New season! Action and excitement and maybe a handful of new shows worth watching. I’m actually doing distressingly well relative to my own preview – every show I was anticipating has proven watchable so far, and we’re not even a third of the way through the shows I listed. Let’s run down the new highlights.
Noragami 1: My first surprise pickup of the season. Everything about this show screamed “generic shounen adaptation,” but Bones have apparently worked some secret magic, because the end result is pretty stellar. Solid, fairly dynamic direction, beautiful color work, and extremely crisp animation make Noragami a general pleasure to look at, along with distinctive touches like the colorful monster designs. And it’s not just a spectacle, either – the plot seems fairly typical (for whatever that’s worth), but the central characters have solid chemistry, and both the writing and comedic timing are solid. So far, Noragami seems like a genre piece done professionally and with some actual personality – robust popcorn that leaves last season’s offerings in the dust.
Nobunagun 1: Less impressed here. I’m a fan of the weird, kind of abrasive, almost off-putting color design, but nothing about the actual narrative or characters grabbed me at all. This seemed about as by-the-books as possible, hewing close to action genre conventions without offering any distinctive writing or ideas to hook me. Not my kind of show.
D-Frag! 1: Loud noises sure are funny, huh? Silly faces, too. Made it about six minutes into this one.
SoniAni 1: Morbid curiosity led me to start this, wondering what a show overtly designed as a platform for a merchandising initiative could possibly be about. Morbid curiosity lasted me about three and a half minutes.
The Pilot’s Love Song 1: Back on solid ground! This was a very respectable first episode – the characters bounced well off each other, their dialogue felt natural while also providing context both for their relationships and the larger world, and the last third of it was textbook romance directed with grace and distinction. I really, really hope the shakycam of the opening scene was a one-time thing, and this could easily end up being an insubstantial show, but I like the base ingredients and the way they were used here. Kal’s anger seemed both real as a flaw and justified given what we already know, the world seems interesting (hopefully it isn’t just a nice background for high school shenanigans), and the pacing so far seems smart and confident. I’m on board.
Space Dandy 1: Probably the best first episode so far, though less stunning than some may have hoped. Divorced from wild expectations, I think this was a solid premier – the first half was somewhat inconsistent, but the second half was both hysterical and a visual feast. I like how most of the best jokes (watching the dub, incidentally, which I think works better both for tone and humor) are kind of throwaway gags, either in vocal delivery or visual details – overplaying jokes is one of my biggest problems with most comedies, and Dandy almost never did that. Stuff like Dandy gallantly spinning his blaster and then missing his holster entirely (which neither character actually mentions), or Dandy’s upbeat way of agreeing with any statements of impending doom, really worked for me (though some of the overt jokes were great too – “I can’t read circle!”, etc). And that design/animation setpiece at the end… gorgeous stuff. That felt like Yuasa stuff to me – animation created for the sheer joy of it, with the flow of the visual spectacle and array of colors acting like its own kind of beautiful music. If that caliber of visual spectacle is something we can actually come to expect, we could have a real monster on our hands.
Log Horizon 13/14: I’ve been kinda down on Log Horizon for a while now, but these last two episodes together comprise a pretty heroic turnaround, once again returning it to “yeah, that show’s pretty alright” status. First, episode 13 introduced the first character I actually really like – the Princess, whose blunt, antisocial attitude, distrust of basically everyone, and often-frantic inner monologue pretty much immediately made her more fun and engaging than anyone else we’ve met. The first word I’d use to describe most characters in this series is “pleasant,” and that’s pretty close to the worst word you want to have describing the cast of anything – the Princess is resolutely not pleasant, and I’m hoping her loud presence will actually inject some life into the rest of the cast. I don’t want all their meetings to be civil discussions of that week’s exposition – I want banter! I want life!
And then the next episode came along, focusing on what has always been this show’s greatest strength – the compelling ways it elaborates on its world. Seeing the various stages of Elder Tale’s development, as well as the systems it encompasses, from the perspective of a person who’s lived with those choices as their objective reality is a brilliant, fascinating concept. I love how the adventurers’ victories are actually treated and critiqued as history and lore, I love how the People of the Land’s natural inclination is to see what parallels can be drawn between the demi-humans and the adventurers, I love how HP and MP are so effortlessly translated to body and consciousness. Pretty much every idea presented in this episode was smart and intriguing, with every answered worldbuilding question opening ten narrative doors that all beg for exploration. This wasn’t Log Horizon at its best – this was a better show than Log Horizon has been, and I’m hoping this is the show we’ll be watching going forward.
So yeah, some solid premiers plus Log Horizon bounded from near-drop status to active anticipation. Good for Log Horizon!
Forgot one! And it’s a shameful one to forget, too!
Hunter x Hunter 111: Gorgeous episode of Hunter x Hunter. The entire episode comprised maybe a minute of actual time, and yet it still felt tense and captivating from start to finish. Though some episodes have clearly rode on the fantastic source material (which remains great – the plotting in HxH is more creative and more human than almost anything else out there), this one was basically a showcase in how goddamn good Madhouse are at constructing a satisfying episode of television. First of all, the formal structure of the episode was great – beginning and ending with our main team’s countdown to the invasion, each of these scenes bookended one of the demonstrations of Netero’s power, with the flashback to his training acting as the heart of the episode. This unique structure was basically turned into one long held breath due to the episode’s tense pacing, excellent sound design, and smart decision to cast all the action from Pitou’s perspective. And then it was just scattered with gorgeous little moments, with the episode’s central visual setpiece, the golden dragon scattering over the compound, acting as a wonderful visual demonstration of the powers on display. This episode was a stunner, and this arc has been so good that that doesn’t even begin to come as a surprise.