Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri)

(12ish episodes, noitaminA)

What’s it about ?

Steampunk zombie apocalypse, by most of the same people who brought you Attack on Titan‘s adaptation.

Characters

Most of the world (as we can see it) has already been overwhelmed by the zombies ; there are only a few pockets of survivors, built like fortresses, and connected only by armoured trains. Even then, they’re falling one by one, and there’s a sense of growing desperation and paranoia among both civilians and soldiers. They’re certainly checking thoroughly everyone who comes out of the trains for traces of infection.

Ikoma, our protagonist, is a lowly engineer working on train maintenance. His pet project, though, is building steam-guns that can actually kill zombies (as opposed to the current ones that only kill people and barely repel zombies). He’s all about taking a rational approach to fighting off the infestation (“it’s not a curse, guys !”), but I have to say that his “cure” method looks really, really dumb.

Mumei looks like someone very important, most probably the daughter of the lord of another fortress. She’s certainly important enough for her and her minder to avoid the mandatory inspection after coming by train. At first she looks like a sheltered free-spirit who’s super-bored about her own diplomatic mission, but when the shit hits the fan she displays some unexpected determination and awareness of the stakes.

On the other hand, I totally understand her disdain for the rulers of this settlement. The local lord lets his paranoid soldiers go way overboard in their paranoia, and his first reflex after a breach is to head for the one available train to escape. (And you just know there’s a fat chance of civilians getting allowed in.) His daughter seems okay, though, if very sheltered indeed.

Production Values

Budget ! And very bombastic indeed, but then that’s what you get with Araki directing and Sawano scoring.

What did I think of it ?

Warning : this show is very, very dumb. Most of the characters act like morons, and some of the big moments look very silly indeed.

If you can get over that, though, there’s actually a lot to like here. Ikoma’s more brainy and less shouty than your average protagonist, Mumei is tons of fun, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the show’s escalating momentum.

It could very well collapse under the weight of its ambitions, but I’m in for the ride.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2016 – Page 4

ERASED – The Town Where Only I am Missing (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)

(12 episodes, noitaminA)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a manga mystery series with a supernatural twist.

Interestingly, while the manga is still ongoing publication, the anime’s staff have made it clear they’re including its planned ending into their adaptation.

Characters

Satoru, our protagonist, is failed manga author in his late 20s who’s making do as a pizza delivery driver. At first he sounds like a highly cynical failure who doesn’t give a crap anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. See, he’s somehow got the bizarre superpower to rewind time a bit after getting a flash that something terrible is about to happen. Nothing specific, but he’ll try his darndest to pay attention to his surroundings and notice anything going awry. Such as this truck driver having a heart attack and rushing towards an unsuspecting kid. Going out of his way to prevent that lands him into the hospital for a bit, but the guy is truly a hero. Dropping everything to act upon those not-quite-precognitive flashes… It quickly becomes obvious that an incident two decades ago where a girl was kidnapped and killed and maybe he could have prevented it by accompanying her home is still eating at him and informing his current behaviour (both the introverted cynicism and the hero complex).

Sachiko, his mother, comes to visit from Hokkaido after he gets released. While he doesn’t quite welcome her imposing on him without notice, she’s clearly worried about him. She’s now paying attention to his flashes… wait, did a dude just try kidnapping that girl in the supermarket parking lot, and only stopped when he saw her looking at him and taking a picture of his van’s plate ? Doesn’t this look a LOT like the kidnapping case two decades ago ? Maybe the slightly creepy older guy that always hung out with her son and got arrested wasn’t the true culprit… Okay, until now she may have tried to make Satoru forget about this, but it’s time she came clean with him about it and they figure this out together.

Ahahah, nope. Everything goes FUBAR that night. But when Satoru wakes up, he’s back in Hokkaido, two decades younger…

(Another prominent character this episode is Airi, a teenage coworker of Satoru’s who starts paying attention to him after witnessing his heroics. He isn’t amused by his mom’s attempts to set them up together, because seriously she’s at least ten years younger and still in high school. I have no clue how she’ll keep appearing in this show given we’ve now shifted to a time before she is even born…)

Production Values

Very good. Great attention to the body language, impressive staging for the “Rewind” set pieces… Even Sachiko looking weirdly young for a woman in her 50s is actually called out. Also, it features a great atmospheric score by Yuki Kajiura, without getting overpowered by it.

