Winter 2016 – First Impressions: The Rest

[HorribleSubs] Sekkou Boys - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.24_[2016.01.22_23.19.25]

And finally, here we are with some of the lesser shows airing this season, either in quality or length. I haven’t included everything I ended up watching, with the likes of Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle, Phantasy Star Online 2, God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World and bunch of random shorts being absent because they were too god-awful to bother writing about. Oh, and Ajin, which hasn’t been picked up for streaming.

 

Girls Beyond the Wasteland (Episodes 1-3)

[HorribleSubs] Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_06.51_[2016.01.22_23.22.31]

So apparently Girls Beyond the Wasteland is adapted from a romance visual novel, though I guess the emphasis is more on an overall story rather than a selection of routes ending in sex scenes, since it feels more like one of those standard teen melodrama coming of age stories that Mari Okada is queen of. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely tell-tale nods, such the pseudo-date which follows many of the pick-the-right-answer staples, but at this stage the show seems more focused on an assemble cast. Prior to the hook at episode one’s close, most of the screen time was spent on the affable, but directionless male lead hanging out with his various pals, while the following two are devoted to getting the gang together so they can make a successful bishoujo game. So rather than a girl-of-the-week scenario like Amagami SS or that one about taking voyeuristic photographs of schoolgirls, this appears more like a coming-of-age school drama in which a bunch of kids undergo internal/external difficulties, love-triangles and plenty of angst prior to graduating at the end in some hopeful, but bittersweet finale.

Personally I’m happier for the show to turn out this way rather than some sub-harem that doesn’t resolve anything, but you can probably guess by my tone that’s there little here to make me keep watching. The presentation is serviceable but lacks any charm while the cast are too smugly self-aware of their own character tropes, although thankfully it hasn’t descended into obnoxious meta humour or self-referential winking outside of a few derisively received speeches. Frankly, there’s nothing really awful here: it’s just dull and unimaginative with many better alternatives out there. If you just want your rom-com fix satiated then Girls Beyond the Wasteland is perfectly serviceable but given the choice I’d probably prefer to re-watch one of Mari Okada’s more popular alternatives like Toradora or Hanasaku Iroha .

 

Schwarzesmarken (Episode 1)

[HorribleSubs] Schwarzesmarken - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_08.30_[2016.01.22_23.05.55]

You know, as a concept, I’m quite taken to stories that pit a diminutive group against a relentless, singularly-minded foe and watching the carnage that ensues. However, there are both good and bad ways to present this. Attack on Titan, for example, excels in character development and world-building, depicting the peaceful lives and motivations of the citizens, creating a moment of calm before the storm hits. Muv Luv Total Eclipse, while pretty awful for the most part, relied on shock factor, introducing what you believe to be a main cast before witnessing their gruesome deaths. Schwarzesmarken on the other hand, spits out a brief narration scene before opening in media res, right in the middle of an action scene where people scream nonsense, somehow expecting us to care all the while.

It’s a terrible idea for any show, not least one as utterly incompetent at character writing as this was. People enjoy giving Eren in Titan a lot flack for being all emo, but his frustration and fury at the world around him was relatable. You understood both what he had lost and would likely lose in the pursuit of his goals. Contrast with Schwarzesmarken, whose lead is just some sullen and moody jerk hamming things up to eleven, with the barest hint of a wait-and-see backstory casually thrown in. I couldn’t even stomach watching him, let alone find a reason to give a shit. The dialogue certainly doesn’t help; with lines like “I don’t time to deal with the mentally ill” delivered without even a hint of irony.

Maybe deep characterisation doesn’t have to be a key criterion for a show like this, but if so at least make the violence intense and visceral like they were in Titan and Muv Luv. Instead, we’re treated to a slow, drawn out death sequences as sad music plays, serving no purpose other to try and wring some cheap emotion it hasn’t earned on a character we’ve never met, as the camera scrolls lovingly across her blood-stained, skin-tight suit and novelty-sized tits, just in case for a second you’d dare forget its dating-sim roots. And this is all prior to the pseudo-imouto being introduced. Just go down the list and tick the boxes. The show feels like a parody. Only it isn’t: it plays this completely straight-faced. There’s something extremely fucked up about that.

I was never expecting much from a Muv Luv spin-off, but this takes Total Eclipse look like a masterpiece in comparison.

 

Divine Gate (Episode 1)

[HorribleSubs] Divine Gate - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_14.30_[2016.01.22_23.06.31]

It says a lot that I could barely recall a thing about the first episode within an hour of watching. I definitely remember it opening a pretentious monologue in the rain before throwing up some conflict involving a cackling, crazy-eyed villain who only seemed to be included to exposit the half-baked world mythology, just in case you didn’t read a Wikipedia synopsis beforehand. The show even cuts away from him to help visualise it like one of those blurry screen flashbacks you see in bad sitcoms. Yeah, we’re talking about that level of writing. Well, whatever; my mind washed over the specifics as they were being recited so no loss there.

