Berserk premiere – With Game of Thrones ascendant, it must be time for anime to bring us a TV adaptation of Japan’s own gory, rapey, extremely long medieval-Europe-based fantasy series. Even if the source material is unpleasant, you would expect the very best in adaptation and production for something this highly anticipated. But I’m afraid what we get is a show that whiffs right past grimdark into unintentional humor.
For once, fears about CGI have been well-founded. People walk like they have no weight and move with an entirely inhuman coordination. This does make for a fine shambling zombie at one point, but it’s frequently bad enough with the human characters to be distracting. Trying to make the CGI figures look drawn, complete with pencil-like shading, is probably making it worse.
The entire show is stuck in an uncanny valley like that. Even a little scene like the main character catching a rabbit for his dinner feels weirdly off because one moment, he’s killing and skinning it with his European-style dagger, and the next, he’s carefully cutting the rabbit into tiny bits and stir-frying it with potatoes. Yes, it’s a fantasy world and the author can do what he wants, but there has been so much work obviously put into making everything look strictly medieval European that little slips loom huge.
Then there are the bits that cause inappropriate giggles. Yes, the hero is really named Guts. The incidental music picks up on this theme during a nightmare scene, where voices dramatically sing “BLOOD AND GUTS AND GUTS AND BLOOD!” over and over and over again. For the Japanese audience, I’m sure it provides the heart-pounding drama necessary to the scene. For this native English speaker, it simply does not work. Or take the fact that we are dropped into this world without any introduction to its geography or history, but a narrator does turn up in the middle of a fight scene to extol the obvious virtues of Guts’s big-ass sword.
Embedded within a show that takes itself very, very seriously, every little problem is magnified to the point where it all becomes a huge, writing mass of bad decisions. Sorry, Berserk fans, this is not the adaptation you were hoping for.
International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia, Australia, and New Zealand)
ReLIFE premiere – Arata Kaizaki was on the path to success until he flamed out three months into his first full-time job. Now 27, he pretends to still be respectably employed when out drinking with his buddies, but survives on occasional part-time work and handouts from his parents. One night, the answer to his prayers appears: a mysterious young man offering him a year’s living expenses and the possibility of longer-term employment. All he has to do is take a drug that makes him look 10 years younger and go back to high school for a year.
Predictable hijinks follow. Arata brings something inappropriate in his backpack, he talks wrong, he’s bad at tests, and he can’t even remember how to take one from a stack of handouts and pass them along. The one interesting development is that the man from the previous night is there to observe him as a classmate, which makes you wonder how many other people in the class are subjects in the same experiment.
In all aspects, there is nothing particular to recommend this show, nor to warn you away from it. If the above description set you on fire for more, Crunchyroll has dropped the entire series at once, Netflix-style, for subscribers.
International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Japan, China, North Korea, and Syria)
Rewrite premiere – …
They said this story couldn’t be adapted. The studio said, that’s okay, we’re adapting it with a new route that didn’t exist in the original game, and it’ll be fine.
I’m not convinced that there is a story here. Certainly there were a lot of scenes, in which people said things and events happened, some of which I can describe to you:
First, the Earth forms and life evolves. Then the protagonist, Kotarō Tennōji, is running through a city overgrown with trees, when a strange girl stabs him though the heart with a ribbon and he wakes up in what I assume is his normal life.
Kotarō’s normal life mostly consists of helping various moe girls who are unusually infantilized even for moe. First his childhood friend has fallen asleep in the forest, so he leads her home in a semi-hypnotic state with the clinking of coins, as if she is not a sentient being who could just be woken up and told it’s time to go home. Then he has to rescue a new transfer student who has treed herself due to cartoon physics. Then there’s the timid girl with an eyepatch (a ubiquitous character type a few years ago) who can’t figure out how a whistle works.
In between all this, Kotarō bullies the class delinquent by suggesting explicitly that he is gay, the camera keeps wandering down to girls’ hemlines, and every night the mysterious girl with the ribbons sneaks into Kotarō’s bedroom, crawls into bed with him, and noms his arm.
Eventually Kotarō needs to track down the head of the Occult Activities Club, which leads to him sneaking into the school at night, being trapped in a nightmare of endless corridors and stairs, encountering comedy fairies, and almost being killed by a giant land-dwelling Anomalocaris, during which he shouts, “What am I watching??” and the viewer shouts back, “That’s my line!”
