Saturday, October 1, 2016

Summer Anime 2016 Review

Wow that was a busy summer.

Summer has come and gone, and with it was an absolutely massive amount of anime to digest. There were dozens of series that came out during the past three months, and almost all of them have had high expectations thrust upon them. That being said, this was definitely a season ripe for disappointment. Several titles that were amazing in concept had lackluster executions, which is a crying shame given some of the titles on offer here.

Truth be told, I dropped more shows this season that I had in previous seasons. I was originally watching Orange, but I fell out of that extraordinarily fast. Technically Thunderbolt Fantasy isn't an anime, but I still gave it a watch for a few episodes and I couldn't get into it as hard as I tried. I even braved Taboo Tattoo for half an episode before running away in fear. For the longest time, I only had three real shows to talk about, but I hunkered down and binged two shows in order to pad out this post. So this season ranged from having great shows, unexpected hits, and an ugly ass show that makes me cry. Hooray for me.

As always, if you enjoy these shows, more power to you! I'm just one man with one opinion and I'm not always right. So this is just my own take on the shows from the past three months and whether or not I enjoyed them or not. So let's dive right into my most anticipated title of the season.


After nearly 20 years, Berserk finally progresses past the Golden Age arc that it's been stuck in since the late 90's. I cannot exaggerate when I say that Berserk has one of the best stories ever told in a manga. It's dark, mature, and tackles complicated themes of morality, honor, and religion among MANY other issues. When I heard that Berserk was finally returning and continuing the story of Guts after what was known as the Eclipse (look it up), I squealed with joy. You have no idea how rough it is for a Berserk fan.

And then the show looks as ugly as sin.

Berserk is a truly ugly looking show, sporting some laughable CGI and even wonkier animations. For a show that originally sported some grizzly action scenes, it's so sad to see that the action in this series has progressed to watching two ballooned models flailing at each other. Scenes and moments are ruined by having the characters imply talk to each other with faces that barely move or react to situations unless there's a cut. Occasionally there will be a switch to gorgeous 2D animation, but it'll only last for a few seconds before the CGI takes over again. It'll be even worse where in some shots you'll see tons of characters in traditional 2D animation, but a CG character walks into frame and ruins it all.

That isn't to say that the story isn't good. On the contrary, the story was the on thing that kept me going until the finale. I loved seeing the cast of characters like Guts, Lady Farnese, Serprico, and even the villainous Mozgus on a weekly basis, as horrible as all of these people were. The aesthetic and imagery in this series was horrifying to watch, but in the best way possible. Yes the CG might have made everything progressively worse, but at least what they were trying to portray was compelling. I was still awestruck at certain lines of dialogue or seeing the horrors that characters had to put themselves through. Thankfully, by the last few episodes, the visuals were finally able to sustain a climactic finale, so I got used to watching the ugliness. It still sucks though that I have to say I got used to how horrible it looks, but that's the way the cards are dealt unfortunately.

The series was originally supposed to be 24 episodes told through two seasons, but the second season was delayed until the Spring of 2017 for unknown reasons. Maybe they'll put a stronger focus on actual 2D animation? Still, the story was still classic Berserk, even if the visuals were classic Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage.

Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy Despair and Future Arcs
Talk about ambitious. Here we have the conclusion of the original Danganronpa series, which includes the first two games and the Ultra Despair Girls spinoff, in a two part anime series airing biweekly. The first arc, called the "Future Arc", takes place after Danganronpa 2 and centers on Makoto Naegi, the protagonist of the first game, being put on trial by the Future Foundation, the peace keeping organization of the world, for helping a group of serial murderers and monsters that caused and event called "The Tragedy". The trial gets hijacked and all of the members of the Future Foundation are ordered to kill each other in order to find a traitor in their midst who will continue to cause the world to sink into despair. The other arc, the "Despair Arc", is a prequel to the entire series that explains how "The Tragedy" happened and where everything went south.

It all sounds very complex, and it is if you're unfamiliar with the series, but for fan of the franchise, Danganronpa 3 is a revelation. It provides exactly what fans are looking for and gives viewers hours of entertainment through colorful hijinks in the Despair arc, horrific imagery in the Future Arc, and hopeless existentialism in both arcs. What's not to love!

For the span of 24 episodes, I watched each installment as soon as it aired, eager to see just how exactly to new killing game would play out as well as how the events of the series began in the first place. Every lingering question from the series is explained and new questions are raised, but by the end of the series it reaches a fairly satisfying conclusion. I say fairly because there is one aspect of this show that did suffer, and it was the explanation of just exactly what "The Tragedy" was. 

