Panning the Stream: Spring 2016 Midseason Review

Pick a show, any show.

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We’ve reached the midway point and Spring shows no sign of slowing down or dropping off. From calming comedies to urban fantasies to action-packed (melo)dramas to whatever-the-hell The Lost Village is supposed to be, there’s a lot of variety and remarkable quality, with most shows building on themselves nicely or, at the very least, maintaining a steady course.

While I wouldn’t say there’s a ton in the way of jaw-dropping creative ambition at this point (aside from Concrete Revolutio anyway), if you’re in the mood for entertainment, Spring 2016 has got you thoroughly covered. Hit the jump to check in with our motley crew of anime titles.

Once More Unto the Breach

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Concrete Revolutio

Grade: A

Having spent Part One laying the cultural groundwork for its world and building to the eventual schisms both within the Bureau and society at large, Part Two now explores the ramifications of those changes, focusing on fractured factions, competing (and often murky) goals, and the many, many shades of gray in which our cast are operating. ConRevo continues to use its colorful world and diverse group of superhumans to discuss and critique a variety of cultural issues, particularly societal prejudices, oversimplification of morality, and the fallacy of longing for the (nonexistent) “good ol’ days.”

It’s critical without losing its sense of humor, smart without being pretentious, and thought-provoking while avoiding long-winded speechifying in favor of presenting its conflicts through debate and action. There’s a lot of fun, charming shows this season, but in terms of sheer ambition and composition, nobody tops ConRevo right now.

Sailor Moon Crystal: Season III

Grade: B

New director Chiaki Kon has breathed life into a show I had long thought dead, and thank goodness for that. Gone are the endless off-model shots, the lifeless storyboards, and glossy, vapid expressions; instead we have a consistently solid and occasionally downright beautiful little series that focuses on key moments between the guardians to build them as distinct characters even as the story clips along at a snappy, plot-focused pace. Snippets of silliness, explosions of flowers, and the occasional burst of dynamic action animation have turned this into an adaptation Sailor Moon fans can enjoy without reservation. Crystal always had the pieces; now it has someone who cares enough about it to put those pieces in a proper, progressive, fun-loving order.

Humor & Heart

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Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)

Grade: A-

Time permitting, I’ll be able to hit you with some Tanaka-kun mini-essays over the next month, because I love this series, want to talk about it, and think it’s a crime more people aren’t doing exactly that (although that’s been changing a little each week, it seems). For now I’ll direct you to my rather lengthy Rule of Three Review, which continues to hold true for the most part (although the series is challenging my statement about its canonical queer elements, I’m sad to say). Otherwise it remains a matter-of-factly silly comedy, quietly interested in the tension between societal expectations and individual nature while always maintaining an affection for and acceptance of its endearing cast. So, yeah. In case you missed it, I like this one a whole lot.

flying witch

Grade: A-

Goodness, but this is a charming little show. Sleepier than Tanaka-kun, and less about getting you to laugh as it is about getting you to lean back with a soft smile on your face, flying witch is the very definition of the iyashikei (癒し系; healing/soothing) genre. There’s an organic quality to the entire series, from its rural setting to its character interactions to the witches’ methodical spellcrafting, that helps it avoid overused anime archetypes in favor of organic, understated interactions and relationships. It’s cute without being cloying, relaxed without being lifeless, and kind without turning its characters to be perfect, noble beings. If the idea of following a cat around town for 22 minutes sounds appealing to you, then flying witch may be right up your alley.

My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)

Grade: B+

Right now MHA is suffering from the same issues as a lot of long-running, premise-based shounen series: Slow pacing due to a lot of explanatory commentary and a lack of a clear end-goal. Fortunately it has an earnest heart, a good sense of humor, and a tremendously likable cast to keep its energy levels high even when its overall story is in no hurry to go anywhere in particular.

It’s a fairly classic superhero story, but it does some positive things in terms of exploring privilege and promoting teamwork, and our “jerk rival” character is refreshingly straightforward, an entitled bully whose behavior is understandable but totally unsympathetic. MHA is spinning its wheels a bit right now, but it has enough good parts that if it can find a strong central story line, I feel like it could become something pretty special.

Messy Magnetism

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Kiznaiver

Grade: B

I mentioned during my Rule of Three that I was fascinated by the concept of Kiznaiver–individuals able to literally share one another’s pain–but had a lot of issues with the execution. Fortunately, Kiznaiver itself is aware of many of those same issues, allowing characters to point out the superficiality of their “bond,” addressing the difference between physical and emotional suffering, and (I hope, based on the most recent episode) criticizing the Kizna Project’s coercive methods and manufactured crises. (Here’s a good essay that articulates these concerns better than I could in two paragraphs, by the way.)

Like Bungo Stray Dogs (the other show in this category), its central story is a lot darker than its bright, expressive art would have you believe, and a contrast that aids in the sense of tension and uneasiness that permeates much of the story. Now if only the damn thing could avoid endless love quadrangles and tragic lesbian backstories, we’d really be in business. There’s something worthwhile being explored here. The question is whether Kiznaiver will be able to properly convey it.

Bungo Stray Dogs

Grade: B-

I really like Bungo SD, but I find myself watching it almost entirely for the cinematography and animation rather than the story. It’s to the point where I sometimes realize I’m not reading the subtitles because I got distracted by the color schemes, expressions, motion, and framing. The story itself is less polished, a fairly episodic supernatural procedural  coupled with broad, rather dark comedy (the “irresponsible flirt” character is obsessed with death and especially double-suicide, for example) that always seems right on the verge of meaningful development but never quite gets there.

