Winter 2016 Review – The Dropped List

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Now that the season is finally coming to an end I figured I’d write something about the shows I ended up dropping, prior to the actual reviews. All in all the expectation that winter 2016 would turn out a dud largely ended up on the money, which is something of a shame considering there was quite a bit of initial promise. It certainly wasn’t a complete wasteland out there, with several series (and a few shorts) keeping my interest throughout, but the drop-off seemed particularly steep this time round. Maybe I’ve gotten better at screening out series that aren’t quite to my tastes or maybe more discerning in general. I guess thinking of what I would write about them has proved a powerful aid in acknowledging whether they’re worth the time invested.

Anyway, seeing as I’m giving a brief overview of the shows that got kicked to the curb midway through the season, I may as well mention a few I didn’t even bother with, or at least dropped after an episode. Aijin, for example, never streamed, but even if it did, the cut-rate cg looked so awful and jerky than it made Sidonia looked professional by comparison, crossing my poor artistry/decent story threshold. Konosuba ended up being quite a hit in some quarters, but even ignoring the hideous animation, its combination of otaku/mmo tropes and mean-spirited humour couldn’t will me past the first episode. It’s cool that people seemed fond of it, but I’ve been burned enough times to realise that raging hype is never an incentive to pick anything up if you already know your feelings towards it (cough, Symphogear!). Then there’s Shirayuki, which only proved to me during season one that avoiding all the usual pitfalls of a shoujo series doesn’t automatically equate to caring about the characters. I feel guilty for being so lukewarm, but by various accounts S2 was pretty hit and miss, so I’ll treat it as a bullet dodged. Finally there’s stuff like Schwarzesmarken, Norn9, and Divine Gate which I already gave my reasons for dropping in the first impressions posts back in January.

 

Dimension W – 6 episodes

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My heart really goes out to Funimation for deciding to become part of the production committee to help finance this. I mean on paper you can see how it might tick many of the boxes a more mainstream anime fan might be interested in. You’ve got a unique sci-fi premise with a focus on action and adventure, with a tough adult lead and sexy super-powered robot sidekick rather than the usual whiny magic high school students. This had the potential to be a huge hit with the types of fans that liked Cowboy Bebop or Attack on Titan. And yet it seems to have been forgotten before the season even ended. Even the episodic summaries on the Wikipedia have been abandoned halfway through.

Watching the show, it’s pretty easy to see why. While it technically apes the appearance of a western sci-fi, It ultimately feels little more than one of those mediocre light novels you get tend of get every season (Divine Gate anyone?), just with most of the normal otaku nods cut out. The problem is what you’re left with is a series with very little to do or say. Most of the focus in the episodes I watched was based around the sparse and rather uncomfortable relationship between Kyoma and Mira, which mainly consisted of the latter being upbeat and enthusiastic, and the latter gruff and physically/mentally abusive. In six episodes that was all there was to their dynamic, and judging by discussions I’ve seen it doesn’t significantly change. The characters never seemed to grow or get called out on their actions, instead stagnating in a pool of their own potential.

I think in general Dimension W lacked any real directorial or artistic push behind it, which combined with the pretty lacklustre writing of the source material, created a show that was left wanting for enthusiasm or effort. The villains were crazy-eyed maniacs, the plot relied on cliché tragic backstories and random terminology/proper nouns in place of depth, while the action scenes felt choppy and disconnected, like I was watching Quantum of Solace all over again. Add to this the gross way Mira was treated, both in her treatment by Kyoma and from repeatedly being sexualised in submissive or restrained situations, while simultaneously playing up her naïve, childlike personality traits, and you’re left with something that really starts to leaves a sour impression. That’s an ecchi archetype, not a character from a supposedly plot-driven show. Surely nobody needs another Elfin Lied?

I guess my early misgivings towards the lack of output from Studio 3Hz and the previous works from Kanta Kamei turned out to be true. I’d still like to think Usagi Drop wasn’t a fluke, but at the very least he should probably stay away from action sci-fi series in the future. I may dislike his other works (Nanana, Oreshura, Saekano) but at least he felt a natural fit for the material.

 

Active Raid – 5 episodes

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Now speaking of shows people seemed to forget…

To be fair, I still appreciate the sentiment behind trying to reimagine the comedic ineptness of 80’s procedural shows like Patlabor and Dominion Tank Police in a modern setting. However, the reasons behind their popularity lie as much in the time period’s aesthetic style and the artistic talent working on them rather than just the general premise. The characters in those shows may have been simple, but they were clearly more than a collection of archetypes. The same sadly can’t be said for the cast of Active Raid, who rely more on tropes to sell themselves, from the genki leader, to no-nonsense stick-in-the-mood.

