Spring 2016 Recap: Crunchyroll Edition

When the Spring 2016 season got underway, I complained that Crunchyroll had too many shows that I wanted to watch!

So what did Crunchyroll do to atone for this? Of course, they carried even more showed that I wanted to watch! Flying Witch and Anne-Happy brutally attacked my free time! I’m not sure how I make it through the season alive…

Thanks Crunchyroll, you scoundrel. Thanks for monopolizing my entertainment time!

Seriously, this was a season where it really paid to have a Crunchyroll Premium+ membership. Highly recommended!

Here’s the shows I’m “complaining” about:

Note: There are spoilers sprinkled throughout these descriptions, so it’s best if you watch the series before reading. Remember, this is a fan site, and I like to extol the virtues of the shows. Or, if you don’t plan to watch a show at all, maybe reading the description will pique your interest! I’ll try not to give away the series’ conclusions, though!

The Asterisk War

Though all their battles, Julis provided the strategic and tactical guidance. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Though all their battles, Julis provided the strategic and tactical guidance. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Crunchyroll just wrapped up streaming The Asterisk War’s second season. I covered both seasons on this site (season 1 starting here and season 2 starting here). In the second season, Amagiri Ayato continued his search for his sister. Standing between him and that goal was the Phoenix Festa. Ayato had promised his partner Julis Riessfeld that he would support her goal of winning the Festa so she could donate the money to an orphanage that had been important to her growing up. Their friends and fellow warriors from Seidoukan Academy fought in the Festa, too: Sasamiya Saya, a childhood friend of Ayato and his sister, and Toudou Kirin. Both fought fought well, but as we expected (sorry if this is a spoiler), they couldn’t make it as far as Ayato and Julis.

Watching Ayato and Julis fight their way through the Festa, watching Ayato learn to unleash his strength and watching Julis apply her superior strategic and tactical knowledge to work, was a lot of fun. But for me, what made The Asterisk War entertaining was the character interaction. Sure, Ayato suffered from that affliction called Secret Harem Building Power, but since he seemed to be among realistic and interesting characters, there was no fawning to be seen. They interacted as real characters. They helped each other because they cared for each other. They fought for personal reasons, but they combined their goals and supported one another.

The world, too, showed signs of fascinating politics. Though it wasn’t as nuanced as Concrete Revolutio (follow that link to my review of the first episode of season 1), it was relatively well fleshed out — enough that the pressures it imposed on the characters influenced them in realistic ways.

I’ll miss The Asterisk War. Was it Gate (link to my season 2, episode 1 review)? No. Gate was something special to me. But it was consistently enjoyable, and I looked forward to seeing it every week.

I’ll miss Saya!

Please consider some Asterisk War merchandise from Amazon!

KIZNAIVER

Seeing Nico cry was so sad! She was always so honest with her emotions. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Seeing Nico cry was so sad! She was always so honest with her emotions. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Before Kiznaiver started, I had high hopes for the series. Trigger (with Aniplex and Crunchyroll) produced it. You might remember Trigger from that tiny little show called Kill la Kill (doubtless a future Caw of Fame inductee). I adored that show for its engaging characters, its energy, and its innovative plot. Not only that, but Crunchyroll ran a series of Kiznaiver promotional videos (still available!) that showcased the voice actors and characters. With all of that hype, I almost dreaded watching the first episode. How could any series possibly live up to all of that?

You know what? It did. And it did on the backs of four characters and through the strength of its philosophical underpinnings.

Please don’t get me wrong. By the end of the series, I loved all of the characters, and I wanted to see all of them end up well. But four characters really stood out for me.

But first, the premise: Certain interests had enlisted an entire city in an experiment to create world peace through the Kizna System. This system connected people through their pain, so if one person felt pain, they all felt it. The thinking was that if any given person knew the pain they caused others, they’d be less likely to inflict pain, and the world would trend towards peace. We have early indications that Noriko (Nori) Sonozaki and Katsuhira Agata were part of that experiment. What we don’t know if what happened to the experiment — did it succeed? Fail? Who was involved? What role did Nori and Agata play? Why did the project chose to work with pain and not pleasure (or a combination)? How’d they chose the subjects for the experiments? How’d they get parents to agree to let their kids be in the experiment? The show did an expert job at revealing the answers to these any many other questions in an absorbing way. At the series’ start, Nori is somehow behind a new experiment that connects seven high school students — without their consent — to the Kizna System.

