Mid-year 2017 viewing update, Summer viewing plans
Summer 2017 viewing update #1

Summer wasn’t quite what I hoped with Netflix and Amazon mugging a number of shows, but the four I did watch were between solid and great. I also marathoned two shows from previous seasons during the downtime, and plowed through some rewatches. I’m actually trying to have at least one rewatch going at all times now. After finally finishing a year and a half long Aria rewatch, I rewatched through both seasons of Ookami to Koushinryou (and started the novels – on vol 7 now), and just recently began rewatching the gorgeous Hanayamata.

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

All of the following are loosely grouped by color: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4. Click on a title to jump to the comments.

Completed or Airing
01. New Game!! [ 9.5 / 10 ]
T2. Urara Meirochou [ 9.5 / 10 ]
T2. Alice to Zouroku [ 9.5 / 10 ]
04. Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? [ 9.25 / 10 ]
05. Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic [ 9.0 / 10 ]
06. Gabriel Dropout [ 8.5 / 10 ]
07. Youjo Senki [ 8.5 / 10 ]
08. Hinako Note [ 8.25 / 10 ]
09. Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 [ 8.0 / 10 ]
10. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen [ 8.0 / 10 ]
11. Isekai Shokudou [ 7.5 / 10 ]
12. Natsume Yuujin-chou Roku [ 7.5 / 10 ]
13. Centaur no Nayami [ 7.0 / 10 ]
14. Twin Angel Break [ 7.0 / 10 ]
15. Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu [ 7.0 / 10 ]
16. Schoolgirl Strikers Animation Channel [ 6.0 / 10 ]

Shorts
01. Nyanko Days [ 7.5 / 10 ]
02. The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Gekijou [ 6.0 / 10 ]

Previous Year Pick-ups
01. Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo [ 6.0 / 10 ]

Dropped
Little Witch Academia [10 episodes]
Sin Nanatsu no Taizai [4 episodes]

Top Characters (new shows or new characters only)
Chtholly Nota Seniorious – Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka?
Kurumizawa Satanichia McDowell – Gabriel DropOut
Kashimura Sana – Alice to Zouroku
Chiya – Urara Meirochou
Tsukinose Vignette April – Gabriel DropOut
Koume – Urara Meirochou
Kon – Urara Meirochou
Tachibana Yayoi – Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic
Konatsu – Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
Nakajima Yua – Hinako Note
Shikishima Hatori – Alice to Zouroku
Tanya Degurechaff – Youjo Senki

Top Pairings (new shows or new pairings only)
Liones Yelistratova / Nina Alexandrovna – Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic
Chiya / Kon / Koume / Nono – Urara Meirochou
Chiya / Kon – Urara Meirochou
Koume / Nono – Urara Meirochou
Chtholly Nota Seniorious / Willem Kmetsch – Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka?
Sakura Nene / Ahagon Umiko – New Game!!
Sakuragi Hinako / Nakajima Yua – Hinako Note
Kisaragi Sumire / Amatsuki Meguru – Twin Angel Break/span>
Konatsu / Yotarou – Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
Mochizuki Momiji / Narumi Tsubame – New Game!!

Top OPs
Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu – “Jitenshi ni Hana wa Mau”
Urara Meirochou – “Yumeji Labyrinth”
Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic – “Butterfly Effector”
Hinako Note – “A-E-I-U-E-O-AO!!”
Youjo Senki – “Jingo Jungle”

Top EDs
New Game!! – “JUMPin’ JUMP UP!!!!”
Gabriel Dropout – “Hallelujah☆Essaim”
Urara Meirochou – “go to Romance>>>>>”
Centaur no Nayami – “Edelweiss”
Hinako Note – “Curtain Call”


New Game!! Imported!
(click to hide)

It may sound odd at first, but I think slice of life shows benefit more than any other from sequels. Whereas drama- or action-heavy stories often seek to shock and awe with a focus on catastrophic or life-defining events in the course of a self-contained story, slice of life prefers incremental insights into personalities. This is a generalization, sure, but it helps define what “slice of life” means to me.

Season one (comments here) was excellent then and I stand by that now now, but I do agree that season two delivers the biggest payoffs. Emotional investment in a good slice of life story is cumulative. It almost never decreases unless something goes terribly wrong, and every passing day you spend with the characters increases your fondness towards them. New Game is a damn good example of this being done right.

As Eagle Jump moves beyond the successful launch of Fairies 3 and onto their new project, New Game!! pauses to evaluate where its characters are now and figure out where they want to go next. I mean that literally – Rin and Shizuku hold performance evaluations in episode one.

This was a stroke of genius, and as much as I loved it at the time, I love it even more in retrospect because it foreshadows the course of the rest of the show:
• Aoba’s desire to design more characters and expand her role at the company.
• Hifumi’s determination to work on her social skills and self confidence, and the offer of the character team leader position.
• Hajime’s entry into game design proposals, bringing her a spotlight she lacked in season one.
• Nene’s surprisingly intimate relationship with Umiko, and her desire to get into programming.
• Rin’s first hints of concern that her relationship with Kou might change in a big way, and her move into a more senior management role.
• Shizuku’s announcement of the character design competition, and signs that she’ll play a more visible management role this season.
• Umiko’s promotion to programming lead, and establishing her role as Nene’s mentor.
• Kou largely stays out the limelight in the first episode, but the announcement of the character design competition is the turning point where she begins to evolve from Aoba’s mentor to her rival.

What about Yun? While she and Hajime get some great focus on a relationship level, professionally Yun feels like she’s treading water this season. I don’t intend that as a put-down of Yun, but I think it’s fair to say that for her, season two is mostly about coming to accept that she’s already a valuable team member, and there is no shame in being good at the job she’s always done. Consistent, reliable people are important. Rin tells her as much during the evaluation, but it’s not until later in the season that Yun starts to believe it herself. I feel like there’s a wealth of unexplored Yun material left, and hope the story circles back around to her some day.

