Winter 2016 Anime Mid-Season Reviews

3:47 PM


Hey, hi, hello and WELCOME to the Winter 2016 reviews, taking place MID-SEASON, skipping over the usual tradition of doing a "preview review" or first impressions type of piece. Outside of being too lazy for it, there's an actual reason for that. I only picked up 2 series at the beginning of the season and felt that writing about 2 series was more trouble than it was worth. As the season went on, I ended up picking up a couple more, filling out the series count to something a little more normal for me to write about. 

Looking at the series list for this season, I, and probably many people on the internet, felt that this season seemed to be in dire straits. Fairly weak season, on paper, compared to more recent ones with at least a couple premises that sounded a little flat. Turns out that there are lots of series that sort of aren't worth watching, but boy are there some that really exceeded expectations. 

Without further ado, here's the list, in no particular order, of what's on the table. Note that this is only what's new to this season. I'm still watching Gundam, and recently got caught back up to GATE.

Konosuba - God's Blessing on this Land
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
ERASED: 僕だけがいない街
DAGASHIKASHI


Konosuba – God's Blessing on this Land


In a world where Sword Art Online got as big as it did, Log Horizon following not too long after, and .Hack has more or less been forgotten, Konosuba is a refreshing take on a concept that might as well call itself a “genre” at this point. The timing for this series is really at an opportune time, as there have been enough of these series to where we've come accustomed to how they generally work. It really plays with the conventions that we've grown to know, forming a story that's both funny and entertaining, while showing that this “genre” still has a lot of wiggle room in the kinds of stories that can be told

The ED for the series really is telling as to what kind of series this is. It's a gentle folk-song sounding that conjures pictures of rural landscapes, complete with rolling hills, lush forests and riding in a horse drawn wagon full of hay. No tension, or even feeling of threat in it. That being said, the art really isn't something to write home about. It doesn't really stand out much, especially when compared to the similar, but very different, Grimgar. It can use it's less than stellar art to it's advantage though, like in the latest episode where Kazuma and co are confronted by another “adventurer” sent along by Aqua. His design and character as a whole is painfully bland, and perhaps purposefully so. He's basically THE cookie cutter hero that Kazuma envisioned himself being, and boy am I glad he didn't end up like that prick.

The series really works for me on two levels. First, the characters are all wonderfully terrible people. Aqua basically fails as a person, Darkness has all sorts of problems, Kazuma still clings on to hope that he'll lead a grand adventure like Kirito, and Meugmin, surprisingly, ends up being the most normal, outside of battle. This isn't really the kind of series where your favourite character is the one you relate to most. The series draws a lot of it's humour by putting the characters into (hilariously) bad situations. We laugh at their expense most of the time. Which, you know, if you're looking for a more thought provoking series, this definitely is not it.

Secondly, the series presents events and has a great build up, only to have it fall flat in the best ways. It happens with the cabbage invasion and later, the Dullahan (who ends up falling into Konosuba's “everybody isn't what you expect”). On paper, this series sounds like a series that would be forgotten in an ocean of mediocre anime, but it's execution has made it a real stand out and enjoyable watch.

There is, however, a problem I can foresee for this series. If taking jabs at terrible (and stupidly great) characters are low hanging fruits, the series will blow through that stock really, really quick. There's only so much of that I'll be able to take before the series loses it's charm and becomes a repetitive slog of the same sort of funny jokes.

Recommended for:
  • people who enjoy comedy, even at the expense of the characters
  • are well acquainted with the tropes and workings of series like SAO and Log Horizon


P.S. The opening soundslike it fell straight out of an anime from like 2005, because holy crap it's been a while since I heard anything sound like that.


Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash


Airing alongside Konosuba, Grimgar occupies a unique space in the spectrum of “trapped in a game” series. SAO and Log Horizon had max level characters hacking and slashing their way through monsters, without a care in the world. They were, after all, basically in a game world. They knew they were in a game, and generally treated it as such. Monsters are just AI mob that populate the world for adventurers to level up and earn money. Grimgar swings very much the other way on that. Centered around a ragtag party of ineffective fighters, Grimgar's world is less “game” and carries itself with a much more serious and grounded approach. The characters don't have memories of their past, though their behaviour often hints at what they were like, did or experiences they had in the past lives.

Silver Spoon sounds like a strange anime to compare this to, but it actually does draw some similarities. Silver Spoon hammers home the fact that all that meat we eat comes from somewhere. We see chunks of meat wrapped in plastic wrap sitting in cooled display cases, but forget that it came from a living thing. Grimgar works in a similar way. With SAO and Log Horizon, those series had monsters act and exist as monsters in a game. They weren't treated as living things, but rather, as things that sort of just existed. Grimgar's first 4 episodes, with the first one in particular, drives that Silver Spoon mentality home really, really hard. The goblins they're hunting? They're living creatures. It's filling it's water bottle, not expecting to get stabbed in the neck. It can be a little uncomfortable watching a goblin screech and flail as life slowly slips from it. That all contributes to the series' very different feeling. Couple that with the fact that our main characters are very far from being the powerhouses that made up the two more popular examples of this concept (Kirito and the majority of the cast of Log Horizon come to mind). Their first kill leaves the party shaken, but later episodes show the party rather unaffected by the murders, leading to a sense of security and progressions, while also lending that sense of “forgetting these things are actually alive”.

