Sometimes it’s a blessing rather than a curse that an anime series is unfaithful to its source material. Usagi Drop is a case in point. The anime version is a charming, heart warming story of the 30 year old Daikichi, who takes in rin, the illegitimate six year old daughter of his just deceased grandfather when nobody else in the family wants to take the responsibility. In only eleven episodes it tells the story of how Daikichi has to grow up quickly to take on the responsibilities of a parent, has his priorities changed and how he and Rin learn to live together. It’s cute, it’s charming and it leaves you feeling warm and cozy, but it only covers the first four volumes of the manga.
And in the fifth volume there’s a time shift, Rin is now a teenager and she and Daikichi fall in love, but it’s alright because it turns out she’s not actually blood related. God knows why the mangaka Yumi Unita thought this was a good idea, but it turned a nice, sweet story into something creepy. The manga therefore is basically unreadable, the second half of the series ruining the first half for me, but luckily the anime series was smart enough no to touch the time skip. It’s basically the “good parts” version of the story.
Episode nine and it’s time to talk about Var Syndrome as the extended metaphor for male sexuality/aggression it is, as lieutenant Messer is revealed to be a long suffering victim of it. It’s almost too obvious a metaphor: most (if not all) victims shown are male, once the syndrome is active their breathing becomes heavy, veins start bulging and popping, aggression ramps up, all self control is lost and the only way to be calmed down is through the music of a young, attractive group of idols…
In Messer’s case, it’s one particular idol that can always calm him down: Kaname Buccaneer, Walkure’s leader. Leader and team mum of Walkure, it isn’t much of a surprise that she would be the one to share a history with Messer. Mikumo is too aloof and strange, Makina and Reina are already a couple while Freyja is too new and with entirely the wrong personality to calm anybody down, but Kaname’s soothing, pleasant personality is perfect. There is something a bit old fashioned about having the aggressive straight laced man being soothed by the calm, more mature woman though.
Now I have been grumbling for weeks that Mirage had been getting short shift, which was finally remedied a bit this episode as she and Hayate confronted Messer with his illness and kept worrying about him. It’s an interesting role reversal to see the super serious, stick in the mud by the book officer being the one begging his hot blooded junior to overlook his handicap. Throughout the series he’s been judgemental of Hayate, worried about him being a liability to the squadron while he himself could at any moment been taken over by Var Syndrome and kill his team mates. No wonder Mirage and Hayate worry, especially the former, with her own sharply defined sense of duty. Being the only ones who kow his secret, or so they think, it’s only natural that they find secluded spots to talk it over. Something that’s ripe for misinterpretation…
And misinterpret Freyja does, leading to some truly hilarious reaction shots. There hasn’t been any explicit romance yet in the series (other than Best Couple) but Freyja and Hayate have been close from the start and have only grown closer over the course of the past eight episodes. Last epsiode we saw them synchronising their fold waves in battle, which brought them even closer; this episode it was explained that Hayate has the same natural immunity to Vars syndrome as the Walkure members. No wonder Freyja is confused and worried when Hayate starts hanging around with Mirage rather than herself. It’ll be interesting to see if this will finally jumpstart the usual Macross love triangle.
So you’re publishing a manga series that takes place in a high school Koto music club and you want to promote it as well as provide your readers with some idea of what the music your characters are creating sounds like. What better way to do that than to ask an actual koto playing group to play some of the songs that were featured int he manga? Which is exactly what Jump Square did to promote Kono Oto Tomare!, with the video above featuring the song (Ku-On) played at the club’s first public competition in chapter 26 of the manga. There’s also videos for “Ryuuseigun” (chapter 8, the club’s first school performance) and “Double Personality” (chapter 16, an exchange session with two other school’s koto clubs). If you think the sound is familiar, you may have heard the koto used in David Bowie’s “Moss Garden”, off off Heroes.
