Token End of Year Post 2017

Posted by DiGiKerot in idolmaster, Love Live!, Random Stuff at January 2, 2018 on 1:49 pm

Is this, perhaps, the most 2017 of statements?

This years Gundam Unicorn update is… I’ve still not watched more Gundam Unicorn. Although I somehow thought buying the second half of ZZ, which just turned up today, was a good idea? Whoops.

Let’s just put this lack of Unicorn-related momentum down to it being a good harvest this year. It feels like there’s been a constant stream of at least one thing a week I was particularly excited about watching every week for the last year, and at some points I was watching something new pretty much every evening. It’s been a good year for TV anime.

From a theatrical anime point of view, it feels a bit odd to call a year with not one, but two, new Yuasa efforts comparatively weak, but that probably more to do with how ludicrously stacked parts of last year ended up being, with things like A Silent Voice, From This Corner of the World, Kizumonogatari I&II and, I suppose, Your Name. Then again, it’s been a nice year to be in the UK in that regard, because we ended up getting at least something in cinemas here almost even month, and it’s entirely possible that any perceived weakness was more a result of not binging the years best content over a weekend, given the way this years SLA line-up panned out.

Also, that I’ve not been able to see the new Nanoha movie yet. Or No Game No Life. Or Heavens Feel. Guess there’s still some good stuff left to see after all.

Anyway, usual format from here on out. Spoilers ahoy, and don’t necessarily take anything I write about below this point as being that glowing an endorsement. I tend not to write about my actual favourite stuff of the year, since that’s hard, so, this is just the first few things I could actually formula any words on.

The “Where has All My Money Gone” Award for Wallet Emptying Merchandise – ???!

I suppose this is where I normally do my annual review of iDOLM@STER material, although, honestly, I’m trying to cut down on physical purchases these days. It’s partially a case of saving space (or, rather, a chronic lack of it), and partially a case of just tying to cut down on frivolous spending. As nice as it sometimes is to have physical disks of a lot of some stuff that’s still hard to track down digitally, at least in decent quality or in an English-friendly form, there’s also something to be said for having, well, some free space.

Still, I guess I bought a few additional Puchimas plushes (actually, I might have had a minor nightmare figuring out my luggage on the return trip from AX last year, though part of that was also the full set of PriPara Solami Smile/Dressing Pafe plushes I grabbed at the same time, but that’s a whole other tedious story). Still need Takanya, Chibiki, Chihya and regular Harukasan, I think.

This is also where I’d usually break down my feelings regarding the new iM@S game, but whilst I certainly have Stella Stage, it’s only a few weeks old, and it’s rather proven a little easier to play Xenoblade 2 whilst multitasking (that is, there’s an awful lot in the game I can do whilst also listening to podcasts, a statement which is somewhat less true in regard to Stella Stage).

Good game, though. I will say, the one thing I’m a little disappointed about regarding it is that they kept the song levelling system – there’s a score modifier that increases as you play the same song repeatedly. It’s a little annoying because, well, there’s all this music that you progressively unlock, but the game is pushing you to repeatedly play the same tracks in order to keep your scores up.

I suppose this as good a time as any to make a brief videogame interlude. Lots of games released this year, and…I didn’t actually play as many as I’d have liked. Admittedly, this is likely because a lot of the ones I did end up playing where on the long side.

I can’t particularly say I have a specific game of the year. Most the stuff I invested a lot of time in I really enjoyed, but for very different reasons. Breath of the Wild was a lot of fun, though admittedly the common complaint of the actual set-piece dungeons being bad is entirely justified. I still enjoyed it enough to at least clear all the shrines in the game, though – I appreciated the separation of what would be the individual room puzzles of a traditional Zelda dungeon into their own smaller puzzle boxes, with micro rewards for their completion and less of a frustrating wrapper around them.

Nier Automata was also great, and one of the few games I played this year where I tended to actually listen to the game audio rather than instead listening to podcasts. I’m not sure it actually lands the ending in a fashion that I’m entirely satisfied with, but the game narrative running up to that point is so rich with thematic depth and moments of poignancy, even in its optional content, that it’s difficult to particularly mind that. The Pascal stuff is maybe the highlight for me.

Persona 5, well… I have thoughts on Persona 5. I enjoyed it despite a lot of itself, I feel. Not so much going to get into the narrative issues or the odd localisation, but I sure feel like the far more streamlined nature of 2016s Tokyo Mirage Sessions salted the ground for it a little too heavily. A lot of that is to do with being a grouchy old man who would prefer to spend their limited gaming time playing something which fully respects it, which ultimately ends up causing Persona to frustrate me in fashions that others may consider acceptable. I don’t particularly like the way it forces you to gamble on which characters you think are ultimately going to have the most rewarding story arcs because the game sure isn’t going to give you enough time to explore its social links deeply enough to get a good feel on that without leaving a bunch of half-completed stories by the time you get to the cut-off point on those, and New Game+ sure doesn’t speed up getting back to them that much (which, given it’s a 100+ hour game, doesn’t sound all that appealing regardless). As much as the whole Mona thing became a meme, there’s a lot truth in it – a game that makes me waste five minutes on an evening where it explicitly stops me from doing anything worth while when it could, you know, just auto-skip me to the next day, doesn’t feel like it values my time much.

Oh, then there’s the combat system where the most radical change since Persona 3 some ten or so years ago is the reintroduction of Demon Negotiation, implemented in a fashion that mostly just serves to interrupt the tempo of the gameplay. Whilst I appreciate that the visual design of the dungeons has been brought into line with P-Studio’s normal stellar aesthetic sense, the things they are asking you do actually do in them aren’t particularly exciting. I mean, they were exactly great, but at least TMS tried to introduce some new additional complications or puzzles in each of it’s successive dungeons.

