Final Thoughts for Fall 2015

So, uh, yeah.

Parts three and four didn't happen due to all of our schedules being utterly wrecked, so apologies. But we can at least give you a wrap-up of all the season's highs and lows, and it was a ...good season? I guess? 2015 closed on a confused season that lacked any real high point that got a lot of attention that didn't receive an equal amount of flack (such as One Punch Man's supposed lack of depth), and many shows were completely mixed in reception. Some surprised us all with their competence or quality, and others were just so damn weird that it's hard to really suggest them to any sort of general audience. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was blistering with flaws of some sort, but there was always something to entertain. And strangely, that actually includes a light novel show set in a magical school. Miracles do happen.

2015 has been an absolute mess of a year, and you know things are bad when the best shows almost all released in the Winter, of all seasons. Just about every show came with an "...but" attached to it (though that was the point in Prison School's case), and some of the worst things to ever come from this medium also saw release. Seriously, Arms's new low ISUCA, the absolutely unfinished GOD EATER, and the baffling incompetent Unlimited Fafnir are all astonishing failures. About the only shows I can see with almost universal praise are Death Parade and Maria the Virgin Witch, though few watched in the latter's case. It was simply a dividing year filled with forgettable slogs and bizarre surprises. I mean, the show that was nothing but sex puns was apparently great. Nothing makes sense anymore.

As 2016 is just starting, let's take one look back and put 2015 out of its misery.

Dropped Shows

Brave Beats
David O'Neil

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy myself some goofy, ridiculous, mahou shojo nonsense on occasion, which is exactly what I got with Brave Beats. Dancing dinosaurs, random alligator attacks, out of control moonwalking, it was a bizarre twist on the genre, having a young boy and girl gain magical dance powers, and having to collect all the obligatory macguffins to protect the earth and fight the final boss. And its hard to explain, but while I enjoyed some of it, I didn't quite enjoy it enough to keep me coming back week to week. While the fights were fun and outrageous, everything else really felt flat in comparison. Dialogue was slow and trite, good gags were far and in between, and I didn't especially care for any of the characters. If you can power through all that to get to the remarkably fun Poke'mon meets Sailor Moon meets Tribe Cool Crew scenes, you'll give small bursts overflowing with campiness and creativity, and albeit briefly, have a really fun time. But everything in between was just too mediocre to keep me engaged. Four Episodes: 5/10

Chivalry of a Failed Knight
Danni Kristen

How many times do I have to say that light novels are bad before fate stops assigning me to review their adaptations? The only episode of Chivalry of a Failed Knight I watched goes pretty much how you'd expect a light novel adaptation to go. There's a cute and popular girl with exceptional magical abilities and an unimpressive, average guy whose magical abilities are ranked lowest in the school. They become roommates and he sees her undressing. She challenges him to a duel wherein we find out he actually has better magical abilities than everyone else and beats her. She starts feeling him up as he sleeps and somehow ends up straddling him. They decide to be friends. End episode and cue me immediately moving it to my Dropped Shows list. If there was one high point in the entire episode it was that the action sequences were kind of cool. Unfortunately, they dragged on much longer than they needed to because the characters felt the need to stop and monologue after every single movement. Watching more than one episode would have just been a serious waste of my time. One Episode: 2/10

Comet Lucifer
Stephanie Getchell

Since we never got the chance to use our second drops of the season, Johnathan allowed us to use them now as we see fit. In my case, I had to use mine on Comet Lucifer. From the start, the series had interesting ideas and themes that can look like a nice gift you want to open. However, once it gets going, it becomes something more generic and almost disappointing that it becomes rather boring. Concept wise, it seemed like a decent SciFi/Mech series with a more romantic element and style that could attract those who may not be huge Mech fans, such as myself, to watch such a show. I just can't get past how generic and dull the series is. It's the one show out of all the remaining series I've been keeping up with that I had been least looking forward to. This is also coming from someone currently following the broadcast dub of Seraph of the End's second season and, in case you may not remember, I wasn't a huge fan back when it started in the spring. Comet Lucifer isn't one of those so bad it's good situations, but just so bad it's boring. Certainly one of my least favorites from 2015. And I have seen quite a bit of terrible shows... Six Episodes: 4/10

