Winter 2016 Anime Midseason Overview

Mid-season of the anime season of Winter 2016 is upon us, so time to round up how I feel about the shows I’m current on, or decided to put on hold. A round-up telling you what I think is worthy of your time, or not, and where it’s at. This season I managed to not only pick up less shows than usual, but quickly drop what is “averagish”, so let’s see how it panned out.

Tiers are in-order of enjoyment/evaluation. Within each tier the order is alphabetical.

Great:

ERASED / Boku dake ga Inai Machi:

Boku dake ga Inai Machi / ERASED anime Episode 3 - Fujinuma Satorou and Hinazuki Kayo under the Christmas Tree

BokuMachi is a rare thriller that fires on all cylinders and keeps you engaged non-stop. Even when you’re not worried about the impending doom that you know is coming in a way only a time travel thriller can create, you are drawn into the intimate mindset as we follow protagonist Fujinoma Satoru, both as a failed manga author who cannot proceed with his life, and as he returns to his life as a 10 year old boy. The directorial work in this show is really good, and the show is peppered with artistic shots, shots that heighten tension for the most part, but also ones that just look great as Satoru spends time in his old haunts, and the feeling of watching an old movie is invoked, an old movie that one then stars in.

Good music, good voice acting, and a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat and fully engaged aren’t things we get enough of, and this show, aside from a slight dip in quality during a certain episode, is giving us all of that. And yet, when it goes for small and intimate moments, it nails those too. Great.

Episodes Watched: 6/12.
Current Rating: A. Thriller! Amazing thriller! But if you’re not watching it yet, I do recommend waiting until the series is over, as waiting weekly for the next episode can be very rough.

You can read my disparate thoughts on the show, and some longer thematic breakdowns here.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju anime Episode 1 - Yotaro begs Yuurakutei Yakumo to accept him as a student

The first episode of Rakugo Shinju was a magical thing, and lasted 50 minutes. Before going into it I wasn’t aware of what Rakugo is, and as I found out and a 10 minute performance of it started, I rolled my eyes and groaned some, as I’m not a big fan of this form of humor, but as it went on, I was captivated, and found myself smiling more and more as it kept going on, and then I was laughing along with the in-show audience. Now, episode 2 onward which moved to a backstory within the main story has been a noticeable step down from the first episode, in terms of how much I care for the characters involved, for the quality of art, the acting, etc. But episode 2 onward are still worthy of an “A Rank”, which just goes to show how good the first episode was.

This show evokes a very definite sense of time and place, which is important for a period drama such as this. It revolves around small and intimate relationships and interweaves them with the big world that surrounds the storyteller. It’s a drama. It’s a memoir. And it’s much better than anime usually gives us.

Episodes Watched: 6/13.
Current Rating: A. A very good period story, a very good drama. Funny, and on its way to an inevitable tragedy. The knowledge it was even better in its first episode is astounding.

Read my full notes/editorials for the show here.

Good:

Ajin – Demi-human:

Ajin anime episode 5 - Satou and Tanaka Kouji discuss how to make Kei hate humans

Ajin is a modern horror story, in the same vein as Tokyo Ghoul, except it doesn’t take the detour into shounen battler that Tokyo Ghoul did. Questions of who’s really human, showcasing (too much, creating a one-note message) human greed and inhumanity, and a “monster faction” that embraces the lack of humanity are all on display. Big picture politics versus the human element, of personal horror and a tale of friendship. Aside from my gripe with how often greed is mentioned as the biggest human motivator, this show is well done, with a team of good voice actors who sell us on their characters, and a multi-faceted, even if currently somewhat shallow overview of morality.

This show is handled by Polygon Pictures, who also adapted Knights of Sidonia. The full-CG treatment is often unfitting for facial expression and small gestures, but what is lost there is made up for in action sequences that are, for lack of a better term, fluid. The soundtrack also deserves a special mention, as it’s heightens and augments every scene.

Episodes Watched: 5/13.
Current Rating: B. A show that actually seems interested in delivering on psychological horror, after a couple of years where various show promised but then failed to deliver. Good stuff.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash / Hai to Sensou no Grimgar:

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash anime Episode 3 - Haruhiro has goals

The mightiest adventurers start at level 1 as well.

Grimgar is a very different take on the “trapped in a different world” sort of show, in that it actually is more reminiscent of a different sort of fiction that it doesn’t get compared to – war films and death-game shows. How so? Because you take normal people out of their comfort zones, and force them to live a new life, where they must struggle to make ends meet, and their lives hang in the balance. If we weren’t prepared for it our entire lives, then our own lives after schooling ended would be very much the same. And so, the characters struggle with their new situation, with the demands this life makes on them, and they struggle to get along with one another.

