Panning the Stream: Winter 2016 Midseason Review

The party is shrinking faster than expected.

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While it’s not unheard-of for me to drop shows between the third and sixth episode, my retention rate is something like 80 percent. Basically, if you can hook me after three, I’m usually invested enough to stick around through the whole cour even if I wind up with a negative opinion of the show.

This season, though? This season there was enough mildly entertaining mid-range stuff that I threw it all at the wall and waited to see what would stick. Not much of it did, and some of the results surprised even me. Hit the jump to see where we stand halfway through this chilly season.

Back for Seconds

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Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayuki-hime)

Grade: A-

I’m covering this in detail each week, but the long-and-short of it is that Part 2 has been such a contrast to Part 1 that sometimes it feels like a different show entirely. That’s not praise or criticism, just a statement of fact: The series has shifted from a cozy, low-stakes fairy tale to a plot-driven political fantasy. While I do miss the graceful artistry of Part 1, I’m still fully invested in Part 2, and it’s done good work expanding the world and challenging our protagonists. If you already liked Snow White, you still will; if you were lukewarm about it because of the lack of conflict, give it another try. You may enjoy it a lot more now.

Mr. Osomatsu (Osomatsu-san)

Grade: B+

What other show can give you sibling shenanigans, a Mad Max parody, dick jokes, heartache over a flower, and an apocalyptic MarioKart race all in half a season? Only this one. It’s also become a surprise smash hit in Japan. If that means we’ll be getting more seasons (and a dating sim, WUT) of this ridiculous, pop-culture-savvy, occasionally insightful, occasionally moving, occasionally brilliant sketch comedy, then I’m all for it.

Haikyuu!! Season 2

Grade: B

Haikyuu is doing that thing a lot of longer-running, premise-based anime do: Struggling to maintain momentum due to a lack of fresh conflicts or a clear end-game. It’s smartly chosen to focus on some of its more minor teammates in recent weeks, which has given us new character arcs to help the current tournament carry more weight. Hopefully that continues. And hey, it’s still dynamically animated and full of great comedy, and I’m still liking it just fine—it’s just hard to find new things to talk about since it hasn’t done much new stuff as of late.

Lupin III (2015)

Grade: B

I’m not fully caught up, but I figured I’d pop in anyway. Every once in a while Lupin does some really good character work, musing on Fujiko’s motives or the relationship between Zenigata and Lupin, but most of the time it’s a romp, gleefully blending noir with caper with classic cartoon zaniness. The art and music are great, too. Check your disbelief and cynicism at the door, then strap in for a fun, increasingly far-fetched ride.

Cream of the Crop

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Grade: A+

So good it gets its own category! I’ve been talking a whole lot about SGRS every week at Anime Evo, but have a little more: This is a graceful and complex character study with a focus on performances, gender role expectations, and a lot of fascinatingly open-for-interpretation subtext; a historical setting so well-realized you can practically feel the road beneath your own feet; and an artful blend of shot and music selection to create an atmosphere of understated emotional resonance. It regularly knocks me off my feet. I sincerely hope it can keep doing so for seven more weeks.

Hot ‘n’ Cold

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Hai to Gensou no Grimgar)

Grade: Fluctuates from an A- to a C- at any given moment

If it weren’t for the leering camera and occasional bursts of tired tropes—the two people caught in an unintentionally suggestive pose, the girl belittled for her chest size, the peeping attempt—Grimgar would easily make my Top Three of the season. There’s a sharp tonal dissonance between the melancholy, character-driven fantasy the anime wants to be and the loud, cliche-riddled slice-of-life it feels it has to be (and, from what I’ve heard, that the source material actually is) in order to sell discs.

There’s been more of the former than the latter as of late, and when the series is focusing on the psychological ramifications of its real-life video game world—on trauma or grief or even just conversations at a pub between friends—it’s restrained, real, and remarkably affecting. That said, how well you can handle the jarring shift to the noisy banal bits (and the antsy camera that defaults to long pans and butt-shots when it doesn’t know what else to do) will likely determine whether you stick around or bail.

ERASED (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)

Grade: B-

Erased has been slowly losing me, largely for the same reasons I covered in my Rule of Three: The production values are generally great, with some clever visual or directorial touches, but the tension this “mystery thriller” is trying to build isn’t working because it’s not doing anything new or unexpected, and the well-tread ground it’s covering—lots of women (and only women) in mortal danger and the one man who can save them, thereby righting his own directionless life and saving himself—is not a path I’m all that keen to walk.

When it was focused on the past story line, showing a child’s world through an adult’s eyes, depicting the destructive nature of the “look-the-other-way” mentality, and emotionally grounding its story in the sweet, painful relationship developing between Satoru and Kayo, it didn’t matter if it was predictable because (occasional melodrama aside) it was warm and immediate and about something. But when it’s just a mystery, it’s all style and no heart. It’s still good enough that I’m going to finish it, and it may wind up surprising me, but at this point I’m underwhelmed, and pretty bummed about that.

