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[In Which I Review] New anime, Summer 2019

Jhiday

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It's nearly July, and you all know what this means : a batch of new anime series that start airing in Japan. In this thread, I will be reviewing the first episodes of each new series as they come out. At least, that's the plan ; but hey, I've managed to do it for more than eight years without totally burning out, so let's push our luck.


As usual, note that I shall be skipping :
- Most sequel and continuation series. This means no full-length reviews of the new seasons of Symphogear, Teasing Master Takagi or STARMYU for example. (Although you can probably tell already from that list that there aren't that many of them this season anyway.) There's no real point in reviewing them, you already know whether you're part of the audience or not (or if you don't, you probably want to check the original's review out instead). However, I do plan on covering spin-offs that look distinctive or noteworthy enough, such as the Lord El-Melloi II's Casefiles, and maybe A Certain Scientific Accelerator.
- The few kids' show and shorts I just can't get any access to. (However, I WILL be reviewing any kids' show and short I can lay my hands on.)
- Most OVAs, especially "extra episodes". Also, most movies released this Summer won't be on DVD/Blu-Ray for ages, so no dice for them either.
- Also, most short programs will probably get abbreviated reviews, as there's rarely much to talk about.


Be aware that this season will start slowly, with nothing much hitting until Friday, and some promising shows not debuting until next week. So don't be too quick to judge it !


INDEX :
 
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Jhiday

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As seems to be the rule these days, my first review this season will be for a series Netflix dumped on us last Friday. As usual, I'll only be covering the first episode for now.

Weirdly, 7 Seeds was initially announced for April 2019 ; this delay, combined with zombie studio Gonzo being attached to it (their other show this season still doesn't have an official premiere date, which hardly inspires confidence) smells a lot like a troubled production. Anyway, this is an adaptation of a survival shoujo manga series. From what I can see, the manga had a very striking artstyle (combining classically shoujo character designs with very detailed backgrounds)... not that you'd guess from the anime adaptation, which looks a lot more generic and dull.

The story opens with 4 unrelated people (the young doormat, the nice guy, the asshole, and the mysterious woman who may know more about whatever the hell is going on) waking up on a sinking ship and just barely managing to escape to a nearby island. But after half an episode devoted to establishing their characters and group dynamics, the action switches to another group of 8 people, who have been stuck on another (?) island for a couple of weeks and have thus established a decent survival routine. Unfortunately, (1) their island is populated by hordes of giant insects, making it rather inhospitable, and (2) their "leader" is an abusive asshole who insists on a doomed attempt to sail away on a fragile makeshift raft. And then there's a stinger with a third group of characters who wake up in a much more hi-tech location.

The obvious idea here is to start off with a relatively grounded setup, and them progressively amp the weirdness up to make the audience wonder what the heck is going on. On that level, it just about works, although the limited time spent with each member of the very large cast reduces a lot of them to a single dimension. The big question is whether it's going to deliver satisfying answers. The good news is that the manga series did conclude a couple of years ago (and seems to be well-reviewed) ; the bad news is that it took 16 years and 35 volumes, so there's little chance that this 12-episode adaptation is going to get very far into it.

I'm intrigued enough that I'm probably going to watch the whole thing later on ; but I fear this is going to be a low-quality and truncated adaptation.
 

Jhiday

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To the Abandoned Sacred Beasts (Katsute Kami Datta Kemono-tachi e) adapts a fantasy manga series set in a world whose aesthetics are clearly taking inspiration from the American Civil War. That is, until the North manage to turn things around by creating a squad of powerful human-monster hybrids ("Incarnates").

The story makes a point of humanizing the Incarnates and depicting them as a tight-knit squad who love their charismatic Captain ; this makes them sympathetic enough for the audience to care when disaster inevitably strikes. Not only do the brass send them on very dangerous missions on purpose, but there's the looming issue of the Incarnates progressively losing their humanity and going berserk. As the war ends, the scientist who made them (and also the captain's sweetheart) grows desperate enough to take matters into her own hands and kill the whole lot of them before it's too late.

