Winter 2016 Week 1 – First Impressions

Well, the new season is here, and I’ve watched a bunch of premieres. It’s time to tell you what I thought of each of them. As I actually wrote something longer for each of these shows, I’ll keep it brief, and link to the lengthier impressions post.

As always, the list is ordered by how much I liked the episodes, combined with how good I thought they were, in a descending order (first is best, last is worst). I’m also going to give each premiere a couple of scores, “Premiere Score” for how well it did its job as a premiere (introducing characters, establishing situation, providing a “hook”), and “Episode Score”, for how well it worked as a regular episode. “Enjoyment Score” should be obvious.

1) Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Episode 1:

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju anime Episode 1 overview - Yotaro's toothy smile in the performance

Anime humor usually fails for me. Japanese humor routines also usually leave me cold. I also don’t hold any particular interest for Japanese culture over other cultures (but I do find most cultures interesting), so while I had high hopes for this show, aimed at adults and directed by a director I appreciate, I really wasn’t expecting to also be interested in its cultural content, the Rakugo performance. Imagine my surprise and delight when the highlight of this double-length premiere was a 10 minute long Rakugo sequence, where I sat through the final 7 minutes with a smile on my face, and chuckled and laughed a number of times through the final 3.

The acting was solid, though Ishida Akira as the master is only convincing in his interpersonal aspects and not as a Rakugo master craftsman. The lighting, the direction, the character work, were all splendid to watch, and I want to see more – more of their backgrounds, more of how their daily lives will go on, and how it’ll all come to a boil. There’s already drama on many fronts here, and complex and complicated people, even as Yotaro’s desires are quite simple. It’s a drama. A proper drama. Filled with laughter and tears.

It wasn’t the best premiere of the season, as that distinction goes to the next show on the list, but it was still good enough to share the distinction of being the best premiere since last winter’s Death Parade, and Ping Pong the Animation’s the year prior. It reminded me why we watch anime – because sometimes it gives us high quality live-action drama-style shows. Well, enough kvetching, this was good, and it was good even for someone who didn’t expect to care for the rakugo elements.

One spot of worry is that this double-episode, and probably next one as well are a re-editing of an OVA released several months ago, so there might be a quality drop (or perhaps even a rise?) from episode 3 onward.

Premiere Score: 8/10. Episode Score: 9.5/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 10/10.

Full first impressions.

2) Boku dake ga Inai Machi / ERASED Episode 1:

Boku dake ga Inai Machi / ERASED anime Episode 1 overview - Fujinuma Satorou thinks his death is meaningless

This was everything a premiere should be. We got to know the characters, we got to see the “situation normal,” and then we had a shock that upset the status quo, with new information that has given our characters a definite set of goals to accomplish. Except we got several “shakes” one after the other, and all of them hinge on the very same “solutions”, so the urgency is even higher. The characters were portrayed in broad strokes, from moody and covering a hole within one’s past that stops the main character from continuing with his life, to a driven mother, to a determined young woman. In terms of plot, things were progressing at a rapid pace, but the pacing itself during the episode felt relaxed, and oh-so-deliberate, putting me in mind of films more than television in general and anime in particular. A deft hand at the controls here, as is to be expected of director Itou Tomohiko.

How good was it? Good enough that I’d marathon it all right now if I could. My main worry of the show is that I’d love it if I’d watch it, but would’ve loved it even more marathoned. The news that the show will conclude at the same time as the manga, and will cover the manga’s conclusion was also very welcome – no anime-original ending or lack of closure here. This is incredibly promising, and this premiere got it all right.

Premiere Score: 10/10. Episode Score: 9/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 9/10.

Full first impressions.

