Winter 2017 Check-in

For better or worse, Winter 2017 is sailing true to its projected course.

Thank goodness for rakugo – and bikes. If not for them, Winter 2017 would be a lock for the worst anime season since I’ve been covering the medium. Depending on the metric you’re using it’ll probably end up being that anyway, but at least we’re being treated to some really good stuff at the top.

On the silver linings front – like the season preview, this post will be historically brief.  While this season may have concentrated quality, it certainly doesn’t have quantity.  I previewed the smallest number of series I ever have, and nothing from outside that group has held my interest past an episode or two.  Truthfully surprising seasons are very rare in anime – they almost always fall within a narrow band close to what seems likely when I’m doing the preview post (and in truth, much earlier than that).  That’s fine when you have a lot to look forward to but with a season like this one, it’s kind of depressing.

It was a lock that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was going to be the elite series of the season – as long as ACCA didn’t give it a run for its money. That show is interesting and improving, but it certainly isn’y any kind of threat to “Rakugo”.  Yowamushi Pedal is Yowamushi Pedal – it’s always delivered, and it continues to.  There aren’t that many bubble series, but the reason this time is that there simply weren’t that many shows good enough to make the bubble.  Anything that’s close to good enough to hold my interest, I’m pretty much covering it.

If indeed it’s true that social unrest is a catalyst for great art, maybe anime will reflect that eventually, because as I write this America’s cultural bedrock is pretty much shattering underneath our feet.  And when American quakes, the world feels the tremors – Japan (dealing with its own Trump-like leader) is surely not going to be immune to it.  As it did in the 1960’s, perhaps the spectacle of millions of Americans taking to the streets in protest will rouse the normally placid Japanese populace to do the same.  For now as we look ahead in our tiny little anime universe, it almost seems like there’s nowhere to go but up – but I’ve seen enough not to fall into the trap of believing that’s a certainty.  Spring looks like it could be a tiny bit better from this distance, but it’s too early to tell.

If I’m going to try and identify a current running through the season as I usually do in these Check-in posts, it would be simple this time: darkness.  The trope and cliche shows are more cynical in going after otaku dollars than ever, and the good shows are as a group quite serious.  There’s a notable lack of warm anime comedies that lead with the heart like Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru or Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, or high-quality openly sentimental dramas like Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari.  Thank goodness for Watanabe Wataru, that’s all I can say – a desperate fandom turns its lonely eyes to you.

On, then, to Winter 2017:

The Elite

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: A+
Comments: If ever there were a slam-dunk, it’s ranking Shouwa Genroku here. This show was great last year, and the second season has been equally sublime. This is serious, subtle, complex character drama of the kind rarely seen in any medium, anime obviously included. It’s also marvelously directed and a fascinating exploration of a unique part of Japanese popular culture. That pretty much says it all as far as I’m concerned.

 

Outstanding

Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B+
Comments: There have been some significant changes in the dynamic with Yowamushi Pedal. The big goal has been achieved already (almost unheard of this early in sports anime), the third-years have faded into the background, and Teshima has emerged as a pivotal character. But while Yowapeda may be focusing on different sorts of challenges, the overall spirit of the series remains very much the same. And given how barren this season is for shows that are funny, warm and genuinely positive, thank goodness for that.

 

Very Good

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B
Comments: I could only call ACCA disappointing in the sense that this season is so lean that I was desperately hoping it would be an instant classic. But it’s not the series’ fault that it has such heavy expectations piled on it, and in truth it is a very good show indeed. ACCA is stylish and atmospheric and deeply interesting, even if it isn’t quite captivating yet. Given how much of what we’ve seen so far only alludes to what’s really going on beneath the surface, I think there’s larger than usual upside here – I’m expecting excellent things from the rest of the series.

