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Dated 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.

Dated 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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Dated 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.

Dated 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.

Dated 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.

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 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.

Dated 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.