It’s time for my first impressions of the Fall 2016 anime season! While I’ll give quick impressions on all of the shows I’ve watched an episode or two of, there are a handful of shows I will go into deeper impressions for, either because they have something in particular I want to talk about or because they are shows I did not mention in my “most anticipated Fall 2016 anime” post.
First off, here are my quick impressions:
Sequels (including: Show by Rock!!#, Sound! Euphonium S2, Haikyuu! S3): Sequels have to be judged differently from first episodes of new shows, since they are, in many ways, not “first” episodes. Their job is to continue what their previous iterations have set in motion. Drastic changes are only necessary if the past season suffered from significant issues, something neither of these shows had. As such, that I can say for these shows that they feel like they never left is all the praise they need. This is especially true for Euphonium, which was my favorite show of 2015, and started the season off with a double-length premiere that not only got us reacquainted with the band but also introduced the next big dramatic story arc. Compared to that, Show by Rock only needed to continue with its brand of craziness with just a bit of thoughtfulness, and that it did just fine, re-establishing itself as a fun weekly diversion. As for Haikyuu, we haven’t quite gotten major volleyball action yet, but we do get to meet up with some familiar faces and get a look at how far the team has come, and what they might expect going into this final match.
WWW.Working: Overall a bit toned down compared to the previous Working!! anime, which makes sense considering the original web manga actually predates the manga the previous anime was based on. Still, a fun cast of characters and solid comedy makes this show plenty enjoyable.
Kiss Him, Not Me: My only problem with the opening episode is not really being a fan of the “fat voice” of pre-transformation Kae; it’s a bit too stereotypical and forced. Once her transformation happens, though, the show is every bit as stupidly funny as the manga was.
ClassicaLoid: Absolutely ridiculous and fun. Not much else to say about this; I’m always up for a show that just does whatever the heck it wants and this definitely looks to be that kind of show.
Long Riders: This show actually felt more like a slice-of-life show than either the more sportsy Yowamushi Pedal or the more comedic Bakuon!. I’ve heard it compared to Yama no Susume, which isn’t too far off of a comparison. All in all, while not a standout show by any means, I’m always up for a nice slice-of-life show with a bit of a sports element, so I’m on board for more.
Poco’s Udon World: I’ve heard this compared to Barakamon and Sweetness & Lightning, as well as generally following the trend of shows about single guys taking care of children started by Bunny Drop. More importantly, all those shows are among my favorite shows, and Udon no Kuni looks like it will slot right in with them, with its gentle atmosphere, cute tanuki kid, and a small serving of feels. All it needs now is a bit more udon.
Magic of Stella: SO FREAKING ADORABLE. There’s also a decent little storyline about wanting to make a game and some of the trials that come with that, plus some fun character interactions, which combined with the ridiculous cute levels should easily make this show my “fuwa-fuwa” show of the season.
More in-depth impressions after the jump.
Scorching Ping Pong Girls: This show has somehow ended up as my potential sleeper hit of the season. I certainly was looking forward to it because of the cute girls and how it features table tennis, a sport I want to see more of in anime, but what we got here was a combination that actually exceeded my expectations. Part of why this show stood out to me are the characters, particularly Agari. She plays table tennis not out of any particular love for the sport, but because she’s good at it, being the top-ranked player at her club, and because that means she gets lots of adoration from others. She plays to satisfy her pride, and as shallow as that is, it is also surprisingly human and flawed for a moe show. Naturally, that pride gets challenged when newcomer Koyori, an adorably shy girl (very reminiscent of Ruby Kurosawa of Love Live! Sunshine!!) who loves playing table tennis and becomes an entirely different person with a paddle in her hand. She is the perfect foil to Agari, playing for the love of the sport but getting flustered at all the attention her skills bring her, and the show has been effectively building up to a match between the two that could seriously challenge Agari in why she plays table tennis.
There are a number of other interesting characters in the story, who bring their personalities to the ping pong table as they show off their unique playstyles. Even the senpai who seemed to otherwise just be a walking joke about her chest size turns out to be a surprisingly good senpai figure. With all of these players plus some teases of rival ping pong teams in the OP, the show reminds me of another show I have fond memories of: Saki. Those familiar with that show know how its variety of characters with unique mahjong skills work together to create a show that is both lots of fun and also has a lot of character development, and I’m definitely hoping that Ping Pong Girls can also have plenty to enjoy in sports action and character development.
