Why not properly christen the birth of this humble blog with a reflective look back at what Fall 2015 has offered us in terms of anime?
Needless to say, the promise of fame was never offered in equal quantities to every title that aired during every season: more often than not, the collective attention of the worldwide fanbase were already fixed upon a select few of shows, long before their debut. Fall 2015 is no exception. With a slew of long-awaited and highly anticipated adaptations and sequels that stood ready at their respective launch pads, this season is also home to a title that some believe to have the capability to match their previous brethren in popularity, namely the duo of Attack on Titan and the still hotly debated topic of Sword Art Online’s right to existence. Both well-established franchises such as the questionably but undoubtedly popular Monogatari series and the old guard Gundam returned to renew their relevance in our short attention spans. But what’s beyond this huge veil of familiarity? What strange tales of the one being sung, girls named after hot chocolate and hobo Gods will we discover behind this incredibly promising but also deceptively charming season?
Welcome to the first publication of ATMA & Funomena, and this is my half-season overview of Fall 2015, on the shows I’ve followed throughout the 6-7 weeks.
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation | Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru
Director: Makoto Kato
Animation Production: TROYCA
Genres: Mystery, thriller, crime drama
Episodes watched/aired: 6/6
Interestingly, Fall 2015 is also a big one for the mystery genre: no less than three shows debuted this season with this genre tag displayed on their chests. Also positively interesting was that all these titles seemed to be tackling the genre in different methodologies and paces, which makes all of them uniquely different experiences. It is always good to have variety. But that also means a higher chance, that one of them picked the short end of the stick and picked a method of storytelling that may prove too bland and self-important to captivate the viewers, thus losing its foothold in the race to be considered the mystery of the season.
Much alike the classic Sherlock Holmes novels and the modern crime drama The Mentalist, the premise’s choice of a character-driven and very much episodic recount of an eccentric woman with a bones fascination and her very much straight-man high school sidekick is one that may prove to be an interesting watch; provided you are interested in character studies as well, and not just crime solving.
Character-driven and very much episodic
Beautiful Bones’ immediate charm are its choice of art styles: heavily synthetic and very obviously CG aided but also vibrant in its colour palette: the opening setting establishment was done so with finesse, handling the greenery covered streets beautifully with well-rendered textures and a healthy dose of cherry blossoms. Sakurako’s residence is of particular interest: the interior’s attention to detail, with its aged but still eerily charming features such as its Victorian-styled furniture and stylings, plus Sakurako’s personal room; filled to the brim with bone collections; were a joy to behold. It is also difficult to find another show that renders wallpaper and other surface textures with such hyper realistic detail like this one.
The major glaring problems with the visuals mainly stems from the technical side of things: the obvious focus on overall atmosphere has taken its toll when looking at the actual character and object movements; both of which are minimal in use, which results in an overuse of framing shots that positioned the characters too far or too close to their eyes to require animation. In addition, the treatment of this show in its airing has also rendered much of the hard work a waste of time: the heavy presence of gradients and high contrasts in the show’s visuals has made much of its scenes heavily and visually pixelated, most likely due to the inevitable need to compress the footage before broadcasting. This problem of quality drop doesn’t seem to fix itself even on 1080p streaming. Beautiful Bones’ true home is on high definition Blu-Ray, in its original, uncompressed format.
The first episode’s theme establishment very much frames the show along the realms of what Hyouka has mastered: the use of seemingly mundane and unsubstantial mysteries in advancing and exploring character development and interactions; one such realm which should prove popular with fans of the Slice of Life genre. However, this possible path was very much abandoned (for the most part) in the next two episodes, with each standalone exploring separate cases with partially interesting and intriguing human body-related deductions from Sakurako, with next to nothing in terms of character development between our two main leads; save for the constant flashback of a supposedly dead younger brother, which Shoutarou; our male lead; keeps reminding Sakurako of.
Beautiful Bones’ true home is on high definition Blu-Ray, in its original, uncompressed format
The show then proceeds to attempt a more in-depth focus on an individual case; providing us with firm establishments of the premise, circumstantial visual and behavioural hints and an unsettling atmosphere that very much succeeds in giving us something more akin to an actual crime investigation; or rather; an investigation to prevent a curse. This particular case has proven to be more successful in its handling of a mystery, while also ironically failing its original goal of a narrative, driven by our main character duo.