This all sounds pretty negative, I appreciate, but as I say, I still enjoyed it. Great music.

Getting back onto track, though, I’m also woefully behind on the Side-M anime. This is less to do with the quality of the show or any kind of disinterest as it is how insanely busy I’ve been end-of-year in recent times. I’ll likely actually get around to that one in the next fortnight, though.

(Also, I suppose getting some positive feedback on the dumb comic I did for that CG call book for AX from someone who didn’t realise it was one of my efforts was a good thing)

The “I Think People Realise I Like This Now?” Award for Show I Assumed People Thought I Didn’t Like – Love Live Sunshine

Love Live Sunshine is The Last Jedi of cartoon idols shows. I couldn’t believe what they did to Nico’s character, completely out of sorts with how she was in the original series. I was shocked when she outright murdered Ruby in cold blood.

Well, OK, that comparison doesn’t really stand in any actual meaningful way, but I wanted to make it somewhere in this post.

The original series of Love Live Sunshine was a bit of an oddity in some senses. I enjoyed what it seemed to be saying about the industry into which it was unleashed, even if the way it tried to re-enforce it sometimes ran counter to what it seemed like it felt it was saying. It was a show which deliberately, often to the detriment of it’s own content, drew comparisons to the original series of Love Live in both a meta-textual and actual-textual fashion – if characters in the show weren’t drawing inspiration from the members of µ’s, the show was making sure to at least imply comparison by mirroring it’s plot beats or elements of its narrative structure.

The show ultimately explodes this itself later in the series, when the Aqours girls run into Saint Snow, who proceed to emphasize the futility of trying to echo µ’s in a post-Love Live era – in a message which feels as much like it’s for the rest of the industry as it is the characters in the show, they outright state that it’s been done before. You can’t just mimic µ’s and become popular at this point, because that’s the minimum amount that is now expected. Everyone is trying to do it, to the point of market saturation. It’s no longer particularly interesting or special. It’s now just normal.

Which, admittedly, is a little rich coming from a show which gets an automatic popularity leg-up due to those connections, but given the way the sales on some very popular franchises have collapsed for their follow-ups in recent months, I suppose nothing is especially a given. The actual point, however, is how this ultimately set-up the final episodes of the season, running into this years continuation. The final episode of the first series ended with Chika taking down her µ’s poster, a poignant moment which sent an important message – this is it’s own show going forward.

I mean, this was actually something of a relief for me. I understand that this isn’t exactly the prevailing opinion on this, but I generally much preferred the first half of the original Love Live to the second. This isn’t to say that the second half didn’t have some notable high-points, but I felt it tended to overly rely on things which didn’t feel earned by the show itself. I’m not exactly against the idea of things which are enriched through a familiarity with extra-curricular material, but there are ways to do that which are additive to the fanbase that care about that kind of thing without being overbearing about it. The graduation melancholia, or the specifics of the way they handled Snow Halation in the show, were things playing on the sentiment of the long-term fanbase more than anything set-up in the show itself.

But, I digress a little.

It’s actually somewhat interesting to see exactly the degree to which the second season of Sunshine endeavours to set itself apart from where the original Love Live was at this point. In a sense, the girls found themselves in the exact opposite position – in Love Live, they’d already actually succeeded – they hadn’t won the Love Live, but their goal of saving their school had already been reached. The point for which they formed µ’s had already been resolved, leaving the girls having to find a renewed source of motivation.

In the second season of Sunshine, they’ve already lost. The school is going to close, and whilst they’ve been managing to scrape together minor extensions here and there, there isn’t much likelihood of them actually matching the criteria required for the school to remain open. It is still an episode about renewing motivation, but it’s from a very different point – it’s about finding the resolve to go forward in the face of inevitable defeat, and finding the meaning from that.

It sets the stage for what ends up being a very different, but still very recognisable, season of Love Live – that is, it’s very Love Live, but it rather surprisingly manages to throw a couple of interesting curve-balls at the audience in the process. Not everything goes the way you’d generally expect it to in this kind of show.

What feels more important about it, though, is that it actually manages to sell what it’s preaching within the show itself far more successfully than the original Love Live did. Where the original ended on the rather odd note of µ’s never being heard from again, for a show where the second season opened on a downer, Sunshine ended on a far-more upbeat note. The school may have closed, the third years may be moving on, but it’s not like these people will never see each-other again, and it’s not like things are really over. It’s the trite meme comment, but maybe the real Love Live was the friends made along the way – not just the members of Aqours, but their friends, their families, and even their pets – and the end of one story is just the beginning of another.

Which I presume is where the movie comes into it, I guess?

Favourite episode, for what it’s worth, is probably the episode where Yoshiko and Riko try to take in the dog they find. It took my favourite character and the one who I always forgot about and managed to write a surprisingly heartfelt one-episode story around them, whilst setting up for the general dunking-on-Yohane gags that littered much of the rest of the season as characters, in an amusingly off-hand display of character development, started figuring out how to actually deal with her nonsense.

