Every quarter there’s a new anime season, with a whole new lineup of shows to take a look at! I watch through the first episodes of anything that might have some genre interest, and try to sort out what’s worth watching. Here’s the first part of the fall season, roughly from most to least interesting to me. (This isn’t all by any means — more to come!) I’ll try to say a bit about the show, and whether I plan to keep watching it.
My goal with this feature is to be comprehensible, even to the non-anime fan. To that end, there’s a Lost in Animeland FAQ and glossary which I’ll be updating as I go along. Feel free to leave questions in the comments here!
(Genres I generally skip over include sports shows, little kids’ shows, pure romances, and some shows based on toys.)
We’re in a city completely dominated by an enormous, fortified high school, which is in turn ruled with an iron fist by the student council president and her lackeys, who have magic (I think?) uniforms that give them superpowers. Normal students are regularly executed for disloyalty. Transfer student Matoi Ryuuko arrives, wielding a giant blade shaped like one half of a pair of scissors. She’s looking for the murderer of her father, who has the other half, and gets into fights with the student council almost immediately.
This one has a bit of a pedigree, which is a good thing because the concept is completely insane. It’s made by a studio that’s an offshoot from Gainax, by the team that created the legendary Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. (About which more in a future column.) They’re trying to recreate here some of the same magic that powered that show — a crazy, over-the-top energy that passes through “ridiculously silly” and winds up at “ridiculously awesome”. (Gurren Lagann, to cite one relatively tame example, featured a guy in a robot, merged with another robot, piloting another, much larger robot, fighting the moon.)
They’ve definitely got the animation style down, which is a big mark in the show’s favor. It’s sort of loose and wild, very slapstick, with a lot of high-budget high-motion stuff that looks very slick. Part of the humor comes from the juxtaposition of the hyper-melodramatic Good vs. Evil plot onto a high school setting, so the obligatory Four Evil Generals are the student council members, various club leaders are the mid-level minions, and so on. I’m not expecting much in the way of complicated plot, though. The characters are what will ultimately make or break it, but it’s hard to say much from one episode.
Onward? Yes. In the end, this is going to be one of those very strange shows where you either dig what they’re doing or are completely mystified. At the moment, I’m onboard.
(a.k.a. “Beyond the Boundary”)
Set in what we would think of as “urban fantasy” (that is, the modern day, but with monsters and magic). High school student Akihito is half-monster, which makes him immortal with instant regeneration. He meets a girl named Mirai, who comes from a line of monster hunters and who decides that she’s going to try to kill him. She’s not terribly good at it, though, so it’s more of a nuisance than anything.
This one is from Kyoto Animation, a studio responsible for various mega-hits. As you might expect, the character designs are gorgeous and the animation is really impressive. (Only in very expensive animation do anime people’s clothes ever look rumpled.) Akihito seems like a pretty generic bored-with-life protagonist, though, while Mirai is shy, cowardly, and clumsy. By the end of the first episode I found myself wondering where the energy of the show is supposed to come from; neither of them seem terribly excited about it.
The world design is intriguing, though, and I’m curious to see where they go with it. The pedigree demands a longer look, so I’m willing to give this a few more episodes.
Onward? Yes, for now. Kyoto Animation has surprised me in the past with highly watchable stuff from pretty bland beginnings or concepts, so let’s see if they can pull it off again.
In the near future, Tokyo is an overgrown, irradiated city after a nuclear reactor melts down nearby. Three high school girls, the products of a genetic engineering program to increase radiation resistance, are sent in to do … something? It’s not super clear what from the first episode. They say they’re searching for SOS beacons, but also that all the survivors are dead.
It’s fascinating how current events work their way into popular culture, though this one seems a bit heavy-handed for me. It’s another case where the anime trope that everything must be in high school or about high school students clashes with the basic premise, too — even if they don’t need radiation suits like everyone else, it seems a bit silly to send the girls into ruined, feral-dog-infested Tokyo in their short-skirted school uniforms.
The first ep makes it seem like this will be on the thoughtful/talky side, since most of it is just the girls wandering through empty streets. Gorgeous backgrounds, but the actual character animation is weird — sometimes normal, sometimes blocky and heavily outlined. There’s some indication that one of the major themes will be whether the girls, are genetically-engineered lifeforms, are really human, which is pretty well-worn territory.
