Winter 2016 Check-in

Boku Dake - 04 -9Shouwa Genroku - 02 -40Dimension W - 01 -25Akagami - 13 -19Ajin - 03 - Large 25Dagashi Kashi - 01 -17

Ironically, Winter 2016 is all about baby steps.

It hasn’t been a great couple of years for anime, by any means.  The long-running creative rut the industry has been in (briefly interrupted by a strong 2012, especially Spring) has never seemed deeper than it did last year.  There are always a couple of exceptional series that stand out, but the overall decline in quality just makes the reality of just how incongruous shows like Death Parade are all the more inescapable.

Well, while I’m doing my best to keep my expectations in-check, there are signs 2016 may be an interruption in the trend if nothing else.  Winter has been as often as not the weakest season on the calendar in recent years, but this one has been decent – admittedly largely carried by the world-beaters at the top (which would stand out in any season) but not lacking in sheer number of watchable shows either.  And there are an unusually large pod of interesting manga adaptations on tap for later this year, especially in Spring.  Yes, losing Sangatsu no Lion (I fear Shinbou will be too big a hurdle for it to overcome) hurts badly, but on paper 2016 has the depth to survive a loss of that magnitude.

To succeed as a season (as is usually the case) the elite prospects needed to come through for Winter 2016.  And they have, in glorious fashion – as high as my expectations were for Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, it’s actually exceeded them so far.  Shouwa Genroku has been a revelation, and Dimension W seems to have the chops to be an elite power seinen.  And Akagami no Shirayukihime keeps powering along – off by a half-step perhaps, but still a very strong series.  There are an exceptional number of series on the bubble, too – flawed efforts with worthwhile qualities – the fact that it’s a process that’s still sorting itself out this far in is a testament to how large this group is.

What strikes me about Winter 2016 stylistically?  While there’s no obvious Gainax revival explosion or mecha or sports boom, I do see a recurring pattern among the best series – timelessness.  Boku Dake, Shouwa Genroku, Dimension W, Akagami – these are all shows that wouldn’t immediately strike you as being of this or any other era in anime.  They’re grounded on very straightforward storytelling foundations (Boke Dake and Rakugo don’t even have anything especially “anime” about them).  There’s also a strong undercurrent of self-aware satire – we see it in the likes of Shoujo-tachi and KonoSuba – and a continuing growth of CGI.  The difference is that we’re seeing all or mostly CG in non sci-fi shows more and more.  The results range from pretty good (Bubuki Buranki and Sanzigen) to sub-par (Ajin and Polygon, a shame given how good that series is otherwise).

 

On, then, to Winter 2016:

The Elite

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A+
Comments: In all the check-in posts I’ve written for LiA, I’ve only ever given one A+ grade – to Mushshi Zoku Shou. So this is pretty heady territory for any series, even if it’s only a reflection of how I feel about it after 3-4 episodes. In this case it’s also a reflection of just how highly this series might be regarded if it’s able to maintain its current level of greatness. I consider this manga a masterpiece (as you know), and A-1 Pictures and Ito Tomohiko have somehow surpassed my expectations with a note-perfect adaptation so far. Pacing is the only thing that could possibly mess this up – the manga is ending in the spring, so some edits will have to be made to fit Boku Dake ga Inai Machi into 12 episodes. But we’re talking about a potential drop from all-time great to just great, so it’s safe to say the floor is pretty high at this point.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A
Comments: The next historical record I checked was this: when was the last time I had two series ranked as “Elite” in the same season? Turns out that was Mushishi Zoku Shou’s season too – Spring 2014, and the other series was Ping Pong (that was almost certainly a better season than this one is going to turn out to be, but given that it was Spring that’s not unusual). I can honestly say that in most seasons I’ve covered Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu would have been the top series – it’s quite exquisite and thoroughly noncommercial. You just don’t see many anime this thoughtful, nuanced and emotionally complex – but in no way is Shouwa Genroku antiseptic or intellectual and cool. It’s a very human story about flawed but interesting people, and a veritable feast for those of us fascinated with Japanese culture.