In previous entries in the series, we never learned exactly what happened that caused the world to sink into despair, but we knew a few key points that helped clarify things. We knew there was a mass suicide, it was orchestrated by a group called the Remnants of Despair, and Junko Enoshima was responsible for it. We do get a reason explaining why it happened, but it just seemed like a cheap answer for a complex question. I won't spoil exactly what happened, but the fact that it was so easy and influenced several characters in both the Despair and Future arcs was a bit of a letdown. 

That being said, this was still classic Danganronpa and we did have some great new characters and details shed about previously established characters that made each episode enjoyable. Granted, I could only relate to a few of the new characters introduced since unlike the video games, we have even less time with the cast, but it says a lot that even when each character died in the Future Arc, it still had an emotional resonance. That's some quality writing, plus the series has always been great at having tiny little hints that can greatly inform how the story will progress and conclude. 

Overall, Danganronpa 3 was a blast from start to finish that concluded the first story arc of the series fairly strong. Now we have to begin the agonizing wait for Danganronpa 3 the game, which will have nothing to do with the anime!

Mob Psycho 100
ONE is an author of many talents. He's able to create characters that are as memorable as the are strong and puts a strong focus on having ensemble casts that are philosophically examined and quantified by the "plain" or "average" characters. One-Punch Man showed Saitama as the strongest being in the universe, but faced existential ennui because of how strong he was and a general lack of purpose in it. If One-Punch Man is a phenomenal action series, then Mob Psycho 100 was the paranormal-action-comedy series equivalent. 

Mob Psycho 100 deals closely with the idea of adolescence, puberty, what it means to be an adult, and the difference between been gifted and being normal, which are themes that usually are covered in anime, but not to the extent as they are here. I haven't seen a series that hides its themes so well with humor in ages, and I mean that as a high compliment. It was only after watching each episode that I understood the topics the series was addressing, and I loved it for it. 

The series revolves around Mob, a extremely powerful esper that decides to not use his powers in every day life. He just wants to be a normal middle schooler and live a normal life, but he finds that he just can't do that. Not only that, but he can't emotionally connect with anyone and wants nothing more than to fit in and be cool. When he's not a middle schooler, he works with a man named Reigen who claims he's an excellent exorcist, but is actually just a conman living day to day. The story just revolves around the adventure of these two and the psychics they encounter. 

So I'll come right up front and say that while I do like Mob Psycho 100, it never clicked for me as some other series do. I enjoyed what I was watching and what it was saying, but like Berserk, the visuals were sometimes too distracting for me. While Berserk showcased bad 3D CGI, Mob Psycho 100 showcases good kinetic animation for the entirety of the series. In action and comedic scenes, this is fine, but watching normal characters interact with each other was way too loose and just seemed disjointed to watch. It looks like everyone had their muscles replaced by spaghetti for the entirety of the show. The animation isn't bad though, just misused, but still entirely more watchable than Berserk is. 

I almost wish I could love Mob Psycho 100 more than I do, but not only does the animation take a lot of getting used to, but the cast seems a bit too large for its own good. One-Punch Man had Saitama and Genos as the main pair with a few side characters that appeared frequently enough for me to recognize them by name. Amai Mask, Mumen Rider, Tornado, Silver Fang, Metal Knight, The Sea King, and Boros. They appear just enough for me to remember them. In Mob Psycho 100 we have Mob and Reigen, Mob's brother, a reporter, two separate clubs, Mob's crush, an evil organization consisting of 11 named members, Mob's brother's student council members, other child psychics, and a boy named Teru who actually has a quantifiable personality. The excessive characters worked in One-Punch Man because the focus was usually about undermining the characters by the simplistic, yet awesome Saitama. In Mob Psycho 100, the characters are all important tot he plot in one way or another, so too much time is spent checking up on all of the characters in the arcs when the focus should be primarily on Mob and Reigen. 

Gripes aside, I still enjoyed my all too brief time with Mob Psycho 100. It was good, and while I can see why some people are in love with it, I'll stick to the awesomeness of One-Punch Man for my ONE fixing. 

New Game!
I've been having a comedic hole in my heart for some time now. For the past two seasons, I've been looking for some comedy, any comedy that could brighten my week with goofy jokes, fun characters, and fun situations. You know, the basis to any good comedy. A series where I can just turn off my mind and enjoy whatever gags and puns are thrown my way. With all of that being said, I had moderate hopes for New Game!, but I may have set my hopes a bit too high...

Aoba is a woman fresh out of high school that is going off to work at her dream job; a video game company! She's hired by a company called Eagle Jump, who's hard at work making a super big JRPG, and Aoba is brought on as an art designer. She interacts with the other departments in goofy hi-jinks, and everyone has a good time.

