By golly, 6 months in and I’m still keeping this up.
And yes, I realize how late this is. My apologies: a slew of life-related issues has hampered my potential output during the past 2 months, which has a been a period of both highs (I managed to write some of my best work for this blog) and lows (workplace arguments and private family issues).
Unlike Winter, Spring 2016 looks to be a season dotted with multiple flagpoles of dominance, both in terms of genre devotion and popularity contests. ERASED dominated the dialogue of Winter 2016, with voices raised as the community were seemingly split over its visually deliberate storytelling and the apparent incomplete plot progressions. While I may still be hesitant in joining the collective in terms of choosing the season’s best offering, it is my belief, that the slice of life genre has received one of its biggest and strongest showings in recent memory, as multiple titles eagerly showcased the wide ranging personalities of the genre in glorious fashions, though some may have bitten off more than they could swallow.
Nevertheless, Spring 2016 looks to be another varied and strong anime season, and the optimism is only heightened by what awaits later in the year (Yamada-san, crush them all when Fall arrives.)
Bungo Stray Dogs
Director: Takuya Igarashi
Animation Production: Bones
Genres: Comedy, Supernatural, Mystery, Crime, Action
Episodes watched/aired: 6/7
Context is paramount, even if said context seems to have nothing to do with a piece of artwork. While the almost uncomfortable level of bipolar dispositions that surrounds Bungo Stray Dogs may not allude to much, the most interesting aspect of the show so far isn’t even about the show itself, but about the historical figures borrowed by the series and its source material manga of the same name.
It turns out, that the names and identities of the main cast are all past and deceased Japanese writers, poets and authors. I won’t go into detail here, but Rebecca Silverman has written an interesting article regarding this. Supposedly, the social significance of these authors, their personalities and the nature of some of their untimely deaths have much to contribute to the characterizations of their Bungo Stray Dog counterparts.
Shame, that so far, the show has little to show for its rich inspirations. Instead of a progressive and ongoing storyline, Bungo Stray Dog seems content to keep up its mostly episodic short stories, which I presume were meant to slowly paint in details about its rather diverse cast. Maybe this has something to do with the already announced second season.
As for the overall disposition so far, there’s definitely character in the show’s rather distinctive utilization of contrasting tones with dark child abuse-related back stories and massively exaggerated reaction faces and eccentric, sometimes borderline offensive comedic character quirks. Thus far, I can still find enjoyment in these comedic beats, but I suspect it won’t be long, before I get bored at these constant reminders about Atsushi’s tragic childhood through identical flashbacks and Osamu’s constant attempts at committing suicide.
If there’s anything that’s definitely going for Bungo Stray Dogs, its the character designs: deliberate, individualistic and sharp, the characters are visually distinct, cool and are superbly animated by Bones’ capable staff. As for the comedy…well, like it or hate it, they do have a impactful punch. Also, despite there being some supernatural fight scenes, the show didn’t have many chances to show off in that regard.
Final say: INDECISIVE
Banking on the fact that, this show’s premise does have its charms, there are certainly reasons to hope that it gets much more confident about its drama and action-based content, while also being more mindful about its usage of comedy.
So, FOLLOW WEEKLY, if you enjoy its brand of humour and relatively episodic stories, or are confident about the ability of a story following a supernatural detective agency to deliver something enjoyable and worthwhile.
SKIPPABLE, if you have lost your patience with this show still trying to find itself in a swath of contradicting identities and personas.
Director: Katsushi Sakurabi
Animation Production: J.C. Staff
Music: Yoshiaki Dewa
Genres: Iyashikei, Slice of Life, Comedy
Episodes watched/aired: 7/7
Remember what I said about good slice of life shows? Flying Witch looks to be another worthy addition to my shortlist of uplifting and thematically endearing titles that I find to be some of the best that anime has to offer, regardless of genre.