But the plot alone didn’t account for why I liked this series so much. The characters that really made an impression on me.

First was Chidori Takashiro. She starts out the prototypical nice girl, so I expected her to end up with the hero, Katsuhira Agata. She took care of him when things got rough; she stood beside him even when their relationship wasn’t trending in her favor. Heck, if I were to lose one of my 3 dimensions (i.e., become 2D) and if I weren’t married, I would have considered dating her (and she would have turned me down — but that’s outside the scope of this article)! The series, though, didn’t stop there. She had romantic feelings for Agata, and through the Kizna System that connected all of them, everyone became aware of her feelings.  Including the young man who was also in love with her!* That was not only a dramatic development for her character, it was a change to the Kizna System, too: they could sense each other emotions, and not only pain. Everyone was also aware that Agata’s feelings, to the extent that he had them, were directed at Nori. And the plot took those things seriously! The plot let them play out. It was a blast to watch, even though I ached for what Chidori was going through.

Second is Nico Niiyama. When we first meet her, she seems to be idiosyncratic in a contrived and shallow way. It almost seems like she just wants to seem different to be different. As the show goes on, she shows that of all of them, she’s the one who’s the most emotionally mature. She’s literally their emotional center. There’s a scene when she’s with the group in a restaurant, and she’s crying. Her eyes are swollen, she’s running her hands through her pigtails, and she looked as distraught as I’ve even seen a character look. After they’re released from the Kizna System, she’s the one who tries to pull everyone back together, because she so thoroughly enjoyed being friends with everyone, even if Kizna System initially forced the friendship. It doesn’t hurt that she’s ridiculously adorable, either!

Finally, there’s Agata and Nori. I don’t want to go into details about why they both seemed so emotionless at the beginning of the series. Learning the reason was a perfect example of what I meant earlier when I said “philosophical underpinnings.” I don’t want to spoil that for anyone!

But I don’t think it’s spoiling the ending (at least too much!) when I say that watching Agata and Nori come to grips with their relationship, watching them try to figure out who there were in themselves and who they were to each other, epitomized the heart and soul of this series.

It was an emotional show. It made big promises, and it delivered on them. If you haven’t watched the series yet, do yourself a favor and make some time. It’s worth it!

A special call out to Boom Boom Satellites and the OP called Lay Your Hands on Me. Apparently, due to health reasons, this is the last we’ll hear from them. It’s a wonderful song. You can buy it here from Amazon:

* See? I didn’t name him! I can avoid a spoiler sometimes!

Re:ZERO

"It was rough, wasn't it," she asked. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
“It was rough, wasn’t it?” she asked. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

If I had high hopes for Kiznaiver, I had none for Re:Zero. An otaku goes to another universe? Seen it! I enjoyed it in Outbreak Company (I liked Myucel Foalan for her gentle spirit and Koganuma Minori for her calm under pressure — no other reasons, I assure you!). I blogged about it in the case of Gate (and bought Rory Mercury’s figurine for research purposes, too!). I’ve enjoyed Sword Art Online (except that part where they threw Asuna** into a cage; that’s a terrible way to treat such a strong character) and even loved Log Horizon. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch at least the first season. But really, in light of those series that came before it, what could re:Zero do to distinguish itself?

So I watched. Natsuki Subaru bumbles through most of the first episode, which is an hour (okay, that’s kinda cool). He meets the beautiful Emilia (though he doesn’t learn until later what her real name is). She’s mysterious, and her beauty clearly captivates him. His nose doesn’t erupt in burst of blood, so the show keep my interest. He meets Felt, the plucky and sympathetic thief, and her friend/protector Rom. I thought, “Nice! Here’s a huge guy, clearly protective of Felt, and they’re not automatically trying to fleece Subaru, who could clearly be fleeced!” At this point, I’m thinking this might be a bit of fun.

That’s when Elsa Granhirte shows up and disembowels Subaru. I mean, she literally spills hit guts on the floor.

Okay. That’s different.

Yeah. She gutted him. And he died. And he came back, just like a game restart.

