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20 February 2018: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (the Antarctica show) is a triumph of original anime, even if I'm still not sure what to call it

Hinata and Yuzuki
I'm hoping AR glasses will make flying more tolerable someday.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than The Universe) is remarkably well done. Before the season started, I fully expected it to be a trite "cute-girls-doing-cute-things" fluff piece about high school girls having implausibly canned adventures in Antarctica. However, it turns out Yorimoi adopts a serious attitude toward exploring the logistics required and examining just how something like this might actually be accomplished. I take it as a triumph of original anime that the story seems well thought out and enjoyable in ways that are often missing from anime adaptations of preexisting works, particularly when such anime try hard (to their detriment) to closely follow the source material.

Hinata and Yuzuki
These two are so good.

Instead, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho has taken its time establishing the groundwork instead of leaping directly into Antarctica and absolutely benefits from this pacing and thoughtfulness. This is not to say that Yorimoi is an overly serious or dramatic affair (although it does have serious moments and drama in it). There is quite a bit of comedy and levity in the show centered around the character dynamics and benefiting from impeccable timing and astute direction. I'm not familiar with most of the director's previous work, but I see Ishizuka Atsuko also directed Hanayamata, which was also nicely done, although Yorimoi has been even better through seven episodes. Yorimoi is vying with Yuru Camp△ for the honors of Best Winter 2018 Show.

Hinata, Shirase, Yuzuki, and Mari
You need to be a professional to get that sort of air.

I guess I should explain what I mean about not being sure what to call Sora yori mo Tooi Basho. Its official English subtitle is A Story that leads to the Antarctica. Additionally, some sources early on read the Japanese title as Uchuu yori mo Tooi Basho, but the PVs confirmed it was Sora yori instead of Uchuu yori. However, the title I have difficulty accepting is the official English one used by the Crunchyroll: A Place Further Than the Universe. Grammatically, I'm pretty sure it should be "Farther" instead of "Further," and I believe "the Universe" really should be "Space" instead in an English title, regardless of whatever original Japanese sources claim. The reason being is because—as I understand it—the title is a reference to how Antarctica is about 14,000 kilometers from Japan, whereas space is only about 100 kilometers away if you travel straight up. Hence, A Place Farther Than Space. Admittedly, this means effectively everything on Earth is farther away than space, but it still makes more sense than using "Universe" barring some further explanation later in the show.


14 February 2018: iDOLM@STER XENOGLOSSIA is a classic story about a teenage girl and her giant robot finding true love together

Haruka and Imber
Shameless flirting.

I was a stranger to the iDOLM@STER franchise the first time I watched iDOLM@STER XENOGLOSSIA. I mentioned this before, but perhaps I should have noted I was also mystified by the amount of hostility displayed by some fans of the original games (arcade and Japanese Xbox 360 exclusive) toward Xenoglossia when the anime came out in 2007. Although I understood in principle the objections fans would have concerning the different character designs and replaced voices, I was not personally invested in any of the characters, so some of the more venomous attacks seemed excessive. Moreover, the character designs looked fine to me, at least relative to other anime of the period and Sunrise shows in particular. I finally watched my DVDs over the past few months, and actually enjoyed Xenoglossia a lot more on re-watch than I did during its initial broadcast, despite having a better understanding now of THE iDOLM@STER as a whole. Or maybe I like Xenoglossia more because I've watched several cours of bona fide iDOLM@STER anime now, not "despite" watching them.

Iori
Yukarin Iori with purple hair is good too.

Still, I'm not quite sure how I would characterize iDOLM@STER XENOGLOSSIA. It's not really much of a giant robot show for a show about giant robots, and it's not an idol anime despite having (regular-type) idols and iDOLs in it. It's not a "cute girls doing cute things" show, nor is it an early example of the more recent phenomenon where anime girls band together to be really excited about some typically male-dominated activity, like Bakuon!! or Two Car or GIRLS und PANZER. Honestly, it really is a love story about a teenage girl and her much older robot boyfriend. Notably, the affection Haruka develops for Imber is not at all unusual, as all of the other pilots also develop complex feelings toward their robots as well. In fact, jealousy plays a huge role in the plot, as do the inevitable love triangles.

Azusa
Also, Xenoglossia Azusa > regular Azusa.

