Panning the Stream: Fall 2017 Midseason Review

I may have chipped away a few series, but this season still rocks.

An androgynous person with short, iridescent hair picks up and hugs another androgynous person with messy grew hair, who has their head buried in their knees.

Unsurprisingly, given the strength of this season, I’m watching way too many shows. I also wrote way too many words about them. So let’s skip the preamble and dive right in, shall we? Away we go, to mages and musicians and MMOs!

Newbies of Note

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

A young woman sits in a flower garden, a cookie in her mouth and a book in her hands. She is surrounded by fantastical creatures, most prominently a blue salamander and a fluffy sheep-like animal.

Grade: B+

I’ve given up on being able to talk about Magus’ Bride in any real capacity because I’m going off seven volumes of manga knowledge and can’t divorce that from my current viewing experience. The adaptation continues to be lovely (if not particularly ambitious) and faithful to the source material, with beautiful music and lush backgrounds that help capture the sense of wonder, sorrow, and danger that weave together in every moment of this modern faerie tale.

There’s a complexity and nuance to Magus’ Bride that’s always fascinated me, as it draws on classic tales of fae and otherworldly spirits to pull the audience into a world that follows rules not quite our own: “black/white” human morality clashing with “blue/orange” fae norms. There’s a truly alien quality to its magical beings (Elias included) that’s rare to find in fiction, though plenty of writers have attempted it. Discomfort walks hand in hand with every moment of beauty, challenging the audience to think critically about its characters, their relationships, and the differences in how they interact with and view the world. The manga sucked me in, and the anime is doing the same. Fingers crossed Studio Wit can keep up the strong production.

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~

A group of five young men, a boy, a young woman, and a corgi in a top hat crowd together and smile as if posing for a photo. They are all wearing Steampunk-style clothing, including goggles, brimmed hats, and cravats. A blonde man in glasses holds a bouquet of flowers. A long-haired man wearing goggles on his head stands in the middle, hoisting a trophy above him. A man in a coat and glasses holds a certificate that says "Winner." The young woman holds a framed piece of paper in both hands. To the far right, another young man, this one with long white bangs, holds a second bouquet.

Grade: B+

This is not the best show of the season (that honor is reserved for Land of the Lustrous, as explained below), but it has somehow become my favorite. It’s just so FUN and NICE, y’all. It’s got an active female protagonist who learns and grows each week; good boys who support her goals and needs; a cute and respectful central romance; an engaging story line with some solid plot twists; and strong overarching themes about families, self-discovery, and personal agency.

Best of all, it’s wrapped in a lightly tongue-in-cheek aesthetic and tone that takes its characters just seriously enough to be sympathetic without losing its sense of fantastical playfulness. It’s gleefully ridiculous at times, stuffing its Steampunk London full of unnecessary gears, gifting us with reimagined fictional characters like Edgelord Helsing and Baby Dracula, and shooting characters out of cannons just for funsies. There are TRAIN HEISTS and AIRSHIP RACES and MAD SCIENTISTS and I just… I just love the hell out of this show, y’all. B+ on paper, A+ in my heart. Would that all harem series could be this charming and entertaining.

Land of the Lustrous

a pale figure with green hair lying on the grass; their limbs and face are shattered and show green glass on the inside, the same color as their hair

Grade: A-

As with Ancient Magus’ Bride, it’s difficult to talk about Land of the Lustrous because I’m also a manga reader (although I think the anime will surpass the English manga volumes in another week or two, so this won’t be the case for much longer).  What I can say is that Lustrous is an excellent adaptation of an excellent series. It’s easily the best-looking CG anime I’ve ever seen: the ambitious camera work gives the action sequences energy, the frequent use of long shots gives the world a sense of scope and breadth, and the expressive faces and movements convey character side-by-side with the dialogue.

The story snaps along at a smart pace, always moving from one event to another as protagonist Phos interacts with the other gems, makes new discoveries about them and their world, and continues to change at an increasingly rapid rate. The narrative tackles topics of purpose, community, and memory, tying the physical to the mental as it questions the nature of bodies and the affect they have on individuals. (Vrai wrote a nice recommendation of the series for The Mary Sue that goes into more detail on that, if you’re curious.)

In short: Lustrous is doing everything well. It’s absolutely worth your time, in both print and animation. Check it out however you’re able.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

A woman with long dark hair, wearing a sweatsuit, hunkers over a computer desk. On the main computer monitor is the image of a girl in a pink cloak and a boy in a purple suit. The bottom of the screen has text and color bars, implying this is a video game.

