First Impressions: Fall 2017

Last season I took a break from blogging about anime to rethink how I want to approach writing about the subject in general. After much careful consideration I decided to switch from my old format, one blog post per show with a set minimum word count, to a different format used by some of my other friends that blog about anime. So starting now with the first month of fall season 2017 I’ll be putting all my first impressions on the currently airing anime into one single blog post.

Series are listed in the order I watched them.


URAHARA

Studios: Shirogumi, EMT²
Simulcast Date: October 4th – (4 Episodes Out)
Localized by Crunchyroll

When I started watching URAHARA I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All I had heard was that it was the directorial debut of Kubo Amika and that Crunchyroll was part of the production committee. Any details pertaining to the plot or characters had passed me by until I started the first episode. Upon which I had all my senses blown to pieces by one of the strangest anime series I’ve seen in a long time.

The story of URAHARA is fairly simple to grasp. Three girls that run a pop-up shop called Park in Harajuku, Tokyo suddenly find that the planet are being invaded by alien beings called Scoopers that wish to steal mankind’s creativity by “scooping up” their works of art. The three girls get equipped with the ability to fight back against the Scoopers in an unconventional magical girl-esque manner and that becomes the core of the series. But as straight forward as that might sound in writing, watching URAHARA is a completely different experience.

To say that URAHARA‘s visuals are rough would be kind. The animation style is unpolished and possibly purposefully so, as it dives head first into its unique pastel dyed wobbly art style at all times. While this is charming at first, mixed with the awkward pacing and jumping between scenes it gets quite jarring to watch and for the first two episodes I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed the series or if I was just trying to force myself to watch it out of sheer curiosity.

Then the third episode released and suddenly everything fell into place. The pacing was evened out, the scenes felt connected, the characters were funny and had stand-out personalities. Everything just suddenly worked and I loved every second of the episode in question, the same goes for the fourth episode. Did the series actually improve by the third episode or did I simply fall into an odd Stockholm’s Syndrome-esque relationship with the series? I’m not sure, but it’s colourful, unique and never boring. I recommend checking it out.

Konohana Kitan

Studios: Lerche
Simulcast Date: October 4th – (4 Episodes Out)
Localized by Funimation

If you follow my Girls Love Roundup series, you’ve probably already hear me talk about this series and the manga it adapts. Konohana Kitan is a Girls Love manga that was relaunched last year in Comic Birz Magazine after having previously been published in Comic Yuri Hime under the title Konohanatei Kitan. The anime is a fairly faithful take on the manga, telling the story of Yuzu, a yokai fox spirit raised among humans, coming to Konohanatei, an inn run entirely by yokai fox spirits and falling in love.

At first glance the series is just one of many “cute girls doing cute things” series. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s when Konohana Kitan digs past that first imprsesion that it shows just what a wonderful piece of work it is. Each episode deals with one or several tales of Japanese folklore, integrated into the overall story and setting at the inn. Though it might be alienating to someone not familiar with said folklore, it does manage to serve as a good entry point to learn about it as well.

Where the series really won me over however was the third episode, which mainly focuses on a second couple among the girls. In what could have been a disastrous scene, Konohana Kitan decides to tackle the subject of sexual harassment quite directly. However, not only does the series keep itself from being gross or lecherous with the subject, it goes one step further by displaying a clear understanding of how victims of such things need solidarity and support.

While the perpetrator is called out and forced out of the inn, where the episode shines the brightest is when it shows how the victim’s friends and lover deals with helping her after the fact. As someone who’ve suffered sexual assault and harassment in real life, this was a very important and healing scene to watch and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the subject tackled this well in any other anime.

Of course, the series is based on a rather explicitly gay manga from an author and illustrator who’s no stranger to the genre at this point, how does that carry over into the anime? Really well, thankfully. The canon representation of girl/girl couples is made clear early on and given further context and validation in later episodes. My favourite couple is Ren and Natsume, a femme girl who dislikes men and a dansou* girl who despite others sometimes mistaking her for a boy, is treated and viewed by Ren as the girl she is regardless of her appearance. Again, it’s nice to see an anime where a dansou or tomboy character isn’t used as a “male stand-in” in a girl/girl relationship by having Ren explicitly view her as a woman.

