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[In Which I Review] New Anime, Winter 2019

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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It's January, 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 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 Mob Psycho 100, Date A Live or Piano Forest for example. 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 Boogiepop revival. Or the two spin-offs in the next post.
- 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 Winter 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 the earliest new series premiering on the 4th, and barely a few trickling out before next week. So please don't be to quick to judge it, some of the more promising shows won't debut until about mid-January. (Also, Winter seasons usually have fewer shows than average, due to a number of Fall shows still airing.)


INDEX :
 
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Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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But before the season proper gets started, let's talk a bit about a series that premiered in mid-December : Saint Seiya: Saintia Shou, adaptation of a manga spin-off from the famous franchise. Well, famous if you don't live in the US, at least ; it's big enough in Europe and Latin America for new TV series and OVAs to be regularly produced every couple of years. I'm personally not a fan (I never could get into it as a young'un), but I'm always open for a sufficiently fresh take to try and change my mind.

And while the first episode makes some pained attempts to fit it somewhere into continuity (which completely flies over my head), this is basically a fresh start. The gimmick is that this time around, the main cast is all-female instead of all-male ; while the old characters are still around, either offscreen or looming ominously over the credits sequences, this story has Athena assembling a new task force for a precise mission.

Our mythological Big Bad this time around is Eris, which is fair enough. For some reason she's due to be reincarnated into the body of a young girl called Shouko. Obviously not wanting that to happen, her sister Kyouko has gone off abroad for five years to train arduously as the new Equuleus Saintia ; Shouko resents Athena (under her usual civilian identity of Saori Kido) for basically making her sister disappear for a good chunk of her life.

As the series starts, some creepy agents of Eris start making a move on Shouko, with Kyouko showing up in the nick of time to rescue her. The twist is that it's Kyouko who gets possessed by Eris, with Shouko left to pick the pieces of the Equuleus Saintia legacy. This actually comes about quite easily in the next couple of episodes, with Shouko managing to sublimate her anger issues against all odds. Of course, I doubt that's going to take for long, and there's still the need to save Kyouko ; the other Saintia haven't gotten much screentime yet, but presumably they're going to help.

Overall, this is perfectly fine. It stands on its own, it's got a nice hook for a story, I quite like the vibrant colour palette and the abstract imagery when things gets intense... But by the third episode, I'm already losing interest ; I guess I'm just not in the market for the franchise's intense brand of melodrama. But you shouldn't let that stop you from trying it out.



There's also a preview of the first episode of Manaria Friends floating around, which means that one doesn't have to wait until the official Jan 20th (!) premiere to taste it. It's a spin-off from the Rage of Bahamut videogame that's completely unrelated to the previous two TV series (which were mostly anime-originals), besides being set in the same world (so I wouldn't exclude some cameos, if the end card is anything to go by). It's got a troubled history, with Cygames firing the studio originally set to produce it back in 2016 before deciding to create their own animation studio for it. That said, it looks perfectly decent for a half-length comedy fantasy series.

This show is set in a magic university, starring two students : a human princess, and a half-dragon princess. While we're obviously in the early approach stages, it's very gay indeed. Cue the usual hijinks common to this type of story. (If you must, think of LWA-lite.)

All this makes for a fine first episode, although it remains to be seen whether it keeps on the slice of life level, or develops an actual plot. I'm not sure I'll stick around to see, though ; it's got some charm, but maybe not enough to hold my attention. I think I'll see how busy the season is before committing to it.
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
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The only new show that has grabbed my attention thus far is Dororo, and that's due much more to its original author than to its premise.
 

salinea

grievous lack of
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I guess I'm just not in the market for the franchise's intense brand of melodrama. But you shouldn't let that stop you from trying it out.
Gonna need to check up on that. I never followed up on the new iterations of the franchise, but I did enjoy it somewhat as a kid, and especially that intense brand of melodrama was always hilarious to me; and that premise summary really intrigues me.
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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The Price of Smiles (Egao no Daika) is an original mecha anime series.

It stars the young orphaned princess of an utopian-looking country. High technology, no cocial strife, everybody loves her... Sure, by now the monarchy is a bit of a relic of the past, and she's more of a naive figurehead than anything, but still, she can trust her subjects to follow on her benevolent rule, right ?

The twist, made relatively obvious by the title but not outlined until the post-credits stinger, is that they're actually a civilization of alien invaders who are at war with the locals. The princess doesn't know this ; the promotion material suggests that she's up for a rude awakening when she finally meets some enemy soldiers outside of her pleasantly comfortable bubble.

