Anime roundup 4/12/2018: The Knockout Punch

Megalobox premiere – Junk Dog, who only goes by his professional name, is one of the best fighters on the underground circuit— so good that he makes his boss a ton of money by being able to throw fights exactly as ordered. He dreams of going legit, and there’s even a major tournament coming up where he could show off his skills, but he isn’t even a citizen of the country where he lives. So he’s stuck in the slums forever, except that there would be no story if things weren’t about to line up for him in a most unexpected way.

So what exactly does this show have to do with Ashita no Joe, the very non-science-fictional manga about a working-class hero which captured the hearts of Japan 50 years ago? It appears to be a futuristic remix of the original story. Junk Dog has an inescapable resemblance to original hero Joe Yabuki, and his manager and new rival look much like the ones from the manga.

Like the revival of GeGeGe no Kitarō, this is a top quality production where every frame looks polished, and the storytelling is given just as much effort. Junk Dog is almost an antihero, but he hasn’t quite given up that last glimmer of hope, and you want to root for him to hold on to it. The brutality of cybernetically enhanced boxing is communicated without wallowing in gore, and the essential facts of the world he inhabits are explained without anyone needing to deliver a lecture.

This is the best premiere of the season yet, and an easy pick for a second viewing.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, North Africa, South Africa); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); bilibili (Asia)

Dances with the Dragons premiere – In a world not too much unlike our own, a quantum-mechanical process was discovered which blah blah blah Planck constant blah blah vacuum energy blah blah anyway the point is that there’s technology similar to ours but also there are still dudes who have to go out and fight dragons with fireballs and lightning. Two of them are Gayus (or possibly Gaius) the normal guy and Gigina the Proud Warrior Tribesman. They kill a major dragon with a mixture of magic and talking incessantly about precisely what kind of dragon it might be. There is supposed to be a payout, but they don’t get one for seemingly arbitrary plot reasons. Luckily, they are about to be hired as bodyguards by a major cleric who may or may not part of the actual government.

I’m all for stories which throw the reader or viewer into the deep end and let them figure things out, but at least some of the pieces have to start fitting together immediately. Nothing here does. Despite a long technical discussion about the dragon, there’s no sense of what role they play in the world, in the ecosystem, or why they come downtown to rampage. There’s no understanding of who employs Gayus and Gigina or why exactly, or how the government structure which is clearly going to be important to the story works.

The story just goes through the motions and hopes you’ll play along with it. The animation isn’t anything special, and despite the modern-day cars in the background, there’s very little here that hasn’t already been done to death by a gazillion other western-medieval-fantasy-inspired shows.

International streams: Crunchyroll (territories not announced); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe); Funimation dub (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; starting date TBA)

Hinamatsuri premiere – Nitta is an up-and-coming gangster enjoying his nice apartment and expensive vase collection when a metal box with a face crashes through his ceiling. Opening the box reveals a young girl named Hina, who refuses to go away and leave Nitta alone. Instead, she demonstrates that she is well acquainted with the art of forceful persuasion, as well as having massive psychic powers. Suitably humbled, Nitta soon finds himself becoming accustomed to life as her guardian.

As a sitcom about the gangster’s life being disrupted by a new family member who isn’t too familiar with how normal humans live, Hinamatsuri works well enough. But it starts tripping over itself when trying to go for drama as well as comedy. When Hina invites herself along to help Nitta with a hit on a rival gang boss, Nitta realizes that she’s used to being used as a weapon. This is treated as a solemn realization, but then when Hina insists on taking the lead and storming the building all by herself, suddenly killing another human is treated as funny again.

If it could straighten out its tone, this could be a decent comedy with a heart.

International streams: Crunchyroll (territories not announced); bilibili (Asia)

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online premiere – In the near future, fully immersive virtual-reality MMOs are popular, and one of the most popular is Gun Gale Online, a shoot-’em-up world focused on modern guns. One of the teams in its latest battle royale consists of M the manly-man sniper and LLENN the walking moe stereotype, an ultra-feminine, slightly clumsy girl who looks about twelve. M and LLENN proceed to barely fight at all, instead sitting in the forest overthinking strategy and narrating the mistakes of other teams for the viewer.

This show is aimed at a very specific type of gun enthusiast. It’s for one who is fascinated by guns as machines, completely stripped of any cultural or political context, the sort of person who would never buy a real gun but would embrace the chance to visit a fantasy world where they’re used freely— in short, the stereotypical Japanese gun nerd. Western gun fanciers of more familiar types are unlikely to enjoy this much.

The only other reason to watch this is if you’re a loyal fan of everything remotely related to Sword Art Online, in which case I believe you’ll find this to be a reasonable effort.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (France, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia); Hulu (US)

Cute High Earth Defense Club HAPPY KISS! premiere – The exploits of the old Earth Defense Club have been forgotten, and the club room in the attic of Binan High School is once again home to a group using it as cover to just hang out. Unfortunately, a perfectly relaxing afternoon is interrupted by a being of great powers who has come to claim Earth as his domain and wants the Earth Defense Club to become his magical strike force against unhappiness everywhere.