(Also, remember to always do your Rubesty, everyone!)
(Also also, Yohane/Yoshiko>Ruby>You>Zuramaru>Dia>Riko>Mari>Chika>Kanan)
(Also also also, kind of found that the music didn’t really stick with me to the same degree as the some of the stuff from the OG Love Live, though I mostly put that down to the fact I’ve not been having stuff this drilled into my head since I stopped playing LLSIF on the regular)
(Also also also also, really enjoyed how they handled Saint Snow in this)
(Also also also also also, this is probably (well, almost certainly) the strongest overall season of Love Live)
(Also also also also also also, I really, really liked The Last Jedi. Need to see it again, but might actually be my favourite Star Wars movie)

The “Please Actually Let Me Give You All My Money” Award for Show Annoyingly Associated With avex – Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter

There’s an awful lot that could be said about the circumstances surrounding the new series of Wake Up, Girls! in the year 2017, but I fear elaborating on a lot of those circumstances could potentially put me at odds with UK libel laws. Not something you can really say about a lot of anime this year, I’ll give WUG that.

Admittedly, that only in part colours the reality of the production of the new WUG anime, in so much as part of the trigger for some of the ongoing shenanigans was the production moving from Ordet, under the watch of Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto, to Millepensee under Shin Itagaki.

Inevitably, it resulted in a show which was somewhat different. I mean, that much was readily apparent from the point that the first promotional video for it displayed a radically different visual style from the rather more earthy colours that the original series dealt with, instead committing to simpler lines and a more brightly-huing palette.

There’s a lot more which could be said about the visuals in Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter beyond just that, though. Whilst it’s not as if the original WUG was a bastion of good animation – there’s the somewhat infamous cut in the original movie in which Minami sprouts a third arm, and some of the broadcast episodes of the show ended up looking pretty rough (the TV BDs do fix up a bunch of stuff pretty well) – the new show frequently ended up eschewing animation altogether, using blatant tricks to reduce the need to animate lip-flaps, or just avoiding having characters on screen at all. Entire episodes are pretty much reduced to the quality of one of those picture dramas Sunrise used to produce for their DVD releases, only with way jankier art.

It’s a bit of a shame, because the writing for the show is generally pretty good, actually juggling a surprising number of narrative threads, even if the sudden discovery of how to actually do something with I-1 Club does typically render what is going on with actual WUG about the least engaging part of the proceedings. Without anything interesting going on with the animation, it ends up being a weird, occasionally gruelling, watch that I’d probably struggle with if I didn’t already have the level of franchise investment that I do.

As a show, I guess what vaguely makes it interesting is that it’s a show which is coming into the same world as Love Live Sunshine is, and in it’s own ways, admits the same things about the industry. WUG may have been victorious at the end of the movies which proceeded this series (and frustratingly remain without English availability), but they’ve continued to flounder without anything beyond minor local success since. I-1 Club are starting to struggle against a backdrop increased competition and declining interest levels, and there’s a new form of rival in the digital shape of the shows Vocaloid stand-in. The show doesn’t particularly have any grand revelations to provide about any of this, but it’s at least presenting a moderately interesting struggle. It isn’t, admittedly, going in as harshly on elements of the idol industry as the original WUG did in it’s early episodes, and will likely disappoint folks who are looking for that out of it, but it does mean that the show also doesn’t sport that peculiar brand of hypocrisy which, whilst being one of the things which made WUG interesting in the first place, is kind of insulting the audience which it’s trying to get the money of at the same time.

There’s still an episode of the show left at time of writing (at least, I’m assuming it’s going to air at some point – the thing about shows with questionable production is that they inevitably end up sticking a Voice Actress special in the middle somewhere to make up for an episode that’s behind on production and overshoot their broadcast slots as a result), so it’s still to be seen how things will wrap up. Probably something approaching adequately, I’d guess.

(Also, the actual music part of WUG is still top-notch)
(Also also, WUG were pretty great at AX)
(Also also also, those avex restrictions on media export continue to be frustrating as hell)
(Also also also also, the whole avex thing has prevented me from keeping up on PriPara CDs as well. At least it’s been saving me money…)
(Also also also also also, lot’s of idol anime this year. Idol Incidents is probably the weirdest, but not for the setting – it’s an otaku show channelling the vibe of childrens idol anime in tone and form but without the level of commitment that they tend to have to their shtick. It ends up being disengagingly bland in a way that the Aikatsu shows rarely are, and PriPara probably don’t even know how to)

The “People Keep Talking About This” Award for Shows I Need To Probably Watch At Some Point – Made in Abyss

I think I only watched through maybe four episodes. It didn’t really grab me from that, beyond being impressed by its obvious production quality, and it’s peculiar repeated obsession with Reg’s dangly-bits was a little off-putting, though I’d be about the first to admit that I probably didn’t watch those episodes I did under the best of circumstances – if I’m recalling things correctly, I pretty much watched them at about 0300 in the morning in the middle of pulling an all-nighter prior to an early-morning flight to the US a couple of hours later (Otakon, I think). Probably not really something that would put me in the mindset to take much in, honestly.

But, hey, those Summer months are generally pretty brutal when it comes to me keeping up with anything, and there were enough in the way of good shows airing at the time, and in seasons subsequent, that it’s not like I particularly had time to pick it up after the fact. I suppose ordinarily it’s the kind of thing I’d be watching this week, whilst there’s a gap in shows airing, but they also kinda dropped both a new iM@S game and a new Xenoblade, so… yeah, not happening right now.

There’s a bunch of other things I could do with either catching up with or watching, though. I need to watch the second series of Rakugo at some point, could probably do with watching a little more MMO Junkie, and I’ve still not got around to Eccentric Family at all. Should probably fix that.

