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Hey Spitz, What’ve You Been Watching? December 2016

December 28, 2016

やっと終わったね! Can you believe it? 2016 is finally over! At long last we can all move on with our collective lives!
Something that separates anime from television and film entertainment in the West is a given series’ lifetime run. Where in the States, if a series is seen as successful, it will continue until the end of time as long as it is making money, and will be rebooted or remade if it isn’t, one of the interesting things about anime is that, outside of maybe shounen series such as Naruto, a series is fortunate to get more than a second season and maybe a feature film here or there.
I’ve always been a stickler for quality over quantity, so this appeals to me quite a bit, even if there are many series out there (and more and more by the season, as evidenced later in this article) which I’d love to see more of, but with unsure chances at seeing that happen. Much like with how an occurrence or a feeling is more impactful the rarer it is, anime series are able to strike a stronger chord with their audiences by being conservative about sequels or continuations, and this is something I wish Western movies and especially television would adhere to more.
The Fall anime season was strong. Here’s what I watched:
 

wwkcoxBrave Witches-
In alternate history 1944, humanity continues to battle the shocking power of the Neuroi.
Due greatly in part to the recent victories of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, the “Strike Witches”, humanity has seen a newfound hope. The Neuroi are strong, but they aren’t invincible, and if the war is winnable, these Witches are the key.
Walking in the wake of a successful older sibling is never easy, but while she lacks the physical and magical strength of her big sister, Karibuchi Hikari is nonetheless determined to one day match her. Lacking the skill and talent of her peers however, limits her ability to do so.
As she is visited by her big sister, who is to be stationed with the 502nd JFW in Eastern Europe, a turn of events sees her placed in her sister’s shoes, and desperately trying to find the respect of her new comrades.
Will Hikari drag them down and stamp out any hope of seizing Europe from the clutches of the Neuroi, or will she and the Brave Witches become another symbol of hope for humanity?

What I thought- “Lacking the production quality of its forebears.”
I’m conflicted about this series. On the one hand, it was terrific to see the war with the Neuroi from another angle, and to be introduced to a large cast of new characters, each with their own perks and traits, and work was done to give the characters their individual times to shine; but the glaring problem I had with this series, which persisted from the otherwise strong first episode all the way to the final one, is that this series is visually pretty rough.
CG characters in particular are harshly overused, and often in shots which, as a viewer with middling understanding for the production process, seem unnecessary, which makes their use feel less to ease the burden of animating or drawing a difficult scene, and instead just doing it in CG because “we already rendered those models, so why not use them”. I won’t use the word “lazy”, because it’s needlessly unkind and very likely untrue, but it does feel as though they took the easy way out on the visuals in this series, and from a production studio with a solid track record as far as anime visuals go, I was surprised and disappointed.
This wouldn’t be as damning if this series’ predecessor, Strike Witches, hadn’t had great visuals.
Like Strike Witches though, I’m happy to say that Brave Witches succeeds with its character. The 502nd is a lively bunch, and being stationed in a somewhat harsher location geographically, the series does manage to feel different than that of the 501st’s exploits. Hikaru in particular is a great protagonist, and though originating from Fuso much like Miyafuji before her, her individual narrative and motivations are not at all similar.
If you were a fan of Strike Witches, there are things to enjoy here, but if you’re only interested in the military moe aspects of this series, might I recommend Girls und Panzer or this year’s excellent Highschool Fleet instead.
For those looking for character, Brave Witches will treat you to a host of memorable protagonists distinct of their Strike Witches forebears, but if you’re coming for the action or the general production, it leaves much to be desired.
 

23462346Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume-
What drives you to play table tennis? Is it the spirit of competition? The opportunity to meet new people and to make new friends over a shared interest? Is it to prove to yourself that you can be the best there is at something? Or is it something more than words; something which can only be found and can only be felt in the middle of a heated match?
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume is the tale of the ultra-shy Tsumujikaze Koyori and the twin-tailed Kamiya Agari, their middle-school table tennis club’s go at reaching Nationals, and the heated matches of table tennis which occur on that winding road.