Hajime’s forays into game design were an unexpected and delightful move. As the lone representative of the motion team, Hajime always felt a little disconnected from the rest of the story. Her design work did a lot to fix that, and showed her in a more mature and serious capacity than we’d seen before. While all the other characters are more my type, I like Hajime a whole lot more now than I did in season one.

But the most unexpected change (besides the events of the last arc) came from Nene. Even putting aside what a shockingly good couple she makes with Umiko, I’m impressed that they fit two great Nene arcs into one season. Motivated by both Aoba and Umiko, Nene tackles indie game development, eventually channeling that into a position at Eagle Jump. Once there, we see how she proves herself to Naru (and in doing so, Umiko). As in season one, Nene remains right at the heart of what makes New Game so good. Two of my favorite moments this season are the look she gives Aoba and Hotaru while they play her game, and the moving words that mark her acceptance to Eagle Jump. We were spoiled by great Nene moments this season.

Umiko’s character arc is less prominent, but is easily traceable through her smile. She’s not all menacing smirks anymore – around Nene she learns to smile with an emotional honesty that speaks volumes to their relationship. Umiko has always been the most relatable character for me (doesn’t show a lot of emotion in public, is no-nonsense at work, that kind of thing) so I agree that more subtle emotional development was the most correct way to approach her.

I have mixed feelings about how season two handled Hifumi. I wanted two things above all else from New Game!!: Hifumi gaining more self-confidence, and movement in the Aoba/Hifumi relationship. And I really wanted those two things to be explored in tandem. In the end we did get the former, but as yet depressingly little of the latter. I’m grateful of course that what we did get was extremely well executed. Every time she built up enough confidence to interact with her coworkers, you just had to cheer for her. And then smile knowingly as she laments the difficulty of social interactions. I may be most like Umiko, but I adore Hifumi above all others.

Shortly after Momo is hired, Hifumi moves into Kou and Rin’s cube. In theory I love this, because one of the aspects I’ve always found most interesting about Hifumi is that she’s in between the Rin/Kou and Aoba/Hajime/Yun generations. She mostly interacts with the younger employees, and yet is quite casual with Kou and Rin. It’s a neat dynamic that they explored some, and could have explored more… except that, while her new desk was only be mere feet away, Hifumi virtually disappeared once Momo took over her old seat.

One day, Hifumi. One day Aoba will be 20 and we’ll get a whole story about you and her getting tipsy and cosplaying together. ONE DAY.

Speaking of new hires… they are a very fun pair. Introducing new characters to an established cast with great chemistry is tricky, and NG!! comes out with both the good and the bad (mostly good!). It’s unavoidable that Momo and Naru’s arrival diluted the focus on most of the existing cast members. With two new characters to deal with, Hajime, Yun and particularly Hifumi took a back seat.

And as much as I like the newbies, it’d be unreasonable to expect them to be as well developed as the main cast already. What we’re seeing in NG!! is Momo and Naru at the equivalent of the other characters’ season one baseline. We’re establishing their personalities and relationships, while the other characters are already established and thus with them we’re examining the implications of and changes to their personalities and relationships. The latter is more interesting, and thus the Naru/Momo material doesn’t reach the heights of Aoba, Nene, and Hifumi’s material in the first half, nor the Rin and Kou material at the end.

Given that, NG!! did well to have the newbies pull double duty: we get familiar with them while they’re being used to tell us more about Aoba and Nene.

If asked, I’d probably say I prefer how this played out on the Nene/Naru side. The line connecting Naru’s arrival to Nene’s growth was more direct and obvious. With Aoba and Momo, I feel like the biggest payoff is still in the future. But I can’t deny that Momo was important for Aoba. In the very first scene of the show Aoba is psyching herself up to step into a senpai role, and with Momo she finally gets that opportunity. I don’t think Momo actually changes Aoba much, but she does give the audience an outsider’s perspective on Aoba; a way to step outside of Aoba’s head and see how she’s matured in the eyes of others. It’s similar to the way season one let us see a previously unknown Aoba through Nene’s eyes.

It’s a little less immediately gratifying than seeing Nene go Super Debugger and save Naru’s butt, but it’s a great set-up for the future. I’ll never really get over how it came directly at Hifumi’s expense, and I particularly wish it had been Hifumi dragging Aoba to see Kou off rather than Momo in the finale. But I can’t in good faith complain too much about the choice – Momo deserved a capstone to her introductory arc, and that was certainly a fitting one. I’m just unabashedly Hifumi-biased, is all! This is also exacerbated by playing through her story in the PS4 game, which was more in-depth than anything she’s gotten in the anime so far. There can be so much more to Hifumi. Give it to us!

Finally, the elephant in the room: Kou’s departure from Eagle Jump. I can’t say I was expecting it, and I respect the hell out of the show’s determination to see it through. Until the end I anticipated a wacky misunderstanding of some point, but I’m really happy to say I underestimated this show. Kou leaving opens so many possibilities for everyone at Eagle Jump going forward, particularly Aoba, Hifumi, Rin, and Momo.

It really hurt to see Kou go, in large part because her relationship with Rin is one of the show’s highlights. I feel so sorry for Rin. She’s always been the one to hold the relationship together, and she’s the only reason Kou has been able to get to where she is now. And yet, Kou repays her by disappearing to the other side of the world for a few years. (And in classic slice of life fashion, the show adds insult to injury by yet again refusing Rin a kiss or even an “I love you”. I’m kinda pissed about that!) It’s hard for me to avoid feeling like Kou is being selfish, so she’s damned lucky that Rin is a more understanding person than I’d ever claim to be. I do understand Kou’s need to grow professionally, and the desire to give Aoba and the others breathing room is commendable. But I sure as hell expect her to spend the rest of her life making this up to Rin!