Overall Impression

Well, that’s our obvious candidate for Anime of the Season, right there. Perfectly paced, great characters, a cool gimmick, an intriguing mystery and driving question (“Can Satoru prevent those original kidnappings ? What happens if he does ?”)… This is just an enthralling start.

There’s tons of promise here, and a good chance it’ll actually deliver on a proper ending. Go for it.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Winter 2016 – Page 2

Everything Becomes F : The Perfect Insider (Subete ga F ni Naru)

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a 1996 mystery novel. It has already been adapted in manga, visual novel and live-action drama formats ; so next is the prestige noitaminA anime series.

Characters

Moe, our protagonist, looks at first like an ordinary college student ; somewhat brattish and superficial. But over the course of the episode, it becomes clear that she’s got more depth than that ; she’s quite clever, inquisitive, and is quick to catch on. Also, her family is connected enough to help the plot along.

Saikawa, the teacher overseeing her circle and thesis, tries to remain as stonefaced as possible while shutting down her attempts to be too friendly. (The question whether she means any of it remains open at this point.) Most of the episode happens in his office. Anyway, he’s investigating for research purposes a bizarre murder case…

Shiki, a teenage genius, was accused of having killed her parents a few years ago. Because of her claims a doll did it, she was declared non compos mentis, after which she vanished. It seems that all this time she’s been holed up in a lab on a remote island ; Moe managed to snag an interview with her (on Saikawa’s behalf) that we see in flashback.

Hey, let’s hold the circle’s vacation on that island ! It’ll be fun, they may learn more, and nothing wrong can happen !

Production Values

Hum. This is the kind of serious show that is intent on spending many minutes with Moe doing very mundane stuff before anything of significance happens, as proof that it’s adapting Serious Literature. Which feels like a mistake, as the attention to detail regarding Moe’s body language shines much more when she gets to interact with other people.

Also, awesome visuals for the OP sequence.

Overall Impression

A mystery show on noitaminA ? It’d have to be a complete trainwreck for me to skip it.

And, well, it starts off very pretentious indeed ; but it all comes into focus when the flashback interview with Shiki comes into play. She’s an eerie presence, and Moe’s uncanny cheerfulness in contrast raises many questions (especially as we learn more about the backstory).

I’m quite interested in seeing where this is going.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Fall 2015 – Page 4

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

(11ish episodes)

What’s it about ?

Surely you’re aware of Edogawa Ranpo, the godfather of Japanese mystery fiction ? The guy Detective Conan took half of his pseudonym from ? The creator of characters such as Akechi and the Fiend with Twenty Faces, who often get referenced or namechecked in mystery anime & manga ?

Well, later this month is the 50th anniversary of his death, so here comes this tribute project. It’s notionally adapting some of his stories (starting with The Human Chair), but with the original mysteries reframed completely in a contemporary setting and different characters involved. In many ways, it’s not entirely different from UN-GO, a similar project from a few years ago.

Characters

Kobayashi, our 13-year-old protagonist. Despite appearances, totally a boy. He wakes up one day in his classroom with a saw in his hand, and the mutilated corpse of his teacher at the other end of the room. Normal people would see this as the start of a very bad day ; Kobayashi is actually thrilled to the gills at something interesting finally happening to him.

Hashiba, the class rep and student council president, does his best to defend his friend in front of the police… and gets progressively more and more weirded out by the way Kobayashi is lighting up instead of showing any hint of panic. The really obvious solution would be for him to be the culprit, but I hope there’s more to the mystery than that. And it’d be kind of a waste to lose the one normal dude in the series whom everyone can explain the plot to.

Akechi, a 17-year old detective on the case. Notionally he’s in high school, but he’s got a special license to avoid going there in exchange of helping the cops out on weird cases like that. He’s exactly the kind of excentric genius you’d expect to find in this type of story. Kobayashi makes a beeline to become his apprentice (and is certainly clever enough to track his home address down). Akechi’s answer is that if the kid solves the case, it doesn’t matter whether he accepts ; Kobayashi will get dragged down into this world anyway. Of course, it wouldn’t be fun if Akechi didn’t stack the deck against him, such as calling the cops on him.