Thus far, it is clear that the issue of an identity crisis is present with Beautiful Bones, which makes it one of the less fulfilling entries of this season; one such issue it can still very much resolve, with either more focus on the relational developments already introduced between Shoutarou, Sakurako, Utsumi, a friendly, not-so-helpful police officer and Yuriko, Shoutarou’s romantic interest, or something more like what was present in Episodes 4-5; by far the strongest episodes of this title thus far.
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
Despite the flaws in both its broadcasting woes and its lack of focus narratively, the show still manages to retain a charm that makes it interesting to watch weekly in small sips.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight | Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry
Director: Shin Oonuma
Animation Production: Silver Link
Genres: Battle Academy, Action, Fantasy, Romance, School,
Episodes watched/aired: 7/7
Some twins never meet each other until the supposedly ‘right time’ has come…and it should be rather unsurprising to see that Fall 2015 has given us two thematically identical shows with almost identical premises that are both set in the hugely popular high school duelling contest genre: one that questionably allows students to battle (assumedly to the death if needed) in tournaments of magic and tests of strength, in a society that looks to be much more civil and morally decent than what they actually consider entertainment and viable sources of examinations for their young saplings.
Between Chivalry of a Failed Knight and The Asterisk War, I’ve chosen to only follow the former in more depth, which means it will be the only title between the two to be afforded a full rundown in this publication, however, brief comparisons will be drawn between these two titles with whatever knowledge of The Asterisk War that I did retain during my three episode tests.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight stands as another entry into the ‘misunderstood hero in a battle academy’ trope, by giving us Ikki, a decent and mild-mannered main male lead with a certain flare when handed (or in this case, conjured up) a blade, but was ultimately shunned by his family and most of his school peers, due to the circumstantial implications of him not being born with powers of a Blazer. To combat his duelling handicaps, Ikki trained tirelessly (shown to be significantly more than all of his peers) and honed whatever Blazer skills and physical strengths he does have, to the point where he can easily best pretty much anyone around him, with or without Blazer powers. Pointless were his attempts however, since the flawed system of the school; until recently; only graded and ranked the students due to their Blazer abilities. Thus Ikki’s time in the school has rendered him the runt of the bunch; nicknamed ‘The Worst One’.
Thankfully, the show attempted and very much successfully incorporated mirroring elements, which helps to offer additional perspectives on this very much competitive and dog-eat-dog world of Blazer duelling. In other words, the well tread ‘talent versus hard work’ theme was given a slight twist in the form of foreign transfer student, Princess Stella.
One’s trying to ascend uphill whilst the other is struggling to climb down to recognition
Whilst Ikki admiringly pitted himself against overwhelming opposition above him as the underdog, Stella’s situation remains one that doesn’t get much exploration in shows like this: what if you are already considered the best? The princess was born with incredible Blazer powers to begin with, so any feats accomplished by her would be dismissively waved off as ‘just her talent’, ignoring the fact that she, too, worked her ass off. Tired of sitting alone above on her pedestal, Stella finds a rekindled spirit in Ikki that mirrors her own struggles. In other words, one’s trying to ascend uphill whilst the other is struggling to climb down to recognition.
Fans of this title’s light novel and anime adaptation will be quick to point out that this show distinctively lacks the harem tag. The show makes quick work of who our two main leads are eyeing basically from the get go, which both helps develop their relationships and allow more focus on building a pleasant bubble of likeable characters, to help the audience get through the inevitable scenes that depicted the worst of human nature.
With Silver Link’s hand in the production process, the results have been surprisingly mixed; and not in a good way. The studio seemed to be at its best when managing more atmospheric shows, such as Non Non Biyori and its semi-sequel, Repeat (both of which I consider to be Silver Link’s crowning achievement, thus far). In this case, the visual quality of a decidedly action show has proven to lack a certain flare which studios like Bones was able to deliver for Noragami, nor did it match A1 Pictures’ attempt with The Asterisk War. The choreography for stadium fight scenes were done decently enough, but the background art lacks professional polish to avoid the cheapened CG textures, worsened by the show’s jumpy production values, with characters going off-model and random quality dips. Hopefully, by the end of episode 7, at the business end of the season, Silver Link can prove that it has been saving its budget for some great action.
Fans of this title’s light novel and anime adaptation will be quick to point out that this show distinctively lacks the harem tag
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
Chivalry of a Failed Knight doesn’t try hard to completely shake off the formulaic plotline, but it offers enough flare within its well-rounded cast of humorous and merry band of main and side characters to make this show more enjoyable as popcorn material, and if you desire to find a show that does not fuss over the obvious character ships and ‘ship’ them before the bickering gets too annoying.
