Sorry for the delays ; I'm nursing a bad cold, and spending two days at Japan Expo didn't help. Let's try and catch up, shall we ?
Ensemble Stars! is an adaptation of a idol-rising videogame. It's set in a school where most of the roster is male, with our female protagonist one of the very few girls in attendance. And of course she's undergoing the "producer" course, because she's obviously the audience stand-in.
There's one thing I just don't get about the myriad of male idol anime shows : how can they all be so dull ? Female idol shows usually have at least a bit of drama and enthusiasm in their production ; conversely, this is one of the many series that seems to make a point of making all its characters as inoffensive, samey and bland as possible. I just don't see the appeal. And by the point we do learn of the plot (the protagonist's entourage are trying to overthrow the tyrannical student council), I'm way past caring. Maybe if the show had managed to make me care about (or even remember) any of its characters, it could have worked ; but no dice.
In comparison, Re:Stage! Dream Days♪ just feels much more competent. It's blatantly a Love Live! clone (middle school girls establish a club to participate in a nation-wide idol competition) without any of the urgency (the school isn't in any risk of closing down), but at least it's making a good attempt at selling the characters on their individual merits. None of it is particularly fresh (hello, not-so-naive newcomer whose reluctance to join in is linked to bad family history in the field), and we're well within common genre archetypes, but it's going through the motions with enough energy to carry it through at least its opening episode.
This is a busy enough season that I'm pretty sure I'm going to skip it, but this is definitely the better of this season's new idol shows.
And now for something completely different : The Ones Within (Nakanohito Genome [Jikkyouchuu]) adapts a web manga series about a bunch of young people being thrown into a videogame they had been playing. The gimmick is that they're all streamers, each specialized in a different genre (which makes one wonder what the heck this videogame even is for them all to have played it) ; and they'll be freed if they can reach a (high) number of views for their adventures.
Being streamers, they're all kinda assholes (or at least very self-centered) ; the question is whether you'll be entertained by them bouncing off each other, and doing random quests forced upon them by the game. I found it watchable for a first episode, but it didn't captivate me enough to want to bother keeping up with it.
Arifureta: From Commonplace to World's Strongest (Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou) is yet another adaptation of an isekai light novel series. It looks like its main distinguishing feature is that a whole classroom was transported into the par-for-the-course med-fan world. Most of the group dynamics stayed intact, with our "loser" protagonist stuck into a low-tier character class and bullied into submission to do thankless grunt work.
This is quite a brutal and gory show, with our protagonist losing an arm a few minutes in, and spending most of the episode bleeding out, alternating between bleak flashbacks and cursing the world. Fortunately, he happened to crawl under a huge magic crystal that not only heals him, but also makes him much stronger. He's still very angry, though.
After such an unpleasant first episode, it's very easy to conclude it's going to devolve into joyless revenge fantasies against the classmates who treated him like shit. Maybe it'll turn out better than that, but I'm not really willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. I'll pass, thank you.
Hensuki: Are you willing to fall in love with a pervert, as long as she's a cutie? (Kawaikereba Hentai demo Suki ni Natte Kuremasu ka?) adapts an ecchi harem light novel series.
I'm not sure if it's the source material's pacing not adapting well, or the impetus to have a cliffhanger for the end of the episode, but this show ends up severely burying the lede. Most of the episode is spend on relatively inoffensive fluff (with our protagonist finding an unsigned love letter with some panties, and wondering which of the cute girls in his club left them for him), until the final reveal that one of them wants to enter a S/M relationship (with her as the pet).
Risqué cliffhanger aside, this feels very much like a throwback to the many ecchi rom-coms of the 2000s. (The male lead is even voice by Hiro Shimono !) They've fallen mostly out of fashion in recent years, but we"re still getting some now and then like this. It feels bog-standard for the genre, with only the kinky bits making it even remotely noteworthy. But hey, if you're in the market for this kind of thing, there are worse ways to spend your time.
It's not quite a full season without yet another series covering the life of Nobunaga Oda. So here comes Kochouki: Wakaki Nobunaga, an "original" series whose main distinguishing feature seems to be its focus on the very early life of Nobunaga, before he took on that name, let alone his family's leadership.