I blew through this series — in as far as it’s been translated in English — in a day after I learned about it from this tweet as the artwork intrigued me. It’s one of those manga series you hope gets picked up by a decent anime studio –KyoAni would be perfect — to make a series from it, as it would be great to see the actual performances animated. The manga does a good job of showing the intensity and emotional impact of each performance, as shown above, but a static medium can only do so much.
Kono Oto Tomare! has a fairly straightforward story: Takezou was the only freshman in the koto club, so once his seniors graduated he was the only left. He’s trying to find new members but nobody is interested and his club room is taken over by deliquents. Enter Kudou, a guy with the worse reputation in school, even to the point of having been arrested last year and this guy wants to become a club member? A bad joke, but Kudou is serious and when not only his friends join (for a lark), but the club also gains an actual koto prodigy, Hotsuki Satowa, who comes from a prestigious koto family, it finally has enough members to be safe, if they can convince the vice-principal both of Kudou’s sincerity and the club’s right to exist — through a public school performance…
Once the club’s survival is guaranteed, the story moves on to that well traveled path of the underdog club wanting to make an impact at the national competitions, introducing rival schools, various challenges as the club members realise the enormity of the task ahead, as well as new supporting characters. There’s plenty of melodrama, as expected of a series like this, as well as more than a hint of romance… Nothing new perhaps, but the execution of these familiar beats is done very well. The gorgeous art helps a lot of course in selling it; Amyuu can certainly draw pretty girls and isn’t afraid to distort when necessary to convey the tension in a performance. One of those series that sucks you right in and keeps you reading until there’s nothing left.
I’ve already discussed this season’s moe shows; now it’s time for the rest. Currently I’m following almost thirty series, of which eighteen are some form of action/adventure show. That is rather a lot and not all of them are objectively good, but nevertheless there are a lot of excellent series here, if none of the level of last season’s Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Listed below are my impressions so far of the eighteen series, ranked in other of how much I like them as well as their overall quality.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that I find this the best series this season considering how much attention I’ve paid to it already. Macross was and is my first love in anime and the latest installment of it hasn’t disappointed me yet. The only minor quibble I’ve had with it is that Mirage could use some more screentime, something that was remedied a bit in episode nine. I like the characters, I like the plot, I of course like the setting and especially the music. Ikenai borderline is a song I’ve been playing almost every day for weeks now.
Concrete Revolutio I loved the first season of Concrete Revolutio and that hasn’t changed for the second season. This is an impressively ambitious superhero story, which reminds me of Astro City in its approach to tell stories using a setting created by mixing and matching half a century of anime tropes and archetypes. The other comparison could be to Watchmen in how its using superheroes to tell a political story.
My Hero Academy
The other superhero show this season is much more straightforward, but offers that same basic pleasure of seeing a Japanese take on the genre, mixing the superhero origin story with the shounen battle manga. Midoriya Izuku is one of the few people without superpowers in a world where everybody has them, but still wants to be a superhero, being inspired by the world’s greatest hero, All Might. He gets his wish when All Might shares with him the secret of his power and enrolls in the world’s greatest superhero school, U.A. High School while his new superpowers are barely controlled. Well written and animated, cheerfully optimistic, this series subscribes to the essential creed of superheroics: with great powers comes great responsibility in a way few American superhero titles still do.
Re Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu
Take your average otaku gets transported to a fantasy world plot, give the hero the power to reset time, but make it so it only kicks in when he dies. That’s the perfect recipe for doing a it of deconstructing/torturing of the otaku hero. The protagonist Subaru starts off as a cookie cutter genre aware otaku insert, but thanks to that process of repeatedly dying brutally then coming back to life knowing he has to find a way to avoid the same brutal death again he gains a lot of depth. I like that Re:Zero takes its time to tell its story, that there are multiple repeats per plot point.
Koutetsujou no Kabaneri
Created by the studio behind Attack on Titan this looks a lot like it, with humanity living in ghettos to protect themselves from a supernatural, almost invincible menace. The difference is that a) these are zombies rather than giants, of a particyularly tough sort and b) it’s a steampunk setting, the details of which reminded me a lot of the classic Ghibli movie Monoke Hime. The protagonist is both a genius inventor, inventing a gun that can actually destroy a zombie with one shot, something nobody else can, and an incredible dumbass, which is part of what makes this fun because the show knows he’s an idiot. So far the only thing that bothers me is that this is only scheduled for thirteen episodes, which is nowhere near enough to come to a proper resolution. Onwards to season two?
