Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Winter Anime 2016 Review

It's been a quiet winter, but the titles on display have been a notch above the rest.

It was always going to be hard to try and top the excellence of 2015. Right from the beginning of last year, some of the year's best titles were on display that had huge staying power for the rest of the year. Yuri Kuma Arashi and Death Parade was incredible titles, so all subsequent winters would always be hard to follow. 2016 didn't have a bad winter per se, but the amount of titles I wanted to watch decreased dramatically.

Several titles this season had a lot of premise, but after watching a couple of episodes, I just kind of stopped watching them. Not because the majority of them were bad, but they didn't make me feel anything. I was simply watching the title because I needed to watch something. Then I looked at the few titles that I was watching and wondered what exactly made me keep watching them on a weekly basis. Some titles I didn't need to justify, while other titles I really had to scrape together an explanation.

With all of that said, I had 4 titles that I watched this winter, each one very different from the last.

Bizarre title aside, this was my wild card of the season. I started watching BBK/BRNK because it had a pretty interesting premise and world. In this world, there are two beings; Bubuki and Buranki. Buranki were giant robots that had hearts that were able to walk around and fight each other or human, and Bubuki, the limbs of these Buranki that could act independently of the giants. 10 years ago, ever Buranki was destroyed on Earth except for one, and the one Buranki is now a giant military deterence that allowed Banryu Reoko to become the Queen of Japan. Now five kids, each with their own Bubuki, are on the run trying to return the main character to Treasure Island, the homeland of all Buranki and his mother, who exiled him from Treasure Island for his own safety after she deactivated every Buranki 10 years ago.

If that sounds like a major plot dump, then it is. There are a metric ton of characters in BBK/BRNK that all have their own relationships with each other. There's the main cast of forgettable protagonists, Reoko's team, and then there are American Bubuki users, Russian users, British users, other users, and then even more characters who appear for a brief instant before leaving. Telling a coherent story is not BBK/BRNK's focus. At least, not until the very end of the season.

Adding on tot he fact is that this entire anime is 3D-CGI. There are full animated models in this show, and I honestly don't know how I feel about it. On one hand, I get that in Japan 3D animation is probably much cheaper and more efficient than hand-drawn animation, but for this title, it just doesn't do anything to help the series out. Models look alright, but they're pretty static and unimpressive for the show. That isn't to say that the animation is bad, but when I'm watching this title, I don't think that it could only exist as a 3D animated title.

All of that being said, I really enjoyed this title. Like, a lot. The main characters might have been useless, but two things actually make this series great; the action, and the villains. The one benefit of having 3D animated characters is that the action looks really damn good. Not as good as One Punch Man, but still fun and enjoyable action. The villains though are what really impress me. Each of the five main villains all have interesting relationships between each to her and have deep motivations for their actions. They actually feel like developed characters and have reasons for their actions. They actually care about each other and while you never think for a second that they're good guys, they aren't exactly mustache twirling villains either.

Overall, I think that BBK/BRNK is one of the most underrated titles of the season. It's not perfect, and it certainly has its quirks, but it's still a solid anime in its own right.

Dimension W
Dimension W is an odd beast. It's not a good anime, let's get that right out of the way, but the way that it's underwhelming is so bizarre that I don't actually think it's real. What should have been an at least fairly interesting series turned into a slog, but it's descent into mediocrity was a slow one.

First and foremost, our main characters were boring and never changed. Kyouma, a Coil Hunter (coils are the energy sources in this world. Think batteries, but much stronger), was grumpy and a borderline sociopath, while his sidekick Mira is a perky and happy android that wants Kyouma to cheer up. He treats her like crap for the entire series, and she never bats an eye out of it. We're told that Kyouma hates machines and coils, but that isn't really enough to justify his hatred and outright disdain for Mira. Once we learn the actually reason as well, it just becomes a standard affair of a man who lost everything and is disenfranchised with the world. Yippee.

To be fair though, the first couple of episodes were promising enough. The series had a lot of energy and it was fun watching Kyouma hunt for coils in random environments that only had the barest of links to each other. Once episode 6 hit though, the entire series became focused on telling a consistent narrative, and that's where Dimension W lost me. I'm all for having overarching plots in series, but the characters and the world has to be interesting enough for me to care about them. When several characters are introduced at once, I could care less about them because I still don't even care about our main characters.

