Fall 2016 Check-in

The hard part is judging this season on its own terms, not against what looks like it’s coming.

I don’t see Fall 2016 as an especially surprising season to this point. There were a huge number of shows, but the majority of them are right over the bubble zone. The few series that looked like safe bets are panning out, the one real sleeper pick was spot-on, and there’s nothing out there wildly exceeding expectations. On balance, then, just about what I expected.

As you’d expect, Natsume Yuujinchou Go looks quite comfortable in its role as a bedrock series for the season. Fune wo Amu and Udon no Kuni have stepped up as the elite new shows, and most of the sequels are performing as expected (for better or worse). What really stands out are the sheer number of series right at the water line – the ones that take 3 or 4 episodes to decide whether they’re worth following or not. The tricky part here is going to be figuring out what justifies blogging some of them but not others when there’s so little between so many, on the whole.

The elephant in the room is that whatever flaws Fall 2016 has, it looks positively elite compared to what 2017 projects to be. In reality, at this point we already know over half of the Winter schedule and a sizable chunk of Spring – and by God, it’s not pretty (even on NoitaminA). Maybe some shows will surprise for the better (a couple probably will) but the overall picture is depressing as hell. Just about every awful trend in anime over the last few years seems to be asserting itself in 2017 – LN adaptations, idol series, endless CGDCT shows and ripoffs of successful franchises. This season almost feels like a last hurrah – the Fall before the fall.

I’m not sure I can point to an overarching stylistic trend for this season, apart perhaps from “lofty ambition and faulty execution”. It does seem like there are an unusually large number of series which are at least trying to do something different but don’t have the chops to pull it off – which I guess is better than not trying at all (which is what 2017 looks like two months out).

On, then, to Fall 2016:

The Elite

None

Outstanding

Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: A
Comments: I’ll be the first to admit that listing Udon no Kuni first is all about the “favorite” vs. “best” distinction. This is a series that checks all the boxes for me – idyllic and quirky rural setting, adult protagonist wrestling with universal problems, bittersweet tone, magical realism. I often find that anime is best able to explore the human condition through the use of non-human characters and fantasy – Zettai Shounen and Uchouten Kazoku, two series definitely a part of Udon no Kuni’s DNA, are prime examples. I don’t know if this is the best series of the season, but so far it’s my favorite.

Fune wo Amu: The Great Passage
Episodes Watched: 2
Grade: A-
Comments: The Great Passage is an odd, intellectual and perversely noncommercial anime that somehow feels like a flickering candle in an encroaching creative darkness. Dictionaries are an odd subject for a love story, but that’s what this series is – a celebration of words and language and the iconoclastic social misfits who love them. The premiere was good; the second episode a revelation that very much put me in mind of Miyazaki Hayao’s Kaze no Tachinu.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A-
Comments: If it seems as if we’ve been here before, gentle readers, it’s because we have. Natsume Yuujinchou is as close to a sure thing as there is in long-running anime, and while the shift to Studio Shuka has seen a small but noticeable decline in animation quality, on the whole “Go” is delivering just what you’d expect. The only reason I can’t rank it higher is because so far half the episode have fallen under the more conventional conflict-resolution mode, which isn’t my favorite side of Natsume Yuujinchou.

 

Very Good

Ajin Season 2
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B+
Comments: Here’s another sequel that’s doing exactly what you’d expect it to do. If anything the quality of the character CGI may have inched up just a tad this season, but on balance this is the same old Ajin – and given that this is one of the most well-written and beautifully paced anime thrillers in years, that, that’s a very good thing.

Yuri!!! on Ice
Episodes Watched:
4
Grade:
B+
Comments: Yuri on Ice has been one of the big splashes this season, and it’s easy to see why – it’s both well-produced and interesting. Yamamoto Sayo’s style is as usual subtle as a sledgehammer, and there are legit reasons to worry about whether the production can hold up under very demanding circumstances. But the skating sequences remain mostly lovely (and 2-D), and there’s at least the potential that we might be looking at a male-male romantic relationship in a non-BL anime that isn’t played for slapstick comedy, which would be an exceedingly rare thing. All the chibis bother me and the humor really doesn’t work, but Yuri on Ice still has a chance to make a real impact.