But I don't think I'm going to stick around to watch that. The ominous foreshadowing is handled through a lot of clumsy "as you know" exposition, and the show seems more interested in the details of a stakeless and mostly irrelevant mock battle. It's just not a subtle series, and the characters feel too slight to carry it through its rough spots.

I'll pass.



Boogiepop and Others (Boogiepop wa Warawanai) is an adaptation of a 20-year-old horror light novel series. And since the producers are apparently planning for a 18-episode series, it kicks off with two episodes on its first night. The franchise already got an anime back in 2000, Boogiepop Phantom, but that was a mostly original sequel to the first few books ; this looks like a more straightforward adaptation.

Still, it's impossible not to compare the two series' approaches. Phantom was a very striking production, combining a quasi-monochrome sepia palette and non-linear puzzle storytelling to build an overpowering, disorientating atmosphere. The actual protagonists of the wider story, Boogiepop and Nagi Kirima, were kept at arms' length for most of the series, barely visible from their limited interactions with the point-of-view characters.

So it's a bit jarring for this new version to not only feature some actual colour (!), but also start off with Boogiepop showing up in the open and explaining their deal to a generic male lead. Sure, Aoi Yuuki is as impeccable as ever in the role, but it kinda kills the mystique, doesn't it ? Same for the second episode giving a relatively straight explanation of what's going on with Manticore and Echoes.

Which is not to say that this is a piece of linear storytelling either. After all, the punchline to the first episode is that the serial murder incident at school got resolved offscreen, out of the male point-of-view character's sight. (And not even by Boogiepop !) The second episode also plays with the sequence of events to progressively unveil what's truly been going on.

Is it as good as its predecessor ? No. But there's enough of interest here to keep me watching.
 

Fae

sing of hope to the new dawn
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the show seems more interested in the details of a stakeless and mostly irrelevant mock battle.
You don't think a demonstration of how combat works is relevant, in a scifi war story?
 

Jhiday

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You don't think a demonstration of how combat works is relevant, in a scifi war story?
The whole point of that scene is that it's nothing like how actual combat works. It's a sanitized exhibition duel for the Princess's benefit. Every aspect of it is artificial and divorced from reality. It's all in VR, with a stage that's modelled after another planet altogether. The mecha involved are arbitrary, and don't feature either actual enemy units (because gods forbid the Princess learn about them), nor even the new units that are currently being built behind her back. Nobody is hurt, despite the insane suicide stunt that wins the battle. It's a --ing "capture the flag" setup. And I'm not even sure there's anything to the feud between the fighters beyond a lot of roleplaying.

This is no more a demonstration of how combat works than the chess-like game the Princess is playing earlier on.
 

Jhiday

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Oh, dear.

There's no denying that over the past decade, studio GoHands have developed a strong signature style. Moody, washed-out, non-naturalistic palettes. Generous use of CG backgrounds that allows the camera to whirl around. Indeed, lots of CG elements everywhere ; and overall aesthetics that makes it look like every shot has been rendered through several different post-production filters. It's a style that has worked relatively well for them in the past (it certainly elevated K quite a bit), but unfortunately their latest project before this was Hand Shakers, a complete visual disaster marred by terrible compositing, and associated to a nonsensical and very boring story.

This season's W'z, promoted as an "original" anime with an official synopsis that's rather misleading, is a stealth Hand Shakers sequel/spin-off.

That's a bit less bad than it sounds. This time around the visuals are back to form, with only minor issues now and then. And it seems to require no knowledge of its predecessor, merely using the general framework of pairs of people being able to enter a parallel empty world and gain weird CG superpowers by holding hands, all participating in some kind of vague battle royale. Indeed, our protagonist, a young guy who can link up with everyone at the slightest contact, seems to have zero interest in the whole battle stuff ; instead, he's devoted to his budding youtube DJ career (under the title alias), and only uses the other world as a backdrop for his latest music video. Which is still enough for him (and the childhood friend he's linked up with for this stunt) to get into trouble, of course.

Still, this means a LOT of screentime devoted to showcasing our protagonist's music as the hippest thing ever. And while it is indeed quite catchy (the musical credits for this show are very extensive), the overselling by every random passerby (who all happen to listen to him despite his view count allegedly being too low for his tastes) quickly becomes laughable.

