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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.


26 March 2018: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho and Yuru Camp△ are the best shows of Winter 2018

Rin
There's also the matter of Rin's excellent hair.

Yuru Camp△ finished its 12-episode run last week with an open-ended conclusion to its deeply satisfying season. As far the actual narrative goes, I can't exactly claim Laid-Back Camp was particularly eventful, but the show's real strengths came from its pleasantly relaxed mood and its freakishly endearing lead character, Rin, anyway. I do like the other characters as well, though, and I'm particularly relieved Nadeshiko turned out to be a lot better than I initially feared, but Rin basically carried Yuru Camp△ for me. She did, after all, clinch the Girl of the Quarter crown in week 10 by racking up most of my Girl of the Week awards. If you place any stock in B.S. numerical ratings, I did score Yuru Camp△ in first place for most of the season before Sora yori mo Tooi Basho passed it.

Hinata
"When angry count four; when very angry, swear."

There's actually one episode of Sora yori mo Tooi Basho left, but I'm all but certain to subjectively regard it as this season's best show regardless of how it actually plays out. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (see this post for more about the show's name) is exceptionally well done. I'm particularly impressed with how it pays off the numerous little heartfelt investments it made during the course of the series. Also of note is the astute directing which has juggled comedy, drama, and even a little horror with skillful touches of emotional resonance in the right amounts and at the right times.

Violet
Mission top secret, destination unknown.

Speaking of emotional resonance, compare Sora yori mo Tooi Basho with the much hyped Violet Evergarden for example, which turned out to be a hot mess of wildly disparate levels of quality depending on the episode. I felt nearly all of them were clumsy and overwrought, with the exception of two episodes (both of which credit Sawa Shinpei as the episode director, incidentally). In particular, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho has made much better use of its music than Violet Evergarden has, as I've mentioned before. All in all, I'm very impressed with Sora yori mo Tooi Basho, and I'm looking forward to its creative team's future projects.


19 March 2018: Overlord II and Dagashi Kashi 2 have something in common

Momonga
Sure seems as if Momonga has spent a lot of his screen time this season sitting.

Both Overlord II and Dagashi Kashi 2 feature a lot fewer scenes of some of its main characters than I was expecting. In the case of Overlord II, it seems the vast majority of this sequel's screen time is devoted to minor returning goofballs or entirely new characters who mostly serve to expand the worldbuilding aspects of the story, albeit at the sacrifice of characters from the first season who I was hoping to see more of again. Not that Lizard Man politics and alliances are not interesting in their own right, or that I'm not engaged by old man good guy combat butler Sebas Tian picking up a teenage girlfriend who can reportedly almost cook palatable meals...but this wasn't at all what I was expecting from a second season of Overlord.

Zaryusu and Crusch
I admit I am amused by the albino Lizard Man lady who can't be in direct sun.

Based on other reports I've seen, the source material for Overlord does seem rather detailed and intricate enough to make me think its probably a lot better than other fantasy light novels. At a minimum, it doesn't appear as if the author is at all half-assing the writing, so perhaps the books are good enough to be regarded as regular fantasy novels and don't deserve the stigma I reflexively assign to most (but not all) "light" novels. The Overlord books have actually been licensed, and at least six English-language volumes are out already, so I guess I could give them a try. Hopefully they feature adequate amounts of Momonga doing Momonga-type things and aren't, like, wall-to-wall Lizard Man politics.

Kokonotsu and Hajime
Another Millennial desperate for an unpaid internship.

Dagashi Kashi 2, like Overlord II, has fewer appearances by its putative main character than I was expecting, but it also differs from its first season in few other ways. For one thing, it's a shorter, half-length show this season. The character designs are also a bit different, but I don't really have an opinion about this change because the voices are still the same. Hotaru's absence from a significant part of the season was unexpected, though. It's a sensible departure, in that it opens up space to develop the new character who temporarily fills Hotaru's role as the resident nutjob, but I'm not sure I'm totally okay with the lack of Hotaruness this season. Sadly, it also seems the original manga is ending soon. This Hotaru-free future seems less than ideal.


