Well, it’s new season time & yet again I’m completely inundated by the crap-load of anime I’ve taken it upon myself to watch.
This time around I’ve gone the route of waiting a few weeks before writing any initial impressions posts. I’d love to say this was down to thinking openers are often a poor indicator when trying to get a feel of a show, but honestly it’s a combination of procrastination and being so unimpressed by the majority of the new series that quite frankly a second chance was needed to stop me sounding like someone announcing the apocalypse. Thankfully, it’s helped me soften up a little, but two or three shows aside this is definitely the weakest season I’ve encountered since starting the blog. It’s hardly Summer of Suck 2010 levels of awful, but being let down or underwhelmed is likely to become a common theme from here on. Get out the party streamers!
In my mind I’ve always seen P.A. Works as a studio running a parallel path to Kyoto Animation. Not in the sense of copying their look, but that for the most part both studios have a particular house style and typecast in terms of visuals and genre, with the former focused on families (natural or created), melodrama and high emotions, compared to the incidental minutia of everyday life and nostalgic sense of place for the latter. Sure, both studios have outliers, but on a fundamental level most of their works adhere to an internal set of principles.
What makes Haruchika surprising is that it feels like P.A. Works attempting to recycle several previous Kyoani adaptations, in particular Sound Euphonium and Hyouka with maybe a dash of K-on. We have a failing club that often messes about, a brass band trying to get itself together and a constant stream of mysteries to be unravelled, either from physical puzzles or character behaviour. However, it’s still undeniably a P.A. Works project, so rather than focusing on body gestures and gentle nostalgia, we get personal dilemmas involving love, loss and everything in-between.
From an observer’s post of view it’s an interesting approach, but so far the show itself has done little to separate itself from numerous other teen drama shows airing every season. This isn’t just a covert way for me to grumble that they aren’t making more Shirobako or Eccentric Family either. Maybe the plot threads will branch out in time, but so far it feels a little too by-the-numbers. I can’t say I felt any connection to Miyoko’s emotional trauma or the band trying to attract members because I’ve seen numerous examples of the same arcs elsewhere, often done way more successfully.
It also has the worse animation I’ve seen from P.A. Works in a long while, lacking the artistry in backgrounds or lighting effects that they excel at. Frankly the show looks like it was made on the cheap by outsourced talent, with the cg audience the first episode opens on looking like some hideous human/Hello Kitty hybrids. The fact that Haruchika is based on an actual novel series rather than a light/visual project makes this all the more baffling to me; at least then you could point to the original designs as the fault. Instead it’s like everything has been filtered to remove any trace of individuality, which makes the work as a whole lack depth or detail. You look at the characters and see simply a design, not someone with subtleties or nuance because the attention hasn’t been given to make them seem more than that. It’s like watching the skeleton of a much more interesting concept slowly churn along. They don’t even have the studio’s trademark shiny foreheads!
Ranting aside I should probably focus on positives. The mysteries themselves are fine, even if they lack the warped, crazy logic I tend to go for. There’s also a gay character in a lead role with natural confidence and charm, rather than just being a repository for dated homophobic jokes or an object of protection and pity. It’s an aspect of his character, not the entirety, and actually helps create a really fun rapport between the female lead, with the two constantly bitching and prodding each other like genuine friends often do. Their friendly rivalry is easily the most unique and entertaining aspect right now
Also Chiaki Omigawa is in the show as one of the twins, so for sake of pure bias, I’m probably in for the ride. I’m surprised at how much I’ve missed her unique (some would say grating) voice from back in the days when she briefly showed up in everything, from P-ko in Arakawa Under the Bridge, to Minko in Hanasaku Iroha. I wonder if there’s a story there: I mean she was looking to be a huge star in the scene five years ago, but the roles dried up almost as quickly as they appeared. Well, it’s nice to see P.A. Works hire her again, and she’s also in Luck & Logic this season so maybe we’ll see a resurgence.