What I thought- “Intense and insightful.”
Shakunetsu, similar to something like Kill la Kill, is one of those series which, should you attempt to explain it to a stranger, it will make you sound like a Crazyperson. Unlike Kill la Kill however, there are no ridiculous concepts selling this series. On paper, and in broad sweeping terms, in execution, it truly is just an anime series about very nicely designed cute anime ladies with bright personalities playing table tennis.
It is not until you witness said table tennis however, that it starts to make sense.
This is one of the most expertly produced series I have encountered when it comes to things such as audio cues, shot composition and selling intensity through animation. These simple table tennis matches manage to make you feel like the world is shattering, and when a character on the verge of losing a rally digs down to nail a clutch return, it’s nothing short of a watershed moment.
Caring about who wins or loses only works if you’re invested in the characters, and their personalities outside of matches were clearly developed by an individual who understands the mind of a competitive person. Feeling compelled to win and hating yourself for losing but using that as a springboard to improve, ego, the high of adrenaline found in intense moments, the desire to perform to someone else’s standards – it’s more than cute anime ladies and table tennis paddles, and through some great writing and some equally as great character designs, they just nail it.
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume was the series I didn’t know I wanted this season, but it very quickly became my go-to, and I want nothing more but to see more from it in the future. If you’re a competitive person, or just want to witness the most scorching table tennis competition you can imagine, do not pass this one up.
 

mahou-shoujo-ikusei-keikakuMahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku-
Himekawa Koyuki has been a huge fan of magical girls since she was young, though she could rarely find that special friend who appreciates them as she does until one fateful day.
A few years later, Koyuki signs up to play a fun but seemingly harmless mobile game with the hopes of living out her magical girl fantasies, and to her great bewilderment, she is chosen by the game to become an actual magical girl!
Thus begins the career of Koyuki’s magical girl persona, Snow White, as she uses her new powers to help people as best she can.

What I thought- “Enrapturing despite its flaws.”
Given the vintage of the light novels from which the anime series is based off of, it seems a little harsh and rather unfair to accuse this series of riding the coattails of the more modern take on the magical girl genre, most notably Madoka Magica, but given Mahoiku’s tone and content, it’s nevertheless fitting to compare the two.
Unlike Madoka however, once the nature of the world is revealed, Mahoiku goes for the jugular with its depictions of violence and tragedy, which is undeniably my least favorite aspect of the series.
Where Mahoiku stumbles, it also excels though. This series has a large cast of wonderfully designed characters with unique (and in some cases, rather innovative) abilities or origins for the genre, and their personalities are each distinct and executed well.
I didn’t get everything I wanted out of the plot, but it is told in an interesting way. Allegiances are formed and devotions are proclaimed, and if the dialogue and moment to moment happenings of this series were removed from the Magical Girl setting, it would be a perfect fit for a historical period drama.
It’s beautiful to look at as well. A large amount of this series takes place during the night, and despite this, scenes are still vibrant and inviting. The character designs are pretty busy, but grew on me after awhile, and stylistically I love the absurd names of the various characters’ transformed personas; Swim Swim and Top Speed being a few favorites.
Mahoiku has its highs and its lows, but all great series do, and while there were things I greatly disliked about it, I was admittedly quite impressed with it overall.
The tone and contents of its story aren’t anything new, but Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku’s moment to moment narrative is unpredictable and uniquely handled, and it’s told by a cast of colorful and memorable characters who each somehow manage to steal the show in their own way. 
 

img_9_mShuumatsu no Izetta-
In an alternate history in which Europe was engulfed by war, wrought on by the relentless march of the Germanian empire, Shuumatsu no Izetta tells the story of Ortfine Fredericka von Eylstadt, heir to the throne of the small country of Eylstadt.
With Germania breathing down her frail country’s neck and hopes for finding a future through alliances being smashed, the looming fall of her beloved country is all but realized.
But when all is but lost, Fine crosses paths with a fiery-red haired acquaintance from the past, and in doing unleashes the awesome power of magic upon the world.
In a conflict lost to wartime intrigue however, is even the power of a witch enough to turn the tide?