It was almost as if he were playing a video game, except that the deaths he experienced felt very, very real. So I kept watching. By the time we got to the “end” of the this arc, I had a new appreciation for this show. Maybe it would be interesting after all!

Little did I know that Re:Zero’s most powerful punch (at least so far) was yet to come. It wasn’t long until we met the maid sisters in Emilia’s household: Rem and Ram. By the time we learn their back story, I was ready to destroy entire continuums if that act would protect them! They were almost genetically tailored to be sympathetic! By that I mean there were really pretty, as Subaru would expect a maid to be; but there were strong, and flawed, and gripped by a tragic backstory that (literally!) brought tears to my eyes!

I really don’t want to say much more. With Kiznaiver, I thought that certain plot details, even if they might be considered spoilers, were necessary to make my point. For Re:Zero, it’s not worth it. I’d rather you experience the children being kidnapped, Rem’s lonely battle in the forest, even Puck’s example of what a familiar/side-kick should be***, for yourself.

I didn’t even mention Beatrice or Roswaal L. Mathers, both fascinating and exciting characters in their own right.

Re:Zero completely destroyed my expectations. It’s been a long time since a series did that. Needless to say, I think it’s worth checking out!

** I can just imagine the writer’s team meeting. “Dude, Asuna’s really strong. What can we do?” “There’s only one thing to do, other dude. Put her in a skimpy outfit and throw her in a cage!” Dumbest thing I’ve even seen in anime, and I’ve seen Fight Ippatsu! Jūden-chan!! To be clear: that anime wasn’t anywhere near that dumb as how they treated Asuna! This is probably a topic for another time…

*** Puck is the antithesis of that stupid stupid stupid stupid (stupid) Kinako from Twin Star Exorcists, an otherwise interesting show. Yes, I did mention Kinako was stupid. I’ll mention it again if I have to!

Please consider this Re:Zero merchandise from Amazon!

Twin Star Exorcists

Benio felt compelled to defend her "Benio Special" drink from Rokuro's verbal assault. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Benio felt compelled to defend her “Benio Special” drink from Rokuro’s verbal assault. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

In the world of Twin Star Exorcists, demons called Kegare (Impurity) attack humans from their world called MaganoRokuro Enmadou is a child prodigy exorcist, or someone who can purify/destroy the Kegare. The show starts out with him living in a dorm with other exorcists, but Enmadou no longer goes on missions. He adamantly refuses. Of course, we know that something dreadful happened in his past, and we know it had to do with the Kegare. Finding out exactly what happened, for me, turned out to be a lot more disturbing than what I had anticipated — to the show’s credit. Before we find out any of that, though, we meet another prodigy named Benio Adashino. In terms of personality, she’s everything Enmadou is not: organized, proper, reserved, and studious. Her power, though, is on par with his. They meet during a Kegare attack, she thinks he’s non-combatant and throws her all into his defense. The Kegare was particularly dangerous, and she would have died, had Enmadou unleashed the artifact on his right arm. He demolished the Kegare with one strike. Initially impressed, Enmadou felt disgusted when she learned that Enmadou no long practiced as an exorcist. She assumed was a coward, or lazy, or both.

That’s one of the reasons it was so funny when Arima Tsuchimikado, the leader of the exorcist order, announced that the two of them would fulfill the prophecy foretelling the arrival of the most powerful exorcist — their child. The two of them were, in the eyes of the exorcist order, destined to become married.

I liked the twist on the prophecy. I’ve seen a lot of stories foretelling that a given character was going to become the ultimate whatever. But being the parents of the ultimate whatever? That was interesting.

The show’s visuals are usually enjoyable, too. Though the artwork’s consistency seems to vary more than I’d expect, when it’s on point, it’s effective. Magano is cast as a world in red and black; the Kegare are wildly varied in appearance and are often brutally lethal. As enemies, they’re a challenge to our heroes, though I’d like to have a better understanding of what they really are. What motivates them? Why do they want to destroy humans? I know we have some explanations, but they seemed too pat to me.

Enmadou and Adashino are the stars of the show. Enmadou is no ladies man, and he fumbles every time he tries to do anything but fight. Adashino at first doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, and she makes that clear. As the show progresses, though, she learns more about his past, and he about hers, and they gradually come to at least an intellectual understanding. It doesn’t help that Tsuchimikado keeps pushing them to get married, to the point where he even gives them a house for the two of them to live in, alone. Watching them adjust is fun: their relationship is far more sweet and tentative than salacious. Okay, it’s not salacious at all! The show’s taking its time to bring them together, and the plot does a good job mixing the humor of their relationship with the danger the Kegare represent to humans.