Haikyuu!!: Karasuno Koukou VS Shiratorizawa Gakuen Koukou
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B
Comments: Sound familiar? Here’s yet another sequel that’s as loyal and reliable as an old dog, and equally as interested in learning new tricks. This season is a bit similar to S2 of Shokugeki no Souma in that it’s pretty much no-nonsense – all action and not a lot of time to waste on character interaction. But this is the sort of stuff that Haikyuu is especially good at – it’s a commercial powerhouse and Production I.G. puts that big budget to good use delivering some of the best competition sequences in anime history. If you like Haikyuu there’s certainly nothing in this season to make you change your mind.

 

Worthwhile

Chi’s Sweet Home 2016
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B-
Comments: It is a shame we’ve gone from Madhouse hand-drawn animation to 100% CGI, but apart from that Chi’s Sweet Home is still Chi’s Sweet Home (and now half-length instead of three minutes). If you’re a cat person every episode of this series is like re-living a part of your life. The CG actually isn’t terrible – at least not with this material – and the cast is strong. In the end it’s great to have Chi back, no matter in what form.

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B-
Comments: Watamodou is a fairly depressing take on high school social interaction – but then, most high school social interaction is pretty depressing. If nothing else a comedy has to be funny, and this one is pretty funny most of the time. It’s not a meta-satire on par with the likes of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, but Watamodou is pretty sharp both in terms of dialogue and its satirical aim.

Girlish Number
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B-
Comments: This show was wholly and completely off my radar going into the season, but it turned out to be a pretty interesting specimen. Girlish Number appears unlikely to lose its nerve the way Wake Up, Girls did, and it’s obviously casting a much less forgiving glance on anime production than the romanticized Shirobako. But in the end, is a series about unlikable people in a creatively dying industry making an awful anime going to be entertaining? On that, I believe the jury is still out.

Drifters
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: There’s a lot to like about Drifters – it has an interesting premise, a mix of epic fantasy (orcs and elves, et al) and military history, and genuinely striking character designs and visuals.  But increasingly the show (though based on a manga) is taking on a very light-novel, alternate reality feel.  And as with Yuri on Ice, the humor generally doesn’t work and tends to shatter the mood the more serious elements of Drifters manages to build.

Bernard-jou Iwaku
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B-
Comments: As always, there’s only so much attachment you can form with a three-minute show. But I like “Miss Bernard Said”, because as someone who was very much a literature/sci-fi geek as a teenager, the writing really rings true. These are conversations I had almost word for word.

 

Still Watching

Trickster: Edogawa Ranpo “Shounen Tanteidan” yori
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: I was very close to dropping Trickster, but decided to watch the fourth episode. And it was by far the best of the series – dark, edgy, and tightly directed. So now it’s back in the mix, for another week anyway – though it still seems to me as if this is likely to be another failed re-imagining of Edogawa Ranpo’s Shounen Tanteiden novels.

WWW.Working
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C+
Comments: Yes, I know this one came first, so it’s not fair to blame WWW.Working if it seems like a pale imitation of the “original”. But there are other reasons why I don’t like the web version as much – it seems somehow more mean-spirited and sour to me, for starters, and none of the cast has really reached out and grabbed me the way the likes of Popura and Yamada did.

ClassicaLoid
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C+
Comments: There were a couple of genuinely magical moments in the first episode of ClassicaLoid, with it’s climactic fantasy set piece a near-masterpiece of sound and vision. I like the oddball art style, the portrayal of Beethoven, and the core premise. But they’ve royally screwed up Mozart (and he’s pretty important), the follow-up musical numbers have fallen flat, and the momentum of the premiere has generally petered out.

Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans Season 2
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: More than anything else, I’ve found the second season of Tekketsu no Orphans to be rather bland and boring. I suppose that’s better than the irritating stupidity that marked the ending of the first season, but I’m in the same place I often am with sequels to series I was on the fence about, which is to say – about ready to drop it.

Kiitarou Shounen no Youkai Enikki
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: Another series screwed by the short format, which it’s quite ill-suited for. I rather like Kiitarou Shounen no Youkai Enikki for its quirky humor and odd visuals, but it’s a trifle at three minutes.

All Out!!
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C
Comments: This rugby show isn’t doing much for me. The characters are rather flat and stereotypical, and the animation isn’t especially noteworthy. I like the idea of a rugby series by Madhouse, but the material just doesn’t seem to be noteworthy in any respect.

