All things considered, this Winter season is shaping up about how many of us expected it might. There aren’t really any breakout shows so far and the general quality isn’t particularly high. For the most part, if you aren’t already a fan of any of the myriad of airing sequels, of cute slice of life shows, or romantic comedies, then you’re out of luck this season. That being said, there are still a number of shows worth watching though why I myself am watching so many of them is a complete and utter mystery to me. Here are my impressions of everything I’ve seen so far.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
My favorite anime of the season should come as no surprise to those who’ve watched the show previously or read any of my endless praise for the series. Rakugo Shinjuu, the breathtaking historical drama and notable contender for 2016’s anime of the year, made a fantastic return to form with its first 3 episodes. The character drama is just as subtle and intricate as it was in the first season and the visuals sport the same fantastic art direction. Whereas the first season looked to the past in order to tell its tale of tragedy, this season looks forward – both for its characters and for rakugo itself. The pervasive theme of tradition takes center stage once more and mirrored alongside it is Yotaro’s own journey as he attempts to reinvent himself and find his own voice within rakugo. The first episode served as a great introduction back into the series while the second and third featured some of the best character writing and drama of the Winter season thus far. Rakugo Shinjuu is off to a spectacular start.
3-gatsu no Lion (March comes in like a lion)
The only carry-over from the Fall season in this lineup of shows, 3-gatsu upholds its characteristic excellence as it crosses into the new season. The first few episodes better acquainted us with a handful of characters before climbing to new emotional highs with an unconventional turn of events. By bringing Gotou into the picture, 3-gatsu begins to build tension around shogi itself for the first time rather than the individual drama of its characters. Instead of the matches unfolding traditionally, the show instead reminds us of its own grim authenticity. Again we see 3-gatsu hammer home its striking portrayal of depression both through Rei’s own characterization and its own captivating visuals. The most recent episodes are not devoid of hope however. Ever balanced between emotional thoughtfulness and lighthearted character interaction, 3-gatsu provides stunning insight into Rei episode after episode.
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (ACCA: 13th Territory Inspection Department)
The first of the non-sequels on the list and very likely the strongest of them, ACCA offers a stylish and intelligent atmosphere full of interesting characters. The show does an especially good job of establishing its world through the history of the kingdom, its various organizations, and individual districts. Jean, the protagonist, has been incredibly entertaining to watch and the cast as a whole is shaping up to become quite memorable. The character designs especially are just terrific. ACCA is in no hurry and doesn’t show any signs of straying from its low-key, dramatic approach however, as it stands, there is certainly no need for it to do so. I’m looking forward to exploring more of the kingdom’s states and their distinctive details in the weeks to come.
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! 2)
KonoSuba makes its glorious return this season and with its first two episodes, proves it’s just as funny and entertaining as it was before. The first episode somewhat serves as a means to reflect upon the previous season though continues to progress the narrative at hand. If possible, the art style of the first episode was even more slapdash and crude than usual which momentarily gave me concern before it returned to form with its second episode. There’s likely to be some flip-flopping between styles given the director of each episode however the comedy itself continues to be great. The first two episodes make great use of callbacks in order to further build upon KonoSuba’s core jokes however the arrival of a few new characters shows that this season won’t avoid creating something new for itself as well.
Little Witch Academia (TV)
Little Witch Academia has all of the magic and whimsy of its previous incarnations and looks to be a very fun and adventurous show. The lengthier format of storytelling allows Little Witch Academia to not only start Akko’s journey from the beginning but take a more active role in its own world building. The visuals can’t compare to the crisp and expressive style of the movies however the animation is none the less impressive and just what you would expect of Trigger. The show’s introduction does an excellent job of conveying Akko’s own enthusiasm and the kind of enchanted world the characters live in. It’s a rambunctious and highly entertaining show and it’s certainly at the top of my list of shows I’ll be looking forward to each week.