 

Outstanding

Dimension W
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A-
Comments: Studio 3Hz is firmly stamping themselves as a studio to watch with this gorgeously-produced seinen manga adaptation. It’s no stretch to say that there have been seasons when Dimension W would have been the #1 series, though it’s been a bit overshadowed by the historically great series above it this time. Like Bones’ Kekkai Sensen, Dimension W is a stylish work by a terrific director (Kamei Kanta) that’s cooler than the other side of the pillow. The plot is a bit scattershot for the moment, but I think that’s intentional – and the atmospherics and production values are off the charts.

Akagami no Shirayukihime Season 2
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A-
Comments: Akagami no Shirayukihime is taking a bit of an unconventional route this season, splitting up Akagami and Zen right out of the gate and introducing a couple of fairly involved plot threads (with new characters). It probably isn’t a coincidence that my favorite episode of the season so far has been the premiere, which was most akin to the first cour. That worries me a little, and so does the introduction of Prince Raj’s younger siblings (who seem more like stock anime characters than anyone else in the cast). But we’re really talking about the differences between excellent and great here, so in relative terms Akagami remains one of the best series of the season.

 

Very Good

Ajin
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B
Comments: That Ajin received only a “B” is purely a reflection of the visuals. Sure, the CGI here is probably no worse than it was in Sidonia no Kishi, but it’s more noticeable – both because Ajin is a better show and because of Sidonia’s hard sci-fi setting in space. Rather than Sidonia the series Ajin reminds me most of is Kingdom – another beautifully written drama hampered by subpar visuals. And make no mistake, Ajin is beautifully written – this is one of the best-paced straight-up thrillers anime has seen in a while. It doesn’t dumb itself down for the audience and there’s never a wasted moment. If plot-driven anime is your thing, Ajin is going to be right up your alley.

Dagashi Kashi
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B
Comments: Anime, like any art form, is a personal thing – and never more so than with comedy. And Dagashi Kashi is right up my alley. It’s sweet, it’s silly, no one in the cast is a jerk, and it explores Japanese nichijou in exhausting detail. Seriously – how many mediums are going to give you a series about a girl who’s chuunibyou for snacks? Japan is a fascinating country and anime is a fascinating part of it, and series like Dagashi Kashi are a big part of the reason why.

 

Haruchika - 04 -23Nijiro 3-12Shoujo-tachi - 03 -1KonoSuba - 01 -22Grimgar - 02 -12Bubuki Buranki - 01 -17

 

Worthwhile

Tabi Machi Late Show
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B
Comments: Winter 2016 is flush with decent short-form series, and while several of them have their own charms I think Tabi Machi Late Show is my favorite. With its wistful sentimentality and low-tech animation Tabi Machi is never going to be a mainstream hit, but I really enjoy the fact that it exists, because there’s certainly nothing else in anime telling these kinds of stories.

Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: Like many a P.A. Works series (though not Glasslip) Haruchika deserves a better reception than the one it’s received. This isn’t a great show by any means, but it makes no sense to downgrade it because of superficial similarities to Hyouka and Hibike! Euphonium, two series perceived to be better (one of them actually is). In fact the show Haruchika is most like is director Hashimoto Masakazu’s Tari Tari, another unpretentious and rather fun school life effort. The most recent ep was definitely the best, and I give the series credit for having a gay male lead without making him into a punching bag for comedy. This is probably the closest thing to a true bubble series still out there for me (though not the only one).

Nijiro Days
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: I don’t known whether you’d call this a “short” or not – it’s half-length and has both an OP and ED – but I do think it’s one of the more complete short-form anime in recent seasons. I like the fact that the guys (apart from the kiiroitori male lead Natsuki) are a bit edgy, and that the existence of actual girlfriends and sex lives isn’t treated as some kind of shockingly exotic curiosity. Stuff like the otaku character being the one in a steady relationship is an indication that Nijiro Days isn’t a mass-produced shoujo model.

Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: This adaptation of Tanaka Romeo’s upcoming VN is a fairly interesting take on the creative process – specifically the slice of it that made Tanaka a star, writing bishoujo game scenarios. Basically a meta spin on the “Hey Kids – let’s put on a show!” trope, Shoujo-tachi does a lot of things right – its humor is not driven by humiliation, the protagonist is neither a cipher or a jerk, and characters of both sexes play prominent roles in the driving of the plot. It just hasn’t ignited that spark to close the deal for me yet.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: I like what KonoSuba is doing here in taking an unabashedly absurdist look at the overused MMORPG trope in anime. These sorts of series always walk a fine line in satirizing clichés while trying to cash in on them at the same time, but this one does a pretty good job of keeping things silly enough to avoid seeming disingenuous. Plus, it’s pretty funny most of the time.

 

Still Watching

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C+
Comments: Grimgar is the elephant in the room, so I may as well address it. I know this show has made quite an impact with some viewers, and I sort of get that. It does indeed take a refreshingly harsh look at certain elements of the RPG phenomenon, and it doesn’t shy away from brutality by any means. It also has quite an interesting visual style. But the problem I have is that I simply don’t like Grimgar. There’s something in the series’ sensibility that seems unsavory and disturbing (not in a good way) to me, and I find the sexism here insidiously damaging. It’s a matter of taking the bitter with the sweet I suppose, but right now this is not a show I feel like writing about every week.

Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: If anything AoKana comes by its grade via the opposite route – I have some affection for it, but there’s not enough about it that’s remarkable. sprite/fairys earlier VN adaptation Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate likewise had an appealing decency and dignity to it, but there was something sharper and more engaging to the premise. Right now the appeal of AoKana is cotton candy, and one can only eat so much cotton candy.

Bubuki Burnaki
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: I had high hopes for Bubuki Buranki, and indeed I think the previews were telling the truth in the sense that the show does have a really great look to it – it’s one of the best CGI series I’ve seen. But while I do appreciate the sort of elemental proto-anime elements to the story, the writing just isn’t exceptional here. The plot is a mess, the characters are 2D, and there’s not enough re-imagining of the very familiar ground the series is covering.

Oji-san to Marshmallow
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C
Comments: There’s only so much you’re going to get out of any three-minute show (though Chi’s Sweet Home and Poypoyo got every ounce of it), but Oji-san to Marshmallow is probably my favorite among this season’s super-short series. It’s sweet and fluffy with just a hint of an edge – like a marshmallow with a drop of Tabasco on top.

Sekkou Boys
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C
Comments: There are occasional laughs in this story of an idol group made up of marble statues. But you need more than one joke to make a good comedy – even if it’s a good joke (which this is). Even at three minutes I think this show might just be too long.

Sushi Police
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C
Comments: There’s some interesting stuff here, most notably the Western-style animation, but Sushi Police is another short that seems to be trying to stretch one joke a little too far.

 

Dropped:
Musaigen no Phantom World, Divine Gate, Prince of Stride: Alternative

That’s 17 series (though the three shorts could probably count as one) after only checking in on 12 last season. For a winter, I guess that amounts to progress. Here’s where things stand:

Monday:
Definitely Blogging: Akagami no Shirayukihime Season 2, Diamond no Ace, Osomatsu-san
On the Respirator: Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm

Tuesday:
Definitely Blogging: None

Wednesday:
On the Bubble: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun Suru, Konu Subarashi Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

Thursday:
Definitely Blogging: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, Dagashi Kashi
On the Bubble: Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu

Friday:
Definitely Blogging: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Ajin

Saturday:
Definitely Blogging: Haikyuu!! Second Season
On the Respirator: Bubuki Buranki

Sunday:
Definitely Blogging: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans, Dimension W
On the Bubble: Nijiro Days
On the Respirator: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

Manga: Otoyomegatari, Mix, Chihayafuru

Watching For Now: Tabi Machi Late Show, Oji-san to Marshmallow, Sekkou Boys, Sushi Police, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu Season 2

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10 comments

  1. You know Enzo, this might be the most cheerful you’ve been for a check-in post in over a year, at least. Which is good to see! You’ve seemed pretty worn down by current anime for a long while (and very understandably, at that) so it’s very nice to see you feeling hopeful for its future again. Lets hope this year marks the beginning of an upward trend (Osomatsu being a massive cross-demographic hit surely is a good sign??).