Kobayashi is totally game for this.

Production Values

The show makes the weird decision to keep all the characters in silhouette until Kobayashi bothers to truly pay attention to them. (You’d expect the cat-eared new teacher to warrant his attention sooner than she did, but apparently not.) Together with several other staging decisions, it contributes to make the proceedings eerily artificial… and hey, it’s not like classical mysteries aren’t artificial constructs anyway.

I think it’s great at setting the mood ; the jazzy music also helps.

Overall Impression

You had me at “mystery”, but this has turned out to be actually quite good. Very well paced, an intriguing and fun protagonist with incredible cheerfulness and communicative enthusiasm… Clearly the staff had a blast creating this. It oozes fun and love for the genre from all pores.

This has the potential to be very good, and in any case it’ll certainly be fun. I’m all in.

Source: [In Which I Review] New anime, Summer 2015

Punch Line

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

“Once he sees underwear, humanity is destroyed!?” is the tagline for this project. It’s as good a description as any of the plot of a series that also features sentai super-heroes, ghosts, and time-travel. And panties, of course.

Characters

Yuuta, our protagonist, is in a bit of a pickle. He had a near-death experience in the course of his bus being taken hostage, and unfortunately something has taken over his body. So he’s stuck as a ghost, looking for a way to retake his body.

Chiranosuke is a friendly neighbouring cat-ghost who gives him a lengthy explanation about this, and gives him some pointers about a book that could help him. (Nope, I don’t trust him either.) Also, he informs Yuuta that while seeing underwear and getting excited will super-power him, doing it twice in quick succession will doom humanity immediately. Like, meteor falls and everyone dies. Fortunately, as a ghost Yuuta can tell causality to take a hike, and go back in time to retry a better path as many times as he needs. Since that involves navigating through an apartment complex with a number of female tenants, that’s going to take more than a few tries.

Mikatan is one of his neighbours. He’s been introduced to her a few months ago as just a semi-famous singer, but secretly she’s Strange Juice (sic), defender of justice ! And she doesn’t do that bad a job of it in that bus hostage crisis the series opens with.

Meika, who seems to run the building, also helps her out as mission control. Which might explain why Mikatan’s got a secret entrance to an underground base in her flat.

There’s also Lovera, the dodgy medium (who by a suspect coincidence was also on that bus), and Ito, the NEET.

And then there’s this cocky dude who seems to have orchestrated the bus hostage-taking, and is already at it again that night. I wonder how he fits into all this.

Production Values

WOW. Studio MAPPA have become known for drowning their latest projects in budget and producing impressive animation, but they’ve outdone themselves here. The bus hostage crisis is by far the most gorgeous and well-paced action sequence of the season so far. And then there’s the camera loving to move around in any shot to convey Yuuta’s disorientation, an effect that can’t be cheap to animate.

Also, kick-ass soundtrack. Apparently that’s from the most successful music producer in Japan.

Of course, there’s no going around the fact that much underwear is on display here. At least it’s varied and never boring.

Overall Impression

Well, that was weird. But it’s utterly manic in a way that agrees with my sensibilities : it knows how to use each and every second of screentime to display something awesome, funny, or both. And it’s got great comedic timing. (Best joke of the episode : Chiranosuke turning to his laptop to complete his exposition, and having to shut down a window with cat porn before resuming without missing a beat. Second best joke : Mikatan doing an elaborate transforming dance, only to finally put on her Strange Juice costume the old-fashioned way, while Meika just rolls her eyes.)

After a while, the underwear fanservice even becomes a portent of DOOM rather than actually titillating… Which is of course the central joke of the series. It a show that wants to eat his cake and still have it, while having the audience cheer it on. For me, it works.

This is just as good as I was expecting. No way I’m skipping it.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2015 – Page 4.

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend (Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata)

(12 episodes if you include this “prologue”)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a light novel series lampooning romantic comedy clich├ęs.