(Also Girls Last Tour)
(Also also, following from what I said last year, I’ve now watched all of New Game. T’was good. Nenechi is the best)

The “This Is Definitely A Descriptive Title” Award for Title Most Listing Two Things Which Are Totally In The Show – Knight’s & Magic

I guess Knight’s & Magic is technically an Isekai show, though it doesn’t frequently show it.

Knight’s & Magic actually starts with a relatively well-off Japanese salaryman for once, rather than some kind of depressive teen type. Not the oldest of salarymen, admittedly, but not a child all the same. He is, however, a genius software developer with a bit of a penchant for Gunpla.

Then he gets hit by a car ninety seconds into the first episode. Goodbye Life, Goodbye unbuilt Gundam model kits, Goodbye Japan.

The show then cuts to young noble Ernesti Echevalier, riding in a horse-drawn carriage in a fantasy world with his parents, when they’re suddenly attacked by monsters. Rather than being traumatised for life by the experience, young Ernie is positively delighted when he’s suddenly saved by a giant robot (a Silhouette Knight in the shows parlance). Suddenly recalling some semblance of his memories of his previous life as a programmer in Tokyo, he starts to apply his knowledge of software engineering to the worlds magic system with the singular goal of, well, piloting a giant robot, despite being a short-arse.

Of course, in the process, Ernesti proceeds to up-end the worlds traditional logic by combining his superior magic skills with concepts picked up from building model kits to make frankly insane things, adapting fictional anime robot traits to the world in which he resides. It’s one of those shows where the protagonist is, in most fashions, hilariously overpowered, though it’s not really in that aloof, smug, otherwise detached fashion of characters like Kirito from SAO or Tatsuya from Irregular at Magic High. Living up to his name, Ernesti is, well, incredibly earnest – friendly and upbeat to a fault, and staggeringly optimistic and curious.

Describing the plot of the show from this point onwards is rather a difficult task, because the show covers an awful lot of ground awfully quickly. The shows first episode covers over three years of content, from Ernesti seeing his first robot, to befriending his childhood friends Archid and Adeltrud (more commonly referred to as Kid and Addy), to starting school, to becoming a senior. Within three episodes he’s revolutionised his schools engineering facilities, and has gone through several prototype Knight designs. Not long afterwards, he’s given his own military order to command by royal decree.

It’s this kind of shockingly breathless pace that ends up giving the show a lot of it’s unique flavour, honestly. Whilst it probably sounds like a derogatory way to refer to anything, it ends up feeling an awful lot like one of the better examples of those Sunrise recap movies. It often plays more like a highlight reel than it necessarily does a full-featured show, skipping to the highlights rather than getting bogged down in too many of the specifics. My favourite example of this ends up being the shows tenth episode – the ninth episodes ends with the royal family of one of the protagonists allied countries being captured by an invading foreign power. Whilst with most shows you’d expect this to be an entire multi-episode plot-arc – episodes of the characters gathering information and supplies, meticulously planning, gathering supplies and executing it, maybe throwing a couple of unexpected wrinkles into the proceedings, Knight’s & Magic runs through that entire scenario within eight minutes or so.

It probably shouldn’t really work, and there’s things about it that don’t – whilst there’s certainly characters who have surprisingly well-formed plot arcs and character growth within the show, normally as a side-effect of Ernie’s boundless earnesty (Dietrich in particular goes from someone you assume is going to be an antagonistic ass due to having been shown up by Ernie to someone who is pretty baller), Addy gets pretty short-shrift for someone you would assume to be relatively significant in the proceedings, not often getting to do a ton beyond doting in Ernie – but somehow things actually ended up coming together into what ended up being one of the most consistently entertaining things I watched in the last year.

A lot of that does, admittedly, end up being the somewhat breathless pacing repeatedly keeping things fresh, in so much as it’s not always particularly obvious as to what an episode intends to encompass. To a degree, it also has something of that Code Geass/Death Note edge to it where you somewhat presume that the protagonist is going to win going into any given situation, and the fun comes seeing the precise machinations made leading up to that unfurl, either from them having out-planned their rivals or just simply being able to hilariously overpower them. Unsurprisingly, it does ultimate culminate in the revelation that Ernies opponents have someone with a penchant for building things just as insane as Ernie does, only approaching things from a different sense of design. It’s not exactly L versus Light but with crazy fantasy robot designs, but it’s close enough, I guess.

Mostly, though, it was just plain fun, and sometimes you just need a show in which a guy has a robot practically made of swords called the Swordman which he claims is the strongest just because it has all the swords.

(Also, should probably try and see fhana live at some point. I think I might be the only person I know who listens to the Witchcraft Works OP more than the ending)

The “Maybe This Is A Descriptive Title?” Award for Show Which Has A Kind Of Descriptive Title That Maybe Doesn’t Give The Right Idea – Princess Principal

If you’d told me at the start of 2017 that I’d like something that’s difficult to explain without using the dread-word “steampunk”, I’d have likely laughed in your face. Which, admittedly, is also the same reaction I’d have if you told me I’d like a show called “Princess Principal”, which rather colours the image of a bad softcore eroge harem comedy adaptation about a petite blonde who somehow runs a school.

Instead, Princess Principal is set in an alternate universe in which every (British) Southerners dream has come to fruition – following a bitter, still ongoing, civil war, the south-east of the UK has been separated off into its own entity by a huge wall running along London, creating both the Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Albion. Enter Ange, a girl from the Commonwealth sent as a spy to infiltrate the school at which one of the countries Princesses, Charlotte, attends as a student and, when a suitable moment presents itself, eliminate and take the place of her.

