Anime, Seasonal Anime Review

Seasonal Anime Review: Winter 2018 Final Impressions

In keeping with my anime-mood at the moments (well, that also means I keep delaying on my 2018 Women’s Cinema Festival but I hope you readers don’t mind about that much), I revisit all the anime shows I watched on the Winter season. It’s the practice that might not be relevant with you guys much since it was already half a year, but it benefits me to put all my thoughts on shows I watched into some written forms. The more I watch shows and films, the more I realize that I will eventually forget most of them. Some vague feeling and a general impression about them, but hardly anything substantial. And I’m consistently reminded how wasted it is. At least, by writing them down, I still have some point of reference in the future: my feeling about those shows at that certain point of time.

The beginning season of 2018 calendar was an underwhelming one. There was a large amount of cute girls doing cute thing shows, and Violet Evergarden didn’t meet the hype it generated. Another special trend of this Winter 2018 season was the multi-release of Netflix original shows. I only finished Devilman Crybaby (I stopped after 3 episodes of AICO and I couldn’t survive pass the premiere of B: the Beginning). So while the quality can pretty much an acquired taste, those Netflix original shows do push more edgy context and mature theme into anime industry, just like in the old days. Anyway, the Winter season I finished around 12 new shows, including 2 carry-over from last year’s fall season (3-gatsu no Lion 2 and Mahoutsukai no Yome); plus 2 shows that would run over to the next season (Saiki K 2 and Darling in the FranXX). A bit of footnote here, while I ranked 3-gatsu no Lion 2 and Mahoutsukai no Yome in this Seasonal Preview, they are technically ineligible for 2018 Yearly Review.

12) Ito Junji: Collection

What appears as an intriguing idea: adapting short stories form a horror mangaka giant Ito Junji should already grab everyone’s attention, it brought down by one of the most lacklustre adaptation by Studio Deen. First, let’s look closer to Ito Junji short stories’ theme. As the stories keep piling up, it becomes clearer that Ito Junji is more fascinated in creating a psychological discomfort than building any sort of actual story. His shorts focus more about our own primal fear, where something or someone acts out of normal, and that paranoia and anxiety transform into a body horror fest. It’s at its best when it uses the concept to explore something deeper: for example, the story about the guy who stuck inside his sleep for years speak more volume because it’s the fear many of us have. Most of the time, however, the stories retreat itself into “ideas” without much proper building. Characters are terribly bland to begin with, the pacing and tone are all over the place (sometimes you can view it as a goofy black comedy), but what worst is the lacklustre production. There’s hardy any animation to this show, just mere slide shows (with sound and color) from the manga and many off-model characters. His styles work best in manga form to begin with so translate frame to frame (and manages to make it less relevant) is pretty much a wrong decision. Watch the manga instead of watching this misfire.

Rating 52/100

11) Mitsuboshi Colors

Woops. I’m still amazed that I managed to finish this one when it aired. That must be because it’s never outright terrible, it’s just that there’s not a lot going on with this. Let’s address the positives first. Mitsuboshi Colors nails the fun of kids playing around park and have some adventures. It embraces everything that childhood is about: the “independence” of having the whole park as their base, the joy of every little games they find. At the same times it never forgets that those kids are kids. They behave like ones with all the silliness and randomness. It’s childish and it reminds me great deal of my own childhood, along with the tones that made Yotsubato manga so relatable. On the other hand, there isn’t much else to look for. The production is on a tight budget and it shows. The art is pretty much bare bone and there isn’t much of a progression. It’s strictly for a fan of Cute girls doing cute things shows.

Rating: 65/100

10) Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

Takagi-san only has one premise going, that Nishikata tries his best to tease the girl he liked, but always end up outsmarted by this titular girl. That makes it a fairly simple show, but not necessary a weak-written one. For all the things it does, it does very well. It brings a super solid chemistry between Nishikata and Takagi, and always add some nice observations, as well as heart, at the end of its segment. One thing it does remarkably well, is how it resonates to the mindsets of these 13 year old kid. It’s the age of some awkward body change, when sexual tension starts to come into the picture and when first crush feels like an eternity. We see all of that in Nishikata’s perspective; in how he, and Takagi would go such length because simply they care for each other. The tone is subtle enough to not always spell out what Takagi is thinking. Indeed, she can become “too perfect” at times, but bear in mind that we see Takagi thought the projection of Nishikata. For him, she’s a total mysterious person, and all those pranks they pull against each other steadily progress into something more. While it’s not a complex show by any stretch, as I consider the other segments regarding their classmates are pretty much take-it-or-leave-it; it’s a genuinely sweet and charming show, boasted by the strong relationship between its main leads.

