Waging Wars and Enduring Disappointment: Summer 2016 Recap, Crunchyroll Edition

Crunchyroll’s schedule had so many interesting series that I had a hard time making time to watch them!

In the grand scheme of things, that’s a good problem to have.

Looking back on the Summer 2016 Crunchyroll season, one series was a rollercoaster alternating between peaks of excitement and confusion. Another was a lesser incarnation of its first season that still managed to be absorbing and fun to watch. Yet another started strong, teetered, and crashed into incomprehensibility. One stood head and shoulders above the rest.

This was a good season!

Here’s my retrospective on the Crunchy Summer 2016 season:

Taboo Tattoo

Akatsuka just found out his agent didn't negotiate an exit clause in the contract. He's stuck until the final episode! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Akatsuka just found out his agent didn’t negotiate an exit clause in the contract. He’s stuck until the final episode! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I learned disappointment’s name this season.

What is disappointment’s name, you ask?

Taboo Tattoo.

The show had promise. I swear it did! That’s why I decided to review it. When I think of the other shows whose reviews I would have preferred to write… Worse, when I think of the reviews you would rather have read…

Water under the bridge, I guess.

The show started with Justice Akatsuka, whose name should have had something more intimate to do with the plot but didn’t, was tricked into accepting a Tattoo that granted powerful combat capabilities. He had a hard time a) accepting his new destiny and b) learning to use the Tattoo. Bluesy Fluesy, a Tattoo owner herself, finds our hero and decides to take him and his friend, Tōko Ichinose, under her wing. They encounter Iltutmish, an enemy who can possess others, and when we first meet here, the animation plays her up as this mysterious and terrifying being. She even has chains swinging creepily under her skirt.

And then…

Let’s just say I’ve never seen a more disjointed plot, wasted character moments, arbitrary and inconsequential character relationships, or wasted potential in an anime. To be fair to Taboo Tattoo, I’ve never watched a show I thought was this bad through to its conclusion. There may be worse shows out there. But since I was reviewing this show as Crunchyroll’s Summer 2016 representative, I felt trapped.

Horribly, horribly, trapped and alone…

I wanted to like this show. I liked Bluesy (in spite of her unusual name); I liked the concept; I enjoyed the animation and especially the fight scenes (at least until the final episode). Heck, I even liked the music! But the plot… that terrible, terrible plot…

If you skip one anime in the Summer 2016, make it this one! Want more details why? Read my review of the final episode.

Alderamin in the Sky

Igsem's speed and ferocity are utterly unmatched. She has no peer when it comes to swordsmanship. And she completely trusts <>. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Igsem’s speed and ferocity are utterly unmatched. She has no peer when it comes to swordsmanship. And she completely trusts Solork. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Alderamin in the Sky was almost as good as the previous show was bad. The empire Katjvarna is at war with their neighbor, the Kioka Republic. One of the main characters is named Ikta Solork. When we first meet him, he’s napping about while his friends work. The show quickly makes a point of showing that he’s by no means lazy, despite his protestations to the contrary. Instead, he’s intelligent, and he doesn’t waste energy. In fact, he takes the scientific view, which puts him at odds with the religious elements within the empire.

We also meet his friend, Yatorishino Igsem, my favorite character in the series. Her family has protected the empire for generations, and like her predecessors, she’s a sword master. That title really doesn’t do her justice. She’s a demon with a sword, to the point where she almost loses herself in the carnage.

Not content to introduce two interesting characters, the show decided, heck, why not three? Chamille Kitra Katjvanmaninik, princess and heir to the throne, travels with Solork and Igsem early in the story. Anime’s full of princesses. Some are superficial, some are politically adept, and yet others are petulant and demand attention. Chamille, though, is more subtle. She’s still young (twelve when the series starts), and she takes to Solork, not as a romantic interest, but as someone who can teach her how to rule. And good golly, does she learn! Without his insights and rough tutelage, she never would have unleashed the plan she did in the final episode.

What plan, you ask?

Watch the show to find out. I really think it’s worth it!

There’s a lot to like about this show. The world-building is outstanding for a show that’s only 13 episodes. The show portrays the political intrigue that’s central to the plot in an exciting way. It was only in hindsight that I realized what the show had built so much through its actions. The interplay of technology and religion, science and governance, and observation and belief was likewise portrayed in an exciting and almost transparent way.

But that’s not what I really liked about it. What captured my imagination was Igsem and Solork’s relationship. I’m used to anime — heck, fiction in general — portraying men and women in one of two roles: romantic or “just” friends. There’s nothing wrong with that! But Igsem and Solork shared a trust that’s frankly beyond what lovers share and a respect that’s well beyond what friendship would explain. Solork was the one who could pull her back from the brink of a killing rage. It was Igsem who could stop Solork from political suicide. And in battle, they knew each other’s reactions and thoughts without any external communications.