Nothing is fundamentally WRONG with New Game! per se, but I feel like the only thing that the show has going for it is its premise. Even then, there are a million other anime slice-of-life comedies with the same general idea; girl working. It just so happens that now the "girl" is working in a video game company, and because video games are super-duper cool, the show must be a crazy comedy about video games! In actuality, this is a show about making video games, which is still entertaining, but all of the jokes are more subdued than laugh out loud.

I did enjoy some of the characters, like a woman who's incredibly shy to talk to, but if you message her, she'll reply back extremely giddily and with emojis. I honestly just think that the comedy here is too safe and tame to elicit any reaction out of me. Does that mean that I only like absurdist comedies? No, but here's a difference between telling a subtle joke and telling a joke with no bang. Subtlety means that a joke is present, but the delivery was subdued enough to hide the fact that you were telling a joke in the first place. A joke with no bang is a joke that has a decent delivery, but the punch line just didn't cut it. I went in with moderate expectations, and they were met exactly. Not exceeded, no disappointed, just... expected.

planetarian was a show that I didn't know I was going to watch. I quite literally watched every episode of this show in one sitting during a dark Monday night, not really knowing what to expect from it. I knew that planetarian was based on a kinetic novel from Key, who are experts at emotional manipulation, but I only knew that it was an ONA, or an Original Net Animation. What differs that from most other shows seen this season is that there were only five episodes produced, they debuted online first, and the length of each episode varied from 13 minutes to 25 minutes. The interested me immensely, since that meant each episode was as long as it needed to be, said whatever it needed to say, and would end telling the story it wanted to tell, refusing to bad out the original source material for conflict. A week later, I still don't know why I can't get planetarian out of my head.

Our story revolves around Yumemi, a robot that works at a planetarium. She was built to entertain the masses and to narrate the star exhibit, but after a war involving germ bombs, all life in the city ceases to exist. However, for one week every year, she wakes up and continues her job of entertaining and waiting for people to come to see the planetarium. After 30 years of waiting, a Junker, a person who scavenges ruined cities for food and water, finds her. With Yumemi coming in contact with another human, she only has one goal; to show him the stars.

planetarian is a somber series with many sad, yet poignant moments to it. There's something almost romantic about the fascination with the stars that Yumemi has. What makes it even more effective is that the story is told in a world without the stars. The city is a literal wasteland, with constant rain, no sunlight, and ruins of major shopping centers, and while the Junker is aware of all of this, Yumemi is still working as if she's a tour guide from 30 years ago. Make no mistake, when I say that Yumemi is a robot, I do mean that. She'll cycle through repeated dialogue, she'll make inquiries when she doesn't understand something, and she'll make prime directives for rules she must follow.

The Junker is only human in the story, and seeing his character progress is fairly interesting, if a bit predictable. It's so refreshing though to see a character be cynical for completely rational reasons. The "loner badass" is a type we see all too often in anime, but when you get right down to it, there's no real reason for a character to be like that, fundamentally speaking. Why are they so emotionally distant and cynical towards everyone? If the reason doesn't pan out, then it's a trope for the sake of tropes. The Junker though is cynical because we know about the world he lives in. We see his flashbacks and his narration explains what his mission is and what he set out to do. 30 years of living in a ruined world would change a man, and his harshness isn't because he's just like that, but because he knows what it means to lose someone and he wants to genuinely protect Yumemi.

I won't give anymore of the story away, but planetarian blew me away with how polished it was a simple show that lasted no more than an hour and a half. If you have an afternoon, sit down, turn it on, and let the wonder and feels run over you. This isn't a tragedy, but it's still pretty sad. It also happens to be absolutely great.


This was as clear cut of a season as I could have hoped for. Every title had a clear ranking for me and expressed pretty much how I would rank all anime titles from here on out. As the clear worst title of the season, Berserk's visuals hampered a huge amount of enjoyment I could have had. Yes the story was still great, but as an adaptation, what's to stop me from just reading the manga when the anime is so flawed? New Game! is slightly better for being a fun little ride, but not really being too memorable or having any raw staying power. As for great titles, Mob Psycho 100 had all of the spunk and energy in the world, and it came together in a satisfying way. It wasn't flawless, but it was still a great experience.

I had trouble deciding whether or not Danganronpa 3 or planetarian was better though. On one hand, we had a massive 24 episode series that explained and concluded the original Danganronpa storyline, while the other was an incredibly small series that was barely five episodes long, and even then had a two minute closing and several shorter episodes. As much as I love Danganronpa 3, I have to say that planetarian is a better series if only because it had a strong focus to it. D3 was great, but in its length and ambition, it had a few more hiccups and stumbles than I would have liked. planetarian was something I don't remember seeing before; a drama that actually works and doesn't overstay its welcome. In the anime industry, that's a rare gift indeed.


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