    As for me, I’m watching and enjoying more series this season than I did in the last two combined, which feels pretty damn good! I’m personally finding Dimension W lacking a bit in personality, and Grimgar’s definitely a tale of two halves, but it’s one where I love one half enough that it near overrides the other. and yeah, BokuMachi and Rakugo are pretty much as good as it ever gets.

  2. I would agree, there are flickers of hope at the moment – for a winter this is a decent season, and spring could conceivably be better. Absent more evidence I kind of view it in the same way I view a cold day as regards global warming – it doesn’t mean the trend is any less pronounced, it’s just a blip. But it’s nice to at least have a reason to be hopeful.

  3. M

    I always like these check-ins. I trust impressions made after 3-4 episodes much more than just one episode. Now I can just quickly peruse this list and maybe give a couple more shows from this season a try. I’m thinking I’ll check out Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

    At the same time I think I might drop Grimgar. It’s probably not great when I’m rooting for the orcs over the main cast. Maybe I’ll give it one more. The plot has to get going after that last episode I hope.

  4. R

    Seriously, the sheer quality and volume of good shows this season makes it the best Winter for the past 5 years.

    BokuMachi is through and through an amazing show, but I’m head over heels for Shouwa Genroku. This is just a personal preference. I know Ajin, will get the “Kingdom” treatment in the blogosphere — thanks Enzo for blogging it here and on RC — but it is my third favourite. Taking about shows with bad visuals, I think Tabi Machi Late Show is worse, but again the stories are pretty neat, and I’m surprised that it gets subbed.

  5. 2

    Sorry, Enzo, but I can’t agree with you or the majority of the posters on your site. I like modern anime a lot.

  6. Z

    Sorry to slightly burst your bubble on Tabi Machi Late Show, Enzo, but it is over. It was only to be 4 episodes. The ‘Super Ultra Anime Time’ block is doing something interesting with that time slot this season. airing 3 shows for 4 eps a piece. So I believe Kono Danshi, Mahou ga Oshigoto Desu will be replacing Tabi Machi Late Show this Friday, and then Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: Everything Flows will go in March.

  7. Yeah, I know it’s over. I knew it was a limited run but I’d forgotten until the most recent episode that it was ending so soon.

  8. Late Show is one of the best short form animes I have seen. Episodes 3 and 4 in particular are a work of art. The show seems to get better with each week.

  9. That description of Grimgar sort of reminds me of Akame ga Kill, I remember getting that same sort of mean spirited vibe from it where characters behaved like uncomfortable caricatures.

    I didn’t know that Late Show existed until now since so few people talked about it, will probably check it out soon.

  10. In terms of quality, I think it is even better at last year’s Winter given that Fall Carryovers really dominated that season. I mean aside Death Parade is the only Winter show which was able to crawl to my impression until the end of the year. Everyone’s gushing about the Kuroko season, Shirobako, Your Lie in April and Parasyte which are either carryovers or sequels. Well, that Durarara Shou! though. Ugh.

    This time, new shows dominated this with Bokumachi and Rakugo as standouts. Akagami is still strong (as in yearend contender strong), Dimension W flirts between very good and average and Assassination Classroom is producing a strong sequel. Well, I can pick three shows (Bokumachi and Rakugo plus Akagami) and these might as well land in my year end list. Ajin is another gem.. but.. those CGIS… I wished it has Bubuki Buranki’s style. Ugh. I am also in love with the latest Gundam and the 2015 reiteration of Lupin.

    It also lacks truly bad show (if you exclude Active Raid, I guess) which makes this season the best one since Winter 2015. For shorts? Nijiro Days is just adorable and I love the eccentricity of Sekkou Boys.

    Again, I am shamelessly promoting my blog. Haha. Thanks!

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