The makers of Rewrite have clearly noted the success Re: ZERO had with a double-length first episode. But where Re: ZERO used the extra room to start showing what it was really up to, Rewrite just doubles the agony. Not only does it still make no sense, the protagonist is firmly established as a jerk and the secondary characters as useless idiots. This is so bad, it’s worth saying the Eight Deadly Words twice.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Canada, France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria, Sénégal, Guadeloupe, French Guinana, Martinique)
The Morose Mononokean premiere – Hanae is just a regular boy with a girly name on his way to his first day of high school when he finds a weird furry creature by the side of the road. After it gloms onto him, and he works out that no one else can see it and it’s draining his lifeforce, he realizes he needs the services of an exorcist. This entangles him with the churlish but competent Haruitsuki Abeno, who he will be working with for a long time to come.
There are some recommendable points to this show. “Mushishi with high school students” could turn out to be a fair description if it has anywhere near the grace and emotional depth of Mushishi. It’s hard to tell from just one episode, but one promising sign is the backstory which transforms Hanae’s yōkai from goofy to tragic. Also there is some sporadically lovely art in the scenes dealing with the spirit world.
On the other hand, the setup required a jumbo-sized helping of contrivance, and the art also involves making 14-year-old boys look weirdly mature. So I don’t know. But I think this is worth sticking with for another episode.
International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)
Orange premiere – Now here’s where some of the real money is being spent this season. Orange looks terrific, both in static art and animation. It has some lively direction, pretty good music, and a solid story going already.
Naho Takamiya finds a letter purporting to be from her future self, warning her about a new transfer student. She will fall in love with him, and then something terrible will happen to him. Kakeru, the new guy, seems normal enough, but after Naho ignores the letter’s warning to not let him spend the afternoon with her and her friends, he vanishes for two weeks.
But the letter is also a message to Naho to improve herself. It tells her to take an opportunity that she refused before and regretted, and as she figures out why, she begins to see how her own philosophy of life is maladapted.
This is the rare high school anime show full of completely plausible teenagers with mostly healthy relationships, which by itself is enough to want to encourage it. It’s off to a great start in every possible way. This is definitely going to be one of the hits of the season.
International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)
PUZZLE&DRAGONS X premiere – Once upon a time, using Bejeweled-style gem matching as a combat mechanic sounded like a very silly idea. Then a game company called Infinite Interactive hit it big with Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, and a horde of imitators followed. One of them is a mobile game called Puzzle & Dragons where players summon dragons to fight for them and use the gem matches as powerups.
It still doesn’t make for gripping television, though. When an experienced “Dragon Caller” shows up to take on a rogue dragon that the military can’t handle, the action goes from tanks vs. a giant monster smashing stuff up good to a guy standing there flicking his fingers while a vampire Pikachu explains what he’s doing. The show tries its very best, but it is inherently not exciting.
Oh, the story? Well, there’s a kid named Ace with all the standard attributes required for the hero in this sort of show. He’s wholesome and upstanding and adults love him; he has super-duper special powers related to the dragon combat; and he has an inferior best friend who will no doubt have to be repeatedly rescued from mortal peril. No one’s going to be watching this for the writing, either.
Tales of Zestiria The X premiere – Watching this is like walking into a movie an hour after it starts, when it’s got all the groundwork laid and is shifting into full action mode. Most of the episode is taken up with a spectacular sequence of something going horribly wrong and people desperately trying to escape it. It’s rendered with a top-notch mixture of traditional and non-traditional animation. If your interest in anime is purely about visuals, ignore the rest of this review and go take a look.
But, having skipped the groundwork, it happens with only the vaguest idea of who these people are, where they are, what the overall situation is, and why the princess is missing a major article of clothing. And the conclusion tells you that any further explanation is a long time coming. This is just the prologue, and it ends with what appears to be the opening credit sequence for the rest of the show, which advertises an almost entirely different tone, style, and cast.
I can’t recommend watching the rest of the show on the basis of this premiere. I’m not sure I can dis-recommend it either, though, since it seems so disconnected from what will be following it.
Taboo Tattoo premiere – If there is one thing this show does well, it’s fight sequences. There is some pretty cool martial arts action here. On the other hand, if there’s another thing it’s really thrown itself into, it’s catering to the male gaze. The major female characters are introduced in short skirts (though one of them does get to change it up and dress like a schoolmarm later), and the closing credit sequence consists of pin-up art. Including of the girl who is in middle school.
Justification for the fight sequences is provided by a new arms race developing between the US and the fictional Asian nation of Selinistan, because China is a big market for manga and anime these days. The new weapons are tattoo-like thingies that give the wielder special powers, but you have to find just the right match for each tattoo, plus each one requires some specific substance to activate it. Wouldn’t you know it, our hero just happens to be the perfect match for a particularly powerful tattoo, and he gets the extra bonus power of being able to activate it arbitrarily without a special key.
This has every indication of a show that has figured out what it’s good at and is going to stick with it. If that’s what you’re looking for, have fun.
International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)
Well. Not exactly a promising start, but we’re only about a third of the way through the premieres, and we’ll definitely be revisiting Orange and The Morose Mononokean after next week’s batch.