Onward? Maybe. Not my top priority, but I’m willing to go another episode or two to see if they develop a plot.
Oh, boy. I knew there would be some shows that are tough to describe to people outside the otaku demographic, and this is one of them. Here goes: Kanou Shinichi, a dyed-in-the-wool otaku, gets what he thinks is a fantastic job opportunity. When he shows up, however, he discovers that he’s been dragooned by the government into being their cultural liaison to a newly discovered fantasy universe. His mission is to spread otaku/moe culture to the locals in the name of inter-dimensional cooperation.
I’m generally not terribly fond of this weird snake-eating-its-own-tail targeting, where you make a show that all about glorifying otaku culture in order to sell it to the otaku culture. It can be done well, especially when the pandering is mixed with a bit of gentle ribbing. That’s not the case here, though; it’s all pandering. The alternate universe is fantasy both in the sense of being a generic knights-and-castles sort of place, and in the sense that all the characters our hero meets there are cute girls who fall into the standard moe archetypes: the shy, retiring one, the hyperactive loli, etc. Nothing particularly outstanding in terms of design or animation, and from the first episode I’m expecting the usual run of silly hijinks and embarrassing misunderstandings.
Onward? Meh. If you happen to fall squarely into the target audience, the meta-ness of the show is amusing. Otherwise, not much to see.
Tada Banri, just entering law school, makes friends with Yanagisawa Mitsuo on the first day. He discovers Mitsuo came to his school, far from home, in an effort to evade his ex-girlfriend Kaga Kouko, who he describes as a natural disaster. Kouko turns up, having followed him, and ignores him when he tells them they aren’t together anymore. Mitsuo understandably freaks out, but Banri seems to be developing a crush on Kouko.
A bit hard to know what to make of this one. It gets points for not being set in high school and generally being a bit more adult than most romantic comedies, and it’s not at all clear what we’re supposed to think of Kouko’s character. She’s pretty (and she’s in the opening) which tends to make her a protagonist, but also seriously creepy. At least so far, the show hasn’t made it clear which way our sympathies are intended to lie. We’re also briefly introduced to a couple of other characters, which means it’s probably more like an ensemble rom-com than a straight-forward single-couple romance.
Some funny moments in the first episode, but nothing really laugh out loud. Good characters, though, and I’m interested in a few of the ones they show us only a bit of. A lot of my ultimate opinion of the show is going to depend where it comes down on the drama/comedy axis, and what they ultimately do with Kouko. In a pure comedy show, her weird passive-aggressive hyper-stalking could be played purely for laughs, but if they go somewhere more serious with it that quickly gets into pretty uncomfortable territory, and I’d be unhappy if it were either completely approved of or she was just completely insane.
Onward? At least for now. Another few episodes should make it clearer where they’re going with it. No SFF interest here, though.
a.k.a. Yuusha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shuushoku wo Ketsui Shimashita, or “I Couldn’t Become A Hero So I Reluctantly Got A Job” (See Long Title Trend.)
Starts with a brief snippet of Raul and his friends battling monsters in what looks like a standard fantasy world. He’s in training to become a Hero and fight the Dark Lord, but comes home to the news that the Dark Lord has been beaten by someone else, and now the kingdom is at peace. Deprived of his livelihood, he gets a job as a department store clerk. (The kingdom quickly morphs to resemble modern times, except with magic hairdryers, magic televisions, etc.)
I was amused by the concept of this show, so I went in with high hopes, but unfortunately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I figured it would be an interesting fish-out-of-water thing, but by the time it picks up again Raul has shed any traces of his heroic past and is pretty generic. He’s joined at his job by a newcomer who turns out to be the young daughter of the former Dark Lord, and she is the fish-out-of-water, but with somewhat less justification.
It hardly matters, though, because it’s pretty clear we’re basically just here for the cheesecake. The whole cast, aside from Raul, are cute girls, and they all flock around him in the depressingly familiar harem-show fashion. Outfits are improbable even by anime standards, and there’s constant unnecessary low-angle panty shots and boob close-ups, as though the show were filmed by a team of highly trained pervert cameramen. I can tolerate a bit of fanservice in a decent show, but this a lot in a not-terribly-funny comedy.
Onward? No. Pretty clear what this show is about, and I’m not interested.
Django Wexler graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not planning Shadow Campaigns, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts. He is also the author of The Thousand Names.