Winter 2016 Recap: Crunchyroll Edition Part II

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! This is the second of 2 posts on the topic. The first is here.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead!

Myriad Color Phantom World

Myriad could be dramatic when it wanted to -- and I wished it had wanted to more often! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Myriad could be dramatic when it wanted to — and I wished it had wanted to more often! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

After a virus gets loose, humans can perceive extra-dimensional beings called Phantoms. They can take myriad shapes and come in as many sizes. Some are helpful to humans, like Ruru, a small phantom who follows and sometimes helps Haruhiko Ichijo, one of the protagonists. Other phantoms wreak havoc, and Hosea Academy, the school Ichijo attends, trains students to protect humanity from those phantoms. Ichijo can seal phantoms by drawing them, but he needs someone to keep them occupied while he draws. Mai Kawakami uses her control of the four elements as weapons to fight the phantoms to give him time. The two of them (plus Ruru!) aren’t as productive as other teams in the school, and they recruit Reina Izumi who, despite her petite frame, can literally inhale phantoms to seal them. Eventually, the aloof and powerful Koito Minase joins them on a semi-permanent basis.

Kyoto Animation produced Myriad, so even before it was released, I had high hopes for this series. Kyoto had produced some of my favorite series, like Sound Euphonium!, Beyond the Boundary, and Amagi Brilliant Park. These shows had amazing visuals, great characters, and solid stories. They seemed crafted to push the boundaries of how beautiful anime can be.

I think those expectations are why I almost quit watching this show after a few episodes.

Thinking about why, I had a Twitter conversation with Furipe, who said Myriad is a show “that gives emphasis to fan-service… (and in) which plot is non-existent…” To me, that completely summed up my reaction. That’s why I almost quit watching the show.

So why did I keep watching?

I could be flippant and say, “But it was really good fan-service!” That’s not the reason, though. I think a couple of things convinced me to stick around. First, the animation, while I can’t say it’s as stunning as what was in Sound Euphonium!, was till a blast to watch. Second, putting fan-service aside, the character designs were solid, and the characters themselves were not grating. Finally, of all the characters, Ruru most convinced me to stick around. She was energetic, independent, and enigmatic. When the show finally got around to finding a multi-episode arc toward the end, we even find out Ruru’s origin. That same arc showed the story could get serious when it wanted to.

So, this wasn’t my favorite series, and I think Kyoto Animation has more powerful and enjoyable series in their repertoire. But I still made time to watch it.

After wading through the Myriad body pillows on Amazon (not that there’s anything wrong with them; they just make me uneasy), I found some merchandise I thought you might like:

Schwarzes Marken

One thing about the Muv Luv Alternative universe: their monsters are terrifying! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
One thing about the Muv Luv Alternative universe: their monsters are terrifying! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Set in an alternate dimension where Beings of Extra Terrestrial Origin Which Are an Adversary to the Human Race (abbreviated BETA), humans are losing ground to the invaders. Humanity came up with mechs called Tactical Surface Fighters (TSFs) that are piloted by Eishi (in Japanese) or just TSF Pilots (in the rest of the world). Theodor Eberbach is a pilot in East Germany’s 666th TSF Squadron (the series is set before the Soviet Union would have fallen). Because of his past, he is aloof and almost hostile to the rest of the squadron, especially its commander Irisdina Bernhard and its political officer Gretel Jeckeln. When part of the 666th rescues Lise Hohenstein of West Germany, she stuns everyone by defecting to the East — and trying to make friends with Eberbach. 

This sets up a series packed with political intrigue and state-sponsored terror at the hands of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (a.k.a. Stasi). The series emphasized their evilness by showing us mass executions, torture, and manipulation of the military forces to benefit the Stasi, not defend against the BETA.

This is another example of my expectations getting out of control. I thoroughly enjoyed Total Eclipse, which took place in the same universe at about the same time, but focused on the conflicts between the Japanese Imperial Army TSFs, the United States Army TSFs, and the Soviet Army TSFs. Despite the heavy subject matter, I enjoyed the show’s take on how humanity would fight the BETA, and I enjoyed the characters. Three really stood out: the conflicted and hesitant Lieutenant Takamura Yui, the over confident yet willing to learn Yuuya Bridges, and the powerful weapon of the Soviet state Cryska Barchenowa.

The trouble for me was that Schwarzes Marken wasn’t cut from the same cloth. Maybe it’s the political climate in the world today, where prominent politicians and those who want to become politicians advocate for instruments like the Stasi. Maybe I expected more political subtly based on how the Soviets played their game in Total Eclipse. Or maybe I was tired of another series using a dark past (Eberbach’s) as a dramatic lever. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get past the fourth episode.

I’m not saying it was a bad series. I’m just saying it wasn’t a series I could embrace.

My opinion notwithstanding, Amazon is selling several wall scrolls that might interest you!


BBK BRNK (a.k.a. Bubuki Buranki)

The character models in BBK/BRNK looked great. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
The character models (like Asabuki here) in BBK/BRNK looked great. Dramatic range of emotion, too. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The series starts with Azuma Kazuki living a quiet life with his family on an idyllic island floating above the Earth. Huge sleeping robots named Buranki lay scattered all over the place. One day, they begin to awaken, and Kazuki’s mother, Migiwa Kazuki, has to make a terrible choice. She sends her family to Earth in a Buranki named Oubu while she tries to bring the situation under control. On that day, the Earth experienced terrible devastation, and many blamed Migiwa.