Grade: B

I adored this series in the early going, but my love is waning thanks to an asshole supporting character who thinks it’s okay to joke about sexually assaulting somebody.  I wouldn’t mind if I thought the series was trying to paint this character as a bad dude, but it looks to be setting him up as the seemingly frivolous flirt who’s secretly playing matchmaker for his friend. You don’t deserve accolades for being a good bro, dude. You deserve to get slapped for making an assault joke.

Beyond that, though, I still find MMO Junkie pretty darn enjoyable. The central romance has some iffy elements (Sakurai has some stalker-ish tendencies, though they’re mitigated by context), but the two are generally supportive of one another in a way I find very cute (particularly in-game, where Moriko feels more confident). I appreciate the way the series argues that online communities are just as valuable as real-world ones. And it has moments of insight (whether intentionally or no) about the social effects of presenting as female—namely, that people suddenly feel they’re entitled to your attention, and how stressful and exhausting that can be.

Most of all, though, Moriko remains a wonderful protagonist, a woman “recovering” not so much from her MMO habit as the title would suggest, but from the day-job that had previously sucked her dry and left her feeling like all she could do was retreat into her home as a NEET. The series very deftly toes the line between being a comedy and being a realistic depiction of anxiety and self-confidence issues; the laughter comes from the experiences being relatable (sometimes painfully so) rather than at the character’s expense.  Some of the shine has come off since the first couple episodes, but I’m still fond of it, and looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

Beloved(ish) Sequels

Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond

A group of people in suits stand in a line, all of them leaning slightly sideways and covered in purple splotches. They all looked baffled. The people are, in order: A man with a scar on his cheek, a woman with an eyepatch, a short-haired woman, a humanoid creature with fish-like features, a shorter man with goggles on his head, and a man with white hair and darker skin than the others.

Grade: B-

The strength of this sequel season is the way it’s fleshed out the supporting cast by giving them each a focus episode. The strongest of the batch wove a few stories together, showing how people’s lives can bump up against and influence each other’s in surprising ways. There were also some entertaining outings with the team werewolf and bandaged butler. If you wanted more of the other bureau members, this season is providing that.

The weaknesses of this sequel season are twofold. One, while it’s not a boring production by any means, it’s lacking the energetic angles of Matsumoto’s storyboards, which did wonders to help convey the frenetic weirdness of Hellsalem’s Lot. Two, there is no central narrative. Season One might have been a bit of a mess plot-wise, but the mystery of Black and White and Leo’s relationship to them nevertheless gave the season an overarching story and emotional core. Season Two is just a bunch of more-or-less standalone stories about weird shit happening in a city, with little in the way of even character development, never mind a plot line.

It’s still pretty fun and I have every intention of finishing it, but so far I’ve found myself watching episodes and then promptly forgetting about them. Nothing bad, just nothing exceptional.

ClassicaLoid

Grade: B

Both ClassicaLoid and BBB have different series directors for their second seasons, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s caused both shows to lose some of their sparkle. ClassicaLoid has brought in some new characters with solid backgrounds and room for growth—a young, lonely Wagner who’s worried he’s “botched” and a pygmy hippo Dvorak (yes, really) fighting between his human spirit and animal instincts—but it’s focusing on them at the expense of its existing cast.

This wouldn’t be such a huge deal if it didn’t also feel like everyone had been reset back to where they were at the beginning of Season One. ClassicaLoid has always primarily been a comedy featuring larger-than-life characters with exaggerated quirks, but there was growth over those first 24 episodes, and each character had more than one layer to them. A lot of that’s been lost in this early stretch.

That isn’t to say I’m not enjoying its new stories and gags—I am, thoroughly—but I find myself less willing to shout about it from the rooftops . We’ll see if its second half can bring the enthusiasm back.

Hozuki’s Coolheadedness (Hozuki no Reitetsu)

A group of people in traditional Japanese clothing, many of them sporting short horns, sit in rows as if attending a performance of some kind. In the front row is a man in a dark yukata with a horn in the middle of his head, holding a soft drink; and two young girls in kimono, one with popcorn and the other a soft drink. All three look unhappy with whatever they're watching.

Grade: B+

Despite my mild disappointment about ClassicaLoid Season 2, it’s still my favorite sequel of the season (so far). That said, Hozuki is almost certainly the strongest of the sequels I’m watching. It’s consistently clever, reliably funny, and packed full of reference and jokes related to “high” and “low” art in equal measure.

Where BBB and ClassicaLoid lost sight of a few of the things that made their first seasons so special, Hozuki has held on to its strengths (the deadpan protagonist, the hapless lord of hell, a litany of cultural references, and of course the murder bunny) and added some additional excellent elements, including some highly enjoyable new characters and several stories dedicated to exploring Hozuki’s younger years. I hadn’t missed it while it was gone, but now I’m very glad to have it back.