Speaking of sports action, though, the table tennis gameplay itself looks fantastic. The rest of the show might not be too impressive visually, but if that just means that Kinema Citrus took whatever limited budget they had for the show and put the vast majority of it into the ping pong matches, I cannot complain. The sport is an extremely dynamic and fast-paced one, with real matches oftentimes being hard to follow with how much is going on over a relatively small space, so for this anime to really highlight the action as it does makes for exciting viewing. It’s probably the best sports anime that sports anime fans aren’t watching, though admittedly the moe elements are probably a turn-off for most sports fans; this show definitely finds itself in a small niche for those who are fans of both moe and sports anime. But for those like myself who fall into that niche, or those willing to try something sportsy with just a bit extra cuteness to it, this show is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru: This was definitely not a show that was on my radar. It’s hard enough to get me interested in anime based on mobile games unless there’s music and lots of cute girls involved. With the game instead featuring historical swords reincarnated as cute boys, it did not seem to me like a show that would be my type. And yet, after reading this article on Crunchyroll that suggests that moe is a concept that defies gender lines, I got curious as to whether that would be true. So I tried an episode. And then tried another episode.
Overall, it’s not bad. I can’t really identify much in the way of the swords’ personalities, and I definitely am not recalling any names, but aside from those hurdles, the show is likable enough. It sure is bleedingly obvious that it’s based on a game, though; the swordboys get orders from a Master, a.k.a. the game player (and almost certainly female), get chosen to be sent out on missions, and are even given special items to help them out. In a more serious show I’d see this as a problem, but given the more lighthearted nature of this show, it’s part of the charm.
Probably the most interesting thing about this show, though, is how it takes on the whole idea that these boys are reincarnations of historical swords. It means that these swords have some history behind them, not all of which is pleasant, as some were used by historical figures in less-than-noble ways, while others had to watch their owners die with them in their hands. This makes for some rather interesting story moments, to be sure. Hopefully they explore this aspect more, because it’s probably what will keep this otherwise okay show on my weekly watchlist. There’s also supposed to be a more serious adaptation by ufotable next season, which I might have to at least keep an ear out for how it turns out.
Yuri!! on Ice: Here’s a show that I was interested in checking out, but not enough to put it on my anticipated shows list. While I’m the last person to bemoan the lack of “yuri” (a.k.a. romance between girls) in the show, at the same time a show about a bunch of pretty boys doing ice skating isn’t naturally going to appeal to me beyond “oh hey, an ice skating anime… I guessGinban Kaleidoscope wasn’t too bad, so maybe I’ll go for more.” The director apparently also drew some attention, but not for me since the number of her previous works I’ve seen is limited to one Space Dandy episode that I didn’t even know was done by her. So all I had to go on was word of mouth, and when that word started saying how good this show was, I decided I’d give the first episode a go.
And what do you know, I rather liked it. Apparently the director likes adding a whimsical style to her works, leading to a number of art shifts within an episode that transition almost seamlessly between sillier moments and moments of greater seriousness, especially once the ice skating itself gets involved. The storyline isn’t too bad, especially as the ending reveal promises to take the whole story in a fun direction. Overall, for a show I thought was going to be more serious, it actually ended up being fairly lighthearted and comedic thanks to the art style and tone changes, which is hardly a bad thing. By all means I am up for more; hopefully the show can continue to balance out the silly and the serious.
Girlish Number: Not too long ago there was a blog post on The Mary Sue that criticized moe for portraying females too unrealistically. It certainly ruffled a lot of feathers from moe fans, but I thought it was a surprisingly fair and reasonable post, and was actually willing to concede some good things that can come from it (something most critics of moe on the Internet do not do at all). My main issue with the post (outside of the general difficulty in defining what exactly moe is) is how it did not really provide a good counter-example of what a “realistic” female character should be like, as its only counterpoint is the stereotype of females as “incomprehensible she-demons who just want to have sex”, which is every bit as unrealistic, and arguably in a worse way. Anyway, I bring this up not to go into a defense of moe or a criticism of this criticism, but to say how, in watching Girlish Number, I cannot help but think this is exactly what those who have a problem with realistic female depictions in moe really want. They might not be sex demons, but the girls in this show are still conniving, savage, and highly cynical; that’s what real girls are like, right? Right?
