I think we’re gonna make it through, everybody. I was a little worried for a while there, as the first half of this season’s premieres made it seem like I wouldn’t hit even half a dozen potential shows. But the second half rallied with a few very necessary surprises, and so now I’m at the point where it should take me a good three or four weeks to determine that anime is terrible once again.
The season’s highlights slot into a solid variety of genres, leaving us fans with at least one thing to enjoy regardless of whether we’re fans of drama, slice of life, idols, or Toonami, the four core pillars of anime. Last season’s lack of a strong character-focused show will hopefully be made up for by this season’s Orange and ReLIFE, and it’s great to see that Sunshine actually seems to be improving on the Love Live formula. As usual, I’ll be breaking this season’s premieres down into flawlessly objective tiers for your perusal, and including links to all of my longer reviews over at ANN. We’ve got a whole lot of anime to fight through, so let’s get right to business and RUN THIS SEASON DOWN.
Anime: A Hobby To Be Proud Of
Thunderbolt Fantasy: Yep, turns out my favorite new piece of Japanese animation was actually an episode of Taiwanese puppet theater. I’ll admit that at least some of my enjoyment of this episode comes down to my overall delight with the fundamentals of this crazy wuxia-puppet medium, but “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure as written by Urobuchi and relayed through exploding puppets” is a marvelous concept, and Thunderbolt Fantasy is an incredibly fun time. There’s an element of camp to the show’s charm, but it’s also legitimately thrilling and unrelentingly endearing. I agree with Urobuchi; anime is last season, puppets are forever.
sweetness & lightning: Wait I take that back anime is great too. sweetness & lightning’s first episode actually offered even more than I was hoping for – it succeeded as a charming story about kids and parents (in the vein of Yotsuba/Barakamon/Bunny Drop/etc), but it also had a well-earned melancholy edge that gave a real emotional tug to its finale. The animation is excellent, the kid’s voice actor is fantastic, and the relationship between father and daughter already feels very real. I don’t know if sweetness & lightning will be the best show of the season, but it seems pretty safe to predict it’ll be the most likable one.
Love Live! Sunshine!!: Sunshine has some big shoes to fill, but this first episode actually felt like an improvement on the original series. The show still has the sense of energy, comedic timing, and holistic anime storytelling that makes it so distinctive (there are very few shows that can match the way Love Live simultaneously builds its jokes out of dialogue, animation, direction, and sound design), but the winking that’s almost implicit in sequels to mega-franchises feels perfectly appropriate here, and Chika possesses an early texture that actually improves on Honoka’s spirit. Love Live is a campy anime musical, and Sunshine is all that and then some. Few shows nail Fun as consistently as this.
Orange: Orange comes blessed with some highly regarded source material and an excellent director, and so far, it’s living up to that pedigree. The show is depicting the halcyon days of high school from a perspective explicitly underlined with nostalgia and regret, so I have no doubt these bright-eyed kids are going to suffer some terrible shit. Orange is so far nailing its atmosphere and bringing its cast to life with strong incidental conversations, evoking the fleeting experience of high school in a tangible temporal sense. It may be the show with the highest ceiling of the summer, so I hope it follows through.
Mob Psycho 100: Mob is the big action question mark of the summer, and its first episode was a psychedelic ride and then some. I actually wasn’t a big fan of One Punch Man, ONE’s previous adaptation, but I’m definitely a fan of this director – Yuzuru Tachikawa was the director and original creator for Death Parade, so I feel like this one’s in good hands. Action shows often lack the emotional touch that tends to really engage me with a series, and I’m not sure this one will get there, but it’s already got some wonderful art design merits on its side.
91 Days: If you’re looking for a thriller that feels a little bit closer to home, 91 Days is likely the pick for you. Telling a sordid prohibition-era revenge story, it’s this season’s polished western-style drama, full of guns and knives and crazy eyes. As far as those shows go, 91 Days’ storytelling seems quite confident, and its characters already possess a reasonable rapport. This category often can’t maintain its tone and simultaneously tell an engaging story for a full season (Joker Game, Gangsta, etc), but 91 Days is definitely off to the right start.