I’m absolutely in love with this beautiful and inspiring anime series and couldn’t recommend it more. If you’re interested in learning about Japanese folklore while seeing cute fox girls be in love with each other, this is a must watch. Do know that the series has a lot of gratuitous nudity though, thanks to a lot of scenes taking place at the inn’s bath.

*Dansou; vaguely translated as “men’s style”, a form of performance art and/or lifestyle that involves dressing in men’s fashion and behaving in a flirty and confident manner towards other girls. Popular theme for all-girl idol groups and cafes in Japan.

Girls’ Last Tour

Studios: White Fox
Simulcast Date: October 6th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Sentai Filmworks

I was really excited to watch this one. Girls’ Last Tour is about two girls travelling the world after war has brought about the apocalypse. They’re alone, running low on food and all they can do is keep moving forward and hope that they get what they need to continue doing so. It’s a fairly bleak premise and despite a ridiculously cute art style, the sense of emptiness in the girls’ world comes through quite strong.

The series is quite interested in taking a more philosophical angle than a narrative one. Each chapter brings up tough questions that the girls’ sometimes can’t find a direct answer to. While it’s not as devoted to this aspect as something like Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- is, it still ends up feeling less like you’re watching the physical journey of these girls’ than watching how their minds wander in what seems like a world of endless hopelessness.

While I enjoy the series a lot and the first two episodes had a very strong impression, the third episode did break my enthusiasm for it somewhat. Without getting into spoilers, I feel like the aspect of the series I enjoyed the most, the sense of total loneliness and emptiness, was somewhat lost in episode three. I still recommend the series as it’s very good and sometimes hits at those Sound of the Sky nerves that few shows are able to do, but it’s not likely to be a highlight of the year for me.

Oh, and the girls dab in the opening title sequence and it’s great.

Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- (2017)

Studios: Lerche
Simulcast Date: October 6th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Crunchyroll, Funimation (Dub)

It’s been ten years since the last Kino’s Journey anime adaptation and fourteen years since the last TV anime no less. If you’ve never heard of Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World-, it’s a light novel by Sigsawa Keiichi that’s been running since 2000 and is still going strong. In it we join Kino, a teenage kid with a “motorrad”, a talking motorcycle, called Hermes as they travel the world country to country.

Despite the name, each country is about the size of a large city at best, but they each have their own laws, customs, living standards and societies. Each episode follows Kino and Hermes to a new country that’s different from the last one and explores a theme based on said country. The series is philosophical at heart, with consistency and reason often being put aside for the sake of taking the “mindset of the week” to its ultimate goals. As such the series can be confusing or infuriating based on what you expected when going into it, it’s most certainly a niche concept.

When compared to the light novel, the new series stays closer in style and tone than the 2003 adaptation did. While the 2003 adaptation was really good and serves as the most common series reference for western fans, I’m quite glad that the new series serves as both a reintroduction for fans that don’t know the light novel and as the first impression for newcomers, as it gives a better idea of what the franchise as a whole is like.

My favourite thing about Kino’s Journey is Kino themselves however. Kino is not like most protagonists in that they’re neither a hero nor a villain. Kino is mainly self-serving and quite morally ambiguous when it comes to right and wrong. They’re only interested in seeing various ways of life as they piece together “why” the world is beautiful despite its many imperfections and horrors. There’s reason to them being this way, of course, but to say anything about those reasons would be to spoil too much. Just watch the show, it’s brilliant.

Also, it’s important to note that Kino is not gendered in the Japanese script. While the English subtitles on Crunchyroll does, as of writing this, stay true to this fact, some write-ups both on official and unofficial sources in English genders Kino, both as male and female. While I won’t get into details on Kino’s backstory, Kino themselves purposefully presents androgynous in both their speech and their way of dressing. As Kino themself would put it; they’re not a boy and they’re not a girl. They’re Kino.

Love Live! Sunshine!! (Second Season)

Studios: Sunrise
Simulcast Date: October 7th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Funimation

I’ve been following Love Live! for nearly five years now and right now I’m happier than ever that I’ve stuck with the franchise. Last year Love Live! Sunshine!!‘s first season showed that the series could take everything it had learned from the original series and movie and produce one of the most fun idol-related anime I’ve ever seen. Of course, because of this the second season had large shoes to fill. It couldn’t simply retrace the steps of the original series and thankfully, it has not.

