Glancing Upstream: Fall 2017 Retrospective and Review

Who doesn’t love a few surprise twists at the end?

A group of seven people - two women, a girl, and four young men - gather around an iPad that's being held out by an off-screen character. They are all wearing shocked expressions.

To say this season didn’t play out as I expected is a major understatement. Shows I was hyped about early on fizzled out at the end, series I wanted to love didn’t quite win me over, and a show that didn’t even get mentioned in my midseason review came out of nowhere to become one of my favorites of the year. And through it all, there were rocks and composers. Dear, reliable rocks and composers.

Hit the jump for fumbled passes, strong finishers, and dark horses alike.

The Favorites Next Door

ClassicaLoid

Season Episode Count: 12 (ongoing)
Series Episode Count: 37 (so far)
In a Sentence: Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Comedic violence

Remember at the midway point when I said I wasn’t quite as delighted by ClassicaLoid this season? Yeah, scratch that—the magic is still very much here, these characters are still excellent, and my love for this goofball series is just as strong as ever. The last few episodes have been an absolute delight, returning ClassicaLoid to its roots of blending music history with wacky shenanigans with sudden, surprising beats of emotional resonance. It’s also found a plot involving Wagner’s long-desired revolution that I’m excited to see play out in the coming weeks.

I still can’t believe I get to spend another entire cour with my composer dorks, bur you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.

Grade: B+

Land of the Lustrous

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.

Episode Count: 12
In a sentence: In a place  where sentient gems are on constant guard against “Lunarians” seeking to turn them into jewelry, one young lustrous, Phosphophyllite, tries to find their path and uncover the mysteries of their world.
Content Warning: Violence; Body horror (involving rock-people, but still)

Lustrous is, I think, an easy show to enjoy but a difficult show to talk about, because so much of its main ideas and themes are built around mysteries. So I can’t talk that much about exactly what it’s trying to say, other than that it certainly seems to be preparing to say something: about personal growth and change, about the fragility of bodies and minds, about community and trust and purpose. That it’s all wrapped in Buddhist imagery suggests a story about self-awareness, compassion, and transience, but where exactly it’s going with all of that is still up in the air.

Make no mistake, though: The pieces are all there, and they’re all exquisite. Layered, diverse characters with complicated relationships who clash and cooperate and clash again; a lush world gorgeously brought to life by Studio Orange; a well-paced narrative that teases out answers even as it adds more questions; and some of the most dynamically staged action sequences of the year.

Land of the Lustrous is a triumph of an adaptation, and I will continue to sing its praises to the rooftops in desperate hope that enough people will watch it (or buy the manga!) to justify a Season Two. I really want to know where all these fascinating pieces end up, y’know.

Grade: A-

Girls’ Last Tour

Two girls wearing military helmets and coats stand in profile, looking at something off-screen. The one with long, unboard hair has a white creature perched atop her helmet. The other girl sports pigtails.

Episode Count: 12
In a sentence: Two girls travel through a nearly abandoned city at the end of the world, uncovering their world’s past as they do their best to survive.
Content Warning: Mild nudity (bathing scenes, not sexualized)

Girls’ Last Tour was barely on my radar a couple weeks ago, but it got enough buzz from folks whose opinions I respect that I decided to give it a second try. Wow. Seriously, just wow. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a show skyrocket up my list this dramatically.

Despite the lack of a clear plot and some tonal dissonance in the first couple episodes, GLT builds on itself beautifully, slowly creating a world and tone that is at once heartbreakingly bleak and warmly peaceful. In a kind of “road trip” format, the series uses its setting and characters (Chito and Yuuri, two girls whose squabbling but intimate relationship feels refreshingly realistic) to ask questions about life, death, and what it means to be human with an elegance that’s rare to find.

While it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers, it doesn’t leave its audience or characters entirely void of hope, either. Neither optimistic nor despairing, GLT explores how people find meaning in their lives and does so beautifully, combining wistful music with melancholy backgrounds with character designs that seem as simultaneously fragile and resilient as the world around them. Don’t dismiss the moe blobs, folks—they’re part of one of the finest atmospheric stories of the year.

Grade: A-

Notable Newcomers

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.

Episode Count: 12 (ongoing)
In a sentence: Hatori Chise, an isolated teenager coming off years of neglect and abuse, finds a home and begins to uncover her own power after she becomes the apprentice (and also bride?) of a mysterious mage named Elias.
Content Warning: Slavery; child abuse (handled with restraint); mild nudity

I’ve fallen behind on the Magus’ Bride anime because the past two months have been wicked-busy and I’ve already read the manga, so it’s not like I can get spoiled. I suspect the most recent stretch of episodes has done a better job of explaining why I like this series so much, as Chise starts to exercise her own power and the narrative begins actively questioning her relationship with Elias…

…But since I’m not 100% sure where the anime is at the moment, I’m going to pass on discussing it in-depth for now. It’s a two-cour series continuing into the Winter season, so I’ll have plenty of time to talk about it later.