The show is very carefully and mostly capably directed (see here for a small piece that touches on the topic). It’s a slow-paced show, and it’s much more a slice-of-actual-life drama than it is an action show. It’s definitely not what one expects from light novel MMORPG-esque shows, and mostly for the better.

Episodes Watched: 6/12.
Current Rating: B+. Slow, so be prepared for it. This isn’t about the plot, or the action, but about a believeable cast of characters acting in small and believeable ways.

Snow White With the Red Hair Season 2 / Akagami no Shirayuki-hime 2nd Season:

Akagami no Shirayuki Hime / Snow White With The Red Hair anime episode 2 - Zen Wistalia Clarines and Shirayuki holding hands

What we’re here for, at the end of the day.

Back before this season aired, me and others who were fond of the first season voiced hope that the fuzzy comfort show would continue, but that it’d actually augment what we’ve had thus far with more plot and progress. Well, the show did indeed add more continuous story, ramifications and repercussions, including of past events, and added some more tension as well. Alas, I feel this is to the detriment of the show, because the warm fuzzy atmosphere, and the funny moments, while present, had to suffer a big reduction to make room for this new atmosphere and progress. Moreover, though Raj is highly entertaining to watch, we’re watching the show for those moments between Shirayuki and Zen, and seeing Zen more or less removed from the picture for a handful of episodes hasn’t done the show kindness. The plot and pacing did take a hit in one episode, but that’s nothing to raise too much fuss over.

So, the show still has what it’s good at, but slightly less of it. It gave us what we asked for, but it wasn’t what we truly needed. No harm, no foul, as this plotline seems to be wrapping up, and the episodes were still enjoyable enough. Funny enough. Sweet enough.

Episodes Watched: 6/12 (18/24 with split-cour count).
Current Rating: B. As always, not the best show, but it’s less about stuff it does wrong than not being exceptional in any form. Except comfort and fun, which while it’s not as comfortable as the first season, it’s still very enjoyable and comfortable.

Average:

Dimension W:

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

Cool one liners. Menacing Looks. Nothing underneath.

Anime series are funded by committees, but this show feels as if it were designed by one as well, aiming to appeal to the “We’re mature, we like seinen!” crowd, which many western anime fans fall into, as they start consuming anime in their late teens, with shows such as Death Note, Elfen Lied, and Cowboy Bebop. Though it’s hard to find any specific point of reference between Cowboy Bebop and Dimension W, one can’t shake the feeling they seek to please the same crowd. This show’s “Strengths” are also its weaknesses, with reliance on “cool” set-pieces rather than the rich thematic depth the setting would permit. Semi-episodic stories revolving around “Coils of the Week” instead of actually getting to know the characters better, and of course, a main protagonist who’s silent, brooding, and gruff, and with a mysterious and hurtful past. His sidekick is reduces to slice of life cute moments, except when she’s captured and used for sexual titillation moments.

There’s nothing altogether wrong with this show, but it feels cold and uninviting. The only moments that truly feel alive in the show are when Mira is on display, as an exceedingly cute and/or sexualized character, and I can do better if that’s what I want. There’s nothing actually, well, interesting here, something fun.

Episodes Watched: 6/12.
Current Rating: B–  to C++. This show is good enough that I keep watching it, but bad enough that I’m frustrated by what it does, or fails to do, after every episode.


On Hold:

Active Raid:

Active Raid anime episode 4 - Kuroki Takeru and Sena Souichirou on stalking

Buddy cop shows gonna “frenemies”.

Do you miss the days of procedural police drama with mech, shows such as Full Metal Panic’s first season, perhaps Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’s first season? Then this is what we’ve got here. The quality is lower, and you certainly can’t expect GitS’s quality in writing, acting, or production values, but it’s okay. This is a show that goes by a tried and true formula while bringing little to the table, aside from constant commentary on the inefficiency of government and bureaucracy. The characters are likeable enough, but most of them leave little impact, even in their own “spotlight episodes”. The continued storyline and the lurking villain don’t leave much of an impression thus far.

Episodes Watched: 6/24 (12 episodes split-cour).
Current Rating: C+. This show isn’t bad, but it’s also not good. It’s a by-the-numbers average show, in case you’re all out of procedural mech shows with frenemy leads, new members, and backroom dealings. You can do better, or worse. Might pick up when the introductory segments are done, if you’re still around by that point.