Like I said in my Funimation Summer 2016 wrap up, if you watch one anime series this season, watch re:Zero. If you watch only two series, add D.Gray-man. And if you watch three, watch Alderamin in the Sky.

Summer 2016 was a good season!

Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

Confident and adept story-telling defined season 2 of Yukihira's journey. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Confident and adept story-telling defined season 2 of Yukihira’s journey. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Sōma Yukihira is easy to root Though I suppose you could call it arrogant that his goal is to become the best chef at the prestigious Tōtsuki Culinary Academy despite the astounding competition, he’s unassuming. Having been raised in his father’s local diner, he’s well acquainted with the importance of satisfying customers. His father sprinkled in techniques from across the globe as part of Yukihira’s training, though that only became clear as the show progressed. So as he engaged in school competitions, he usually ended up on top.

In a merely good show, that trend would have continued: the hero would win and win and win until everyone acknowledged his talent and power.

Food Wars took a much more interesting tact in this second season.

Without giving away any more of the plot than is strictly necessary, the show gently rewrote the meaning of “win” in the context of the complex culinary world of Japan. Best dish? Sure, that’s important. Technique? Yep, likewise essential.

But the shows puts forth another idea: cooking is not a solitary affair. A brilliant chef’s restaurant can fail if it produces sub-par food, or if its staff doesn’t perform to the customers’ expectations, or… or if a hundred other things goes wrong. A chef from Tōtsuki Culinary Academy has to be more than a great cook. A chef has to exert command across the spectrum of the culinary world, even supporting other chefs, if they want to reach the pinnacle.

This is the lesson than Yukihira takes to heart in the second season. In his characteristic way, he incorporates that insight into his already formidable skill set, and everyone around him benefits.

I really enjoyed that aspect of the second season.

I wish I could have seen more of the other characters I enjoyed from the first season, like Megumi Tadokoro or Ikumi Mito or even Takumi Aldini. In other words, I wish I could have seen 24+ episodes like we did in the first season.

But I’m grateful for what I did get to see. Here’s hoping that we’ll see more of Sōma Yukihira and his journey to culinary enlightenment!

Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning kept feelings at the core of the show from the very beginning. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Sweetness and Lightning kept feelings at the core of the show from the very beginning. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

On one hand, Sweetness and Lightning was to home cooking what Food Wars! was to Food Network’s Iron Chef America. On the other hand, it’s a refreshingly realistic take on single parenting in the shadow of loss. Throw in a helping of nuanced and endearing characters, and you have the reasons I so enjoyed this show!

The show’s main characters are father and daughter: Kōhei Inuzuka and Tsumugi Inuzuka, respectively. They lost Tae Inuzuka to illness in the past year, and they’re trying to push forward. He’s overworked and spread thin between his teaching job, picking her up from school, and trying to provide meals. She’s a realistic young child, which means she’s a part endearing and part infuriating handful. They were out walking in the park one day when they came upon Kotori Iida, who was sitting alone, almost in tears, eating a rice ball. She’s a high school student whose mom, Megumi Iida, is a celebrity chef, and is rarely home. This chance meeting starts a friendship that defines the series.

Almost every episode managed to work in the ingredients, skills, preparation tasks, and actual cooking of one or more Japanese home-style dishes. Putting it that might lead you to believe it was boring, but the show had a delightful way of weaving the cooking in with quiet character moments like Tsumugi doing a dance to keep the food from clumping.

For me, two things really set the series apart. First, Tsumugi acted very much like a real child. When Kōhei yelled at her for leaving the house while he recovered from an anime-cold (which is apparently life-threatening*), she threw a fit. And by “fit,” I don’t mean a little sitting down and crying. I mean a “kicking and screaming and making a terrible scene” kind of fit. Which is what kids often do. Seeing Tsumugi swing from little brat to ridiculously adorable child gave me a whiplash I remember from when my kids were that old.

Huh. I guess I do kinda miss those days.

The other thing that I impressed me was the relationship between Kōhei, a teacher, and Kotori, a student. At first, I was a little uneasy at the thought the writers might develop a romance between the two of them. In general, I’m pretty forgiving with alternative relationships — you know, the kind we see often in anime? A relationship between student and teacher wouldn’t’ve flown with me. I was really glad they avoided it! Instead, we got a mutually supportive friendship in which everyone, especially Tsumugi, benefited.

Last season, Flying Witch was the show that would help me recover from a hideous day at work. This season, Sweetness and Lighting took on the mantle, and it did a fine job!