Story points aside, the series boasts some gorgeous backgrounds, coloured in water colours that make even the flat brown and greens of a fores look really nice. Ortana is a bustling town, but the design and colour really gives it that small, fantasy town feel. The series does a stunning job at creating a calm atmosphere when they're in the town, Gentle guitar music, some pretty scenery and slow pans across the very picturesque town. Each episode has an inset song, allowing the series to really show off the good looking art they've done for the locales in the series..


The characters really build on you. You really watch them, trying to pick out quirks that might hint at what they were before, and how they go about their daily lives. Ranta, the boisterous and, frankly, irritating Dark Knight of the group really hasn't done a lot to make me like him, but behind his aggressively egoistical confidence, he does seem to be sensitive, being, possibly, the most shaken by their first kill (though he was the one who landed the kill). Another note about the characters, I really, really like Haruhiro's (the main protagonist) voice. His design and personality are rather plain and almost generic to the point where I seriously still find it a little odd to hear him talk. I'm constantly expecting a voice like Yuki Kaiji, who's become someone synonymous with these kinds of characters. For those interested, his voice actor is Yoshimasa Hosoya, who's also played Shingeki's Reiner, Haikyuu's Azumane, Digimon Tri's Yamato and Free's Yamazaki, among others. 

Recommended for: 
  • fans of D&D styled fantasy settings
  • anyone because you really should watch this


DAGASHIKASHI


Oddly educational, weirdly funny and going whole hog into absurdity, DAGASHIKASH turned out to be endearing in it's love of all things dagashi, but also a genuinely fun watch. Do you know what dagashi is? Neither did I, until I came across this series. If you grew up in the 90's, and had a Chinese grocery story nearby, you've probably seen some of these “inexpensive” snacks, targeted almost entirely to kids. The closest North American examples I can think of are things like Baby Bottle Pop, Ring Pops, PopRocks, Double Bubble and the no-longer-sold-in-America Kinder Surprise. While not exactly inexpensive, these treats (oddly, all sweets), all fill the role of being “fun” treats. Play with your food! Now that's the spirit of what dagashi probably is.

DAGASHIKASH is centered around 4 characters: the protagonist, Kokonotsu (also known as Coconuts) son of a dagashi shop owner, Hotaru, a beautiful and off-her-rockers dagashi aficionado-extraordinaire, and a pair of siblings that run the local cafe, To and Saya. It's set pretty far out in the sticks, lending it an air of rural charm between the manic and fantastically absurd events that happen when Hotaru is around. The best parts are when Kokonotsu, usually the straight man, ends up going along with Hotaru's crazy antics.

Each episode is a series of short skits, usually 2 to 3 per episode, each titled after the dagashi in focus. The arcs always funny, but some really shine more than others. The two requirements for an arc to be really great are simple. Be a crazy concept and have Kokonotsu get really into it. Kokonotsu's involvement adds a whole lot more to the interactions. It gives Hotaru someone equally as crazy to riff against, and takes Kokonotsu out of the well tread straight-man role, allowing him to really shine as the well informed dagashi-aficianado he is. With so types and brands of dagashi, I really hope that the series doesn't end up wearing itself out in repetition. So far, it's been really good at varying things up, never being too crazy, and giving us some quieter skits, I'm really enjoying this series so far, and hope it keeps up this up throughout the rest of the series.

Recommended for:
  • people who don't mind absurd comedy
  • definitely for people who grew up around dagashi
  • people who like reaction faces


ERASED


The big one this season is ERASED, based off a manga with a live action movie in the works as well. High production values, letter boxing and a full compliment of strings that take every chance they get to be bombastic, ERASED both looks and feels like the blockbuster of the season. It's trying very hard to create that almost cinematic feel, but it doesn't always stick the landing. 

It's a gripping thriller of a story that can have you on the edge of your seat as events slowly unfold. Each time the protagonist, Satoru, completes a task that he believes holds the key to solving the mysteries, you're always leaning in, hoping something bad doesn't come out of it. At the same time, it's really warming to see the children (and the 29 year old Satoru, in kid form) having a great time. Friends helping each other out, having a blast a party and pulling the aloof and ostracized, Kayo into their fun. The main plot of the story actually reminds me a lot of Steins;Gate's latter half, as Okabe desperately struggles to save Mayuri and Kurisutiina.

Unfortunately, the series has a problem with being too heavy handed. Strings swell and crescendo towards the climax, time slowed, as the camera swings around the characters in a long cinematic sweep all for a big emotional moment. It's certainly effective, but also can come off as feeling like the series is trying too hard to be “big”. While I definitely noticed it more after thinking about it, I don't think it'll be too much of an issue if the rest of the series can hold up. I think this would probably be one of the safer series to recommend this season.

Recommended for:

  • people who don't mind it's over-dramatic flourishes
  • people who enjoy a pretty good thriller
  • people who don't mind how disgustingly inept a police force and society can be
Aaaand that's a wrap. If we want to talk about OP/ED ratings, it'd probably go something like this:

  1. Grimgar ED It's a really pretty song, and the lightly animated, gorgeous character art that accompanies it is just great. It's one of the EDs I never skip.
  2. ERASED OP I love the song, but the TV edit leaves a little to be desired
  3. DagashiKashi OP It's so funky, it's hard not to like
  4. Konosuba ED A song that runs counter to the series' almost manic tone, while strangely complimenting the overarching "feel" of the series.
  5. Everything else

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