It's not exactly subtle ; the childhood friend who double-crosses everyone is named Cain, FFS. But it's pretty effective at setting up the premise, and I'm curious on how the Captain is going to team up with one of his soldiers' (normal) daughter to clean up the mess of the remaining rampaging Incarnates.

Anyway, this is quite fun, and I'm probably going to keep watching it.
 

SelectiveHonesty

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Well that was fun, Katsute had a few jarring anime holdovers such as the way the general talked about honor (US generals totally believe in honor but would have worded it differently imo) and the mains weird middle schooler behavior in regards to his crush but otherwise it kept my attention.
 

Jhiday

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Once again this season, there's at least one timeslot that got split between two shows, each with 12-minute-long episodes. That feels a good call for anime that would probably overstay their welcome in a longer format.


Magical Sempai (Tejina-senpai), adapting an ecchi comedy manga series, is already stretching my patience thin as it is. It involves a potato generic high-school boy looking for a low-effort club and being immediately drafted as an assistant by the lone member of the Magic Club. The joke is that she's utterly terrible at prestidigitation (from stage fright to general incompetence), and even his basic hackneyed parlour tricks charm the audience more than anything she does. Also, over the course of the 4 different skits in this episode, she manages to get herself tied up, drenched in milk, locked into a box in an inelegant position (twice), and tickled silly by a dove rummaging under her clothes.

The basic issue here is that it's just not very funny, and the fetish content isn't much of a substitute for decent punchlines. It does improve mildly over the course of the episode ; I'm giving it a second episode on the hope that those were growing pains (and that the hinted-at supporting cast will improve matters). I'm not too hopeful, though.



Are You Lost ? (Sounan Desu ka?), adapting a survival comedy manga series, feels much more like it. It's one of those shows where the creators were clearly passionate about a topic (in this case, surviving on a desert island), and had it star four cute high school girls to make it publishable.

But then, it's precisely the contrast between the three "normal" girls, and the hardcore survivalist one (trained by her dad in hilariously over-the-top quick flashbacks), who's the only one with a clue on what to do, that makes the show work. It's genuinely funny, and it's got some nice deadpan gags (such as the survivalist casually eating a passing insect in the middle of an infodump). The camera is unfortunately stuck in creepy pervert mode in the beginning of the episode, but fortunately it seems to have mostly gotten that crap out of its system after a while.

This is a lot of fun, and I feel I'm actually learning things there. I'm in.
 

NPC New World Order

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While I could never get into Man vs Wild, I watched a ton of Survivorman. It's easy to write off Are You Lost? as "meh, fanservice anime" if you just watch the first couple of minutes, but I agree with Jhiday. I think there's going to be something worth watching here.
 

Jhiday

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So, 7 Seeds is just “Lost: the anime”, huh?
Well, the manga predates it by a good three years, but it sure looks similar. (Insofar as I can tell, since I've never watched any of Lost.)
 

Jhiday

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Like yesterday's two shows, How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? (Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru?), an adaptation of an ecchi web manga series, is making a bold claim for the "horniest show of the season" title.

Our protagonist is a high school girl with rather unhealthy snacking habits. (The show takes a delight in underscoring every single bit of junk food she keeps eating, complete with calorie counts.) Since she obviously doesn't have the self-discipline for a diet or exercising by herself, she half-heartedly joins the new gym nearby. After all, this trainer dude is cute ! Well, until he takes off his tracksuit, which was somehow concealing a mountain of muscles. Also, her training partner (and "perfect" student council president of her school) turns out to be way too enthusiastic about exercising and muscles in general.

As I mentioned upfront, the fanservice levels are very high here. The "edutainment" sequences have the camera gratuitously leering at its subject, the student council president sounds like she's doing something else than exercising, and obviously most scenes have people wearing skintight clothes. In case you somehow miss the obvious, the show is self-aware enough to have its protagonist frequently complaining about it ; you'll either find it horribly irritating, or somewhat charming.

Clearly this show is having a lot of fun doing its shtick ; and while it keeps mocking both its protagonist and the exercise nuts, it feels more like friendly ribbing than anything ill-intentioned. And of course it fits firmly into studio Doga Kobo's niche of Cute Girls Doing Funny Things.

The more I think on it, the more it's growing on me. There's a good chance I'll keep watching.