Dropped:

Haruta & Chika / HaruChika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru:

Haruchika / Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru / Haruta and Chika anime Episode 1 Notes - Kusakabe Shinjirou about the mysteries

Let’s.

HaruChika can be summed up by one word as far as I’m concerned, and that’s “disappointment,” which is to say that if I had to use two words for it, then the second wouldn’t be “expectations,” because I didn’t really come to it with much of those, but “potential”. HaruChika is a show that doesn’t look good, has annoying but spirited and realized main characters, solid voice acting, but it’s just incredibly tone-deaf and awkwardly-directed. It creates situations and then tells us to cry without having earned it, with things happening with little reason or rhyme, not just on the plot front, but on the character interaction front, and on the side-characters’ motives. Ok, that’s a bit unfair, I can understand, in a cerebral manner, why the characters act as they do, which makes the failure to engage me or convince me of their feelings even worse.

And as I said before, the show looks bad, and is badly-paced. It has all those components, but it’s lacking the people to join them in a pleasing fashion. I can only imagine this show would’ve been great had it been handled by the people who did Hyouka, or OreGairu’s 2nd Season, but alas.

Episodes Watched: 2/?.
Rating: C-. This show has, or had, potential. But that only makes it worse, as it doesn’t live up to it, and the comparison keeps hurting it.

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! / Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!:

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! / Give Blessings to This Wonderful World! /KonoSuba anime Episode 3 - Let me out

In my season preview post, I thought this show would be a Magical Girlfriend Harem show with an emphasis on fanservice. While there are the trappings of a harem, and there’s definitely some fanservice going on, this is really not the focus of the show. This is an Anime Comedy and an Anime Parody. It’s somewhat mean-spirited to its cast of characters, all of whom are failures of some sort of another, and the characters, especially protagonist Kazuma, are also mean to one another. If you enjoy most anime comedies, such as D-Frag!, or if you enjoyed the style of humor within One Punch Man, where the “meta-humor” was mostly humor in how self-aware it is, then you’ll like this show.

As for me, I found episodes here either “chuckle-worthy” or downright terrible. Darkness is a “good concept” in how a third-grader would’ve thought it up, a tank who derives sexual pleasure from being hit, or denigrated, or made fun of. What, why are you not laughing? Well, scenes without Darkness in them aren’t bad, but when a “good episode” has me chuckle twice, and remark mentally “That’s amusing” twice more, then I’ve got better things to do with my time. But, this show at least understands how humor works, which is more than could be said for most anime comedies.

Episodes Watched: 5/?.
Current Rating: C. This is a perfectly fine average example of an anime comedy. I just don’t like your average anime comedy. So it goes.

Myriad Colors Phantom World / Musaigen no Phantom World:

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

Of all the shows on the list, and especially in this section, this is the only one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. The others are underwhelming, or average at something I don’t care for, or average for something I do care for, but I’ve decided my time is better spent on other things than settling for “average”. Not this show. Its colours are vivid and bright, but the show is actually pretty bland in how it puts the colours to use. The voice actors are all good, but aside from the put-upon protagonist voiced by Shimono Hiro, they don’t get scenes that can bring out the best in them. The show just suffers from a lack of energy and interest, and those things are only present in the fanservice segments, including the single dumbest moment in anime I’ve watched over the past year (Limbo Boobies, maybe I should call it “Limboobies”?).

The show is just uninteresting and stupid, with constant use of exposition-dump and admittedly unfunny jokes as a joke, and with an uninspired action. I do wish other harem LN adaptations with a fanservice focus shows from the past couple of years looked this good, because they were fun, but looked like ass. This show looks nice, some design caveats aside, but there’s nothing good behind the pretty face.

Episodes Watched: 2/?.
Rating: 4/10. Unless all you really want is a generic but good-looking fanservice-action harem show, avoid.

Prince of Stride: Alternative:

Prince of Stride: Alternative anime Episode 1 notes - Hasekura Heath is so manly

There’s nothing ostensibly wrong with Prince of Stride: Alternative. It’s just a case of me realizing the show is not for me. The show felt flat to me, with visual novel-esque character presentation, bad prose (as in, a love-struck teenager girl wrote or thought some bad prose within the show), and there wasn’t much to keep me interested. The characters felt flat in the way “Characterization by Trope” ends up feeling, and I’m not the target-audience for this show, which is otome-game fans. Shimono Hiro’s brilliant comic delivery was the only thing I enjoyed here. But if I were a fan of the material, I’d have placed it under “Average”, as it went by the book, alluding to missing club members, making its sport of choice appear “cool” (as opposed to ‘cool’), and some past tensions. Well, if you like this sort of thing, it’s worth checking out at least.

