Another season, another slew of premieres! A short to medium write-up on each, with links to full first-impressions for most.
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) Ushio to Tora Episode 27 (2nd Season Episode 1):
The gang is back! I actually found myself surprised as this episode started because it felt as if we’re going back to the episodic structure of the show’s start or the first season’s last few episodes, and it’s not like this show has much time to waste. But worry not, the show quickly moved from establishing normality to shattering it in a manner that made me tear up, because I care for all the dorks in this show. Stakes raised, action, emotions. Everything that made me care so much for Ushio to Tora is here. Silly faces too, I’m glad to report.
2) Joker Game Episode 1:
Joker Game is the new show I’ve had the highest expectations for before the season started airing, and thankfully, thus far, it’s been delivering. The show is most similar to Jin-Roh in terms of atmosphere, of delivery. Straight-laced military men, subterfuge, and a coat of small moments and a plethora of browns.
The premiere was half of a two-parter, which lacked the hook required to draw us in – this is a spy series, and it is well-versed in its genre conventions so a genre-savvy watcher can see how things are about to develop in scenes just as they unfold, and the episode left on a strong hook, but it is exactly my familiarity with the genre that means I don’t know in what direction they will take things. The show had done a good job thus far of creating a world that feels real an ominous, now it just needs to do something with it.
On the characters’ front, there’s only one “real” character in the show thus far, the straight man Sakuma, and he’s not terribly interesting, but it is going to be interesting to see how he must change and act within this unfamiliar and unwelcoming world of spy-games he’s being thrust in.
Premiere Score: 6/10. Episode Score: 8/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 8/10.
3) My Hero Academia / Boku no Hero Academia Episode 1:
This was a fun little episode, and this is a fun little show. I could talk about how there are some themes of societal recognition and an artificial structure that doesn’t actually benefit “heroes as those who help others, but rather those who seem like heroes and get credit” which people could reflect back onto Mahouka and One Punch Man, but that’s really not what this show is about. This show is also not about “believe, and you could get it!” and all these shounonsense messages. They are all there, but sometimes, what a show is about isn’t its messages. This is such a case. My Hero Academia is about having fun with action. It’s a show where the creators look at all the fun they’ve had with colourful Poke’Mon, of running with their hands behind their backs after watching Naruto, the experience of reading X-Men for the first time and seeing all these crazy powers and colourful personalities.
My Hero Academia is about a little kid who gets to live in such a world, and is told that he can’t be part of it. It’s like taking a little kid to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and then telling them they can’t have any of it. It’s a show about fun for the watchers, and a little boy who wishes to actually experience the fun he’s told he won’t get. It’s a colourful and silly and sometimes emotional mixture of shounonsense. It’s not a self-aware shounonsense ode of love to the genre of shounonsense, but the work of people who love shounonsense so much they just went right out and made one themselves. The first episode didn’t fully accomplish its goals as a premiere of setting the scene and delivering the transformation, but it did deliver on the sort of experience the show will deliver.
Premiere Score: 5/10. Episode Score: 8/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 7.5/10.
4) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (Part 4): Diamond is Unbreakable Episode 1:
It’s sort of difficult to talk of this show. How did it do as a premiere for a new show, versus how it did as a returning episode of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? The visuals seem to harken back to the early episodes of the first season, and the over-the-top nature seems to echo that time as well, while also reminding me of the first couple of episodes of Stardust Crusaders with Jotaro’s encounters with his mother and the girls.
The episode’s aesthetics make the whole thing seem as if it’s taking place in a late 80s or mid 90s American city, more than it feels particularly Japanese. Things moved relatively swiftly, we’ve been introduced to violence, to the crazy new members and attached-members of the extended Joestar family, two-bit bullies, and a villain. When you look at how much the episode had done, it’s hard to find fault with it in that regard. Storytelling was running a bit of a narrow rope with regards to Josuke’s power-level, as they’ve shown him pushing Jotaro into a corner to show us just how strong he is (nothing better than to outdo the previous “Strongest Character” to set one as strong), while still showing him losing because he’s inexperienced.
