Funomenal Overview: Anime Half-season Winter 2016 – Part I

To no surprise for this aniblogger, anime is alive and well in 2016, and has shown to still have a couple of aces down its sleeve, even if a few of them were misplayed during this still ongoing match. Rather unsurprisingly. the collective crowd has already crowned their champion of the season, despite being just halfway into Winter 2016, leaving behind straggling titles who were overlooked for their limited appeal in subject matters, but were no less intelligent and artistic in their ability to captivate the more observational consumers and gem miners.

Let us delve into the Winter season through my eyes, as I glance back into the 7 weeks that has just passed.


Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm

Yeahhh…Feel the competitive spirit…

Director: Fumitoshi Oizaki

Animation Production: Gonzo

Genres: Sci-Fi, Sports, Slice of Life

Episodes watched/aired: 7/7

I’ll admit this from the get go: I’m not yet good at predicting the nature of shows before they air, and my hopes for Four Rhythm; as detailed in my season watchlist post; aren’t remotely similar to what the show is playing at. For some wildly stretched reason, I thought this will be a sci-fi mix of Your Lie in April’s formula. And oh ho how wrong was I…

However, there’s a lingering sense of gentleness that surrounds this show like an angelic aura: without much dramatic substance, the show managed to pull me in with its soft spoken charms anyway. Despite the lack of coherently complex characters with well-defined motives to win any trophies or titles (and no, needing to get the budget to maintain the club does NOT count.), or any interesting relational drama spiced up with exciting tournament arcs, I found myself eagerly waiting for next week’s episode anyway, wanting to reengage with a cast I largely found to be almost instantly likeable.

Without much dramatic substance, the show managed to pull me in with its soft spoken charms anyway

Beyond that, there really isn’t much to talk about. Four Rhythm plays it relatively safe, with a largely drama-free premise and a decently-sized hook in the form of a tournament trophy. The show’s main pull is its pleasantness, if you can somehow manage to ignore the various logic jumps, such as understanding the thought-process of the school board, who still requires high school female students to wear skirts as their part of their uniform attire, when they spend half of their traveling time flying around, with plenty of opportunities to catch their panties if one’s lucky enough to fly directly behind them. Ahhh…the shamelessness of anime fan service.

Whatever story that is present, you’ve seen them before: a clueless airhead, who does everything for fun, manages to prove everyone wrong by beating them all.

To briefly breeze over the technicals: True to its ambitions, the show retains its safe and non-offensive nature, whilst also being uninspiring with its functional, but forgettable stylings and visuals. Despite the near-future premise, the backgrounds still feels like a generic island city, save for a few landing and take-off terminals. With the exception being some impressive flight sequences, character and object animation are relatively standard, save for a few distracting inclusions of 3D CGI models during intense match sequences. The music provided by The Element Gardens were serviceable, with tracks rendered largely within the genre personalities of symphonic rock and light pop: not distracting enough to ruin the experience, but once again, too safe to make an impact.

Final say: SKIPPABLE

I can’t, with good conscience, say that this show is a must watch: there simply aren’t enough material to warrant consumption time on this, when it sticks so closely to the already badly beaten paths in almost every aspect, and if you find issues in shows with little dramatic substance.

However, by all means, FOLLOW WEEKLY, if you seek a pleasant downtime with relatively harmless characters and an occasional adrenaline rush when a flying circus match makes an appearance.

Dagashi Kashi

Director: Shigehito Takayanagi

Animation Production: Feel

Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life

Episodes watched/aired: 6/6

If making viewers cry is a sure-fire way to gain positive press amongst the fandom, then playing to the viewers’ nostalgic memories would be another.

Here are some rapid-fire names: Disney, Pokémon, Halo, Nintendo, gobstoppers.

There’s a really high chance, that you will recognize at least one of the above names as a significant part of your childhood constructs. Whether it’s as simple as rushing home from school to catch the latest TV airings on Cartoon Network (or in my case, ABC Kids and Toasted TV), as tedious as dragging over cables and controllers so you and your neighbour can shoot up each other on an alien planet, or as sewn into our daily afternoon schedules as a trip to the corner candy store, memories of ourselves engaging in such blurry and nostalgic activities essentially branded themselves permanently onto our inner beings as part of our core memories.

Candy stores are a rarity today, at least where I live. But 10 years ago, it was a constant place where I will creep around, with my precious 50 cents, staring into jars, picking out the most colourful and biggest thing that I can afford. Then the game is to see how long I can make the lolly (what I used to call them) last.

Dagashi Kashi utilises its constant product placements as a platform for a quirky retelling of the childhood games, adventures and dilemmas of buying, eating and goofing around with tiny packeted snacks, long before electronics entered our lives, permanently and mercilessly. From that angle, the show succeeds with flying colours, with particular emphasis placed on the character interactions between the eccentric dagashi worshipper Hotaru and her daily ventures with straight-man and possible rival in dagashi lore, Kokonotsu and his childhood friend Saya.