And Hey, These Are Pretty Great Too
Planetarian: Oh no I really enjoyed a KEY show what has happened to my brand. Planetarian certainly falls into KEY’s usual “sad waif girl” fare, but the storytelling here is quite strong – I like how the post-apocalyptic background really does stay in the background, and I like how so much of Yumemi’s dialogue doubles as both believable customer service programming and the pleas of a very lonely person. On top of that, the fact that this is slated for a mere five episodes means odds are high this will tell a legitimately focused story, with none of the lukewarm exposition or questionable bonding sequences that often sink these scifi tragedies. Planetarian knows exactly what it’s about.
ReLIFE: It’s a little awkward that Orange and ReLIFE are airing in the same season, given the similarities in their framing and premise, but so far ReLIFE is doing a fine job of justifying its own existence. The dialogue and Arata’s internal voice are both sharp enough to carry the day – the show’s aesthetics aren’t the best, but Arata feels like a real person in an unbelievable but thematically rich situation. That’s a very good platform to start from.
Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars: This season’s actually a bit low on giant robots and fluid action scenes, which makes it a little funny to me that the season’s premiere vehicle for both is a show about sisterly love marked with yuri undertones – both things that are likely to scare off many of the dedicated action fans. But personally, I’m actually kinda excited to see this classic scifi template applied to a pair of sisters, and if that doesn’t deter you, the action so far really is pretty fantastic. This one’s also an anime-original, so there’s definitely a reasonably high ceiling here.
DAYS: DAYS looks to be the season’s top conventional sports pick (as opposed to Battery, which I am fully expecting to join to the high quality character drama group), featuring a likable cast and some crisp aesthetic execution. The show hasn’t stepped too far outside of genre fundamentals so far, but Tsukushi and Kazama have a solid dynamic, and fundamentals executed well are nothing to scoff at. An easy genre pick.
Amanchu!: And Amanchu! rounds out the high-tier genre picks, offering soothing ocean waves and very silly faces from the same core team that created the beloved Aria. This one was a bit too focused on pleasant charm over comedy for my tastes, but it’s solidly executed all around, likely to please anyone looking for a very mellow slice of life.
Alright Maybe This Is A Bit Too Much Anime
Cheer Boys!!: Cheer Boys sits at the top of the “watchable, but why would you” category by virtue of the solid relationship between its two leads. Haruki and Kazuma both feel like real people, and that’s more than you can say for a lot of anime protagonists. If that plus a male cheerleading sports shell seem like a good time, Cheer Boys is definitely worth a look – otherwise, the show’s very middling aesthetics make it a reasonable skip.
This Art Club Has A Problem!: Art Club Problems has the opposite problem of Cheer Boys, in that its execution is excellent, but its actual material is garbage. The show isn’t funny at all, but it’s directed and animated by much of the team responsible for Oregairu Zoku, meaning its unearned emotional moments are given great visual nuance and dramatic import. It’s a weird thing to see!
Active Raid S2: Active Raid’s first season was a limp puddle of a police procedural, and this first episode was a limp puddle of a premiere. This show is extremely good at making robotic supersuits seem incredibly tedious, but its other talents are fairly limited.
The Morose Mononokean: The Morose Mononokean is the definition of harmless genre fare – there’s nothing about its yokai-hunting apprentice premise or execution that encourage further investigation, but also nothing to get particularly mad about. It just very much exists.
Alderamin on the Sky: Alderamin is a pretty middling “ragtag group of strangers go on a fantasy adventure” show, and that’s basically all there is to it. Like Mononokean, there is little that either lifts or drags down Alderamin; it is a rote genre exercise from top to bottom.
