Anime Weeklies: Summer 2016 Part 1

Basically I'm just going to keep at this until I figure out a solution as workable as Bottom of the Pile.  (Which b.t.dubs is on the way tomorrow!)   I'm starting fresh this season so this is technically "last week's" column, and if I don't fuck up Week 2 will be up on Saturday.

Y'know, except for this shady looking fellow...
Heroic Legend of Arslan: Fuujin Ranbu: Season one of Arslan was frustrating for me. I'm pretty big on high fantasy, and Arslan is as close as you can get to high fantasy without actually getting there--filled with colorful characters begging to have spells and special techniques but instead all they do is pop on screen and Dynasty Warriors their way through dozens of soldiers.  But the characters are likable and the writing is solid in that classical old-school sort of way--it doesn't get any more classic than a prince losing his kingdom through betrayal fighting to get it back with the help of his most loyal soldiers, after all--so I enjoy it nonetheless.

In any case, I was all set to write about how Arslan hadn't really changed from season one to season two but by the time the eye-catch hit and we entered the second half of the episode things went into overdrive and a LOT of plot points moved at once.

The opening bits of season one went a long way towards making Arslan's father look like a strategy-blind dunce, a guy who spent years throwing thousands of soldiers at the problem and simply walking away the victor by sheer force alone, who finally saw himself outdone by a variety of proper tactics from an enemy which lead to his downfall.  Well, season two immediately makes up for that by having the captive king free himself and singlehandedly(!) reclaim his capital.  

Then there’s the opening half of the episode that introduces the legend of a sword used by the most well-known king of their country, and Arslan’s main opponent to the throne Hermes trying to hunt it down, only to see it stolen by Bodan, the Lusitanian priest that helped Hermes take over in the first place.  That leaves no fewer than four sides fighting for control of the Parisian Empire--all of them equally relevant by the end of this episode.  That’s going to mean a lot of trouble for the kindly boy-who-would-be-king Arslan, and unfortunately I don’t think the episodes we’re getting for this season is going to be enough to wrap it all up.   Guess we’re headed for a Season 3!

Other than that, traveling bard Gieve makes a return this episode and has a showdown with series villain Silver Mask/Hermes in a beautifully animated sword fight.  Maybe that’s the reason this season’s only eight episodes--if the budget for the last five episodes have been poured into the remaining eight, this should be a gorgeous season.   Setting all that aside though--who taught Gieve how to fight??   Dude just held off the series antagonist, a guy who’s had no trouble fighting off Arslan’s strongest knight Daryun and his strategist Narsus at the same time, while also being surrounded by Hermes’ men.   And the most ridiculous thing is that at no point did I feel dude was in any real trouble--he’s just that freaking good.  At this point there are still tons of questions to be asked and gaps to be filled in for the viewer, yet the only one I'm interested in is where this guy came from.

Here's our protagonist Princess Alisha speaking on my behalf for this episode.
Tales of Zestiria the X:  The Tales of series is a lot more popular than I give it credit for.  With over a dozen mainline video games, it's own conference in Japan, plus now four (!) different anime, it's clearly the third biggest J-RPG franchise behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.  The latest incarnation, Zestiria, is the fourth game to get an anime adaptation, and the second to get an actual television series.  Unfortunately, I never played Zestiria which makes this first episode a mess for me.  I normally hate when people say that, but when I'm only able to piece things together because of what I knew from when I was following the game up until its release, it's probably an issue.

The first episode follows princess (who's...also a knight, apparently) Alisha as she investigates a strange cloud outside the capital city that's been exhibiting unexplainable behavior with the help of her friends/subordinates/fellow knights.  Through some mystical mumbo-jumbo that I'd be able to explain perfectly if I'd played the game, everyone other than her ends up dying horribly during a flare-up of the cloud into a massive storm plus a mystical battle featuring tons of explosions and flaming tornados.  As I understand it this episode was just a prologue and this week's episode is the true "first" episode, but that doesn't make this any less headache inducing.  The saying goes, "you only get one first impression" and this was kind of a muddled mess.  Still, the animation was gorgeous--blending typical anime art and CG so effortlessly I could barely tell the difference.  And as I mentioned earlier, I'm a sucker for fantasy anime and honestly this is as high fantasy as it gets so I'll be sticking around until this series actually pisses me off.  

This isn't even the worst thing to happen to our protagonist in this episode.

Taboo Tattoo: No lie, I almost cut this episode off within the first two minutes.  I don't know about other fans, but I find the longer I watch anime, the more certain things which would be fairly innocuous to less seasoned fans sends me up a wall.  Like having the main character utter the words: "Looking back, I think that was when it all began..." like this is going to be some deep, emotional coming of age-type story.   Get that out of here, this is going to be a show about dudes and dudettes punching each other and using ridiculous powers to punch each other more effectively--don't try to waste my time with deep, especially when you're being that shallow about it.  

Of course, Taboo Tattoo finds other ways to annoy the crap out of me too.  It starts out with its main character Seigi defending a homeless man against some random street thugs, only to be given a tattoo that he later discovers is a weapon made by America in an arms race with fictional country Serinistan.  When walking otaku magnet Bluesy Fluesy (possibly the dumbest name ever) confronts him about it, he gets beaten into the pavement when he can't provide answers as to where he got it--that'll teach stupid kids never to help homeless people!  By the end of the episode, Seigi finds himself facing off against another Tattoo user--one with immense strength and speed but zero technique, and fends him off with the power of his own Tattoo, the Void Maker.