Ten years later, Kazuki returns to Japan to search for Oubu and find a way to return to his mom on the floating island. He’d also like to clear her name. In his possession is Oubu’s Heart, an artifact (Bubuki) that should let him take control of Oubu. He meets a gang of youths who have similar goals, and they happen to have four other artifacts relating to Oubu. The hot-headed Nono Hiiragi wields Oubu’s left leg. The aloof yet frighteningly powerful Shizuru Taneomi holds the right leg. The intelligent and sometimes arrogant Kinoa Ōgi had the Bubuki representing Oubu’s left arm. Finally, the young and energetic Kogane Asabuki posses the right arm, which usually takes the form of a hand and that she nicknamed “Righty-chan.” They don’t get along with Kazuki at first, since the extremities had been together for a long time before Kazuki showed up, but he eventually wins them over.

As they start their journey, they’re attacked by another Buranki, this one under the control of Reoko Banryū. She is one of those who blamed Migiwa for the catastrophe, yet her hatred for Migiwa seems to go well beyond that. Her Buranki, Entei, easily overwhelms Oubu, because it was in a state of disrepair and because Kazuki and his friends had no idea what they were doing. Like Kazuki, Banryū had a team representing Entei’s extremities, and they were all well-versed in exploiting the capabilities of their Bubuki.

The show went on from there to deepen our understanding of Banryū’s hatred and to flesh out the lore and capabilities of the Buranki. We also learn just what Migiwa thought she was doing and why she was willing to send her son to Earth.

The studio that brought us BBK/BRNK, SANZIGEN, also brought us Arpeggio of Blue Steel, which was a series I loved (and it had nothing to do with Takao or her engines — I swear!). SANZIGEN specializes in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to build character models. The result is a look and feel that some people flat out detest. Most of the time, these same people put forth a good argument for traditional animation. I get what they’re saying. I can see that sometimes, the BBK/BRNK characters move stiffly or appear less nuanced than characters drawn in traditional animation. On the other hand, there’s a remarkable consistency of character presentation, and I think the animators have achieved some really attractive models (again, I’m not talking about Takao. Really.). Some of the expressions, too, are vivid, like Asabuki’s face when she fought Entei’s right arm wielder.

I also enjoyed the plot and the lore of the Buranki. The story of Kazuki and his friends coming together wasn’t anything Earth-shattering or novel, but it was fun to watch. I think my favorite part of the series was Reoko Banryū. She was such a tragic character! Though (understandably) consumed by hatred, she never wavered from her chosen direction, and she commanded the respect of her followers. I think she was misguided, but I still admired her; I think that’s the sign of a good character.

I don’t think this series is on par with something like Gate, but I enjoyed it.

I came across an unconfirmed suggestion that there will be a second season.

Amazon comes through again with some collectables I hope you’ll consider:


Phantasy Star Online 2 the Animation

Phantasy Star boasted some energetic battle scenes. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Phantasy Star boasted some energetic battle scenes. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The student council president, Rina Izumi, recruits Itsuki Tachibana, an ordinary student, to play a game called Phantasy Star Online. She expects him to write a report about it every night. A player herself, she wants to convince the faculty that the game is good socially and does not hurt students in any way. Tachibana has a lot of fun playing on line with his friends, and he manages to keep his grades up. He also meets an attractive yet withdrawn transfer student named Aika Suzuki. As the student council prepares for the festival and Izumi tries to realize her dream for an after festival party, people begin disappearing, and Tachibana discovers Suzuki and the game are more than he first thought.

I can’t confirm because I’ve not played it, but it seems that this show is more or less an advertisement for the real Phantasy Star Online 2 game from Sega. There’s nothing wrong with this series. After all, I finished it during a season in which I dropped other shows! I don’t even mind if it’s an advertisement for the game. The animation was enjoyable to watch — even the CGI battles — and the characters were innocuous if not particularly enthralling. The plot reveal was a little obvious to me, but that’s because I’ve watched Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, and other similar shows. It’s impossible to be completely unique! I think my favorite part, though, was the player character SORO dancing during the end credits.

Amazon is selling some related merchandise:


Ooya-san wa Shishunki!

The three main characters made a gentle, enchanting trio. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
The three main characters made a gentle, enchanting trio. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

I generally don’t watch shorts (each episode was about 2 or 3 minutes), but this one grabbed my attention. The show’s about a young man named Maeda who moved into into an apartment and found, to his shock, that his landlady is a middle-schooler named Chie Satonaka (albeit a very capable middle-schooler). They hit it off, often eating dinner with each other (to my relief, in an innocent way!) until another tenant, Reiko Shirai, becomes suspicious and injects herself into friendship. All three end up eating dinner together. The rest of the series follows Satonaka as she goes to school and has various adventures like showing how well she can cook or going shopping.

I thought this show was a completely harmless, warm way to spend a couple of minutes. You can watch the entire series (all 12 episodes) in about the same amount of time you’d invest in a single episode of most shows.

Amazon has some wall-hangings that capture the main characters or Satonaka:


Summary

Crunchyroll has a really strong line-up during the Winter 2016 season. Between Part I of my Crunchyroll wrap-up and this, I’m amazed I found time to watch as much as I did! For me, I think it’s a good sign that the anime industry can produce so much work that I’m interesting in seeing. I’m also glad that Crunchyroll is around to stream it! I can watch more on Crunchyroll than I can find to legally purchase; and if I had to purchase the works I can find, well, I can hear my credit card whimpering from the cupboard.

What do you think? How badly did I malign your favorite anime?

Post Author: tcrow