In a near-perfect mix of grounded countryside explorations and a sprinkle of the witches’ magic, the show was able to generate a comfortable and incredibly immersive experience. Much like its spiritual predecessors, Aria, Tamayura and Non Non Biyori, the series takes place in the quiet countrysides of Japan, where a witch comes to live with her ‘Muggle’ extended family, as she begins her training. Throughout the show, colourful characters, magical or not, pops up to share conversations and little adventures with Makoto and her younger cousin, Chinatsu. Through subtle and naturally developed interactions, the audience is invited to lazily slide down their couches or chairs and watch the pleasant on screen relationships, whether it be Makoto and Chinatsu following a cat to discover a treasure, or be entranced by an Ghibli-esque abandoned mansion, which was soon revealed to be a disguised cafe, once someone prayed at its front porch.
Complementing the subdued, yet very much alive atmosphere of Flying Witch, are the impeccable efforts in the musical score and background art styling. As expected, the soundtrack is made up of mainly chamber instrumental tracks, featuring acoustic guitars, piano, a strings section and woodwind solos. However, alongside the mellow tones of the show, composer Yoshiaki Dewa was able to write a range of compositions that mesh well with the depicted country lives, but also subtly hint at the lingering magical scent, with a few compositions that feature fluttering woodwind trills, light metal-based percussion and bell instruments, and plucked strings (eg. Episode 1, when Makoto tries out a bamboo broomstick for the first time). As for the calming main theme, just listen to the first track featured in episode 1, while finding yourself smile at the simple melodies performed by guitars and a piano, before a xylophone, clarinet and flute solo joins in to further enrich the soundscape. You can preview the soundtrack album here. Or you can purchase it here at CDJapan.
As for the background art…There are barely any noticeable shortcuts taken: the varying seasons and the countryside’s landscapes, infused with nature’s countless personalities, has provided the artists with ample inspiration to heighten the show’s background art, allowing it to reach a point in bold and colourful detail that borderlines being visually poetic. Alongside decent lighting control and a swash of diverse locations, Flying Witch looks absolutely gorgeous.
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
Flying Witch is a proud ambassador of its genre; showcasing what a slice of life anime is capable of. With its largely episodic disposition and easily accessible stories, this is perhaps the most perfect show to follow weekly this season. After your dosage of drama, action and enraging cliffhangers, allow Flying Witch to end your day with a relaxing dosage of countryside magic.
Also, it may be futile for me to say this now, but Makoto is one cute gal. And Chinatsu is just…downright adorable.
Director: Yuu Nobuta
Series Composition: Reiko Yoshida
Animation Production: Production IMS
Genres: Action, Military, Slice of Life, School
Episodes watched/aired: 5/7
Personally, I know little about the Japanese anime fandom’s tastes, but this idea of combining calm slice of life, cute girls and a military setting, and the strange yet satisfying results that comes from such a genre mix is an upstanding depiction of how weird anime can get.
From the same Reiko Yoshida, who was in charge of Girls und Panzer’s series composition, Haifuri is a remarkably different yet grounded alternate take on the former titles’ niche subject: with cute high schoolgirls driving tanks as part of an imaginary sporting competition, in high schools that are built on oversized aircraft carriers, it shouldn’t have taken long, before they did it again with cute high schoolgirls manning battleships and cruisers, combating against phantom mutinies that are starting to pop up, soon after the commencement of their training cruise.
With the heavily suspenseful tone that the title likes to utilize during some intensely well-directed action scenes; again, heavily inspired from the tank battle sequences of Girls und Panzer, Haifuri utilizes its large cast incredibly well in its more slice of life sequences, with well animated character models, energetic voice acting and cute designs. However, due to the large number of characters, development comes second for most of them.
As for the premise; probably the one area where Haifuri differs from Girls und Panzer the most; the episodes so far heavily hinted at a darker tale with much higher stakes: mutinies, friendly fire with live ammunition, teachers and students turning on each other; voluntarily or not; all the while being secluded and have to self-manage in hard-to track locations that are miles away from the shoreline. The show manages to maintain momentum throughout its episodes, with intensely edited action scenes featuring the main cast, first person perspectives of the commanding bay, and the various sections of the crew who man the turrets, the engine room, the communications and the medical bay. The animation of the CG rendered ships are largely competent and versatile, which complements its more action-heavy segments. Overall, as an action show, the direction is solid. As an slice of life show, Haifuri ticks all the boxes as well, even if its comparably mediocre in that regard.