DD Fist of the North Star II + Fist of the North Star: Strawberry Flavor
Danni Kristen

This was by no means a bad show. Honestly, I quite enjoyed it. There is really only one reason I ended up using my second drop on it, and that reason is because I know absolutely nothing about Fist of the North Star. Seriously, it was terribly unlucky for me to be the one to have been randomly assigned a spin-off to a series I know absolutely nothing about. Sure, this also happened with Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA this season, but unlike Aria AA, this spin-off is extremely referential to its main series. In fact, pretty much all of the show's content is referential to the main series. I imagine I would have loved this show had I already been a Fist of the North Star fan. The art style was pretty cute and the jokes I understood were for the most part pretty funny. I say for the most part because there's a constant running joke in the show where Bat plays the straight man and has to shrilly scream his reactions to every absurd thing that happens and boy do a lot of absurd things sure happen in this show. It was a joke that grew old before episode one even finished and by episode six I was constantly dreading. Also, this show probably would have functioned better as a short since I found myself getting bored as each episode went on, but that also could have been a simple result of not understanding exactly what was happening or being referred to. Regardless, it wasn't a bad show, and I'd like to see what fans of the main series think of it. Six Episodes: 6/10

Hacka Doll: The Animation
Danni Kristen

Anime that star existing brand mascots are usually just ploys to cash in on a brand's popularity that result in really lackluster shows. Though Hackadoll appeared to be an earnest attempt at making a good show, it unfortunately still ended up a lackluster series. After the first episode, I saw potential in its humor. The jokes weren't bad per se, they were just poorly executed. I told myself I would give Hackadoll three episodes to cause me to crack a smile at one of its jokes. I dropped the show after episode three, so you can probably guess whether or not it succeeded. Everything else about the show was fine - just fine. It didn't really excel at doing anything. I would have kept watching if the humor had excelled. As I already said, though, it did not, and there's really no point to watching a comedy that isn't funny. Three Episodes: 4/10

David O'Neil

Once in a while, there is a show with absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. It doesn't have any unique art style. No new jokes to offer. The premise itself is pretty unremarkable. The characters are walking tropes. And it brings absolutely nothing of substance, or even anything especially terrible in terms of its story, humor, visuals, writing, characters, anything. To a certain point, I start to wonder why this show even exists. Even the lowest trash in the garbage bin, like Bikini Warriors, I understand the audience and purpose, as terrible as it is. But once and a while, there's a show that just sort of.....happens. And I'm not sure why. It's not terrible. And it's not good. It's just.....there. Weeks later, I have to struggle to remember what it was even about. Only scattered details come to mind, in the mess of jokes and plot points copy and pasted from better, and perhaps even worse shows. But I guess that is the essence of existence. Sometimes these anomalies appear in our lives, that are so unbelievably mundane and unremarkable, there's only a brief moment questioning their purpose in the grand scheme of the universe before they fade into the void of beyond our memories. This has all been a very roundabout way of me saying I didn't like Hakone-chan very much, and it was boring. Two Episodes: 3/10

Shomin Sample
Stephanie Getchell

This series is a mix of frustrating and moments where I would say, out loud, "what in the actual f**k?!" You can't really even say that it's the same old same old as the series even uses classic visual novel troupes terribly. You would think that with a fairly decent premise that the writing would be ok, but even that is completely bad! The writing of the story and characters just makes me cringe and gives no redeeming qualities to it at all. I did, for the sake of the Dub Talk podcast I work on, tackle the first three episodes of the broadcast dub, and first time director Aaron Dismuke is actually being nice to this piece of garbage. Luckily it's this kind of show that's good for beginners and newbie voice actors to work on considering the talent who are a part of it. However, as a series in general, it's extremely bad in story and characters. Just don't bother with this one. Three Episodes: 2/10