What I thought- “Heavy Metal Concept. Moe-tinged Execution.”
There is very little about this series that I don’t love. Conceptually, the image of a witch riding a huge rifle into battle in place of a traditional broom is the sort of imagery you don’t encounter much anymore; if you’ll forgive my simple-minded brevity, it’s a very “from the male mind for the male mind” image, which in today’s world is quite rare, and thus, very refreshing to see.
While it’s all good and fun, concepts like a beautiful woman straddling a rifle don’t tell great stories, but rather narrative and character. Luckily for Izetta, there’s more here than just eye-candy, and this is a series which does well to provide a narrative strong enough to lift it well above its fan-service.
Both Izetta and Fine are wonderful, and rounded out by a strong cast of supporting and antagonistic characters, their friendship and willingness to sacrifice for what they believe in is nicely encapsulated. The story takes place in an alternate history where the countries of the world have very silly names, but save for the chuckles produced every time “The United States of Atlanta” is said aloud, the conflict depicted in this series is, excluding Izetta’s magic of course, a very grounded and human depiction of war.
The battle sequences not involving Izetta are nicely animated and often large in scale, and those which she does participate in are stunning. Izetta is a force to be reckoned with, and her strength and willpower are reinforced through nice animation and a unique soundtrack.
There are a couple arguably dull slice-of-life character moments interrupting the intrigue and the action, but otherwise this is a very nicely paced series which does a good job at waiting to unfurl its secrets or to present twists until recent events have had time to breathe.
 Wartime intrigue. Unwavering friendship. Awe-striking action. Shuumatsu no Izetta is a nicely produced series strong in style and substance, with a cast of great characters and a narrative which tells stories of both large and small scales synonymously.
 

14dc5dd9996409c7dbc07cd999b67bab1475530631_fullAnime de Training! Xx-
Can you feel it? That burning feeling? No?
Fear not for those flabs of unwanted body mass, for a host of cheerful and chipper anime ladies are here to bust you into shape!
Whether it’s through the training drills presented by Asami, Eri and friends, or simply residual effects of their unflinchingly bright demeanors, your heart is soon to be aflutter, and those self-conscious fears for your own health and well-being are sure to be forgotten!

What I thought- “More of the same.”
I thought there was a novelty to the first person presentation of Anime de Training!’s first season, though it wasn’t firm enough with it. Much is the same this time around.
Characters will refer to you and speak to you directly, but the shot composition is all-the-way not coupled to your perspective as a character within the scene. This shot composition is, I feel, going to be the primary hurdle for a lot of people to hop over before they can see the merit of this series. These cute anime ladies are fawned over to a degree at which even as someone who rarely bats an eye at such a thing, I was sitting there thinking “c’mon guys, it’s getting embarassing”.
Mirroring the first season’s flaws further is the run time and presentation of the exercises, in that they are entirely too brief for one to hope to get any sort of workout from, making the fan-service feel like even more of the overall point of this series. That’s fine if it’s what you’re after, but there are ideas in this series which if done properly could produce something far more interesting or meaningful than “hey look at how cute this anime lady’s belly is”.
Short of run time, huge on fan-service. Anime de Training! Xx doubles down on what it achieved in its first season; whether that is appealing or unfortunate will depend solely on you.
 

mahou-shoujo-nante-mou-ii-desukara-2nd-seasonMahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara. Second Season-
Continuing where the first left off, Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara’s second season gives us a sight into the day by day life of Hanami Yuzuka, negligent and otherwise uninterested magical girl.
Joining her is her best friend Chiya and the hapless punching bag of a familiar known as Miton.