Of course, things don’t quite go to plan here – Charlotte twigs to what is happening, and turns the situation onto its head by proposing to work alongside the spies from the Commonwealth in exchange for their assistance in claiming the crown of the Kingdom for herself, placing Ange and the spies working alongside her in a situation where her superiors would struggle to be able to refuse the proposition.

The inevitable twist to this early on, however, is that Ange and the Princess, completely unbeknown to Anges superiors, already know each other – infact, it’s heavily implied from the offset (and later confirmed) that the two had already traded places long before they found themselves in their current situations.

The two the proceed to embark on a series of spy hijinks accompanied by Dorothy, Anges alcoholic comrade who somehow manages to just about pass herself as someone four years her junior; Chise, the ninja exchange student from Japan; and Beatrice, Charlottes eminently-bulliable friend whose asshole father used her as a test-subject, replacing her voicebox with an artificial mechanism in the process.

Whilst the show doesn’t wear its steampunk-stylings too obnoxiously – although it’s fashion tends to err into the stereotypically common modernised-Victorian, it doesn’t indulge in having gears glued all over them, only really betraying those design principals in it’s mechanical design – Ange does have one piece of steampunk technology to assist her. One of the things which made the Kingdom of Albion the dominant military force they are is their monopolization of the substance Cavorite (referencing back to an old HG Wells story), which allows them to manipulate gravity and build huge airships. Whilst they certainly aren’t in the position completely respond in kind, the Commonwealth used some of what little Cavorite they have managed to source to provide Ange with an experimental hand-held version of the technology which allows her to manipulate gravity immediately around herself.

Which, you know, is kind of useful if you are trying to sneak into places. Who expects someone to be walking along the underside of the roof?

The show does seek to disorientated the viewer a little by playing its episodes out-of-order, jumping around at its onset before settling down somewhat. The first episode plays out after the whole cast has already been assembled, before quickly jumping back to cover the earlier days of Anges introduction in its second episode.

It’s probably that second episode where the show actually peaks in terms of being a show about spies. As Ange and Dorothy plot to replace Charlotte during a high society ball, they receive emergency orders relating to recovering a key to safe containing the blueprints to a new form of battleship that is due to be handed over to The Home Secretary, The Duke of Normandy, in but 30 minutes time. Ange uses the situation to approach the Princess (in a scene which takes on all sorts of different connotations once you know all which is transpiring) and plots of switch places with her on a temporary basis in order to approach the Politician who is holding onto the key in question. Charlotte, however, twigs onto the situation and makes a proposition of cooperation to Ange and Dorothy just as the Duke of Normandy arrives and orders a search of everyone on the premises. As their superiors argue as to whether or not to agree to Charlottes scheme, Ange and Dorothy edge ever closer to being discovered.

Admittedly, the tension is diffused somewhat by the fact that we’ve already seen where things pan out to, but it introduces a level of suspense and intrigue, coupled off with an additional twist re-contextualising the unfolding events after the fact, that the show only occasionally hints towards at the same level going forward.

Which isn’t to say that the rest of the show is bad – quite the opposite – but many of the episodes display a very different tone or style to them. The crux of what the show focuses on, and what makes a lot of it tick, is the relationships between the central girls (mostly Ange and Charlotte, though I guess I should mention that the show is pretty gay), and much of what is going on serves to compliment that. This does mean we get an entertaining cavalcade of episodes covering what feels like a great deal of the spectrum of what Spy fiction can be, and a few other things besides. The episode which serves to introduce Chise ends up being a rollicking-fun train-based action piece, there’s a Dorothy episode which ends up being a surprisingly nuanced character piece, and there’s an entire episode about the empowerment of the female workforce through sensible modernised working practices and preventive maintenance.

Things inevitably come to a climax towards the end, but not one which ultimately resolves everything – indeed, the finale serves to introduce a few new threads to dangle of its own. One situation has been resolved, but there’s obviously more work to be done, and evidentially the shows own episode numbering suggests there’s holes even within this series that are intended to be plugged up at some point. Whether or not they end up being able to make more is anyone’s guess, but what exists here is plenty entertaining enough in itself.

(Also, killer OP)
(Also also, one of the few appearances of Cricket in anime. Played entirely accurately, I assure you)

The “Anime That Shouted Anime in the Heart of the Anime” Award for Anime Anime – Re:Creators

2017 was a pretty meta year for anime. I don’t really just mean this is the usual sense of me reading way too much into shows because it’s the kind of thing that amuses me – it’s been a year that’s been full of shows which explicitly address facets of the media, it’s audience, and how they relate. We’ve had things like Anime-Gataris and a bunch of stuff like A Sister’s All You Need that I didn’t watch.

The King of the meta-anime is… Probably actually Heybot, although that probably doesn’t count because it’s a kids cartoon. It is a show in which Soft Vinyl Heybot is a distinct character from regular Heybot, in which discarded character designs are brought back to complain about it, in which they make fun of the toys which they cancelled production of, and even call out the creator as a crackpot toy designer who makes things that no-one would likely want to buy (the Heybot toy line didn’t exactly do great business, judging from the deep-discounts on the toys even as it still aired). It even explicitly calls out when characters are only appearing in episodes because the marketing department as still in their initial push for that specific toy, despite the fact they have no relevance in the actual episode otherwise.

In comparison, Re:Creators is actually pretty tame.

A large part of the base concept of Re:Creators is essentially a classic fanfiction trope – what if these characters from this one franchise find themselves in the same world as these other characters from this completely different thing, with bonus points if the two original works are completely tonally divergent. Whilst the show feels a good three or four years behind in terms industry trends (such is pre-production, I guess), it throws together archetypal heroes and heroines from a number of different disparate works – across a variety of genres, mediums and target audiences – into the same setting. It just so happens that the setting in question is the world in which the people who created these characters also reside.