Guilty Pleasures

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Prince of Stride: Alternative

Grade: My brain says C+… but my heart says B+…

I was on the fence about PoSA a few weeks ago, and then it immediately hit its stride (ba-dum tish) from Episode 4 onwards, providing a fun and occasionally exciting sports series with a playful splash of manservice and innuendo. The speeches about “connecting emotions” are overused and cheesy, and the characters range from being reasonably layered to one-note, but they also don’t slot into easy archetypes, and when they aren’t trying too hard to be funny (with limited returns) there’s a nice rhythm to their interactions. Also, the races continue to be a stylish, well-directed blast. It’s nothing special, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the shows I most look forward to each week.

Divine Gate

Grade: Uhhh…

I. Okay. Look. I’m not going to tell you Divine Gate is worth watching, because I’m not sure it is. In fact, it’s probably bad. The thing is, it’s bad in none of the ways that bother me, bad in some ways that entertain me, and good in a lot of ways that matter to me. It treats its characters with affection and is more-or-less void of fanservice. It’s interested in abuse/healing narratives and the importance of found families and community. It has stylish (and ridiculous) character designs and a weird sense of humor.

It also has an unnecessarily convoluted plot, rushes through it’s mini-arcs too quickly, contains way too many minor characters, and features the best worst monologues I’ve seen in a long, long time. So, yeah. It’s not good. Except actually it is? Except actually it isn’t? Except actually, who cares. Bad, good, or so-bad-it’s-good, I want to see where it takes me.

On Hold

Durarara!!x2, as I’ve mentioned ad nauseam by now, will be binge-watched at the end of the season. I may also go back to Active Raid, though that’s looking less likely now.

Dropped

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I don’t usually do this section, but given that the dropped list is so much longer than usual, I thought I’d talk briefly about why these shows lost me.

  • BBK/BRNK: The battle-focused character-a-week story that Bubuki Buranki is selling is perfectly fine, but I find myself less willing to buy it each week. It’s not so much that I’m dropping it so much as I just don’t have the energy to come back. I wish it the best.
  • Dimension W: Three weeks ago I’d have told you this was a lock for the season. What a difference a two-parter makes. After a reasonably fun start, DimW went and exploded incomprehensible plots, dull characters, and crass sexualization all over my TV. I can forgive a show for getting dumb, but not for getting dumb and boring. Unless I start hearing glowing reviews, I won’t be back.
  • Girls Beyond the Wasteland (Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu): GBtW had a silly charm to it when it was focusing on game creation and poking fun at geek culture and writer egos. Its shine wore off when it shifted focus to more rote, dating sim-esque character interactions, then vanished altogether after a pompously self-aware fanservice episode. Pointing out tropes is only clever if you actually do something new with them, and this show is not.
  • Haruchika: This isn’t a bad show in theory. If you’re willing to overlook its rushed “puzzle-of-the-week” narrative style, clumsy attempts at emotional resonance, and unattractive art, it’s not a bad show in practice, either. But I can’t.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: I fell behind during my hectic January, continued to hear a consistent “meh” from other people watching it, and realized that, yeah, I’m done here. I discussed my issues with it in my Fall Retrospective, so you can read that for details.
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8 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Winter 2016 Midseason Review

    • One of those strange combinations of source material and directorial vision, I think. Sometimes the anime staff’s intent aligns with the original story and sometimes it doesn’t, and Grimgar feels like the latter. From what I’ve heard, the anime has improved upon the LN a lot (assuming the fanservicey/tropey bits aren’t to your liking), but it’s still navigating its own tone with that of the original, and that’s led to some serious dissonance at times. It’s pretty interesting from a storytelling/adaptation angle, though.

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  1. Rae says:

    I thought Grimgar PV sounded OK but after reading a tons of reviews I’m glad I didn’t bother since I’d really rather not deal with the weirdness.

    Good point about Erased since I do like a interesting mystery story but it does get tiring when we have the MC just save ALL the female characters because plot.

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  2. A Day Without Me says:

    I only saw the first episode of ERASED, and while there were things I liked about it, it didn’t quite catch me. I kept thinking that I’d get back to it, but your point about it being a guy fixing his directionless life by saving women is what I needed to be able to move it into the Dropped category.

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    • I’ll keep watching it and if it changes gears or winds up making an about-face and actually rejecting that central “guy saves ladies to save himself” concept (which it could still do, I think), I’ll be sure to let you know in my end-of-season review. But yeah, if the premiere didn’t make you want to come back for more, I wouldn’t recommend it at this point.

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  3. Cool. I am not the only one who is still watching the so bad it’s entertaining Divine Gate. Yeehaw for silly pretentiousness. Woooh. A++++ for unintentional humor.

    Whew. It’s kinda cool to find someone else who is not that enamored with Erased.

    Liked by 1 person

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