Welcome to the Spring 2018 anime review, in which I will give you my overall thoughts about all the shows I watched airing the last season. I’m intending to do the same for Fall 2018 in a few days time, so remember to go back for it. In general, it was the season that had wide range of recommendable shows, although except for maybe my top 2, I personally don’t feel that wild over the crop. Certainly it was a better season than the Fall, and looks to be much stronger than the current Summer season. I will rate all those finished shows. Shows that have second cour playing next season won’t be ranked or rated. Overall, I watched a total 10 new shows, plus 2 continuous shows and 1 OVA, that makes it 13 shows in general. Let’s run them down now, from worst to best:
11. Piano no Mori
If I could sum up Piano no Mori in one word, that would be “underwhelming”. This is a show with traditional storytelling, with traditional visual storytelling (whenever one pianist plays, all we see is the reaction shots from wide range of people telling us that it’s good). Kai is a prodigee and it’s nice to see him grown bit by bit, but I can’t help but feel that they play up Kai’s talent too much. As a result, many people (especially Shuuhei) see him as some kind of god and I don’t appreciate that much. Piano no Mori has some nice timeskip, however, when it transits smoothly to some five years later and without losing its beats, but that’s again the only compliment I have regarding its story. The decision to focus on the piano tournaments, for example, make it focus much more narrow. There are many ways to show Kai love for piano without leading him join those competitions, right? This focus overwhelme many other better aspect of the show, like Kai’s appreciation for his sensei, or his love with his mom. Moreover, the production simply can’t keep up with the weekly schedule, resulting one of the most uninspired and just downright distracting CG animation I’ve watched this season. Whenever the pianist playing his piece, we switch right to CG playing and worse, we don’t even see them hitting the key. While I’m glad it receives a second cour, this adaptation will simply be forgotten as soon as it stops airing, or even before that.
10. Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai
Tada-kun is a romantic show which is a mix of unusual ingredients: it’s influenced by both the 50s, 60s Hollywood romance and anime romance, resulting in a product that is always fascinating but not necessary come together well. That’s why this might be the only anime series where high-society ball, PRINCESS exist alongside with mundane school activities, a star-gazing camp, and idol girl. Looking at it that way it somehow produces some fresh air in the industry dominated by anime cliche. That’s not to say this one isn’t full of cliche, but it commits wholly to its story that it kinda succeeds along the way. When the romance kicks into gear they go all the way. The central lead Tada and Teresa have some nice moments together, from the glance to the realization of their own feeling to each other to their confession. Other cast, loud and quirky in their own ways, actually add up to that strange dynamic of the show (still I don’t like that Nyan-ko Big). The humor can be hit or miss but the one recurring joke that I really enjoy is Rainbow Shogun. This show is nothing deep, although if I need to point out one of its theme, it’s that most of the main cast have an unrequited love that don’t come true, hence I believe the show will fare much better if it has a bittersweet ending? Well, well, what done is done and I’m settled with this happy ending. All the princess deserves to live happily ever after.
09. Hisone to Masotan
Coming off as one of my most anticipated anime out of this last Spring Season – after all, an original anime written by Mari Okada and produced by Bones (which I regarded as one of the best anime studio working right now) – I can’t help but feel let down towards how HisoMaso progresses and wraps up. It’s a show with many highlights, mind you, as I consider the production as one of the best of the year so far: simple yet expressive character designs, stunning backgrounds and crisp animation. All you could ask for really. It has some interesting ideas, but that precisely pains me even more that the worldbuilding just doesn’t support the ideas HisoMaso has.
To begin with, let’s address my main issues regarding this production. Unlike other anime shows which bring themselves down by treading the same tired path, HisoMaso is a show with many fresh concepts. I would applaud anyone who can think of the idea of them inside the dragons and piloting (note: not riding) as a military fighter jet. It’s a wonderful and whimsical mix concept that fit into the easy-going tone and the simple character designs. In fact, the first few episodes still carry this concept forward due to the fact that it never takes itself seriously. That’s when the issue arises when we need something more substantial when the appeal wears out, and it becomes increasingly frustrated to see the plot progresses without any backup. As an example, the show introduces the whole “ritual” concerning the whole giant dragon which “wakes up” every 82 years. It opens a whole new can of worms regarding the whole village who dedicated themselves solely for this event and even the process of it all. Equally under-developed and underwhelmed is the anastomosis bit, which for me is the prime example of creating conflicts solely for the sake if conflicts. As it stands, HisoMaso often feels like a first draft on a novel, many wonderful ideas but all of them are half-baked because the creators just don’t spend enough time to think this through.