Kuzu no Honkai
Episodes Watched: 3

Grade:
B
Comments: I debated for some time whether to slot Kuzu no Honkai (and Onihei) into this category or the one below it, but in the end it just barely made the cut.  Scum’s Wish has one truly atrocious character and a lingering sense that things could all go wrong in spectacular fashion at the drop of a hat, but what it does well it does very well.  The direction and art are stellar, and there are some genuinely interesting issues on the dark side of the relationship spectrum being explored here.  It keeps me watching and keeps me thinking – at least for now – and that’s the mark of a genuinely significant series.

Onihei
Episodes Watched: 3
Grade: B
Comments: See above.  It was close, but what the heck – the season is so thin that ties should go to the runner.  The last two eps of Onihei have indeed been very good – much better both in terms of pacing and production values than the prmeiere.  I think one has to step out of the role of anime fan quite deliberately when watching this show, because in truth it’s a jidaigeki in every sense except that it happens to be animated.  Historical J-dramas approach storytelling very differently than even historical anime typically do, right down to the acting style.  I like this series and I appreciate it’s differentness, though the serial narrative structure might perhaps detract from its ability to make an overall emotional impact.

 

Worthwhile

Seiren
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: I like Seiren (including the much-maligned protagonist).  But the most interesting part of the series for me may be how much more poorly it’s being received by anime fans than Amagami SS, despite in my view being very much in the same quality range.  Anime has changed, I guess – and with it anime romance and anime fandom.  I wasn’t thrilled with the ending of the first arc, but on the whole it was pretty entertaining.  And I like the old-fashioned approach to teen romance this series takes.

Masamune-kun no Revenge
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: By some standards Masamune-kun no Revenge is pretty dark, but compared to Kuzu no Honkai it’s a light-hearted romp.  I like the basic premise here and the execution is quite good, but ultimately I think Masamune-kun is much more of a conventional teen romcom than you’d guess by the synopsis and the first couple of episodes (there are already signs that the rehabilitation of the female MC is well underway).  That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it will make it that much harder for the series to remain distinctive.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujou Ou-hen
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: B-
Comments: I’m not feeling much of a spark from the first four episodes of the Ao no Exorcist revival.  The main issues for me are character and situational stagnation and a generally slow-moving plot.  I still like most of the cast and the underlying dynamic is a good one, but for me the jury is still out on whether the “Kyoto Arc” is a good story or not.  I’m glad AoEx is back but generally speaking this season’s episodes are leaving me feeling pretty unsatisfied.

Still Watching

ēlDLIVE
Episodes Watched: 4
Grade: C+
Comments: Still hanging on by a thread here.  I sort of like ēlDLIVE as a goofy, old-school anime sci-fi comedy.  But on the whole it’s pretty formulaic stuff and doesn’t have a whole lot of substance to it.

Dropped:
Kobayashi-san no Maid Dragon, Fuuka, Chain Chronicle: Haecceitas no Hikari, Demi-chan wa Kataritai, Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans Season 2

So, then, here’s the season’s historically light blogging prospectus:

Monday:
Definitely Blogging: Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation
Probably Blogging: Onihei

Tuesday:
Definitely Blogging: ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka 

Wednesday:
Definitely Blogging: None

Thursday:
Probably Blogging: Kuzu no Honkai
On the Bubble: Masamune-kun no Revenge

Friday:
Definitely Blogging: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
On the Bubble: Seiren, Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujou Ou-hen

Saturday:
Definitely Blogging: None (that’s a first)

Sunday:
On the Respirator: ēlDLIVE

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

Watching For Now: Chi’s Sweet Home 2016,  Trickster: Edogawa Ranpo “Shounen Tanteidan” yori, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Sengoku Choujuu Giga

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49 comments

  1. N

    I get why you dropped Fuuka two minutes in, but honestly, the show isn’t all that bad. There hasn’t been much adittional pointless female abuse pilled up on the hapless protagonist, and it had managed to be genuinely sweet at leat once.

    Not that it’s a great show by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not as horrible to watch as you might assume after watching its really atrocious opening minutes.

  2. I knew that was probably the case, but I just figured – why? I know what’s going to happen in the end, I’ll eventually get so disgusted I drop it. So why put myself through that?

