suntzuanime

A thoughtful response to current anime.

Threshing Spring 2016

From Wikipedia: “Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain (or other crop) from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain.” You can’t winnow the wheat from the chaff based on just one episode, or you risk missing out on shows like Tatami Galaxy and Shiki. But you can at least get some idea. Below are some ideas, sorted in increasing order of how much potential the shows seem to have based on their first episodes. (Show title translations taken from myanimelist.net, even in cases where I disagree with their translation).

13: Kiznaiver

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Just guessing, but I would assume it was for no good reason.

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Actually, when you put it that way, it sounds like a pretty good reason after all.

A group of high school students are kidnapped and surgically altered to share each other’s pain. I’m sure the writers of this show have some big ideas that they want to express, like maybe they’re trying to do an allegory for socialism, or an indictment of modern atomized society, or whatever. But the first episode, at least, seems uninterested in actually exploring any of these ideas. The first half of the episode was an extremely half-hearted school life story where nothing important happened and even the characters couldn’t bring themselves to care. “Oh, yes, I’m being bullied, ho hum, I’m used to it” says the protagonist, and if he isn’t worried about it, why should we be? The second half of the episode was exposition, but the writers were too in love with the bigness of their ideas to come straight out and say what their show was about. So they ended up with less of an infodump and more of a vaguenessdump, managing to have the spooky conspirator character talk and talk for several minutes just to explain “you guys share each other’s pain, for reasons”. In between those two halves there was a brief disco hospital scene that still has me confused; it was possibly a metaphor, or a sign the viewpoint character was drugged, but maybe that’s just how hospitals work in this setting. The setting has only vaguely been described to me, so I can’t really contradict anything that would happen, and as a result I feel uninvested in the story. Although I’m sure having the defining feature of the protagonist be that he doesn’t give a shit about anything doesn’t help.

12: Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)

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That feel when you don’t have superpowers.

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Don’t mind if I do!

In a world where most people have superpowers, one kid doesn’t, but still wants to be a hero. It seems like the anime industry is getting into superhero stories, which is a pity, because if I wanted those I could just watch any of the fifty Marvel movies put out every year. Superhero stories are about action, and Hollywood has SFX budgets way higher than what this show was willing to shell out for animation. The art design in the show seems to favor “loud and splashy” to cover up its technical roughness, which kind of fits the genre, but it’s tiring to watch. It’s like having your eyes shouted at for thirty minutes. If it were an interesting story or interesting characters I could forgive some visual issues, but they seem uninterested in digging into the societal consequences of everyone having superpowers in favor of a stereotypical underdog shounen protagonist’s story, so. One Punch Man worked, but it worked because it was parodying the superhero genre; this anime is playing it straight and falling flat.

11: Anne Happy

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It’s nice when you and your friends can share common interests.

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They’ve all been so unlucky as to lose their eyes in some horrible accident.

Three high school girls are in a class designed to help cure their unluckiness.  Bland three-girl slice of life comedy. If this is the sort of thing you want to watch, there are literally hundreds of shows like it, many of which are going to have better animation or more well-developed characters. The characters seem to mostly have quirks instead of personalities; for example, the gloomy girl isn’t consistently gloomy, but rather her gloominess turns on and off like a faucet when the show wants to use her gloominess as a punchline. Literally the only distinguishing characteristic of the main girl is that she wants to bang an “under construction” sign. The cheerful girl is the only one that really has a personality, but it’s as a one-dimensional personality of “oh, I’m just cheerful all the time, hey, there’s a catastrophe? Tee hee, I didn’t even notice because I’m so cheerful”. With a little more subtlety it could have been an interesting contrast with her unluckiness, but it was too overdone and she just came off as annoying. Some of the comedy was  passable; the show spends a lot of time in super-deformed mode to save money on animation, and the funny faces help carry weak jokes. But a slice-of-life comedy can get by without much comedy. It can’t get by if I don’t care about the lives that are being sliced.

10: Kuma Miko (Girl Meets Bear)

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What a charming miko she is.

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To be fair, most bears don’t eat people, they just maul them when they feel threatened.

A shrine maiden in a rural village wants to go to school in the big city, but the shrine’s talking bear doesn’t want her to. There were a few worthwhile jokes in this show, mostly playing on the titular miko’s (girl’s? shrine maiden’s) unfamiliarity with city life, but they came at a slow pace. This show isn’t set up to have gag after gag in a rapid fire sequence, and that’s fine, you can make that work, but a more sedately-paced comedy needs to have characters that can keep me interested during the lulls, and this show doesn’t. I was hoping this show would be like Kokkuri-san, since they’re both set up with a supernatural guardian of a young girl, but the relationship between Machi and Natsu lacks the warmth that Ichimatsu and Kokkuri-san have. The first half of the episode was spent with the two of them grumbling and talking past each other about their conflicting desires re: the Big City, and the second half was a really awkward town history meeting that nobody wanted to be at. At no point did I get the sense that any of these characters cared about each other at all, or indeed anything. Machi cares about going to the Big City, but only inasmuch as she doesn’t care for rural life. Natsu seemed more interested in winning the argument than in actually having her stay. I guess the civil servant cousin dude cared about taking pictures of police cars? That was a really random and pointless segment.