Rating: 70/100

9) Hakumei to Mikochi

The cute girls genre continued strong this season. This time we have tiny little people go through their everyday life. Its biggest appeal is its folky art design that brings such unique world to life. From the forest the girls live in, to the merchant town where they usually buy stuffs, to the mixture of tiny people and anthropomorphic animals. Then the costumes, the festivals. There’s a whole culture going on right there with each episode explores another aspect of this world. The titular leads also carry the show well. They’re your typical contrasted couple but because of that they complement each other greatly, and they have that natural but strong bond together without ever rely on emotional arc. The art and music also elevate the tones of this show well. It has a picturesque-like aesthetic with natural color that you would see in children’s book. The use of manga panel also helps in that department, making in it feel like one of those folky tales you always listen before going to bed, except better. The supporting cast have enough space to contribute to this world. Hakumei to Mikochi is a quiet, yet lively warm little show, hence it tends to fly under the radar of most anime watchers. For iyashikei fans, however, it’s a worthy title to get yourself warmed in this rich world, even if it’s just for a short while.

Rating: 74/100

(unranked) Darling in the FranXX

Well, you know what my general thought about this show in Summer Review so I’ll keep this blurb brief. The first half of this show has a high dose of on the nose sexual innuendo which can get to your nerve. I mean, lines like “I come deeper inside you” make you feel like you’re watching a 13 year old kid making jokes, which might not be far off from the mentality of this show. It has no subtle bone in its skeleton at all, and it’s something that still good enough for me to watch it on a regular basis, but not as good so that I have many things to brag about. I prefer the second half’s more serious tone (although the last 4,5 episodes are real drags) and hopefully, Trigger can improve their story writing because as much dynamic as their animation is, weak story can always bring it down and stay down.

8) Yuru Camp△

Yuru Camp’s appeal never really goes beyond its genre offering but as far as slice-of-life genre goes, it certainly offers more than enough to be a solid recommendation. Structure-wise, Yuru Camp is a show made up (mostly) of two half: one with the fluffy pink cupcake that is Nadeshiko and her camping experience with her Outclub’s members, and the other is Rin’s solo camp. Looking at each part, not only individually they are above your average cute-girls shows with distinctive, warm atmosphere and delightful chemistry from the cast, these two segments also complement each other well.

I’ll say it now, Rin’s solo not-quite-as-bizarre adventures make up for best parts of Yuru Camp. Usually, cute-girls shows elaborate the theme of happily spending time together with friends as their selling point (and as the natural way of life, apparently), and while Yuru Camp certainly has that aspect, the show also respects Rin’s little personal space. There’re moments when you can truly let go of all the burdens, connections of life that tie you tightly and just enjoy that exact point in time as it is. THE BEST HEALING METHOD IT IS. I get that same feeling while watching Rin sitting in her chair, late at night, totally alone, in the middle of camp site (If you want to see what I mean without bothering to watch the show, check out its ED). Rin is a loner, but she isn’t the type of loner who secretly looks for friends. She enjoys her time by herself and all little moments from her solo trip: from talking with a dog in a passing car, making conversations with other strangers, or quietly observing the place and – my favorite – finding obstacles along the way (block road, no water, etc) and managing to go through them and lastly, eating yummy foods are all rewarding in their own way and certainly make her trips a real treasure to watch. Moreover, Yuru Camp never frames her preference as being anti-social. Through the course of its run eventually Rin discovers the fun of camping together with friends, yes, but in essence she’s the same person who always enjoy camping alone. And the show and the girls all respect her little solitude space.