Once again, it’s time for magical-boy antics in ways both like and unlike previous seasons. The ridiculous transformation scenes are more ridiculous than ever, the student council is working for a villain again, and things are already getting very meta, as the monster of the week is fear of growth and change personified. On the other hand, it’s rooted in fantasy rather than science fiction this time, and the group leader is the diametrical opposite of the super-enthusiastic one from before.

I am disappointed that the suggestion it might be tackling portal fantasy tropes this season hasn’t panned out yet, but it does look like it’s heading in a different direction from its predecessors. The humor is still holding up fairly well, so I’ll give this at least one more episode to let it make its case.

International streams: Crunchyroll (territories not announced); bilibili (Asia)

Persona5 the Animation premiere – The famous criminal Joker is captured by a paramilitary force, subjected to brutal interrogation, and revealed to be teenager Ren Amamiya. Six months ago, he was already a juvenile delinquent, relocated to a new school and staying with a family friend for his probation. Then an unknown power reached out to him, and he was forced to accept in order to battle something else which has taken over the new school and warped it into a different place entirely…

There’s a lot going on here, but the pace of the episode feels unhurried. It has time to relax and fully introduce Ren’s new guardian, a well-meaning but unparental man who comes out of this as the most completely realized character. Ren himself is a cipher, possibly having had contact with these powers before but unwilling to explain.

How did Ren become a master criminal in six months? How reliable a narrator is he? How much of what’s happening is entirely in his head? It will probably take the entire season to answer these questions, but by the end of this episode I was already invested enough to want  to know those answers. This is definitely a candidate for continuing onward.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (France, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia); Aniplus HD (Southeast Asia); Hulu (US); bilibili (Asia)

Magical Girl Site premiere – Aya Asagiri’s life is a living hell in which every other teen is a caricatured bully and every adult is a caricatured idiot. Just in this episode, before she snaps and starts shooting people with the magical gun she’s been mysteriously given, she is subjected to multiple beatings, a trap full of razor blades, attempted drowning, attempted rape, and the deliberate murder of a pet.

For sitting through all this, you get the vague promise of a magical girl battle royale and lots more torture porn to come. There are no finely drawn characters, no sense of a deep story, nothing that can make up for it. Aya is a living punching bag with no inner life; she stands out as sympathetic only because everyone around her is so one-dimensionally horrible.

This is an awful show production-wise, and an awful show for its single-minded focus on thinking up new ways to make the protagonist suffer. If you only avoid one show this season, make it this one.

International stream: Amazon (worldwide)

Devils’ Line premiere – In a world not unlike our own, vampires are able to exist as normal humans. Once they get a taste of blood, though, they become consumed by the urge to get more of it and eventually devolve into mass killers. And, for no apparent reason than to amp up the edginess, they’re obligate rapists.

Throw in a young female protagonist, and endless vistas of hack writing opportunities open up. By the end of the premiere, Tsukasa, the heroine, has already been betrayed and attacked by a would-be boyfriend as he whines about how much trouble it’s been to make sure to only rape other women, and then assaulted by her rescuer, a vampire working for the police, because she cut her lip when the rescuer knocked her out of harm’s way.

Okay, it’s deeply screwed up as a romance, but how about as a police procedural? Well, the aforementioned vampire who is the only member of the police we’ve met so far comes across as incompetent at police work. He’s had no apparent training in dealing with assault victims even though he’s on a squad that would put him in frequent contact with them, and doesn’t so much as try to get a witness statement. So, not much to hope for there either.

In addition, with so many great-looking shows this season, something had to get the short end of the art stick, and here it is. Effects are uneven and distracting, and vampires with supernatural speed end up looking weirdly just like someone has animated speeded-up film. Other than not being quite as bad as Magical Girl Site, there’s nothing for you here.

International streams: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa; English dub starting 4/21); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); bilibili (Asia)

Libra of Nil Admirari premiere – Tsugumi Kuze has grown up doting on her younger brother, so when the news breaks that she’s leaving for an arranged marriage, he’s understandably upset. It seems like a bit of an overreaction when he hides in his room and sets himself on fire, though, so when government agents show up to explain that this is all the work of a cursed book, Tsugumi is ready to believe them. It helps that she can now see the aura of evil around the book, which in turn leads to an offer of a job helping track down more books like it.

This is an adaptation of an otome game, which requires it to bring in lots of eligible young men as potential romantic partners. This also usually means a viewer-insert protagonist with all the personality of a bowl of tapioca, but Libra of Nil Admirari does a fine job of making Tsugumi her own woman. Stylish art and period details— the setting is an alternate 1930 or so— make it great to look at as well.

And then it has to go and throw everything away. Like Kokkoku last season, a show off to a perfectly good start has been saddled with an end-credits sequence full of characters in various states of undress. Unlike Kokkoku, it’s up against some much tougher competition this season, and I don’t feel inclined to overlook this approach a second time.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (Asia)

As of now, our potential candidates for the rest of the season are Megalo Box, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Cute High, and Persona5, with Hakyu Hoshin Engi and the return of Hozuki’s Coolheadedness waiting in the wings to fight for a continuing slot. But wait, there are even more premieres coming next week! Two of the most hyped shows of the season have still yet to debut. ‘Til then!

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