And then we have the eponymous Dimension W. What is it exactly? It's a huge energy source, but it has the ability to so outlandish and bizarre things. It can have people be astral projections and portray alternate timelines, fuse objects together, bring the dead back to life, power cars and machines, and apparently also cause subatomic explosions. All of this is never explained, and we don't know why it causes different things for different people. The only reason we get is that the dimension is powered by memories, but that doesn't even begin to make sense. I love a good sci-fi story, but in order for me to be invested in the material, the world needs to make sense. I like Star Trek because the science is comprehensible in universe. In Dimension W, the science can change on a whim to the point where I don't even think the characters know what's happening.

It's a shame too, because those first few episodes were solid. There was a two party about a haunted mansion that actually had some eerie Halloween vibes I could get behind. Instead, the series just collapsed in on itself and turned into a pile of broken ideas and shoddy characters.

Now here's a series that I can get behind! A man named Satoru has the ability to travel back in time against his will to save people, and once his mother is murdered by a mysterious assailant, he's transported back in time to 1988 to relive his youth in order to save people from a serial killer and discover the identity of the killer.

From the very first episode, I was in love. The series gripped my like nothing had in a while and the concept was interesting. I love a great mystery, and Erased was definitely a thriller mystery. Watching Satoru act like a child while having the mindset of an adult was fascinating, and they never played out any of the potential lowbrow jokes that a lesser show may have done. This was a show entirely focused on developing its characters and advancing its central ideas.

Erased took us to some dark places with dark undertones, like watching domestic abuse at its finest, but it also gave way to some of the most heartwarming and tear inducing scenes I've seen in an anime to this date. I'm not going to lie when I say that I teared up when one of the characters joined Satoru and his mother for breakfast one day, and the reaction on their face was beautiful to say the least.

If there was one element that wasn't as strong as the characters and their relationships with each other, it would have to be the overall mystery. By the end of the series, we knew we had to reach a revelation on who the killer was, and while I won't say it wasn't unsatisfying, it certainly wasn't perfect either. Enough significant clues were dropped that even an idiot could figure it out, and once the killer was revealed, they lost all personality and just became evil for the sake of evil. They were a monster, and monsters are never interesting to watch. The villain starts to monologue, explain why they became so evil in the first place, who they killed and why, and made the entire revelation less impactful. Erased still pulled everything together for a solid finale, but there was a time where it looked like it may not have made it.

But it did make it, and Erased turned out to be a fantastic show. Some people may say it's a bit too melodramatic for their tastes, but I was a fan of the show for its entire run. It got the ending it deserved, and it satisfied everyone with near perfect character development and pacing. Kudos to you Erased.

Oji-san no Marshmallow
I really don't have much to say about Oji-san besides it was a cute little show that made me feel all happy and junk each time I watched it. In it, there was a woman (I cannot remember her name for the life of me), who is love with one of her coworkers whom she refers to as Oji-san. Oji-san is not in love with her, but instead is absolutely addicted to the marshmallows that she always brings to work. So for four minutes each week, we get a cute little short about a woman who tries to seduce a large fat man with marshmallows.

Other than that... fairly unique premise, Oji-san was just a happy show to tune in to every week just to feel happy and warm inside. The characters were funny, the jokes usually hit, and it served its job well. It gave us weekly funny jokes as well as bizarre marshmallow recipes at the end. I don't know why two live action Japanese women ended each episode by giving marshmallow recipes, but that's just kinda how the show worked. It was was it was, and it never tried to reach above and beyond its limitations.


While Dimension W was by far the worst show of the season for me despite it not being awful, I actually had to stop and consider which I liked more; BBK/BRNK, or Erased. Both were shows that had a few minor problems, but overall pulled it together to deliver a high action anime and a suspenseful mystery respectively. I think that I'll have to give the nod to Erased though because of how the show never faltered for me as much as BBK/BRNK did. There was a time where I was certain that BBK/BRNK was going to fall apart and crash, but it never did. It just kept on being good, but I never had that doubt with Erased.

Oji-san no Marshmallow
Dimension W

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