There are a few faint, unifying threads–death, belonging, creating order out of chaos–but at this point I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what Bungo SD is even about, really, other than the very basic “pretty boys named after literary figures solving crimes.” Even so, I find myself drawn to it and excited for the each new episode, trying to connect thematic lines, chuckling at the dark humor, and appreciating its energy and style. Maybe I’m a BONES fangirl after all.

This Show Is Not Yet Rated

The Lost Village (Mayoiga)

Grade: Uhhhh…?

What even is this show? That seems to be the question most viewers are trying to answer. I called it “intentionally trashy” at the three-episode mark, but the further I get into it the less accurate that feels. There’s emotional weight to some of its characters’ stories, a weirdness to its horror elements that can be unsettling if not exactly scary, and it does seem to be focusing on how unaddressed trauma (from the serious to the trivial to the um, what?) can lead to a chain of victimization. So I don’t think it’s completely dumb “bad horror” like I’d originally assumed.

That said, it also tends to undercut its more genuine moments with immediate anticlimax, pettiness, or hyperbole, events escalate at an absurdly rapid pace, and its characters have some magnificently pointless, hilarious conversations and arguments along the way. It’s a series that actively fights any attempt to take it seriously. Isaac at Aniwords has broken down Lost Village‘s directorial and story choices to make a strong case for its role as a dark, absurdist comedy, and at this point I’m inclined to agree. Whether or not you’ll find it funny is a very different matter, mind you. So what even is this show? Hell if I know. But I can’t stop watching it even so.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

Grade: A if you like noisy steampunk zombie fights. If you don’t, uh…

I think Kabaneri is pretty much doing what it set out to do: Be a fast-paced zombie action popcorn series that takes place on a train and involves cool steampunk machinery. If that sounds like fun to you, then you’re probably going to have fun. Quick pacing, big orchestral music numbers, and some very nice-looking fight sequences go a long way towards keeping this one exciting, even if those bursts of dynamic animation can sometimes stand out in awkward contrast from the rest of the series.

I’m also fond of the cast, a rag-tag bunch of engineering nerds and female leaders constantly having to defend their positions against the pigheaded prejudiced folks around them. It’s loud, unsubtle action, but there’s a place for that, especially when it’s as entertaining as this.

Short and Sweet

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  • Space Patrol Luluco: The family and adolescence elements of Luluco are wacky but smartly done, dealing with first crushes, parental bickering, and the sense of being “not normal” compared to those around you. The other side of Luluco is that it’s a marriage of other Trigger series, with heavy references to shows like Inferno Cop and Kill la Kill–shows I know about but have never actually seen. That part is much less fun for me. Still, 8 minutes of space-hopping middle schoolers a week is a fine way to spend a Friday lunch break, so I’m sticking with it.
  • Shonen Ashibe Go! Go! Goma-chan: Elementary schoolers and baby seals! This show is 100% for small children, but the seal is cute and the jokes make me giggle, so I find myself coming back to it for a relaxing few minutes each week. Grown-up TV is overrated, anyway.
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10 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Spring 2016 Midseason Review

  1. I agree on all points. I watch and enjoy all of these, but some feel more like a determination not to be beaten than real enjoyment. And Flying Witch is my halt plac. :)

    I have been surprised at High School Fleet, which is not at all what I was expecting. Which is a very good thing.

    Twin Star Exircists is quite enjoyable for me.

    Re;Zero is surprisingly good as well, a bit of a dark horse who sounds bad on paper but has excellent execution.

    My daughter loves the absurdity of Anne Happy, and I confess it is a fun little twisted comedy.

    She also loves Three Leaves, Three Colors, but that may be in part of her deep depression at the moment over a lack of steady social interactions or friends. It IS cute, but not very deep.

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      • Rocco B says:

        The cast essentially guessed right about the nature of the island they crashed on; they said it was “purgatory” for them. The cast in mayogia are experiencing the bad experiences they felt in life. So there is some parallels, of sorts.

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  2. I’ve had some thoughts on the queerness of Tanaka-kun (the show) myself, a friend and were debating if it’s queer-baiting or not and we were leaning towards no but, mmm, it’s hard to believe that it’s that clueless about what a confession usually means for two characters.

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    • According to another commenter, this might just be an issue with the anime shuffling around manga chronology. Even not taking that into account, while it may have had the effect of making viewers (especially western ones) feel like they were ‘baited, I don’t think the writer was sitting somewhere going “EW GROSS NO HOMO U GUYZ.” At best, Ecchan is the kind of person who gets flustered over girls *and* boys. At worst, it’s cultural differences, reflecting the kinds of love-friendships that often develop between Japanese H.S. girls; which, yes, can definitely speak to deeper cultural issues with sexism/homophobia, but vary by context and aren’t inherently mean-spirited.

      At this point, though, since we’re only halfway through the anime, I don’t want to make any grand, overarching statements just yet. I’m gonna wait to see how those relationships play out in-series and maybe come back to this subject at a later date.

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  3. Richard van der Haak says:

    If you mean the confession from Miyano about Ecchan, in the manga that confession happens in a later chapter than the whole Ecchan thinking she has to choose between Tanaka and Oota thing.

    As a matter of fact, a lot of the manga chapters are in a different order in the anime, I don’t know why that is.

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    • I’d heard they were shuffling things around. I think the idea was to introduce the other characters earlier to hook viewers into the series, but… that really messes with the relationship chronology in this one instance. Well now I’m curious: are Ecchan and Miyano pretty clearly a couple after the confession in the manga?

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      • Rime Pendragon says:

        The confession happens in chapter 21, and the latest chapter is 23, so it’s really hard to say because Ecchan and Miyano are not really in those chapters.

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