After an early stumble, Fall may be climbing up again.
The anime gods heard our complaints yesterday and saw fit to grace us with three series that are a vast improvement over the majority of the others I’ve watched thus far, packed with great animation, distinctive characters, and competent (or at least passionate) writing. In truth, these were the three I pegged as potential goodies going into the season, so it’s mostly just a relief that they weren’t total clunkers. Hit the jump for all the exciting details.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans)
Original Series: Directed by Nagai Tatsuyuki (anohana, Toradora!) and written by Okada Mari (anohana, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine)
Streaming On: Hulu (U.S. only), Daisuki (click here for the list of regions)
In a Sentence: A group of orphaned soldiers working for a private security company get embroiled in an interstellar conflict after a young activist hires them as her personal escort.
How was it? A strong blend of character beats, conspiracy theories, and nicely choreographed mecha battles.
I’m not a huge Gundam fan and often have a tough time getting into mecha shows in general, but I came into this one with a lot of curiosity because of the creative team behind it. Nagai has some good-to-great YA coming-of-age stories under his belt, and Okada is… famously divisive, but at her best she does riveting character drama and sharp emotional honesty (at her worst she goes Full Soap Opera, but hey, at least it ain’t boring). Which seemed like an odd team to bring to the Gundam franchise.
While I wouldn’t say I was blown away by it, this was a solid premiere that set the stage for a political drama interested in social inequality and exploitation. IBO introduced us to a lot of characters, but their personalities were distinctive enough that it was pretty easy to keep track of them (just don’t ask me to tell you their names), and featured key moments of intimate interactions between all the political scheming and bombastic mecha battles that helped put human faces on the conflict. Still too early to say if I’m in it for the long haul, but I’ll give this unusual creative team three episodes to hook me.
Original Series: Directed by Mizushima Seiji (Fullmetal Alchemist, Oh! Edo Rocket)
Streaming On: Funimation (U.S./Canada), Daisuki (“worldwide”)
In a Sentence: In a world packed with magical girls, aliens, giant monsters, and other superpowered forces, one organization works to watch over the watchmen.
How was it? Stylish, frenetic, messy, and a whole lot of fun.
I had tentative hopes for this one going into the season based purely on the animation studio and cool cover art, and what I wound up with was the most energetic (and my favorite) premiere of the season thus far. It’s basically Agents of SHIELD meets Samurai Flamenco after it lost its damn mind, existing in a cartoonish, over-the-top universe where superpowers are common and superheroes (and villains) (and all the grandstanding that entails) are public knowledge.
CR is a wild, disorienting ride at times, and it’s hard to say if that’s intentional or not. It throws a whole lot of powers and characters at you in a very short amount of time, and bounces between two time lines without giving the audience much of a heads-up. Coupled with the oversimplified, halftone backgrounds, it evokes the feeling of flipping through a superhero comics anthology and reading every series at once. While I could see that being off-putting for some, I dig the aesthetic, and BONES does a nice job making the many transformations and fight sequences pop with color and motion.
Hopefully all this wild style is intentional and will form itself into a compelling story in the coming weeks. Whatever it does, I’ll be here to see it happen. I had too much fun not to come back for at least a couple more episodes.
One Punch Man
Based on: The manga written by ONE and illustrated by Murata Yusuke (Eyeshield 21)
Streaming On: Hulu (U.S.), Daisuki (click here for a list of regions)
In a Sentence: The strongest hero in the world can defeat any opponent with a single punch, and boy, has it made his life boring.
How was it? Hilarious, thrilling, a little tragic, and of course fantastically animated
Now might be a good time to teach any of you kids who don’t know it the word sakuga. Simply put, it refers to in-between animation (as opposed to key animation), which is essentially all the frames that connect one major pose or motion to the next. Among anime fans, sakuga has come to be shorthand for “smooth motions and dynamic animation.” Space Dandy had a fair amount of it. Haikyuu is full of it. And this One Punch Man premiere goes to freaking town with it.
But c’mon, that’s not a surprise. Everyone knew from the previews that OPM was going to look damn good, and it does, using a combination of clean and messy/distorted shots to evoke a sense of chaotic intensity and speed during the fight sequences. And that’s awesome, don’t get me wrong. But what earned this premiere a meet ‘n’ greet wasn’t its style, but its substance. It’s as much a parody of the superhero genre as it is an homage to it, filled with absurd villains with absurd motivations, and both the series and its protagonist have a deadpan delivery that’s laugh-out-loud funny.
OPM also seems to have something to say, addressing both the inability of a single person to prevent crime and destruction regardless of their individual strength, as well as the disconnect and apathy that comes with having no goals to struggle toward. As funny as it is, there’s also an undercurrent of sadness that creates tonal tension between the goofy superhero veneer and the thoughtful, somewhat cynical interior. If it can maintain that balance, we’ll have a fascinating superhero tale on our hands.