Hello all, and welcome to the season premiere retrospective! As usual, this is the post where I, having watched nearly every single premiere for ANN’s preview guide, now break them all down into categories based on their relative watchability. It’s looking like this will be the season of comfy, what with the majority of my passing-grade selections all fitting into different shades of slice of life, but there’s still plenty of anime to enjoy even under the iron gaze of the moe police. I’ll be offering increasingly brief summations of my thoughts on the various shows right here, but if you want more exhaustive thoughts, I have a review of basically all of these shows available over at ANN – just click through the title and search for Nick Creamer’s thoughts, that asshole is me. You can also just check out the overall list if you’d like, which is available right here. And with all that preamble covered, let’s not waste any more time in getting to the good stuff. Here’s my Winter 2018 Virtually Every First Episode Retrospective!
Oh wait, one last note. Since this is apparently the season of fuwa fuwa, all of my show tiers will this time be represented by their most appropriate Chaika gifs. ALRIGHT LET’S GO!
I’ve been waiting on director Atsuko Ishizuka’s breakout for a while, and I think this may be it. Tempering her usual love of delirious colors with a welcome sense of restraint, A Place Further Than the Universe’s first episode establishes a gorgeous platform for a stirring coming of age narrative. From its lively character acting to its arresting direction and sharp reflections on the feeling of watching your life drift past, Universe’s premiere was a standout from top to bottom. I’m already very invested in this cast, and can only hope the show’s production continues to illustrate their story with this much grace.
After the Rain’s premiere turns a potentially thorny premise into a beautiful evocation of adolescent malaise, perfectly capturing the sensation of waiting inside for the rain to stop. The show is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and that aside, its mastery of tone and expression is so strong that it’s easy to follow heroine Akira’s thoughts even without words. Whether this show goes in an overtly romantic direction or not, this first episode demonstrates a team who have seized on the fundamental humanity of Akira’s melancholy existence, and who know exactly how to bring the lived experience of her daily routine to life.
Kyoto Animation’s long-awaited new drama is just as visually arresting as you’d expect, marrying impossibly detailed character designs to consistently purposeful character acting and some of the most aggressive post-processing embellishments the studio has applied yet. The story so far is a bit less solid than the execution, as this episode was mostly just setup, but that setup successfully built up an intriguing alternate early-20th-century fantasy world, and established a fine platform for Violet’s future adventures. Violet’s own character feels somewhat archetypal so far, but with all the stage-setting already handled, I’m hoping the show will now be able to move into some subtler material that takes even greater advantage of Kyoto Animation’s visual powers. There’s a lot to look forward to here!
While A Place Further Than the Universe basically just lands in “slice of life” as a technicality, Laid-Back Camp is comfiness from top to bottom, a wonderfully relaxing way of enjoying camping without all the inconvenient camping. This premiere’s early minutes offer a uniquely all-encompassing view of a cozy solo camping trip, letting us directly experience the methodical satisfaction of pitching a camp, building a fire, and simply luxuriating in the great outdoors. Laid-Back Camp could go anywhere from here, but its first episode is an exceedingly strong statement of purpose.
While Laid-Back Camp focuses on the joys of getting away from home, Mitsuboshi Colors champions the fun that can be found even in your own neighborhood. Colors’ conceit is essentially “what if three little girls who are all different versions of Yotsuba terrorized a local park.” It doesn’t take long to get from that premise to the three girls brandishing a rocket launcher at a local police officer, condemning him for having finally become too darn corrupt. These girls are incredibly charming gremlins, and I’m very on board to see where their adventures lead.
Look, I swear I didn’t intentionally stock all five of the top slots with low-key dramas and slice of lifes on purpose, that’s just how this season played out. Anyway, Darling in the Franxx offers our first actually roudy anime, a show riding high on the strength of its sturdy ex-Gainax creator pedigree. The show’s first episode was a strikingly directed take on a very familiar giant robot template; the execution was fairly strong, but the base material here was just a little too archetypal. Still, the aesthetic chops are there, so if Franxx can rise above its Eva/Diebuster/Gurren/etc influences, it could be a very compelling show.
Ah good, some old-fashioned exploitation melodrama. Citrus’s first episode takes one more premise that’s ripe for seedy interpretations and makes the absolute most of it, starting with its thoughtful articulation of heroine Yuzu’s headspace. The direction is also sharp here, and the show seems to very much care about its mixed-up cast, so if you’re looking for a messy romantic drama, Citrus seems like a fine pick.
Continuing with the endless slice of life buffet, Hakumei’s particular flavor is basically “enjoy the pretty and peaceful lives of a couple tiny little people who live in a tiny little house.” The show’s greatest strength so far is likely its setting, a charming fantasy world centered on munchkin people who do business with frogs and occasionally ride beetles. It’s a very cozy time.
DamePri is a reverse harem blessed with both a refreshingly self-assured lead and a charming sense of self-awareness. The suitors in these sorts of shows often tend to be huge assholes, but DamePri actually knows they’re all assholes, and has a lot of fun with it. The show’s execution is middling, but its sense of humor makes it a very enjoyable ride all the same.
Pop Team Epic is a bunch of stupid meme bullshit and I absolutely love it. The show banks heavily on our garbage millennial conception of un-comedy, where the joke is that there isn’t a punchline but here’s some loud non-sequitur I hope you’re happy. I am astonished that this adaptation team somehow managed to translate the appeal of the original 4koma’s surreal, deadpan quasi-jokes into a genuinely inventive anime production. I love it this much.