Outside of Rin’s solo camps, the show still has a lot to offer. All the characters are a delight to watch, Nadeshiko is a big teddy bear to hug and while you could argue their characters’ traits have been done to death, it’s the chemistry those girls share together that makes it all ticked. Their banters (and there were tons of it) feel exactly like conversations you have with your best mates, with easy-going attitude but weirdly sharp and fun at the same time. Their time spent together on the camping trips sing well too, with ahem… laidback tone and nice sceneries all around, which isn’t that surprising when the settings are mainly surround the Mount Fuji. The foods they make, contributes huge parts to the success of this show. Just like how Rin comments about Nadeshiko: “look at her happy eating face makes the food itself looks tasty”, it’s the feeling that I get too (consider my hesitation on food-centric shows, this comes a rare recommendation). In addition, the fact that the show is set mostly in winter makes it a surprisingly appropriate show to watch this season and further makes camping-during-winter premise such a nice ring to it.

Rating: 74/100

7) Kokkoku

Kokkoku has a really fresh concept: that’s the entire series happen in one single frame of time. Its appeal, thus, is how it introduces the rules of this new alternative space and then keep breaking those rules. When we have no idea how that world runs, we’re constantly at the edge of our seat when new twists pop up. For example, it establishes the world in a single frame, then makes it clear that there’s a cult group who manipulate the time. Then it reveals that our main characters, especially Jun, have special power. Then it introduces the Handlers and so on so forth. The best part of it is that you’d never guess what will going to happen. The worst part of it, however, is that the reveal might not add up. I consider the show goes off the rail with the introduction of the main antagonist, making this story shift into the good vs the bad mode. Even in the final episode, it pulls one of the most obvious Deus Ex Machina in recent memories that destroy the carefully building-up of Jun’s mental breakdown. I like how the family members have distinctive personalities, but the characters in general are on the under-developed side. The production issues become visible at the end of its runs to boost. As it stands, Kokkoku has intriguing concepts, but doesn’t have a chop to deliver its concept thoroughly.

Rating: 75/100

6) Violet Evergarden

As with my first impression, I left the show feeling a bit torn about it. On one hand, the production is top notch and when the show hits right, it sweeps you right away. On the other hand, I don’t buy much of Violet’s central conflicts and the show has a tendency to go over-soapiness and try to explain too much, which I never fond of. To be fair, Violet Evergarden has never known for its subtlety, its intend is always to pull as many punch as possible. Violet Evergarden, therefore, is at its strongest when it uses Violet as an observer, to put her as a background for characters with their own struggles have to finds ways to overcome. When she stays in the spotlight, however, the amount of predictable development and cheesy moments always overwhelm the show’s own emotions.

Violet Evergarden’s best parts are the standalone episodes where Violet doing her jobs – reciting or writing letters for their clients. At heart, these letters represent the desire to connect between people, they represent all those raw feelings that can’t be said out loud, and Violet is in middle of its own trying to translate those feelings into written words, and learn about emotions in the process. All these little stories, from a playwright making a new children-play, to the sick mother write future letters for her daughter, to write love letters from the heirs of two nations, each of them adds more layer to the concept of ghostwriting and her job of connecting the hearts of people together and most of them give a satisfying emotion to their story. The best episodes amongst them are episode 10 (sick mother and her daughter) and episode 7 (playwright).

As for characters, it pains me to say that the supporting cast doesn’t reach their full potential either. There are many anime original characters, and most of them have their own episodes to shine. But Hodgins and Cattleya are surprisingly underdeveloped despite appear almost in all episodes. Gilbert is just a vessel for Violet’s personal growth and the appearance of Dietfried in the end doesn’t leave much impact either. There is a hint of the aftermath of postwar era, which I somewhat enjoy but I don’t feel that it reaches its full potential. And all the drama is over-blown, which kind of bang me hard in the head. Despite my grumpy it’s still a solid made and worth watching at least one, if only for the beautiful CG-animated mechanical hands of Violet.

