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21 May 2018: Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online does not have sword arts, but it is online

Llenn
The FN P90 is pretty cute.

I'm much less critical of Sword Art Online than you might assume, considering how long I've been blogging about anime, so I can understand if readers who loathe SAO are skeptical when I claim Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is a fine series which stands on its own and doesn't have any of the Sword Art Online baggage that inspires the most criticism. For example, there's no Kirito in SAO ALT: GGO. (SAOALTGGO? SAOALT:GGO? Whatever.) In fact, there are no returning characters as far as I can see (there was a Zekken namedrop in the most recent episode, but with no context or elaboration).

Llenn
Most people don't realize Pink Camouflage Pattern was a
leading contender before narrowly losing to UCP in 2004.

Instead, Gun Gale Online is a reasonably fun low-stakes anime about girls being goofballs at a gun-themed video game with characters who all clearly understand it's just a video game. Well, at least through six episodes. I've probably jinxed it now. In any case, I think the first episode provides a good indication as to what the show is like so far, and is at least worth checking out if you're still on the fence about it. It's different enough that anime fans who hate Sword Art Online can probably enjoy GGO for what it is. On the other hand, I suppose this means I'm not sure anime fans who love SAO will also enjoy GGO—maybe if the rest of the anime suddenly flips from "video game guns don't kill people" to "nutjobs who play video games kill people" or something like that. Since this is an anime adaption of light novels (written by the Kino's Journey author, not the Sword Art Online author), spoilers are obviously available for the harvesting, but I'd rather discover the answer to this question in due time the slow way.


14 May 2018: Hugtto! Precure is a mixed bag

Cure Ange, Cure Yell, and Cure Étoile
I can't claim these are the most memorable Cures of the franchise.

Hugtto! Precure is about a quarter of the way through its (presumably) year-long run, so we should have a pretty good sense as to what sort of Pretty Cure it is. In contrast with its predecessor, Kirakira☆Pretty Cure à la Mode, Hugtto! is notably more violent. At least there is significantly more melee in the fights again. This was immediately apparent in its first appearance during the crossover cameo at the end of the Kirakira run, as that series quite obviously avoided direct punching and kicking—probably more so than any other Precure generation thus far. (Kirakira sure was happy to lean way into the emotional trauma side of things, though.) In any case, the return of fancy beatdowns is a welcome development.

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7 May 2018: There's more to Golden Kamuy than 3DCG bears

Asirpa and Sugimoto
At least the smaller animals are 2D, even when they're delicious.

Golden Kamuy was one of the Spring 2018 shows I was looking forward to the most. It stumbled a bit out the gate when the first episode's infamously out-of-place looking 3DCG animals dominated most of the show's initial discussion. That this got the most attention is a bit of a shame, because Golden Kamuy has a lot going for it. Notably, the manga is good enough that a few misses in the anime adaptation are not going to be enough to ruin it. I didn't watch the all-3DCG Berserk, but the problems facing Golden Kamuy here are by no means as severe. It's not as if the entire show is 3DCG—just the larger animals when they appear.

Asirpa
Golden Kamuy is also about Asirpa looking displeased.

Seeing as how the show isn't actually about bears, 3DCG or otherwise, it's pretty good most of the time. Well, that's assuming you have an appetite for the horrors of war, collecting the skins of dead convicts, brutal violence, Japanese history, Ainu cultural lessons, and delicious meals made with freshly killed game. I suppose I'm not fully prepared to resist arguments that anyone interested should just read the manga instead, but I do believe the anime adds bits worth appreciating separately. I suggest watching the anime first before turning to the start of the manga. The way I see it, the anime will inevitably finish far short of the still ongoing manga's current position, and you'll probably want to read it anyway.


30 April 2018: Hinamatsuri is the best Spring 2018 show so far

Utako
I suppose Utako isn't a bad person all the time.

The best show of the Spring 2018 anime season so far is Hinamatsuri. It is genuinely funny and its characters are endearing, even when they're not being bad people. When I say "they," I mostly mean the two leads, Hina herself and her reluctant guardian, the up-and-coming yakuza member Nitta. I suppose Utako the bartender is also a bad person, insomuch as extortion and contravening labor laws are generally regarded as not things good people do. Hina and Nitta are entertaining, although I'm not sure why Nitta doesn't take advantage of Hina's powers even more often than he does for his yakuza-type business. I guess he'd rather fixate on the frequent destruction of his beloved vases. Those vases were all purchased with dirty yakuza money, incidentally, so I don't feel too sorry for him.

Anzu
Go on, Anzu. Curse the bitch out.

Besides, the real stars of Hinamatsuri are Hitomi and Anzu, who are absolutely stealing the show through the first four episodes. Hitomi, by virtue of her uncanny ability to be better than everyone else as well as being a generally good person. Anzu is initially one of the Bad People, but transforms into a good person thanks to the poverty moé thrust upon her. The OP reveals that Anzu lands on her feet, so I can't feel too bad for her, but I do commiserate more with her losses than I do for Nitta and his doomed vases. I've only read the first few chapters of the manga, so I have no idea where the show is going to go. It does appear there will be a timeskip at some point, based on the sequence that started the first episode. I sort of worry Hitomi might be a little too powerful in three years, though, the way things are going.