However, AVOID, if you hold no taste for occasionally random fan service and yet another entry into the battle academy line up.
Director: Yasuhito Kikuchi
Animation Production: 8bit
Music: Tatsuya Katou
Genres: Adventure, Science fiction, Fantasy, Slice of Life
Episodes watched/aired: 5/6
The thing about teenage fantasy adventures and anime: you never know what you are going to get, because chances are: your expectations never get fulfilled, for better or for worse. What promised to be a more light-hearted Eureka Seven, instead turned into a show that tried to juggle multiple balls, leap over multiple hoops and engage multiple audience demographics, but instead fumbled, tripped and largely failed to captivate anyone. What made Comet Lucifer even more disappointing was that, the pieces for a grand story were all there, however standard and well-worn, they may be: A world where mysterious powers are buried in rare stones, tiny bug-like creatures that can transform into giant mechas and an adventurous boy with his group of mates discovering a mysterious girl, who bears powers that the military seeks, which eventually leads the group of teenagers battling the world in a coming-of-age story. The premise and early episodes practically glowed with such promises, only to be dumped upon by less-than-stellar pacing and a poor balance between character development elements of Slice of Life, motivation framing for the supposed villains and of course, the launch pad for adventure.
A show that tried to juggle multiple balls, leap over multiple hoops and engage multiple audience demographics, but instead fumbled, tripped and largely failed to captivate anyone
Episode 1’s introduction began with a philosophical and lore-inspired sense of adventure, with a monologuing scientist or philosopher as he stared into deep space with a giant telescope, before cutting back to the moonlit rock face of a cliff, where we get introduced to Sogo, our main lead, as he scaled and mined for rare gems. Before long, we were zipping through narrow streets of a seaside, European-styled city along with Sogo, as he hovered along on his scooter. The sense of adventure practically swam in front of our faces.
However, the problems begins to stem from episode 2, where the segments of uneven genre and narrative tones begin to diverge and crack under sheer weight: the intensely animated fight scene between two mechas in a crystal cave was abruptly interrupted when Felia, our mysterious girl awakes to reveal her child-like personality. In an odd combination of pleasant Slice of Life banter (dancing vegetables included) and a city-wide goose chase featuring a mad scientist with a cute girl fetish, plus awkwardly placed switches of perspectives over to the military, Episodes 3 – 5 seemed to have lost all bearings on what kind of show it wants to be.
On the bright side, the anime shines in its technical achievements. 8bit has done an admirable job. The first 5 episodes I’ve watched had managed to showcase multiple different location set pieces, from the homely interior of a family-run café, the vast expanses of a seaside city to tiny glimpses of a moonlight-clad city line. Both the 2D renders of character models and the relatively flat 3D models of mechas are slickly animated when in motion, with fight scenes between mechas brutal and epic to watch. Vehicle chase scenes are also done admirably with multiple scrolling elements of the background combining to sell a convincing sense of dangerous motion.
It wouldn’t hurt to mention, that Felia did win my prize of being the cutest, most beautiful and well-realised design for a character this season.
On the bright side, the anime shines in its technical achievements. 8bit has done an admirable job
Also worthy of special mention, is the very much noticeable background music, composed by Tatsuya Katou, whose synthetically aided orchestral score was perfectly capable of aiding its presence in both fight scenes; dominated by metal-based percussion and brass; and pleasant woodwind-led tracks during relaxing downtime.
Final say: SKIPPABLE
Thus far, Comet Lucifer is a disappointment, both on a thematic standpoint, and when taking into account its massive potential at being something much more grand. There is enjoyment to be found in this title, to be sure, but so far, this anime isn’t offering enough to warrant a truly enjoyable weekly following.
However, FOLLOW WEEKLY, if you are perfectly comfortable with watching a show purely for some visual feast, as the production value in this title is high class and well utilised. As for myself, this show does have enough offerings for me to continue watching this weekly, since the ending of the 5th episode FINALLY starts to offer hints of a journey for our characters.
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Animation Production: Bones
Genres: Uhhhh…Superhero, Mecha, Magical Girl, Cyborg, Aliens, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure…etc?