3) Akagami no Shirayuki-hime / Snow White with the Red Hair Episode 13 (S2 episode 1):

Akagami no Shirayuki Hime anime Episode 13 overview - Thoughtful Shirayuki in bed

The biggest complaint I’ve had with Akagami’s first season is that its plot was a bit of a mess. They introduced characters and situations only to never reference them again. The first episode of the 2nd cour not only brings back the biggest example of such a character, but also introduces what seems like an ongoing plot, or at least one that’d take place over more than a single episode, which seems a first for the show. Aside from that, the characters were as enjoyable as always to watch, especially in couples – Obi and Ryu, Obi and Shirayuki, Shirayuki and Zen, etc. I mean, if we get plot and romance-advancement, I’ll be all for it, but I’m here for the warm feeling and smile I get from watching the show, and this episode delivered. Funny faces, serious Zen, scheming Izana, it’s all here.

4) Dimension W  Episode 1:

Dimension W anime Episode 1 - Mabuchi Kyouma isn't a hero

Mabuchi Kyouma, not a hero.

I like cyberpunk. I like how anachronistic and contradictory anti-hero Street Samurai main character Mabuchi Kyouma is. I like how much of a presence the setting, the city has in the show. Ono Daisuke’s acting is a bit reserved and flat right now, but I assume it is intended, as Kyouma isn’t one to reveal too much of how he feels. The morality within the show is mostly decidedly grey, aside from black caricatures that are quickly dispatched. There’s not a lot of fluid animation within the show, but rather more reliance on dynamic shifts in perspective and usage of angles instead. The show has an interesting colour palette and style.

I don’t really know what to discuss here, this episode ended where it should, and even if it had double the length, this was where the premiere had to end, but even so, we don’t really know what the show will focus on from here on out, and when will it transition between its varied aspects – the daily life of Mira and Kyouma, as Kyouma goes on about his work. Unraveling the setting’s secrets, and Mira’s quest. But, the show has a lot of elements I like, and it wove them deftly enough. It still has to prove it can keep handling its themes, whatever they might be – human greed, clinging to one’s past, being forced to change, accepting different forms of humanity… there’s a lot of directions the show could go in, and I like almost every one, in potential. So here we are, with a good first episode, and expectations that it’d be good, wherever it goes.

Premiere Score: 6.9/10. Episode Score: 7.5/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 7.5/10.

Full first impressions.

5) Active Raid Episode 1:

Active Raid anime episode 1 overview - Sena Souichirou about to use lethal force, he's surrounded by irrational people

Adults in an adult work space is something that’s not too common in anime these days. The only sub-genre where it was always a thing was mecha-police. So it’s not too surprising that this show follows suit. A new worker who wants to make a name for herself, prove her worth, and take control of an existing situation, who is outmaneuvered by the existing people and environment, her seniors, whom she might not agree, but do know better. The action was solid CG, the art outside of CG was a bit lacking, and the fanservice, though not too badly emphasized, was noticeable (and aimed at everyone). This was a by-the-books mecha police semi-out-of-control episode, with hints at greater schemes, some haphazard characterisation at times, and a somewhat rushed action – in terms of making way too many assumptions and logical leaps when it came to the fight within the episode. On the other hand, the world-building done in the background was efficient.

This episode hadn’t won me over just yet, but it was a by the books solid start. To a type of story I generally like, so I’m with it, for now.

Premiere Score: 6.5/10. Episode Score: 6.5/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 7/10.

Full first impressions.

6) Haruta and Chika / HaruChika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru Episode 1:

Haruchika / Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru / Haruta and Chika anime Episode 1 overview - Homura Chika is displeased

Haruta and Chika is based on a series of novels, and invites comparison at first to Kyoto Animation’s Euphonium, but mostly to that studio’s Hyouka, and it mostly leaves the comparison bruised. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are well-defined and the writing, while not spectacular, doesn’t fall far behind Hyouka’s in its early episodes, but Hyouka does so much beyond what the characters say or do, in how the director uses their small gestures and the control of the camera to convey personality and mood. And HaruChika has none of it. The show, also, aside from Chika’s design, looks quite bad.

