Holy shit I’m alive. Having dragged myself through one more gauntlet of endless, senseless, pitiless animation, I can finally say I’ve survived another one. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say this was the least psychologically damaging crop of debuts I’ve had to weather since joining the preview guide. Sure, there were bad shows – there are always plenty of bad shows – but the number of true spirit-breakers was mercifully low, and a surprising number of shows were competently executed even if they didn’t appeal to me. Anime’s current production model may be an unsustainable trainwreck of manic overproduction, but the bastards didn’t get me this time!
And so, having sat through all those many, many hours of animation, it’s time to send my battle report back to the folks back home. As usual, I’ll be running down every single show I watched in general order of how impressed I was, grouping things into categories based on how much they hurt me. Also as usual, you can check out the whole list of reviews over at ANN, or click on any of the titles below to go to that show’s specific reviews (I’m Nick Creamer over there). There’s a ton of very reasonable anime this season, so let’s get right to it!
Anime to Heal the Sick and Feed the Hungry
Sound! Euphonium was easily one of the best shows of 2015, and its sequel actually seems to be improving on the original. The same thoughtful character writing, beautiful direction, and terrific character acting that made the first show great are all present here, but the show’s mastery of tone and reliance on naturalistic dialogue seems even more pronounced. This two-part premiere felt like a beautiful short film, an understated, self-contained little world of awkward flirting and frustration and communal awe. From its precise articulation of busy summer days to the power of standout moments like those final fireworks, this premiere was packed with as many highlights as a more conventional full series. Sound! Euphonium is back.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this one – I’d heard good things about the source material, but I couldn’t guess how SHAFT’s house style would match with more understated, almost slice-of-life material. But this episode left me breathless from start to finish – from its poignant visual articulation of depression to its precise and beautiful sound design, every element of this show drew me into its protagonist’s unhappy world. All of the imagery of this episode felt confident and purposeful, elevating a character story that already seemed very strong. March comes in like a lion is easily my favorite new show of the season.
Yuri!!! On ICE certainly earns that enthusiastic title. The latest project by Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko and Hatchin, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, etc), its debut offered some beautiful ice skating performances to bookend its charming story of ambition, failure, and the relationships we share with our heroes. Strong animation, beautiful backgrounds, and an immediately engaging cast give Yuri a stellar initial platform for the sports drama to come. From Yamamoto’s steady reliance on striking, minimalist color palettes to the ways this episode conveyed Yuri’s defeated headspace, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Anime That’s Maybe Not Transcendent But Still Pretty Great
Flip Flappers was the Great Sakuga Hope of this season, being an anime-original project directed by a veteran animation star and supported by a bunch of his buddies. So far, the animation has indeed been pretty great, but that’s actually played second fiddle to Flip Flappers’ wonderful fairy tale world. The show has been very light on overt plot or exposition, but it’s filled that absence with beautiful scenery and an exuberant spirit of adventure. Flip Flappers could easily fall apart, but so far it’s succeeding on spirit alone.
Izetta is perhaps the easiest general-purpose recommendation of the season. It’s a fast-paced thriller in an alternate magic-infused WWII setting, starring a badass princess and her witch defender. Solid writing, intelligent direction, and great action setpieces make Izetta a sturdy tentpole of the season so far.
Drifters is extremely not my scene, but I can graciously acknowledge its success at exactly what it wants to be. Combining the original creator of Hellsing with the director of JoJo’s first three seasons, it offers bloody action spectacle in an extremely well-directed package. The show’s aesthetics are very strong, so unless it’s dragged down by its bad sense of humor, it’ll stand as the requisite gore repository this season.
Sturdy Staples For All Your Genre Needs
Magical Girl Raising Project is still a very open question, but its first episode at least dispelled some of my initial fears about the concept. Most importantly, the show’s initial magical girl setup already feels well-constructed, meaning there’s some grounding here for when everything goes battle royale-shaped. I’m inherently a little suspicious of “magical girls, but dark,” but Magical Girl Raising Project has demonstrated it can respect the genre played straight, which is a good place to start.
Touken Ranbu certainly has a niche appeal, but if you’re looking for cute boys that are also famous swords, you could theoretically do a lot worse. The show’s designs are appealing, animation is quite solid (Dogakobo know what they’re about), and premise actually somewhat compelling. If you’re looking for cute boy slice of life with a dash of action, it’s ready to please.