The show didn’t have the impact on me that Kiznaiver or Re:Zero had. To be honest, too many shows like those two at one time can be emotionally exhausting — especially when you throw something like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress (link to my view of episode 1) into the mix! It’s pleasant to watch something that’s exciting (the Kegare are dangerous), has interesting and attractive characters, and doesn’t raise any deep philosophical or political themes.

I’ve seen rumors that this show intends to run at least 50 episodes. I think by then Enmadou should be able to hold Adashino’s hand without blushing furiously!

Please consider this Twin Star Exorcist merchandise from Amazon!

Hundred

Layfon? Is that you? Or maybe Kimihito Kurusu? And that sure looks like Cecilia, but different somehow... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Layfon? Is that you? Or maybe Kimihito Kurusu? And that sure looks like Cecilia, but different somehow… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Oceans cover the world and demonic beasts called Savage out of nowhere attack humans. Some humans can wield a crystal-based power source called Hundred. With that, they become equipped with different kinds of armor and weapons; in that state, they’re called Slayers. Slayers are the only defense humanity has against the Savage. The series starts with Hayato Kisaragi arriving on the Little Garden, a floating city/air craft carrier that has a training school for Slayers. He arrives on campus and meets Emil Crossford, a young man who seems unusually happy to see him, and promptly gets pulled into an altercation with the school’s president, Claire Harvey. They end up dueling. Though he’s never used a Hundred before, Kisaragi nearly defeats her by using moves and equipment that only an experienced Slayer should be able to use.

Sound familiar?

When I reviewed this series in my Spring 2016 preview for Crunchyroll, I’d only seen one episode, and I thought the show was derivative. I thought that Hayato Kisaragi was an awful lot like a more easy going Layfon Alseif from Chrome Shelled Regios (you can read my Caw of Fame post for Chrome Shelled Regios here). The Little Garden seemed just like a Regios from the same series. Claire Harvey, from her blonde curly hair to her armor and weaponry, seemed a lot Infinite Stratos’ Cecilia Alcott with her Blue Tears (and no offense to Claire, but Cecilia wore it better). Claire’s Hundred even functioned like Blue Tears! Emil Crossford seemed a lot like Charlotte Dunois, also from Infinite Stratos, even down to their cross-dressing at the beginning of the series! Yeah, and Charlotte won that comparison (for me), too.

As the show went on, however, my feeling that the show was derivative changed. They went from a strong feeling to utter conviction. The show was almost completely derived! I mean, it was like the show was created using a game of Mad Libs. I can’t think of a single innovation this show brought to the table. From Kisaragi’s unconscious harem-building power to Claire falling on top of Kisaragi after she took a bath in a lake during a mission, from the jilted lover/super scientist (with massive cleavage — like most of the other women in this show) coming back for revenge against the aloof, rich, and powerful blonde guy pulling the strings behind the scenes, the show just kept hitting trope after trope.

You might wonder, then, why I kept with it until the end? And yes, I did watch it until the last episode.

Well, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes I like a show that’s just fun to look at. The characters, though many of them defied gravity (and likely will have back issues later in life), were well animated. The fight scenes flowed. The plot was predictable, but at least it was there, and I could follow it. I watched all twelve episodes, and if it gets a second season, I’d likely watch that, too.

There’s a place for candy in the world, and Hundred was candy anime.

Amazon didn’t seem to have much for Hundred, but they had some great merchandise from Hundred’s inspiration!

The Lost Village

I swear, if I have to listen to Lovepon call for an execution even more more time... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
I swear, if I have to listen to Lovepon call for an execution even more more time… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

A bus-load of socially disaffected people join a questionable travel agency’s expedition to the mythical lost village Nanakimura. I summarized the first episode in my Spring 2016 preview, Crunchyroll edition. Truth be told, I don’t have the energy or inclination to say more about the setting than that.

