It’s a brand new year, which means that we have a brand new season of anime that already been rolling out for the past couple weeks.
While this season seems to be a bit of a slump compared to last year’s Fall season and the massive hype for the upcoming Spring season, there are still quite a few shows that deserve your attention.
So, to help you wade through the 40-odd series’ airing right now, here is the first installment of our Anime Preview Guide: Winter 2016. Over the next few posts, I’ll be giving my brief thoughts on what I personally plan on watching this season, as well as some shows that I’ve already dropped and want to warn you about before you dive into a hot mess.
For part 1, I’ll be covering shows in the action, sci-fi, and fantasy genres.
Myriad Colors Phantom World
Wednesdays on Crunchyroll
Synopsis: “In the near future, spirits and monsters are in full sight. A boy leads a group of people with special abilities as they plot against a massive organization that takes advantage of a certain incident and eventually know the truth about their world in the process.” — Official site
For now, this series falls squarely into the “episodic monster fighter” category, and so far there’s very little depth to anything that’s going on with the phantoms they fight or with the different ways that characters relate to each other. Despite that, there are still a lot of attempts at crafting some really creative ideas and phantom designs that grab the eye much more than the typical monster brawler; the writers seem to be very fascinated with the concept of memories and all the facets that relate to that, though it often seems like more of a tangential relationship and not one that stands as the meat and potatoes of the plot, as I would have liked.
However, my biggest gripe so far is the fan service. I don’t have a problem with fan service itself; in fact, I’m rather fond of it when it’s used right. The problem with Phantom World is that it’s trying to find excuses to incorporate fan service, rather than just having scenes that naturally have fan service in them. Sure, you can reason out why one of the main female characters has to rub her body all over in order to evoke her powers because of ancient spiritual studies of the body, but that’s the problem in and of itself. If you have to explain to me why a fan service scene makes sense with uncommon spiritual knowledge, then it’s an excuse rather than something that makes sense in the scene itself.
The animation is above average for the most part. Again, there’s a lot of creativity that goes into the phantom designs, and some of the combat sequences are nicely choreographed. Is it as good as what you would expect from Kyoto Animation? Not even close, but for a story of this caliber, it’s about what you would expect. I’m personally finding it quite difficult to lower the bar after the sheer brilliance of KyoAni’s Sound! Euphonium a few seasons ago, so Phantom World is definitely not impressing me as much as I wanted.
I know it sounds like I’m being really harsh with this one, but I do still find at least some enjoyment in it, so I’m going to keep watching for now, though I can’t promise that I’ll finish it.
First Impression: 3/5
Try It (tentative recommendation)
Luck & Logic
Saturdays on FUNimation
Synopsis: “In the year L.C. 922, mankind faces an unprecedented crisis. Following the conclusion of a hundred-year war on the mythical world of Tetraheaven, the losing Majins sought a safe haven and invaded the human world Septpia. The government is forced to fight by employing Logicalists belonging to ALCA, a special police that protects the streets from foreigners of another world. Logicalists are given a special power that allows them to enter a trance with Goddesses from the other world.
One day, Yoshichika Tsurugi, a civilian who is lacking ‘Logic’ and lives peacefully with his family, meets the beautiful goddess Athena while helping people escape from a Majin attack. She wields the ‘Logic’ that Yoshichika should have lost. This leads Yoshichika to an unexpected destiny with Athena.
The future of the world depends on the ‘Luck’ and ‘Logic’ and these Logicalists.” — MAL News
For some reason, I really wanted this show to succeed. Perhaps it’s because it’s made by Dogakobo and I want them to finally make a good action title, but for some reason they just can’t manage to make it work. The astounding lack of logic (how ironic) in this series and how the plot plays out is almost unfathomable, especially in the third episode, where new concepts are introduced at random and they expect us to care when something unexpected happens and we aren’t aware that there isn’t a precedent for it in the first place. I actually like the way that they deliver exposition in this series though (classroom setting seems like a no-brainer), but that’s just one of very few bright spots.
The characters are somehow even worse than the story itself, with character actions and interactions often being completely beyond the realm of understanding, but I think I figured out what the main problem is. This show focuses on a super-overpowered character Yoshichika with a mysterious, yet amorphous past. However, in my opinion, the main character should have been Yurine, the secondary lead, who is still very strong, but not as strong as the Gary Stu insert and is also having self-confidence issues on top of that (though there may be some bias involved with my opinion since she’s voiced by one of my favorite VAs).
This would have been a much more interesting and engaging premise when the new guy comes in and just starts mopping the floor with the enemies while Yurine struggles to catch up, but instead they stuck to the standard “light novel adaptation of magic-wielding teenagers with a male power fantasy” premise, even though this is an anime original story and didn’t have to be adapted from anything. It’s tired, boring, unimaginative, and I wish it would just stop.
The animation can be good sometimes and I’m a huge fan of the character designs despite some of them being a bit generic, but the action is fairly uninventive and bad CG is littered throughout this series. CG isn’t nearly as bad when it’s used on an inanimate object, but when it’s used on living creatures that are supposed to move like their 2D counterparts, it feels horribly out of place.