23 April 2018: I hope Major 2nd is a doubleheader

Daigo
Anxiety-free Daigo.

Major is an epic six-season anime with more than 150 episodes, multiple OVAs, and a movie. It spans the baseball life of Goro from his kindergarten years to his (spoilers, I guess) professional career. I joke about Major spoilers, but there is basically no way to discuss a series that long or its currently airing sequel, Major 2nd without revealing at least some spoilers. I'll at least try to avoid the heavier ones. Major 2nd is about Goro's son, Daigo, as he begins his foray into the sport of baseball. Through the first three episodes, the focus has been on Daigo's inability to bridge reality and desire as he struggles to deal with the tremendous pressure he places on himself and expectations he assumes everyone has of him as Goro's son.

Izumi
It's not easy being best.

Notably, Daigo has an inferiority complex about his older sister, Izumi, who demonstrates both greater talent and a better work ethic than Daigo. Frankly, I wish Major 2nd were about Izumi instead of Daigo, but alas. I haven't read the manga, so I can't project where the story is going to go, but I hope there are at least some Izumi-focused episodes. It seems reasonable, providing Major 2nd runs long enough, considering the spotlights shone on Kaoru and Ryoko in the original Major. At a minimum, I like Izumi's attitude a lot more than Daigo's, although I guess he hasn't had his traumatic emotional turning point yet. Anyone who familiar with the original Major (or a lot of baseball manga in general, really) knows what I'm talking about. I'm going to flip over a table if one of Daigo's family members dies, though.


16 April 2018: Piano no Mori seems better than I was expecting

Shuuhei and Kai
Well, there is a forest.

I only watched the first episode of Piano no Mori (TV) because of the Gainax name attached to it. Hopefully, Sakuga Blog will at some point lay out how much of the Fukushima Gainax has anything to do with the Gainax of yore, if anything. Regardless of how much the name might even matter anymore, it at least served to expose me to an episode of anime I would not have otherwise considered watching. I won't call the first episode stunning, but it was at least surprising and better than I was anticipating. I went into the show knowing nothing aside from a brief vague description about two boys who play piano in a forest. That's technically true, but doesn't really detail what the show is about.

Reiko
For one thing, one of the characters is a prostitute.

As far as what a curious viewer might expect, I don't think I can offer reliable predictions based on a single episode, but think it's likely comparisons with Nodame Cantabile, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, and, uh, Piano will be inevitable. You know, because all of these shows are about people playing piano. There is some imperfect 3DCG in Piano no Mori, but I get the feeling this is an increasingly unavoidable component of anime in this particular era. In any case, it was not distracting enough to take me completely out of the show. It's certainly should not be a reason to dismiss it out of hand. I can't promise Piano no Mori will be good, but I at least claim the first episode is different and worth your time if you are still finding your way around the new anime season, trying to figure out what might be worth watching.


9 April 2018: I'm looking forward to Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory

Tessa and Leonard
I guess you need to watch The Second Raid
to know who the person on the right is.

There has been a running gag for years about Full Metal Panic! fans in anguish about Kyoto Animation working on other projects instead of animating another sequel to follow Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid. To some extent, I fit that category of disgruntled fans in the sense that I did want another FMP season, although it's not accurate to claim I harbored Kyoani any ill will, if only because I had long ago concluded no such sequel would ever be forthcoming. Surprisingly, there is going to be a fourth season after all: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory. (Get it? Full Metal Panic! IV. Anyway....) Xebec is making this one, and it starts on 13 April. Do you need to watch the first three seasons before watching FMP IV? I dunno. Probably?

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2 April 2018: FLCL revisited

Mossan, Pets, Hijiri, and Hana
Drills are a girl's romance.

Adult Swim aired the first episode of FLCL Alternative in Japanese with English subtitles five months early as an April Fool's prank. That is, the first episode of the third season before any of the second season episodes had aired. Those anxious about potential spoilers can probably rest easy knowing nothing depicted or revealed in this episode struck me as potentially volatile spoiler material, although I can't rule out the possibility that it contained huge spoilers for the yet unaired second season, FLCL Progressive. Although no longer a Gainax property (as I understand it anyway) the tone and themes of this leaked (technically not leaked) episode fit the character and qualities I associate with the original OVA series from 2000 and 2001, albeit toned down to be a bit less high-test wacky.

Haruka
キタ━━━━━━(゚∀゚)━━━━━━ !!!!!

Speaking of the original FLCL I also had the opportunity to re-watch this series via its inexpensive Blu-ray set. (The whole set cost me less than what I paid for each of the original three Synch-Point DVDs, and I didn't even have to journey out to GAMERS in Westwood to buy it.) The original FLCL absolutely holds up, and remains as good as I remember. If anything, it's even better now, since there were a number of references I didn't recognize originally, and I'm able to contextualize many of the scenes better nowadays. In any case, I highly encourage all y'all to re-watch the original at some point before starting with FLCL Progressive when it begins in June. Those of you who have never seen it obviously should rectify that as well.