Hitsugi no Chaika
First on this list of praise is a show I was initially skeptical about because of how it seemed on the surface. If you look at this show superficially, it’s a simple story about a mysterious girl on a fetch quest who hires two siblings to travel with her as bodyguards, all while facing heroes, villains, and monsters alike. What I didn’t see in that first glance is how this simple plot line was used to build-up a war-torn world that recently reached peace by fighting a common enemy, but at the cost of leaving thousands dependent on it to live and multiple schemers hiding in the background. This is a hostile fantasy world where unicorns are man-eating demons, nobles value conflict over peace, victims are rarely kept alive, magic runs at the cost of human memories, and the knights in shining armor are either youngsters too low to speak back or the mercenaries drenched in blood. But much like Adventure Time, it still delivers a light-hearted adventure beyond all the dark subtext.
Much of this can be attributed to the characters, particularly our main trio. The Saboteur siblings Toru and Akari clearly see benefit in conflict considering their background, but they still have enough of a moral center to see killing as a means rather than a goal. Chaika Trabant may seem helpless compared to these two, but her goal for finding her father’s remains fits her childish innocence and she’s more than capable with a magic sniper rifle. Despite the relationship being that of a client and her hired guards, the chemistry between these 3 feels natural, never forcing jokes or emotions to have viewers invested. The sarcastic wit of the siblings bounce well off of Chaika’s naive nature, and it’s nice to see them grow as a team while facing each danger along the way. I even thought the romance between Chaika and Toru was subtle and believable, never overplaying their emotions to make their feelings clear as day. It’s because of these 3, and a colorful cast of side characters(Gillete’s corps, Frederica, former war heroes, OTHER CHAIKA’S), that the show managed to paint its identity without shoving the little details at the screen.
Though this character-based storytelling does come at some costs. While enough of the fantasy is explained to not disrupt the story, there’s definitely a sense that a bigger universe is left unexplored and it feels like a missed opportunity for further immersion. Another complaint I have is that around the 3rd quarter of the show, it drags on with barely significant plot points and a lack of memorable character moments. Yes there’s some bizarre situations involving the magic body parts, background info involving the world’s history, and smaller character moments to lighten up the tone. Furthermore, I know that a fetch quest like this is supposed to lead to some duller destinations once in a while. But most of these are either too minor to care about, lack any immediate impact, or too monotonous to catch my interest after a similar scene several eps ago. The only parts that really matter are some backstories given to the characters, a handful of added magic details, and some romantic moments between Toru and Chaika. And even with that, I felt like more action or drama could have sufficed.
But what saves this fantasy epic from falling apart is that it knew its weakest aspects and focused on its strong points. The art and animation couldn’t look consistently smooth, so it saved its budget for the plentiful action scenes while leaving enough detail in the other parts. The story couldn’t constantly bring excitement or terror, so it made the characters handle most of the show’s content. And while I complained about the 3rd quarter being dull, the last 3 eps deliver a climax that had me on the edge of my seat, satisfied with the conclusion, and excited for the surprisingly early announced sequel (seriously, it was announced when this was at ep 4). Expect the 2nd season in a post similar to this.
Date A Live 2
I had no interest in continuing Love Live after the first season(at least until it became the best selling bluray volume in japan) and I hadn’t watched the previous Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure or Mushishi, which were the 2 most hyped sequels of the season. Therefore, the only sequel that I had any chance on writing about was this one. The first Date A Live was a big success, but I personally found it overrated by the masses. Taking a premise as ridiculous as this in a serious tone really took the fun out of whatever the show offered, and the characters didn’t stand out aside from blandness, predictability, or uselessness. It had some neat visuals and a fairly good soundtrack, but it was too goofy to take the drama seriously and too serious to claim it was a parody.
I went into this season expecting more of that, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The visuals and music did get a downgrade, the girls still have the mentality of hamsters(at least the spirits), and the formula of subduing spirits remains unchanged. But what made me actually like this season is that it knew how to balance it’s tone and properly utilize old characters into new stories. Furthermore, Shido is no longer the bland lead who blindly follows Ratatoskr for dating advice. He takes action when danger calls, expresses his emotions at the risk of the spirit’s happiness, and plays a vital part in the overall story while providing questions on whether he’s still human. Couple that with both Origami and Kurumi redeeming themselves from their annoying first impressions and you have a sequel that’s morphed a skeptical into a fan. And with the announcement of both a 2nd ova and a movie, I bid good luck to this still-overrated-but-promising franchise.
Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
Nowadays it’s hard to come across a romantic comedy that doesn’t try to pander to a specific audience. Not to say they can’t be effective at bringing jokes and tears, but every year I look for that one love story or slice-of-life that isn’t crowded by cliches. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou may not be the most original concept for a slice-of-life romcom (Maison Ikkoku), but it’s one of the few that doesn’t have to rely on popular taste to be funny, sweet, or touching. And the secret is proudly proclaimed at the end of each episode; make it about the most hilarious, yet pitiful people imaginable and have them be a family.
When it comes to the comedy, it plays on their abnormalities as a cruel punchline. Shirosaki’s masochism backfires any insults headed towards him, Mayumi and Sayaka constantly fight over their differing success with men, and Usa’s attempts at courting Ritsu are easily shot down by his status as a babysitter for weirdos and her addiction to literature. While certainly exaggerated for comedic value, they all have a relatable backbone to wish for their success and laugh at their spectacular falls.