Mr. Osomatsu

A split-screen of six young men with the same hairstyle and exaggerated angry facial expressions.

Grade: B-

Osomatsu hasn’t changed much since its first season, but it isn’t working for me quite as well now as it did in the past. Maybe the novelty is wearing off? Or maybe my tastes have changed a little in the last two-odd years? Or maybe I’m still salty that they took the ClassicaLoid Season One series director away from me? Yeah, probably the last one.

Some of the gags are quality, though, and I’ll give it credit for finding a way to insert a butt or a censored dick into damn near every episode thus far. Truly, someone on the staff is dedicated (dedickated?) (…I’m so sorry). I’m watching it with a friend and it does usually get one good chuckle out of me each week, at least, so I reckon I’ll stick with it.

Guilty Pleasures

BLEND-S

Two young men in waiters' uniforms and two young women in maid skirts and aprons glare at each other with flames flaring up behind them. To the far left, another girl in a maid outfit watches them, fists clenched under her chin, looking puzzled. Sound effects on the screen read "RUMBLE RUMBLE"

Grade: C+

I am utterly fascinated by this series, which is probably why I don’t have time to be appalled by it. Amidst a lot of solid jokes about nerds and geeky media tropes (which toe the line between biting and affectionate humor), and surrounding what appears to be a fairly smart exploration of fetishes and how they can influence interactions between actual people, there is a whole lot of probematic shit.

There’s fanservice, naturally, although it’s fairly minimal, but the bigger issue is the central budding romance between protagonist Maika and Cafe Stile’s manager. It could be a pretty cute story about two basically nice dorks who initially fetishize each other and then learn to see the other as an actual, layered person… except that the manager is 26 and Maika is sixteen. The series bends over backwards to put them on a level playing field (I even like the hapless, bullied manager, truth be told), but a 10-year gap at those ages is a gross power imbalance no matter how you spin it.

…And yet I am still here, because I enjoy the dynamics of its cast, get a good chuckle from a lot of its jokes, and find the extended discussion it’s having about fetishes endlessly intriguing. I can’t in good conscience recommend BLEND-S, but I also can’t seem to stop watching it, either.

JUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR

A man with white hair and black eyes wearing bunny ears, a bowtie, and suspenders brandishes a machete at the camera

Grade: B

(Note: Episode 7 is out, but I haven’t seen it yet. This just covers Episodes 1-6.)

It looked like JUNI TAISEN was going to swerve with its narrative pattern in Episode 4, but then it didn’t, which does not bode well for its second half.  Battle royale series can hinge on a sense of dread because the audience knows what’s going to happen to people they care about (tragedy), or they can hinge on a sense of uncertainty as the audience waits to see if the people they care about survive (suspense). Thanks to some key character deaths and that predictable narrative structure, JUNI TAISEN is neither for me at this point.

I gave it a solid grade because it’s been a well-paced, well-directed action series up to this point, but I’m seriously worried about its staying power. Here’s hoping it finds a way to surprise me.

Notable (Probable) Drops

Two girls crouch on their haunches with their elbows on their knees. The one on the right is blond, wearing a hat, and holding a hand bag. She is looking concerned at the other girl, who has pig tails and is leaning forward over her knees, looking sleepy.

Those who remember my jam-packed premiere digest and stuffed three-episode check-in may have noticed some series no longer listed. This is where they wound up:

  • Anime-Gataris: I keep thinking I’m gonna drop it and I keep coming back for the next episode, so really, who the heck knows. Its love of anime is genuine, which gives it a lot of charm, and its ability to generate reaction images is next-level… but there’s been little in the way of plot or character development (despite the talking cat and early hints that this was a magical girl series), which has led to diminishing returns. Also, what’s with the cold opens constantly sexualizing the girl who runs track? It’s gratuitous and creepy. I don’t hate Gataris by any means, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t make the Season Retrospective, either.
  • Just Because!: Watching Strike shows is a pain, so a series really has to hook me for it to be worth the effort. Just Because was a fine low-key high school slice-of-life, and I might have stuck with it if were easier to access, but it isn’t, so I’m not.
  • Kino’s Journey (2017): I’m as surprised as anyone to find this in my slush pile, but here we are. I actually dropped this one after the third episode, for reasons outlined in the AniFem Three-Episode Check-In, so I’ll just direct you there for detailed thoughts.
Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Fall 2017 Midseason Review

  1. Kino’s Journey is now one of the lowest-ranked shows on my weekly watch-list as well. I’m not inconsolable about this or anything, since I have a ton of respect for the original Kino’s Journey but probably wouldn’t have put it among my most-loved titles of all time – but like you, I /am quite surprised to see it down there.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s