But what HisoMaso makes up for the undercooked story is the sheer power of visual presentation. Everything looks great, the characters are on the simple design, but that’s exactly why the studio can go wild on their facial expressions and characters movement. What it’s lack from the character depth is replaced by their mannerism, in which each character moves differently and has different tones. The background designs are simply gorgeous with bright color palette, and the animation are crisp and a feast to an eye. If you don’t mind the lack of deeper layer, HisoMaso’s aesthetic alone would serve as a visual treat. Indeed, at top of my mind only the recent FLCL’s production is on the same level with this show for the first half of this 2018 calendar year. So yeah, HisoMaso is a show with many highs and lows. Its visual strength is amongst the best of the industry right now, and it’s an easy watch all around with some emotional resonance. The lack of a well thought-out world, however, hurts the show since it’s crumble as it moves along. It’s still a show worth checking out, but don’t think too deeply into it.
08. Darling in the FranXX
It’s such a shame that these last episodes lost its fuel because it simply runs out of compelling things to say. It’s just this, when the relationship between Zero 2 and her darling reach a certain point. It just halts the emotional progress because there isn’t anymore progression. Hence the show deals with it by having one of them gone which basically feel very contrived. I have the same problems with the entire cast of this show as well. As time passes, the way they develop is way too simple-minded yet hammy. And that battle between Klaxosaurs and APE are too far-fetched and under-cooked that it becomes ridiculous. About the theme, Darling exposes the world where human race’s idea of living and surviving takes a rapid turn: it’s the world where human can extend their lives, they shake off all the emotions and even abandon the reproducing. It’s a fascinating idea for sure, and the show further expands that idea with the theme of partnership, or in their own term: Darling. That’s when these kids come in and for a while, the theme itself is intriguing enough. However, the show fails to dig deep enough to those themes. As a result, in the first half, we have cringe-worthy sex jokes and in the second half it takes itself way too seriously. Such a shame because the production especially those battles are dynamic and smooth (as always the case with Studio Trigger). In the end, it’s botched down by its own seriousness. It’s certainly over-hyped and messy.
(unranked) My Hero Academia 3
This first cour of the third season of this ever popular shounen show focuses on the Training Camp arc. I’m not totally wild on that arc to be honest, but I still appreciate many good points from it. First, I found that (for now) this arc fails to challenge and flesh out Deku the character. I would love to see the show attempts to make him soaked to the appealing of darkness, instead of what happening here. He gets rescued way too quickly. This arc, however, introduces what could be the big boss: One for All and marks the decline of Al Mighty, both in the public eye and in his own power. It’s now the next generation has to step up to save the world now, and thankfully this arc gives the class 1-A and some members of 1-B many opportunities to shine. It’s also the first time that Midoriya comes close to death than any given point so far, and the first time his heroic action actually influence the people (normal people) around him. It addresses many on-point issues and it’s an entertaning watch through and through. Here’s hoping this second arc gonna be better than the first.
07. Saiki Kusuo no Sai-nan 2
This second season expands some more characters and mostly they add some different flavors to the show. The general tone, however, remains the same with the first season. So if you already enjoy the first season you’ll find a lot to like here. For the humor, it relies on fast-paced absurd situation where Saiki points out how far-out these characters around him are. Usually because these characters around him are your typical archetype characters so it’s often hilarious when the show pokes fun at them. Other times its source of humor comes from him has to fix some absurdist situation. He, the only straight man, who has to deal with all these situations to remain “normal” student. I still enjoy the show after some 200 plus skits, and I would welcome the third season if it ever happens.