If anything is a serious drawback, it’s the wide variety of tones the comedy and slice of life banter this show is willing to output, whilst also not utilising its comedic elements as its main pull: it is willing to stay monotone with its progression and maintain a relaxed atmosphere for the most part. For this reason, people looking for constant and hard-core comedy will likely be disappointed, while those who prefer low-key and relaxing content will be rather surprised by the sometimes absurd angles the comedy will turn to.

Yeah…low-key.

Thus far, the show barely deviated from its primary locations of the dagashi shop, Saya’s family café and the surrounding landmarks, which helps the show quickly establish a communal connection with the audience through the familiarity of its background stylings, which are solidly rendered for the most part. Apart from the rather standard character and object animation, the rather unique iris placement of the characters’ eyes will be needing some getting used to.

Dagashi Kashi utilises its constant product placements as a platform for a quirky retelling of the childhood games, adventures and dilemmas of buying, eating and goofing around with tiny packeted snacks

Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY

When it is all said and done, Dagashi Kashi is a very easy watch, with enough entertainment value to satisfy you once a week, and its actually best to enjoy it this way: it gets bland, if you eat too much of the same thing, mix it up sometimes, why don’t you?

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi | ERASED

Director: Tomohiko Ito

Animation Production: A-1 Pictures

Genres: Mystery, Crime, Thriller, Sci-Fi

Episodes watched/aired: 2/7

(Minor spoilers for end of episode 1.)

Fandoms can be brutal. I mean that in every possible definition of that word. How lucky is it for ERASED then, to be receiving almost unanimous acclaim, barely halfway into the season. Now, as noted by my episodes watched count, I’m in no position to judge the legitimacy and whether this fame was rightfully placed (I certainly have an alternative choice for a season best, however), but I can certainly recognise the appeal and the propelling momentum achieved by the heavy-handed and very much distinct cinematic choices made by the creators, in order to maintain suspense and a grandiose sense of dramatic significance.

There’s certainly a very good reason why I stopped handily at episode 2: I’ve sampled both timelines and the perspective shifts between the present and replaying the past. ERASED presents the past and time travel in a way that’s rather refreshing to a viewer like myself: I’m relatively inexperienced in anime’s usual usage and portrayal of altering timelines or space time continuums: Satoru’s ability to turn back time is presented in an involuntary fashion, but was also showcased in a perspective of him ‘replaying’ his past self. In other words, not only does Satoru retain all his memories from the present, his aged mind has returned to his former body, and he will have to play a dual role of ‘acting’ as his child self and as a investigator for a future serial murder, which seemingly centres around a little girl named Kayo.

This fashion of time travel and circumstance stands to present a series of interesting methods of character documentation, dialogue and dramatic delivery: how can Satoru pass himself off as a younger version of himself to fit in with his classmates, and how can Satoru’s grown up mind bond with and rescue Kayo, whilst trapped in his child exterior?

Propelling momentum achieved by the heavy-handed and very much distinct cinematic choices made by the creators, in order to maintain suspense and a grandiose sense of dramatic significance.

In just 2 episodes, the stakes were efficiently hammered into the ground, the goal fresh in our minds and the drama presented heavy and fast: is Kayo being abused by her parents? Should we be suspicious of this red-tied teacher? How do we know if and when Kayo is safe from her future killer? Is this killer connected to the present time murder of Satoru’s mother?

Thus, the well-paced delivery of the plot efficiently sets up the rest of the story.

Adding to the jaded atmosphere, A-1 Pictures’ production on the series has been relatively high-class thus far, especially when it comes to the segments involving the past, where a simple aspect change to a more cinematic widescreen ratio, subtly added to the portrayal of Satoru literally re-watching and reliving his life, and in a world where he feels trapped and claustrophobic in his current environment.

Also interesting are the more artistically deliberate and self-conscious choices of cinematography and compositions angles, that adds to the overall web of well-intended touches that elevates the experience.

Crowded composition, with eyes squeezed out of frame, colour red a focal point: trapped, uncertain and suspicious of surroundings

Yuki Kajiura’s musical score unfortunately retains the relatively workman-like quality, that has plagued her works since Sword Art Online and Fate/Zero: Kajiura has been reluctant in expanding on her colour palette and artistic horizons, instead opting to compose in fashions that are workable and effective on screen, but quickly loses its recognisability soon after. The emotive breadth of the soundtrack is admirable, but Kajiura’s name has been attached to far more creative works before.

Final say: HOLD FOR MARATHON

With a thematically tight and atmospherically dense show like this, I still heavily lean towards the belief, that a feature-length film format would have served this story far better. However, with the decision to stick with a 11 episode format, I believe the show’s impact will be significantly more apparent as a marathon run.