* In a Crunchyroll forum post, user aeb0717 suggested the term “cold” is more of an umbrella term for other diseases, which could include pneumonia. Now I feel bad for trying to make a joke out of it…

Worth Mentioning…

Orange

Orange looked like an interesting show. I just ran out of time! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Orange looked like an interesting show. I just ran out of time! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I’ll be honest: I dropped this after one episode. If you liked it, rest assured that my reason had nothing to do with the show’s quality (though it raised a question that I don’t think it ever answered). It had everything to do with the number of shows I wanted to watch not fitting into the time I have to watch them. I liked the characters and animation, but the looming threat of feels in an already packed season didn’t work for me.

The question that bothered me? If you received a note from your future self, would it be a “Huh — I wonder what I was up to” sort of event, or would it be “Holy cow! How in $deity’s name did I violate causality?” I would be so freaked out that normal life would be impossible until I had some kind of answer. It bothered me that Naho Takamiya seemed so nonchalant about the whole affair.

Qualidea Code

Ashua proved that when it comes to <>, sarcasm can, in fact, be a successful negotiation tool. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Ashua proved that when it comes to Ichiya Suzaku, sarcasm can, in fact, be a successful negotiation tool. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I wasn’t sure about this show at first. The show takes place on post-invasion Earth. An entire generation of humans had been slaughtered, and now a small group of adults oversee teens with amazing powers called Worlds who defend the remnants of humans from the Unknown (aliens). One of the main characters, Ichiya Suzaku, was supposedly the leader of Tokyo City’s forces. He had some offensive capabilities, but he was so arrogant that I just wanted to smack him. His second in command, Canaria Utara, was the typical non-intellectual, smiling, friendly type, who also seemed to lack command skills. I’m just saying that if you’re going to claim to lead folks in battle, you should have some command skills.

I felt a little better about Ashua Chigusa and her brother, Kasumi Chigusa, who led Chiba City, as well as Maihime Tenkawa and Hotaru Rindou, who led Kanagawa City. Though all four had their quirks, they all demonstrated leadership and combat skills that set them apart from the rest.

Then, as I was fuming about Suzaku, fearing this was going to the story of an angsty teen with a chip on his shoulder, the story took a left turn and became something much more interesting. I’d love to say more, but even saying what kind of twist it was could ruin it, and it’s enjoyable to watch.

The story also had the energy and creativity to throw another smaller twist in at the end. Decent action, enjoyable animation, and better characterization at the end than it had at the beginning made it worth watching. I’m glad I stuck with it!

Rewrite

This show, like Qualidea Code, starts out deceptively. It seemed like a typical harem-style high school slice of life until we learn that that main character, Kotarou Tennouji, can rewrite aspects of his DNA at will. Shortly thereafter, he becomes the least remarkable character.

We get to meet Kagari, who shows up often in Tennouji’s dreams, either to kill him with surprisingly lethal ribbons or to bite his arm. Yes, bite his arm. She doesn’t draw blood, but she latches her mouth onto his arm. The president of the Occult club, Akane Senri, gives him paper dolls to protect him from the night-nom-ing Kagari, and that helps for awhile. The show gradually introduces other characters, like the unfailingly up-beat Kotori Kanbe, or Tennouji’s childhood friend Shizuru Nakatsu, who wears a seemingly innocent eye patch. Then there’s the physically powerful transfer student, Chihaya Ohtori, who has a strange and almost creepy butler who shows up at the Occult club’s meetings. Finally, there’s Lucia Konohana, who appears to wear gloves because of a fear of germs, but who hides a heart-wrenching secret.

Rewrite started as a harmless harem comedy. Then, suddenly, it wasn't. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Rewrite started as a harmless harem comedy. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Like I said, on the surface, this seemed like a routine high-school comedy. A little light on the comedy, maybe, but serviceable. Then, like Qualidea Code, it took a left turn.

Actually, it made a left turn, then a multi-dimensional n-axis turn that defied our physical universe’s four observable dimensions.

I had no exposure to the visual novel before watching the anime series. I understand based on some post-episode Crunchyroll discussions that the novel has multiple paths. Apparently, this season followed one path, and the next season, starting in January 2017, follows another path. The reason I bring this up is because of season 1’s ending. I hated it.

At least, I initially hated it. After mulling it over, I can see what the show was trying to do. I’m going to withhold final judgement until I watch the second season. In a way, that’s a comment on how I see the show: I think it’s worth another 6.5 hours (assuming a 13 episode run) to see if I like it! I did enjoy the characters, and some of the concepts were fascinating (I can’t say much without fear of spoiling the surprise!).

That ending, though…

What do you think? Do you have any alternative views on the series I just discussed? Feel free to comment!

Post Author: tcrow