Glancing Upstream: Spring 2017 Retrospective and Review

Hot sequels, cool tutors, and. Um. Kado.

This is a sparser list than usual, jam-packed with sequels but relatively light on everything else. I took a vacation in early June where I didn’t have time to watch anime, and lemme tell ya, that week away really puts into perspective which series you’re invested in and which you’re just watching for the sake of having something on the TV. At the end of that week, three series were on the cutting-room floor, which I think is the first time my Midseason and Series Review posts have differed so dramatically.

It was the kind of season that started strong and then kind of petered out, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great showings along the way (mostly in the form of sequels), a hidden gem or two (mostly in the form of The Royal Tutor), and a show that just… um… what? Hit the jump to learn more about that last one, as well as overall thoughts on all the others, too.

The Favorites Next Door

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) – Season 2

Season Episode Count: 12
Series Episode Count: 37
Studio: Wit
Season director: Koizuka Masashi

In a sentence: After their world is turned upside-down when man-eating Titans break through their nation’s walls, a group of young soldiers struggle to defend their world, stay alive–and maybe defeat their enemies once and for all.
Content warning: Graphic violence (against adults and kids); abuse

I am well and truly shocked that Attack on Titan made my “Favorites” list for the season, given how utterly lukewarm I was about Season 1 (to the point where I wasn’t even sure I was going to watch this one!). And yet, here we are.  AoT Season 2 went all-in with its absurd premise and bombastic Titan battles, chucking wild plot twist after wild plot twist at its viewers and causing me to laugh and cheer at its sheer audacity.

Yet somehow, even as the story became more ridiculous, the characters became more credible, their relationships and histories fleshed out in compelling and sympathetic ways. Even Eren and Mikasa managed to get a little “aww” out of me during the finale!  AoT has always been a spectacle, but it’s struggled to hold my attention because I just couldn’t care about the people within that spectacle. Now, though? Now I care a whole heckuva lot. I finally get the hype surrounding this show, and for the first time I’m genuinely excited to see more of it.

Season Grade: B+

The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku) – Season 2

Season Episode Count: 12
Series Episode Count: 24
Studio: P.A. Works
Season director: Yoshihara Masayuki

In a sentence: Set in a fantastical Kyoto shared by tanuki, tengu, and humans, this series follows the lives of Yasaburo and his family (both blood and found) as they try to find their places in the world after the loss of Yasaburo’s father.
Content warning: Mild violence and a nudity

The Eccentric Family has been seated comfortably on my Top 10 Favorite Anime list pretty much since the moment the first season aired, and I’m happy to report it’s still very much there. Season 2 is more of everything I love about it: A fantastical-yet-grounded exploration of the complicated relationships within and among communities, and the enduring bonds of familial love, told with a kind of matter-of-fact wonder, and all drawn and animated with a loving dedication to preserving the magic of this world through striking colors and attention to detail.

Admittedly, Season 2’s final act felt a bit disjointed and incomplete at times, wrapping up a few minor arcs but leaving the door open for many of the major ones. This is understandable, though, given The Eccentric Family is based on a novel series that’s reportedly planned to be a trilogy, and this season very much feels like a middle book. As a result, my final feeling is one of hunger for another season rather than total satisfaction with this one. Still, I’m so incredibly grateful to have gotten to spend more time in this world and with these characters I adore.

Maybe if I do all my chores and say all my prayers and am very, very good, the Anime Fairy will bring me a Season 3 in a few years, too!

Season Grade: A-

My Hero Academia – Season 2

Season Episode Count: 12 (ongoing)
Total Episode Count: 24  (ongoing)
Studio: BONES
Series Director: Nagasaki Kenji

In a sentence: Deku is a regular human in a world where almost everyone has developed some kind of supernatural power (called “quirks”), but he’s still determined to become a Hero–and with a little help and support from an unlikely source, he just might manage it.
Content Warning: Violence (against adults/teens); mild fanservice; sexism;  child abuse

The sequel parade continues! I already really liked My Hero Academia (Season 1 made my Top 10 in a very strong 2016), but the first part of this second season may have catapulted it out of “like” and up into “love.” This simultaneously optimistic and heartbreaking little series  turned my least favorite shounen story type–the Tournament Arc–into a vehicle for fleshing out several of the supporting characters, and it utterly wrecked me along the way. I think I teared up three episodes in a row or something? And I’m still upset about a certain fight with a certain gravity-manipulator.

