Winter 2016 – Virtually Every First Episode Retrospective

All of our new shows have turned in their final assignments, and the testing period is over. Who will rise, who will fall, who will entertain us mightily for a few weeks only to slowly sink into a mire of mediocrity and disappointment – all these questions lie ahead, but for now, we can already viciously judge the labor of thousands of animators based on our first impressions of their new creations. I knew from before this season even began that it would be a relatively light one, but with that in mind, the haul here is actually pretty solid. We had a couple truly great premieres, a few more shows that demonstrate either potential or reasonable genre chops, and The Rest. There’s always going to be a The Rest, but as long as anime continues to produce just a couple shows that justify our nostalgic Stockholm Syndrome every season, this unhealthy relationship can keep chugging merrily along. Let’s start right at the top of the list and RUN ‘EM DOWN!

Holy Crap, Is Anime Actually… Good???

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinji: Genroku Rakugo was basically a big steaming slice of everything I want in my anime, from its intimate character focus to its carefully observed animation to its beautiful, purposeful scene-setting to its focus on a theme that’s clearly near and dear to my heart. We very rarely get dramas about adults that actually feel like dramas about adults, and the subject matter here is made absolutely fascinating through a combination of the great character writing (through which we can easily understand the importance of rakugo to the cast) and the wonderfully composed performance scenes. I’d never seen any rakugo before, but that terrific central performance by Yotaro felt satisfying both as a piece of in-show storytelling and as an articulation of how it feels to be under the spotlight, high on adrenaline and giving the best performance you possibly can. Genroku Rakugo pulled off as strong a start as you could hope for, and I dearly hope it stays this strong.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinji

ERASED: In comparison to Genroku Rakugo’s wild execution and impassioned, almost melodramatic storytelling, ERASED is basically all cool precision, a carefully composed thriller that knows it’s good and doesn’t need to make a fuss about it. It has plenty of hooks, but it doesn’t throw them at you; instead, the focus here keeps you intimately tied to the protagonist’s head, so when fantasy or drama happen, they exist in an emotionally felt context. It’s nice to see the Sword Art Online director get such compelling material to work with, and I really like the way he’s handling it so far. ERASED is a bit less directly in my wheelhouse than Genroku Rakugo, but a thriller that ties its narrative and even fantasy variables to the psychology of its protagonist is the kind of thriller I’m definitely going to pay attention to.


I Mean, Two Great Shows Is Fine, But… Wait, These Are Watchable Too?!?!?

Dimension W: It is very, abundantly obvious that Dimension W is gunning directly for that “likes scifi action stuff with plenty of style and maybe some adult characters no biggie” western demographic, what with its Funimation-tethered production and Basically Everything About The Show. And it is equally obvious that that is not a bad thing to be – Cowboy Bebop rocks, more shows that are trying to be Cowboy Bebop is pretty fine with me. Dimension W obviously isn’t Bebop, but it has a strong team behind it and a first episode that promises plenty of fun bounty hunting to come. I’m not thrilled by the creepy fanservice, but everything else about this premiere was a solid ride.

Dimension W

Active Raid: Active Raid was apparently a bit of a divisive one, but I had plenty of fun with its first episode. I like the idea of a scifi police team in a world where the big problems aren’t some awful dystopian government or the need to take the law into your own hands, but simply the everyday quirks of doing work by the book and making sure to file your paperwork. I like that this episode didn’t do too much hand-holding, and had plenty of nice visual storytelling. And I like that the tone here almost approaches slice of life over scifi drama. The show could go anywhere from here, but this first episode does enough to stand out that I’m definitely giving it a couple more.

Active Raid

Dagashi Kashi: Hotaru and her crazy-ass eyes have landed, in a show that actually surprised me with its reserve. I’d expected a show based entirely around the Thirst Queen to be more in-your-face with its gags, and there were plenty of gags here, but there was also a strong, sedate sense of small-town atmosphere. The jokes also didn’t oversell themselves, which is always a big fear when it comes to anime comedies. It looks like Dagashi Kashi might actually be a pretty solid show! Also, thirst.