The second season of Love Live! Sunshine!! has somehow already taken the spot as my favourite piece of media from the franchise and we’re not even a third into it. The humour is stronger than before, especially when it comes to timing. The pace is fast but not in the way that you feel lost following it, instead they fit in just as much as they need into the episodes to keep you entertained and excited at all times. Even the music has managed to impress me, as I was rather lukewarm on most performances during the first season but was won over instantly by episode three’s new song.

If you’re already a Love Live! fan, you’re already watching this series. If you’ve yet to try out the series, the second season to the second series is not the place to start, but I highly recommend going back and watching the series from the start, it only gets better and better and this season is seemingly no exception. There’s not much else to say. It’s Love Live!, but more.

Land of the Lustrous

Studios: Orange
Simulcast Date: October 7th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Sentai Filmworks

Land of the Lustrous is probably one of the most ambitious anime series of the year for one thing alone, its animation style. The series cast is almost always rendered in 3DCG, which would normally spell disaster for most shows. Just last year we saw Berserk go from a beloved classic to a joke thank to its ridiculous attempt at doing the series in 3D and it’s generally agreed upon that 3D that tries to emulate 2D just doesn’t work.

And yet I can’t imagine Land of the Lustrous animated any other way. Sure, there’s an early promotional video for the adaptation that was animated in 2D, but it lacks so much of what makes the visuals in the series so striking. With its unique style, impressive camera work and superb facial animation, studio Orange has done what I long thought impossible. They’ve made a 3D animated TV anime that can contest with well animated 2D series. That alone is reason to watch the series in my opinion, but let’s give a few more reasons.

The story follows various gem stones that fight against forces from the moon coming to harvest their bodies for jewelry. It’s been jokingly called the anime equivalent of Steven Universe by many due to its similarities regarding the characters, all of which are non-binary humanoids based on gems, but it’s worth noting that the original manga predates the more famous American cartoon and even ignoring that, the similarities are mostly superficial.

We follow Phos, short for Phosphorite, our main character as they struggle with their purpose in life. They’re too weak to fight but too cocky to accept that fact, it’s a rather cliché character premise at first, but they work really well with developing them quickly past initial impressions by introducing the other gems, how they view Phos and how they all contrast each other. Stunning, funny and full of ambition, Land of the Lustrous is a series you don’t want to pass up on watching.

TWOCAR

Studios: Silver Link.
Simulcast Date: October 7th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Crunchyroll

Look, this series is not good. I really wanted it to be good, because it has a ton of potential, but it’s not. TWOCAR is about two girls that ride side cars and the other girls they race against. It should be a simple sports drama, nothing too ambitious or out there conceptually, and yet it manages to screw it all up by the power of shitty teenage crushes. The main characters, Megumi and Yuri, are rivals in love. The person they’re in love with is their far older former teacher who taught them how to race.

In one of the strangest decisions I’ve seen when it comes to a romance plot, the teacher literally moves out of the country at the start of the series and yet both girls, who are in high school, decide they’re going to pursuit in hope of meeting him again and confess their love. The rivalry that comes from their mutual crush on the teacher, who doesn’t have a name, makes them fight and argue and just makes any scene the two are in infuriating and annoying to watch. What should be a good sports anime is instead a complete mess.

What practically saves the show is the supporting cast, all of whom are highly entertaining. From the other teams racing side cars to the commentators and documentary film crew that follow the girls around, they’re all funny, charming and full of personality and life where our main characters are lacking. There’s even a massive drama subplot between two of the side characters that comes off as more well written than the main plot. The show could practically have picked any other team as the main characters and this would have been a really entertaining watch all around.

The show even has something I’ve never seen before in an anime, an openly lesbian couple that are engaged to each other. Their names are Mao and Hitomi and they’re adorable. They’re voiced by Shida Arisa (Amanda from Little Witch Academia) and Takagaki Ayahi (Chris from Symphogear) and I really want to recommend the series for them alone, despite their only having a small presence each episode. But I can’t, because the series is not good. If you’re curious, check it out and just skip forward whenever the main girls are arguing, it makes it somewhat enjoyable to watch.