06. Golden Kamuy
Leave it to the Japanese to do justice to the Western genre. Although it doesn’t set in the vast desert in the middle of nowhere, the wilderness of this snowy forest still presents strongly. Golden Kamuy has many factors that easily make a strong impression: a hooked central gold hunt story, over the top but memorable cast and its respectable treatment to the Ainu culture. This is one of a few show that spend extensive research on Ainu people and Hokkaido region, as a result although some of the parts can feel at home with educational program, it’s a blast to learn and appreciate the very unique culture that we don’t see often in anime. That, however, leads the show to a questionable variation: its porn-Ainu cuisine that slow the show down and shift to goofy tone. In Golden Kamuy, they deal a lot with the theme of mortality and death, as many characters have their own relationship with death. Like Sugimoto who is known as Immortal Sugimoto, which he asserts that he misses the opportunity to die.
Other strong element in Golden Kamuy lies in its colorful characters. Sugimoto and Asirpa are fascinating characters on their own, but what make it better is that their chemistry gels. Towards the end we can see they’re real partners who care for each other and one elevates the weakness of the other. Other characters, especially the villains, are the bosses in their own story. Midway, however, Golden Kamuy goes for tattooed ide-villains mini-arcs, and while they’re certainly memorable characters who again deal with dead/ honor in fascinating ways, their appearances slow the pacing of this show down. Technical-wise, the pacing is messy but the worst is the look itself. The new Geno studio just can’t keep up with the animation process, hence it feels stiff and uninspiring. The second season will be aired this Fall season, and even then I have doubt if they can seal the deal considering the manga is still going on after 14 volumes. I’m sure down to watch its 2nd season.
Now looking back, I realized that the first episode of Wotakoi didn’t represent this show very well. It focused more on the romance side between Hirotaka and Narumi, which in the end their relationship goes nowhere. It’s not from the lack of focus though, it’s more because we stop in the middle of the road where they just begin to behave like normal couple. Which is for the better since I was mixed about the premiere, but warmed up to the show from episode 2 onwards. This show’s concept is simple: about an officework adults who still maintains their otaku sides. The cast includes 2 couples, who are all otaku but in different aspect. This speaks for the first appeal of Wotaku. These characters genuinely love their hobby and they’re just themselves when talk about the things they love. It’s good that the show doesn’t play up their otaku side, but treat them as like real adult otaku would.
The shortcoming in this approach is how Wotakoi only concerns to this small cast. There are two more supporting characters appear later on, but the show doesn’t expand its scope further. As a result, Wotakoi always feels small and unassuming. This small size cast creates a cozy feeling, on the other hand, but I would love to see the cast bounce off with other interesting otaku. The animation is serviceable. While this kind of show doesn’t need spectecular animation, the stiff animation sometimes hurt the characters body movements. As the final note, usually I don’t care much for meta humor but this show is a rare show that did it justice with some funny game-like voiceover. This cast just feels like my own friends, so I’m a bid sad to say goodbye to these friends.
Comedy anime doesn’t always yell out confidence, so imagine our hype when there’s one that been on everyone’s lips since the manga come out, Hinamatsuri. The show starts with simple premise: a girl with supernatural power unexpectedly drops into the house of a yakuza, hilarity ensues. This concept sums up very well the source humors of Hinamatsuri. We have seemingly stock characters at first, put them into some bizarre situations where they are out of their comfort zone, and observe how they react. As such, Hinamatsuri is at its best when it turns these absurd events into unpredictably directions; and when the show uses these absurd elements to flesh out the characters. It’s so succeed in giving hearts to the characters that, for me, it stops being a laugh-out-loud show somewhere in the middle and now in the end, I’m not quite certain if I still consider Hinamatsuri a comedy show.
But stop being an all-out comedy show isn’t a bad thing at all. One of Hinamatsuri’s best assets has always been a strong and memorable cast, especially from the younger ones. Hitomi and Anzu, in particular, make one hell of an impression. They embrace these two qualities I mentioned earlier, not only it’s hilarious to see how these girls behave when they’re thrown out of their elements, but also throughout those bizzare events our girls have matured right before our eyes. We have the always kind-hearted girl Hitomi finds herself making cocktails in an adult bar (and eventually come to love that job); to the bratty Anzu finds the meaning of responsibility and home in homeless group. Some segments just are down right heart-warming that they ring sad and sweet in equal measure. Even a proper drama show can hardly do that right, let’s alone a comedy one like this. While personally I’m not over-excited about this show, it still remains a solid offering. The show that has its own voice and visual quirks. That alone make it a far better show than your average anime crop.