But for all that the episode has done right, it didn’t manage to excite me just yet. It was talking loud, but it didn’t feel “fun” just yet. In that sense, it really is more like Phantom Blood than any other portion of the show thus far. I do think that Josuke seems like a miscast, and while they might be going for a “subdued voice” sort of thing, he fails to inject his “fired up” moments with real vigor as well.
Premiere Score: 8/10. Episode Score: 7/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 6/10.
5) Kagewani Shou (2nd Season) Episode 1:
Kagewani is back as it always was, more to how it was early on than Banba’s more story-oriented last act of the first season. Which is to say that we had a small vignette of horror, that was heavy on the horror atmosphere and light on anything else. It keeps feeling like the show presents us the first 5-6 minutes of another show such as Fringe or The X Files, just the premise, just the first moment of horror, and moves on. From a story perspective it’s deeply unsatisfactory, but as a small touch of horror, the show’s surprisingly good at actually nailing it down. So, more of the same, for now. Until we’re back to the developing storyline.
6) Re:Zero (Starting Life In Another World) Episode 1:
One does not have to look farther back than last season’s Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju to see a double-length anime premiere done right, as that episode not only had content that would not work in a 20 minute episode due to being overlong, but it chronicled a lengthy period of time, felt full of content that was dynamic as the episode kept progressing, and ended on a hook. Sadly, Re:Zero, although one of the rare specimen that get a full 50 minute premiere in the anime medium (no OP or ED either), did almost nothing right with regards to its pacing.
Re:Zero opens very promisingly, with two minutes that delve directly to the meat of being transported to the other world and efficiently letting us know what type of background the main character has. It then proceeds to waste its following 23 minutes with content that is full of soul-crashing oh-so-aware self-referential humor, that is only made worse by the show admitting is not funny in a variety of ways, tropey characters, tropey interactions, and lukewarm at best character chemistry between the two leads. The show is riven between trying to present “Situation Normal” before the grimdark time-travel intrudes and we strive to return to it, and trying to regale us with how this “Situation Normal” is both amazing because Subaru is transported to a new world, and underwhelming, as he’s still as much of a loser here as he was in his old world. It’d be fine if he were a charming loser, but he’s not.
The second part of the episode is much better, with direction that nails the understated atmosphere of horror and mounting sense of dread, only to then go over the top and fall into GrimDarkness. The less said of the villain and the blood-spatters, the better. And of course, we finally meet two characters that are fun to watch, and have real chemistry between them, and who have an easy manner with the other characters as well. The problem? They’re side-characters. Their presence only showcases the issues at the core of this show.
This type of show can go in two ways, either it can make us care for the characters before things go terrible for them, or it can try and make us care for them as they keep undergoing horrible experiences. Re:Zero is extreme with how little it had shown us of the main characters and “Situation Normal” before upending it with tragedy, but it could still work. The real issue is that the characters seem designed to have us not care for them, almost.
The premise is still interesting enough, and the second half of the episode was improved enough, also in terms of direction and in showing us that the show can actually have characters talking to one another without me rolling my eyes constantly (so long Subaru shuts up), that I’m going to give it another episode or two, and hope it lets go of its worse elements, and doubles down on the good ones. The directing going from “Good and subtle” immediately to “WAS THAT TOO SUBTLE FOR YOU? LET ME TRY AGAIN!” mean this is likely a foolish hope, but so it goes.
Premiere Score: 7/10. Episode Score: 5/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 6/10.
7) Mayoiga / The Lost Village Episode 1:
The greatest question in terms of Mayoiga is what direction does it wish to go in? Does it take itself seriously, and the badness that will follow will be lacking in self-awareness, or will it be bad in a self-aware B-Movie sort of way, where we can all join in on the ridiculous schlocky nature of the show that is on offer? Of course, the show might be good and serious, but the first episode did not give off that impression, but it felt more as if Mari Okada had decided to take on Mirai Nikki, unaware that a show based off of another manga by Mirai Nikki’s author is also airing this season.