Final say: HOLD FOR MARATHON
Haifuri likes cliffhangers. It may work for some who follows it weekly, but in many ways, the tonal structure of this title should allow a better experience as an marathon, as its thriller-esque tones in some regards makes it more immersive to watch in one sitting.
Director: Kazuya Nomura
Animation Production: Production I.G
Genres: Drama, Suspense, Espionage
Episodes watched/aired: 3/8
Spies fascinates people. Their line of work are understandably vague to public knowledge, Hollywood depictions of their typical dispositions have skewered our imaginary senses of how a spy acts, thinks and behaves in different situations. We are led to believe that they all live an exciting life of extravagance, vigorous womanizing, and awesome gun fights.
Naturally, a spy-genre title has much going for it, as its subject matter is open for many different contexts and interpretation, whether it be just a short dumb action thrill ride, or as an intricate commentary piece. As of right now, it’s kind of difficult for me to pin down what Joker Game is trying to achieve specifically: though I did watch little of it, the episodes seem to lead towards a more episodic nature of storytelling, with individual episodes focusing on one specific spy character in his own scenario.
In that regard, Joker Game has been solid, thus far, even if its subject matters doesn’t delve much into the more interesting dispositions of the spy genre: dense study of morality or involved, multi-thread political power plays. The setting of the title also piques the interest of many; taking place in conjunction to the start of the second world war, with imagined scenarios featuring fictional spy characters. If anything, what’s interesting here is the lack of political agenda setting, considering the historical stigmas of Japan’s military actions in that period: the settings are either within Japan’s own political centre, or are taking place in the European theatre of war, completely void of political leanings in its usual anti-war commentary.
On a production value basis, Joker Game rarely lets up, with detailed recreations of many different periods and locations, with both the 40s Japan and wartime France depicted competently. Surprisingly, action scenes are few and far between, but when there are on screen fight scenes or explosions, they are crisply produced and solid.
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
Though it may not intellectually challenge its viewers, per say, as a pure espionage show, Joker Game has provided itself with a wide canvas to play around with, hopefully, it can stumble across a few gems along the way.
Director: Hiroshi Kobayashi
Series Composition: Mari Okada
Animation Production: Trigger
Genres: Supernatural, Drama, Psychological
Episodes watched/aired: 3/7
I would like to apologize in advance: with the limited number of episodes I’ve watched thus far, I won’t be able to comment on this show for long, since the ideas it has presented thus far are a combination of easy-to-decode antics about human empathy, and distinctive visuals cues that I need more time musing over, in order to find the words to talk about them in relation to what the show offers in terms of story.
Much like an open question, Kiznavier‘s opening episodes did little to offer much in terms of solid plot. However, its premise setup is an interesting one that very much relies on human drama. As the characters are bound by a pain-sharing scar, forced the reveal their own darkest and most desperately clung-to secrets, drama is at the heart of Kiznavier. As supposed to the ‘incidental character writing’, which Nick Creamer noted in his episodic writings, I have yet to detect any of that during my viewings. Perhaps it would good for me to realign my understanding of the show’s themes through a rewatch, as I found much of the first 3 episodes to be difficult to decipher in terms of its deeper thematic meanings.
Kiznavier is gorgeous to look at. Visually expressive and experimental in its usage of multiple colour palettes and compositional angles, this show warrants a rewatch, if one were to understand or reinterpret what those unconventional direction choices were made for. The character designs are also token Trigger: angled, distinct and cool, their models are also extremely expressive in their animation, with each character differentiated with varying expressive quirks and body language, hinting at their contrasting personalities.
Final say: FOLLOW WEEKLY
Though I don’t have any solidly formed opinions on Kiznavier, I do consider it to be an interesting title, with many presented opportunities to become a gem.
Additional reading: Mari Okada interview on Kiznaiver and Mayoiga
14/06/15 EDIT: Due to my trip to China and the evident blocked nature of WordPress in the mainland (this is a quick update during my brief time in Hong Kong), looks like my plans for Part II will have to be cancelled. My apologies. I can certainly try to shift this overview to end of seasons once I get back, just to see how that fits with you readers and my schedules. Until then, see you people in a few weeks.