Dagashi Kashi

BBK/BRNK: It seems like this show exists almost specifically to mock us. “Want a fun action-fantasy show in an interesting world with beautiful backgrounds and great layouts? Sure, we can give you that… IN 3DCG.” Everything outside of this show’s ghoulish CG characters, who move like automatons performing some hideous parody of life, marks it as a show that, while probably unlikely to change your life, would certainly be a fun and legitimately pretty diversion once a week. But jeez, those characters. Those god damn characters. I’ll give it another episode, but they are quite a burden on this one.


And Hell, If You Squint A Little, Even These Shows Seem Not Entirely Terrible

Luck & Logic: Luck & Logic is more or less a default “boy with superpower joins team of characters with superpowers, they fight monsters” production, though little tweaks here and there help it stand out just the tiniest bit. It’s nice that the main character here is actually a former hero, for example – we don’t have to deal with any of the newbie episode-filler material, and it means he doesn’t have to have some unique power, since he’s just already experienced. The show is competent, and if you’re into the genre it’s a solid pick, but that’s about all you’ll see here.

Luck and Logic

Prince of Stride Alternative: Prince of Stride is actually a perfectly reasonable genre entry, it’s just that it also happens to be exactly and no more than that. The jokes aren’t generally funny and the characters seem pretty one-note, so basically your enjoyment here will come down to your combined appreciation for mediocre sports shows and reasonably drawn cute boys. The race that finished this episode was actually pretty fun, but not enough to overcome the show’s other weaknesses. An easy skip.

Prince of Stride

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: On the other hand, while I gave Grimgar’s first episode a lower score than Prince of Stride, it’s actually a show I’m probably going to give another episode. The reasons are pretty simple – while Grimgar’s first episode wasn’t that exciting, it also didn’t demonstrate any real fundamental weaknesses of the show, and its aesthetics were absolutely fantastic. Grimgar’s one more trapped-in-an-MMO show, but it actually carves out a reasonable space in the genre through its very intimate focus on new players. Couple that with the gorgeous backgrounds and character animation, and you’ve got a show that’s earned a second look in spite of its too-slow premiere.


You’d Have To Squint Pretty Hard For These Ones, Though

AOKANA: This is one of those shows that’s best described as “inoffensive,” and better described while walking away. I like the idea of flight as an inherent miracle, and I like the many shots of the heroine just sort of flailing in circles in midair, but that’s about all there is to this one.


Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn: This show is basically a version of Excel Saga tuned to Masamune Shirow’s very specific fetishes. If wacky comedy and crotch switches on androids are your bag, your show has arrived.

Pandora in the Crimson Shell

Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R: A satire of magical girl shows that is so tame it might as well just not be a satire – in fact, I’m pretty sure plenty of happily sincere magical girls have already made all of these jokes. I can’t get mad at a show this harmless, but I’m also not gonna watch it.

Nurse Witch Komugi

Rainbow Days: Another show that’s so polite and harmless I don’t even know what to say to it. It’s a shoujo about some boys who are friends, I guess??? Also it’s clearly been commissioned purely as a bare-bones ad for the manga. So there’s that.

Rainbow Days

Haruchika: Gets the unique honor of being possibly the ugliest show PA Works has ever done (okay, I can’t back that up, but seriously, it’s ugly). Also opens with three characters agreeing with each other that youth is mysterious, which to my theme-skewering eyes seems like a pretty strong indication of where this story’s going to go. I am good at my job.


Girls Beyond the Wasteland: If you didn’t get enough anime about teenagers making visual novels from last year’s insufferable Saekano, here’s a new version of that concept with some of the worst character designs you’re likely to see.

Girls Beyond the Wasteland

Norn9: I liked the part where a guy compared the main girl to a plant. Also the backgrounds were nice. Find your solace where you can!


Myriad Colors Phantom World: KYOANI, WHY??? WHYYYYYY????

Phantom World

Nevermind Anime Is Terrible Again

Schwarzes Marken: Ever wonder what the world would be like if Germany won WWII and then aliens attacked but humans fought back in suits that make boobs look like balloons and also it was maybe a drama about teenagers but actually a really serious drama like where people die and get PTSD and other grim tough adult stuff and then it got turned into an anime well wonder no more.