New Game!: You know, now that I lay them all out like this, it seems “inoffensive but utterly unexceptional genre entry” is something of a theme for this season. New Game! falls in the classic Doga Kobo “cute girls hanging out with fun animation” wheelhouse, but like those above, it doesn’t do much of anything to distinguish itself narrative-wise, and its animation is actually a bit lacking by Doga Kobo standards. Fine for people looking for this season’s That Show, but nothing much beyond that.
Qualidea Code: Whew, finally something that breaks the streak! Qualidea Code actually is somewhat exemplary within its genre, but since its genre is “crappy light novel-style magical school shows,” its best-in-class performance puts it slightly below other genres twiddling their thumbs. Unlikable protagonist, cute girls, vaguely defined powers, middling execution. You know the drill.
I Have Made Some Poor Career Choices
Puzzle & Dragons X: Coming up next, we’ve got a pair of overt children’s shows, which are noteworthy mostly for their consistently reasonable execution and lack of late-night fetish nonsense. Puzzle & Dragons actually has one of the best-animated action scenes of these premieres, but if you just watch the first couple minutes, you’ll have caught basically everything this show has to offer. Marvel at some dragons fighting tanks and then be on your way.
Time Travel Girl: And filling out the children’s show bracket, here’s Time Travel Girl to remind you of the days when television came with a healthy slice of edutainment. Time Travel Girl is pleasant and harmless and features a bunch of historical dudes prettied up for today’s discerning audience. It’s probably not what you’re looking for.
Scar-red Rider XechS: Down just below the children’s shows, we finally run into anime with unfathomable capitalization and inscrutable appeal. Well, Scar-red Rider XechS’ appeal is actually perfectly scrutable – cute boys doing super sentai things. I just wish it were a little better at being that.
Tales of Zestiria X: Zestiria’s premiere demonstrates ufotable doing what they do best: perfectly evoking the sensation of watching someone else’s Let’s Play of a AAA action game. Go get ’em, heroes. You smack those bad guys with your powerful digital effects.
Momokuri: Slotting in just below the misguided action shows, we have the comedies that aren’t funny category. Here is a comedy about a new couple that isn’t funny.
Handa-kun: And here is a comedy about an insecure high schooler that isn’t funny, notable for being based on a spinoff of a show that actually is funny.
Please, I Have A Family
B-PROJECT: This season’s actually incredibly heavy on shows with overt cute boy appeal, but the male idol shows unfortunately got the short end of that stick. B-PROJECT is vaguely watchable and that’s about it.
TSUKIUTA: Tsukiuta was too flavorless to hurt me, which is more than I can say about some of the anime down below.
Taboo Tattoo: Taboo Tattoo is this season’s show that is overtly about the Dark Flame Master. If you too possess a curse of unending torment, perhaps his dark heart will echo your suffering.
SERVAMP: If shows like Akame ga Kill and Deadman Wonderland really get your gizzard, here is a show that exists.
First Love Monster: This is a show about a high school girl who wants to have sex with an elementary school boy, and we still have an entire category to go.
Only Death Can Purge The Sin
Ange Vierge: Ange Vierge gets the top of this category only because the idea of a society where everyone must conduct all business naked and in the bath is extremely funny to me. I want to watch the show about this universe’s bakers and accountants.
hitorinoshita: Not content to merely be about zombies, hitorinoshita is determined to actively evoke the sensation of being a zombie, as your body is suffused with lethargy and your brain turns to mush. A stirring piece of high-concept art.
Rewrite: While Rewrite is indeed boring and poorly written in that classic visual novel way, what really makes this one stand out is its punishing double-length premiere. This season’s torture has really outdone itself.
Hybrid x Heart: The nation’s horny souls deserve a better class of porn than this.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K: Congratulations Saiki K, you did it. You are worse than the show that is embarrassing even by porn standards.
AND THAT IS ALL OF IT. I am done. This is the end. Good luck, good bye, good night.