Chika is an energetic girl who’s determined to start fresh, and Haruta is an annoying boy. And the “mystery” wasn’t interesting either. Sure, it was only really there in order to show us the character and make a couple of reveals about them, but the bland direction and underwhelming voice acting all around means I just didn’t care for said reveal. I’m going to give this show another episode or two – it has good content in there, it’s just executed in a manner that is almost offensively uninteresting. Really a case where different people in charge of it could’ve made all the difference.

Premiere Score: 4/10. Episode Score: 6/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 5/10.

Full first impressions.

7) Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Episode 1:

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash anime Episode 1 overview - The party speak of their reality

Yeah, what sort of shounonsense premiere is that? :P

Grimgar’s visuals are top notch, whether it is the lush watercolour backgrounds, or the crisp character art (marred by bad encoding), or varied character designs, though a couple of the “NPCs” are pretty bad in a tropey sort of way. The animation, whether for larger moments or for various small and intimate moments is also good. There’s some light fan-service in the form of accentuated attention to certain parts of the body, but that’s about par the course for anime these days.

However, while this episode certainly had promise, for a more thoughtful take on “Trapped in a video-game” and on small-group dynamics, this episode still failed as a premiere. We learned a bit of the characters and their situation, but man has it been slow. So slow. This episode should’ve been trimmed to half the length, or given as a flashback in episode 2 or 3 after the hook had been provided. I’m still with the show, cause its ceiling is high, but it needs to give me a reason to care, a reason to keep watching. The preview seems like next episode would be it. But this episode, while solid on its own, did not do its proper work.

Premiere Score: 4/10. Episode Score: 7/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 6.5/10.

Full first impressions.

8) Prince of Stride: Alternative Episode 1:

Prince of Stride: Alternative anime Episode 1 overview - Kadowaki Ayumu thought they were training for fast Shogi as Fujiwara Takeru checks out his biceps

This wasn’t a bad episode overall, and it even set up a lot of hints for things to come, hinting at past conflicts while laying the groundwork for future conflicts – with past members, with teachers, with other schools, etc. But the problem is all of it felt flat, aside from Shimono Hiro delivering his trademark superb comic delivery, I just found every interaction both tropey and flat, and the characters didn’t interest me. The director is competent, but while the colour palette chosen was interesting, it felt both a tad flat and shouty. “Shouty” is a good word for this episode, because it kept shouting at us about the background conflicts, and about the “Smitten at First Sight,” and a fan-fic level and style monologue from the heroine.

So, the plot structure and the content this episode covered were all fine, but nothing flowed well, and I enjoyed none of it. I don’t expect it to change much, so this is my first drop of the season, even though it wasn’t the worst episode or premiere amongst the batch.

Premiere Score: 7/10. Episode Score: 6/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 5/10.

Full first impressions.

9) Myriad Colors Phantom World / Musaigen no Phantom World Episode 1:

Musaigen no Phantom World / Myriad Colors Phantom World anime Episode 1 overview - The show has its own hecklers

I was expecting fan-service from the show, I mean, it was right there in the preview. But not only does the camera keep ogling the characters, and not only does one of them keep massaging and fondling her body and non-physics conforming breasts, and not only do they keep falling into “awkward situations” that’d make your average run-of-the-mill average RomCom show proud, but the show keeps commenting on characters’ breasts in-show. I expect that sort of thing from an ecchi show, but it crossing over into non-ecchi shows such as Heavy Object is an unfortunate turn of events. Of course, it’s still not clear whether Phantom World is more than a fanservice show…

Aside from the above, and a scene to rival M3’s amazingly stupid “Boobie-Balls” (I call it “Limbo Boobies“), the show was bold-faced about its bad exposition dumps. It had some alright world-building moments, but mostly shoved everything to the back and left a lot of unanswered questions, and told us, “This is the world, this is our after-school club of fighting monsters for money. Go!” And they didn’t really give us much information on the characters’ personalities either. The bright spots in this show’s favour are Shimono Hiro’s acting (just like Prince of Stride!), and a very vivid colour palette. The action is serviceable plus, and I’m going to give this show another episode, or two, to see what it wants to do with its characters. If it’s all just fanservice, then I’m out. Give me good action! Give me some average RomCom/club shenanigans! That this show isn’t even doing that much is a low-blow. Even the underwhelming Kyoukai no Kanata (Beyond the Boundary) had much better action and more interesting characters by this point.