Young Black Jack
David O'Neil

I'd be lying if I said Young Black Jack didn't get my attention right out of the gate. Vietnam war imagery, sword fighting,  shirtless and surprisingly fit doctors, gang bosses, surprisingly fit doctors tied up shirtless in chains for some reason, surgeries, and explosions, and that's all just in the Opening. Even as someone who had never read or seen any of the material this series is a prequel to, I did have fun with what little I watched of Young Black Jack. It's a strange, political, over the top medical show that does a lot of different stuff, but unfortunately it didn't do any of it quite well enough to hold my attention. For all it's quirks, on the most basic level the show felt too by the numbers, the story of some super skilled (insert occupation here) with a dark past helping people while everyone else goes "you can't do that thing it's impossible!" (spoilers, he does the thing). I was curious where the show was headed (especially with that sword fight in the Opening seriously what the hell) but after a few episodes I just didn't care enough to come back. Nothing quite grabbed me, from the underwhelming characters, to the toothless surgery scenes, to the questionable political angle, it was an interesting show, but one that couldn't keep my interest very long. Two Episodes: 4/10

Main Shows

Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon
Jonathan Kaharl

Well, I was expecting bad things. I was just wishing for interesting bad things. Anti-Magic may be the biggest waste of time anime series I've ever seen. It promises never to be good, but it has the potential to jump off the deep end and become Magical Warfare level idiocy. I mean, the big final arc is about the main character's sister being possessed by an eldrich god that forces her to act on her lesser impulses by turning her into a world swallowing flesh monster, and she ends up like that mainly because she wants to have sex with her brother. There's even a crazy guy with a magical weapon partner that's actively trying to make him worse by pretending to be his dead girlfriend! Every single faction in this war is run by megalomaniac villains that hire lunatics that only exist to randomly murder things and ruin all their plans! A girl who's actually a magic sword gets drunk! And it's all so boring!

It is astounding just how bad the writing in this show is. I cut the show some slack early on, but by the end of the last episode, I have to agree with the early consensuses. This is the most generic light novel story ever conceived. It's like a check list of all the usual tropes, with some tropes from other genres and mediums thrown in just to make the whole thing feel even more creatively empty (THERE'S A BEACH EPISODE COMBINED WITH AN EPISODE WHERE EVERYONE GETS DRUNK). Not even the cast can save this. I can usually find some interesting side characters in these shows to latch onto, but everyone in this series is just so flat and one note. It doesn't help at least half of the dialog between the main cast is picking on Mari for having a flat chest and everyone becoming easily angered whenever the main character obliviously shows affection to another girl. Hell, I might be undershooting that ratio.

That's not to say there aren't some salvageable characters here. Usagi and Ikaruga should have a Aria AA style gay spin-off, because the two have great chemistry and the only genuinely interesting or engaging back stories and arcs in the entire series (though Usagi's nearly falls apart by how awful the villain of her arc is). Yet even then, the series keeps trying to ruin this with bad gags or bizarre character traits. Usagi messing up so bad in the first episode gets hand waved with her being nervous, which makes no sense nor was built up as the case, while Ikaruga gets almost nothing to do and her most interesting qualities are glazed over for a lame pervert shtick. Everyone else is quite possibly the dumbest collection of human beings that ever lived. This is basically a Nasu wannabe writing style on display, trying to use personal ideals as the central element of a character and challenging those ideals to develop said characters, except where Nasu actually put some thought into character ideals and made it central to the story, this element tends to get sidelined for awful, big standard harem comedy and safely dark shock moments.