Schwarzes Marken

Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle: One day, light novel writers will reach into their collective bag of “secretly powerful,” “high school,” “swords,” “boob grope,” “tsundere,” “self-aware,” “prophecy,” “little sister,” and other such variables, and find they have squandered every last one of their tropes. They will look up and stare unblinking at the harsh sun, contemplating the dire prospect of actually having to write a real story. And their tears will salt the barren earth.

Unfortunately, today is not that day.

Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle

Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation: The theme of this anime is “Phantasy Star Online 2 is a game and you should buy it.” I’m sorry I spoiled that for you.

Phantasy Star Online

Divine Gate: Bad anime may fade and be forgotten, but lines like “the rain fills holes in the sidewalk, but can’t fill the holes in my heart” shall never be forgotten. God bless you, terrible, terrible anime.

Divine Gate

28 thoughts on “Winter 2016 – Virtually Every First Episode Retrospective

  1. Why does everyone keep confusing East Germany with Nazi Germany and claiming that Schwarzesmarken is about Nazis winning WW2 and doing juvenile edgy things when it’s about the Nazi-hating communists who took over Germany after WW2 doing juvenile edgy things.

    There is literally nothing in the episode to suggest Nazis won WW2. None of the iconography is Nazi.

    As a Cold War history enthusiast of German descent this offends me even more than the mangled title.

    • Huh, for some reason I had the plot explained to me that way, and I guess that stuck more than the actual episode did. Now that I think back, it was in fact about East v West Germany. Ah well.

  2. So you’ll give the ones in the first 2 categories another episode+ Grimgar? Some thoughts by me follow below.

    ERASED was my favourite premiere. I like me a good thriller and this one had some solid directing. And I think the directing was always the stronger part of SAO.

    I’m not entirely sold on Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinji yet. I felt like the whole episode looked rather sterile and dragged a whole “Be yourself” narrative over 2 episodes. But we’ll see, it got a decent setup for more atleast.

    Prince of Stride is a typical genre piece but I liked the visuals and directing and I’m a fan of sports shows anyway. So an easy continue to episode 2-3 for now atleast.

    I actually like the self-awareness of Phantom World. It’s stupid and if it keeps that level of stupidity comedy I might have a decent time. But if it for whatever reason loses that touch, it’s gone to the garbage.

    • I also enjoyed how ridiculous Phantom World was with its comedy and it actually didn’t overplay it’s jokes which is an usual issue in anime. Even the boob-service was so out there and sometimes creative that I find it more funny than anything.

  3. Will you be watching the first episode of KonoSuba? It’s basically trash, but effectively and expressively animated in the way that Monster Girls was. Simple characters and jokes are elevated a great deal by the art, enough that I’ll give it another episode.

      • Yep! Your review well explains the appeal it had for me. It was a surprisingly good time, and the lead characters escape the feel of everyprotagonists just by being blatantly terrible people. The performances and the range of expressions give them all the personality they really need.

        But maybe that only stands out among this season’s haul.

    • I was a bit disappointed by KonoSuba in that the reviews made me expect it to be funnier than it was. I was hoping for a pure, off the rails screwball comedy but there were only a couple decent jokes and I went in having them spoiled already.

      Also as far as “terrible people comedy” goes, with Osomatsu-san in town, everyone can only fight over fourth place. Because that one’s big enough to take the whole podium to itself.

      • Fair enough, but “pure, off the rails screwball comedy” isn’t my thing either. Osomatsu’s premier didn’t really do it for me, as charming as the effort was. KonoSuba might not deserve any awards (it really doesn’t), but the few jokes it had landed well for me, and I enjoyed the central banter.

        • Osomatsu’s premiere was also wildly different from the rest of the show really. Anyway it’s a very experimental show in general, so you just can’t expect it to stay “the same” – except for its irreverence. I’d say the premiere was my least favourite episode yet, though I laughed at it. After that the comedy got way less based on random references – rather, it’s satire, meanness, or pure nonsense. The series managed to be dark at times, and it also had an extremely well made episode about a rather touching story on suicide and personal connections. It also managed to have all its cast members gender-bent at some point, feature an entirely unspoken segment about an adventure in the Canadian wilds, implied gay sex in a Christmas special, and a wonderfully dark episode featuring parents holding an interview to select which of their sons they would allow to stay at home freeloading and which ones would have to go and find a job. The job market and some of the hypocrisies involved in familiar and social relations are some of its favourite targets in fact. Try checking it out again, that first episode really left a wrong impression imho.

