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Dated 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.

Dated 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.

Dated 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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Dated 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.

Dated 20 November 2017: Just Because! is good even when it is not about baseball

Mio
I guarantee Himura Kiseki wanted to give her huge breasts.

If you're not watching Just Because!, you may at least have seen discussions about it on the Twitter, mostly about how it's apparently always on the verge of a production meltdown. Alternatively, you might also have heard about it because its character designer is the artist who provides weekly blue illustrations of buxom characters every Monday morning. Just Because! also featured in its first episode a very well done baseball sequence, a motif that reappears during the series. Really, the series is about romance, and unrequited love, and people being too chickenshit to let others know how they feel, but it's all the other parts that ensure the show works. Usually, the part about teenagers not being honest with their feelings is a pretty big red flag when you're looking for entertaining anime, but Just Because! handles these various plot lines fairly well, at least through the first six episodes.

Ena and Eita
Go on, Ena. Curse the bitch out.

The real star of the show, however, is the Photography Club girl whose photojournalism skills are on point. I'm not all that familiar with Lynn, her seiyuu (I actually thought it was Haruka De Tomaso Pantera initially), despite her numerous past roles (of which, I'm most familiar with Keijo!!!!!!!!), but she's pretty good here. It looks like Ena is going to get laid out on the teen romance smorgasbord as well, which I guess is fine as long as Just Because! remembers to retains her comic scenes and occasional griefing.

Dated 13 November 2017: The second season of Kekkai Sensen doesn't seem very Beyond

Sonic and Leo
Leonardo Watch, default expression.

Kekkai Sensen & Beyond seems to offer about the same level of interesting developments and entertaining action as the first season did, but I'm still not quite as enamored with the show this time around. I think most fans of the first season were primarily concerned about how the sequel would fare without Matsumoto Rie directing, but I don't believe the series has suffered too much in this regard. On its face, Blood Blockade Battlefront ought to be as enjoyable as it always was. If anything, it ought to be better, since we finally got some episodes featuring Chain who basically did fuck all the first season. But Beyond seems to be missing something to me, and I think I know what it is: White.

Chain
Snappy dresser, great hair. Pity she's a slob, though.

This is probably heresy, since White is reportedly an anime-original addition to the first season. Nevertheless, I think White helped tie the series together by providing a more cohesive narrative in an otherwise mostly episodic series. Scenes featuring White and Leo getting to know each other better helped me as a viewer get to know them better. Aside from Zapp, I don't believe I can say the same thing about any of the other characters. And in Zapp's case, all I really learned is that he's sort of a dick, and often not in an amusing sort of way. Ultimately, Kekkai Sensen is still good (it's currently the third-highest rated show on my seasonal chart), but it's also a little unsatisfying because I can't help but feel as if it could be better. It is still very flashy, even though the screen dims during the frequently literally flashy scenes. (This seems to be common practice these days for reducing the risk of inducing seizures among those susceptible to such.) There is probably a metaphor in here somewhere, but it will take a better anime detective than me to find it.

Dated 23 October 2017: I can't believe Best Girl is already dead (full-on Juuni Taisen spoilers)

Niwatori
Seriously, though, this is great hair.

I'm going to depart from my typical spoiler-free policy for this bit. Avert your eyes if you care about Juuni Taisen spoilers at all. Juuni Taisen (also Juni Taisen: Zodiac War) is an anime adaptation of a NisiOisiN light novel about 12 psychos (loosely based on the Chinese zodiac) killing each other in an urban ghost town. Their reasons for doing so aren't particularly important, as the main draw of the series simply happens to be the homicide carnival. After three episodes, I'm mostly unimpressed with the menagerie of murderers who mostly seem sort of uninteresting, even the ones intentionally designed to be weirdos. That is, except for Chicken, who is already dead now. This is some bullshit. P.S. Spoilers.

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Dated 16 October 2017: Two Car looks good, sounds good

Yuri and Megumi
They're late for school, but not toast-in-mouth late.

It's not as good as Bakuon!! or Aa! Megami-sama through two episodes, but Two Car is pretty all right as far as a motorcycle anime goes. Whereas Ah! My Goddess (at least the manga) excelled at promoting motorcycles as magnificent machines offering transcendental experiences under theoretically plausible, realistic (banal, even) situations, Two Car takes an approach somewhat closer to Bakuon!!'s. That is, it presents medium-wacky motorcycle hijinks in a world which does not exist, but really ought to. If you can accept that sensha-dō is a real girl's sport, then accepting the world of Two Car where high school girls dominate the sport of sidecar motorcycle racing should be a cinch.

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