You know that Daria clip where she explains edginess as a lack of actual edge in exchange for a carefully researched marketing strategy? That's what this show feels like. It keeps throwing out character deaths and nazi style imagery and concepts, but there's no point to any of it. Most of the actual shocking moments are completely overturned by the next episode, or happen to characters that have never been introduced before. The idea that this war is just a fun little game between some of the lamest demi-gods ever created never gets fleshed out, and it just makes their decisions all the more baffling. Seriously, why the hell is this Haunted guy here? He's a crazy despair wizard with a flower motif that no sane organization would ever employ. All he ever does is either ruin simple plans or go on and on about how much of a sadist he is and how stupid heroism is. This idiot pointing out the bad tropes just reminds the audience of the bad tropes, and it makes him even more obnoxious.

But probably the worst aspect here is the team dynamic. The 35th test platoon is really just the Takaru and Otori show. Ikaruga never has anything to add besides some weapon and vehicle mods that never contribute to anything, Mari is a glorified mana tank (even the show makes a joke about this), and Usagi is only treated as an easy out for tense situations outside her little arc, Takaru might as well just be the center of the universe and the most awesome perfect fighter ever (and of course he had the personality of an empty can of peas that also happens to be a closet pervert), while Otori is the most basic tsundere imaginable. Even the one interesting part of her personality, that she's willing to give people the benefit of the doubt if they've proven themselves in some way, just feels like bad writing because we never get a situation where she has to grow into this quality. She's just an angry bigot one moment, and the most level headed member of the harem that isn't a borderline sociopath or bisexual ditz (seriously, Ikaruga and Usagi spin-off, make it happen) the next.

When I heard that the main character dies in the novel, I decided to watch this in entirety to hope I would see that moment, but it never happens. It gets teased two fucking times, but it never happens. And the end of Takaru's character arc is so incredibly stupid and devoid of any actual understanding of anything that I just ...GAH. THIS IS FATE ROUTE ENDING LEVELS OF NON-DEVELOPMENT. But I think the most damning thing I can say about this, ironically, is that it's not bad enough! It never reaches that level of awful that truly engages you, and when you think it finally has, it chickens out. Everything about this awful, awful series is a waste of everyone's time.

Except Ikaruga and Usagu. They are precious and deserve a good series with Yurika from Invaders of the Rokujyoma. Maybe invite Zest and Lars from Sister New Devil. That would be neat. But fuck Anti-Magic Academy.

Final Score: 3/10

Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA
Danni Kristen

Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA was the most unexpectedly fun show I got to watch this season. Much like with the Fist of the North Star spinoff, I was assigned to review it having absolutely no knowledge of the original show it spun off of. Unlike with the Fist of the North Star spinoff, however, that did not hamper my enjoyment of Aria AA one bit. I had actually gone into this one expecting it to be extremely mediocre and boring. What I got was an incredibly stupid and unintentionally hilarious action show that I enjoyed every minute of. That's not exactly a fair description to give, I know. The brunt of the show was intentionally comedic as well as very gay, and it did these things surprisingly well. At the backbone of the plot though was an action show that tried to hard to make tiny anime girls with guns cool and edgy. It didn't succeed at this at all, but it made for some damn fun entertainment. 

Though this show is a spinoff of Aria the Scarlet Ammo, it didn't require any foreknowledge of the original, thankfully. All the rules of universe are explained up front, and most of the main characters in AA were never in the original, so their relationships are all explained up front as well. Aria is the only character from the original show to play a major part in AA, with other main characters from the original only appearing in cameos. So though Aria may not be a new character, her relationships with all the main characters are newly established, so there's no issue. 