Now you know why I haven’t followed ERASED for 5 weeks.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash | Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

Director: Ryosuke Nakamura

Animation Production: A-1 Pictures

Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Drama…Virtual Reality?

Episodes watched/aired: 2/7

Having decided to follow the solid Funimation broadcast dub for this series, I am still lagging behind on the second episode. But the content already present has given me more than enough to identify the expressive core of this show and its artistic intents.

In short, this was an immense surprise. With my complicated relationship with this breakout genre of ‘trapped in a MMORPG’ titles and its polarising reception from different facets of the fandom, Grimgar needed to prove that it can bypass the narrative hell suffered by Sword Art Online, diverge from the brilliant societal critiques in Log Horizon and its shortcomings in cinematic flare, and somehow carve out its own unique identity within the genre.

In many ways, Grimgar’s almost instant divergences from the formula are the various reversals in statuses and the circumstances that plague the main cast: their memories are mere shadows of their former selves after the abduction: their mouths and bodies blurb out seemingly familiar phrases and gestures out of habits, yet their minds can’t seem to recall what they mean: one would reach for his phone in his pocket and suddenly flinch, since he has no idea what a ‘phone’ is. In addition to their instant need to adapt and survive in a world unfamiliar to them, their location on the food chain was also pitifully demonstrated right from the start: 6 of them couldn’t even defeat 2 goblins; creatures that are both considered the weakest species in Grimgar, and reinforced by our own entrenched preconceptions as the runt of all game monsters. This is a cast of pathetic weaklings who will be spending the series improving themselves.

Also rather refreshing is the level of grit and kinetic impact when it comes to demonstrating the primal desire to survive: in a mix of dirty, animalistic and brutal stabs, slashes and screams of horror, pain and agony, the show’s impeccably directed and grittily framed actions scenes perfectly portrays the true implications of taking lives and the psychological complexities and scars of thrusting a blade into living flesh and bones, especially one that’s just as unwilling to die as you. Compounded with the snail-paced nature of the plot’s progression, the entire shows oozes with a sense of lived-in authenticity that are rare in wish-fulfilment genres such as this: though incidental ass shots and yuri teasing are still present and aplenty.

Grimgar is certainly a gorgeous place. With a markedly unique pencil outline, pastel and watercolour background style and a minimalistic but keenly expressive colour composition and shading, the show handily stands out from the rest. The non-diagetic soundtrack for the series thus far mainly featured simple acoustic guitar licks and chords, with the show content in selling its world using diegetic sound effects.

Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY

If anything, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash has presented enough faithfulness in decent storytelling to warrant our time. Viewers should be surprised by the painfully organic portrayal of human fragility and the true implications of killing, whilst also establishing a cast worth feeling concerned over, as people who are not reborn as gods in their new environment.

Haruchika

Show in a nutshell (after drawing a pink triangle around these 3.)

Director: Masakazu Hashimoto

Animation Production: P.A. Works

Genres: Slice of Life, Music, Mystery, High School

Episodes watched/aired: 7/7

We need not look any further, Haruchika is not anywhere near the level of brilliance of Hibike! Euphonium and Hyouka. For those confused by my comparisons, look no further than right here.

Haruchika feels like a bastard mutant fished out from the leftovers of the latter 2 shows. But just how good is a show of this nature? leftovers from masterpieces can’t be that bad, right?

At its best, this rather mundane ‘mystery of the week’ premise, centred around the recruitment of members for the struggling wind instrument band club, manages to latch onto some very interesting character dissections, including the flipped perspectives of old age and youth, the differing values of individuals within and outside the clubs and the nature of voluntary isolation. However, the central plot rarely reappears and seems to lack any weight in the overall tone of the episodes, so it instead feels like an useless free extra souvenir you get for spending enough money at a store.

I’ve voiced my distaste at Haruta’s character before, and I must say that he’s still the weak link within the rather charming main group. Thankfully, the show seemed to sway more attention away from him as later episodes aired.

For my money, I am willing to bet, that this is probably the worst looking show P.A Works has produced thus far: stiff character movements, questionable texturing and poor background rendering. Some character movements were borderline robotic, it’s rather hard to believe, that the same studio that produced CANAAN’s breathtaking action scenes and the breathlessly beautiful atmospheres of Nagi no Asakura, would be the main production studio for this mediocre-looking-at-best title.

Still have a problem with how wooden puppet-like Haruta’s hands looked here…

If there’s anything that shines in the production, it’s the music: well mixed and crisply recorded instrument samples and source music and pleasantly orchestrated background pieces by Shiro Hamaguchi.

Final say: SKIPPABLE

With no real compelling reason to continue watching, few people would feel the need to follow this show any further. My decision to continue watching to the end, was mainly based on the current void left by Hibike!. Anything involving concert band clubs would do for the time being.


This will be it for the time being. My part II will be up within a few days. Stay tuned for Myriad Colors Phantom World, Snow White with the Red Hair 2, KonoSuba and more!

Part II

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