I did expect slightly more from director Ishizuka Atsuko who worked on No Game, No Life and Pet Girl of Sakurasou, but we can’t always impress.

Episodes Watched: 1/12.
Rating: C+. Standard rendition of otome-game crossed with by the numbers club/sports show. Didn’t interest me, and the direction work was relatively flat.


Overall thoughts on the season:

The two new shows I’ve had the most expectations and hopes for have delivered. The returning show I was most looking for might not be delivering as I hoped, but it’s actually delivering on what I asked for, so I guess I deserve that. With that, how could I not be enjoying the season? I’m liking this season a bunch, with 5 shows I’m enjoying on a consistent basis, every single week.

“Only 5 shows?” I hear you ask, and there’s something to it. Had I stuck with HaruChika, who could have been good, and had I stuck with Prince of Stride, that’s done nothing wrong, and if I was determined to keep on watching KonoSuba and Active Raid, even though I’ve watched all their episodes thus far (and they were “Average” shows, so it’s not like I suffered too much), then I’d have been unhappy with the season. Yes, there are less shows that I like this season than in some others, but more and more, I realize that while this season might not be “as good” as some amazing seasons from 2013, it’s not forcing myself to keep on watching shows that I don’t enjoy that makes it one of the most enjoyable seasons for me in quite some time.

Now, in terms of quality, this season has a really high top end. BokuMachi and Rakugo Shinju are two rare gems in how they’re both highly enjoyable and very good, very polished. And the three shows that follow them are more enjoyable, or more good, but are still better than most shows I end up watching. So, there’s a top end that’s far ahead of everything else, and a second tier that’s still good enough to recommend down the line, and from there, there’s a small selection of “average” shows, and then nothing. It’s not promising, but then again, no one has to watch these shows, and a year down the line, no one will remember they existed. So this season might not be as good in terms of the raw number of note-worthy show it produces, but it’s producing enough, and of such quality, as to hold its head high.

I forgot to list Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans above, but it’s sort of run out of steam for me. I might return to it, so it’s “on-hold”, and I do hope to catch up on Durarara!!x2 before it ends, but plans don’t always come to fruition.

Today’s question should be obvious: With the anime midseason upon us, how do you feel about this season as a whole?

6 comments on “Winter 2016 Anime Midseason Overview

  1. exof954 says:

    I do seem to find that watching Gundam IBO in large, slow doses does wonders for both its pacing and my opinion of it. Or maybe I’m just desperate without any proper Build Fighters going on? Either way, the show has left me satisfied and eager with its latest batch of episodes (though I’m only through 18), now that we aren’t mired down in space brothers and shopping. No offense, but that’s just not what I’m looking for.

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, this show is “on hold”, meaning I haven’t given up hope on it entirely. I wonder if watching it in chunks will have me thinking better, or worse of it. Mari Okada just needs a director, and it seems 24 episodes are too many for her anime-original works, which begin buckling under their own weights, with too much repetition and dross.

  2. John Samuel says:

    1st level characters can usually kill a goblin each.

    These guys started at level zero. ;)

  3. Artemis says:

    I think this season as a whole has been remarkably solid. The crap aside (and there will always be crap, no matter how good the rest of any given season is), I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve seen so far. I’m currently watching the most new shows per season since… quite possibly ever, and not just one of those shows but two are what I’d consider to be extremely high quality – definitely something of a rarity for me.

    • Guy says:

      Yeah, but I, for a couple of years, used to try 14-22 shows per season, and stuck around with about 12 by this time in the season, and when half of those 12 are crap, even if the top end is solid, is, well, not the best recipe for a best season.

      So I think it’s a bit of both! This season is solid, but for me at least, I recognize part of my perception is just due to watching less dross. This season isn’t really all that special, if I look at the top 12 shows, then, but very few seasons are really all that if you look at so many shows and want almost all of them to be good.

      But yup! Fun, and few shows! Go go go. Another upside of having only a few good shows is you don’t feel like you’re missing out on much ;-)

  4. […] You know, I like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It’s about a bunch of amnesiac Japanese dropped into a fantasy world and forced to kill monsters to survive. Yeah, it’s like the hundredth variation on the “trapped in an RPG world” subgenre, except this one isn’t a power fantasy about the uber-l33t players replacing their pathetic offline lives with an awesome new virtual existence. No, this one actually examines what it would be like to have to kill another living being for the first time or lose a close companion or any one of a number of video game experiences that would be traumatic in real life. In other words, it treats the RPG world experience like a war movie. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s