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid)
At last getting into this season’s new shows, Maid Dragon was perhaps the sole comedy that initially drew my attention. The first episode of the show didn’t particularly catch my interest outside of a few gag exchanges and some fantastic animation details. Its comedy seems a little hit or miss and the premise of the show doesn’t have a whole lot to it. I found the second episode much more to my liking however. The comedy felt better executed but more importantly, the show demonstrated some measure of flexibility. While the characterization of the cast supports their comedic interactions first and foremost, they present some endearing qualities as well which can occasionally lead to the show feeling more heartfelt than funny. Likewise, given Maid Dragon’s supernatural premise and cast of characters, KyoAni finds various ways to provide quite exciting flourishes of animation despite the show’s generally relaxed attitude. As a whole, its a pretty standard comedy though its solid execution sets it apart from the myriad of other similar shows airing this season.
Demi-chan wa Kataritai (Interviews with Monster Girls)
I’ll admit to dismissing this show initially before deciding to give it a try after its third episode aired. The Winter season season is just full of aggressively cute, often fanservice-laden, slice of life and romance shows. With a fair number of them involving some kind of monster or animal girls, I didn’t see much promise in Demi-chan. After having given the show a chance however, it’s turned out to be rather fun. Whereas my concern was for the outright fetishization of various, archetypal monster girls, Demi-chan instead handles its characters quite interestingly. The show explores how its supernatural cast of characters go about their mundane lives and what implications their racial attributes carry for them. The show has a good eye for detail and the comedy is consistently enjoyable as well. Similarly to Maid Dragon, it’s Demi-chan’s detailed execution and entertaining cast of characters that allows it standout as a comedy this season.
Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen (Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Impure King Arc)
Having very recently watched the original 25-episode show in order to watch this ongoing sequel, I can say outright that I don’t care much for Ao no Exorcist. Its stereotypical in every facet of its characters, story, and presentation and the non-canonical ending of the first season was simply terrible. The second season of the show does represent some change however. Retconning the end of the first season and following the original story properly allows for the first few episodes of the second season to outshine just about every episode of the first. The slight visual upgrade doesn’t hurt either. For an action show, very little has happened so far despite being 3 episodes in however the sequel’s improved handling of its characters already outpaces the shoddy work of the first season by miles. It’s not an outstanding show by any means but it presents a significant step in the right direction all the same.
Youjo Senki (Saga of Tanya the Evil)
After the lackluster events of Shuumatsu no Izetta just last season, I was ready to avoid similarly magical, military-oriented shows like the plague. Letting my curious nature get the better of me, I ended up watching the first 3 episodes of Youjo Senki anyways and all I can say is that it’s not as bad as I wish it were. The first episode leaves a lot to be desired however the second starts with quite an interesting time-stop sequence as it lays out the premise of the show – a petty bout between a coldhearted salaryman and an omnipotent being who for all intents and purposes is god. The show has yet to really get into the meat of whatever story it has however the general point of the show is the protagonist’s continued struggle to live in a magical, war-torn world after being reincarnated as a young girl.
At the very least, the show’s premise and occasional action sequences are somewhat entertaining. Why the show puts such an emphasis on Tanya’s evilness when she is more accurately characterized by her ruthlessness and pragmatism is beyond me. I can only imagine that it supposed to speak to her own adversarial nature in regards to god. As it stands, don’t go in expecting some kind of demented anti-hero. More than anything else, I just want to see where this show is going.
Kuzu no Honkai (Scum’s Wish)
The only straightforward romance show I bothered checking out this season, Kuzu no Honkai surprised me in some ways. The muddled tangle of attractions and relationships the show is built upon immediately threaten the viewer with melodrama. However, the show does a fairly good job of justifying its drama through its moody atmosphere and angst-ridden character dialogue. Within its visual design, Kuzu no Honkai employs a paneling technique in an effort to distill some of the style and meaning of the original manga. This gives the show some visual distinction though there is some danger in the technique becoming overused. There isn’t all that much animation to speak of either and so in a big way the whole show kind of plays out like a manga in motion. The attention to physical intimacy and the way in which the two lead characters structure their exceedingly unhealthy relationship was definitely the most interesting aspect of the show to me and while I’m proceeding warily, I want to see where this show goes.