Re:Creators pulls some curious narrative sleight-of-hands in terms of ultimately not being what the show necessarily immediately presents itself as being. The show opens with Souta, a high schooler who has found himself unable to draw, encountering the character of Selesia Upitiria when watching an episode of her show Vogelchevalier (a pulpy swords-and-sorcery robot effort), and quickly fleeing alongside her when they’re attacked by a mysterious third figure.

Whilst you’d probably assume that Souta is the main character, and his story is intrinsically tied up in the central plot by the time you get to the end of the show, he’s relatively quickly relegated to something of a sideshow, there to explain things or to explain things to. He’s not a harem lead, and he’s not the central figure around which everyone revolves. That they didn’t go the laziest possible route there is at least something to admire.

In the same sense, if you were given the keys to, say, the entire Dengeki Bunko line-up, it’d probably be a little tempting just to write stories exploring who’d win in a fight between Shana and, I dunno, Railgun, perhaps assuming one of them finds themselves bound by the rules of the others franchise. Whilst Re:Creators certainly has fights, that’s not the angle from which it delves into the crossover concept. It instead explores the idea that characters are less about how they’re written than it is how they are perceived, and shines the light back onto the process and mentality of the creators behind them as much as the characters themselves. Once the battle lines are ultimately drawn, you can certainly see conceptual echoes in characters in each side of the conflict, but but ultimately their outlooks are coloured by those who created them, even as they struggle to break free from them.

This blends into the shows main antagonist, referred to as The Military Uniform Princess through much of the show. As a character, she’s a violent Hatsune Miku stand-in. Created for a music video by a now long-deceased creator, she’s been iterated and re-imagined over and over by untold numbers of people, to each of which she meant something completely different. That she is an entity of infinite potential, and not the kind of character mere normal abilities can defeat, is what becomes a large part of the show.

My biggest source of amusement in the show is probably the character of Meteora, probably my favourite character, whilst also being for many the poster girl for everything that many say is wrong with Re:Creators. She’s arguably the most competent person in the entire show, but in terms of her origin, she’s the least significant – she’s an NPC from the final town of a long RPG, someone who resides at the final save point and directs the protagonist in the direction of the final boss, the kind of character a lot of players never even see because she’s so late into the game. As a character who was originally created purely for the sake of exposition, she talks an awful lot, she’s the one who comprehends what’s going on and explains it to everyone else, and does so with the slightly weird type of humour which sees her redesign her own character when she inevitably narrates the recap episode.

This speaks to why a lot of folks probably ended up bouncing off the show, though – it’s talkie enough to the point where some of the staff jokingly apologised for it. You go into it expecting a Battle Royale, and instead get long plot arcs about the complexity of throwing together a cross-media collaboration project. It goes from being a mash-up fanfiction to a show about writing a mash-up fanfiction.

I love that kind of goofy thing, but it’s probably not for everyone.

This isn’t to say I’m entirely enamoured with everything the show did. The dramatic finale (the show does spend an episode on a much appreciated coda afterwards) somehow gives off the feeling of somehow having flubbed it somewhat despite the fact that it ends in pretty much the way in which you’d both expect at that point, and probably hope it would – something about the specifics of the execution doesn’t quite land as successfully as you’d hope.

Still, though, there’s a lot to take delight in here, across a lot of different spectrums – from a character who doesn’t want any novel spoilers because they’re specifically from the anime adaptation of the property, a magical girl being positively horrified at the amount of collateral damage her magic actually causes, them literally trying to Nanoha an eroge heroine into a power-up through a fandisk, to a character who supernaturally twists words to her advantage in the fashion befitting a Nisioisin antagonist.

(Also, props to Anime-Gatatis for probably being the only thing which will ever reference WUGZoo)
(Also also, kinda props to Gamers for actually using common royalty-free background art for their bad visual novel parody)
(Also also also, pretty great soundtrack, and MOST killer OP. Well, at least the first one)
(Also also also also, lots of eating in this show. Makes me crave import snack food…)

The “I Should Really Drop This Tortured Format Next Year” Award for Show I’ve Written Something About – Vatican Miracle Examiner

Vatican Miracle Examiner has to take the award for show I most enjoyed that I expected to do absolutely nothing for me.

Vatican Miracle Examiner is about, well, pretty much what the title says. It’s about two Priests from the Vatican – Joseph, who is really into his science, and Roberto, who is really into his historic texts – who are charged with travelling the world in order to ascertain the reality of various mysteries which have been presented to the Vatican as genuine miracles.

The series of novels this series is based upon is published on a Horror imprint, though the reality is a little less horrific than it is the stuff of the kind of pulp conspiracy thriller that generally gets categorised as Airport Fiction – extremely pulply page-turners.

It’s one of those things I initially completely wrote off watching entirely – aside the fact of it not immediately looking like my thing, it was also in that HiDive Pot of Shows I Completely Forget About – until I started insane stories of where the first plot arc ended up going, which in itself hardly prepared me for the actual execution of it.

The first story arc sees Joseph and Roberto travelling to a remote religious school to investigate an apparent immaculate conception, only to find themselves embroiled in an even more elaborate case involving a weeping statue and a levitating student.

Across the course of four episodes, the situation unsurprisingly ends up escalating – through the death of several members of the schools clergy, a two-headed baby, and demonic possession. Ultimately, it somehow climaxes in secret Nazi’s, the corpse of Adolf Hitler, an attempt to breed a new Fuhrer, and a Combat Priest hunting the last remnants of those pesky Germans.