Anime that aren’t based on pre-existing material are usually the ones that break the mold and provide the most awesome content like Madoka Magika, FLCL, and Gurren Lagann, but Luck & Logic seems content to wallow in the same tired and stale tropes that have arisen in the past few years and has become a bad product because of that.
First Impression: 2/5
Sundays on FUNimation
Synopsis: “In the year 2072, the world’s energy problems seem solved by a network of cross-dimensional electric-field inductors—’coils’—that extract energy from a seemingly infinite source. That source is the W dimension, a fourth plane that exists beyond the X, Y, and Z dimensions.
In this world, unofficial ‘illegal’ coils harness powers that the police can’t hope to counter. Dealing with these coils is the job of coil-hating repo man Kyoma, whose run-in with the unique coil android Mira leads the two to form a reluctant partnership.” — FUNimation
This one was a pleasant surprise this season, with a very intriguing sci-fi setting and a nice batch of engaging characters. The chemistry between the characters seems fairly solid for the most part, and there are a lot of mysterious backstories and possible plot twists hanging around at the moment, so I’m pretty excited to see how deep this story can go. The world building, in particular, is really good so far and I almost feel like I know exactly how all the coils and other future tech works because of that.
Despite this, there’s also a nagging feeling with this one that I’ve seen it all before. A down on his luck, apathetic repo man gets paired with a spritely younger partner. He hates the new technology for some reason that will be revealed to us later, and he dislikes his new partner because of this hatred; the younger partner is going to bring him around eventually, and so on. It’s not that these elements are inherently bad. I just wish they went about them in a more creative and interesting manner that wasn’t so predictable.
The technical aspects of the series are pretty solid so far, but not super impressive. I know absolutely nothing about Studio 3Hz because they’ve only made one other anime besides this which I didn’t watch, but the animation is fairly solid so far. The environments and cityscapes are extremely detailed and unique, the action sequences are very engaging and the character designs are nice, though a little bit generic. There’s also a bit of nasty CG dabbled around as well, so that was kind of disappointing, and the soundtrack, while decent, is also the typical electronic mishmash without many distinguishing tracks.
I’ve heard that FUNimation is somehow involved in the production of this series, but I’m not quite sure how yet. In any case, this one will probably turn out to be a pretty solid title this season.
First Impression: 3.5/5
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Sundays on FUNimation
Synopsis: “Why are we here? Why are we doing this?
Before Haruhiro had realized what happened, he was surrounded by darkness. Why was he here? Where was here? Even now, he still didn’t know. Those around him were the same as him, no one remembered anything other than their own names. And when they emerged from the darkness, the world that awaited them seemed like something out of a video game.
In order to survive, Haruhiro forms a party with the others, learns fighting skills, and as a soldier in the reserve force, takes his first steps into the world of Grimgar. What awaits him there, he doesn’t know…
This the story of an adventure born from the ashes.” — NanoDesu
This one was also a bit of a pleasant surprise, more so because I was expecting an absolutely shameless SAO ripoff with lower production value, but I’m happy that we got something fairly different. I love that there are real stakes in this anime and that there’s so much pressure on the main group to succeed. It’s like they took the starting stats of a brand new MMO character and cut them in half. Even a single goblin poses a huge task to them at the start, and by episode 3 they can barely take on two at the most, so it really feels like they’re struggling against this world they’ve been thrown into. The dialogue feels like real people talking, especially in some of the calmer moments, and I do like almost all of the characters.
However, there are still a lot of issues. I really do think the “trapped in another world” subgenre has completely run its course by this point and needs a few years to cool off, and I didn’t really see a need for it to be this way with Grimgar, especially since they’ve mostly forgotten what the “real world” is like. It’s not inherently negative in this story in particular, I’m just tired of seeing it at this point. Also, remember how I said that I liked almost all of the characters? That was entirely literal because there is one member of the group that I just flat-out despise, putting a massive damper on the rest of the group. If he were to die in a horribly gruesome manner in the next episode, I would welcome it with a round of applause – that’s not how a protagonist with a lot of screen time should be constructed.
As for the animation, I was, unfortunately, right with my “lower production value” prediction. The character designs are nice but extremely generic. The watercolor backgrounds feel pretty unique and artistic, but they stick out horribly when characters are placed on top of them. The combat isn’t particularly engaging, though I don’t think it’s meant to be the main focus yet. On top of that, the way the soundtrack is implemented is absolutely terrible so far. In episode 2, they take an entire five minutes of montage footage and slap a generic insert song over it so it literally turns into a music video advertising that song, and then that happens twice in the third episode! I actually feel kind of dirty at how shameless it all is.
Overall, this isn’t a bad series yet and it has a lot of really strong points in its favor, but there’s a massive string of screw-ups that keep it from being wholly entertaining.
First Impression: 3/5
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Anime Guide: Winter 2016 where I’ll cover comedies, dramas, and more!