9: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress)

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Is there any other kind?

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In a world overrun by zombies, being a little cautious is just common sense.

A feudal world is overrun by zombies, humanity being confined to fortified cities connected by armored trains. I think the memory of being burned by Shingeki no Kyojin is still too fresh in my mind for me to be taken in by this show, which doesn’t even have SnK’s sick opening theme. I just don’t think the formula of “shitty human society under attack by terrifying monsters” works all that well. If you make the human society shitty enough, it’s like, why do I even care if it gets overrun by monsters? They deserved it for being racist against the zombie-bitten, when you think about it. It also makes the show kind of one-tone, if you’re fighting monsters-fighting monsters-fighting monsters and then you take a break and for a change of pace you fight classist prejudice it blurs together and becomes exhausting. You need some good times, or else you become numb to the bad times. I also worry the science doesn’t seem at all consistent in this show. They talk about how scary the zombies are because they have steel cages around their hearts to make them almost invincible, but then the female lead easily slices one’s head off to defeat it. If removing the head/destroying the brain works, why even bother targeting the heart? And the male lead saves himself from zombification by preventing the virus from entering his brain but A) why would the virus instantly disappear after like ten seconds instead of hiding out in his heart, B) if you cut off all blood to your brain you might not become a zombie but you at least become dead, and C) you can even see the disease pass over his tourniquet so how has it even done anything? It’s possible that there is a reasonable explanation for all this that they plan to drop on us, but they haven’t given me reason to trust them. The animation is mostly high quality, and for mindless action I’m sure it would be a fine show, but these problems would surely nag at me.

8: Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-)

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Don’t you hate when you’re summoned to another dimension only to discover racism exists there too?

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– Me, on discovering that the episode was double-length

A NEET is pulled into a fantasy world and embroiled in some dangerous business, but luckily he gets to go back in time every time he dies. This show had the potential to be so much better if the writing weren’t light novel crap. The art style is colorful, the girls are cute, the time travel gimmick is nifty, and the fight scenes toward the end of the episode were well-animated. But it seemed like over half the lines of dialog were someone being snarky for no reason or talking about how awesome NEETs are and isn’t it cool to have no prospects in life. The characters are constantly cracking jokes that aren’t funny, just to prevent anything that happens in the show from having any emotional weight. The male lead gets disemboweled and watches his comrade die bloodily and then he goes right back to making microjests until it’s time for the next bloodbath. I don’t think Japanese generational pathologies work the same way as American ones, but this show makes me want to shake my fist and yell about Millennials.

7: Sansha Sanyou (Three Leaves, Three Colors)

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Next time, say “please touch me with your filthy hands”.

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That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think?

Three girls are friends. This show is very attractively animated for a three-girl-slice-of-life show, and they spent a lot of the episode talking about food, which is the definite best slice-of-life topic, but… well, it seems stupid to complain about nothing happening in a three-girl-slice-of-life show, since the genre is defined by how little happens in it. Still, this show felt empty. Maybe there’s a sharp discontinuity between a show with very small-scale, low-stakes conflict and a show with no conflict in it at all. The one time it looked like there was going to be some action in the episode, when the pink-haired chick confronted the student council president, they suddenly cut away and resolved the whole thing off-camera. If the former-rich-girl doesn’t realize that she’s made bad food, and her friends are too friendly to call her out on it, that doesn’t count as conflict either. Either of those cases could have added a pinch of interest without overpowering the soothing slice-of-life flavor. If they had, this might have been a legitimately good episode.

6: Big Order

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How great can it have been if it couldn’t even manage one lousy world?

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Because the human heart, in its weakness, defects in the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

In a world where some people get superpowers based on their wishes, a high school boy wished for world domination, and now he’s being targeted by a secret organization. I like the protagonist of this show. He feels bad about almost destroying the world, which is enough to make him sympathetic, but he doesn’t feel bad enough about almost destroying the world to not keep on doing it, which makes him interesting. And he’s taunted by a magical floating pink-haired chick that only he can see, which is a solid aesthetic choice. I’m not sure the plot is going to be any good, though. Soldiers just appeared out of nowhere and started attacking him, despite apparently knowing that he’s a total badass and not having any actual plan for dealing with his total badassedness. And even if there is an explanation given later, he just seems like too much of a badass for there to be a real story. I’m willing to give a show a little leeway in making its protagonists overpowered if those protagonists are proactive and a little villainous (which describes Eiji by the end of the episode), but having complete dominance over your surroundings including all people and objects and laws of physics just seems like way too much. There are ways to threaten that, but they’re all things like “nuke him from orbit before he knows it’s coming” that don’t make for great TV.

5: Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (Tanaka-kun is Always Listless)

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How inconsiderate, people are trying to sleep.

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Super ultra great delicious wonderful tired.

