Flowers Already? Winter 2017 Anime Season Review Part I

I’ll try to avoid most spoilers, but there may still be a few remaining. So please be cautious!

This was another interesting season! Of the nine or ten series I watched, I only dropped a handful, and one of them would have been in this review: Schoolgirl Strikers. I only made it through the first episode, and even though I covered it in Part I of the season preview, I won’t cover it again here.

Speaking of dropping series: I tried to watch Hand Shakers. Within a few seconds, I began to feel a little queasy. Before I got three minutes in, I had to turn it off. I only mention this because it’s the first time I had a violent and negative physical reaction to an anime! The combination of art and camera angles just hit me — hard — the wrong way! At least with Schoolgirl Strikers, the characters and plot just didn’t seem interesting. I didn’t feel ill after watching it! BTW, if you liked Schoolgirl Strikers, Amazon has some interesting merchandise, like a Nendoroid figure of Satoka you can check out:

Akiba’s Trip The Animation

This was a show where the protagonists have to strip the antagonists to defeat them. It was based on the video game Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed. With a premise like that, there’re really on two ways it could go: the path to complete disaster or the road to campy fun. Did this series live up to its potential the way Keijo!!!!!!!! did? Was there a marquee character like Nozomi Kaminashi?

Matome Mayonaka and Tamotsu Denkigai were two of the series’ main characters. She was tsundere; he was otaku. Interesting chemistry! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Let’s put it this way. The final fight involved a glow stick referred to as the ultimate deus ex machina tool. The background music for that same fight was an almost disco version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. In a previous episode, one of our heroes, Matome Mayonaka, won an eating contest because Tasujin Ratu ( a loli scientist who’s not really a loli but is sensitive about her age) happened to be carrying around an ice-cube maker that worked on Ramen broth.

The show could have been nothing more than an excuse to take clothes off anime characters. It aimed a little higher than that (well, if not higher, then a little to the left) for more broad yet every bit as ridiculous humor. I didn’t injure myself laughing, but I looked forward to seeing what they’d come up with every week. The show poked gentle run at otaku culture and at its own characters and concept. It was never mean-spirited or hurtful, and each character was strong and contributed to the story in his or her own way.

Arisa Ahokainen didn’t have any romantic interest in Denkigai at all. She was also ridiculously intelligent and strong. But to this day, I have no idea why she wore a different cosplay costume in every episode! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The most appealing aspects of the show turned out to be the characters. Hearing the title and seeing the ratio of 3 girls to 1 guy, I assumed it’d be a harem (and his little sister would have a brother complex). Refreshingly, no. The male lead, Tamotsu Denkigai, had only one romantic interest (Mayonaka), and his sister had no such interest in him at all. Arisa Ahokainen didn’t have any romantic interest in Denkigai, either. Also startling was that her running gag was an almost never ending list of accolades and accomplishments, from Chinese martial arts to executive management in a United States corporation. That, and a never-ending supply of cosplay costumes.

It wasn’t Toradora, but I still enjoyed it enough to stay with it all season.

If you have the Playstation Vita, you can buy the video game from Amazon (to be released May 16, 2017):

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga 

This was one of the series I reviewed this season, and you can read the reviews starting here with episode 1, Small Beginnings.

Rin and Yukio didn’t always see eye to eye. That was an important part of this season. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Rin Okumura and Yukio Okumura are two brothers who, until just before this season started, shared a secret they kept from most of the world: they are both the sons of Satan. Yes, that Satan. Just before this season got underway, Rin unleashed his power to protect his friends, and unfortunately, as a consequence, they found out about his parentage. Yukio doesn’t show any symptoms, but Rin has his father’s blue flames, ears, and tail (when he releases his power, that is). As an Exorcist in training, he falls under the Vatican’s jurisdiction, and they come close to executing him. Mephisto Pheles, himself of demon parentage but the principle of the Exorcist’s training academy, intervenes on Rin’s behalf, and he’s spared pending further evaluation.

This season’s villain is an ex-Exorcist, Saburota Todo, who gives into his heart’s despair and becomes a demon. He devises a plan to unleash an ancient horror on Kyoto, and in the end, only Rin and his friends have a chance at saving the city. But will they ever trust Rin again, knowing he’s the son of their most detested enemy, Satan? Can the religious order entrusted with protecting the relics of that ancient horror stick together despite unnatural levels of distrust and spite? And what’s with the order’s chief priest, Tatsuma Suguro, and his suspicious absences and sutras?