    • KonoSuba’s only worth is if you’ve waded through all those shitty Reincarnation SI stories that saturates the Japanese “fictionpress” sites. I have, so I found it to be pretty funny, but others? Maybe not so much. It has gorgeous animation, I’ll give you that, but for me it only just made me feel “I like this series and all, but why must so much effort be put into this series instead of others, more narratively compelling series?”

      As for the jokes, I like them, but I know they’re one note. It all basically boils down subverting Reincarnation SI cliches in a such a way that it makes the protagonist feels miserable. Personally, I feel that it would have more worth if it plays it straight, with the protagonist’s power be as painfully average as he is, and put him with that temp party he worked pretty well with. That would be more interesting to many than RPG/Reincarnation Subversion Jokes all the time.

  4. Hey, at least Miriam Hollers Phantom Menace is starting out at ‘obvious garbage’, and won’t be raising then destroying hope like KnK or Chuuni HeartRENd.

  5. I was hoping Grimgar would be a normal fantasy show a la Lodoss, but the beautiful visuals allow me to look past the mmo and fanservice shenanigans.

    BUT from what I’ve heard, drama/angst will show itself around episode 3. I love fantasy so I am hopeful. I am also often let down. Fucking chinese cartoons

  6. I like the tamer than expected setting of Dagashi Kashi but the jokes all fell flat to me.. not sure I’m going to continue it.

    and yea those performances in Genroku Rakugo! Thoses were amazing really like that they showed all of it to us instead of skipping like most shows usually do. Really enjoying it so far.

    I don’t really get the hate for Phantom World aside from the fan service, it was pretty alright imo, not something worth watching for me but it seems actually way more competent than most shows in this genre.

    Really liked Erased and dimension W though I found some direction choices to be odd in the later? Idk parts felt weird while watching it.

  7. Both Shouwa and Genroku are periods, so the show’s “shortened title”, as per its Twitter, should be Rakugo Shinju.

    That nitpick aside, it’s highly entertaining and sad to me to read the paragraph about the show and about the good shows in general, and go, “Why are we watching anime? These things done well are always rare, but they’re rarer in anime than western dramas,” I mean:

    We very rarely get dramas about adults that actually feel like dramas about adults, and the subject matter here is made absolutely fascinating through a combination of the great character writing (through which we can easily understand the importance of rakugo to the cast) and the wonderfully composed performance scenes.

    This is indeed rarer than hen’s teeth in anime, but only uncommon in live-action media. Rakugo aside. It truly must be Stockholm Syndrome. And as a fellow kidnappee, I too am very happy our captors send in such delicious morsels now and then.

    Dimension W’s fanservice is sort of what we have to live in. I’m sort of amazed ERASED managed to evade it thus far. Rakugo Shinju is Josei, so it’s sort of expected, but Seinen or “seinen” shows almost never manage to avoid it, unless they’re slice of life stuff like Barakamon. I miss Barakamon.

    Aokana’s and the rest of these entries’ ” This is one of those shows that’s best described as “inoffensive,” and better described while walking away.”

    That was how I originally described Saekano, if the best you can say about a show is that it’s “not terrible”, then you’ve got better things with your time, and with Saekano, it was more me trying to say it’s not terrible while actually thinking it is, hue.

    Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle.

    No, I think they’ll eye the dessicated remains left in the bag, then toss them on the table again. I mean, that’s where we are and how we reached Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle. Hue.

  8. Yeah, Dagashi Kashi had good aesthetics but it was deeply unfunny to me: the jokes never leave the territory of bland ‘anime humor.’

    As far as Phantom World goes, I know it’s trash but it has such an attractive look that I can’t hate it, period.

    Also, do you plan on watching any of the shorts, e.g., Koyomimonogatari, Sekkou Boys, Ojisan to Marshmallow, etc.? Outside of ERASED and Rakugo shorts seem to be the highlight this season.