IDOLM@STER XENOGLOSSIA does not take itself too seriously, but does not devolve into camp either. I buy into the HARUKA X IMBER pairing enough to believe there should be real questions raised about the ED once its setting becomes clear. I also enjoy the romance enough that I think I like the Xenoglossia Haruka more than I like the regular Haruka. Not that there's anything wrong with the regular Haruka necessarily, but I like the Xenoglossia Haruka's attitude better. Perhaps it's because she comes across as more of a main character in her own show, while the "real" Haruka necessarily seems more like a token default protagonist in a franchise with an ensemble cast, must the way I regard Miyafuji in Strike Witches or ol' Bucky in the Kantai Collection anime. I don't know if true fans of THE iDOLM@STER will ever regard Xenoglossia as positively as I do—the different voices must be especially jarring for them—but perhaps they'll come to appreciate the series if they think of it as one of those in-universe television programs the iM@S characters themselves occasionally feature in as actresses.


5 February 2018: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen releases us from the Time card's pernicious grasp

Sakura
Just your average preteen and her WMD.

Has it really been 18 years already? Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen basically picks up where the last series left off, and the transition is practically seamless. Various electronic gadgets get upgraded to the modern standard without comment, but the show itself is just the way I remember it. The cast remains intact, and while some voices have changed a bit over the years, the characters still remain true to form. Sadly, Kawakami Tomoko passed away in 2011, but Clear Card-hen did not write her character out of the show. Well, Rika did transfer to a different school, but she's acknowledged as still being part of the circle of friends and shares a phone conversation with Sakura in the fourth episode. It's not clear how large a role she will play in the current series, but this is also the case for much of the Cardcaptor Sakura cast. After all, the original ran for 70 episodes, while Clear Card is projected for only 22. I think we can expect a lot of characters to only get cameos this time around.

Touya and Sakura
Some things don't ever change.

For now, these episodes fit the "card of the week" stereotype, but that was true of the initial episodes in the original series as well. I'm fairly certain we can expect Clear Card to grow into a much larger story with complex narratives as it progresses. For the time being, I don't have much to say about Clear Card itself except that I'm constantly amazed we got a sequel to one of the best shows of all time almost 20 years after it ended, and the sequel manages to hit all the right beats so far. Moreover, this is true from both a thematic and a production standpoint. I don't know if Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen has all the people who were responsible for the first anime, but they at least understand what made the original great and appear intent on bringing that magic back. As for whether or not you should watch Clear Card, the answer to this seems obvious: If you watched the original series, then you can absolutely let your feelings about that show influence your decision about this one. If you have not watched the original, then you should absolutely watch that one first instead of skipping ahead to this one. The fact that this last point ever needs to be said is itself somewhat dismaying, to tell you the truth.


29 January 2018: DARLING in the FRANXX is more than a one-way reflection

Delphinium
The robots are named after flowers, but I don't know if there is any meaning to it.

Studio Trigger's Gainax heritage basically guarantees I'll give any of its shows a try. They haven't all been hits, but I'll generally find at least something to enjoy. DARLING in the FRANXX is Studio Trigger's two-cours science fiction partnership with A-1 Pictures featuring giant robots and lots of sexual allegories. The show is not at all subtle, with wall-to-wall metaphors about marriage, intercourse, orgasm, infidelity, and polyandry. And that's just the first three episodes. Unfortunately, it also stars an exceptionally dull teenage boy (because of course it does). At least he isn't a whiny brat, I guess. (That role was already taken by one of the supporting cast.)

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22 January 2018: Yuru Camp△ takes an early lead as Winter 2018's best show

Rin
Make a left at the fork and keep going straight. If you pass Mount Fuji, you've gone too far.

Yuru Camp△ is a blatant attempt at promoting camping and campsites. The show provides accessible instructions and guidelines to make camping attractive to neophytes and gorgeously depicts obviously real-life locations in transparent efforts to transform viewers into visitors.

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15 January 2018: Everybody relax, it's not as if they're tearing each other's clothes off in Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Masami
Masami does not come across quite as lame in the anime as he does in the manga.