Once in a great while, a fanservice show is so confident and ridiculous and genuinely funny that it actually becomes kind of great. Last summer featured two such shows in Monster Musume and Prison School, and this year we’ve got KEIJO!!!!!!! Keijo approaches its absurd butt-based battles with such fiery shounen conviction that it’s hard not to get carried away. It’s gratuitous and trashy and absurd, but it’s also very very funny.
Magic of Stella doesn’t have the aesthetic chops to stand among the top tier of slice of life shows, but it’s still a solid all-around effort. It’s got a likable cast with diverse personalities, a reasonable dramatic hook in its game-making premise, and middling but never disappointing visual execution. It’s a role player – if you’re looking for a slice of life in particular, it hits the genre’s fundamentals perfectly well.
Matoi is pretty much equal parts good and bad, with the good coming from the strong designs and decent relationship work, and the bad covering the fact that its first episode was a disjointed mess. There are good ingredients here, but Matoi still has a lot of work to do to become an actually compelling magical girl show – but hey, that’s still better than a lot of first episodes!
Slotting in just above the borderline of this bracket, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is essentially just like Keijo, except with a bit more character focus and a heavy lean towards slice of life instead of fanservice. The fanservice actually feels obtrusive in this one, but it does seem like the show will take its characters and ping pong matches fairly seriously.
Genre Shows That Were Left In The Fridge Too Long
And falling just below the garbage line, Kiss Him, Not Me managed to somewhat charm me in spite of its fundamentally terrible premise. This first episode was heavy on gross crap, from its portrayal of the heroine’s “fat self” to its fundamental focus on fetishizing real people, but its protagonist Mae was such an endearingly hopeless fujoshi that she kind of won me over. I won’t be watching this, but I’ll happily create a folder for Mae’s creepy expressions.
Bloodivores’ first episode surprised me by being more of a crime thriller than a generic shounen battler, but it still wasn’t a good episode. If you’re in the market for mediocre action shows, I’m guessing this one will fit that bill. Also its name is friggin’ Bloodivores.
DREAM FESTIVAL is a benign but utterly unremarkable idol show about cute boys who dance in the clothes you pick for them. Unless this is your genre and you like generic things, it is probably a skip.
ALL OUT!! is DREAM FESTIVAL except sports – an unremarkable and somewhat tedious example of its genre that clearly doesn’t earn its all-caps title. All-caps titles used to mean something, goddamnit. Is KEIJO!!!!!!!! the only show willing to earn its caps around here?!?
Shows That Are Technically Watchable, In An Academic Sense
Magic-Kyun! Renaissance is an entirely generic reverse harem, and there are still like ten shows left on this list.
NANBAKA is the perfect comedy for that anime fan who used to glomp people at conventions until they got blacklisted by every major city.
Lostorage incited WIXOSS is generic and visually anemic and there are still maybe half a dozen shows on this list.
I Tire. Please. Let Me Rest
Poco’s Udon World is the latest version of adult-child shows like Sweetness & Lightning and Barakamon, except this one has a child with no personality and a writer with no understanding of drama.
Tiger Mask is an excellent demonstration of how old-school anime fans are liars, and things weren’t actually better back in the day. Witness Tiger Mask’s simplistic storytelling and non-existent animation, and marvel at the nostalgia and hubris of fandom.
Brave Witches is almost certainly the best show about girls wearing no pants who sprout animal tails and wear propeller-boots modeled on WWII planes this season.
If you ever wanted to see Mozart reimagined as a pink-hatted bishounen, this show somehow exists for you.
A Place From Which No Light Can Escape
Trickster opens with a teenage boy monologuing about how life is pain and death is truth and only gets more fascinating from there.
You know how in The Golden Compass there are those kids who’ve had the connection with their soul animals cut off and they just kind of sit there listlessly staring into the distance well Long Riders is that if it were a slice of life show.
Monster Hunter possesses all of the passion and charisma you’d expect from a show designed to sell a mobile videogame to children.
Occultic;Nine is noteworthy for possessing storytelling so utterly without merit that it counterbalances some of the best animation of any episode this season.
AND THAT IS ALL OF THEM THAT IS IT. I am done. These sinners can hurt me no more. At last, I can cut off everything but the top half-dozen and finally be free.