In all seriousness, though, the realism of the girls in this show is actually pretty darn good. It helps that they are not all bite; past their facades and their cynicism, Chitose and Momoka do have some genuinely cute and cheerful moments (even as Momoka gives Chitose some serious burns over her lack of voice acting skills), and overall the girls have solid characterization over their reactions to the realities of the anime industry. This is where the show’s pedigree definitely comes into play; the scriptwriter, Wataru Watari, also wrote the original light novels for My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU and gave us the bundle of extreme cynicism mixed with awkward hope that is Hachiman, and he gives us something similar here in Chitose: someone who is very jaded and gives many remarks about the anime industry that the audience can relate to (how many more light novel-based anime are we going to get?), yet still has enough of her hopes and dreams in her to keep her going forward.
Overall, Watari’s style and writing strengths extend to all of the show. There’s definitely some self-deprecative humor with all his digs at light novels, considering he’s a light novel writer himself. This show is clearly meant to be the more cynical sibling ofShirobako and Sore ga Seiyuu, while still maintaining just enough charm and cuteness to keep itself from being depressing. And while I’ll defend idealistic moe shows to the death, I do certainly have plenty of love for satirical and cynical shows with charm, like Humanity Has Declined. So all in all, I loved this premiere and can’t wait for more.
March comes in like a lion: As my most anticipated premiere of Fall 2016, this show, a.k.a. Sangatsu no Lion, delivered on all fronts. I will go into more about how Studio SHAFT adapted the story visually and whatnot but for now let’s look at the underlying story, which comes straight from the original manga, because that lays a strong foundation for the show. We have our protagonist, Rei, a high schooler who’s also a professional shogi (a Japanese chess-like game) player, and who seems to be in something of a dark place mentally. He’s pitted against his adoptive father in an official match, something that reminds him of a time when he was younger and won a major tournament, only to find that said adoptive father was more concerned with consoling his biological children over their loss in the same tournament. Winning the current match against his father only made things worse, as it felt to him like he was punching his own father. Overall, this distance from his family has left him in a depressed state, but there is still a ray of hope in his life, in the form of the Kawamoto sisters. Their warm and lively home is one that he seems to visit frequently (even if somewhat against his will, as the episode has a hilarious moment where the older sister messages him to get him to buy some things for them, just as he was about to tell the middle sister that he would not be stopping by that night), and it seems that it will be with their help that he might find his way out of his dark place.
So already, we have a strong base story, but how does this anime adaptation add to (or detract from) it? Interestingly enough, a lot of elements of SHAFT-style animation that could be considered flaws in the style are actually used effectively here. The random cuts and overall distracting visuals actually do a great job of simulating Rei’s detached state from the world around him. More interesting, though, is what happens when he enters the Kawamoto household. There, the tone of the show does a complete 360, turning into a wacky comedy with cats voicing their internal dialogue and the middle and youngest girls showing off their cuteness. Frankly, it’s incredibly jarring and out-of-place… and yet, while in another show that might be a problem, here I think it actually works in its favor. It shows how Rei, in his current state of mind, feels out of place himself amidst the warmth of this family. (There’s a reason why he initially was going to turn down the invitation to visit their home, after all.) As much as these girls care for him in a way he never felt with his family, as he is right now he cannot connect fully with them. By the same token they are probably the one thing in his life keeping him from truly entering the pits of despair, just like how their presence in the show keeps this show from being just one big angst-fest. It’s another example of how a sharp tonal shift can be used effectively, in this case by embracing its awkwardness rather than trying to minimize it.
Reactions to this episode have been extremely varied. Many loved it and found the SHAFT influence to be a great touch. Some even mentioned how they were not normally a fan of SHAFT but had to admit they did a good job here, perhaps holding themselves back enough to not be too distracting. Of course, some still claimed that SHAFT ruined everything, while others found issues with things not directly relating to the studio’s visual styles, such as the jarring tonal shift or the overall depressing mood. But as interesting as all these reactions are, in the end, as far as I see it, this show is not one to be missed. It looks to be a special kind of slice-of-life show: one that focuses on a more depressing time of life, but filled with enough hope that, with some character development, can slowly but powerfully evolve into something truly bright and charming. This show has me hooked, and I can easily say it has the best premiere of the season.
I have a few more shows from this season that I’m going to try out, but overall, I must say that this looks to be another incredible season of anime. What premieres from this season stood out to you? Feel free to talk about your impressions of the new anime season in the comments!