Anime roundup 4/16/2015: The Comfort Zone

Before we start, a quick update on new streams for shows covered last week.

  • Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls In a Dungeon? was picked up by Viewster (Scandinavia, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Turkey)
  • Gunslinger Stratos was picked up by AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Mikagura-1 Mikagura School Suite premiere – Eruna is a slacker who’d rather spend all her time romancing girls in dating sims than studying or figuring out which high school she wants to go to. Fortunately her cousin drops by with a brochure for the school he attends, and when Eruna sees the super-cute uniforms and develops a crush on a girl in one of the photos, her decision is made.

Left out of the brochure are a few important details like the fact that the crucial part of the admissions process is conducted by a flying cat, or that the school clubs conduct periodic battles, and their rankings determine how easy life is for their members. But Eruna is self-assured enough to take it all in stride, which is just as well because when she accepts an invitation to a club, she’s then told she has to represent it in a battle shortly.

Very few of the ingredients here are original, but they’ve been mixed with skill. There are definite light novel tropes here, but they don’t collapse into the kind of stupidity one usually expects (or at least, they haven’t yet). Eruna is flawed but likeable, and you can already believe she’s the sort of person that will manage to succeed in the environment she’s been dropped into.

And then there’s the matter of Eruna’s attraction to girls. It may not seem like a big deal to most readers of this column to have a lesbian protagonist in 2015, but Japan is much more conservative on this point than the English-speaking world. Putting a lesbian front and center in an anime and acting all casual about it is a very big deal, and for that reason alone I hope Mikagura School Suite doesn’t mess it up.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); Viewster (Continental Europe except Scandinavia); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Gintama-1 Gintama season 4 premiere – For the first few minutes, this looks great. It begins with a press conference where the protagonist, Gintoki, apologizes for the ending of the previous season. Then the opening credit sequence shows what a range of things the aliens-invading-a-medieval-society premise allows for. Modern tech mixing with feudal ways! Aliens! Monsters! Cute giant animals! This could be the awesomest show ever!

The main plot of the episode has time stopping because Gintoki mishandles an important alien artifact. Most of the attempted humor from that point on involves either (1) the opportunities this presents for sexual harassment or (2) various complications from trying to get rid of a giant booger.

What a letdown. If you’re a fan of the modern Hollywood gross-out comedy, I guess I can recommend this to you. I’ll be skipping the rest of it.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Worldwide except Asia)

Rin-ne-1 RIN-NE premiere – Sakura Mamiya can see ghosts, but it’s never done her much good until she acquires a classmate whose job is to help lingering spirits move on. In the course of this episode, they tackle the mystery of ghostly phone calls to a classmate’s phone, which is actually solved through an outrageous coincidence, and then deal with a ghost who’s become obsessed with Sakura. There’s a bit of action and a bit of humor, the latter mostly centering on Rinne’s poverty and his resulting amazement at Sakura being able to provide small amounts of money.

Rumiko Takahashi did not become one of the most successful manga artists of all time by pushing the envelope. If you’re a fan of Urusei Yatsura, or Ranma ½, or Inu-Yasha, the art style, the tone, and the character dynamics should feel comfortably familiar. If none of those really gripped you, there’s no reason to believe this will either. And if you’ve never seen any of them, well, this is an amiable enough story, but it’s hard to make a strong recommendation for it.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Australia, New Zealand); ADN (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco)

Nagato-Yuki-1 The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan premiere – What if the characters from the mega-hit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya weren’t a collection of cyborgs, psychics, and time travellers? What if they were just normal students living normal lives and Yuki ran the literature club and persuaded Kyon to join it because she had a crush on him?

There’s no catch, as it turns out. It really is just a slice-of-life story. The literature club has meetings, Yuki and Kyon and a friend have dinner together, and then there’s a shopping trip for supplies for the club Christmas party. At the mall, a competition breaks out between two more assertive characters, and wacky music plays frantically, begging you to see this as the funniest thing ever.

The only reason to watch this is if you’re so desperate for another dose of the Haruhi Suzumiya characters that you don’t mind if everyone’s been moefied to match today’s character-art standard and nothing interesting is happening.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Blood-Blockade-1 Blood Blockade Battlefront premiere – After New York City was seized by some interdimensional phenomenon that allowed all manner of creatures to roam its streets, Leo Watch and his family travelled there in the hope of finding a cure for his sister’s disability. Instead, Leo was granted some kind of magical sight, and set out to search for a mysterious organization called Libra. He happens to find them and get an interview with their head, who is basically Wolverine’s hipster cousin, just as events unfold that allow him to demonstrate how useful his power is.

Blood Blockade Battlefront gets maximum points for its endlessly inventive visual style (not surprising when the director is Rie Matsumoto, previously of Kyousougiga). Story, characters, and everything else, not so much. Like Gintama, this has anything-goes premise, but this show wants to be deeply serious and gritty. This is hampered somewhat by the need to still have everyone shout out their attack names, and other anime mannerisms that just don’t feel like they fit. An insistence on jumping around in time and telling big chunks of story in flashback mean whatever parts of the episode aren’t occupied with chases and fights are full of narration, leaving no chance to just watch the characters being themselves. As a result, it’s hard to care. The villain is also deeply uninteresting, his only motive for doing anything being to just make life unpredictable for the heroes so that there’s a story at all.

If all you ask of an animated show is that it look amazing, you do need to watch this.

International streams: FUNimation (US, Canada); ADN (France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand)

Yamada-kun-1 Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches premiere – Yamada-kun is two almost entirely different shows mashed together. One of them is pretty good. It tells the story of a hardened delinquent who accidentally swaps bodies with an honor student for a day. Ryū Yamada, the delinquent, learns that the life of the honor student, Urara Shiraishi, is hardly a picnic. Urara’s life is an endless round of isolation and bullying. In her body, Ryū strikes back at the bullies, and the two of them begin to build a rapport through mutual understanding.

The other show is standard light-novel fare. Ryū and Urara swap bodies because a highly contrived inadvertent kiss. It feels obligated to make every tired, obvious joke about the situation possible, including all the ones about new body parts, plus the Homophobic Dance of Avoidance when Ryū is asked to find out if the same thing happens when he kisses a male character.

Which one will prevail? The preview for the next episode suggests it’ll be all the latter show. So nope.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Middle East, North Africa, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

After the amazing crop of shows that last season produced, it was only natural that this season would be lackluster in comparison, but boy, it’s going well below the call of duty here. I still hold out hope for Ninja Slayer, which will have its premiere on the 16th. Next week, we’ll see how it stacks up against Mikagura School Suite, Gunslinger Stratos, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, and the return of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and hope that something catches fire.

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