Winter 2016 Recap: Crunchyroll Edition Part I

The Winter 2016 season is just about wrapped up! It’s time to look back at the Crunchyroll series I said I’d follow and see if the series I picked to watch were enjoyable!

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead!

Active Raid

Kazari's character was uptight but ultimately likeable. Her earnestness seemed to make up for it. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Kazari’s character was uptight but ultimately likeable. Her earnestness helped. There just wasn’t enough in the show to hold my attention. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

When Asami Kazari joins an armored police squad that has a bad reputation, she’s determined to reform it. She’s upright and touchy, but convinced of her rightness. What she didn’t expect was a team that functioned well — or at least as well as their difficult missions would allow.

I got to episode 5 and couldn’t go on.

Please don’t misunderstand. I liked the quality of the animation. The characters interacted well, and none came off as uni-dimensional. Since the team had to transport heavy equipment, they took a train until they were close to the scene, then launched the mechs. Being a show with mechs, it featured long sequences showing the characters suiting up. Those went on a little long for me, but that alone didn’t really chase me away. Even the missions and the villains in the show didn’t scream cliche.

For me, what did in Active Raid was that there wasn’t anything that really uniquely grabbed my attention. It had the bad fortune to debut against Gate’s second season, the highly anticipated Erased, and BBK BRNK (see below for my thoughts on those shows). I simply don’t have time to watch everything I wanted, and Active Raid was a casualty.

There’s not a lot of Active Raid merchandise. Might I interest you instead in Steins Gate?

AOKANA: Four Rhythm Across the Blue

AOKANA pursued the ideal competition through sportsmanship -- a refreshing idea in our world! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
AOKANA pursued the ideal competition through sportsmanship, and Kurashina embodied it — a refreshing idea in our world! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Asuka Kurashina is excited to start at a new school. She meets and befriends Masaya Hinata and Misaki Tobisawa, who surprise Kurashina by turning on her shoes and stepping into the air. Not only do many of the students and adults use flying shoes (taking off from specially designated areas to avoid collisions), but they also participate in a sport called Flying Circus. Kurashina can’t fly at all, but with the help of her friends she learns quickly. By the end of the series, she competes in the tournament between schools, with Hinata as her coach.

During the first couple of episodes, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick with this show. Little things bothered me, like the girls flying around in skirts and the boys not seeming to notice. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work out well in practice. But the longer I watched, the more the show’s gentle charm appealed to me. There weren’t amazing and dramatic confrontations like Gate’s Fire Dragon, but there were conflicts of ideas: one style of FC competition versus another, with both sides passionate about their views. This show won me over with heart and gentleness, and I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it, but truth be told, as an escape or a contrast to the world we live in, I’m happy watching something like this from time to time.

What I really liked was how true the series stayed to its vision. It didn’t wander off to pursue irrelevant or disjointed ideas. It didn’t drown in fan service or trivialize anyone’s perspective or convictions. Instead, it asked the question, “What’s the point of competition?” and faithfully pursued the two visions. I’m glad I watched this series.

Amazon didn’t have much for AOKANA, either. So, might I interest you in a powerful, emotion series called Angel Beats?

Erased

If you don't look just like this by the end of the 11th episode, please do check your heartbeat. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
If you don’t look just like this by the end of the 11th episode, please do check your heartbeat. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Satoru Fujinuma enjoys a successful career of delivering pizzas. He makes small talk with co-worker Airi Katagiri, who’s a lot younger than him (as she’s a high school student). There’s only one thing that sets him apart: occasionally, he’ll jump back in time a few moments. In almost every case, he has a chance to prevent someone’s death or serious injury. He makes good use of this power by saving a child from being crushed by a truck whose driver perished from a heart attack. However, he can’t shake the memories of a string of deaths from his childhood. In the case of Kayo Hinazuki, he was the last one to see her alive. The idea that he might have been able to do something to save her has haunted him since his childhood. He felt even more regret because a young man who had befriended him was framed for the murders and spent the rest of his life in jail.

Fujinuma’s mother comes to visit, and as they returned home from the grocery store, he thought he experienced a replay moment. However, he couldn’t see the trigger, so he sloughed it off. Later, when he came home, he passed a sinister man. Once inside his apartment, he f0und his mother murdered, and his screams attracted the neighbors. As the police arrived, it seemed clear to everyone that Fujinuma was the suspect — but then his consciousness jumped back in time to a few days before Katagiri had been murdered — back when he was a child.

The premise is fascinating. As a science fiction reader, I wanted to know what was going on: who controlled the time jumps? Or did he control them subconsciously? What mechanism allowed it?

Unfortunately, from that perspective, I think the series is a colossal failure. This is a spoiler, but I never found out what controlled the temporal leaps. Or really what even triggered them.