Episodes watched/aired: 4/6
Creativity is subjective, as are most things. Enjoyment is another. Concrete Revolutio is one such show that seems to take pride in the nonsensical method of its narrative delivery; a thematic canvas that dashes with bold hybrid paints and nonsensical art making methods that blends countless different art styles, genres, themes and character tropes into one jumbled mess. The end result’s appearance and taste is of course; chaotic, loud and surprisingly thought-provoking.
Amongst the thick strands of ideas and plot elements, Concrete Revolutio so far operates in largely episodic storylines with a confusingly non-linear depiction of its timeline: Each episode thus far is peppered with flash forwards and flash backs, with the only sense of order provided by brief title cards that announced the equally confusing year and date stamps and the name of the era. Much of the action is centred around the schemes of the Superhuman Bureau, a secret society formed in the name of protecting superheroes, who live in secret in what looks like to be a rather normal slightly-futuristic modern city (save for the constant supernatural monster attacks and ghosts playing with children).
Concrete Revolutio seems to take pride in the nonsensical method of its narrative delivery
Like I mentioned above, whilst the premise is well-worn and intriguing, the execution is…questionable, at best. But thankfully, the worst culprit that was episode 1 remains perhaps the most you will have to get through, before some semblance of sense begin to bleed back into the show in later episodes. And boy, is it worth it.
Episode 1’s attempt at world building has given us a stoic and otherwise emotionless agent with robotic arms, who works in league with a recruit magical girl, as they try to thwart an sensitive information deal in a diner; not long before the show begins to mess with the timeline and starts throwing the audience into a giant Godzilla-vs-Ultraman inspired fight and the Ultraman-like figure’s origins as an alien who have chosen a human host to remain on this planet. Wait…WHAT?
Whilst the episode failed to establish any sense of premise or plot progression for this show, it somehow managed to also successfully portray the inner workings of the depicted world, through off-hand moments and throw-away dialogue from passer-byers: Like the Pixar film, The Incredibles, superheroes are considered a nuisance by normal people, which justifies their need to hide from common sight. The government also bans all methods of media coverage on superheroes (although their reasons are still unknown). Thus, the Superhuman Bureau is formed as a society to manage the underground network of heroes.
Whilst the episode failed to establish any sense of premise or plot progression for this show, it somehow managed to also successfully portray the inner workings of the depicted world
From episode 2 onwards, it becomes apparent, that the show is eager to spend time contemplating and exploring the intricate details, ironies and moral constructs of the human condition: potentially anything from the definition of love, the moral complexities and loss of innocence that adulthood brings, plus the status gap between humans and beasts. Episode 2-4 each tackled vastly different universal themes and explored them competently using our Bureau members and a slew of side characters, including a certain cyborg detective. Admittedly, I’ve fallen a bit behind in following this title, so my above assumptions may be a bit outdated, but from what I’ve seen, the clarity of this show’s intentions becomes proportionally clearer by the number of episodes that aired. Hopefully as the halfway mark passes over the horizon, Concrete Revolutio will be able to give us something more drawn out and more complex.
The show is eager to spend time contemplating and exploring the intricate details, ironies and moral constructs of the human condition
Helmed by Seiji Mizushima and Shou Aikawa with the highly prolific animation studio Bones, there exists a certain aura of guarded hype before this show aired. Needless to say, weirdness and…geometric shapes greeted the audience when their tuned in. Bones productions are famous for their gritty and fast-paced use of 3D space when animating action scenes (Sword of the Stranger and Fullmetal Alchemist comes to mind…). Translation: they are damn good at it. However, also common with Bones is their preference for less flashy colour palettes and more flat colour schemes for their character designs; which works quite well for them in retaining a raw, hand-drawn sense of grittiness that they have long mastered since the early days of Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
In complete contrast, Concrete Revolutio’s art design is heavily stylistic; opting for a use for non-organic and geometric shapes and patterns, which dominates much of their backgrounds and character designs, whilst also opting for bright colours, resulting in a show that feels much more digitally-processed then earlier Bones shows. The animation for fight scenes still retain their dynamic sense of energy, but are animated to feel more stiff and unpolished, instead. All in all, the art changes may have to fit with a narrower volume of personal tastes, but nothing in this show’s art style should serve to throw off viewers, unless you possess an intense distaste for bright pink and yellows.
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
For all it’s worth, Concrete Revolutio gallantly serves as a change of scenery: one that opts for more abnormalities and unconventional elements. Whilst it lacks an ongoing plotline and still retains a difficult way of pacing itself and its timeline, the art style is fresh and creative, as are the difficult questions facing human consciences, of which this show is not afraid to explore.