Premiere Score: 5/10. Episode Score: 6/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 6/10.

Full first impressions.

Overall First Impressions of the Season: This season already has 3 shows whose first episodes I enjoyed a lot, or thought were really good, or both. And since Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju’s episode was double-length, I’ve already had 4 episodes I’ve watched this past week about which I’ve had no reservations. That’s pretty good! Now, things can still fall apart, but this season is already promising in terms of its top end. How about everything else? Dimension W, Active Raid, HaruChika and Grimgar all had shown signs of promise, but still need to show us what they’re going to do with it, where they’re going to go as the season progresses. A couple of these shows had good episodes, while the other two had underwhelming episodes (well, Grimgar had a solid episode that was a bad premiere), so expectations are not equal for all.

Why am I so optimistic? Is it just because of the loaded top-end and some perhaps unwarranted optimism about the 4 runner-ups (though, Dimension W is closer to the top end than it is to, say, HaruChika and Grimgar)? No, I think it’s that 4 of those top 5 shows star adults as the main characters. Not just adults, but adults in adult situations, though Bokumachi might be leaving that behind… yeah, adult content isn’t a guarantee for quality, but it’s a guarantee for me being more interested. It’s no coincidence that the high-school kids shows are the ones lagging at the bottom of the list, is it?

Well, I’m liking this season overall, but unlike past seasons, I’m giving a couple of shows only one or two more episodes, and will be much more adamant about cutting dross out of my routine. I’m going to wait for the shows to tell me what they want to be about, and how they plan to go about it, and I’ll judge them then. Plans for future episodes? Hope that Durarara!! ends up worthy of my time. Sadly, it seems that Ajin might not be picked up by any fansub group, and as Netflix picked it up, its “simulcast” will come about in 3-6 months.

Notable absentees: Still haven’t caught up with Durarara!!x2 Ten, I’ll probably be caught up by the time episode 3 of Ketsu airs. I noted this before, but I plan to wait with Gate Season 2 until it finishes airing. On that note, I still need to watch Chaika S2, where I said the same thing. Oh well. I didn’t feel like finishing the weekly Gundam right now, and this leaves it for newly airing shows, so I’ll cover it in next week’s post.

Dear readers, what do you think of the premieres thus far? Anything that surprised you, for better or for worse?

15 comments on “Winter 2016 Week 1 – First Impressions

  1. dyingearth says:

    Erased’s manga will be ending soon, and the anime maker will be given the ending, so this will not be a case of outstripping the source material (similar to what the maker of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which ended right about the same time the final episode comes out).

  2. jimmydorry says:

    Doesn’t Ketsu mean ass? Is anyone else wondering why it is Drrr Ass?

  3. Prominis says:

    What a great Shounen when the main character is decidedly underpowered in contrast to his peers and has to actually work with a team in order to do something.

    That said, I rather like Grimgar’s LN, because it’s something closer to the standard fantasy novel instead of what seems to be the typical LN wish-fulfillment OP MC setting.

    People actually have to talk to each other and communicate to get things done! Wow! If only Kirito could take a leaf out of that book and grow a personality from interacting with others. If only.

    • João Carlos says:

      After watch the first episode, I looked for a translation of the Grimgar’s LN. IMHO, Nakamura Ryousuke is the right director for this series, it is target drama for a good reason.

      Take note there is no windows and menus opening when they fight and there is not “telepathic” communication between the players (both elements were present at /hack, SAO and LH), so it is more probable they were transported to other world than they are playing a game.

      • Guy says:

        I don’t actually find “transported to another world” versus “inside a video game” all that interesting of a distinction, it’s just “fluff”, just colour you give it. And it’s not a very good indication either way. Could just remove the UX elements, or whatever.