When it’s not taking a piss out of itself though, the drama is surprisingly grounded in reality and finds a way to make these relationships sincere. Despite how content they seem at never changing, the residents of Kawaisou all want to be accepted as regular people, and that always involves trouble with others perceptions. Sure they never dig deep into anyone’s problems, but none of these conflicts derive from annoying tropes or one-note trouble makers. The “villains” are all people who depend on social acceptance like them, and the solution for each reveals that it’s ok to be perceived as weird as long as there’s one group of friends/family that has you back.
And that theme plays a huge part in the romance as well. It might have started as a one-sided crush, but Usa and Ritsu have a relationship that slowly grows into something precious. Usa may have the occasional perverted fantasy and mild case of possessiveness, but his attempts at getting closer to her are sincere and even offers helpful advice to her when needed. Ritsu may act cold to others when trapped in her books, but she does find comfort in associating with Usa and even defends him when he’s ridiculed in public. Sure they don’t go beyond exchanging cellphone numbers, but the connection between them is strong enough to leave me satisfied and hopeful for a 2nd season. And yes this is much longer than it should be, but that shows how much I love this show. Brain’s Base did a fantastic job here, and both me and my friends are dying for more.
ANIME OF THE SEASON PICKS(that I didn’t blog)
Ping Pong the Animation
With a budget lower than Kill la Kill and a sport as small as ping pong, it was a wise decision to make this about the people and style. “Masaaki Yuasa” is someone I personally consider the king of crazy in anime, and his style is ever-present despite the lacking budget. Surreal metaphorical images, distorted body figures contrasting realistic designs(though that’s more Matsumoto Taiyo), constantly changing camera angles or animation style, and a frame pace rivaling that of Akiyuki Shinbo is all part of what grabbed my attention here regardless of the lack of actual movement or detail consistency. The tone is kept at a semi-goofy level that feels silly enough to laugh with, but not enough to ignore the overall serious story.
And I mean that last statement because even with the surreal style and its identity as a sports show, Yuasa still captures the monotonous nature of everyday life that comes with the competition for success. The dreams and bonds that make up a sports anime are still present, but it isn’t championed or idealized like what a sports anime should be like. In fact the ping pong tournaments themselves are little more than segues for a group of people(kids and adults) trying to find what they value most in life. And thank god the characters could hold up to that statement, because all of them feel like genuine people and have their own conclusion by the very end. To be honest, i’m at a loss for words on describing how good this show is that I don’t think I can properly expand on it. So I’ll just leave it with this: the budget is the only thing keeping me from giving this a perfect score.
Sidonia no Kishi
I promised before that I would indeed blog this, but dealing with high school graduation and the departure of both our writers led to scheduling hell. But really it doesn’t matter because this show can best be described with one word: Thrilling. The world-building is masterful, the action scenes are grand, the mysteries are thought-provoking, and the threat of death has never been so brutal and ever-present this season. Yes the pacing is a bit too fast at points, leaving little time for character moments or emotional weight to sink in. And yes the fact that it’s completely animated in computer graphics may be off-putting. Yet none of this holds back from making these characters distinguishable, the sci-fi fascinating, the mech fights exciting, and making both the Gauna or immortal council any less terrifying. I know that this is short, and I know that i’ve barely mentioned anything about this show. But trust me when I say i’m doing a favor here by leaving this in the dark. This is certainly a harsh world to visit, but it’s rich with ideas of what scientific extremes humans will reach when pushed to the brink of extinction. A toast to the upcoming sequel and yet another vague post such as this.
Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
When I first saw the poster for this show, I did not expect it to become one of my favorite shows of this season. I went into this expecting a supernatural slice-of-life with constant pandering and cliche stereotypes. Instead I got the equivalent of an anime adaptation of Indiana Jones, filled with treasures of mysterious powers and a race among thieves where loyalty is always questionable. And it’s well-paced, funny, action-packed, has memorable characters, and never as simplistic as it initially seems.
In fact the thing that really grabbed me about this show was how ambitious it was. The treasure hunt aspect is already enough to chew on, but they seamlessly entwine the adventure with several multi-layered mysteries, each with an effective character arc as its backbone. The murder mystery of Nanana leads to a bigger mystery of the students that founded the island full of ruins while also questioning her life goal as a pudding-eating gamer ghost. The initially villainous adventure club members establishes the uneven trust amongst these treasure hunters while also shedding light on how the danger of these hunts affected previous members. Tensai and Yukihime expand the competition for these treasures by sharing their groups motivations while establishing a personal relationship with our lead. And let’s not forget our leading man Juugo, whos true identity in ep 4 provided one of the most shocking character 180s i’ve witnessed in a while, shedding his initial goofball persona in an entirely different light.
My point here is that i’ll be furious if this doesn’t get a sequel. There are so many mysteries left unresolved, so much ruins left to explore, and overall fun to be had. Ignoring how it doesn’t really end, this had everything I could possibly want in an anime adventure; great action, vast settings, complex mysteries, and characters that hold their own for both comedy and dramatic value. And for that, it’s my pick for anime of the season.