Rating: 76/100

5) A Place Further than the Universe

If there is one thing that I’m sure this show will be remembered for years to come, it’s the concept. Touring oversea isn’t that difficult nowadays compare to say, 20, 30 years ago, but a trip to Antarctica? Really? High school girls you say? What’s there to see in that icy place? How the hell do they get in there? Money? Lots of questions bound to come up upon hearing this premise and I’m happy to say that Universe never glosses over those issues, but instead approach them with a thoroughly research. Every stage of the trip is planned carefully, they never make light comments about high-school girls going for such harsh trip and indeed, they point out many times how extreme this trip can be. The expedition ship and the Antarctica place are so detailed that it’s easy to see the staffs made the same trip for their own research. It’s a joy to watch and know more about this little unheard place, to the point sometimes I feel this show is an advertisement for Antarctica (well, I’m sold). Moreover, a show that gives a detailed treatment to Singapore is always a plus (and I love durian!!).

The girls make up a great central cast for us to follow. All 4 of the girls have different personalities, they have their own goals and their own backstories, and they have their own voices. Shirase, for example, is a no-nonsense but extremely unstable girl, whereas Mari is cheerful and acts like the emotional force of the group. Hina, my favorite character, has a wise (and bullying) side of her and Yuzuki somehow feels much more relatable through the way she loathes her “star” identity. Moreover, they bounce off extremely well and it’s a blast just to see the four girls interacting with each other. But most important of all, each of them has their own arc to overcome, and while some it I felt were made for the sake of creating conflict (in other words, unnatural), they always have a satisfying ending that elevate the shortcomings of the conflicts.

The character designs and the production in general are in the more conservative side, but taken as a whole it fulfils its jobs nicely. There is a large amount of insert songs – most of them pretty heart-warming- so the music of Universe is solid overall. The pacing remains its biggest issue, as it takes until the end of episode 9 for the crew to finally takes their feet onto Antarctica icy ground. They could do it much better if they cut a bit of a transit section (Singapore and Australia, as well as on a ship section – another 2 episodes). Ultimately, Universe is a journey itself. It remains a feel-good show with relatable message of enjoying youth to the fullest and the girls make the most of their time on-screen. Certainly amongst the top tier of its cute girls pack.

Rating: 77/100

(unranked) Saiki Kusuo no Sai-nan 2

Well, I’ve said most of my feeling about this show in the Spring Review. It’s the show that I find consistently charmed by the eccentric cast and deadpan fast-paced skits, but ultimately a hard show to discuss in length. Especially for this Winter Season where there wasn’t many other comedy show, I needed it for a healthy dose of comedy nonsense.

4) Mahoutsukai no Yome

Mahoutsukai no Yome… I have such conflicting emotions regarding it. On one hand, it’s a story with detailed worth-building, memorable characters, great art designs and the story with emotional, deep and meaningful messages. It’s all the ingredients for a great series and indeed, when it hits you it can hit pretty hard. On the other hand, I still consider that it’s best materials (so far) lie in its standalone OVAs and its first three episodes, and the rest is your 7 out of 10 rating material. There are two main issues with this series as it is now, first it’s the extended cast that contributes very little to the show so far. Each story, Chise would pull into another realm of magic world where a set of new characters introduced, some of them don’t have anything to do with the main plot. It raises a question of why bothering adapting them at all. In the grand scale, I can see the reason why. The whole 20 plus episodes so far feel more like the story as its beginning stage, where they need to place all the pieces to the field first, hence the disconnection. As I said, it’ll work in grand scheme but that makes this season alone in an awkward, incomplete status. Second, it’s the main relationship between Chise and Elias. They share a strong bond, but at many moments I feel the progression is halted and repeated again. It’s just too slow for this type of show, and personally I see their relationship as an unbalanced and quite obsessive one. The show, as well, would spend some episodes in the middle of Chise resting that frankly just tooooo slow. By the end though, although it wraps up the current story at a solid stop, I felt a bit underwhelming. It has strong materials, it has solid adaptation from Wit Studio, but it just drags at times.