Tales of Zestiria the X 2nd Season
Tales of Zestiria continues to conduct itself in about the same way as it did priorly. Its visuals looks draw-dropping fantastic but its story and characters are mind-numbingly boring. Miraculously, the show manages to be as slow-moving as the early episodes of its first season and so what hopes there were for the show really getting into the meat of its story with the start of its second cour are pretty much gone. It’s still worth watching for the beautiful visual design and animation but for the time being, Tales of Zestiria seems as bland and unimpressive as always.
As a fan of historical dramas, I had to check out Onihei this season. It certainly delivers on the kind of measured atmosphere you might expect and the character vignettes of the first two episodes establish the style and tone of the show well. Thus far, the characters have been somewhat interesting and the storytelling isn’t by any means bad but the low-quality, visual style of the show hinders some of its dramatic vision. The characters themselves don’t look all that great most of the time and the animation is unfortunately clunky.
Gabriel DropOut [Dropped @ Episode 2]
The first of the two shows I am dropping this season, Gabriel DropOut is about as quintessential of a comedy as you can expect out of Doga Kobo. In all reality, the show wasn’t actively bad save for some distasteful fanservice in the first episode. It’s primarily on my dropped list because, in a season full of cute, slice of life, comedies – Gabriel DropOut did nothing to differentiate itself from other Doga Kobo shows, much less all of the other comedies this season. A few of the character’s gags were entertaining and the comedy itself isn’t totally inept but for the most part, it’s utterly typical. Given that I’m already watching far more shows than I should be, my time would be more wisely spent watching something better.
Akiba’s Trip The Animation [Dropped @ Episode 1]
I don’t have much to say about Akiba’s Trip seeing as how I only ever watched the first episode. The show’s premise of saving Akihabara from vampire-esque beings by stripping them bare and exposing their bodies to sunlight really sets the show up for one of two possibilities. It either has to be funny or senselessly entertaining. For me, Akiba’s Trip achieved neither of these things. The jokes weren’t funny and while the animation and visual design had a handful of noteworthy moments, the presentation as a whole just bored me despite how outlandish the events of the episode were. The feeling I got was that, as the first episode concluded, that I had already seen everything the show was going to do for the next however many episodes.
Every once and a while, an anime comes along that really challenges what you think a show is capable of. Something that really pushes the envelope and broadens the horizons of what’s possible. Fortunately, we are lucky enough to have one of those shows this season. Hand Shakers. Studio GoHands has undoubtedly produced the single most hideous, incomprehensible, offensive, disaster of a show that we’ve ever actualized within media. Hand Shakers offers a truly unapologetic blend between a hyper-stereotypical, urban-fantasy, light novel premise and the artistic ingenuity of a tipped-over stack of discordant paint cans. The visual cacophony of the show’s multi-colored, CG-augmented environments almost manages to obscure the fact that the protagonist’s classmate has nonsensically undulating breasts and that the villain of the first episode spends quite literally 90% of his screen time stomping on the crotch of his female partner as she moans beneath his heal and writhes provocatively amidst the ugliest chains ever conceived. This show is difficult to look directly at.
So why then, at the top of this entry, do I not have this unmitigated cataclysm of poor decisions listed as [Dropped]? Because there is an artistry to Hand Shaker’s failure. Within the span of only one episode, it threatens to outclass every horrible show you’ve ever seen and could see. This show is rewriting the book on what it means to be bad and I’m going to be there for every episode of it. Do yourself a favor. Watch the first episode of Hand Shakers. Semantically speaking, this should be in the ‘Must-Watch’ category because it is by far one of the best ironic viewing experiences you will ever have. Get some friends, get inebriated, and sit back because my words alone cannot prepare you for how awful this show truly is.
Catastrophe [ca·tas·tro·phe]: An event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.