Dance with Devils
Director: Ai Yoshimura
Animation Production: Brain’s Base
Music: Elements Garden
Genres: Supernatural, Demons, Vampires, Romance, Reverse-Harem
Episodes watched/aired: 4/6
Unfortunately, I have also fallen slightly behind in following this title, so my current judgements may (or may not) seem overly harsh, but with the modern attention spans of viewers short and precious, Dance with Devils’ short flare of interesting progressions shown in the first two episodes have well and truly subsided by the harem genre’s numerous annoyances and a frustrating lack of setting changes, character development and a competent delivery of what the show had promised from the get go: a gothic styled music experience that takes hints from Disney musicals.
As strong as first episodes go, Dance with Devils did burst in the door with a well handled introduction, armed with a dark and intriguing premise that involved an age-old battle between a family of exorcists and beasts…whether it be vampires or demons. This three-way conflict has dragged in the involvement of Ritsuka; our main female and fellow harem lead; who finds her mother lay injured in their own home, before disappearing with a group of mysterious men, leaving no traces of evidence when Ritsuka arrived back with police. The resulting slew of events have led the audience to discover demons in disguise as handsome boys in a high school student council, and the reason for Ritsuka’s regular number of visitors and her mother’s abduction: the grimoire; a book of spells; one of which grants whoever controls it the power to control the planet.
The introduction scene also presents us with a wonderful opening song (not the OP, mind you), complete with artistic stylings of a dungeon-like chamber, surrounded by dark figures, with a seemly hypnotised woman (looks a lot like Ritsuka) in a velvet dress who sleepwalks across the blood red carpet, showered in a blinding spotlight. Interestingly, the song’s melodies and instrumental backing is heavily influenced by film composer Danny Elfman’s compositions, particularly of his 2010 venture with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Dance with Devils did burst in the door with a well handled introduction, armed with a dark and intriguing premise
Shame, really, as later episodes starts to lose its sense of urgency, as our main female lead continuously moves around multiple locations like a mindless chess piece, controlled or implored by external forces of either seduction, offers of help, or ill-fated acts of rebellion against her over-protective older brother. Each episode I’ve thus far completed, featured Ritsuka getting trapped by and escaping from one member of the demon student council, whose different personalities competently filled out the checklist of harem character tropes. The original mystery of the kidnappings and the mysterious men’s attack are barely in the picture as we watched this formula repeat weekly.
Also disappointing, was Brain’s Base’s functional, but underwhelming art and animation direction for this title. The character designs are generic but thankfully not overly formulaic, the designs for the demon and vampire males are decent in their ability to either showcase their devious intentions and in the case of the high school council: the ability to cater to the different personalities they each possess, whilst keeping them handsome or mysteriously beautiful. Fight and chase scenes are far and between, and most of them are accompanied by song numbers, none of which matched the two offerings from episode 1. The background music for this show was written by a composer group who call themselves the Elements Garden, and the use of the compositions have so far been rather sparing: scenes are more often than not; musically silent. However, what music that did play are well-styled and composed, fittingly choosing its inspirations from the baroque and classical musical period.
Disappointing, was Brain’s Base’s functional, but underwhelming art and animation direction for this title
Final say: SKIPPABLE
Harems can make good shows, they truly can. But more often than not, they become the catalyst for a title’s downfall. What began promisingly as a darker version of Disney instead turned into a tasteless goose chase. Though to be fair, Dance with Devils isn’t horrid enough to warrant an AVOID label, due to the lack of purely offensive elements and questionable displays of fan service, etc, and you can still find enjoyment in this title as a darker take on reverse-harem. Ritsuka; despite my judgements, remains a rather competent character, with the ability to still retain a sense of individuality in her actions, which makes her less annoying than a cookie-cutter counterpart.
And thus, the first part of this giant venture comes to an end. I’ve decided to split this into two parts, NOT because of the Hollywood trend of splitting blockbusters into two parts, but because of the sheer length of each analysis; with this one already cracking the 4500 word mark. If you read the whole thing, you have my eternal gratitude. If you selectively chosen your segments, I salute you still, for having the time to check out my opinions on anime, something I hope is a passion we both possess.
Click here for Part II
To be covered in Part II: Noragami Aragoto, One-Punch Man, Shomin Sample and more!