Anyway, then we get to spend time with our super powerful, yet vacuous main character, apparently all broody and indifferent because of *insert tragic flashback here*. He’s an emotional black hole for the viewer to insert themselves into, yet we’re repeated told how deep and conflicted he is because other characters see it in his eyes. This is actually a trick you can do with real-life editing; in which showing an audience someone with a blank expression next to a variety of happy or sad scenes will cause their mind to equate that person with the tone of the moment; however, it doesn’t quite work in an animated medium. Instead you just see through the façade and witness people describing personality traits rather than showing them. There are literally no visual ticks to pick up on; rather it treats characterisation like looking into an animal’s eyes and seeing your own expectations and emotions mirrored back at you.

So yes, it’s another poorly written mess with an almost comical level of stone-faced gravitas. Divine Gate wants you to think it’s all deep and edgy and whatever throwaway words best describe a show pretending to be more than a collection of tropes. If the strings were any more apparently it’d be a literal puppet show.

 

Norn9 (Episode 1-2)

[HorribleSubs] Norn9 - Norn+Nonet - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.30_[2016.01.22_23.07.55]

And here we have an adaptation of an otome game that came out for the psp, with about the level of quality you could expect from that description.

The premise itself seems relatively fine, placing a bunch of youths from random points in time on a floating sphere in the sky, apparently destined to do battle with one another. The picturesque walled garden that serves as a flying fortress against the outside world appeals to me quite a bit, although that’s probably because it reminds me Simoun. What little’s been given away of the plot serves as an excuse to act mysterious in lieu of having actual substance, with the sense that the show is smugly dangling a carrot in front of your nose with the promise that things with become more serious and impactful in time. Judging by the quality of the writing so far I’ll hazard a guess that whatever tricks it has up its sleeve will likely be pulled out of its arse, with technobabble replacing story structure.

Let’s be frank, even if the aesthetics are pleasant enough, the characters and dialogue in Norn9 kills it in the crib. The lead female is the standard wilting lily you find in these adaptations, existing chiefly to gasp and blush and be all pretty and subservient around the men. Fortunately it’s not quite as rapey as Diabolik Lovers or Amnesia were, but somehow even more dull, with her entire story arc in the first two episodes consisting of going all gooey-eyed for peach trees. At a certain point I realised you could overlay Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs over the main cast and it would be a perfect fit. Everyone’s been given one or two traits and every action or line of dialogue is meant to re-enforce their stereotypes, without the slightest possibility of being able to deviate from them. It’s robot logic and makes the show insufferable to watch.

Here’s some bishies, here’s some gentle frolicking around, here’s some bs conflict. Go.

 

Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue (Episode 1)

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Brain-dead moe archetypes talk about nothing, blush, say ‘oishii!’ and get involved in romantic misunderstandings. Also they have flying shoes, the only unique part the show, although honestly it looks like another one those ‘insert activity here’ ideas to pad out all the vacuous niceties under a vague guise of substance. I’ve got no issue with someone trying to sell me a budget version of quidditch, but at least attempt to make a game people would actually want to play. This lacks a sense of magic, both figuratively and literally.

 

Galko-chan

[HorribleSubs] Oshiete! Galko-chan - 02 [1080p].mkv_snapshot_00.22_[2016.01.22_23.09.18]

There isn’t a lot to say about Galko-chan, being a seven minute comedy about girls talking about vaguely dirty stuff. Mainly I just want people to watch it. I was expecting nothing but a load of sex jokes, and while that is technically the case, it isn’t the usual scenario of boobs-size jokes and fanservice equalling humour, but a series of rambling conversations dealing with urban myths by some inexperienced idiots. It gets the kind of bullshit chats teenagers often have during those years, when hearsay takes over from common sense. Honestly, it’s far closer to a gender-swapped, slightly more risqué version of Daily Lives of High School Boys. That sentence alone means I’m here to the end.

 

Sekkou Boys

[HorribleSubs] Sekkou Boys - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_03.40_[2016.01.22_23.10.24]

Another short about famous busts of antiquity (not the kind you’re probably thinking of) becoming idols. I’m honestly becoming a little jaded with these types of show, as the humour in the gimmick they throw out often runs dry after a couple of episodes. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think that’s part due to putting the focus on the new manager, who’s far more energetic and entertaining than any of the statues. She’s fun enough that I can see myself sticking with the show.

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