The series that Mayoiga most resembles from Okada’s resume are the terrible M3, and the underwhelming WIXOSS, both are instances where Okada tried to replicate another “grimdark” genre offerings to very mixed results. Mayoiga is overflowing with characters that appear ridiculous and the show makes fun of, but many do not act in a manner that resembles real people, or even people trapped in chuuni delusions (such as Lion who gave us a 10-pound Chekhov’s Gun of “I hope we don’t start cannibalizing one another”), such as people who kick and elbow-drop a bus-driver as he drives over the speed limit, the driver who snaps over how self-entitled his passengers are, or just ridiculous shoutiness or “Isn’t that sooooo creepy?” The cast is huge, and it is comprised of ridiculous caricatures of people. Even beyond the veneer they present, nothing here feels real.
On the positive side, the show’s presentation is catching, with nice music, voice acting, and art. The atmosphere which the writing works hard to dispell is actually summoned by the environment. This wasn’t a very good episode, and its enjoyability might also vary, but I did find myself smiling, and I’m still wondering where they’ll actually take the show, as thus far all we have are oh so portentous Okada foreshadowings, of everyone turning against one another, everyone lying, dream-vision sequences, the whole thing. The show thus far is living up to my worries, but it hasn’t shown that it might not yet rise up to meet some of my hopes.
Premiere Score: 4/10. Episode Score: 6/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 6.5/10.
8) Kuma Miko / Girl Meets Bear Episode 1:
Surprisingly bland. This is my very short assessment of the show. In a bit longer, though I’m not a big fan of “cute slice of life shows”, I usually like the sort of painful, sort of healing shows such as Gingitsune, Kotoura-san, etc. But even in the “cute slice of life shows” which often go for comedy, even as I don’t enjoy them, they still do a lot more. This show has pleasant pastel backgrounds that don’t intrude. Non-intrusive character designs. Non-intrusive voice acting. And that’s the thing, it’s not funny, it’s not emotional, it’s not cute. It’s none of these things where I can point at it and say, “Man, I can bet people who love these things I don’t love are absolutely going to love this show!” which I even could say for shows such as Servant x Service, Saekano, or Gourmet Girl Graffiti. Not here. It’s just a dearth of anything of interest, and the main character’s voice actress does a very bad job of presenting an actual character as well.
Yes, a show where a full half of the premiere is about a bear who goes down on a woman, and which winks at us over horny 9 year old boys (really!) managed to not elicit a single emotional response from me. At least the first half of the episode set up the show’s premise, which then the second half did nothing about, so guess it won’t be plot-driven even about its supposed premise. Dropped.
Premiere Score: 6/10. Episode Score: 5/10. Personal Enjoyment Score: 3/10 (I didn’t actively hate it, I just didn’t enjoy anything in it).
Overall First Impressions of the Season: This season doesn’t have a lot of shows that look like they’ll blow my socks off. At least not from how this week has gone by. Then again, I didn’t expect to absolutely love Fairy Tail (2011) or Ushio to Tora, and I did. I’ve got a soft spot for shounens, so this season’s offerings, most of the top end being shounonsense shows, might not excite me because they’re rarely doing anything special to start with, but they’re promising a season I’ll enjoy. And that sure beats a season you don’t, well, enjoy.
As for the shows I’ve had high hopes for, most of what carries Joker Game right now is pure atmosphere, but since in spy movies and series, said atmosphere is half of what you come for, this is a very promising start. Sadly, Mayoiga is looking sort of unwell at the moment, and though I love me some over the top thrillers, I’m not sure Okada can write one that doesn’t buckle under its weight. But, even here, even as I kept rolling my eyes at some parts of Re:Zero and laughing at Mayoiga, I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t hate the experience. Both shows also married the underwhelming writing to some solid directing, especially when it had to do with atmosphere, and that’s giving me hope.
So, this season, first impressions? Not a very deep season, but one with a focus on fun and games and atmosphere. As for “writing-focused series,” we’re getting Concrete Revolutio back quite soon, so that should hopefully tide us over this season.
Dear readers, what do you think of the premieres thus far? Anything that surprised you, for better or for worse?