A high school boy is always tired. From a critical, artistic perspective, this show accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. From an anime fan’s perspective, I’m not totally convinced I want shows to set out to make me yawn. I can appreciate how well-made the show is in the abstract, but is “I almost fell asleep while watching this” really a way to praise a show? The pacing of the show is precisely tuned to be just slow enough to lull you off to sleep but not slow enough that you get distracted and wake up to do something else. There were cute visual gags, like the screenwipe that has Outa carrying Tanaka slowly across the screen and it takes so long the next scene is half-over before it ends, but by that point the show had sapped me of too much energy for me to be able to laugh. Just writing this blurb is making my eyelids heavy. I guess this would be a good show to watch right before bed.

4: Joker Game

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Metal Gear?

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Never trust a weeaboo.

In the lead-up to WW2, a special group of spies is established within the Japanese Army. Shows set in pre-war Japan are always great because the aesthetics are familiar but the culture is interestingly alien. Imperialist Japan viewed through the eyes of Liberal Democratic Japan viewed through the eyes of Liberal Democratic USA is sufficiently indirect to give a voyeuristic thrill. The show does a great job of delivering on that theme and aesthetic, with people in suits smoking cigarettes talking in serious tones about dying honorably for their country. But the actual content, the promised spy story, seemed a little weak. The one trick they pulled in the first episode was cheating at cards, and the way they were cheating didn’t even make sense (info on your opponent’s hand is useful in poker, but it won’t help you get a 4-of-a-kind). They set up a tense situation at the American spy’s residence, but they’ve delayed the payoff and asked us to trust them, and I don’t know how much trust they’ve earned yet. They spent most of the episode with the straight-laced protagonist complaining about how much he hates spies, which, I am sorry to break it to him, but he is the protagonist of a spy story. I get that you want to have an ignorant sap around so that you can explain things to the audience by proxy, but ignorant saps make poor protagonists. They would have been better off making one of the spies the viewpoint character and having this army lieutenant be an annoying sidekick he had to put up with.

3: Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko jai Nai to Omotta? (And you thought there is never a girl online?)

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Finally, a relatable protagonist.

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Moe! A healer who lets the tank die is moe!

A high school boy goes to an off-line meetup for his MMO guild only to discover that his guildmates are girls from his school. This is a nice, light, fun harem comedy. I can already slot it in mentally among the dozens of other light harem comedies that have been enjoyable and forgettable. Whether the gimmick is that the girls are MMORPG players, or martial artists, or maybe secretly his sister, the structure is pretty much the same. The important thing is that the girls are cute, the jokes work, and the pacing is fast enough to keep from getting bored with the fluff, and in the first episode this show delivered on all those points. I look forward to enjoying and then forgetting about this show.

2: Sakamoto Desu Ga (Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto)

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All work and no play makes Sakamoto a dull boy.

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Sakamoto manages to be cool even while flipping you off.

A high school boy is extremely perfect and wonderful, inspiring envy in his classmates. I liked this show. I’m a little worried about how well it’ll be able to fill out a full season, as it seems to be relying on the single gag of “Sakamoto does everything stylishly and every attempt to show him up backfires”, but there’s room to put him into different situations and have bystanders react differently, at least. And there were some great visual gags in this episode, like Sakamoto playing Mary Poppins with an umbrella or fencing a bee with his compass. Even if the fundamental underlying joke is the same, a funny visual can spice it up and keep it from getting old. There isn’t much in the way of depth of character here (Sakamoto is too perfect to have any real character), but the laughs came along at a fast enough clip that the show didn’t suffer from the lack. Sakamoto kind of reminds me of Saitama from One Punch Man, so maybe they’ll branch out from their one joke just like that show did.

1: Mayoiga

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That… that sounds nice, actually.

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That, I am going to be honest, sounds less nice.

A varied group of misfits takes a trip to a mysterious hidden village where they’re promised the ability to start their lives over. This show points up the weaknesses of relying on first episodes to judge shows. They spent the entire episode en route to the mythic village where the main action is presumably going to take place. Presumably this show is going to turn out to be a horror, and they did have a bunch of creepy stuff in this episode, but it all turned out to be the wind, or a nightmare, or people just saying creepy things for no reason, and there was a lot of humor too. The cast of characters they assembled from the dregs of the internet really feels more suited to a comedy than a horror. I got sort of a Higurashi vibe from it, but Higurashi at least opened with a dismembered corpse so you knew where it stood. The worst this episode gave us was someone driving a little recklessly. The banter between the internet rejects was compelling, though, and the creepy stuff was nice and atmospheric even if nobody got chopped up and thrown in the river, so wherever we’re headed, I’m interested in riding along.

 

So all in all, the yield is three shows that definitely look good, and then three more shows that I’m going to give a little more time to impress me. Mediocre for a spring season, but not a disaster by any means.

One response to “Threshing Spring 2016

  1. Anonymous April 20, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I found this season a lot better than the previous two, with many many shows that at least promise generously, even if half of them will doubtlessly fail to deliver (kiznaiver).

    Tanaka is a weird one, I didn’t want to drop it because it truly is well crafted, but I think even calling it a Slice of L*fe is generous.

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