A Look Back At Winter Season 2017

It’s now April, meaning that a whole barrage of anime TV series are about to start and take up the next twelve to thirteen weeks of our lives. The first three months of the year was certainly a mixed bag of quality, to say the least, but even so it’s worth taking a look back at the series I watched.

The first 2017 series I watched was the third season if Ai Mai Mi, titled Ai Mai Mi: Surgical Friends. I’ve followed the series since it started and enjoyed its bizarre over-the-top comedy that takes no logic into consideration. The third season, which seems like a final run, outdid its previous seasons in both ridiculous gags but also genuine quality animation. It’s impressive how fast the show can go from looking like a crude drawing to a beautifully animated action scene and then back to being even cruder than before. It’s a show that certainly won’t be for everyone, maybe not even a decent sized group of people, but I had a good time follow Ai, Mai and Mi through one final adventure where they did everything except draw manga.

Of course, some would argue a short-length series like Ai Mai Mi barely counts towards series watched. My first full length series of the year ended up being Akiba’s Trip: The Animation, which initially surprised me by actually being watchable! It had a few strong episodes, often hitting the comedic notes just right with its impressive supporting cast. However, half-way through the series the magic had died out for me and as such it was dropped out of a lack of interest. It didn’t help that it had one really uncomfortable episode about pornography trafficking that they really should have just cut out entirely. Even so, it’s a series I could see myself recommending someone wanting a silly action comedy with a portion of fan-service that while front and center didn’t tend to distract.

As the season continued I picked up shows like Nyanko Days, which stuck with me to the end. A cute little short-length series about a girl who loves her cats and befriends another girl who loves her cat. It’s the kind of show that made me scream “Why isn’t this full-length!?” at the screen every week as the credits rolled. And absolute delight. Less delightful was One Room, another short-length show focusing on a set of sisters interacting with the viewer, a man, in first person POV (for the most part). It was needlessly creepy in its direction and I couldn’t sit through much of it before I had to stop.

Speaking of something I couldn’t sit through, remember Hand Shakers? If you do, it’s probably because watching one episode was enough to give you a massive headache. GoHands latest overproduced nonsense action anime run through fifty different filters to make it look unique was not only grating in its visuals but managed to have characters with such a lack of interesting personalities that I can’t tell you a single detail from memory beyond the fact that holding hands was a key plot point. It’s rare to be able to say a 24 minute video caused you physical pain, but Hand Shakers delivered, which at least is some sort of achievement to its name.

But what’s worse than being forgettable and headache inducing? How about forgettable and a waste of potential? Idol Incidents was a series that I initially had no hopes for, but the more I thought about the concept of an idol anime tackling politics on a governmental level the more I liked it. The problem with the series in the end was that it had no idea what it actually wanted to be. Rarely did we actually get a taste of the politics on a textual level and the show wasn’t able to dip its body entirely into the pool of silly to make for a unique comedy, instead only tipping its toe in every other episode and feeling like a watered down Aikatsu! where every episode ended with politicians becoming nice thanks to idol songs.

But that’s not near the waste of potential that was one of the most promising series this season. Little Witch Academia is not a bad anime, quite the opposite to be honest, when it’s good it’s absolutely phenomenal and a breath of fresh air rare within the industry. But when it’s less good? Oh dear does it fall several floors at once. What started as a possible contender of being the best anime this year quickly became a dragged out uneven mess of quality that ignored its own plot and character developments for the sake of one-off gag episodes that’s supposed to lead into a plot-heavy second cour.

Problem is, by the time the first cour ended I had lost interest in whatever plot was going on and Little Witch Academia just felt like a series that should have stuck to a single twelve or thirteen episode cour instead. I’ll keep myself from talking about Little Witch Academia‘s tenth episode, at the risk of getting as long-winded as the series itself, but that was the point where I was ready to simply give up on the whole thing. I did watch the eleventh episode, which was genuinely pretty good, but it didn’t get me hooked enough to continue onward. It’s a shame as I thought this would be the first full-length Trigger anime that I ended up really loving, especially being a fan of Little Witch Academia‘s original OVA since the moment it first released.

That’s quite a string of negativity there, so let’s look at something positive next. As always, a brand new season of PreCure started back in February. I was a big fan of Maho Girls PreCure last year, with it even ending up on my Anime of the Year list, so I had high expectations for Kirakira☆PreCure À La Mode to say the least and it hasn’t disappointed so far! The first eight episodes have been a blast, even during filler stories, with all five main characters being adorable in their own way. My personal favourite cure this season is a toss-up between Akira and Yukari, who basically serve as PreCure‘s take on Haruka and Michiru from Sailor Moon, which should be enough to sway many people to watch it I hope. We’ll see if I end up loving it as much as Maho Girls in the end, but for now it’s a wonderful bakery-themed magical girl show that any magical girl genre fan should check out.

Speaking of magical girl shows, this season saw the end of PriPara. After 140 episodes the series closed its doors on the story of Lala, Mirei and Sophie to reopen it next week with new characters in a new setting. I’ve already talked about why I love PriPara and its focus on acceptance, but I can’t stress enough how much I loved this three-year long running series and how excited, yet worried, I am to see the next generation take up the torch. Wonderful support of gender non-conformity and stories of acceptance made for a spectacular magical girl idol anime that anyone should consider watching.