Characters

This series follows the members of a high school club aiming to produce a romance videogame, including :
– Tomoya, the one dude and apparent “leader” of the club, the idea guy giving direction to the group.
– Utaha, the main writer (who also makes light novels on the side). Very sardonic and critical of the clich├ęs of the genre, she’s quick to make fun of Tomoya’s terrible exposition in his narration and dialogue. Also aggressively vamping on him, with enough plausible deniability to leave him confused.
– Eriri, the main artist (who also publishes bestselling doujinshi on the side). A proponent of flash over substance, and thus in content conflict with Utaha. It doesn’t help that she’s Tomoya’s childhood friend and doesn’t like this newcomer macking on him.
– Michiru, the musician, an oddball who mostly stays in the background so far.
– Megumi, the one “normal” girl in the club, with no apparent artistic ability. She’s used by Eriri as a model for her artwork. Paratext indicates that she’s the girl Tomoya is actually interested in, and thus the “Boring Girlfriend” in the title.

This is a hot springs episode, with all the (lack of) plot advancement this implies.

Production Values

It takes some gall for a show to open with a gratuitous and very fanservicey hot springs scene, only for one of its characters to immediately launch into a rant against this kind of thing (with another very weakly trying to defend the practice).

Aside from this, it’s a decent-looking show.

Overall Impression

Hum. Usually you get this kind of thing as an OVA, not on TV before the first episode even airs. (Especially as it’s clearly set somewhere in the middle of the series, and isn’t a real prologue.)

But while this episode, by its very nature, doesn’t establish or develop the plot in any way, it gives a very good overview of the character dynamics at play here, as well as the metafictional humour it’s going for. And there’s quite a lot to enjoy here ; Utaha’s dry wit and trolling are the major attraction, and play well with the rest of the cast. There’s nothing particularly original, but the execution is strong enough to overcome my pre-release fears about the plot direction.

This must be the first ever hot springs episode I’ve ever found promising. That alone makes me think it’s doing something right, and pushes the show onto my to-watch list.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Winter 2015.

Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso)

(22 episodes)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a shonen romance manga.
(Since the manga is due to end simultaneously, there’s a good chance for the whole story to be adapted.)

Characters

Kousei, our 14-year-old male lead. Throughout his childhood, his ill mother forced him to play the piano, training him to public-performance level through much duress. And then he cracked, and she died soon after. That was a couple of years ago ; now he’s done with it. But he still clings to the music world a bit, charting music sheets as a part-time job.

Tsubaki, his childhood friend, will totally deny she’s into him. And maybe they’re really just friends… but come on, this is a romance series. She’s quite fun, though.

Ryouta, one of their friends, is the typical jock : MVP of the football team and serial charmer. Not a bad guy, though.

Kaori, the girl Tsubaki set up a date with Ryouta for. (That meant inviting Kousei as a fourth.) She puts on airs as a charmingly demure girl, but really she’s more mischevious and aggressive than that. Also, she plays the violin.

Production Values

It’s a bit weird how we alternate between super-fluid music-playing set pieces, and much rougher comedic shorthand. It mostly works, but it takes a bit to get used to it.

Overall Impression

On first viewing, I found this a bit dull and unmemorable. After a second watch… well, it deserves a better reception than that. It’s a perfectly okay romance show, with fun female characters (I reserve my judgement on the boys). Kousei’s past trauma is a bit overdone compared to the otherwise light tone, though it’s not too jarring.

But the key issue here is that there’s not much of a hook. It sets up a few budding relationships, but there’s no firm sense of where this is headed. It’s pleasant enough to watch, but I’m not entirely sold yet.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Fall 2014 – Page 5.

Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror)

(11 episodes)

What’s it about ?

It’s the grand reunion of director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) and composer Yoko Kanno ! Okay, it’s the third time in two years, but he’s barely directing any of Space Dandy himself, and let’s just politely forget about Kids on the Slope. This is much more like it : a more personal original anime series that he’s apparently been trying to produce for years. Given the subject matter, I believe him.

This is a show about terrorism. And it’s not pulling any punches.

Characters

The story focuses on a team of two teenage terrorists, Nine & Twelve. (They’ve got proper names they use at school, but those are most probably aliases.) Nine is the tall guy with glasses and scary eyes ; Twelve is a cheerful ball of energy whose playful attitude and smile are no less scary. Together, they commit acts of terror. Stealing plutonium from a secure recycling facility, setting off bombs that destroy most of a skyscraper, posting cryptic videos on YouTube, the works.