Selfish or not, it’s absolutely the right choice for the story. While Kou’s presence at Eagle Jump has been more motivating than stifling, that was strating to change. The character design competition distilled this dynamic down to its essence: Aoba was incredibly motivated to compete against Kou, but so long as corporate realities and name recognition prevented it from being a fair competition, Aoba remained in Kou’s shadow. Now, Aoba has been freed of those constraints.

And so New Game!! ends more with possibilities than conclusions. We’re completely caught up with the manga, and a third season seems unlikely. That’s the “downside” of slice of life being a cumulative experience – there’s often no ideal place to end it, because you can always add more. Throughout season two, a string of powerful, endearing character arcs deepend my emotional investment in the cast, but in the end my feeling wasn’t “those stories are now complete”, it was “and now, more than ever before, I want to see what happens next!”.

If your show’s most fundamntal “flaw” is simply having to end while a wealth of deeply charming and emotionally engaging characters remain behind with more stories to tell, I suppose there are far worse fates! And while I have some hesitation about it, in the end I’m giving New Game the top spot in 2017 (as of the end of Summer). It may not have the aesthetic of Urara Meirochou or the masterful plotting of Alice to Zouroku. But there are so many characters here that I feel so strongly about that it overwhelms with sheer numbers. Everywhere I look there’s a dozen stories I want it to tell. New Game has evolved into an incredibly special show.

The future is unclear for the women of Eagle Jump, but only because it’s so wide open. Where do they go next? What new roles will they play in Kou’s absence? What new relationship dynamics will form? Will their next title be successful without Kou’s influence? How would the team react to a commercial failure? What changes will Kou bring back with her in a few years time? Will Tokunou Shoutarou remember that Hifumi exists?

Maybe we’ll never find out. But even if New Game leaves us wondering, it also leaves us with so much to look back on fondly. And if we can trust in one thing for certain, it’s that Aoba is going to give it her all, every day, come what may. Say it again today and every day yet to come, 今日も一日がんばるぞい!

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Urara Meirochou Imported!
» Winter wrap-up post
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Alice to Zouroku Imported!
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? Imported!
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Hina Logi: From Luck & Logic Imported!
(click to hide)

Hinalogi is a rather improbable show. An instantly forgotten TCG adaptation with a bog standard LN-style setting (“ordinary boy meets goddess, gains the power to save the world”) somehow returns to spin off a slice of life magical girl show where the world is at peace, there are no enemies, everyone is super nice to each other, and the only conflict is friendly rivalry. The show is completely standalone, and there’s no requirement to watch the Luck & Logic anime. And best of all it removes the male lead, instead putting runaway princess Liones Yelistratova at the forefront.

But first, a nod to the series’ excellent production. Douga Koubou did my two favorite shows this season, and three of my top six of 2017 so far. I’m really happy to have them back, because besides the first New Game they hadn’t done anything I was really into since 2012-2013. Hinalogi, even more than New Game!!, is a colorful, lively celebration of great faces and exaggerated reactions. The OP is stylish as hell with its cut-outs against real objects. The eyecatches are numerous and super charming. And it’s even got a few bits of genuinely great action animation as well as a wealth of incredible henshin sequences. Sakugabooru only has a few of them but for example: Nina, Yayoi (not the full one unfortunately), Lion, Yuuko.

I think there must have been at least 10 unique, fully-fledged transformations, maybe more. In addition to being very well-animated and visually distinct, they tell tiny stories about the relationship between Logicalist (the girls) and Foreigner (the beings the contract with). A few lines of dialogue trade back and forth, and we get intriguing glimpses into the different worlds they inhabit. It may be a small thing, but it adds narrative to what is usually just a bit of visual spectacle. The desire to understand the Foreigners is a strong undercurrent of the show, so portraying a Logicalist’s “Trance” sequence as a cooperative effort is very fitting.

Besides the pretty visuals, it’s Tachibana Yayoi who sold me on the series initially. I’ve often mentioned my soft spot for ojou-sama characters who buck the “stuck up elitist” convention of the archetype. Yayoi has a lot of pride for sure, and she even comes with the traditional pair of adoring hangers-on. But she immediately shows herself as a caring, friendly, passionate defender of the people in her life. It’s not just Karin and Karen with whom she shares a close (…very close) bond. She’s kind to everyone. Firm with criticism when deserved, but never malicious. Intense in her rivalry with Nina, but never hateful.

I just adore her. Yuuko may be the group’s dorm advisor, but it’s really Yayoi who keeps the disaster-prone group held together. Or at least tries her best to do so. While she plays the graceful older sister role as much as she’s able, her emotional attachment to her friends runs deep. Sometimes that means she feels at a loss for what to do, but she always manages to collect herself and do whatever is in her power to keep everyone smiling. She’s an absolute delight, and as her instructor notes, will make a great ALCA officer. It’s no surprise Karin and Karen are so unquestioningly happy to devote their lives to her. She doesn’t command loyalty, she earns it.

While Yayoi remains my favorite individual character, it’s Lion and Nina who elevated Hinalogi to something truly special. It’s Nina’s character arc that provides what passes for dramatic tension in the show. She’s already a professional Logicalist, but was sent from ALCA to Lion’s school to mature emotionally (though she doesn’t know this and just sees it as a temporary demotion). When we meet her, all she cares about is scoring top marks in class, proving herself to ALCA’s director, and getting back on active duty as soon as possible.

When the clumsy and overeager Lion stumbles into her life, that all starts to change. Nina’s smile is the barometer by which Hinalogi’s central character dynamic is measured. From the shrine visit where she first bonds with the girls to the finale where she realizes that Lion embodies the future she’s chosen, we watch her smile grow broader and come ever more easily. Over the couse of the story, her smile is softened by friendship, rivalry, teamwork… and love.