What I thought- “This series needs a full run time!”
This series is admittedly a guilty pleasure, and I’m both shocked and elated that it got a second season.
Similar to the first, episodes of the second season are each a four minute espresso shot of moe, with a collection of inventive magical girl outfits and a endearing degree of magical familiar torture on show.
Yuzuka’s friends get more screen time this time around, which is great, and while I still feel like I’d love to see what this series could be with a full run time, the short structure gets the job done for the small scope of its narrative (if you’d even call it that).
Watching the series one episode per week during the Fall anime season led to some slight frustration, as some episodes lead up to something just to cut and make you wait to see what it was all about, but that frustration is very minor in a series which goes out of its way to be as inoffensively cute as possible.
A series shorter than I feel it deserves, Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desu Kara’s second season is more of the endearing cute found in the first season, but with more attention given to side characters.
 

286229a1d4b2f62b6e1ce56420f1433e_contentKaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku-
In time past, humanity struggled with the devastating power of monstrous Kaijuu.
Having prevailed, the people of Earth have continued on with their everyday lives, residing soundly within their newfound bubble of peace and prosperity.
Lurking within their ranks however, reside girls who are more than human. Girls who harbor the uncanny souls of Kaijuu within them, and should they discover the ability to draw from this power, none can say the terror which these Kaijuu Girls might unleash.

What I thought- “Instantly forgettable.”
I’ve said it before numerous times and I’ll continue to say it: shorts are tough.
You only have a few minutes to get in there and do something memorable or endearing, should it be a joke, a silly moe character moment, a plot development, a character introduction; it needs to be quick and it needs to be written such to grab your attention, but leave you chuckling or otherwise thinking about what just transpired in the time following.
This series does none of that.
It looks great, this much I’ll admit. The character designs are chibi but detailed, and the general style of the visuals are quite distinct, with its thick black outlines and what-have-you.
The problem is, that I’d be severely hard-pressed to name a character, or even remember something that transpired during an episode. I think I remember one of the characters throwing a car at some point?
It’s a fine premise for a series, even a series of shorts, but it provided none of what I thought I wanted going into it, and left very little of an impression whatsoever.
As series of moe shorts go, Kaijuu Girls pales in comparison to other series out there. It looks nice, but nothing interesting happens, and even with a premise as rock-solid as “moe anime ladies that transform into monsters to tear $%^@ up”, rather than bringing the goods, it just sort of exists. It asks very little time out of you, but it’s tough even then to recommend it.
 

fbNobunaga no Shinobi-
Taking place within Japan’s Warring States Period, Nobunaga no Shinobi tells the tale of female shinobi Chidori, who, after being saved by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, devotes herself to serving him in the war.
Along for the journey is Chidori’s companion Sukezou, and together with a cast of bright supporting characters, the duo partakes in a host of wartime tom-foolery.

What I thought- “As funny as it is short.”
Kaijuu Girls take note! This is how you do it.
This series does wonders with its comedy, which uses the abrupt pacing often utilized in shorts to add to its punchlines. The setting is utilized well, with tales of the warring states depicted in a brief but effective way.
Chidori is much of the focus of each episode, but she’s backed up by a small but strong cast of supporting characters, and the very cartoony style of its presentation somehow manages to make even bloody battles funny.
Nobunaga no Shinobi is a comedic series of shorts done well. It rolls up its sleeves, tosses a few cute characters at you, has them say or do some very funny things and then rolls credits. If you’re short on time and looking for a laugh, give it a shot.
 

There were some winners in there this season for sure. It’s been cold and dreary already, but the character-driven drama of Mahoiku and the intensity of Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume in particular have given me much to look forward to in the weeks past. As far as anime series to shut the door on an arduous year go, the Fall season did not disappoint.
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the Year End Article and seeing some much welcome time off of work for the holiday. I hope to see you there!
(last year this month)
来年までね。

From → Anime

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