So here we are with the adventures of Young Nobunaga, getting into various period-appropriate teenager hijinks. And I just can't bring myself to care in the slightest. Maybe the show will get into more interesting material later on, but it's also content that has been covered to death in many other Nobunaga biographical shows, so I can't say I'm particularly enthusiastic about that prospect. I'll just give this a pass.
And now for the only show that really stood out : Cop Craft, adapting a light novel series by Shoji Gatoh (of Full Metal Panic! fame). It's basically your classic buddy cop formula... except it's set in a city located near a portal to another world, and thus crime gets a bit weirder.
Our protagonist is a bitter veteran detective (voiced by the as always impeccable Kenjirou Tsuda, for immediate grit) who's still very sore about losing his long-time partner over a smuggling sting operation gone bad in the first scene. The day gets even worse for his xenophobic arse when the Chief forces him to take a new partner : a law-enforcement agent from the fantasy world who's been working the smuggling case from the other end, i.e. an uptight sword-wielding noble girl. Cue hijinks as together, they fight crime.
It's all the little details that make it work : the obvious culture shock, the fact that our protagonist gets assigned a lot of those weird cases because he's one of the few people who know the language (presumably thanks to the tour of duty he did some time ago in the initial war against the other world)... The world-building may be rife with clichés, but the contrast with the fantasy girl's attitude gives them a breath of fresh air, and makes the whole show sing.
I was initially worried to see studio Millepensee attached to the show ; their output so far had varied between crap-looking and total disasters (they've worked on the recent Berserk TV series, for example). The good news is that this is by far their best-looking show ever ; you can still see the many animation shortcuts, but overall it sells the both the action and the characters well, and the dodgy CG animation is kept to a minimum.
I'm all in ; this looks like one of the most entertaining shows of the season.
Arifurita does not go full revenge mode, fortunately. The MC is pretty screwed up for a while, but he doesn't reunite with his classmates for some time, and by the time he does, he's mellowed. A little. It's a little like Shield Hero, but a bit pervier, a bit gorier, and without the slavery gimmick.
They've had 13 new series announced so far (Plus a couple OAV/D's for older series), plus have a bunch of ongoing series as well. And there's still some stuff left to announce. Seems slightly lower than the past couple years, but I think that's because the Crunchy/Funi re-split is starting to really take hold. The last couple seasons where were still a bunch of shows on both services, likely due to contracts being signed before they dissolved their partnership.
Fair, maybe it just seems all the shows I'm actually interested aren't on it. Fire Force, Sacred Beasts, DanMachi2 and Lost seem to be everything I want to watch that I can (and Symphogear, but I need to watch the other 4 seasons, first).
So much of the other shows that look interesting (Vinalnd Saga, Lift, a few others that escape me for now) aren't even options.
Finally the new season is winding down a bit, with just the one new series last night.
It probably won't surprise you that Isekai Cheat Magician is an adaptation of yet another isekai light novel series. Its main distinguishing feature seems to be... that the male lead is summoned to another world together with his childhood friend, and thus we have two overpowered protagonists instead of the usual one ?
It also takes a very leisurely pace, with a helpful fast-forward prologue providing some action and assuring the audience that our heroes will soon have very powerful magical skills under their control, making sure that the whole ensuing "how they got there" sequence has zero tension whatsoever. I mean, it's obvious from the very title (and genre standards) that they aren't going to be wimps, but still. And it's not like the first episode provides any kind of explanation (besides the locals being amazed by their potential being off the charts), or even some context for why they had to be summoned ; we see the summoner and the attempts to thwart her, but no real clue about who she or her enemies are, and our heroes materialized miles away, none the wiser about any of this.
Which makes the whole thing very empty indeed. Our protagonists aren't exactly complex characters, and the locals have yet to grow beyond a single dimension each, if that. It's vaguely pleasant to watch, but so generic and inoffensive that I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it beyond genre enthusiasts. As for me, I think I'm going to pass.