Sengoku Choujuu Giga
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: C
Comments: Points to this short for at least coming up with an original combination of Japanese cultural icons – Sengoku warlords and the Choujuu Giga frolicking animals. It’s made me laugh a couple of times with it’s surprisingly nasty humor but it’s a blip on the radar screen.

 

Dropped:
Shuumatsu no Izetta, Sangatsu no Lion, Occultic;Nine, Touken Ranbu Hanmaru, Magic Kyun Renaissance, Time Bokan, Flip-Flappers, Nanbaka

That’s a lot of drops… And the larger than normal group this season is definitely the “Worthwhile/Still Watching” shelf – all of which is consistent with my overall take on the season: huge schedule, overwhelming weighted towards the messy middle.

Monday:
On the Respirator:: Trickster

Tuesday:
Definitely Blogging: Natsume Yuujinchou Go

Wednesday:
Definitely Blogging: Yuri!!! on Ice

Thursday:
Definitely Blogging: Fune wo Amu
On the Bubble: Girlish Number, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda

Friday:
Definitely Blogging: Haikyuu, Ajin Season 2
On the Bubble: Drifters

Saturday:
Definitely Blogging: Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari
On the Respirator: ClassicaLoid, WWW.Working

Sunday:
Definitely Blogging:None

Manga: Hunter X Hunter, Otoyomegatari, Mix(?)
On the Bubble: Chihayafuru

Watching For Now: Days, 12-sai.: Chicchana Mune no Tokimeki 2nd Season, All Out!!, Sengoku Choujuu Giga, Kiitarou Shounen no Youkai Enikki, Chi’s Sweet Home 2016, Bernard-jou Iwaku, Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans Season 2

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19 comments

  1. Why all the doom and gloom for 2017? In the end every season never has more than 2-3 shows actually worth the watch. There’s still plenty of room for something unexpected to appear.

  2. Two reasons…

    1. I strongly disagree no season ever has 2-3 shows worth watching.
    2. By this point, we’re normally probably 90% clued in on the top 2-3 shows in the next two given seasons – we already know what those will be. We can also see with even greater clarity what the depth of a season will be – where the water level is, if you will. And the announcements for Winter and Spring (and the majority of announcements that haven’t been dated yet will end up being Spring shows) contain almost nothing that shows potential to be elite, and an alarmingly high percentage of shows that are awful on paper.

  3. I agree that looking forward looks rather depressing, but if shows like Uchouten Kazoku can get a sequel then I can still hold out some hope.

  4. “1. I strongly disagree no season ever has 2-3 shows worth watching.”

    Well, worth watching might be a bit too much, but actually good? I’d say it’s a good estimate, give and take the occasional statistical fluctuation. This season’s only shows I’d call outright good for me right now are Yuri On Ice and Fune wo Amu. Izetta, Drifters, MagiPro and Watamodou are simple entertainment with various degrees of shallowness; Girlish Number is fun but it’ll depend a lot on where it goes; Poco’s Udon thingy is a bit cheap-looking and generally seems a rehash of last season’s superior Sweetness and Lightning in themes and mood; Sangatsu left me very tepid for various already discussed reasons.

    I might be using a bit of a tight definition of ‘good’, but yeah. If we’re talking the other shows – the ones that are basically shallow but otherwise perfectly well done entertainment – I’ve seen those crop up sometimes in the most unexpected places, up and including the dreaded LN adaptations. So I wouldn’t bother making too many forecasts yet. No point in worrying beforehand.

    Also, somewhere in the next year should lurk the second season to Rakugo. That must be worth for something.

  5. y

    I also think Udon may be my favorite show this season as well. It’s just so good at what it does and it’s already a step above how Amaama should have been last season.

    No short write-up for Drifters?

  6. Whoops! Somehow that Drifters write-up must have gotten deleted in a WordPress screwup – my bad. Must have reverted to an old revision at some point without my realizing it. It’s added – thanks for pointing it out!