Kidnap a group of (anime) high school archetypes and give them wounds that forces them to feel each other’s pain, all in the name of world peace: because if everybody could only feel everybody else’s pain there would no longer be war. A remarkably stupid idea even for anime, but Trigger makes it work. Kiznaiver works best when it focuses on the characters rather than on its supposed plot and it’s their interactions that makes it worth watching. You do wonder why they’re so compliant though; I’d expected more rebellion from at least a few people. Let’s not forget that the people behind the project are at least guilty of unethical medical research, kidnapping and torture.
A high school student is visiting her mother, who is the director of a huge research lab looking into buried alien artifacts discovered sixty years ago, just when the lab comes under attack from a series of mecha. She finds herself being shot at by one of the mecha which had managed to enter the building she was in, only to be saved by a buck naked samurai she just freed from one of the artifacts. an intelligent, well written mecha show which reminded me in feel a bit of Xam’d Memories or Eureka Seven with its cast of competent adults as well as the obligatory high school aged heroes.
A bit of a bait and switch with this one, as it was billed as a cute girls doing cute things — at sea! Instead it turned out to still be a cute girls doing cute things at sea, but they’re also fighting what seems like a worldwide conspiracy to kill them as they’re falsely accused of mutiny. So muhc of the world building makes no sense: Japan has largely been flooded decades ago to the point that most of the population lives in floating cities, the airplane was never invented and for some reason we have WWII warships crewed by schoolgirls in a history that never had a WWII, while there are also modern warships that look pretty much like their counterparts here, which makes little sense in a world without aircraft. But oh well, it looks cool and that’s what this series runs on. The mixture of slice of life stuff and battle action is well done; it reminded me a bit of KanColle but better.
Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta?
This looked like it was going to be a thrash harem show, but turned out surprisingly thoughtful. Our protagonist was once severily traumatised when the cute girl he proposed in game to said she actually was a middle aged bloke, but has recovered enough to not care about the real gender of the current cute girl he’s married to in game. Then he meets up with her and not only does she turn out to actually be the exact same cute girl she was in game, their two fellow male guild members are also cute girls. And going to his own high school. As do several others. But nothing leads to romance except with the main girl, who is slightly confused about the distinction between game and real life, while he is slightly too rigid in making that distinction. The rest of the series is them attempting to reach a compromise between their two points of view. if I’m honest, I’m more on her side than on his. Great fun and it’s actually funny without resorting to harem anime cliches.
Written by Okada Mari, this at first glance looked like a horror series, but pretty soon revealed itself to be more of a horror comedy, just played absolutely straight. Okada Mari supposedly has a reputation for the dramatic and overblown and she uses that reputation here to great effect. Maiyoga is the story of thirty dumbasses who for one reason or another turn their back on society to go on a tour looking for a legendary lost village. When they find it all their deep seated traumas come to the fore. Made even better by a protagonist
Maho Girls Precure
I’m far more into magical girl shows than any grownup man should be. This is the first Precure series I’m following on a week by week basis and it’s utterly adorable. As per usual you have the two girls, one brainy, one more sporty, with the former being a witch and the latter a normal girl, who together turn out to be the legendary Precure magicians. They have a quest to collect a series of gemstones which the big bad is also looking for. There’s a monster of the week to defeat, which is created by the various mini bosses from ordinary things and usually some sort of mild obstacle for them to overcome in their daily lives as well. Nothing innovative, but the execution is done very well and it’s a relaxing twenty minutes spent each week.