So many things about this episode set me off.  Well, okay.  Mostly just one: aforementioned otaku magnet.  Busty girl who looks like a teenager (but confirms that she totally isn't) who's totally super-serious about her mission but also has overly cute mannerisms while also brutally attacking people with zero provocation.  Everything about her made me want to throw everything not nailed down in my room at the wall.  Its like the writers tossed a bunch of otaku pander-y tropes into a blender and poured it into a character-shaped mug.   I'm seriously hoping the writing improves because at the moment this is falling into that unique hole of "boring serious show" that everyone thinks is cool at the start of the season but all eventually drop after one too many stupid decisions.

On the bright side, Sheryl Norme May'n is doing the theme, and you can never have too many great anime OPs/EDs.   (Anything to help contribute to a lit Animelo.)

If you didn't know it was based off a mobile game before, this probably clued you in.
Puzzle and Dragons Cross: If you were (somehow) unaware, Puzzle and Dragons is one of the most popular mobile games in Japan at the moment, so it’s only natural that it receive an anime series.  I went into this not really sure what to expect, only that a show called Puzzles and Dragons certainly wasn’t going to be taken terribly serious.  With that in mind, I was introduced to an idyllic world that’s half-realistic half-fantasy, where monsters periodically appear and only certain people can stop them, using the power of Drop Energy to summon friendly monsters to help them.

The first episode is as basic as it gets, but its not making any grave errors.  The main character is a nice kid named Ace who can “hear” monsters and see Drop Energy, but doesn’t get involved in Puzzle Wars until a boy named Lance appears to fight a dragon in Ace’s city.  There’s a bit of mystery involved in how Ace’s powers work and the monster he’s found, and if you can deal with the fact that this is aimed at kids it’s not the worst way to spend thirty minutes.  It’s got beautiful animation and creative looking monsters for their battles, plus so far it's not really talking down to the viewer in that way that lets you know anyone over the age of 15 definitely shouldn't be watching. 

Sousei no Onmyouji:  If it weren’t riddled with strange pacing problems as an unfortunate side effect of adapting a manga for a long-term anime series far before it had the proper amount of source material available, Sousei no Onmyouji would be one of my favorite anime series this year.  When it’s focused, there’s an adorable romance unfolding between the two main characters in a fairly logical way, even in the face of the typical idiotic anime tropes like the female character being embarrassingly abusive and the lead male being almost offensively stupid.  There’s also usually a fair amount of world-building going on that creates a more believable, immersive world for viewers.

And both aspects of these were on display in this second half of a two-part fight between Benio and a souped up version of the usual monsters of the week, a “Basara”.   The lore behind the Basaras is a bit of a rip-off of Bleach, but still it’s nice to see them trying to branch out villain-wise beyond mindless monsters at all.  In any case, whatever “invincible” aura our two leads have enjoyed thus far is well and truly blown out of the water, as Benio reveals this is the monster responsible for taking her parents life and they both take him on with a last-minute “nakama” display of power complete with a Theme Song Power-Up...which causes the villain to lose all of a single limb.  Which in anime is of course the equivalent of suffering minor cut.  

The most interesting takeaway from this episode comes when the Basara reveals there's apparently a "world" of Kegare, who are equally aware of the prophecy of the Twin Star Exorcists and their child.  That implies a mile-wide target should be painted on our protagonists' backs...which probably isn't too far from the truth, as there are far too many appearances of monsters for it to be considered "normal".  

Unfortunately, as excited as I am to see the next part, the next episode is a recap so this will be disappearing from the next column.  And yet again, this is what I’m talking about when I say pacing problems.  There’s rumors this will run for 50 episodes in all, which should be impossible considering the manga is all of thirty chapters total currently.  Even the glacial pace of One Piece wouldn’t be good enough for something like that.   Still, I’m holding on because when this show is good, it’s one of my favorites.

And thus, Aramaki joins the rest of us self-depricating writers.  Welcome to the club.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable: More often than not, I’m usually on the side of the “experienced” fan.  Y’know the one--that self-important jerk who’s all “wait until you see what happens next!” with a huge grin on their face, eager to see every reaction to all the twists and developments in the story.  But with JoJo, I’m as in the dark as most people, so I’ve been watching all the “experienced” fans talk about how great this episode’s antagonist was and not knowing WTF they were talking about.

With another spotlight episode on everyone’s favorite “holy crap I can’t believe you’re not dead yet” secondary protagonist Koichi, we’re introduced to famed manga author Rohan Kishibe.  He’s the author of a manga that Koichi’s a fan of, so when he’s convinced by latest Defeat Means Friendship ally Hazamada to go visit his house, you just know nothing positive is going to come of it.  ...And of course, it absolutely doesn’t, as Rohan is quickly revealed to be a fellow Stand User and proceeds to show off one of the most terrifyingly OP abilities I’ve ever seen in Heaven’s Door: the ability to literally read people like a book.  

This episode engages in some pretty terrifying body horror, as both Koichi and Hazamada become part book, their skin turning into pages that can be read, re-written, and even torn(!).   Probably the most creepy opponent these guys have faced yet, and that’s saying a lot in a season that opened with a villain that was a murderer/child rapist. Rohan’s the type of busted that makes me concerned--usually when characters are this broken, the writers aren’t clever enough to explain how the heroes are supposed to work their way out of the problem and into a victory.  So here’s hoping episode 15 proves Aramaki more creative than the average bear.


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