Now that’s more like it!
This season is shaping up to have very little in the middle-of-the-pack range, as it seems that I either like a premiere a whole lot or pretty much hate it, with very little middle ground. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you: It makes it easier to know what to keep and what to drop, without having to give a bunch of series 2-3 episode trials run beforehand.
The good news is that this batch has a pair of premieres I really enjoyed, which is about the only thing they share – well, that and their own unique sense of style, I suppose. They’re a breath of fresh air from all the cookie-cutter series out there, and I can’t wait to tell you all about ‘em.
Original Series: Written and directed by Tachikawa Yuzuru
Streaming On: Funimation (US/Canada)
In a Sentence: Two people arrive at a strange bar with no memory of how they got there, only to be told by the bartender that they must play a game in order to leave – and that they must play with their lives on the line.
How was it? Slightly unsettling and start-to-finish fascinating.
To provide some backstory, Death Parade began as a 2013 animated short called Death Billiards. Since the creators probably knew that not everyone would have seen the short beforehand, this premiere episode does a lot of the same things the short did in establishing the world, rules, and tone of the series. The two players and the game are different, but overall it feels a bit like a retread, and to be honest I preferred the story presented in Death Billiards more (it was more ambiguous, both in how events occurred and how you felt about the characters involved), so I’d recommend checking out the short if you have the chance.
That being said, this is still good stuff – a dark premise with an inherently cool setting, a character study about hidden lives and motivations, and Buddhist undertones about truth, redemption, and condemnation. Also, it’s Madhouse, so the animation is predictably smooth and in some places beautifully dynamic (even the CG is pretty well-integrated). The series looks to expand upon its strange supernatural world in the coming weeks, focusing on the people(?) who work at the Queen Dequim bar. I’m excited to know more, both about them and the limbo-like world they inhabit.
Did it make the watchlist? Barring any major missteps in the next couple weeks, I think it’s a safe bet than Death Parade will be a firm fixture on this season’s schedule.
The Rolling Girls (Rolling ☆ Girls)
Original Series: Directed by Deai Kotomi (Silver Spoon, Kids on the Slope) and written by Muto Yasuyuki (Afro Samurai, Deadman Wonderland)
Streaming On: Funimation (US/Canada)
In a Sentence: In a future Japan broken up into multiple city-states, roaming gangs led by “Bests” (including the masked Macha Green) fight for territory and power.
How was it? Willfully confusing but incredibly fun.
The weakest part of the episode is its first couple minutes, where a convoluted “history” is dumped on the viewer to explain how this society/world came to exist. As the title suggests, I recommend just rolling with it, because after that the series settles its focus on a few key characters and grounds itself in the relationships between two sisters and between two rivals (possibly old friends?), all of which swirls around the “secret” identity of masked Best, Macha Green.
While those character dynamics give you something to grab onto, the greatest strength of Rolling Girls still lies in its wild, gleefully absurd world: In vivid color palettes (art director Tamura Seiki has a long history of making shows look gorgeous) and manically animated fight sequences, in dynamic “ramen competitions” and nonsensical background characters (there’s a guy who wears a mascot-style crocodile head, which goes unremarked all episode). There’s a feel to this one that’s reminiscent of Gainax at its best: Bizarre, full-steam-ahead action sequences, larger-than life worlds and characters, and the hint of possible depth or intricacies in the coming weeks. And all that sounds pretty great to me.
Did it make the watchlist? I suspect so, although I’ll need another couple episodes to see if there’s really some substance to go with all this style. Check back with me for a Rule of Three Review and we’ll go from there.
Gourmet Girl Graffiti (Koufuku Graffiti)
I’m all for a show about cooking and eating and friendship, and I found the two main characters reasonably pleasant (if not a bit generic and overly-cute). But any show that begins with its protagonist bemoaning her sudden lack of cooking skills because it means she’ll “never find a husband” is already on thin ice with me, and the direction/storyboarding during the eating scenes is super sexual and frankly pretty creepy, especially given the girls’ ages. I think a show like this serves as a really good contrast to Yurikuma, as both have a strong focus on the sensuality of eating and the relationship between girls, but where Yurikuma is at least up-front and honest about exploring its characters’ sexuality, Gourmet Girl is all entendre, a “Class S” series providing safe fanservice (after all, we already know our MC wants a husband, so she’s not actually into other girls). In short: Ugh. I’m out.
Fafnir Unlimited (Juuou Mujin no Fafnir)
There are two Fafnir shows this season: One is the sequel to the Fafnir anime you’ve probably at least heard of, which you should in no way confuse with this series. This series is a fanservice-laden harem anime with a pretty “fill-in-the-blanks” style anime premise (dragons attack, girls start being born with dragon powers to combat said dragons, suddenly one boy appears with dragon powers and gets sent to the all-girls training academy, where stock harem hijinks ensue). There’s not much to be said for it except that there are a lot of Norse mythology references, which kind of made me happy, although not happy enough to watch past the 10-minute mark. Another quickly dropped series.