For me, Crybaby is essentially Masaaki Yuasa minus Go Nagai. Yuasa is one of my favorite directors, but Nagai’s brand of over-the-top ultraviolence and hot-blooded masculinity have never done a thing for me. If Nagai’s influence is less of a detriment or even a bonus for you, I’d highly recommend checking Crybaby out – if nothing else, it’s certainly one of the most visually inspired shows of the season.
Alright, even I’m starting to get slice of life fatigue at this point. Mummy’s charm is exactly what it says on the tin – the show stars a tiny mummy who basically acts like an eager-to-please little puppy, and attempting to take care of that mummy results in adorable little pratfalls. I know describing its appeal doesn’t sound like much, but if you haven’t seen a tiny mummy struggle to stand under the weight of one large carrot, you haven’t truly lived.
Oh my god when will it end. School Babysitters is also a comfy slice of life predicated on taking care of a cute little dependent creature, though in this case, the dependent creatures are actual little kids. The show’s already demonstrated some nice dramatic reach, and the kids are indeed adorable, but I’m gonna get acute comfy poisoning if I watch this many fuwa fuwa shows. LET’S KEEP GOING.
IDOLiSH7 rises above the general idol anime pack by virtue of its unusually sharp character writing, as well as its broader focus on the commercial realities of succeeding as a new idol group. It still sticks to a pretty familiar idol drama template, and the CG dance scenes are pretty unfortunate, but it’s a fine standard bearer for the idol flag this season.
Okay, I think we may have actually run out of great and comfy-ass shows at this point. Takagi-san is basically the final entry, and this one’s appeal is “two kids who clearly like each other but can only express it through teasing each other.” The show’s active direction works hard to pull us into their dynamic, and the reciprocal nature of their competition means it never feels particularly mean. If you’re looking for a comforting quasi-romance, Takagi-san’s a great pick.
Yep, the Sanrio mascot tie-in slots in with a good third of the season’s picks left to go. Questionable genesis aside, Sanrio Boys’ first episode was actually a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of the pain that can come about when the things you love aren’t considered “acceptable” for your gender. I doubt the show will amount to much more than cute boys who love Sanrio mascots, but hey, cute boys who love Sanrio mascots.
Killing Bites is trash that is happy to be trash. The show’s aesthetics aren’t the best and its storytelling is kinda crap, but a show whose premise is “half-naked women themed around animals fight to the death” only really needs to clear a certain quality bar. If your ears perked up at that description, Killing Bites does indeed clear the bar, and is precisely the mediocre action-fanservice tableau you’re looking for.
KOKKOKU could take some lessons from Killing Bites – its premise is just as schlocky, but its self-serious tone and emphasis on bloody violence makes it feel more sullen and mean-spirited than gleeful and silly. An okay pick for all you tough-as-nails big dogs out there, probably skippable for everyone else. Banger of an OP, though.
If the Chaikas somehow didn’t already make this clear, we’ve passed from “passable genre entries” into “perhaps watchable, like on a dare” at this point. Ramens is basically a Baccano-style ensemble drama without any of the visual flare or narrative appeal necessary to make that work. Whoops.
Put together the director of Rakugo Shinjuu and the writer of Lodoss War, and you end up with… this feeble thing. Grancrest War basically feels like any other mediocre fantasy light novel, full of tedious worldbuilding exposition and light on unique ideas. If you’re really desperate for a traditional fantasy, it seems passable, but that’s about it.
Now that I’ve escaped the trials of describing half a dozen altogether good but relatively similar slice of lifes, I must now fight to describe another half-dozen shows that are all essentially just lukewarm bathwater. Maedchen’s bathwater comes with some “fighting girl at a magical academy” bath salts, but those don’t really change the nature of the tub.
The one thing Death March has going for it is that its videogame world actually feels like a videogame world – there’s a believable interface, you can totally mess with the buggy leveling curve, and stuff like learning new languages requires actively assigning skill points. Unfortunately, the show looks like crap and is yet another harem isekai, so that’s about all there is to take from this one.
Look the title is fucking Katana Maidens and we’re near the bottom of the list, what are you expecting. There are maidens, there are katanas, there is very little compelling storytelling or visual intrigue. The end.
For everyone who thought “Katana Maidens” was a name that left far too much to the imagination, here’s Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles, a show whose contents are only half as thrilling as its evocative title.
If you’d like to simulate the Junji Ito Collection experience without actually watching the show, simply have a friend read Junji Ito stories to you in a spooky voice while holding the manga panels to your face and shaking them. Boom, you’ve created just as much visual intrigue and atmosphere as this abysmal adaptation.
Ryuo reminds me that for all of March comes in like a lion’s adaptation issues, it still isn’t about a naked nine-year-old girl. Thank you Ryuo, for helping me better appreciate all the shows that aren’t about a naked nine-year-old girl.
Oh my god Hoshin Engi how did you get beaten by the loli shogi show were you actively trying to lose.
And that’s it for me! Whole bunch of interesting productions this season, though I readily admit that the genre focus is incredibly lopsided. Still, Violet Evergarden, Darling in the Franxx, and Devilman Crybaby should cover the more conventional fandom desires, while I’ll just be sitting here buried in comfy bullshit. Thank you anime for your relentless pandering to me specifically, and I hope you all find something to love this season!