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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.