  3. h

    it makes me happy whenever you mention HxH :D,shows that you are still attatched to it

  4. Z

    After the fourth episode I’m temporarily dropping Ao no Exorcist, to marathon it after the season is over. I had poor expectation management on that one so it is just making me sad instead of being one of the few shining lights in this season.

    My “watching this season” list is: Rakugo, Sangatsu no Lion, Gintama, Nanbaka, Onihei, ACCA, Konosuba, Koro Sensei Quest, and All Out. To augment that I’ll probably watch stuff I didn’t feel I had time for previously, like Flip Flappers and Yowamushi Pedal, and stuff that I haven’t caught yet from my anime hiatus.

  5. How is Koro Sensei Quest? I figured it was probably about on the level of the AoT Middle School series and skipped it.

    Honestly, if I were covering it Pokemon Sun and Moon would probably rank pretty damn high this season.

  6. T

    Frankly the best this season are:
    -Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
    -Youjo-Senki
    -3-gatsu no Lion
    -ACCA
    -Little Witch Academia (if you want something light)

  7. s

    perfect opportunity to marathon xy/z ehhh, eeehh, eeeehhhhh?….this season is ballsacks man. It’s the reason i havent been in the comment section as much; im spending this season rewatching good anime…yes good anime..who knew?

  8. Z

    It’s “cuter” than Shingeki! Kyojin Chūgakkō was. It stays closer to the real storyline than SKC did. It’s (weirdly) basically retelling the first season through a chibi glitchy dungeon crawler prism. I’m not sure I would recommend it, but it *is* lighthearted and short, so it’s got that going for it!

  9. True, that is a virtue. SKC was full-length, wasn’t it?

  10. k

    I agree that this season is salvaged by Shouwa & ACCA, I also really like LWA(especially with [american] the pop culture references) although I understand while GE wont cover it, but will you at least watch it Enzo? Did you check/finish Flip Flappers also, storywise its pretty mediocre, but it was one of the more creative anime for me personally last season.

  11. I stuck with Flip Flappers as long as I could because it was visually interesting (in a way Trigger has never managed to be, IMO) but the writing was so bad I finally bailed.

    Glad you like LWA, but my moratorium on discussing it stands. I give them a shout-out for the Chumlee reference.

  12. s

    you know funnily enough, i ended up finding flip flappers writing to be strong for a good chunk of the series. It takes a different approach to its writing (it’s all in the visuals, as if someone was just showing people a picture book without reading the sparse amount of words within the book) but i can understand why some may feel that the writing is bad

  13. C

    In a way, this season works best with my schedule (I barely have time to keep up with one show, much less the 2-3 decent shows that bless us every season), but your commentary regarding future anime seasons sounds rather grim. *portentous cloud looming closer* What are you going to do with all this free time?
    It’s a shame Rakugo is ending after this season, but there are a few things to look forward to, I think? (e.g. Uchouten Kazoku season 2, my, what an unexpected gift that is)
    All the same, thank you for taking the time to blog with such care and quality, your reviews always bring something positive (or at the very least something interesting) in very uncertain times.

  14. Appreciate the kind words. There are a few things to look forward to, certainly – it’s hard to imagine seasons much worse than this one. But soon we might be looking back on it as a golden age.

    Of course, if Trump starts WW III like he seemingly intends to this could all be moot.

  15. j

    Between Witches, Demi-chan, Lion, Rakugo, ACCA, and Scum, I’m quite enjoying this season. Need to get around to starting YowaPeda too!

  16. O

    Enzo, not to be rude or anything (which ironically is usually what is said as an introduction to a rude comment) but I just got done reading your Gankutsuou post, and within sad post you mentioned that you’d like to cover certain series of yesteryear, but the current lineups of anime to cover kept you from doing so. Do you think 2017 will be a year empty enough to blog about some of these series?

    Also BTW what ever did happen to Notaku? Is the project completely finished or just on hold?

  17. Not rude at all, don’t worry. Notaku isn’t finished, but schedules are tight and logistics are difficult since Setsuken and myself aren’t local. On hold, for sure.