I watched 8 episodes of this show. I endured a giant, silicon skull implant (the kind used to make someone taller) chasing a character. I put up with impromptu — and constantly reforming — lynch mobs (literally, in at last one case). I tolerated people trying to torture other people into confessing their supposed role in the shenanigans going on all around them. But for me, the last straw was Lovepon screaming for an execution for about the six hundredth time.

Maybe the show was too subtle for me. Maybe the humor was beyond me. But by the end of the 8th episode, I just couldn’t take anymore.

Thinking more about it, I wonder if the people’s constant paranoia and their willingness to think the worst of the people beside them was too depressingly real for me? I mean, look at the news…

I hope I didn’t miss a spectacular ending!

Amazon didn’t have anything I could find for The Lost Village. Just as well! Please consider these items from Another!

High School Fleet

In my Spring 2016 preview, Crunchyroll edition, I said, “If I had low (unjustified) expectations for re:Zero, I had even lower expectations for High School Fleet. I expected a light-hearted show along the lines of KanColle at best and a poor re-telling of Girls und Panzer at worst. What I got was something that might actually be distinctive and original.” And guess what? The show delivered!

As much as I enjoyed the characters, there's a case to be made that the ships were the stars of this series. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
As much as I enjoyed the characters, there’s a case to be made that the ships were the stars of this series. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The show starts with Misaki Akeno and China Moeka as children. Their dream is to grow up and join the Blue Mermaids, an all-woman navy who keep the peace. When they finally get to the naval academy, no one’s surprised when Moeka receives command of a battleship, the Musashi, a Yamato-class battleship. But not one’s more surprised than Akeno when she receives command of a destroyer, the Harekaze. The “by the book” Munetani Mashiro, a student who has terrible luck, is Akeno’s “vice captain.” The show relies heavily on the “misfit crew” trope, but they do it well: the Harekaze’s crew is eccentric, cantankerous, and ultimately capable.

On their way to their first exercise, they experience engine trouble, so they arrive late. To their shock, the teacher’s ship opens fire on them — with live ammunition! Akeno hasn’t even had her first combat training, and she’s faced with a live fire situation — from a trained and highly skilled instructor. She keeps her cool and tries to escape. When that doesn’t work, she’s forced to fire torpedoes to disable the attacker. Unfortunately, they’re branded traitors, and the school’s fleet and Blue Mermaids begin searching for them with orders to engage and disable them.

I was afraid that was going to be the show’s raison d’être. I don’t mind the “unjustly accused” theme if it’s a subplot, but it annoys me if it becomes the main story. I was relieved when events unfolded that explained what had happened and gave us the show’s real gimmick. I won’t give it away here, but I’ll just say that it wasn’t amazing, but dramatically, it worked, and it was so unexpected (at least for me) that I liked it.

There were a couple of other things about this series that I really enjoyed.

First, it told the story of Akeno coming to grips with her insecurities and fears. It’s an old story, but if it’s told well, I’m a sucker for it. High School Fleet told it well. I felt happy with her at her initial successes; I stressed with her as things got more difficult; and at the end, I shared her terror at not knowing what to do or how to do it.

Second, the ancillary characters, as many of them as there were, all had distinctive personalities that either directly added to the story or provided moments of comic relief. For example, Shiretoko Rin, Chief Navigator, is terrified of combat. Her only thought was to steer the ship out of danger. With Akeno’s help, she’s able to face her fear and perform well under fire. The ship’s secretary, Nosa Kouko, will suddenly begin narrating their story using over the top language. The engineering team’s always up to something (generally complaining about how fast they have to go), but they always come through.

Finally, the naval battles were outstanding. Whoever handled the Computer Generated Graphics (CGI) for the ships had to love World War II-era navies. The Harekaze’s detail was amazing, as was the level of detail in all of the ships they encountered. Not only that, but the combat tactics felt innovative and fresh. Akeno showed some real command skills when she engaged the Admiral Spee, both in terms of keeping her crew focused and in terms of tactics. The last battle with the Musashi, in which a large number of ships participated, was a blast to watch. I’ve never commanded a ship or a fleet, but everything felt authentic to me.

Something else I liked? The episode titles! Most of them started (at least in English) with “In a pinch with…” I thought that was charming.

This was one of the seasons understated gems. Very glad I watched it!

Please consider this High School Fleet merchandise from Amazon!

Post Author: tcrow