13 March 2018: Toji no Miko is okay

Hiyori and Kanami
Toji no Miko official art.

I probably would not still be watching Toji no Miko (Katana Maidens) were it not for the character designer. (Shizuma Yoshinori was also the character designer for Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho and a bunch of Kantai Collection ships.) Even then, I like the official promotional art more than how the designs actually translate into anime. I'm also not too enamored with the anime itself. I appreciate that it's going to be two cours, since I do rather miss when longer shows were more common. Admittedly, the longer length does seem to dampen the pacing a bit. I can see this turning some viewers off, but I'm okay with it, even though I would have also enjoyed a high-tension sword-girl-fugitives on the run story.

Kaoru, Kanami, Hiyori, and Nene
There is a lot going on in this shot.

While Toji no Miko is neither bad nor good, it does have good bits in it. I like the physics-defying inverted vertical scabbards that the characters use for their swords. I doubt contraptions so top-heavy could ever be practical in the real world, but they totally work for anime because they keep the characters from banging their swords into things whenever they move around, and they allow the personalized designs to appear in nearly every shot. It's a clever way of including a bit of flair to the characters' designs without relying exclusively on the usual hairbands and giant ribbons. Other good things include Kawasumi Ayako in the cast (the Ayako Doctrine remains in effect), and there a number of mildly amusing gags, such as the shrimpy girl's stupidly ginormous sword and the rich girl's ability to Deus ex machina solutions to complex problems. Toji no Miko is by no means a must-see anime, but it embraces its animeness earnestly enough to keep me watching week after week, and I expect to continue watching it next season as well.


6 March 2018: Violet Evergarden is a fully automatic memory doll

Violet
Actually, Violet doesn't seem to brush her hair either.

Violet Evergarden is not subtle. The animation is beautiful, even by the already high standards I've come to expect of Kyoto Animation, but it's somewhat wasted in an uneven show. After eight episodes, I don't care about any of the characters—certainly none of these personality-free men with perpetually uncombed hair. I'm willing to pretend to care about Violet as the main character, but I think I should be more involved by this point so close to the show's end. I would have less of a problem with Violet being a cipher if the show were two cours or longer. As it is, it feels as if the entire auto memory doll letter-writing bit is filler instead of ostensibly one of the main aspects of the series. Is it telling that the far-and-away best episode to date was an anime-original addition?

Violet
WHAT MAKES THE GREEN GRASS GROW?

Writing aside, Violet Evergarden also seems too intent to serve as a talent showcase. It's filled with glorious vignettes, but mostly does not work for me as a whole. In particular, I find the background music incredibly intrusive. The music itself is good, despite not being especially memorable, but the bigger problem is I don't think I should be noticing it nearly as much as I do. In any case, it takes me out of the scene entirely too often. As with most of the other problems I have with Violet Evergarden, it's good from a technical perspective, but would benefit from more restraint. Or perhaps I'm only getting distracted by these components because I'm not invested in the show itself? Probably the lack of appreciation for the plot is entirely my fault, as I'm clearly more interested in the wartime flashbacks and post-war aspects than I am in Violet's effort to understand feelings. Violet Evergarden is only just now revealing the role its titular character played in the war and how she reached the state where we found her in the first episode.

Violet
I don't know why Violet is wearing short pants.

The explanations raise a lot of additional questions that I don't expect to be addressed. For one, considering how unremarkable Violet seemed to be when she was, uh, acquired, why doesn't the army have a lot more of these emotionless child soldiers? Violet was a goddamn wrecking machine that her unit dispatched when it needed someone to ninja the shit out of the enemy. And she was the only one with the situational awareness to identify a pretty obviously vulnerable position. It just seems they could have used a lot more of her ilk. I don't think this is nitpicking, because there should be a compelling reason why Violet has such a gift for killing. If the focus of the show is supposed to be emotional discovery and recovering from loss and the horrors of war, Violet Evergarden could conceivably hit the same points by making her a regular-type scrub child solider as opposed to a Norse valkyrie holy terror.