    As for old series, well… That Gankutsuou post was ages ago, but I’m kind of open to possibly taking on something from the bucket list. Any suggestions?

  18. e

    @Enzo: what about making a poll with the titles from your bucket list then? :)

  19. I have thought about that.

  20. Z

    @Enzo, I second the motion for a poll if you want our input/suggestions. Even if we try to stalk you on MAL to see what you have already watched, your watched list seems woefully inaccurate. Heck, I don’t see Uchouten Kazoku on that list and you blogged it!

  21. My list at Anime-Planet is much more complete.

  22. e

    @Enzo: about the Anime-Planet list you mentioned… atm there is no series under ‘Want To Watch’ in your profile though. http://www.anime-planet.com/users/GuardianEnzo :,>

  23. Z

    @Enzo, quick question, wasn’t sure where to put it. I’m up to Ep 16 in Zettai Shounen (cuz you gave it a 5) and while I adored the first half and became quite invested in the town and characters, I’m having a harder time with this second arc. I’m going to continue until the end, because that is what I do unless they piss me off. But did you have the same reaction? Did you find it hard to care about Tanigawa and friends?

  24. In a word, yes. Well – yes-ish. I did like the second half, but didn’t find it as riveting as the first. I didn’t find the protagonist as likeable or the setting as interesting. But I still enjoyed it, and without giving anything away, I’ll say that there’s a pretty good payoff if you stick it out till the end.

  25. I also agree that it might be neat to see posts on older series during weak seasons. Since you like Mushishi I think I’ll throw in Kino no Tabi as a suggestion, as it’s a short series that left me thinking.

  26. Z

    @Bokusen I enjoyed Kino no Tabi a great deal as well. Good suggestion. It’s a good “world building” series.

  27. D

    Based on all of the sports series I’ve watched in the past 4-5 years that I learned about from your site, I am fairly confident you would enjoy Hajime no Ippo, even if you don’t like boxing. If I remember correctly, you said you had never watched that one. Ippo is very similar to Onoda from Yowamushi Pedal. I think I’ve suggested this before on here, if you already said you didn’t like it and I forgot, my apologies. It’s actually one of my all time favorites and I’ve turned non-anime fans on to it before.

  28. OK, that’s one of the ones on the bucket list (though I tried the recent sequel and didn’t click with it). Would you rank it ahead of Ashita no Joe? That’s Mashiro’s favorite manga…

  29. D

    I enjoyed the recent sequels, but I think I was coasting on the inertia of the first series. That’s not to say they weren’t good, but, if I were to take a lesson from your reviews, I suspect the director, studio, or some other factor I’m usually ignorant of accounts for the difference in quality. Reading the associated manga chapters, there is no noticeable difference in entertainment value.

    Ashita no Joe is one of the all time greats, but yes, I’d rank Ippo ahead of it. Of course, Ippo owes a lot to Joe (and I suspect the entire sports genre of anime does, which is perhaps a question you’re more qualified to answer), but I like the characters in Ippo much more. I find Ippo much more relatable than Joe, who was a badass from the beginning. Ippo is like Onoda in many ways (perhaps not as optimistic or geeky), and the cast of characters around him are all amazing, including his gym mates and opponents. Actually, on further reflection, it’s even more like Yowamushi Pedal than I had originally realized.

  30. Y

    So I noticed that LWA wasnt mentioned at all in the post. Did you not even bother watching the first episode?

  31. Little Witch Academia is a very good series. I’m really looking forward to it each week.

  32. T

    Chiming in here since you’ve apparently completely dismissed Youjo Senki from even consideration. It and ACCA are the only stand-out non-sequels this season for me, and it certainly seems to have both plenty of plot potential and a genuinely interesting main character. If you’re bothered by the loli gimmick, it’s (somewhat surprisingly) actually an asset in this series and (as a very welcome surprise) I don’t think there’s been any fan-service. (Also, the titular loli-except-for-the-soul is the only loli there is, everyone else is an adult.) Of all the “alternate history war story” animes I’ve watched (which in most cases has meant “tried out and dropped”) over the years, I think this may be the only one that hasn’t had me seriously cringing over some aspect of it 3-4 episodes in. If you find yourself having to pad your schedule with fluff like ēlDLIVE, Seiren and Masamune-kun, I’d definitely recommend watching the first two eps of this (the first is a cold open, the second the origin story) and see if you don’t find a much better replacement. That is, unless you know all about the story and just aren’t interested, as opposed to judging by appearances (light novel based, loli main – reason enough for a “do not want” in most cases).