Space Patrol Luluco
The other Trigger show this season, which is basically a mash note to itself. Short, deliberately crude in the style of Inferno Cop and with lots and lots of guest stars from earlier Trigger series
Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro
Katsumata Agetarou works at his familys tonkatsu restaurant in Shibuya, but he doesn’t find his work exciting. One day he delivers an order to a dj at one of the night clubs in the area, falls in love with dj-ing and wants to become one himself, especially after he realises that the skills his father teaches him in the restaurant are remarkably similar to what’s needed to dj… A nicely bizarre, deliberately crudely drawn series. Each episode is less than ten minutes long which is just enough to tell a story without getting boring.
Bungo Stray Dogs
A detective agency filled with superpowered people named after famous Japanese authors, fighting crime and solving mysteries. There are hints of an overall plot but on the whole this is a case of the week series. Storywise it’s meh, but the animation is great.
Sousei no Onmyouji
Two young exorcists fighting against demons are told to get together and produce the saviour that will finally end the war with the demons. They refuse. Hilarity ensues. A fairly typical shounen battle show, with the male lead having to overcome past trauma that made him reject being an exorcist, while the female lead is the up and coming superstar of their generation. This started out relatively strong, but since then has had far too much filler, with the story moving at a snail’s pace. What keeps it enjoyable is that the two protagonists are given roughly equal screen time and treatment and they mesh well together.
This looked so much more promising in the previews than it turned out to be. A spy thriller series set in 1937, in the runup to WWII? From a Japanese point of view? That could be interesting if the show takes its setting seriously, in a way that e.g. Alan Furst’s spy thrillers do, with protagonists of ambiguous morality. Japan after all was already engaged in imperialistic warfare in China in 1937 and was ruled by a fascistoid, militaristic regime aiming at achieving hegemony in Asia. Heck, the spy agency’s cover of “Greater East Asia Cultural Society” is of course a reference to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, so there is some acknowledgement of the morally grey (at best) atmosphere the show should operate in. Unfortunately however it seems to focus more on simple spy stories devoid of much politics, rather than actually engaging with these issues.
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk
The second season of this is roughly on the same level as the first, but more focused and with fewer harem antics. I blame Digibro for being less able to enjoy it this time around though, as that series of videos he did made me aware of all the series’ flaws I can’t ignore anymore. With three more episodes to go it looks like this is aiming at a third season, unless they resolve things very quickly.
Do you like Infinite Stratos? Would you like to see it again? Than Hundred is the series for you. A decently executed action harem series, which looks and feels remarkably old fashioned in its insistence on comedic falling and grabbing of tits.
Flying Witch airs late on Saturday night from where I live, so I’ve gotten in the habit of watching in on Sunday morning, which is rather fitting considering the show’s relaxed mood and tempo. Episode eight has Makoto and her cousins Kei and Chinatsu visit a cafe run by witches, where they meet and talk to some of its regular customers and finally learn what the fox says. And that’s the plot. Nothing happens, but it happens so charmingly. It’s the perfect anime series to watch curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a cat.
One of the pleasures of watching a good adaptation of a manga you’ve read. is seeing favourite scenes animated. The best joke of the episode was something that was both incredibly cringe worthy and incredibly funny in the manga, but was taking up to eleven here. Timing is the keyword here, as I’ve said before. The anime extends and lengthens the build-up to the joke in a way that the manga couldn’t, then does the same for Makoto’s reaction as she finally processes what she sees. Even if you see the joke coming from the setup earlier in the episode, it still works because it’s so well done. The same goes for the post-ending credits scene, which in the manga was only a couple pages long and here got extended for the better.
Now the witches world is supposed to be hidden from that of normal people, but in practise they seem to be very relaxed about letting people like Kei and Chinatsu hang around all those semi-hidden places like the cafe. Hang around long enough and you become part of the scene, so it seems, even if you’re not quite supernatural yourself. Witches are mellow by nature it seems. It’s also weirdly realistic: with so many people in on the secret it’s only natural that some of their friends and relatives would be in on it as well. Having Chinatsu there, a few years younger than Kei and Makoto and naturally curious, helps a lot. She breaks the ice naturally and always is the first to talk to new supernatural beings; she’s also one of the best realised little girl/younger sister characters in anime.