  9. I found Erased to be too dry for my taste, with the wonky character animation and Log Horizon-like backgrounds making the whole thing feel much too mundane, not helped by the weak sound composition and lack of strong hooks.

    I also was quite turned off by divine gate, and have no interest in delving further into it. Dimension W oozes style, with the main character sporting Samurai Champloo-style build, an outfit that looks exactly like those in Star Wars and weapons like those found in Darker than Black. Thankfully, the CGI was rendered well enough and it had a unique, vibrant cyber aesthetic, so it didn’t feel entirely derivative.

    Grimgar is quite possibly the most effortlessly beautiful series I’ve seen in ages, with stunningly stylised backgrounds and fluid, pronounced character movements. Sadly, the dialogue and characters themselves were very run-of-the-mill, with the usual sex jokes, runty attitude and Yuri baiting found in bad anime.

    Shirayuki is finally establishing more complex, politically charged plot lines, which should make for a nice change to the sometimes too airy story from the first season.

  10. I don’t like Active Raid’s character designs. Having each sex designed distinctly separate with the shiny and blushing for the girls, and random handsome hair for the boys, makes the whole aesthetic feel fake and cheap. Like the show cares more about trying to appeal to different fanbases than making their show look good and coherent.

    I feel like the show if going to be a worse looking Patlabor.

  11. I more or less agree, although I feel a little more comfortable with BBK/BRNK that most people – or at the very least have I higher tolerance for it. Watching the show was almost like reading a fantasy graphic novel what with the tasteful backgrounds and the stylish use of “mist” effects, which gave a lot of depth and expanse to the design sets… and then there’s the awkward 3DCGI modeling. There are those scenes where it works, but the majority where it feels wrong. Expelled from paradise is the barometer these days for this type of thing, but even that movie had its misgivings. I’m sticking for the ride, though.

    Rakugo Shinjuu wasn’t on my original list, but after reading your review and watching it for myself, man was it great. The story had enough heft to keep me interested, albeit somewhat predictable, but it’s not a mystery show so it didn’t matter that some of the events would be unlikely in reality (i.e. I half-convinced myself that there should be any reason to welcome Yutaro back into the household after he did THAT, but hey he’s the protagonist and the story needs to go on).

    Is it just me, or did I like the fan service in Dimension W? It’s obviously catering to certain fetishes, but it’s not blatantly selling it, either. Oh well. Girls and cars and kung fu and a happi.

    • It’s funny – in spite of the seriousness of Yotaro’s screwup, I actually found myself siding way more with him than his master in the wake of that mistake. So far I’ve found his master to be compelling but not sympathetic – I’d say the fact that different viewers can already sympathize with different perspectives is probably a sign in the show’s favor!

  12. Was Ajin delayed? I know its CGI and therefore tainted by original sin, but the manga is phenomenal and I was really looking forward to it. I only ask because every anime reviewer seems to be ignoring its very existence.

  13. My opinion agrees with you on most of them. I particularly love your comments on Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle and Divine Gate.

    But I am not so optimistic about Active Raid. It seems to me just another Robot Cop story. We have already had a plenty of them. Active Raid doesn’t look like it is going to add anything new to this subgenre.

    Btw, Phantom World is definitely terrible. Not just because of its fanservice. The story is simply too typical and unsurprising.

  14. Fantastic (and pretty funny) overview of the season. I would agree with pretty much all of this. Rakugo was my favorite so far and ah Divine Gate is awful.
    I disagree most with active Raid, but I guess the show does have a wide variety of reactions. (What was with the random bondage scene?)
    I really liked Grimgar and Dimension W. I have a feeling they are going to get better and better in the weeks to come.

  15. Dammit, this looks like a pretty good season, but here I am beeing stuck writing papers for university and (slowly) finishing already started shows. Well, I guess when that ordeal is over a bit of anime binging is in order.

    Although everyone seems to agree that “Schwarzes Marken” is shit and the name is extremely jarring to me as a native German speaker I still have to give at least the first episode a try. A terribad mecha show set in the GDR complete with what I expect to be the hilarious Japanese notion of German naming conventions is too “unique” to not have at least a short glance at it.
    Btw. how could you think this was supposed to be Nazi-Germany? It even says “German Democratic Republic” in the screenshot you put up 😛

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