Right up front, you should know Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (Love Is Like After the Rain) is about a teenage girl who falls in love with her 45-year-old manager at the family restaurant where she works part-time. Nevertheless, it is not as—as the kids say—"problematic" as you might think, maybe because it is seinen instead of shoujo. (This last part is not a joke. If you've read a lot of shoujo, you know the genre revels in "problematic" developments.) Assuming the anime basically follows the manga, I think we can expect something much closer to Sweetness and Lightning than, uh...actually, I can't think of a show off the top of my head that follows through with this sort of pairing. (This assumes Tsumugi and her teacher did not started tearing each other's clothes off at some point in the Amaama to Inazuma manga.)

Akira
There is a lot of glaring in this show.

Rather, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni offers beautiful animation (assuming you're fine with the elongated character designs) with solid WIT STUDIO production values and the potential for the noitaminA block to potentially mean something again. That is, you don't necessarily need to dodge the show if the premise makes you uncomfortable. (Likewise, if you find the premise titillating, expect to be disappointed.) In a season chock full of so many good shows already, I can't claim After the Rain qualifies as a "must see" by any means, but it is at least worthy of more consideration by potential viewers who may have prematurely dismissed it based on preconceptions.


8 January 2018: I don't know what to write about Mahō Tsukai no Yome, so here is Chise bathing

Chise
Chise in the bath in episode one.

The first anime season of Mahō Tsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus' Bride) was visually stunning from start to finish. I had some doubts the show would be able to maintain the same high standard all the way through, but I've got no complaints about the first cours. The second cours has also started in fine form, but I'm still somewhat at a loss as to whether this is a show I would recommend or not. At a minimum, Mahoutsukai no Yome offers a different sort of anime that we rarely get. Even though Chise is Japanese, she practically could have come from anywhere, since the ethnic and cultural parts of her background don't matter so much as her early personal life and hardships. The setting is ostensibly British, but it's "Magical Cotswolds as a launching point to other realms" British and not, like, "chip shops on High Street" British.

Chise
Chise in the bath in episode 12.

However, The Ancient Magus' Bride might be a little too consistent for its own good, in that there aren't a lot of dramatic highs or lows in the first half of the anime. I frankly have a difficult time imagining what the series must be like for someone who isn't already familiar with the manga. Would someone coming to the anime first be as impressed with it as I was with the manga? Rather than pursuing some objective which Chise strives toward each week, the series consists of seemingly unrelated stories that improve Chise's understanding of the magic world around her. There are occasional reminders that she'll face serious challenges ahead, but there's no corresponding sense of urgency. I have to admit it would be reasonable for viewers to simply dismiss Mahō Tsukai no Yome by saying, "It's fine, but not my sort of thing." Reasonable, but unfortunate.


2 January 2018: Two Car has a third wheel

Yuri and Megumi
Yuri > Megumi.

I was expecting Two Car to devote episodes to all of the various racing teams which it had introduced at the start of the series. In fact, while it did do this for a few of the groups (including the announcers), the show instead concluded by focusing on the lead pair. Specifically, it focused on the lead pair and their would-be love triangle rivalry over their coach. After the show's only male (and faceless, to boot) character skipped town at the end of the first episode, I thought for sure Two Car would simply finish with some vague promise of pursuing him to the Isle of Man where they would TT battle for his heart. But, in fact, he returned so Megumi and Yuri could compete for his affection once again. (At least he has a face now.)

Nene and Ai
The episode about these two was pretty good.

Based on the reactions I've encountered, it seems Two Car is somewhat niche in its appeal. I found this a little surprising, but possibly that simply means I'm part of that niche. In any case, I enjoyed Two Car quite a bit for what it is and its GIRLS und PANZER approach to ignoring the genuine hazards of its rather dangerous activity. I was also not put off by the romantic subplot involving the coach. It's obvious Megumi's and Yuri's feelings will never reach him, and none of the other characters have the slightest interest in him. In that respect, it's a lot less objectionable than, say, a harem comedy where Potato-kun obliviously stiff-arms overly eager girls by the helmet as they inexplicably pursue him for no Goddamn reason. In Two Car, he's mostly just an excuse for Megumi and Yuri to continue bitching each other out. I know this aspect of the show also aggravated the Bejesus out of some viewers, but I'm rather a fan of otherwise likable girls being horrible to each other for my amusement.