Myriad Colours Phantom World
Well, if P.A. Works is taking a slight breather this season, you’d at least expect Kyoto Animation to bring their A game, right?
We appear to be seeing an unwelcome trend this season.
Here we have them adapting a pretty generic light novel about quirky teens with superpowers fighting spirits, with some light-hearted hi-jinks and fanservice and stop if you’ve heard this before. To be fair, this is hardly the first time they’ve gone this route, but in previous outputs like Chuunibyou, Beyond the Boundary and Amagi Brilliant Park you could tell that they were putting the same care and attention as with all their works. There are still traces of the beautiful fluidity of movement in Phantom World, but on the whole it feels like a far more stripped back affair. This is most apparent in the facial characteristics of the cast which somehow look like counterfeit versions of Kyoani’s own designs, lacking the sheen and elasticity you’d expect. Maybe it’s a case of just taking for granted how far the studio has come in the last ten years, but once you notice how the little girl’s face has essentially reverted to Clannad-era designs, it’s hard not to see this show as a step back. I think most the resources were just siphoned by the staff animating the athletic girl’s breasts. They may as well be a character unto themselves considering the attention they receive.
Of course it’s not like an original premise or a triple A-budget has ever been the deciding factor in overall quality; J.C Staff’s Witch Craft Works proved that a few years ago (a fairly apt comparison considering the similar bright, cluttered colour palette). The problem is, WCW overcame it’s magical girlfriend tropes by throwing something new at the screen every few minutes, so if a scene didn’t work then something else was bound to come along. Meanwhile, Phantom World seems to prefer segmenting each episode in two, with frantic flailing about taking up most of the screen time.
I think part of my problem is that it’s been directed by Tatsuya Ishihara, who while accomplished at drama (he did Sound Euphonium and all the Key stuff), doesn’t make the kind of comedy series that connects with me, with Nichijou hit-and-miss at the best of times, while the humour in Chuunibyou just felt juvenile and forced. I think it’s telling how I loved the episode in Beyond the Boundary that focused on the cast repeatedly trying to capture a perverted spirit, with the use of repetition ramping up the laughter each time, while episode two of Phantom World has a near identical premise, yet the reoccurring joke about the m.c. being thrown out of the window just felt tired. As a consequence, you start to see the seams underneath, and what should be seen as a light, entertaining yarn begins to feel more like a cynical cash-grab. I’m hugely unimpressed.
Prince of Stride
There’s not a great deal to say about this to be honest, being another one of those standard faux-sport shows that involve either a bunch of high school girls or boys getting involved in some slightly left-field, completely interchangeable hobby that serves as an excuse to add a touch action into an otherwise standard slice of life premise. This iteration is framed like a yaoi-infused reverse-harem, with an apparently unremarkable, but surprisingly cute girl surrounding by athletic bishounen doing parkour (which for some daft reason is called stride), so I guess I should give credit for at least trying to find a unique angle rather than focusing on the thighs of teenage girls playing with paint guns. You’ve got the standard bishie archetypes in the cool, but slightly off-kilter loner, the energetic puppydog, the gentle everyman, the gruff tough guy with a heart of gold and the comedic nerd, with the animation in keeping with current fad in fujoshi anime of having the colour saturation cranked up to garish levels.
There’s little point of adding more than that general description. It seems more than enough to let people know whether this is up their street up not, being as there’s no real personality beyond following tried and true beats. I only care whether it manages to portray the parkour element as a legitimate sport, which unfortunately isn’t the case. Granted, the initial episodes don’t have to explain all the rules and tactics, but they need to provide a fixed form or context to the actions, in addition to creating a sense of excitement to make you join in with the cast’s enthusiasm. So far, all I’ve seen is a bunch of running and jumping, with no real idea about the boundaries of the playing fields, let alone instances of strategy and tactics.
It looks nice enough I guess, but if that’s all I wanted, I’d just watch real life clips on youtube like everyone else.