Much more ambitious : Astra - Lost in Space (Kanata no Astra), an adaptation of a space survival manga series ; the kind that puts its best foot forward with a double-sized first episode. And since the manga was relatively short, we'll presumably get the full story in the planned 12 episodes.

As often happens in this genre, a group of 8 high-schoolers (and a token 10-year-old) undergo a special course where they're supposed to work together without adult supervision. Unfortunately, some sort of black hole shows up from nowhere and sends them way off he rails. Even with the very convenient spaceship they rematerialized very close to, it'll take them months to rejoin civilization.

The cast are a collection of common archetypes : the clumsy girl, the genius guy with a pilot license, the loner cynical dude, the bitchy girl who treats her little sister like shit, the shy wallflower, the nice guy, the pointy-haired self-proclaimed "leader" who is actually genuinely good at keeping peace within the group and morale up... The chemistry isn't quite there yet, but then that's the whole point.

This adaptation comes from many of the same people who worked on School-Live!, but the tone is very different. While it's not without its moments of tension, it feels much more light-hearted and playful. There's a lot of joking around here that goes a long way towards deflating the tension ; the stakes may be high, but this doesn't feel like the kind of series where there's any question whether our cast is going to pull together and all come back safely. Rather, the point will be the details of the journey to get there.

I'm not sure how good the show will be, but it's a decent start. Since I'm a sucker for this kind of stories, I'm definitely on board.



And finally, Demon Lord, Retry! (Maou-sama, Retry!) is the first of many isekai light novel adaptations we're getting this season.

We're in the variant where the middle-aged designer of a popular MMORPG somehow wakes up inside something that looks very much like it (at least rules-wise), on the night it was supposed to be shut down. He's now in the body of the very powerful Demon Lord (and a snazzy suit), trying to make sense of the whole thing. He nearly immediately collects a cute girl that was thrown out of her shitty village, and the credits sequences suggest he's going to gather a plentiful female entourage (with some token fighty dudes).

To my surprise, this isn't without charm. While it's riffing heavily on common genre tropes, it's self-aware enough to feel a bit fresher. Our protagonist may be very powerful, but he's not a dick, and just mostly baffled. Kenjiro Tsuda certainly seems to have a lot of fun doing three different voices (the lighter inner monologue, the stronger persona he affects most of the time, and the creepy evil ring that gets forced on him halfway through).

It's a decent entry into the genre. On the other hand, it doesn't feel like it's going anywhere particularly interesting beyond that, and I feel like there are better uses of my time. I'm probably going to skip it.
 

Jhiday

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If It's for My Daughter, I'd Even Defeat a Demon Lord (Uchi no Ko no Tame Naraba, Ore wa Moshikashitara Maou mo Taoseru Kamoshirenai.) adapts a series of fantasy light novels about an adventurer adopting a cute young demon girl.

As far as I can tell, there's no Demon Lord in sight so far ; the amount of action we get doesn't extend past the opening minute of our protagonist killing a few slimes perfunctorily. This is much more of a character and world-building piece... and unfortunately it's aggressively bland on both fronts.

The characters are paper-thin. Our protagonist is nice but didn't quite think this through ; he's lucky the owners of the inn whose attic he rents are helpful and cool with him suddenly bringing in a demon kid to live with him. The kid is cute as a button in the most generic way possible. The one token guard is nice. And that's pretty much it.

There's a bit more effort put into the world-building, in so far as the writer clearly believes that Details Are Important. Unfortunately, they're all very boring details. You'd think there'd be some mileage out of a slice-of-life, down-to-earth story in a heroic-fantasy setting, but it mostly amounts to things like running water being warmed up by magic. There's a striking lack of imagination everywhere, with even the food not looking like it'd be out of place in contemporary Japan. Even the language barrier, alleviated a bit by the high concept that our protagonist's spells are somehow in demon language (and he can thus make do with a few words here and there) grows a bit tedious over the course of the episode.

This is just incredibly boring to watch ; the kid's cuteness just isn't enough to carry the show. Also, there are indications that the source material later pulls a Bunny Drop and NOPE NOPE NOPE ABORT.
 
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