        As for the director, we’ll see as the episodes go on. No LN spoilers of any form, though, thanks.

      • Prominis says:

        Yeah, it never says it’s a game.
        (I also never said that either, so meh)
        Not exactly sure what that ‘correction’ is for, but alrighty then, I guess you cleared that up for… someone who might be reading this.

        Though as Guy said, there’s not much of a difference in lots of “TRANSPORTED TO ANOTHER WORLD” games. Magic can easily cover up for other elements, like long-distance communication in the form of PM’s.

        … in hindsight, I just remembered how game-like the world of Grimgar is, with the ‘classes’ and whatnot. In the LN’s, I don’t remember ever thinking it was a game though. Still, I haven’t actually watched the first episode, so maybe it comes off as more misleading there?

        Meep. Here’s a spoiler: they’re all actually doges. Wow. Much doge, very bowow.

  4. Frog-kun says:

    It reminded me why we watch anime – because sometimes it gives us high quality live-action drama-style shows.

    Really? I watch it for the T&A.

    Jokes aside, your reactions to the latest batch of shows were about what I expected. I had a feeling Grimgar wouldn’t be overly impressive with its premiere, although I’m a little surprised with its low MAL score, to be honest. I thought it was the kind of show that would attract lots of fanboys and zealous LN readers, but maybe the episode was too slow to inspire that kind of reaction from a young audience.

    Also, what did you think of the voice acting in Boku Dake ga Inai Machi? Satoru’s character (both his adult and child self) is voiced by live-action actors, not seiyuu. Did you personally notice anything distinct about the acting?

    • Guy says:

      I’m sad a 7.48 for Grimgar is considered “low”. It just shows how inflated scores had been getting on MAL over the past two years for new shows… But, its fans did get it to rank #545 a couple of hours after it aired, which went down to about #1500 currently. The episode was just that slow. I’m guessing the LN fans are just waiting for stuff to pick up later.

      Child Satoru’s voice acting was a non-point, because it was seen for what, a dozen or so words? As for adult’s, I did think of it a bit as I watched. It seemed subdued, very reserved.

  5. fgfdfh says:

    You have a nice list there! Totally agree about the 2 top shows. I dropped Snow White anime though, not my thing. Other show I will keep watching are BBK and Muv luv. BBK has potential, but I’ve seen so many ambitious original anime fell apart. Have to wait and see. Schwarzes Marken combined every dumb Hollywood movie cliches with every dumb anime cliches in a way that is surprisingly entertaining. I’ll probably drop it soon, but it’s fun for now.

    • Guy says:

      Falling apart is a thing. It’s useful to sit and wait for other people to find out for you whether it’s worth it. I usually wait until mid-season, and then some shows fall apart during their second halves, hue.

      I just watched Starship Troopers this week for the first time. I’ll let you “fun but dumb” lovers have your fun without me ;-)

  6. Artemis says:

    I agree that Erased had the best premiere of the season, and by quite a good margin at that. I don’t mind having to watch week by week, but I can definitely understand why you’d want to marathon it instead if you could.
    Speaking of marathons, I’d be racing through Shirayuki-hime right this second if I had the choice. I actually didn’t mind the meandering, largely slice-of-life feel of the first season – it was lacking a bit in focus, but generally speaking I’ll take characters I love over a decent and/or central ongoing plot any day. That said, I’m still pretty excited to see where this is going… and I’m sure to have that big dopey grin on my face the entire time.

    • Guy says:

      Well, I’d rather have both! As for Shirayuki-hime, not sure if I’d want or even enjoy marathoning it. I’m fine with episodic shows, or meandering story shows, but I can’t marathon them. Besides, if I marathon it, I won’t get the warm fuzzies weekly, would I? :D

      For Bokumachi, it’s just that mysteries/thrillers are definitely something I prefer to get through in a single viewing. But I probably will watch it as it airs. Heh.

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