Grade: B+

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.

Episode Count: 12
In a sentence:  A young woman possessing the destructive power of the “Horologium” finds herself in the company of charming thieves and criminals as she seeks out answers to her own murky past.
Content Warning:  Violence; emotional abuse

While Code: Realize was still ten times better than I’d ever expected it to be, and one of the shows I had the most out-and-out fun watching week to week… I have to say that the ending left me a little cold, relying too much on Cardia being saved by others without balancing that with her doing any of the saving herself (something the early episodes had been really, really good about).

Don’t get me wrong: Her emotional arc is thoroughly satisfying, as she learns to make her own choices and comes to see herself as a person worthy of happiness, and there’s some good fluffy romance mixed in there too. But it’s a shame she wasn’t able to come to that conclusion while also kicking a little of that ass she’d demonstrated in the early going, too.

At the end of the day, Code: Realize was a fun, sweet romp full of good kids I rooted for.  It’s one of the best otome adaptations I’ve seen, and did a much better job of taking the usual “my beloved boyfriend will protect me” fantasy so common in these stories and balancing it with the protagonist exercising her own agency and growth. I just… wish it had been able to do a little bit more, is all.

Grade: B

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.

Episode Count: 10 + OVAs
In a sentence: 30-year-old gamer Morioka Moriko quits her soul-sucking office job to become an “elite NEET,” spending her days in an MMO exploring dungeons and making friends as the male character “Hayashi.”
Content Warning:  One character makes a sexual assault “joke” that nobody else finds funny; somewhat shallow handling of gender

I feel about MMO Junkie the same way I feel about Code: Realize, which is to say I really liked it but left the final episode unable to quite love it. Much has (and should be) said about the way it depicts online communities as supportive networks in their own right, how it honestly portrays mental illness and encourages healing, and the not-to-be-understated importance of featuring a 30-year-old gamer woman as a sympathetic, nuanced protagonist. Also, the rom-com elements are pretty darn cute.

…And yet. There’s Koiwai’s tasteless sense of humor never getting called out. And the way the series plays with gender and sexuality but never commits to it (one explicitly queer character would have done wonders for this series). And how Moriko’s arc ends with her deciding to improve herself largely because of a guy she likes (I love stories about people inspiring one another, but the wording was a little too “I’m doing this entirely for him and not at all for myself” for my taste). It was one of those shows that was so close to being perfect that I find myself focusing on those little hiccups instead of all the good it did.  

I’d still recommend MMO Junkie to others, mind you, largely because Moriko is a fantastic character, I love the way the series fights for the value of online communities, and it provides some low-key but insightful commentary on the stresses of presenting as a woman in the world. It just couldn’t quite make my “all-time favorites” list, and I really, really wanted it to.

Grade: B+

Solid 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.

Season Episode Count: 12
Series Episode Count
: 24
In a Sentence: After a strange being grants him the power of the “all-seeing God Eyes,” Leonardo Watch takes up residence in the NYC borough of “Hellsalem’s Lot,” where creatures of all shapes and sizes mingle with the mundane.
Content Warning: Violence both cartoonish and graphic; mild nudity/fanservice

I settled into BBB&B‘s groove more in its second half, so while I’m still not as high on it as I was during Season One, I had more fun with its Lovecraftian slice-of-life structure as we went. Or maybe I was just really, really into the episode about Bratatat Mom. That’s a definite possibility, too.

At any rate, as with many sequels, I don’t have too much to add at this point: It’s an energetic, weird action series that occasionally strikes some strong emotional chords, and features some cool lady characters along the way. I’m not exactly biting at the bit for more, but I’d be happy to watch a Season Three should BONES ever decide to make it.

Grade: B

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.

Season Episode Count: 13
Series Episode Count
: 26
In a Sentence: 
A supernatural workplace comedy that follows the demon Hozuki as he works with his boss, colleagues, and “tenants” to keep Japanese Hell running smoothly.
Content Warning: Some lewd humor, suggestive language, and mild nudity; also, it takes place in Hell, so comedic torture is kind of the name of the game here.

Technically this one still has one episode to go, but I wanted to get this out before the weekend, and Hozuki isn’t a narrative-driven story so I don’t see it affecting my review much. Hozuki is a treasure trove of weird gags and fun facts about Japanese mythology, and while I’ve realized that its episodic, plot-less structure means I’m never going to love the series, I do really enjoy and appreciate it for both those strengths.

