The shows keep coming! The bigger fish have come along, and things are certainly getting a lot more exciting. We’re talking spies, detectives, rebels, and zombies. Sound interesting? Then read on!
The setting is compelling enough — a pre-world war II imperial Japan — but the concept of a national spy program is even more interesting. Of course, we aren’t blind to the atrocities that this budding national power was up to during this time period, and the show isn’t hesitant to bring up these topics in subtle ways. But Joker Game takes a smart approach to it by pitting its protagonist’s moral beliefs and sense of justice against a group of hardened spies who view their own nation’s eminent domain as a temporary dogma.
The idea is anachronistic and grates against anyone’s sense of patriotism, but the end of the first episode shows the blowing hole in that blind assessment of one’s national agenda. Joker Game works on the level of being a captivating spy thriller, but also works on the level of questioning a government that wouldn’t think twice about sacrificing its own people for the sake of its own interests — the kind of act that our protagonist dismisses as love for one’s country a.k.a. “patriotism”.
It will be very interesting to see where this story takes us along that vein, and for that reason gives it a very strong first impression. Production I.G. does not disappoint with excellent production notes, so this is definitely a show not to miss.
Initial rating: 9/10
Bungou Stray Dogs
The premise is simple: superhuman misfits, who just so happen to be named after famous writers, work together to solve crimes. The first episode, however, weaves its way through tricky moral territory by utilizing suicide as a comedic device. Though this is referenced to Dazai, an author who actually did try to take his own life several times, this type of humor is obscure, likely to be dismissed by the uninformed as tasteless. But outside of this Zetsubou Sensei-like obsession for suicidal tendencies is a loud type of humor that utilizes superdeformed characters and floating arrows, which appears more divorced from the overall tone of the show than might have been intended. This type of humor is usually appreciated by people who like these type of shows, but it could use a little less of this “in-your-face” visual cues to get its points across.
But even the plot is watered down by a clumsy narrative. Atsushi is identified to be the Tiger that Dazai was after, but this is only after some uninspired bits of foreshadowing that actually gave too much information. The result is an underwhelming reveal, even if Dazai’s deductions about the ridiculousness of Atsushi’s expulsion from the orphanage were actually sound and intelligent.
If anything, the show has good animation notes, especially in the action scenes. But this is overpowered by excessively bad humor and jarring superdeformed figures, which might not be appealing to all people. It was good, but it will need to do better if it wants to maintain a certain level of watchability across all fields.
Initial rating: 7/10
Concrete Revolutio ~The Last Song~
Concrete Revolutio continues is string of clashing senses of justice in spades this season. For its premiere episode, we’re treated with a revisit to Inspector Shiba, one of the show’s most compelling characters. His tribulations in serving a system that questions his own moral beliefs throws him down a self-destructive path that eventually makes him betray his own incorruptible sense of justice. Here, he literally “lobotomizes” an alien investigator that mirrors his own naive sense of moral dichotomy, and from there progresses to his currently ironic position as a superhuman for justice.
All of this is framed using the same non-linear storytelling that pits character arcs across one another, like a complicated tapestry that does not bother to take the time to sit down and discuss itself with the viewer. To some, this may be off-putting, but this show has always required a certain amount of viewer investment in order to appreciate.
But even outside of its politically charged contents, the show remembers to keep things funny by throwing in nice character bits here and there, such as home-crashing Hitoyoshi that hogs the power outlets just to watch television and boil water for instant noodles. The art is still distinctive, characterized by a wild color palette with roughly animated characters. It’s a sign that this show is not compromising what makes it so great in the eyes of its followers, but another sign that makes it good reason for people who failed to appreciate it in its initial run to stay away.
Initial rating: 8.5/10
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
The first thing that greets you when you watch this show is probably Araki’s best (unkept) secret — GOOOOOOOOOORRREE!!
Araki’s style literally screams in your face. There’s gore. There’s violence against characters you wouldn’t normally expect (women and children are not saved). There’s an excessive amount of screaming and finger flailing. Everything is essentially adrenaline charged, and this first episode is no exception.
But the obvious associations don’t end there. This show is perhaps the kind of show Araki always wanted to direct. In fact, it’s probably what Attack on Titan would have been if he was the one who thought it up. There are a lot of familiar sights in this show — a walled-up city that protects the remaining bastions of human society from the zombie apocalypse — and even the show’s main protagonist possesses as sort of brazen abrasiveness that seems characteristic of the type of character Araki sees in himself. Plus, there’s a lot of steampunk.
The first episode works more as a world-building device than actually achieving any form of character development. Because as far as I can tell, much of the characterization can be summed up in screams, pretty kimonos, and more screams. Araki was never about character pieces anyway, so you’d best ignore any character investment and just soak in the bloody carnage.
But in all fairness, this is a beautifully animated premiere episode. The production notes are practically feature film worthy, and character close ups are brilliantly detailed with soft accents and gradient filters. It’d be a shame to see the aesthetics take a dip as the season goes by — something that always happens for a television animation — but we can at least hope. And yeah… Mumei is love. Mumei is life.
Initial rating: 9/10
The watchlist is finally coming full circle, but there are still a couple shows left. Stay tuned for the last first episode preview list by the end of this week. Until next time!