Especially love. I can still scarcely believe it really happened, but Hinalogi spends its last few episodes not on a sudden enemy threat but on firmly establishing the romantic feelings that had been budding between Lion and Nina.

It should be the most natural thing in the world. They’re deeply enamored with each other, and Lion told Nina she loved her way back in the first episode. Were they a boy and a girl a romantic ending would’ve been the assumption from the moment they laid eyes on each other. But that’s not how things go in anime with two girls. At first it was easy to wave off Lion’s “love” the same way Papika’s dai-dai-daisuki! carried a lot less weight the first time she launched it at Cocona. It’s inevitable that we’d think “Ah, it’s cute but it’ll never amount to anything unambiguous. Sadly that’s just how these shows are.”

Then Lion kissed Nina. It seemed to happen in slow motion:
“Sigh, they cut away, I guess they’re going leave it ambigu–”
::the unmistakable sound of a kiss is heard::
“…Wow. Well, it’s probably going to be passed off as a greeting in Lion’s country.”
::Lion says “Back at home-“::
“Yeah…”
::”-we kiss the person we like the most right when New Years comes.”
“O-oh. She clearly said “person we like the most… but I guess it was on the chee–”
::Nina puts her finger to her mouth and says “And that was my first time.”::

I simply wasn’t prepared. You go into every show with a romantically coded pairing hoping they’ll be acknowledged in this way, but when the odds seem to be one in a million you don’t expect it. And then Hinalogi does it, and rejects the usual cop-outs that would have played Lion’s feelings off as something less than love. And then, even if you somehow manage to read the scene platonically, the second half of the episode has Lion desperate to express her love (愛!) through Valentine’s chocolate. No two ways about it, Lion is romantically in love and Nina is very much on board.

That said, I can’t say it’s absolutely perfect, only because Nina never returns the same words – at least not out loud. Even after their touching rendezvous during the third years’ graduation, where Nina makes clear that she’s once and for all chosen Lion over going back to ALCA, she insists (in a textbook “the lady doth protest too much” sort of way) that she’s staying because of all her friends, reluctant to be more specific than that. That she says this while holding hands with Lion and blushing speaks to her true feelings, but it is a little disappointing that she never explicitly voices her love except under the influence of emotion-amplification magic chocolate.

It’s a small thing, perhaps. And in no way does Hinalogi expect its viewers to think Nina isn’t deeply in love. I don’t want to make this sound like the usual ambiguous slice of life subtext – it’s operating at a fundamentally higher level of canon than, say, New Game. It’s just trying to be cute by playing coy with Nina’s tsundere tendencies. But it would have meant so very much to me to give Nina as open a declaration of love as it gave Lion. I’m stuck on this only because it went so far, farther than I could have ever hoped, but still left thsoe last few millimeters unclaimed, turning to look back at the viewer with a sly smile and a wink. Alright, I understand your not-remotely-subtle message, Hinalogi. I’d be blind not to. But when you’ve gone so far, why not drop the games entirely?

In a perfect world, when Nina takes Lion’s face in her hands in the final episode, she gets up on her tiptoes, reciprocates the New Year’s kiss, and whispers into Lion’s ear, crimson red from blushing, “And that was my second time.” Right then and there Hinalogi would become my anime of the year.

But even if we didn’t quite get there, I’m so, so happy that HinaLogi not only somehow managed to exist, but completely surpassed any expectations I could have had for it. Lion/Nina are hands down the most precious couple of the year, and I dearly miss all of these girls already. From the catchy OP to the lively animation, lovable cast, and beautiful romance, Hinalogi became something really memorable.

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Gabriel Dropout Imported!
» Winter wrap-up post
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Youjo Senki
(click to hide)

While this was a Winter show, I only picked it up during Summer. I was initially put off by just how hilariously terrible the premise is, and the lukewarm reactions ep 1 got. But with Summer being slow and me having heard much better things about the show as time went on, I gave it a go. Since I watched it in the span of a little over 24 hours almost two months ago, gathering my thoughts about it is harder than with most shows, where I do so within a week of them ending. And this particular show is harder than most as it is!

The first episode was, hm, not atrocious but also didn’t do the show any favors. It was simply a bit dull, and it wasn’t entirely clear if we were actually supposed to think Tanya was cool, or if the show was self-aware of the fact that she’s An Irredeemable Piece Of Shit. In today’s world, unfortunately, you can never be sure if jingoistic fascist propaganda is tongue-in-cheek or serious.

Thankfully, Youjo Senki does not seek to celebrate Tanya. Anyone who finishes this show and comes away admiring Tanya as a role model is either a sociopath or, hopefully, still fourteen years old. Even the OP is titled “Jingo Jungle” and the lyrics are a brutal send-up of the “jingos” as bloodthirsty, animalistic monsters. Tanya is not a hero.

With that concern put aside, there’s a lot to like here in terms of pure spectacle. The whole premise of the reborn salaryman engaged in a rivalry with “God” is comically absurd on its face. Yuuki Aoi’s vocal performance as Tanya is ::chef kiss:: so very excellent. The show is surprisingly well produced, packing great aerial combat and cool as hell set pieces. We can laugh at Viktoriya’s asinine character design. Maybe take a shot every time Tanya’s face contorts into something increasingly inhuman. Watch Tanya make quips about career advancement as lives are snuffed out with less thought than blowing out candles on a cake. Youjo Senki is a silly, crazy show.

…At first. By the time we notice that it’s wrapped its tentacles around us, it’s too late. It reveals its true weight, and drags us down into hell with it. Any laughter after the turning point is strained, nervous laughter. This is where it gets far more difficult to articulate my thoughts on the show, and yet it’s also where it absolutely shines. Tanya is the only character on my top characters list (as of the end of Summer anyway) that is there purely because she’s a good character, while still a terrible person. Not a lot of shows pull that off for me.