And I guess I can’t talk about PriPara in this post without also mentioning Aikatsu Stars! which I’ve started watching but not caught up with just yet. I don’t have too much to say about the series except that it’s not as good as the original Aikatsu! series, but it’s definitely getting there and starting to leave its own unique mark on the franchise. Which is probably the opposite of what you can say about Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel which basically took a moderately succesful mobile game and made the least interesting magical girl anime in the last decade. From the dull visuals to the story going nowhere, there was just no reason to watch it and I can’t imagine it helped boost the game much at all.

On the other side of mobile game and anime crossovers there’s BanG Dream! which just recently launched its mobile game a few weeks after the anime started. While the anime started out somewhat lukewarm, but still good, it quickly grew into one of my favourite things to watch this season. The characters are so incredibly strong in their writing allowing for some impressive character drama you’ll rarely see in a multimedia franchise of this sort. No, it’s not as good as K-ON! and it won’t be Bushiroad’s next Love Live! but it’s a great watch and the game is really good too.

Then there was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which I’ve promoted on Girls Love Roundup each month of the winter season. I’m a big fan of the manga but I can’t deny that the anime just improved upon it tenfold. While I still take issues with parts of the series, in particular how it handles the characters Lucoa and Shouta, it’s a ridiculously fun comedy that isn’t afraid of getting serious and discuss genuine problems that a lot of people face in society. From Miss Kobayashi talking about the fear of standing out and being mistreated to Tohru talking about enjoying the time she’ll have together with her mortal love despite having to continue living after she passes on, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid could possibly have been made even better by being written entirely as a serious drama. But I love it in its comedic fashion too much to entirely suggest that as the truth.

But I can’t forget Gabriel DropOut, the wonderful comedy about angels and demons being “friends” on Earth. From start to finish I was constantly having a laugh, especially whenever the demons were involved. Satania is one of the most enjoyable punching bags anime has seen and Vigne is one of the most solid straight-man roles I’ve seen in recent comedy anime. The supporting cast was solid too, with the angel Tap being a clear favourite of mine. I also want to mention Urara Meirochou as possibly the most underrated series this season. A heartwarming tale of four girls becoming urara, or fortune tellers, that deserves a ton of more seasons to fully tell its story …but will never get them.

And then there’s the big elephant in the room. Or should I say the big indian elephant Friend in the room? Kemono Friends is this season’s biggest surprise by a longshot. Having outdone massive franchises like Attack on Titan in Nico Nico Douga views and selling out three printings of its first volume within a week of its release is no small feat. Especially when you consider that it’s a 3DCG anime based on a mobile game that’s no longer in service, made by ten people over the course of 500 days and with a budget so small they had to cut corners to the point of not even rotating the wheels of a bus in the series’ opening sequence.

Just how the hell did Kemono Friends succeed at this? Well, I don’t want to make this a big rambling talk about the series itself, because I could do that in its own post, but I will tell you how I got into it and how I fell in love with it. I first heard of Kemono Friends from Japanese friends on Twitter after the third episode had aired but thought nothing of it at the time, but after the fourth episode I started hearing about it from my western friends as well and they were all just talking about how good it was so I took the bait and watched the first episode. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t anything particularly special to me at the time. It was a poorly animated but sort-of fun kids-friendly show about safari animals.

The day after I was sick, so I decided to watch the rest of the episodes from bed on my phone. The fifth episode had just released on Crunchyroll so I had four episodes to get through. My first thoughts when watching episode two was how soothing the music was and how much I genuinely liked the voice acting and characters. I still didn’t really think too much about the story of Kaban wanting to find out what animal she was, we all knew she was human after al. Then the third episode started and I was introduced to Japanese Crested Ibis and suddenly the comedy clicked with me, instantly.

The show wasn’t just “fun” to me any more, it was hilarious, so I kept watching and found myself getting more and more invested in the characters and their journey. Soon enough I had finished episode five which ends on a big dramatic cliff hanger and I was hooked. What I didn’t expect was the series to actually take a serious dramatic turn and play it completely straight. Even less so had I expected it to nail the writing and place a ton of hints leading up to it throughout the early episodes that many of us, myself included, missed because we just didn’t take the series seriously at the time.

To me, Kemono Friends is the real winner of winter season 2017. Not only is it an inspirational example of how a small team of people can succeed against the odds, but the series itself just nails both individual character writing and a narrative arc so well that it puts several critically acclaimed anime stories to shame with how well its put together. It’s not an ironic enjoyment of a “so bad it’s good” show, it’s simply a truly good anime that subvert your expectations in a really well written way that happens to have an animation budget smaller than your average YouTube 3D animation.

And that for me sums up the winter season as a whole. I watched some other shows, like elDIVE and Piace – Watashi no Italian which were both too uninteresting to even say anything about, as well as Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club which I genuinely enjoyed – just not enough to sit through all the way. It was a mixed bag, but maybe that’s a good thing because looking at spring season we won’t even be getting that… Hopefully I’m wrong.

And let me know what your favourite anime series were this past season!

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