DYNAMIC CHORD

Studios: Studio Pierrot, Pierrot Plus
Simulcast Date: October 7th – (3 Episodes Out)
Localized by Sentai Filmworks

Out of all the boy idol series this season, this is the one I decided to watch. What is wrong with me? DYNAMIC CHORD is one of the saddest animation projects I’ve ever seen put out by a professional studio. Imagine an anime where you have several rock bands performing each episode and they’re animated like poorly jointed stick figures for a Newgrounds animation from around 2003. I think that’s the best description of what watching DYNAMIC CHORD is like.

Thankfully the scenes outside of performances are more passable, but only animation wise. DYNAMIC CHORD is probably one of the least interesting series I’ve seen all year as I can’t recall a single character name and barely a single character motivation after having watched it. There’s some drama about one of the singers leaving the band and another guy might be replacing him, I think?

Look, in the end, the best way to explain what DYNAMIC CHORD is like is by sharing this gif and this amazing massacre of piano stingers. There’s nothing I can say that those two things don’t do a better job of conveying.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Studios: flying DOG, comico
Simulcast Date: October 3rd – (4 Episodes Out)
Localized by Crunchyroll

This is one of the critical darlings of fall and that’s why I ended up watching it after many people recommended it to me over the first three weeks of the season. I really wanted to like this one, I really did. Unfortunately, I do not like Recovery of an MMO Junkie at all and I find the general description of the series being passed around online to be anything but accurate.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie is about a woman who quit her job to “choose the NEET lifestyle.” She learns that the MMO she used to play has been shut down and finds a new one to play, setting up the basic premise of the series. I have to admit, I was quite invested in the first episode as I was watching it. It was fun seeing her create a character, learn how to play, make friends and so forth. It all seemed very promising and relaxing to watch as someone who plays a lot of games myself. For a moment I was on board with all the praise people were giving it, I didn’t even mind the romance building up within the game, it was nice.

And then it falls apart and it falls apart fast. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is one of the most by-the-books romantic comedies I’ve seen. What first seems refreshing and promising thanks to the MMO angle is quickly replaced with having the players behind the characters run into each other in real life, complete with a street corner accidental knockout scene. On top of this we’re supposed to believe that our main character’s MMO crush just happens to be a local dude who she just happens to also start crushing on and who also just happens to be someone she used to play with in the MMO that was shut down – without them knowing.

While the initial premise of the woman playing a man and the man playing a woman in the MMO is cute, it eventually ends up only being used for the main character having an excuse to have gay panic gag scenes where we straight up get a “but we’re both girls!?” scene between what is actually a woman and a man. On top of that the series attempt at being relatable ends up promoting some very superficial ideals about how single women over 30 are losers and how unkempt hair and unpicked eyebrows is enough for someone to look like they’ve had their life ruined.

But I could forgive all of that if it wasn’t for how it romanticizes creepy stalker behaviour. Our love interest runs into the main character, accidentally knocks her out and waits at the hospital when she wakes up. Okay, that’s fine. He then decides to give her his name and number, supposedly as courtesy for causing the incident, but it’s all just messy and awkward. After this he asks her out for dinner, she declines and he then literally pulls information on her from her previous job. Yes. This dude looks up where she used to work and starts asking a friend of his who used to work at the same place about her and get personal stories in return, on top of a “wow, she was so pretty back then” moment.

All of this is supposedly adorable and cute, but to me it was horrifying and made me unable to enjoy even the good parts of the later episodes I watched. The premise basically becomes about how this sad loser of a woman meets a man who forces his way into her life and as a result makes her life better. Because that’s apparently romantic. I frankly do not understand how this series has gotten so much praise without people raising even an eyebrow about the toxicity of the relationship presented.

It’s fine to have a cliché and super coincidental romance story, but when it gets to the point of playing up stalker behaviour as cute I’m out.


And that’s what I’ve watched for fall season this year, had mostly good experiences up until the end, but that’s what happens when you keep adding things to the watchlist I suppose. I considered writing about Washio Sumi is a Hero as I did start watching that as well, but as it’s a recap of the movies from earlier in the year and I didn’t have much to say, I decided to leave that to the side for now.


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