This is a very slight first episode, and basically an extended music video for most of its runtime. The lead characters have some charm and chemistry, but far from enough to mitigate the dullness of the paperthin plot. It's a notable improvement over its dismal predecessor, but still not enough to entice me to keep watching. I just don't trust it to get anywhere interesting.
 

Jhiday

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Those first few days of the Winter season are rather quiet, so I guess it's a blessing that Crunchyroll released a preview for one of its big shows ahead of the crunch. Especially since it's double-sized. The Rising of the Shield Hero (Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari) adapts a light-novel series about a dude being transported into a videogame-like fantasy world to become its hero. Stop me if you've heard of this one before.

The twist is that he's one of four Japanese dudes summoned from a few different parallel world, and the one saddled with the "weapon" considered by just about everyone else a dud. None of the volunteer backup party members want to work for this lame-ass Shield Hero... Aside from a woman who very easily (and obviously) swindles the loser with poor social skills out of all his money through fake rape accusations. So now he's penniless, despised by just about everyone (who decide to rely on the other three Heroes), and stuck with a weapon so lame he can barely fend off the weakest monsters, let alone level up. He does stumble on the discovery that foraging makes for some decent money-making (certainly more than the pitiful loot he can get from monster-fighting), but that still makes for a shitty life where he can't trust anyone. Then comes an enterprising businessman with an offer to bypass that issue : demi-human slaves...

There a few alright jokes (such as the Shield Hero threatening merchants into giving him fair deals with a few slimes balloons still munching on him), but overall this is a dreary show that makes for a rather unpleasant watch. It doesn't help that just about every single character is a bit of a smug asshole ; including the Shield Hero himself by the end, as a defense mechanism.

Do I want to watch 25ish episodes of the Shield Hero showing them all up ? Not really. Especially as this is otherwise a very generic example of its genre with nothing to really distinguish it from the pack. I'll pass, thank you.



On to an actual Sunday show : How clumsy you are, Miss Ueno (Ueno-san wa Bukiyou), adaptation of a comedy manga series. It's released as half-length episodes, although really it's a pair of 5-minute skits.

The core joke is that middle-school genius inventor Ueno is really infatuated with the new underclassman in her club. Unfortunately, not only is she a bit too embarrassed to be entirely direct, but the guy is terminally dense. So her attempts using her improbable inventions are both very unsubtle (making him drink her - filtered - piss, or look up her - obscured - skirt...) and doomed to failure.

As a low -budget comedy short, it's competently executed, I guess. But it's so cringe-inducing (as I learned way too much about both Ueno and the writer's fetishes) that I can't see myself watching any more than this.
 

Jhiday

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I only had time to watch one new show tonight (hopefully I'll have time for Dororo tomorrow), but it's a weird one. Pastel Memories is an adaptation of a smartphone RPG... although it goes out of its way to camouflage what it's actually about for most of the first episode.

At first this looks like a Cute Girls Doing Cute Waitressing show... well, not that there are any clients besides this one girl in a very brief flashback. It thus feels like overkill for this shop to have no less than 12 employees. (Introducing them by shifts does help keeping track of them all a bit, thankfully.) This is set in a bizarre version of Japan where interest in otaku media has decreased to nearly-inexistant levels somehow, to the point that even Akihabara barely has half a dozen shops that still carry manga on the side. (Hence the central shop moving from "otaku goods (and you can also have a drink)" to "café (which carries some otaku stuff)".) It's rather unclear how that happened, although there's an obvious suspect in the cliffhanger "virus" that attacks a manga series at the end, and which a subgroup of our heroines gear up to fight just before the end credits roll.

Most of the episode, though, is spent on the heroines labouriously collecting a complete set of this one manga series, just because a rare customer happened to ask about it the previous day. (How is this shop making any money ?) This is a decent occasion for the characters to display their quirks (although most of them stay pretty one-note) and provide some subtle worldbuilding. It still makes for a bit of a slight watch, but fair enough.

But then there's the elephant in the room : this show looks terrible. The animation is minimal (with lots of shots where it's obvious that only one character can move at a time), and the shiny rendering for the faces both doesn't work for me at all, and is very inconsistent throughout. Is this one of those productions from minor studios that just couldn't mobilize enough staff in the current oversaturated market, and had to make do with that ?

Still, this intrigues me enough that I'm giving it a second episode. Mostly because I want to see where it's going after that cliffhanger, although I'm not getting my hopes up very high.
 
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