What’s more, the series has shown itself capable of tackling a lot of difficult topics with thoughtful sympathy and a willingness to admit it doesn’t have an easy answer. Sexism, abuse, self-care, trauma–they cycle through this brightly lit, vibrantly animated series with surprising intensity, yet the show never loses its hopeful heart and sense of joy. It makes me want to protect and cheer for all of these kids (well, except Mineta) (and maybe Bakugo), and see what they make of themselves as they navigate the complicated world of superheroes. Thankfully, I’ll have another 12 episodes to do exactly that.

Mid-Season Grade: A-

The Royal Tutor

Episode Count: 12
Studio: Bridge
Series director: Kikuchi Katsuya

In a sentence: Pint-sized tutor Heine Wittgenstein is brought in to teach the four youngest princes, a task that proves trickier than he’d first thought.
Content warning: Bullying; mild fanservice (male)

The only new show to make my “favorites” list, and even then it comes with a bit of a caveat–but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, the good stuff! I wrote weekly commentaries on The Royal Tutor for Anime Evo, and made no effort to hide my giddy love of the series on Twitter. If you’ve been following this blog at all, then I’m sure you’re completely unsurprised that a cute, warmhearted, off-beat comedy about good good boys and their magnificently deadpan teacher filled me with joy, laughter, and even the occasional Feels each week.

What did surprise me, though, was how much meat I was able to find on those chibi bones.  I talked about this in mostly spoiler-free terms for Crunchyroll, so I’ll direct you to that longer article rather than go over it all again here, but suffice to say The Royal Tutor impressed me with its optimistic-but-nuanced look at class differences, prejudice, and privilege. It was also the most focused series thematically this season, finding a way to tie its favorite message–never judge a book by its cover–to the story just about every week.

The two-part, anime-original finale is…underwhelming, which is why the series doesn’t get a higher grade than it does. It’s not actively offensive or anything, it just loses sight of its characters and tone in favor of a Big Dramatic Finish. Still, despite a lackluster concluding arc, The Royal Tutor charmed me so thoroughly that I immediately went out and bought the first volume of the manga. And if that ain’t a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Grade: B

Your Mileage May Vary

KADO: The Right Answer (Seikaisuru Kado)

Episode Count: 12
Studio: Toei
Season director: Murata Kazuya

In a sentence: Young bureaucrat and top negotiator, Shindo Kojiro, finds himself at the center of a debate about humanity’s future when a strange cube falls from the sky, bringing with it a being from another dimension.
Content warning: Violence (against adults)

Where do I even start with this series? What began as a methodically paced, emotionally distant first-contact-style extraterrestrial story about communication, understanding, and cultural exchange slowly morphed into a full-steam-ahead, twist-filled, emotions-driven story about…well, I suppose  it was still about communication, understanding, and cultural exchange, but from about as different a perspective as you can have.

While most of the shows on this list wrapped up a week ago, giving my thoughts plenty of time to settle, Kado ended yesterday and I’m still trying to sort it all out. It was a frustrating series, but I was fascinated by it. The story got progressively messier, but the more it did, the more invested I was in the cast, particularly as it became somewhat hilariously clear that protagonist Shindo wasn’t just an admired negotiator, but a romantic interest at the center of a gender-inclusive harem series.

I spent a lot of time on Twitter joking about how Kado was a mediocre sci-fi but an Extremely Good dating sim, and I stand by that assessment; which is to say, I have no effing clue what grade to give it or how to approach it. It was ambitious and unique, visually impressive (something I’ve never said about a CG series), and surprisingly compelling given how flat most of the characters seemed at the beginning. It relied on a maddening twist at the end, but it held my attention the entire time, maybe even more effectively than some of the shows on my “favorites” list.

