Be careful what you wish for?
On Monday, shortly after watching four lackluster premieres in a row, I shot out a grumpy tweet hoping that the spring season had gotten all the boring anime out of the way in one go. The anime gods heard my prayer, cackled madly, and then proceeded to drop nine shows in my lap, eight of which were, at the very least, pretty good, even if they weren’t all my thing.
Some of the stuff in my “on the fence” pile is there simply because I had to draw a line somewhere or the season was going to crush me under titles. Granted, it could all fall apart pretty quickly, but staring at a potential watch list of 12+ shows for the first time since last summer is–well, daunting, but pretty exciting, too. Maybe this anime thing ain’t so bad after all.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)
In a sentence: High schooler Ohta and his perpetually languid best friend Tanaka navigate the day-to-day absurdities of life in this deadpan comedy.
This might have been my favorite premiere of the season, and yet I completely understand why a lot of people were lukewarm about it. Tanaka-kun is as sleepy as its titular character and as relaxed in its pacing as it is its jokes. The series never hurries through its mini-stories or makes any real attempt to push its gags onto the audience–instead, bits of silliness build almost unremarked upon one another in slow increments, until suddenly I realized how ridiculous the whole premise was and found myself with an almost nonstop case of the giggles.
The art is soft-edged and minimalist, focusing on expressions and the occasional bit of clever sight gaggery, and Tanaka and Ohta have a comfy back-and-forth that’s all too easy to ‘ship (though I’ll happily take a bromance, particularly given how rare it is to see a slice-of-life anime comedy that centers around an easygoing friendship between two guys). All in all, this is the anime equivalent to sitting outside on a sunny day joking around with your closest friends, and it left me with a big smile on my face. Bring on the next one.
Attack on Trains Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
In a sentence: Attack on Titan but on a train with steampunk and also zombies!?!?
From the studio (Wit) and director (Araki Tetsuro) that brought you Attack on Titan comes Kabaneri, a story so similar it’s practically AoT AU fanfiction. Walled cities, hordes of human-munching monsters (“Kabane”), steampunk technology, corrupt governments more concerned with saving themselves than their people, lots of loud admonitions about not giving in to fear… so, yeah. Attack on Trains, indeed.
This first episode is bloody, brutal, lightning-paced, unsubtle, cinematic, and… really damn fun, actually. And while the world and premise feel mighty familiar, the main characters–a tech geek action hero and chipper bell-wearing badass–very much have their own flavor, and I already like them better than their AoT counterparts. If you can get past (or fully embrace) the similarities to a certain smash hit, Kabaneri could turn out to be an entertainingly dumb, wild ride.
In a sentence: Seven students are kidnapped and forced to take part in an experiment that enables them to experience and share one another’s pain.
Kiznaiver‘s premiere is mostly table-setting both in terms of plot and theme, full of pop-philosophical musings, big speeches, and self-aware nods (we’re told our seven students represent the “modern” seven deadly sins, which basically equate to common anime archetypes); but it balances this by calling out its own characters’ pretension (“yo, your big speech about sin was really just a way for you to trash-talk people you don’t like”) and filling the frame with bright, distinctive Trigger animation.
Lengthy expositional speeches aside, there’s a worthwhile conversation in here about empathy and peeling back the “trope mask” to unravel the real person underneath it, and I very much hope we get to have it. I love the foundation on this one; here’s hoping it can build a good structure atop it.
On the Fence
Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (Sakamoto desu ga?)
Sakamoto is cool. How cool is he? So cool that his classmates resent him for being so cool, and try to expose his uncoolness, and then are so impressed by his continued coolness that they’re all won over by him. Sakamoto is gleefully absurd and I laughed a whole lot during this premiere, but it’s definitely more a gag- than character-driven comedy, and the animation is low-budget to the point where I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off just picking up the manga (although having Midorikawa Hikaru voice the protagonist is a pretty big draw). I’m definitely coming back for one more, but I’m not quite ready to commit to more than that.
This one sounds creepy on paper (boy moves in with his bachelor uncle and starts working as his maid), but it looks to be a pretty sweet family-oriented story about the problems of pride, loneliness, and what makes up a “home.” There’s potential here for an emotionally honest character-driven dramedy, and maybe even some gender role commentary along the way…assuming the series can keep its “shotacon” impulses in check, at least. Chihiro is never sexualized, thank goodness, but there is an element of “let’s shove this kid into cute costumes against his will” that doesn’t always sit right. Still, I feel like this is the kind of series that could prove to be sneakily charming and affecting, so I’ll cross some fingers and stick with it for another episode at least.
Flying witch is a calm little fantastical slice-of-life about a witch who goes to live in a small town with her cousins while she attends high school (because a career as a witch isn’t so stable these days, y’know). It’s down-to-earth and understated, driven with a steady, confident hand that’s more interested in building its cast into fleshed-out individuals than playing to common character types. It’s good, but I’m not sure a series this low on plot can get away with such a low level of energy, too…or at least, I didn’t think it could until that magnificently weird ending scene. Flying witch may prove too relaxed even for the gal who adored Tanaka-kun, but after that finish, it’s fully earned a Round 2.
Cute girls–ON A BOAT! Well, actually a battleship. I was expecting exactly nothing out of this one and it surprised me by jumping into an action-driven story line and potential conspiracy plot right out the gate, building its world with fast-paced, organic ease. I spent the entire episode struggling with the inherent absurdity of putting a bunch of unsupervised teenagers in charge of a battleship, and the characters are so far a pretty stock collection of cute-girl tropes–but dammit, I really wanna know what the heck is going on with their teacher and the mutiny accusation! I dunno how long I’ll stick around, but it looks like I’ll be back next week.
And the Rest
- Netoge: And you thought there is never a girl online? (Netoge no yome wa onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta?): A not-bad premise about navigating online and offline identities is made bad via the magic of excessive fanservice and stock characters. Par for the course when it comes to most light novel adaptations, basically.
- Three Leaves, Three Colors (Sansha Sanyou): Fairly cute and full of Studio Dogakobo’s trademark Silly Faces, but it doesn’t have much of a hook beyond “three cute girls with different personalities and backgrounds hang out at school together.” Feels a bit like a second-rate Love Lab. Not bad, just not for me.