Panning the Stream: Fall 2015 Midseason Review

The trees outside are looking almost as sparse as my watch list.

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It’s a fairly quiet season on my end, as I’m only keeping up with eight full-length shows and one short(ish), as compared to last season’s whopping thirteen. While that’s partly out of necessity (there’s nothing like a packed month of travel and writing projects to make you shed shows), it also speaks to the kinds of series airing this season. I wouldn’t even call it a bad season, just one with a lot of mid-range shows that don’t appeal to me personally. Sometimes that happens.

A packed month of travel and writing projects can also tell you a lot about your own preferences, turns out, and mine are pretty solidly turned towards character-driven writing and/or offbeat or ambitious narrative structures. The general craziness of my schedule as of late has also led me to seek out lighter, sillier shows, which is likely why this list is so heavy on the comedies and over-the-top “dramas.” Never let it be said that personal tastes and circumstances don’t affect judgment, because oh man, do they ever.

Hit the jump to see what’s stuck, what’s slipping, and what has the chance to be truly special.

Old Friends, New Scrapes

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Noragami Aragoto

Grade: A

I opted to cover this series over at Anime Evo, and every week I’m a little happier about that decision. Noragami Aragoto is everything you could want in a sequel, taking all the good from season one—stylish action and music, a great sense of humor, characters you want to hang out with, a complex but coherent world with a lot of room for growth, bursts of philosophical or emotional depth—and expanding the story, world, and cast in unexpected and exciting ways, introducing new characters while also revealing new facets about old ones, and developing them all through conversations and conflicts alike.

It’s just good old-fashioned character-driven storytelling, emotional and tense and occasionally quite thought-provoking, as it explores the relationship between gods and humans and how that shapes the world at large. If Noragami can keep up this blend of humor, heart, and bleeding cool action in its second half, it has a real good chance of not just making my Best Of list for 2015, but earning a spot among my favorite shounen adaptations of all time.

Haikyuu!! – Season 2

Grade: A-

Much like Noragami, Haikyuu!! is doing a bang-up job of taking its first season’s strengths and building on them, as the Karasuno players are coming to realize their own limitations and struggling to improve themselves and their team as a whole. The show is all but brimming with energy and sincerity, and the animation is consistently impressive both in terms of dynamic volleyball matches and expressive, often hilarious character interactions. Add to this an expanded cast, including (finally!) some distinct and incredibly likable young ladies, and you’ve got yourself another good-looking sequel with the potential to keep getting better.

Seraph of the End (Owari no Seraph) – Part 2

Grade: C

I wish I could carry my enthusiasm from Noragami and Haikyuu over to Seraph, but I can’t. The story is getting more intense and Seraph knows it needs to somber up in order to give all the bloody battles their proper weight, but the transition to Grim Battle Manga has felt more forced than organic, and asking its characters (especially Shinoa, whose smug snark was the best part of the show) to “take things seriously” has killed much of the tongue-in-cheek charm that drew me to this one in the first place.

I’m also noticing an annoying trend in how the series treats its female characters, who have started to exist almost exclusively in the big battles so they can screw up and either get saved or make the guys look better by comparison. Hopefully this will prove to be a hiccup instead of a trend, but if not, look for some heavy sighs by season’s end.

Steady As She Goes

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The Perfect Insider (Subete ga F ni Naru)

Grade: B+

This is a curious little mystery anime, as much about teasing out past events and motivations as it is about solving the murder that serves as the driving force of the series. It’s also nigh-impossible to properly review at this point because so much of the show’s overall value rides on its conclusion. Not even in terms of the solution to the murder mystery (I’m barely watching this for the whodunit aspect), but in terms of how it handles its characters’ murky pasts and complicated, sometimes downright discomfiting relationships with one another.

I’m hesitant to say much of anything past that at this point, only that I’m a little concerned but continuing to trust the author until I’m given a reason to do otherwise. Beyond that, the execution has been solid so far: The character animation saw a sadly noticeable dip after the first few episodes, but the dialogue-driven narrative has continued to impress, using distinct voices and personalities to suck me in to its eerie, washed-out world each week. I’m in it ’til the end, so let’s hope it’s a satisfying one.

Concrete Revolutio

Grade: B+

ConcRevo is a narrative maze, bouncing us unapologetically around in time as it plays with real events from Japanese history, muses on the nature of humanity (and superhumanity), and asks both the audience and characters to draw lines of causality and figure out exactly when everything went wrong. I suspect it will be the kind of series where the conclusion will make it or break it, and (assuming it makes it), where the path makes a lot more sense once you know where it ends.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understand it or know what it’s doing, but there’s very much a sense that it knows what it’s doing, and that gives me the confidence to keep watching to see how the threads all tie together in the end. It’s a puzzling, polarizing series, no doubt, but also one of the season’s most structurally and thematically ambitious, and one I most look forward to each week.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans)

Grade: B

With the benefit of plenty of episodes and a fairly clear-cut (at least at this point) central story line, IBO can take time to flesh out its cast, and is just as interested in showing how people act during downtime as it is in how they fight their big battles. The series has developed an episodic action-rest-action rhythm that’s reminiscent of the classic “hero’s journey” narrative, a decision that’s designed to balance mecha battles with political and character drama, and so far is doing a competent (if not exactly riveting) job of it.