Tanya is a cacophony of manipulation, desire, violence, self-aggrandizement, bloodlust, scheming, and ultimately an abdication of all human decency. What starts as the story of an ego matched only by its self-presevation instinct evolves into commentary on the fundamental inhumanity and vileness of war.

I think it’s also a cautionary tale against equating valor in war with goodness as a person. As the narrative progresses, there’s a portion of the story where Tanya seems, on the surface, to mature. She takes pride in her work, and developers an odd camaraderie with her elite mage squad. She starts to consider the impact of her actions beyond their personal repercussions, with protecting the fatherland becoming a real motivation. In these moments it’s tempting to think that because she’s (at least partly) swapped out selfish individualism with concern for something larger than herself, she’s “improved” as a person.

This is a trap. Virulent nationalism and xenophobia both nurse at the breast of well-meaning patriotism. Tanya’s gradual suppression of her individual desires enables her to volunteer for increasingly dangerous missions, which in turn enables the violent agenda of her government. This comes to a head in episode 8, a point of no return for both Tanya and those around her.

Atrocities have been the order of the day from the word go in this show, but episode 8 completely changes the tone. Tanya’s evil before now was limited, calculated evil. She exploited loopholes and abused power to protect herself. But with the horrors of episode 8, her motto switches from “Hopefully this will keep me off the front lines” to “I’m just following orders.” And we see how this feeling trickles down to the point where nobody feels compelled to take responsibility. Even at the very top of the chain of command, the buck can always be passed to “God” or “Freedom” or “The Fatherland”. Abstractions, after all, don’t get tried for war crimes.

Nobody wages war. It just happens. Right?

I was initially torn over whether Tanya’s previous life as a hyper-individualist asshole enhances or diminishes her transition into a tool of state brutality. Tanya was already emotionally broken in her former life. She was thoroughly incapable of empathy. Wouldn’t taking a good person and breaking them on the rack of armed conflict have delivered the stronger message? Tanya was always a garbage human, so isn’t the show just saying that terrible people thrive in the amorality of war, rather than saying that war can turn anyone into a monster?

Maybe, but I think it manages to convey both. It provides enough examples of this in other characters, such as Viktoriya (arguably Tanya’s greatest enabler) or Tanya’s rival from one of the enemy nations, whose name escapes me. And the perverted individualism never entirely leaves Tanya either, it just lies dormant. In the final moments, in the deserts of North Africa, she merges both of her evils into one. State-sanctioned eternal war and a god complex. Tanya has come to embody her most monstrous self.

Jeeze, all this and I haven’t even gotten into Being X, unquestionably the most evil and depraved entity in the show! But I don’t see Being X as a god. There are no gods in Youjo Senki. Being X is mankind, unrestrained.

The show’s ending is thematically perfect. It’s deeply nihilistic and misanthropic, and will not suffer a single ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Violence births revenge, unending. But every once in a while this kind of story just works. I have trouble imagining how the story can proceed beyond this point (in a sequel or in the original novels) and deliver as satisfying an ending, so as much as I enjoyed it, I’m happy for it to have ended here.

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Hinako Note Imported!
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
» Winter wrap-up post
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Isekai Shokudou
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I find episodic shows to be hit or miss. By episodic I don’t just mean “each episode could largely stand alone” (most slice of life anime is not episodic by my definition), but a repeated formula followed each week. Isekai Shokudou is episodic, but it’s one of the good ones.

My appreciation for this show is a good deal more than is probably reflected in its score. I can’t really score it higher because compared to most of the shows above it it’s certainly lacking in the traits that get me deeply emotionally invested in a show. But what it’s got is a trait I find is often underappreciated: “ease of watch”. It’s not a heavy emotional investment, I know roughly what to expect from it each week, and it’s able to consistently deliver on those expectations. That consistency is very appealing.

Isekai Shokudou is a show I’d gladly come back to watch every weekend for as long as it aired, just like the patrons of Nekoya return every week to indulge in their favorite dishes. You always feel welcome when you walk in those doors and see the cheerful and hardworking Aletta, taciturn and mysterious Kuro, and serious yet unexpectedly affable unnamed Chef.

The show largely focuses on the stories of how each customer arrived at Nekoya their first time. Fleeing war, seeking treasure, stumbling on it while stranded, interrupted during centuries of meditation on the moon – there’s any number of ways its patrons come across it. But regardless of their social standing, race, nationality, or culinary needs, they’re all equal in the eyes of the chef once they walk through that door.

My interest in the individual stories did vary a good bit, but none were particularly bad. From the Attenborough-style narration about lizard men, to the half-elf princess inventing magical refrigeration to store pudding, to a dragon god who jealously guards the restaurant like a brilliant jewel in her treasure pile, the stories all helped us piece together vignettes of what life in the other world is like. At the same time, the show understands that its appeal is less in the other world than in Nekoya as a gathering place for these stories. It’s less history lesson or documentary, and more like gossip being traded back and forth at a roadside inn. The real reward isn’t going to another world, it’s seeing that world come to ours. Or at least, come to a very small corner of ours, an unassuming little restaurant hidden right under the noses of anyone who isn’t in the know.

Isekai Shokudou doesn’t offer much to talk about in terms of traditional “character development”, although there’s a genuine pleasure in watching Kuro switch from using telepathy to physical speech when interacting with Aletta and the Chef. And I’m extremely interested to learn more about how Aletta’s life is improving on the other side.

Really, there’s a ton of things I’d love to see in a sequel. I want to see how Aletta is getting along with Sarah after becoming roommates. I want to see if Kuro’s determination to protect Aletta and the Chef against harm is ever directly tested. I really want to see what happens if one of Nekoya’s patrons tries to walk out the other door and enter our world, or sticks around after the portal closes. And I really, really want to see Aletta and Kuro go out into Tokyo and be astonished at all the wonders they’d never before dreamed of. Kuro started opening up to her coworkers ever so slightly by the end, and I’d be delighted to see them all become closer.