I’m still actually underselling the full extent of how much the climax of this plot-arc ends ultimately ramps up, but a fair degree of that is because a lot of it ends up coming across in the actual execution of it. It’s not quite Araki-tier levels, but the whole presentation is given a level of conviction and bombast which sells the proceedings far more successfully than you’d believe possible. Sometimes it’s frankly just a little banana’s – such as a particularly bizarre shot of a juice maker used to imply gushing blood – but the show sporadically presents a sense of layout and composition which produces a surprising level of disorientating unease to good effect.

The show never quite reaches the level of insanity of that first plot-arc again, even with the promise of a Decapitating Clown or a malevolent Santa Claus, and subsequent arcs do make that error of making the proceedings tie back to our protagonists a little too closely, but it still manages to provide at least something interesting – be it weird or just outright absurd – with just about every episode. I still doubt it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is something different at least.

(Also, all that said, given that stuff like The DaVinci Code is considered populist, this is probably the most mainstream anime of the year)
(also also, I guess this was locked on Anime Strike in the US rather than Hidive… until today, anyway)

The “This Is Actually Definitely Good Now” Award for Show Which Used To Be Kind Of Bad But Now Isn’t – Dragonball Super

Dragonball Super started pretty badly.

I mean, for those who obsess over things like comparative power levels, or just otherwise take things Far Too Seriously, Dragonball Super is likely still bad, but it started pretty bad regardless of your point of view.

I should probably say, I think Battle of Gods was a pretty great movie, striking a good balance between goofiness and fisticuffs in a fashion that Z-era Dragonball rarely managed. Whilst some of the early original content was pretty entertaining, that they started Super with a complete remake of the movie, only with almost all of the charm (and its most memorable moments) stripped from it quite rightly made it a bit of a joke.

The Super version of Resurrection of F faired somewhat better, if only because Frieza was such an entertaining character that there was some inherent value in having him chew through more dialogue. It lost a number of the movies standout moments, but at least some of the changes felt additive to the experience rather than detrimental.

The show actually turned a pretty sharp corner once it got out of the movie remake content and into its original material, though. Well, depending on how you view your Dragonball, anyway.

The main thing that Super brings to the mix, in terms of Dragonball lore, is multiple universes. As of the time of Super, we are told that our heroes reside in Universe 7, out of the 12 presently in existence. To a degree, this is necessary escalation – there’s only so many more times that stronger opponents can be discovered and beaten up by Goku before the prior events in the franchise start to become completely preposterous, which is a matter helpfully side-stepped by introducing entire other universes that are populated by tough folks to pummel.

This is me talking about content from a good couple of years ago at this point, admittedly, but the fighting tournament between Universe 7 and it’s sister universe, Universe 6, is part of what narratively set-up where the show found itself this last year – Goku and Chums versus a bunch of new characters with previously unseen abilities. The other thing which happened at the beginning of the current arc back in February is that they cycled some of the shows production staff, bringing in Heartcatch Precure‘s Tatsuya Nagamine in to take over as series director, alongside changes in the shows art direction.

Which is all great, and certainly the show has been hitting it out of the park in terms of what it’s presenting on the screen with much higher regularity recently – even when we don’t have a terrific set-piece to enjoy, it has a much less bland and uniform look to it – but it does also help that the Universe Survival arc has been a lot of fun in general.

The Universe Survival arc is, well, a tournament arc of sorts. The God (well, Gods – it’s complicated) of pretty much everything, Zen-oh, has decided that twelve universes are simply too many, so decides to wipe out about half of them. Still, since he thought it was pretty fun watching Goku fight back when Universe 7 fought Universe 6, he decides to take the six worst universes and have them fight a Battle Royale over which one of them gets to survive. To this end, each universe in competition assembles the mightiest 10 warriors they can in order to do battle against each other.

Really, it’s the kind of thing shows like Dragonball do well, and they have a new OP which presents the premise pretty well – they’re introducing a whole bunch of new weirdos and making them all fight at the same time. One you include all the new gods accompanying those fighting, we’re looking at in the region of more than 50 new characters, discounting all the characters from 6 and 7 we were introduced to earlier.

It really is a pretty weird bunch as well, feeling a lot like it’s making some pretty deliberate callbacks to some of the other things Toei is well-known for. There’s a group of intergalatic cops with a tendency to strike poses out of Sentai shows, a group of magical girl idols who parody the whole Precure movie Miracle Light bit to power up (probably kind of appropriate given how much early Precure fights stylistically owe to Dragonball), and there’s a bunch of combining robots led by a guy who looks like a mixture of Toriyama’s design sense with a Go Nagai mad scientist, echoing things like Getter Robo. Then there’s the pretty gay pair of female saiyans who are not only about as battle-hungry as Goku, and not only incredibly talented, but just to rub things in a little more with certain parts of the audience, borrow concepts and imagery from fan-favourite movie-only character Broly.

Admittedly, the show does suffer a little from the good, old Namek-style time dilation – for a fight that was only supposed to last about 48 minutes, the actual battle part of the arc has rather been going on for over twenty episodes at this point. Still, the basic formula of presenting our heroes with a new opponent, revealing what they can do, and having our heroes have to fathom a way over it, even when not all of them have been exactly stellar, hasn’t managed to get old yet.

Honestly, I’m a little shocked at this point that pretty much the first thing I do when waking up on a Sunday morning is watching new Dragonball. Can’t say I’m young enough that it takes me back to when I was a kid – I’m way too old for when English Dragonball Z was a big thing – but it sure is fun.