Rating: 78/100

3) Devilman Crybaby

The Go Nagai revival this year sure brings his legend back to the modern audience’s attention. Having watch this and Cutie Honey Universe, however, I can say that he is more famous for his pushing the boundary of extreme sex and violence more than for his story or character. The ultra-violence and sex are justified in this series, however, as they deal with devil vs humankind. Perhaps the most well-known Netflix anime original of the year, you can view it as the representation of the style and content Netflix wanted to produce. The involvement of Masaaki Yuasa certainly, and he brings a lot of his visual mastery to make this material work. The visual is certainly an acquired taste. It can range from being plain weird shot composition to striking to just damn too much to take in. He’s best known for the fluid and expressive animation and this one doesn’t disappoint. Each character has their own mannerism, the character designs are memorable and the rap and techno soundtrack is impressive. Story-wise is where the show falls shot. The pacing is all over the place and it rushes way too much in the final few episodes. It’s so hectic that the events don’t have a proper space to sink in, and at the end of the day, the characters aren’t that deep enough for us to invest to. Devilman Crybaby is ultimately a style over substance works, but at its most fearless you can really feel the gritty sensation and the taste of blood splattering everywhere. At its worst, however, it can’t stop itself from being too much, like an organism that splash all over the place.

Rating: 83/100

2) 3-gatsu no Lion 2

The second season as a whole is exactly what you expect from the first season, and then some. I consider the Hina-bullying act as one of the show’s strongest material, both pulling the three sisters into the main focus, and it’s an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. This second cour concentrates more on the shogi’s players, and sheds more light and puts more weight into their presence. From the current meijon Souya, to the veteran Yanagihara carry their arc with grace. At best, we feel them as an individual, as a person with clear personality and goal. Rei has become much more open to his feeling, and every moment of him spending time with the sisters are a treasure. Hina, in particular, has developed into one of the most full-fledged teenager I’ve seen in years. This shos can go into dark, sad places, but it balance those dark tones with the warm heart and the assurance that there’s always people around who can help you overcoming these struggles. Put it simply, 3-gatsu is a character-based drama and it’s one of the best in the medium when it comes to characters writing.

Rating for 2nd season: 88/100

Whole series: 93/100

1) After the Rain

Originally billed as a romantic drama, the last third of Ameagari steers away from any romantic tension to deliver something more profound. It explores the complexity of human emotion by examining the unlikely relationship between two individuals with broken dreams and how they influence each other to reach back their goals. While I’d love for the conclusion to be more impactful (the ending suggests their relationship is like… ahem… after the rain: fleeting, soft, momentary – I’d prefer for more storming here), this show remains one of the most intimate, sensitive – and ultimately – complex portrayal of bonding, and human relationship. This solid material is further elevated by the understated and strong visual storytelling, aesthetically pleasing visual presentation and color palette and one of the best soundtrack in recent years. Ameagari is pretty much excellent as a whole package.

The main selling point of Ameagari is undoubtedly the amazing chemistry between Tachibana and Kondou. Their back-and-forth exchanges always spark with so much dynamic that every time those two together, they’re bounce to have special moments together – a praise that you won’t hear me say often, especially in anime medium. We have The Confession, The Hug, the Kiss, The Final Confrontation… These moments are the highlights of not only this season, but for my money for the entire 2018 year. They’re impactful. They’re powerful. They’re just perfect. But even in those slower moments, whenever Tachibana and Kondou are seen together, they deliver a natural and positive influence on each other.

The visual presentation of Ameagari furthers elevate this sensitive love story and makes it a total feast to the eyes. The reason I bring up Wit studio in particular is because they have their own “make-up animation” team, which is a team who apply special effects to certain important scenes and they sure did the job marvelously here with downright impressive visual palette and strong direction. The soundtracks are simply mesmerizing. They not only bring out the best emotionally from these moments, listen to them alone can transfer you right back to these certain scenes. I could totally picture Tachibana in the rain, or moment when Kondou sees himself in his teen self or the moment they hug each other. I also enjoy the way the show leaves their characters a space to breathe. There are many wordless sections just to record simple daily activities of Tachibana, for example. What makes it raise above everything else this last season is that, all these excellent components are all in the service of its theme. As a result Ameagari feels like a complete product with no real weakness, as the same time delivers special relationship that reminds us once again about the complexity of our own emotions.

Rating: 89/100

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