The secondary characters like Kamiki and Moriyama gave the show depth. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Those elements set the stage for a dramatic season, and Blue Exorcist delivers on that promise. What makes it memorable for me, though, is the mix of characters. The supporting cast is strong with characters like Izumo Kamiki, who has mostly conquered her self-doubt from the last season and is generally strong and independent, but she’s wondering how to respond to the friendship of Shiemi Moriyama. Moriyama’s having her own struggles with self-confidence, yet she’s determined to help her friends, even if she doesn’t know how. Ryuji Suguro, Tatsuma’s son and Rin’s school rival for much of the previous season, plays a big role this season, both in typifying the ExWire’s uncertain reaction to Rin, and in his desire to get to the bottom of what’s going on with his father.

Between Todo and the Impure King, this season had a great set of villains. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

But the stars of the show remain the brothers Yukio and Rin. Todo knows just how to hit attack Yukio through his relationship with his brother, and the ex-Exorcist hammers relentlessly on the Yukio. Rin tries to learn to control his flames with Shura Kirigakure’s help, yet looses control and ends up imprisoned under Vatican orders for his execution. It seems like only a miracle can save him, yet Kirigakure doesn’t give up, and it turns out his friends aren’t quite willing to write him off yet, either.

The season has a lot of the beautiful, emotional moments that I enjoyed. Those are not at all effective if they’re in isolation, away from a solid plot and themes. That’s why I was so glad that The Blue Exorcist delivered on all three. The last two episodes were particularly satisfying. I think that if you enjoyed the first season, you’ll really enjoy the second. And if you didn’t get a chance to see either, treat yourself and start with the first season.

Saga of Tanya the Evil

This was one of the series I reviewed this season, and you can read the reviews starting here with episode 1, Devil of the Rhine.

Not since I reviewed Concrete Revolutio’s first season have I watched a series with such deep philosophical and theological underpinnings coupled with an exciting plot and engrossing characters.

Tanya proved her command capabilities, and the abilities of her battalion, when they destroyed a munitions factory deep inside enemy territory. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Tanya Degurechaff is a mage solider in alternate-Earth’s Word War I period. By the end of the series, she leads the most powerful and feared mage battalion in the entire Empire (our world’s Germany). Her power is unmatched; her tactics impeccable. Simultaneously feared and respected by her troops, she inspires terror in all who oppose her.

She’s a ten year-old girl.

Well, from the outside, she’s a ten year-old girl. She’s actually a middle-aged salaryman from our world’s modern Japan. Dedicated to a life of rationality, our Salaryman’s goal was to follow the rules and ride his company job a comfortable retirement. Unfortunately for him, his job was firing people, and one of those he fired pushed Salaryman in front of a train. The god of that world took exception to Salaryman’s lack of faith. In an attempt to cultivate said faith, this unjust god stripped Salaryman of future reincarnations and sent him to a war-torn pre-WWI alternate Earth as a baby girl with magic powers.

There are limits to even what Tanya can take. And Being X, a god, has a lot of resources… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Putting aside that this premise is one of the most ambitious and entertaining that I’ve seen for a long while, the show was a philosophical and theological tour de force. The god of these worlds, who Salaryman dubbed Being X, can’t abide rationalism and its reliance on science and human endeavors. Through the whole series, our Salaryman reincarnated (a final time!) as Tanya tries to apply logic to her plight. Despite the set backs, she remained resolute in her convictions, even to the point of putting herself and her people in added danger. Yet, even Tanya, a model of human conviction, has her limits. What she does about those limits gave the ending a tremendous dramatic punch.

What gave the series its thematic power was its core theological question: how should humanity respond to a capricious god whose pathetic need for attention drives it to throw an entire planet into war? This god grants Tanya enormous magical power for chanting insincere prayers, so it’s obvious that honesty isn’t a priority for Being X. The same Being X accepts prayers from Tanya’s enemies and grants them power, too, all in the name of its insatiable need for attention. Those humans are clearly not interested in the well-being of others, either; they’re only interested in their life and the lives of their countrymen. Doesn’t a god have some responsibility for helping the people whose affection it demands?

As Tanya says, it’s time for war! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

If philosophical and theological themes don’t interest you, you can’t help but be fascinated — maybe even enchanted in an incredulous way — at the dichotomy of the mannerisms and expressions of the Salaryman expressed through Tanya’s 10 year-old girlish facade. The animation captures this in a vibrant way. Speaking of the animation, with the exception of one episode, it was consistently excellent, with the battle scenes being particularly effective. Combined with an engaging cast of secondary characters and writing that kept me riveted, I can’t recommend this series enough.


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