Not that there’s zero trace of creative writing to be found, with the odd joke (eg the mecha’s activation spamware) showing what could have been, but there’s simply not enough of it. Beyond those moments there seemed little to distinguish the show in any way. The animation was serviceable but unspectacular in detail or framing, while the adult character designs looked barebones to the point of feeling ageless and indistinct from your mid-range highschool slice of life anime. I mean episode two opens with a scene of what you believe to be Rin, the squad’s section leader, getting dressed, prior to the reveal that it’s her school-aged sister (stay classy anime!), with the implied joke being that Rin apparently looks young because she has slightly bigger eyes. Sigh.

There was plenty of focus towards political corruption bureaucratic red tape but five episodes in and it just seemed like window dressing for general griping to pad out the story rather than say anything significant. The Patlabor ovas managed to pull this approach off my making these details incidental in the moment and secondary to the cast, slowly peppering in details to give you an understanding of the situation without being overly direct, but Active Raid takes these scenes a bit too seriously while failing to construct much in the way of a cohesive narrative. I’m sure the story would have come to a head at some point, but I didn’t see much evidence that the overall point would have been worth the investment. I simply wasn’t having enough fun in terms of comedy, and I can happily wait for the second season of Concrete Revolutio to air if I want to see a show that genuinely seems to care about what it has to say.

 

Musaigen no Phantom World – 10 episodes

Musaigen no Phantom World - 12 3.28.40]

I think this probably the first show I’ve seen by Kyoani that left both its hardcore fanbase and general light novel crowd utterly unimpressed (there was Nichijou, but at least people in the west seemed to like it). There have been a few people mentioning episodes like the loli character’s dream or the surrogate mother story as arguments of there being some merit to be found, but having watched both episodes I just wasn’t feeling it. You need some measure of emotional investment to care even a little, and from beginning to end Phantom World was nothing more than a collection of tropes, with barely a hint of personality to anyone or anything in it. There’s not a single line of dialogue or action that you haven’t seen in another show from the last few years. It’s to fantasy light novels what Nisekoi is to the harem genre: retread upon retread.

For all that, the visuals and need for something light and easy kept me watching longer than I probably should have, but I can’t help but feel the time was ultimately misspent. It even isn’t that originality has to be the only merit for a show’s worth, but there needs to be something, however small that sets one show apart from another. Kyonani’s previous forays into light novel territory with the likes of Beyond the Boundary, Chuunibyou and Amagi Brilliant Park hardly set the world alight in terms of storytelling or humour but there was always a line or image per episode that would surprise you. Phantom World, on the other hand, is pretty much the definition of an empty calorie show. Eventually my eyes just started wandering over the screen and I had to call it a day.

 

Dagashi Kashi – 9 episodes

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So yeah, as predicted, Dagashi Kashi’s premise couldn’t really sustain itself for an entire season. Hotaru shows up, talks a bunch about a particular type of candy to tickle the nostalgia funnybone of the audience, and makes a few innuendos along the way. Rinse and repeat. It’s a fun idea to explore in an ova or a bunch of shorts, but its singular gimmick that couldn’t really sustain an entire full cour series.

In one regard, unfamiliarity with the show’s culturally specific subject matter certainly doesn’t help, but I still ascribe to the belief that with strong enough material you can overcome that barrier. Take Joshiraku from a few years ago: it was mostly based on wordplay and puns that gave the fansubbers an aneurism trying to adapt into a logical English script, yet still felt creative and entertaining, even when you often didn’t quite get the joke. In contrast Dagashi plays things safe and doesn’t really branch out to try new ideas, relying on its token love triangle to help pick up the slack, which, as the date episode unfortunately reveals, also runs out of steam remarkably quickly.

 

Haruchika – 7 episodes

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I probably ended up having unreasonably high expectations of this due to the goodwill imparted by Sound Euphonium last year, bypassing my usual reservations towards P.A. Works shows; i.e. they might have a unique premise, but the focus usually homed in on teenage angst rather than the setting or underlying ideas. I’ve been burned before by Angel Beats, Hanasaku Iroha, Nagi-Asu, Glassslip and Charlotte, so it’s really my own fault for hoping the show wouldn’t revert to a format that I don’t personally connect with.

I get that these stories have an audience, but I was really only interested in the brass band and mystery aspects, which were largely underserved. The first seven episodes consisted of literally getting the band together, the dullest part of most stories, through character of the week drama, while the actual musical progression happened off-screen. The backstories did have some interesting details to them, but the heavily melodramatic presentation was always a bit too much to take seriously.

A Snufkin lookalike did apparently show up in later episode, so it’ll always have that going for it.

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