But even if we stay confined to the restaurant, I’d happily come back for more, if we’re lucky enough to get it.

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Nyanko Days Imported!
» Winter wrap-up post
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Natsume Yuujin-chou Roku
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Centaur no Nayami
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Despite having watched anime for way too many years, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been familiar with the source material prior to seeing the anime. Centaur no Nayami is one of those, and I found that both a blessing and a curse with this particular adaptation.

The curse is that, after experiencing the manga’s eccentric charms, I’m extra aware of how uninspired the adaptation is. Little effort was made to exploit the unique strengths of anime: animation was minimal, colors were washed out or matched poorly, character models were often off (and not in a nice animation-friendly way). While it sometimes managed some nice close-ups, the weak color design lacked the appeal even of other animation-lite series such as Isekai Shokudou. That show was no better animated than Centaur, but its visual style at least was much more vibrant, even in the subdued lighting of Nekoya’s dining room.

Mediocre art and animation is not fatal (although it does make picking nice screencaps hard!). Clever direction can overcome that – but Centaur no Nayami was, by and large, lazily directed. Long pauses gave an unnatural feeling to all of the dialogue. Sequential cuts within the same scene sometimes felt clunky and disconnected, as if there was no overarching vision about how a scene was intended to play out. The music is particularly bad, when it wasn’t just completely absent (and that was often!). It felt like it came from the first royalty-free library they found on google.

I’m not expecting visual creativity on the level of Monogatari, but there are absolutely ways to make a philosophical/dialogue-heavy show exciting to watch. And if the team behind this show made any effort at all to accomplish that, it rarely came across.

And yet… I like this show. So if the curse was in knowing just how much better it could and should have been, the blessing is that it’s still Centaur no Nayami, and even in its blandest possible manifestation, I’m really fond of the series and its fascinating cast.

I’ve seen people turned off by the anime, objecting to its emotional whiplash and lack of coherent storyline. And true enough, but it revels in this kind of rapid tonal shift. I probably joked about it a hundred times while livetweeting the show and manga but I can’t help it – it’s such a unique, fascinating way of telling a story. You get a real glimpse into what a simultaneously magical, intellectual, horny, goofy, violent, kind, and utterly sincere world Murayama Kei has created. Not a complete understanding, because his mind is an eccentric one. But being familiar with the manga put me in the right frame of mind to expect and accept the show’s sudden shifts.

If anything, the anime heavily toned the whiplash down by having fewer segments related to past historical events and modern geopolitics, and by mostly dropping some of the really bizarre subplots that never make immediate sense in any individual chapter, but gradually form running themes that do indeed seem to be leading to… something… over the course of the manga.

But a 1-cour anime would inevitably and correctly downplay those elements to focus on the main characters’ interactions. If we got a year long show, I’d certainly demand to see more about the Amphibianfolk, Antarcticans, and [redacted] that drive the background plot threads woven throughout the manga. But one cour is what we got.

There are certainly segments that didn’t work. The prologue chapter (that showed up in episode 4) was questionable in the manga and really didn’t survive the transition to anime either. The ghost stories chapter was also a snooze. As the show went on, though, I thought it started scoring hits more way often than not. Tama’s awkward relationship with her wannabe-artist father helped make her consistently the most interesting character in the cast. Even the anime did a good job conveying her struggle to be a replacement mother for her sisters, a shrine priestess for a religion she doesn’t really believe in, and a daughter unable to understand why her father can’t be the proud, confident man she believes he owes it to his children to be. Another whole bunch of episodes leaned into the aspect I think the anime handled best: the cute kids! Sue, the Chi-chans, Shino, and Shino’s kindergarten pals are utterly adorable. Bland an adaptation as this was, there was no way to see them playing together and not conclude that it was worth it for this series to get an anime.

As supremely eclectic as Centaur no Nayami is, I still think there’s a thoughtful thesis at the heart of it. And in the anime it’s summed up most poignantly through the story of a Holocaust survivor we meet in episode nine.

This series takes a position on prejudice, racism, and diversity, but if you’re not in tune with the quirky way it expresses itself, parsing what it’s saying can be tricky (and the stilted adaptation doesn’t help here!). Some viewers took the forceful classroom lecture on diversity in episode one (complete with shadowy government “PC police” nodding menacingly from the hallway) as a condemnation of multiculturalism and political correctness, for example. Characters also frequently express a casual fear of being locked up on hate crimes charges for very low-key offenses. An in-universe children’s television program features a magical girl who lectures her classmates on the importance of democratic process and social harmony.

But taking this all at face value is a mistake. Murayama seems, to me at least, like a writer fascinated almost to the point of madness by the diversity of life in general and humanity in particular, even if it’s expressed through strange humanoid races concocted in evolutionary thought experiments.

His story clearly celebrates that diversity. In almost every chapter we’re presented with delightfully mundane vignettes about how to wear glasses without side-mounted ears, comb your hair around horns, deal with tails while getting dressed, keep mobile on land when you don’t have legs, or deal with seating arrangements when you’re half horse. The occasionally prickly snark and sarcasm of Centaur no Nayami’s characters shouldn’t blind us to the wonder and fascination its creator pours onto every page. If he didn’t embrace diversity, I cannot imagine he’d be so thoughtful about its implications.

And so, we return to the young boy. When he witnesses fellow concentration camp inmates turning on each other along racially segregated lines, he meets a downtrodden man who tells him that humanity has been, is, and forever will be thus. But when that same boy grows up to be a successful businessman, we see him extending his hand in friendship to an amphibian humanoid, someone who is on the surface so unlike himself. His attendant offers wet wipes to clean off the presumed stickiness of the “primitive” amphibianfolk’s webbed hands. The old man simply replies “my hands aren’t dirty”.

