Okay boys and girls — it’s time to wrap up the preview week with a rundown of everything the season has in store… well, almost. Unlike other seasons, I’ve trimmed down my watching list quite a bit (it used to be 15-odd shows, but now it’s nearly half that number). But 7 shows is still enough to make a reasonably “able” list of titles. And indeed, this season is surprisingly capable in just the first week alone. I may have been a little unimpressed at the titles at first glance, but all of these shows have given me reason to think otherwise. A good chunk of these shows are original titles, and it’s surprising that these titles are pretty strong contenders. I really hope this season keeps things up, because as it stands I’m totally looking forward to it.
So let’s run things down, starting with the shows that gave the most distinctive impressions:
#1 – Sound! Euphonium 2
There was never a doubt in my mind that Sound! Euphonium 2 would be anything but perfection. It’s very hard to come close to the polish achieved by both Kyoto Animation Studios and the brand of Sound! Euphonium when it comes to making characters that feel as real and expressive as this show portrays them. Part of me felt that leaving the status quo of the previous season as a self-contained story was enough, so this really is just the icing on the cake for me. But despite those sentiments, there is nothing that feels forced in the story that unfolds after the regionals. Sequels tend to get that sort of slack when they blatantly bank on the profitability of their brand; Sound! Euphonium 2 is definitely not that kind of brand. This is a thoroughly engaging story of adolescent charm that is a shame to miss out on. Be you a fan of music or just thoughtfully constructed teen dramas, this is a show you DEFINITELY should be watching.
#2 – Izetta: The Last Witch
I’ve always been a sucker for WWII dramas, but Izetta: The Last Witch definitely landed some critical blows on my “must watch”-meter. “Magic” in this case is viewed as a potential weapon, and the repercussions of using such power responsibly harks to a deeper theme that serves to heighten the escalating drama of a small mountain nation under threat of a Germanian invasion. There’s also a lovely expression in the use of two female leads as the center point for this story, but I honestly think it could do with a little less fan service. Either way, there’s a lot of imagination and ambition in this original title, and if war drama and magic is up your ally, this is a strong recommendation for the season.
#3 – Yuri!!! on Ice
Yet another title that I had no intention of watching. Yuri!!! on Ice is both visually breathtaking and narratively dense, promising a very earnest story of reaching out for one’s dreams even after one had given his best shot and failed miserably. There’s a lot to resonate with in a show like this, and Yuri as a character is one of those special archetypes that we can easily relate to. But by far, the show maximizes Yuri’s situation by giving us a glimpse of the mind space he operates in, blending a quasi-depressive disposition on top of a rather light-hearted passivity. When he gets the chance to relive his passions, however, he shines from within. I just really hope the characters introduced gain more texture as the season continues; otherwise, this is a fine addition to the Fall line up.
#4 – Flip Flappers
Seriously, what’s up with all of these titles? Why are they so good!? Calling Flip Flappers “unique” as an original anime production is definitely an understatement, but its eccentricity is accompanied with a sense of confidence, making its “Alice in Wonderland”-like fairy tale appeal mesmerizing. Its visual flourishes and feats of animation are remarkable, and its effective use of unconventional cinematography in the form of hard cuts heightens the visual flavor. The only thing lacking from this pilot episode is substance — a sort of mental anchor of which to ground all of these ideas. I’m hoping that we get a better glimpse of the world of Flip Flappers and how this translates to an effective narrative. Part of me feels like this sort of story might fall prey to the tropey shenanigans of most Magical Girl shows, but I hope that’s a part of me that I will be glad to call out as sorely mistaken.
#5 – BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy
Much of my frustration with the BBK/BRNK franchise lies with its convoluted plot setting, which is further confounded by problems in exposition and simply not conveying the right amount of information to make viewers really care about the events that happen in the show’s universe. It’s a problem that plagued the first season, and it’s something that continues through this current story arc. But unlike its predecessor, BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy appears to be more confident with the use of its characters (albeit a little estranged), moving the story forward with a sense of purpose. I mentioned before that I felt the first season was only like a “prelude” of sorts to the bigger story, and this pilot episode has strengthened my thoughts on the matter. Regardless, this show has always had a sort of charm to it, which can be chalked up to its colorful cast of characters and pretty much awesome set design. I’m sure this show isn’t something that many people will be able to keep up with, but hey — that’s what Kaoruko is for.
#6 – Natsume Yûjinchou Go
Yup. I was pretty hard on this one expressly because I have a profound respect for the series. Unfortunately, Natsume Yûjinchou Go felt paltry compared to the seasons that came before it, primarily because it felt a little dated and, well, simply “ho-hum”. The first episode failed to make any coherent thematic connections between the occult and the life situation of Natsume at the present time – and given this show has already spanned four seasons in as much as 10 years, it’s hard to put your finger on what sort of emotional baggage Natsume is carrying this time. Because that’s precisely HOW this show has always portrayed its unique charm. It has always made a clear assertion of Natsume’s relationship with peers or society around him, and how encounters with the occult allow him to reconcile both those feelings of alienation that, ironically, serve as a means of connecting with his late grandmother. The attempts to do that in this pilot episode seemed lacking, even to the point that there were no visual set pieces that were particularly interesting — something that has always been a highlight for me in every episode of Natsume Yujinchou that I’ve watched thus far. But hopefully this is just a hiccup. I’m really, really hoping that Natsume Yûjinchou Go retraces its roots and discovers the charm that makes it such a great series to begin with. In short, this was not a good way to start the season for this show.
#7 – Occultic;Nine
And then there’s this confused mess of a show. Coming from the mind that brought us stories like Steins;Gate and Chaos;HEAd, you’d think Occultic;Nine would be at the very least compelling. Unfortunately, this pilot episode has been a torrent of tropey characters mixed with god awful choices in cinematography and visual portrayal. It’s as if A-1 Pictures literally vomited the manuscript on your lap, picked it up with a pooper scooper, then flung it in your face for good measure. But that’s not to say that it’s ugly, either. I give it props for its visually pleasing aesthetic, but this is overshadowed by glaring lapses in narrative presentation. But don’t get me wrong — I’m still interested in the story. I just sometimes feel irritated by the MC’s massive ego or a certain gimmick character’s grotesque rack — and if you’re wondering why I’m not mentioning their names, it’s simply because I don’t know them. They don’t leave that much of an impression for me to even care about them — and to think there are just so many of them. I may be harsh, but I’m working from zero here. I think anyone who enjoyed this first episode has probably read the novel enough to appreciate it — but I’m not one of them. So as a direct-to-anime adaptation, A-1 Pictures seriously needs to rethink its strategy if it wants to avoid turning this into the disaster that was Robotic;Notes.
And there you have it! Seven shows that are pretty top-tier this season. Whew! I think I’m well-stocked up for the Fall. As usual, I’ll promise (but not commit) to writing weekly run-downs and, hopefully, get my first essay out. I’m actually pretty excited for that, but who knows… RL can be a bitch, and I tend to disappear and all. So let’s just see if I can remain alive until then. So until my next post, ciao!