Fall 2016 – previews (Part 2)

Anime shows are always like this. Even though you tell yourself you’re only gonna watch “x” number of shows, you always get wind of that “one show” everyone’s talking about. I don’t like bandwagons or hype, but man was I glad I didn’t miss the chance to watch this. Of course, I’m referring to Izetta: The Last Witch. But this isn’t going to be another “preview” masquerading as a “previewS”. There’s actually one other show I’m going to be sharing today, and it just so happens to fit quite well with Izetta, it being about spirits and the demon realm.

Natsume Yûjinchou Go

That’s right. The fifth installment of the Natsume Yûjinchou franchise (otherwise known as “Natsume’s book of friends”) is here after a four-year hiatus. The series has proven itself willing to withstand the test of time, but this season comes with a couple changes. For one, it will be produced under Studio Shuka (91 Days, Durarara!!x2) instead of Brain’s Base. In addition, long-time director Takahiro Omori (Durarara!!, Hell Girl, Gakuen Alice) will be taking on a “chief director” role, handing over main direction to Kotomi Deai (Rolling Girls, Silver Spoon). This isn’t the first time for the latter though, given she actually did an OVA for the franchise two years back.

Suffice it to say that Natsume Yûjinchou Go is pretty much what you remembered it to be — which might possibly be what limits this season from being anything great. For one, the visual aesthetics feel a little bit outdated, albeit faithful to the original. There was a general lack of striking visual set pieces in this first episode — a shot that evokes both wonder and mysticism — something that gave the original its charm. Instead, the first episode fumbles with a quick summary of the basic premise before moving in on to Natusme’s present predicament. Despite these noble attempts, new-comers might still be a little confused with the temporal order of events, but not to the point that the succeeding narrative becomes incomprehensible.

The bigger issue, though, was that there were several themes juggled around in the first episode alone, and there was a lack of thematic coherence between the spirits introduced. Natsume has always been the subject of prejudice, and the same prejudice is what pushed his Grandmother Natsume Reiko to seek companionship with spirits and demons. Though they bridged this theme with spirits and other people who characterize his Grandmother and her legacy with views that are contrary to his own understanding of her, the use of the spirit in the jar (Kayatsubo) and acorn-head that were introduced didn’t seem to make any thematic connection to the established narrative. The former was obsessing over a doll that she thought was stolen from her, and the latter basically witnessed everything.

For a show like Natsume Yûjinchou, or any show that utilizes themes of spirits and demons in its general narrative structure, benefit from the interpolation of mysticism into its own dialogue as a sort of thematic glue. Absence of this makes it no more than a casual slice-of-life with trappings of the occult, which was unfortunately the feel that I got for this pilot episode. It’s a shame, but I really hope that the show starts tracing back its roots to find the charm that makes the franchise just so great. It’s one thing to make the show LOOK like the original — that’s the easy part. It’s another thing entirely to rekindle the charm, and perhaps even go beyond it.

Initial Rating: 7/10

 

Izetta: The Last Witch

And then there’s this.

An original TV animation centered around the events prior to World War II, the small nation of Elystadt is under threat of invasion by the Germanian army. With Germania invading nearby nations and talk of war looming over the horizon, Princess Finé of Elystadt makes her way to a neutral nation in hopes of convincing the Allies to aid them in their plight. Throw in some magic and witches into the mix and this is the type of world Izetta: The Last Witch takes place in.

Overall, the first episode does excellently in showcasing this plight, opening with a rather gripping train chase scene with elements of fantasy and magic inserted in the latter half. Princes Finé is a very strong-headed character, and it’s lovely to see such a confident female character push her way forward in a compelling story setting. Indeed, the use of a WWII backdrop with elements of fantasy sounds plausible enough, but this is accentuated by brilliant cinematography and a wonderful musical score.

Honestly, I was blown away by just how impressive this first episode was. I’m thoroughly sold at the concept and excited to see what more this show has in store for all of us.

Initial Rating: 9/10

 

I really wasn’t expecting to add another show to my list, but believe me — Izetta is impressive on all fronts, it’d be a shame if the story couldn’t hold up to its promise. There are still three shows left on my list, including the highly anticipated Sound! Euphonium season 2. I’m thinking of doing a bunch of recap essays on Sound! Euphonium, because to be honest, that show is one of my favorites from the venerable Kyoto Animation studios, bested only by Hyouka.

Fall 2016 may be dull, but at least there are 2 or 3 shows that I can honestly say I’m glad to be watching — which is a good thing.

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