While I am getting a little antsy for some forward movement in the central story, I also suspect this is the kind of setup that will pay off emotional dividends when that “tears” part of the ending theme starts going down (this is Okada, after all). Like the other shows in this section, it’s hard to review without seeing the full picture, but the pieces we have so far seem deliberate and measured, and that’s usually a good sign.

The Ministry of Silly Shows

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Dance with Devils

Grade: ??

If you asked me to rank my fall series in terms of general storytelling elements I consider important to a “good” story, Dance with Devils might be the last show on the list. If you asked me to rank them in terms of pure, personal enjoyment, it would fall only behind Noragami and Haikyuu, and I am (mostly) unashamed to admit that. My love of musicals will be the death of me, if my love of trashy supernatural melodrama doesn’t kill me first.

There have been some interesting developments in recent weeks (the protagonist’s burgeoning agency, the way the series plays its predatory “love interests” as creepy instead of romantic) that lead me to wonder if this show might not end up being sneakily smart, but I’m real hesitant to make any claims at this point. For now, I’ll just sit back and giggle along to the musical numbers, and if I stumble across something of value, I’ll be sure let you know in a series review.

Mr. Osomatsu (Osomatsu-san)

Grade: B

Mr. Osomatsu is a gag comedy, which means it’s basically anime Looney Tunes: The characters are distinct and enjoyable but not particularly deep or complex, with comedy that runs the gamut from cultural satire to slapstick to bawdy humor. It’s frequently clever and often has a sharp bite to it, but ultimately, it’s a comedy, which means I can explain the material, discuss timing and surprise and reversals, but I can’t make it funny for somebody else. Either you’re going to laugh at it or you aren’t. I do. Often. Sometimes loudly. I can’t guarantee it’ll work for everyone, but I highly recommend giving it a try to see if it tickles your funny bone as well.

Attack on Titan: Junior High (Shingeki! Kyojin Chuugakkou)

Grade: B-

This may be the last time I mention this one, because (a) I don’t generally include “shorts” on these review lists and AoTJH only clocks in at about 17 minutes, and (b) there’s little to say about it except that it’s very silly and I still enjoy it. The animation is bright and cartoony, the parodies are often amusing and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and the short episode length is just enough time to giggle without growing bored. Plus, getting to hang out with the AoT characters in a goofy, low-stakes setting has actually made me more attached to the cast than I was while watching the original. So that’s a nice bonus, for sure.

On Hold

One Punch Man

I really wish I enjoyed this one as much as everyone else seems to. I haven’t officially dropped it yet, but during the past, hectic month, I had to make some choices about what I would watch with my limited free time, and OPM consistently did not make the list. I’m planning to come back to it toward the end of the season and see if it’s the kind of show that’ll work better in marathon form. No promises, but it ain’t down for the count just yet, anyway.

Dropped

Ushio & Tora

I said I’d tell you if I gave up on this one, and lo, I did. It was just a too dated and episodic to hook me with either its story or characters. I have no hard feelings towards it and wish it the best during its run. Hopefully it does well enough for MAPPA to consider that Rurouni Kenshin remake the president mentioned in a Q&A once. I can dream, anyway.

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5 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Fall 2015 Midseason Review

  1. No hard feelings regarding Ushio, It’s raw Shonen from the days of thick eyebrows. Has a lot of old fashioned ideas built into it.
    You did miss the hair combing and the origins of the Beast spear which are some of the best stuff I’ve seen this season though. Seeing all the girls in Ushio’s life coming together to save his soul, bonding even though most have never met before was really well done but the Origins of the Beast Spear is just amazing stuff. The sheer intensity of the main villain’s evil and the tragic origins of the spear’s creation was powerful and brilliantly animated.

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  2. “…Rurouni Kenshin remake the president mentioned in a Q&A once.”

    WHOA. Okay, now I have to pretend I don’t just read that and get my hopes up….

    In all seriousness, I’d be ecstatic if it could really happen (*the recent live action trilogy’s pretty successful, I think?). There’s a lot of 90s shounen action properties that I have nostalgic soft spot for (Flame of Recca, Get Backers, Shaman King…actually, maybe not Shaman King, that one’s got out of control with the numbers), but Kenshin’s easily in a class of its own. There’s no way that one could be considered ‘dated’. Kyoto Arc is still the finest shounen action arcs IMO, and if they animate more material from the manga and the majestic OVA in the place of extraneous filler from original anime series… dang.

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    • It was just something he said in passing, but it definitely piqued my interest! I could never really get into the anime, but the Kenshin manga remains one of my favs, so I’d love to see it (finally!) adapted all the way through, and with modern-day animation from a good studio. We can keep our fingers crossed, anyway!

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  3. Martin Wisse says:

    You’re not watching Sakurako-san? As a mystery series I like that better than Subete ga F ni Naru myself, if only because there’s more variety in the stories and not an overarching plot.

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    • The dynamic between the two leads wasn’t working for me, so I dropped off after a few. As I’ve mentioned before, the “whodunit” mystery genre itself isn’t a personal favorite of mine, so I really need to enjoy the character interactions or overall mood of the piece in order to get hooked. Glad to hear you’re enjoying it, though!

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