  7. e

    Indeed Drifters must be hanging from a spider thread not even to get the blurb treatment ^^.
    Out of the current season series I am following mostly I agree with your marks with just a couple titles I’d switch or nudge one tier up.
    In terms of ‘better’ vs ‘favourite’ Chi is a solid B for me. I just can’t resist.
    And as different as they are both Udon and Yuri are at least A – league in my book unless they spectacularly fail the landing – Udon is a safer bet but so far so good for both – .
    Haikyuu is a solid!! enthusiastic!! B+ .

    You make me wish to check Miss Bernard out ^^.

    The 2017 YMMV doom and gloom can wait. Life is already unpredictable and a handful enough as it is.

  8. Z

    Ah! I hadn’t realized you were giving the second season of Bungou Stray Dogs any viewing time. I thought this just finished arc was better than the entire first season. I do worry that as we leave the flashback and step back into the now that the tension and realism will take a back seat. I think it was the humor of the first season that didn’t work for me. . .

    I agree that http://www.working is much more mean spirited than Working!! was.

  9. Z

    Ugh. And with that update the “on Respirator” not for BSD is gone. Don’t mind me, I’m not a crazy person, I only appear that way when content changes. 😉

  10. N

    Did you totally give up with Hibike Euphonium Enzo?

  11. Yeah, it barely held my interest enough to get to the end of the first season and I just couldn’t get back into it. It doesn’t do much for me, so it is what it is. I know a lot of folks rave about it but that’s down to individual taste.

  12. P

    My list pretty much lines up with yours except Touken Ranbu. I currently find it a really sweet take on the game, that is currently right up there with the feeling I get when watching Udon no Kuni…it might slide later but it’s an extremely strong adaptation so far (maybe the best web game adaptation I have seen?) with very sweet character interactions. In my opinion it doesn’t really need a VERY STRONG PLOT to not have fun at how the characters are interacting (but I guess it won’t make much sense if you don’t have a vague understanding at the history behind the swords?).
    My list of the season:
    Excellent: Natsume Yuujinchou, Udon no Kuni, Yuri on Ice, The Great Passage
    Enjoying immensely: Touken Ranbu Hanamaru, Haikyuu, Chii’s Sweet Home
    Good watch: Girlish Number

  13. H

    So far I’ve yet to drop any of the series I was initially looking forward to. Currently I’m following six shows and I don’t have a favorite at this point, though Fune wo Amu is creeping up there. I’m holding off on watching Drifters and Haikyuu!! until more episodes are available since I prefer action in large doses if possible. I haven’t been paying too much attention yet to what shows will be airing the next couple of seasons, but I am absolutely dying for the next season of Shouwa Genroku to begin. I have my fingers crossed that someone will pick the series up for domestic release by that point. I’m worried it will be like Hyouka and never get licensed.

  14. A

    Thanks I Like This Post ♥

  15. A show that has caught my attention A nice slice ofl life anime that uses real sites scenes scnarios about biking . Not racing but you get points for places visted in fact very similiar to Encoragement of Climb like getting your book stamped. In fact one VA / main lead Ami is from EOC

    Nice light comedy / little or no fanservice / and great freindships / oh it’s a college aged / club anime The clubs do exist or real! In fact the route planned cant be found on the internet !

    I am talking about Long Riders ! You should take a look especially EP 3 . Sometimes simple is the best!

    If the Fall season is so bad how come I am a week behind . U culles out a couple more shows ut stiil have 27 Full Lengths 14 shorts

    However I do agree with you we have peaked and other blogges feel the same

  16. I’m really enjoying Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku. The story is excellent and even tho the characters are oddly drawn it has become one of my favorite shows this season (along with Natsume of course). It reminds me very much of Madoka Magica. Its a magical girl anime series that starts out nice and cute but has gotten very dark and turned into a survival anime.

  17. Yeah, I have to say, that show is better than I expected. I guess what does it for me is that it didn’t turn into an all-out dark edgefest; it’s got characters with different personalities and therefore different approaches to the situation, and since there is hope of survival for half of the group friendships and alliances aren’t broken by default, which makes for more sophisticated dynamics than your typical “everyone vs. everyone else” death game.

  18. Anyone like Nobunaga no Shinobi? Its a 3 minute anime and its pretty funny. It airs the same day as Natsumi so I make sure to watch both series.

  19. GE you need to go and watch Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku. Holy shit this week’s episode was a shocking game changer. If you liked Madoka Magica then you should like this series. After the 1st episode the series surprised us and got very dark.

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