This survivor’s story is the closest Murayama comes, I feel, to outright saying what he thinks about all of this. Yes, humanity has a darkness within it, and with our seemingly infinite capacity for dividing ourselves it probably always will. The majority preys on the minority, and the minority in turn preys on yet smaller minorities. And regardless of how you feel about the role of government in enforcing progressive social change, the implied heavy-handedness of the bureaucratic apparatus in this show is implying not that such change is undesirable, but that top-down change without the buy-in of individuals is fragile. As we’ve seen in our world, all it takes is one election for social progress to regress, if we the people don’t buy into it. It’s on us to accept it, to desire it, to live it. As individuals we can’t single-handedly change the world, but we can determine whether and how we’ll participate in it. We can declare to those around us that the “other” is not dirty.

This is, of course, only my personal interpretation of Murayama’s work. But however you interpret these lofty themes, the series is by and large content to convey them through the mundane. Just as humanity will never extinguish prejudice and reach a utopian conclusion, Centaur no Nayami itself isn’t necessarily about arriving anywhere, or at any conclusions. It’s about getting lost in a universe created by an author who has put an immense amount of thought into how the world – filtered through his eccentric mind – works. It’s about living in the moment. And that lack of desire to justify itself in any conclusive fashion is captured rather cutely by the final segment of the show.

The girls set up an arm wrestling tournament in a classroom. Silly, insignificant victories and defeats play out on the smallest possible stage – a single desk. Our happy-go-lucky protagonist Hime, who in defiance of the title seems to have less to worry about than anyone else in the world, asks half a dozen times just why in the world they’re doing something so random.

Nobody answers her.

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Twin Angel Break
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu
» Winter wrap-up post
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Schoolgirl Strikers Animation Channel
» Winter wrap-up post
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The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls Gekijou
» Mid-year wrap-up post
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Previous Year Pick-ups

 


Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo
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I also gave 2013’s Mondaiji another try after initially dropping it at episode one. This time I finished it, and I feel like my initial reason for dropping it was warranted, but offsetting that to an extent is something it got very unexpectedly right.

First, the bad: Izayoi is a terrible character. His personality is fully summed up by “smug and all-knowing”, and not in a charming way. Fittingly, he has the most boring of all fictional super powers: the ability to punch stuff hard. He’s KOing gods in episode one, and there is never the briefest moment of tension in any of his fights. His “struggles” throughout the show are utterly trivial and overcome immediately. He’s also got a bit of a perverted streak, and while I think the show was restrained enough with it to avoid doing much damage (having it be his weird way of bonding with Shiroyasha helped…? I guess?), it’s still not an endearing character trait.

There are few more clear-cut examples in anime of shows where you could remove the male lead and have to change virtually nothing else about the show. And indeed, it’d be an immediate boon to everyone around him. Instead of Izayoi just knowing everything, the others could work to puzzle out motives and clues. Instead of Izayoi punching crap to death, the others could use clever tactics and more interesting powers to overcome. He serves no story purpose, no mechanical purpose in fights, and almost no character development purpose.

I say “almost” because I did like one thing he did: building up Jin’s confidence. Sure, even here another character could have just as well sufficed, but there is some value in the weird brotherly relationship they had. I think having one of the female characters step into that role would have inevitably changed the tone of the relationship, probably adding a romantic twist it didn’t need. I’ll give Izayoi credit here. He’s a terrible character, not a terrible person.

All that said, Mondaiji actually sidestepped many of the pitfalls that surround male leads. Izayoi himself may be dull and superfluous, but it’s very important to note that he rarely if ever took other characters down with him. This was unexpected! Usually the worst thing about a bad male lead is the debilitating narrative effect they have on everyone around them, particularly the women of the cast. Mondaiji doesn’t let that happen to any serious degree, and puts up pretty solid marks in the category of female character agency. Yes, I’d rather have all of his screen time distributed among the more interesting characters, but the others still get their share of the spotlight.

As is usually the case, the show owes its success here to eschewing romance. Neither Asuka nor You nor Kurousagi develops feelings for Izayoi, and neither does he seem interested in pursuing them, pervy comments notwithstanding. This is really cool (albeit something I’d expect doesn’t hold up in the source novels)! Not just because anime M-F romance is generally not good, but because it means the girls’ character arcs are not defined by their relationship to Izayoi. They’re free to have their own stories, and Mondaiji actually does a pretty good job exploring these.

While You felt underused (though hey, we only had 10 episodes), I thought it handled Kurousagi well. Her passionate dedication to the Community ran straight into the restraints placed her participation in Gift Games, which did a lot to define her character. When she finally did cut loose it was both satisfying and rather impressive (we even see her go toe-to-toe with Izayoi).

But, far and away, it’s Asuka who makes Mondaiji a show worth giving a shot. Asuka’s power to control others with her voice is a tricky and fickle one, quite unlike Just Punching. In her ordinary life it made everything boring, allowing her to have anything she wanted except for meaningful personal relationships. And yet when she comes up against the more powerful inhabitants of Little Garden, that same power fails her.

Throughout the show, Asuka mostly acts on her own, or with characters other than Izayoi. The first Gift Game involves her and You accepting a challenge, and credit where it’s due, Izayoi stands aside and lets them do their thing (the best compliment to give Izayoi is that he fully trusts in the abilities of You and Asuka). And then when it comes time for the final arc, it’s Asuka who steals the show. Her relationship with the adorable little fairy Merun (who has the same seiyuu as Tama from Wixoss, to my total glee) warms my heart, and the fact that Asuka gets the power to CONTROL A GIANT GOLEM out of the deal is pretty damn sweet.