It piqued my interest, and then it made me smile, and then it broke my heart, and then it pissed me off, but I’d much rather a show do all that than leave me cold. What the hell is Kado? Who knows! Can I recommend it to you? I’d almost feel guilty doing so! But at the end of the day, through all that, I was interested in it. I appreciated it. I even kinda liked it. That’s gotta count for something.

Now–when do I get to play the dating sim so I can give Hanamori the Good End he deserves?

Grade: ???

Sakura Quest

Yoshino celebrates with a beer

Episode Count: 13 (ongoing)
Studio: P.A. Works
Series director: Masui Soichi

In a sentence: Struggling to find work after college, Koharu Yoshino agrees to take a job working for a rural town’s tourist bureau–too bad she didn’t read the fine print that said the job would last an entire year.

As I said before, I didn’t watch any anime during that week-long vacation in early June. I came home really excited for a few shows, somewhat excited for another couple, and dreading one (that one was WorldEnd, and you’ll notice it is now in the dropped pile below). And then there was Sakura Quest, which I straight-up forgot I was watching until I see it in my CrunchyQueue.

Once I did, I said “Oh right. Yay!” I was happy to watch it and enjoyed it. And that right there is my relationship with Sakura Quest. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s low-key very good, in fact. The story of five twenty-something women trying to figure out the next step in their careers and lives is told with insight and warmth, and each character has their own struggle with themselves, their relationships with others, and the town they live in. Frankly, I should love this series. I want to love this series.

But it’s just…missing something. Some spark of distinction to really latch on to. Maybe the issue is that it’s a little too slice-of-life for me (I enjoy SoLs, but I prefer them more consistently humorous than this one). Or maybe it’s just that the story is a little too close to my own reality, and I tend to prefer stories that show me others’ perspectives and lives rather than my own. I’m not sure yet. I’d happily recommend it to others, I intend to watch the second half, and I really hope I’ll warm up to it more. But at the moment it just kind of exists, great on paper but “meh” in my heart. Guess there’s just no accounting for taste.

Mid-Season Grade: B

Dropped

These shows fell to the wayside shortly after the midway point, so I figured I should mention them:

  • Alice and Zoroku: Like I said during the midseason review,  A&Z had such a satisfying “ending” halfway through that I never felt the need to go back to it. The folks I know who watched it said it was fine, but I’m happy where I left off.
  • Granblue Fantasy:The Animation: I put Granblue “on hold” because I was worried it was just gonna be an unfinished adaptation, functionally a 13-episode advertisement for the video game, and I didn’t want to feel like I’d wasted my time. Turns out this was a good call on my part. If it ever gets a second season announcement, I might come back.
  • WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?: Almost immediately after I wrote my “I really like it!” midseason post, the series put out an episode all about how the female lead was gonna Get Her Man and how that was The Most Important Thing, and I went “uh oh.” Then I fell behind, caught some screenshots of another freaking massage scene, and decided I was better off watching half of it and remembering it fondly than returning to it and realizing I hated it.

Recommended by Proxy

This is a weird new category I’ve just decided to create! Critics I know and trust say Tsuki ga Kirei turned out really good, so while I’m personally just not in the mood for a realistic middle school romance at the moment, I want to keep it on your radar in case you might be.

Also, Natsume’s Book of Friends needs mentioning. I’m still playing catch-up (I’m watching it with a friend and we’re taking our time enjoying it), but if it’s been rock-solid, charming, and sweet for the 4.75 seasons I’ve seen so far, I feel pretty confident saying that continued into this sixth season, too. Give it a try if you haven’t already! It’s a slow-burn but well worth your time.


Did you know? Have you heard? The Josei Next Door has a tip jar!

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4 thoughts on “Glancing Upstream: Spring 2017 Retrospective and Review

  1. I do need to do a catch up view of Tsuki ga Kirei. It really isn’t my thing but with the amount of recommendations its been given I need to give it another go.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the season.

    Like

  2. I need to make time to watch Eccentric Family. And Natsume too… it’s just that I love the manga so darn much, but I feel like it might be slow for an anime. Or at least an anime telling the same story I’ve already read.

    Thanks for the reviews! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the summer season. :D

    Liked by 1 person

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