Even worse, the villain — the man who we discover is really the serial killer — is a cliche. He has no interesting motivation, no delusions of grandeur, no misconception of humanity that drove him to kill. So, not only do we not find out how the concept central to the plot works, we get a villain who is utterly uninteresting.

And yet, this show packed some of the most powerful emotional punches of the season. From the impact that repeatedly reliving certain events had on Hinazuki, to the impact he had on the others who had perished, this series set the foundation for a huge emotional payoff. I really don’t want to give much away, because it’s really something to experience, but when Fujinuma regains consciousness after more than a decade in a coma, all of that setup pays off in an powerful way. It’s in crafting these emotional moments that his series excels. Moments like Fujinuma regaining his memories when he touches a baby’s hand, or flashbacks of his mother trying to keep his comatose body limber in the hope he would eventually reawaken — those were the moments that I relished.

I mean, when has a series fails to support its central concept, fails completely to provide a compelling villain, and yet still manages to affect its audience to the point where the first two flaws are meaningless? That’s an achievement! If you haven’t watched this already, make a mental note about its two failings, then treat yourself to an emotionally satisfying experience. Somethings, that’s more than enough.

Fujinuma’s expression in this poster perfectly sums up his attitude through the series:

Gate Season 2

Gate ran the emotional spectrum from funny to terrifying to heartbreaking. It's a likely future Caw of Fame inductee! Figure from the Crunchyroll stream.
Gate ran the emotional spectrum from funny to terrifying to heartbreaking. It’s a likely future Caw of Fame inductee! Figure from the Crunchyroll stream.

Yōji Itami of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) returns for a second season of adventure in the Special Region. Many of the characters who made the first season so enjoyable are back: the 961 year old demi-goddess Rory Mercury, priestess of Emroy; the 165 year old fairy elf Tuka Luna Marceau; and the 16 year old mage named Lelei La Lalena, for example.

The JSDF is still on a mission to establish diplomatic relations with the emperor. Kōji Sugawara, the number two diplomat from Japan in the Special Region, can’t make headway until he meets Sherry Tyueli, the daughter of a noble family. Still beaming that he had given her a pearl necklace to entice her family to join his cause, she professes her love for him. He’s taken aback, given that she’s not even a teenager yet. She admits she’s gently teasing him and proceeds to make introductions that kick off the diplomatic effort.

Meanwhile, Yao Ro Dushi is still desperate to save her people. Unable to find another way, she pushes hard on Tuka’s mental instability until Itami’s forced to help her confront the fire dragon or watch her lose her mind.

I’ve love to go on, because to be honest, this is my favorite series of the season — and it might be headed for a spot on the Crow Caw of Fame. I don’t want to give away any of the major surprises (there are still minor spoilers here), so I’ll just list some of my favorite scenes and themes:

  1. Confrontation with the fire dragon: I’ve seen a lot of battles against dragons, but I’ve never seen one like this. I had a sense that the dragon was immensely powerful, terrifyingly cunning, and wise in the ways of battle. Itami’s strategy was sound, but so was the dragon’s. The resulting battle was worth every second of anticipation.
  2. Tyuule’s revenge: Once Queen of the Warrior Bunnies, Zorzal El Caesar defeated her people in battle and tool her prisoner. He turned her into his personal slave, but she didn’t let it break her. Instead, she fashioned a strategy to fight back with a goal to crushing the empire.
  3. Itami’s relationship with Rory: As they prepare to battle the dragon, Itami asks for Rory’s help, and she’s glad to give it — by forming a spiritual and physical bond with Itami that’ll affect both of them for the rest of their lives in the Special Region.
  4. The Rose-Order of Knights come into their own: Disrespected by royalty, the order of knights that Pina Co Lada personally founded came into their own this season. They fought with an intelligence, tenacity, and fury that provided their composition of noble women and men of less noble birth could fight against the best imperial soliders and come out looking better for it.

I could go on, but I’d be repeating myself (I reviewed each episode of season 2 on this site, starting here). The realistic action, the spot-on social commentary, and the camaraderie between the main characters made this well worth watching.

Here’s some Gate merchandise that might interest you from Amazon:

Summary

Crunchyroll this season had a great lineup. So great, in fact, that I couldn’t fit its summary in a single blog post. In my next post, I’ll talk about:

  1. Myriad Color Phantom World
  2. Schwarzes Marken
  3. BBK BRNK (a.k.a. Bubuki Buranki)
  4. Phantasy Star Online 2 the Animation
  5. Ooya-san wa Shishunki!

The last three were last-minute additions — how did they turn out? Tune in for the next blog post!

And what did you think? Did my impressions match yours?

You can read Part II here.

Post Author: tcrow