Asuka would be on my top characters list if this were a 2017 show, and I really am impressed that Mondaiji allowed her the freedom and agency to pursue such a satisfying character arc. In the end though, my score for this show is middling because it never justified Izayoi’s existence and there were 2-3 real dull clunkers in the middle of the show – not ideal when you’ve only got 10 episodes.

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Fall 2017 Plans

Planned
01. Konohana Kitan
02. Ihe Idolm@ster Side M
03. Urahara
04. Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World
05. Mahoutsukai no Yome
06. The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls Gekijou Season 2

Pending streaming details: Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Yuusha no Shou, Two Car

My Summer shows are all one cour so I don’t have anything continuing over from Summer.

CR getting Konohana Kitan is the most important pickup by far. Sentai nuking Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryouko is by far the biggest loss. Though things sound pretty dire for Yuyuyu s2 (Amazon has a deal with the block it runs in) so the very likely loss of that will also hurt. The two Idolmaster series will go to CR, but Aniplex insists on providing their own garbage subs, so I’m going to have to wait for fansubs or a stream rip that cleans them up. [Edit: So ep 0 is up on CR and I guess CR is doing the subs themselves his time? It’s their usual style. Side benefit of the death of Daisuki maybe! Yay.] I’m actually pretty darn excited for Side M, which given the male cast should be all the proof you’ll need about how intensely I trust mainline Idolmaster anime after the spectacular successes that were Animas and Deremas were.

Urahara has a cute style, but the PV leaves me really iffy on how well directed it’ll be. It just looked super slow and clunky. Kino and Mahoyome are highly regarded series that I’m mostly just watching because they’re on CR, though I do remember enjoying the first Kino decently enough all those years ago. I probably wouldn’t be giving Mahoyome a second thought if CR didn’t have it, but hey maybe it’ll be a pleasant surprise like Isekai Shokudou.

I’m also going to continue slowly rewatching Hayanamata, and since someone finally cleaned up the garbo Sakura Quest subs I’ll probably start that at some point.

8 Responses to “Summer 2017 viewing update #2 (final), Fall viewing plans”

  1. Charlotte says:

    Even if you never watched PriPri, at least you watched the other best show of the season, Hina Logi is just an instant classic. Should also point out that Nina had a Valentine’s chocolate ready for Lion, and only for her. Also how Nina changed the mirror in her room from episode 11 to 12, here:
    https://twitter.com/sabukuso_rop/status/909505190427992065
    The new mirror has a design from Lion’s country.

    • something something says:

      Everyone should probably glad I wasn’t able to watch Pripri. Me watching a show all but guarantees its sales failure, so it’d never be selling so well if I’d watched it.

      And the mirror is definitely a nice touch.

  2. MK says:

    > I probably wouldn’t be giving Mahoyome a second thought if CR didn’t have it, but hey maybe it’ll be a pleasant surprise like Isekai Shokudou.

    If it’s anything like the manga it’ll be way more than a pleasant surprise, and with Wit animating it too… Probably my most hyped show for the Fall season. I think I have something like 30+ PTWs for this new season – I’ll certainly end up dropping some of them, but I still expect to be watching 15-20 full length shows and a few shorts. Summer was a pretty underwhelming season for me, but Fall looks to be making up for that in a big way.

    Sad that you missed Made in Abyss, IMO the best show of the season, because of Amazon.

    • something something says:

      Yea, I know Mahoyome is highly regarded, but I just haven’t seen anything in it so far that looks directly appealing to me personally. Willing to give it a shot though, since two of the three most important shows this season aren’t ending up at CR. Gotta fill my schedule somehow…

  3. AholePony says:

    Nice reviews once again Something. I thought Hina Logi was a wonderful surprise after what we got with the first luck and logic series which was terrible. The OP really was quite fun to watch every week and the characters were fun to watch. I also agree the episodes with the kids were my favorites in Centaur, they were just too cute. Not a great series but an easy watch that I found myself looking forward to every week.

    As for next season, it’s looking pretty full of goodness as far as cute girls doing cute things. I’m looking forward to Blend S myself. I wasn’t a fan of Deremas’ structure and the way it went about characterizing the girls personally, so I was a little apprehensive about SideM, but the episode 0 really got me excited. They weren’t afraid to tie it into Animas and even had a Haruka cameo!? They aren’t getting their careers handed to them with the giant label backing them and are a scrappy startup?! Sign me up. I know the setup is the same as Animas but I like that aspect, it really gets me pulling for them from the get-go when they’re underdogs. I had a hard time dealing with girls finding out “work is hard” in Deremas, it may have been a realistic issue in the world of idols but it didn’t resonate with me.

    I’m currently marathoning (as best I can) Kino no Tabi for the new season, I always put it off and now I remember why, that series is such a downer lol. I’m at episode 5 and every episode so far has had death in it and basically seems to be about how terrible people are. It’s interesting and worth a watch, but hard to marathon lol.

    • something something says:

      Blend S dropped off my list when I heard it goes het. That’s not what I look to Kirara for. If that info is wrong (and it doesn’t go to sentai/strike, anyway) I’m sure I’ll hear from people as they watch it.

      I always thought Deremas was the unquestionably better written show between it and Animas. Animas is better overall (because it’s just an absolute masterpiece in so many ways) but it has a rather shallower, less nuanced story. In particular the comparison between Kuroi and Mishiro is night and day. I hope SideM is able to keep the energy of Animas but the more grounded, thoughtful story of Deremas.

  4. KZO says:

    Check out this review for the final of Hina Logi, it brings out some interesting points about how the writing of the show handled their relationship:
    https://www.bubbleblabber.com/english-dub-review-hina-logic-good-fortune-will-come-to-hinas-who-smile/

    • something something says:

      While I mostly agree with the general comments (tho I found it somewhat less ambiguous than that reviewer), the number of times the review has to wonder what was said in the original Japanese is a good example of why I don’t watch dubs, and would be generally distrustful of any review based on a dub.

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