amagami such a nice show, and brings it all out intact. While it suffers from terribly boring animation and a slight slowdown after a bright start with Hikari, all the arcs and girls are charming on their own. For fans of this formula, there’s certainly a lot of worth in watching Seiren.

Youjo Senki / Saga of Tanya the Evil

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Youjo Senki follows the young girl Tanya von Degurechaff as she fights on the empire’s side in order to win a huge war and gain peace so that she can end her life happily and prove God wrong. The little German’s crusade in a WWI-like world where magic is added into the mix, and with strategies and battles resembling WWII ones is on paper strikingly similar to a previous anime: Izetta: the last witch; but this comparison couldn’t be further from the truth, as this one is a darker and more cynical yet realistic take on the idea.

Tanya is the reincarnation of a Japanese atheist from present day who got murdered by one of his former employees who couldn’t handle his arrogant and emotionless personality. As he refused to acknowledge it, calling it ‘Being X’, it punishes him by sentencing to being reborn in a parallel world, one where WWI is just starting, as a little girl. Degurechaff will have to fight for her life and survive in order to escape hell and divine punishment, while still refusing to believe in God. Youjo Senki sets up the tone in which it’ll work from the very beginning: a grim world in which war and death fill the air, which highlights the endless dichotomies in the plot that makes this anime so interesting and intriguing. This is a show that can be watched in many ways; for the philosophical and religious/moral themes it explores, for gorgeous and outstanding animations and visuals, or for the great badassery and balls a tiny girl in WW has.

Comparing Youjo Senki to Izetta is a mistake, because from the start both shows feel different from one another. We’ve covered Izetta in our previous overview and there we mentioned that while it was based in WWII but used Germany’s Great War’s structure, it never goes deep into explanations with war concepts or strategies. Tanya uses the same base, but delves further into the strategies and war designs, and in its world magic is also very mainstream as it’s not a battle between two witches, but small magic assault squads instead. Also, this time around we’re in a German soldier’s point of view instead of a princess from a made-up country.

The opening and ending are nice and catchy pieces that synergize well with the show’s vibe, and so does the OST as it gives off this eerie feeling and tragic war background. The voice acting is truly amazing, although it’s sad that only the protagonist that stands out as the rest of the cast gets brutally shadowed by Yuuki Aoi’s genius performance as the evil Tanya; even Hayami Saori can’t help but pale in comparison to her magnificent act, although the rest of the cast put up a consistent work worthy of praise too.

All in all, a really nice ride that shows NUT’s potential and gives them a solid footing in the anime media. It’s a good show to watch, although beware that it’s not a fully finished job and it has an open ending, but it’s still worth your time.

Alternative Take: Yamada II

Youjo Senki is the new studio, NUT’s, first work after they broke off from Madhouse; and they have proven themselves to have some serious skills. Unlike Madhouse’s other child, MAPPA, who had their focus elsewhere, this child of Madhouse is trying to make a name for itself with its first work.

In a way, Youjo Senki‘s story is similar to Umineko: MC is having encounters with otherworldly being yet refuses to acknowledge their existence. Except there is no mystery aspect here. The MC here is (or rather was) a guy with a rather twisted mindset who was killed as a result of his way of doing things. Kami-sama gave him a chance to repent, except he’s being forced to become a believer by being thrown into a situation way out of his comfort zone: he’s now a little girl in a war-torn country in some parallel universe with magic. Youjo Senki follows this guy who is now a loli named Tanya.

Youjo Senki is about how Tanya attempts to survive this new world to prove to Being X that she doesn’t need his divine assistance. It’s mainly her pride which is driving her here. An interesting thing here is that despite being turned into a loli, the guy’s mindset hasn’t changed at all; he’s pretty much the same, except that he’s a girl now. This isn’t about a loli with a twisted mind, Tanya is actually a middle-aged salaryman in the body of a little girl, which makes her actions shocking to the characters but perfectly understandable to us given her background. She treats her underlings like they’re maggots and trains them to death while being totally heartless to her enemies.

It is also amusing to see Tanya make some elaborate plan to succeed in this life which only ends up getting ruined by some unexpected person, either because they were guided by Being X or simply because Tanya’s plan didn’t account for such developments. Tanya is also the best of her kind in the not-Germany Empire, which gives us some cool action scenes. And these fight scenes are where NUT show that they’ve got some serious talent on their side. The explosions are all beautiful without exception, and these effects are where NUT shines. Their action scenes aren’t that far behind though as towards the end is where they really unleash the sakuga on us. There are good scenes in between too but we get most of the sakuga towards the end.

Another place where Youjo Senki excels is in depicting the terrors of a battlefield. It does a near excellent job in showing how dangerous and gritty a battlefield can be. Its animation, coupled with the overall dull colors the show has, really brings out the true nature of its battlefields.

Youjo Senki also shows how reasonable people can do something completely illogical and foolish when emotions are involved. Tanya isn’t the one whose emotions run out of hand, but in most cases, she’s on the receiving end of such actions. The kind of environment the show’s created here makes this come out very nicely.

Youjo Senki is really awesome when it’s in the battlefield as that’s where we get all our sakuga and intensity. Tanya falling for Being X’s plans continuously doesn’t get tiring at all and it’s pretty fun to see her fail again and again but still have her arrogance there to keep pushing forward. Youjo Senki also likes to get intense from time to time, which makes it even more enjoyable. The intense battles, badass loli action, and some awesome sakuga are enough to grab our interest here.

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daysofsummer

Admin, Editor, Writer at Vox Artes
19-year-old French dude. I may or may not run this place. I'm a Love Liver who's obsessed with Kousaka Honoka. I also like to talk about pretentious books so I can pretend I'm an intellectual or something like that.
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