03. Megalo Box
Weak ending aside, I admit that this show surprasses my own expectation. Boxing anime isn’t my cup of tea to begin with, but the more you watch Megalo Box the more you realize it’s not much about boxing but about a story about an underdog boxer who basically from zero becomes an hero. Its inspiration is from Ashita no Joe, but it does just about enough to make it a tribute more than a second vessel of that classic show. Its greatest strength is the gritty background, elevated but the rough lines of art. The settings on its own have so much personality. The same could apply for the main characters, Junk Dog Joe and his Team Nowhere, and Yuri. I like the way the show applies the animal counterparts to these characters to hint us about the true nature of each character (Joe is Junk Dog, Yuri is lone wolf and Nambu is scorpion, for example).
In terms of boxing fights, they remain somewhat lackluster. The punch lacks weight and the choreography isn’t that stellar. In addition, the overall story is somewhat predictable. We all know that Joe will go all the way to the final, so the only interesting bit is how he fares in his last match. What it compensates for its shortcomings is the feel. Joe is an easy character to get behind, and it certainly feels great when come up from a very bottom to outlast the opponents. I also appreciate the way the show blends its grittiness to the settings. We have an ex-soldier who suffered PSTD no less, and in this world living and dying is like their neighbors. That’s the reason why I found the happy resolution doesn’t work well for me, although I can certainly say that Megalo Box is one the finest sport-related shows in recent years.
(unranked) Steins;Gate 0
So far, I still have a feeling the what we had seen so far is just a setup until the main plot kicks into gear. Compared to the first season, it has been quite slow in terms of pacing, and the new additions are relevant in varying degree of success. On one hand, Miho and Amadeus Kurisu are essential to this story, and especially the former has fleshed out greatly in this first half. Others additions, namely Kagari and Yuki, don’t add up much. This first cour successfully displayed the PTSD of Okabe, and again making a solid statement that whichever choice he picked, he’d end up regret his decisions. Now that the second cour kicks in, I hope that he’ll become more active.
02. Legend of Galactic Heroes – Die Neue These
It’s obvious that we only see a small segment of what would be an epic war story between two talented leaders Yang Wen Li and Reinhard, but for what its worth this beginning has strong execution both in storytelling and in its production. The series does a great job of fleshing out these two leaders with different personalities, where they come from and what their visions are; at the same time explores the flaws of the societies they live in and the meaningless of their ongoing war. People starve, government spends too much funds for wars, the lack of experienced labor force. In fact, the only side who benefits from all this is the neutral state Dominion of Phezza who sells their weapons for both sides.
In addition, It doesn’t have its strong focus on space opera battles, as it’s more about the strategy behind it. In that sense, this show concentrates on the people in charge, and how either because of their selfish quest, their pride or their incompetence that could cost thousands of unnecessary lives. They’re not subtle on it, either, many leaders are framed for us to hate, but strangely it feels relevant. This original source might be made some 30 years ago, but it’s message still appropriate even to today in the real world. Like how Yang Wen Li put it, history just keeps repeating itself and war never truly ends in history.
01. FLCL Progressive
I will stop compare this show to the classic original because I believe this new installment has what it takes to stand out on its own. This show has one of the most dynamic and fluid and inventive animation in recent memories, and the plot rarely makes any logical sense. It’s the show that feels random and chaos, but it’s precisely why it captured the angst and the confusion of growing up. The feeling “overflown” might be a little too the nose in that context, but it opens up some rawness behind Hitomi’s pain. It helps that it carries many elements that made the original stick (oh no, I did it. Can’t help myself), like the iconic rock soundtrack by The Pillows, the feel and Haruko Haruhara, but has enough elements to stand proudly amongst its original.
FLCL Progressive has a dynamic cast whom each person serve their roles well. Only Hitomi has some sort of solid development, however, but it fits because this is first and foremost through her perspective. While I would love for the show to go a tad darker, this ending still pretty ties up this story in grand fashion. I won’t rate this OVA as I always regards this and FLCL Alternative (which will come out in September) are two side of the same coin, thus I will combine them into one entity. In the end, this show pulls off something that hard to do: While it doesn’t make sense on any logical sense, FLCL Progressive makes total sense on emotional level.