  33. Watched two eps. Hated it. Did something significant change after that?

  34. T

    For now, the setting has changed from the front lines to military academy and stratagems, but without knowing why you hated it, it’s hard to say whether that’d count as significant for you. (You can be oddly picky about some show, while being very much gung-ho about something not at all dissimilar (in my mind).) Without any clues, I’m guessing it’s some moral issue and/or the bizarro art style of the main and her female subordinate? Because otherwise, what’s not to like about an (essentially) undercover pragmatist/amoralist salaryman trying to scheme his way through magic-added WWI Germany (populated by grown-ups, even) in defiance of God?

  35. Everything? Pretty much. I hated the premise and the characters designs and the tone and the characters. And frankly, I think anime is doing entirely too much humanizing of Nazis.

  36. T

    No disputing tastes, I guess. Except of course that there are no Nazis in this anime, it’s a version of WWI (albeit slightly postponed chonologically), not WWII. So it’s just yer olde German Empire/alternate and moral outrage (on that point, anyway) isn’t obligatory. In any case, I still find it strange that you hated it so profoundly. For me it’s certainly no worse than something like Ajin or Kabaneri, so I honestly didn’t expect this level of aversion from you.

  37. And I find it almost unfathomable that someone would lump Ajin and Kabaneri together as if they were equivalent, but there’s no accounting for personal taste.

  38. Z

    @Tanya “For me it’s certainly no worse than something like Ajin or Kabaneri, so I honestly didn’t expect this level of aversion from you.” That just shows how very different opinions can be. I thought Ajin was quite good, and that Kabinari was some of the worst dreck of the season. I didn’t start Youjo Senki because it didn’t look like my kind of thing, but you made it sound interesting. I gave it a try. After 4 episodes, I like the concept and the strange juxtapositions in the color palate, but the characters are at the edge of “too mean” for me. “I will dick you over to prove my point” on both the god’s and atheist’s sides. So again, not my thing, but not for the reasons I had initially imagined. Thanks for talking about it so that I could give it a real try instead of just dismissing it out of hand.

    Substitute Jingoism for Nazis in Enzo’s statement and I think he has a valid complaint.

    But, as they say “your mileage may vary”, so I’m glad you are finding something to enjoy in this anime season.

  39. T

    @Enzo: And I find it almost unfathomable that someone would lump Ajin and Kabaneri together as if they were equivalent

    (Wipes tears after laughing hard.) You’re killing me, Enzo… Don’t be so hard on yourself! :) The only reason these two anime appeared in the same sentence was because I was trying to explain why I thought you might like YS by bringing up other shows with some thematic similarity that you have previously blogged (meaning they have passed a certain quality standard for you). So yes indeed, these shows are very much equivalent and can be lumped together in that regard. Other than that, I never said anything about them being the same, just that I didn’t think YS was any worse.

    To elaborate, I thought Ajin had an interesting concept and some excellent action but it had too much gimmickry, the pacing was somehow off and there was a distinct lack of characters who weren’t unlikable, boring or both (minus Sato, but unfortunately the show wasn’t Ajin: Sato vs Japan with him in the lead). So I forced myself to finish the first season, but was unable to start the second (watched the final ep, though – felt no different). Kabaneri was simply a popcorn show to pass the time, I liked the visuals quite a bit but could have done without the constant melodramatic shouting and silly confrontations. As for similarities to YS, for Ajin that would be getting into a big mess in “life after death”, badass amoral scenery-chewers (Sato/loli), plenty of morally questionable behavior all around, less than stellar character designs/animation (although I didn’t have anywhere near as much of a problem with that as you did); for Kabaneri the alt. history setting with interesting weapons adaptations and the feeling of constantly being at war and living in a militarized society. I’m not saying all of these are positives, but they’re similarities nonetheless and that’s why I mentioned these shows in particular; and for me YS, at this point, is more interesting than either of these two were at any point (except maybe the very start of Ajin).