At this point I think my old recommendation for Season One still holds, so rather than repeat myself I’ll just point you to that if you’re interested in knowing more. I don’t think I’ll miss it when it’s gone, but I was still glad I had it back.

Grade: B

Guilty Pleasures(?)

BLEND-S

Two young men in waiters' uniforms and three young women in maid skirts and aprons glare at each other with flames flaring up behind them. Sound effects on the screen read "RUMBLE RUMBLE"

Episode Count: 12
In a sentence: Maika, a sheltered teenager who dreams of going abroad, finds new friends and coworkers when she starts working at Cafe Stile as the resident “sadist” character.
Content Warning: Where do I even start? An adult crushing on a teenager; insensitive handling of trans issues; fanservice (teens/adults);  lots of jokes about various fetishes, including yuri and BL

I finished it. I liked it. And I don’t particularly want to talk about it. BLEND-S is a show with a lot of charm and cute nerdy jokes painted over a whole mess of problematic content, such as the rom-com elements between Maika and Dino that would be pretty awkwardly cute if he wasn’t her 26-year-old boss; or the idol “femboy” (otokonoko) character who may not actually be trans but is put into some pretty cringe-worthy situations adjacent to trans issues (there’s a bathroom “joke” that is deeply uncomfortable given the current climate).

I don’t think there’s anything actively malicious about BLEND-S—it’s an upbeat comedy that doesn’t want you to take it seriously—but it’s so oblivious and insensitive at times that I also don’t think that matters. The nerd humor and character dynamics charmed me, and the exploration of fetishes and how they interacted with the real world fascinated me—but I couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone else.

Grade: C+

Mr. Osomatsu

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

Season Episode Count: 13 (ongoing)
Series Episode Count: 38 (so far)
In a Sentence: The sextuplets of the 1960s comedy Osomatsu-kun are all grown up, but modern adult living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Content Warning: Comic violence; comic sexuality/nudity (mostly male)

I’m a couple episodes behind and not sure I’ll catch up. While the back half was a little stronger than the front, most of the sketches this season have left me cold. Glorious moments like Jyushimatsu wanting to become a dolphin or an extended horror movie spoof may make it worth continuing, but it really depends on how my winter watchlist looks at this point.

Past that there’s not much to say. If you didn’t like the first season, this isn’t going to win you over; and even if you did like the first season (as I did) I’m not sure there are enough strong moments to really recommend it. Anime sequels are one of the few kinds of sequels that tend to improve upon their originals, so mark this one down as an unexpected disappointment.

Grade: C

Backlog Bonanza & Drops

A teen boy in glasses wearing a school uniform sits. Standing behind him are two young women. To the right, a redhead wearing western fantasy clothing with the fabric cut in a diamond to reveal her cleavage; to the left, a girl with bobbed hair wearing a long cloak and robe reminiscent of a sorcerer in a western fantasy

I tore through both Scum’s Wish and Re:CREATORS in the last month and give them both thumbs-ups—with some caveats. Scum’s Wish is going to make my Top 10 of 2017 list (uh, spoiler alert?), so I’ll talk about it in detail there.

Re:CREATORS isn’t, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. The series does a very nice job exploring what it means to create stories, as well as the interplay between author, audience, and work. It gets bogged down in exposition and monologues, particularly in its middle act, but comes to such a satisfying conclusion that I can’t be too angry about that. Definitely worth a try.

I also finally finished The Great Passage, which is very good, zero caveats. Go forth and enjoy a show about grown-ups making a dictionary. And on the other end, I dropped JUNI TAISEN after the predictable plotting killed any tension or emotional attachment I had for its cast. As you can see, I filled that spot with backlog series, so it all worked out.

Bonus: Dear Kino

I made this on a whim and I don’t think it’s an understatement to say it’s one of my greatest accomplishments. Turn on the volume and enjoy.


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

  1. Does this mean you ended up dropping Anime-Gataris after all? You were unsure of it during your mid-season post but I think that’s before the series got really bonkers and meta so I wanted to see what your thoughts were on that shift.

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    • Yeah, I got busy bingeing older titles and never went back to it. Based on everybody’s comments I would like to go back to it at some point (maybe if the winter season is slow), but at this point I haven’t watched past Episode 6.

      Like

  2. Elisabeth O'Neill says:

    Yeah, I agree MMO Junkie in particular was one that chipped away at you with the tiniest things that could have been better, because otherwise it was so uplifting and heartwarming. There was so much more room for it to explore identity that you expected it to, and then it just…didn’t. Such a shame, because as you could see from our piece we felt so warm towards it otherwise – thanks a lot for the link back to that 😊

    Like

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