(Also, Krillian is still my guy. Also Piccolo. Also, they still both get dunked on)
(Also also, speaking of getting dunked on, Great Baseball episode, with terrific Yamcha-Getting-Dunked-On conclusion)
(Also also also, FighterZ looks raaaaaaad. Glad they at least got Beerus and Hit in there for that Super rep)
(Also also also, someone on the production staff clearly likes the androids way, way too much)

The “I Promise This Is The End” Award for show that probably isn’t worth watching that I still kind of liked – Akiba’s Trip: The Animation

The first thing to bear in mind about the Akiba’s Trip anime is that it has very little to do with the game from which it theoretically spawned from. Well, I’m presuming this is the case, since I’ve not played any of the games, but I’ve sure heard the complaints about it.

This may explain, at least in part, why I somewhat enjoy this more than some others I know, having zero attachment to what they’ve discarded.

To be fair, whilst it may not be an adaptation of either of the games in terms of specific content, it does at least share some thematic similarities with them. It’s obviously set around Akihabara, and leans on a certain amount soft-tourism for it’s content – I daresent say that there’s an additional layer of amusement for those who actually frequent Akiba (yeah, yeah, don’t @ me), given it doesn’t actually shy away from referencing or outright promoting actual establishments in the area. It also involves villains who are defeated by removing their clothing.

Otherwise, the show centers on otaku Tamotsu Denkigai, who ends up helping the mysterious bat-weilding girl Matome Mayonaka fight off a bunch of weird vampiric creatures assaulting Akihabara, only for her to save his life when he sustains a fatal injury by turning him into one of them as well. Now unable to be able to leave Akihabara, Tamotsu gets himself into a bunch of peculiar situations that he has to extricate himself, Matome, his younger sister Niwaka, and their Finnish otaku friend (and later idol-unit co-member) Arisa from.

It’s these peculiar situations that makes me like the show, honestly. It’s a strange mixture of ripped-from-the-headlines stories about Akiba and some surprisingly crazy deep-dives into various facits of otaku culture that ultimately often end up building into some really peculiar climaxes. The shows seventh episode, for example, starts with a story about Chinese tourists visiting Japanese department stores to stock-up on duty-free electronics, and somehow ends up escalating this into a Professional Wrestling parody. There’s a pretty great episode in which Tamotsu ends up getting back into playing collectors card games, which, rather more obviously, turns into a pretty amusing parody of Yu-Gi-Oh, right down to the pretty weird-looking art, as it cuts between the characters exaggerated view of what a card battle looks like, and characters commenting on how dull it actually looks in reality.

My actual favourite episode of the show is probably the third one, and not because, shocking, it turns into an idol episode. Spurred on from attending his first idol live, Tamotsu ends up trying to recreate the experience at home by getting really, really deep into audio-visual equipment. If you’ve ever spent an idle afternoon reading an audiophile forums – the kind of place where the users insist that digital music files degrade in quality when you copy them, or dependant on what media they’re stored on, or buy tiny little pilons to run their speaker cables along to prevent interference, you’ll likely find this at least a little amusing. Personally, I completely bust a gut at the point when they had Tamotsu buying a bag of those little stones which supposedly improve audio quality, because that’s sure something daft I’ve read about in the past.

There’s also a Street Fighter episode, because why not.

That’s the kind of thing you probably need to be into finding amusing to be entertained by the show, though – peculiar deep-dive otaku injokes, but not strictly the anime kind – and exaggerated situations surrounding them. In some senses, there’s probably better shows about this kind of thing even just this year – it is pretty much the year of meta-anime, and depending on your personal niche they may well be something that appeals a little more directly to it, but Akiba’s is at least an occasionally amusing diversion.

(Also, shows I had shortlisted to write about but didn’t: My Hero Academia, Magical Circle Guru Guru, Dragon Maid, Konosuba S2, Most The Stuff That’s Actually Good)
(Also also, MHA would mostly just be a shout-out to Stain. I like the concept of a character who looks like they’ve been formulated from the tropes of 90s US comics – 45% Ninja Turtle, 30% Spawn and 25% Liefeld – being used to explore the relationship between Golden/Silver-age heroes and the type of character Stain draws on. Much of MHA S2 ends up being about not letting others define you, though, and it mostly nails it)
(Also also also, Guru Guru is a good example of the kind of gag-density you can achieve if you are adapting something already completed within a fixed number of episodes)
(Also also also also, Heybot probably has it beaten for gag-density, but that show has such a weird cadence to it that enjoying it often ends up feeling like suffering a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Certainly takes some getting used to, anyway)
(Also also also also also, Land of the Lustrous is some good stuff. Going to need to start reading the manga, methinks)
(Also also also also also also, it was funny going to more than one anime staff panel at events this year and hearing random directors make statements to the effect of “I wish I understood comedy well enough to make KonoSuba”)
(Also also also also also also also, whilst I totally understand where some of the complaints about how it wraps up come from, I really enjoyed Rage of Bahamut Virgin Soul until the end)
(Also also also also also also also also, Tanya the Evil was way, way better than it had any right to have been)
(Also also also also also also also also also, All the Build Fighters shorts were really good)
(Also also also also also also also also also also, suppose I could have written something about Violet Evergarden. Somehow managed to see the first episode twice this year. That show is going to be good)
(Also also also also also also also also also also also, something about Kemono Friends, but the whole situation surrounding it kind of dampens much of my enthusiasm for writing anything about it)

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