    So, again, I was surprised that you hated YS so passionately, and if indeed you watched these two eps on my recommendation, I feel pretty bad about getting it so wrong and wasting your time in the process. But I honestly thought you’d be interested, and didn’t want you to take a pass based on possible preconceived notions (that I mentioned earlier). (And I’m still not sure what the Nazis had to do with anything.)

  40. Honestly, I don’t remember you recommending it. I watch the first eps of almost everything, and in a season as crappy as this one I tend to give a second to anything which has somebody recommending it (as a few people did with YS).

  41. T

    @Zilla: the characters are at the edge of “too mean” for me. “I will dick you over to prove my point” on both the god’s and atheist’s sides.

    Well, since in a way the whole point of reincarnation is to prove a point, one could certainly see the one in charge of it being inclined to do just that. As for “dicking over”, Being X could have said “OK, you don’t want to believe even upon witnessing, so you’ll simply die right now and that’ll be it for you – exactly in accordance with your beliefs”. Instead, they gave the guy a chance to mend his ways – I’m pretty sure X wouldn’t bother continuing to interfere with him personally if the whole point was to end him after the Tanya life (regardless of what it said to scare him).

    Tanya still being a dick is part of the fun, because otherwise we couldn’t very well enjoy him getting screwed over in turn by the various circumstances, especially those arising from his own cunning. And it’s interesting to see how a pragmatic enough dick can more often than not do the right thing, even if it’s just to keep up appearances. Perhaps sociopaths wouldn’t do (as many) bad things if the society didn’t reward them for them…

    In any case, since I’m the one who got you into it, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the show as much as I have.

    (Re: Ajin and Kabaneri, see my reply to Enzo.)

  42. T

    @Zilla: Substitute Jingoism for Nazis in Enzo’s statement and I think he has a valid complaint.

    Sorry, forgot about this one. Maybe so, but frankly I don’t get what the point of bringing this up is in connection with this particular show. It’s not like Germany was markedly more into war than other European countries of WWI time. They were all itching to “show those damn *******”, grab a little territory, and the like. And I don’t see this show applauding that, it’s just using the setting. Now I get that Enzo thought this was a WWII setting, but again, I really don’t get what gave him this idea.

  43. Y

    Is that HxH I see there in the manga line-up??? WHY?!?!?! Tell me it’s gonna be back, pls pls pls pls… I’ve heard rumours his darling wife is going to take over the art department so that he only focuses on the story and doesn’t strain his body too much. Confirmation, anyone? I’m really desperate, if you can’t already tell…

  44. I just didn’t have the heart to take it out. I don’t think there are any serious rumors about Takeuchi doing the art (her style is totally wrong anyway). I’m assuming Togashi comes back at some point until he says otherwise, but make no assumptions about when or for how long.

    Look on the bright side – new Rurouni Kenshin the spring.

  45. s

    New Rurouni Kenshin? How have I missed it??? And also there’s a new season both of Natsume Yuujinchou and Noragami to look foward. Future is not so black after all!

  46. Sorry, I should have clarified – new Rurouni Kenshin manga – the “Hokkaido Arc”. It’s going to be running monthly and it’s supposedly Watsuki’s original ending for the series. There’s a two-chapter preview currently free at Viz’ WSJ website.

    That said, I have hopes that it could – could – lead to a reboot of the anime, which incorporates the Jinchuu Arc as well. Hope never dies, I guess – and it’s clear that RK still has a lot of traction commercially.

  47. Theres a new season of Noragami?!?

  48. Not that I heard.

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