Their motives remain nebulous. Their very codenames suggest there’s somebody else pulling the strings. They feel righteous in their attacks against modern civilization, but the short flashbacks/dreams about their childhood only raise more questions over how they got there. What’s clear is that they are ready to kill.

Lisa is another student attending their new high school. Withdrawn and a frequent target of bullies until Twelve rescued her, mostly for the lulz. Later on, she randomly bumps into him in the middle of placing bombs, and Nine offers her a choice : dying or becoming their accomplice.

Before the skyscraper attack, the police aren’t really paying attention to some random videos on the web (the uranium theft six months ago is top secret, of course) ; that’s obviously going to change. The script gives plenty of screentime to a bored police inspector who spends his time solving crosswords while his partner surfs around the Net ; presumably he’s going to be important in the investigation.

Production Values

Very good. The direction makes the terrorism sequences look like clockwork : while it’s not immediately obvious what the end objective is, the various steps are perfectly clear to follow.

Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack is ace, of course. Maybe one of her best scores in a while.

Overall Impression

Well, this was impressive. This is basically filmed like a heist movie, except we have no clue whatsoever about what drives the protagonists, to say nothing of their endgame. What helps considerably is how plausible most of their attacks are ; whoever designed them did their research well. (The second episode opens with a scene of the police piecing out what they did exactly, and it turns out to have needed very little resources, merely impeccable planning and timing. Also, tons of refuge in audacity.)

I’m slightly less confident on how Lisa is going to fit into all this ; I presume it’s going to be more interesting than introducing some tepid romantic tension. Still, I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this, as everything else is very intriguing indeed.

A good thriller by masters of the form. Definitely one of the highlights of the season.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Summer 2014 – Page 4.

Nanana’s Buried Treasure (Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin)

(11 episodes, noitaminA)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a series of supernatural/adventure light novels.

Characters

Jugo, our protagonist. He’s moved to the “island of students”, which sounds like a great place but leaves him with a tight budget. The rent having to be paid in advance should have raised a warning flag, but now he’s stuck in this apartment.

Nanana, the ghost living in the room. Basically a NEET, since she can’t leave. And it doesn’t take much time for her to gain the upper hand in this cohabitation. Her background is fascinating : she was the leader of the seven student who founded the whole place, and the one who provided the funds (from a mysterious treasure) to bankroll it. The circumstances of her assassination are opaque, to say the least.

Ms Shiki, the owner of the apartment block, was another of the seven founders. She’s renting the room on purpose so that Nanana will be less lonely.

Production Values

This looks great : the island looks like a great place to live, and the architect seems to have gone to town with the weird but awesome-looking buildings and monuments. The opening adventuring sequence features some great animation, too.

Overall Impression

This is a lot of fun. The premise is promising, the Jugo/Nanana interplay works, and the progressive exposition is well-paced. It’s just brimming with joy, and that’s hard to dislike.

Of course I’ll keep watching it.

Ping Pong – The Animation

(11 episodes, noitaminA)

What’s it about ?

Adaptation of a sports manga that ran for a year in 1996-97. Also got a live-action movie a decade ago. Not exactly the most obvious choice for an adaptation, but there’s been weirder greenlights this season.

Characters

“Peco”, the annoyingly smug asshole who skips half the high school club’s training sessions. He’s quite good and does have some charisma, but he certainly deserves a punch in the face.

“Smile”, his best friend (or so it’s said, they barely interact at all here), the taciturn analytical genius who stays in the background. (He never smiles, of course.)

“China”, the transfer student, who used to play in the big leagues in his country, and sees his transfer as a humiliating demotion. This whole club is beneath him, he effortlessly trounces Peco… but Smile does catch his attention.

Production Values

The core selling point here is the name of director Masaaki Yuasa (Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy, Kick-Heart…). It certainly looks like nothing else, with a distinctive super-kinetic style and impressively animated matches.

Overall Impression

The problem is that the show leaves me completely cold. Sure, there’s a lot of technical skill at play here, but there’s very little to latch onto emotionnally until China shows up halfway through to liven things up. Even then, I found the main characters very unlikeable, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to make me care about what happens to them.

This is a caricature of a good chunk of noitaminA shows : an artsy ambitious project that nobody would want to watch. I’ll give it one more episode to turn my opinion around, but it’s on thin ice.

via [In Which I Review] New anime, Spring 2014 – Page 7.