The strengths and weaknesses of Aria AA directly fall in line with the strengths and weaknesses of the studio producing it: Doga Kobo. Among this studio's most notable shows are Yuru YuriHimouto! Umaru-chan, and Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. If you're familiar with these shows, you'll some similarities between them. They're all slice of life comedies - and popular ones at that. Also, none of them are action shows. Doga Kobo does not do action well, and Aria AA is a testament to that. This was a criticism they also encountered with Mikagura School Suite, that the slice of life comedy bits were cute while the action sequences weren't very good. The upside with Aria AA is that, though unintentionally, the action sequences were really, really funny. Episodes like that only take up a quarter of the series, at least, so the rest is actually rather good. The animation isn't great, the music isn't impressive, and the characters are pretty lacking, but I loved it anyway because it is EXTREMELY gay. Much like with Yuru Yuri, there is absolutely no ship-teasing or yuri bait in Aria AA. These girls are all explicitly gay. Seriously, one of the main characters fantasizes about the protagonist offering to become her lesbian sex slave. It was an incredible moment from an incredibly fun anime and I will cherish it forever.

Final Score: 7/10

The Asterisk War
Jonathan Kaharl

I considered this show for my top ten of the year. That is both an insult to the dire state of 2015, and a compliment to this bizarrely good light novel magical school harem show. Nothing about The Asterisk War suggests it would have been good. In fact, I wanted to give Joe something he might actually like so I traded Perfect Insider for this. But then we both realized something weird. We really like this series. In fact, most people who watched it did. This season was bloated with crappy light novel shows, so I guess the math would state that at least one of them would have to be good. But a magic school harem still boggles my mind. I thought about it, though, and I think I get what Asterisk War was doing right none of its other ilk got.

When you get down to it, The Asterisk War has a very solid foundation. The cast is well defined and all have their own arcs and baggage, the villains are all generally interesting from just a scene with them, the world it builds has some thought put into it that makes it feel like its own thing and not just a collection of tropes. Really, if I had to compare it to something, it wouldn't be another anime, it'd be Star Wars. Both are collections of other ideas that create something new and engaging, carving a new mythology from all the bits and pieces that make its form. On top of that, both series at their best understand that its the characters we're here for and not lore or anything particularly complicated.

The first arc begins like most magical school harem crap, and seems to be building to a very predictable outcome ...and then it swerves. Suddenly, the show is aware of what it is, but it doesn't rub it in your face. The story swishes around expected events and little shifts in the formula, and it shows this best with its main cast. There's still a harem angle, yes, but all the girls have their own goals outside wanting to be with the male lead. Julis is a princess trying to save an orphanage with prize money, as her political power is limited and that orphanage is the only place she truly felt like she wasn't alone. Saya is mainly trying to help her father in his research and prove that his weapons were the real deal. Kirin is trying to get her father out of jail, after he was sent there for using powers on her would be assailants. Claudia is a mystery, but we know enough that she's probably the most emotionally unstable member of the cast once we find out what her weapon is. Even that male lead, Ayato, is likable and endearing. He just wants to find his older sister, while he also has an interesting subplot going on with his powers and their potential danger.

Minor characters also get treatment like this. The ugly guys you'd expect to be villains actually aren't, and the villains all have more complicated motivations. All of Asterisk is in a huge political power struggle, and it's interesting to see how all the different factions actually affect the world around them and the characters directly. Dirk, the head of Le Wolfe Black, may be one of my favorite antagonists ever, just by how much he breaks the mold. He's an overweight guy with an unattractive face, but he speaks with a lot of authority and thought. He hides his emotions carefully, even when there's a blade at his throat, and manipulates people to get what he wants. Yet, he's not entirely evil, just underhanded. He never breaks his deals and doesn't try anything particularly malicious. It's all just business to him.

There are a lot of little touches like this in the writing that gives every character definition, but never let them feel generic or too strange. It gets the balance just right, and its all backed by some fantastic production. The director of Mahouka, Manabu Ono, really gets to show off his visual eye here again, along with the help of some strong art and animation. The world of Asterisk has a really sleek sci-fi/fantasy blend, with every school having a theme to it to stand out a bit more (labs, prison, Chinese court, European fantasy, ect). It also has some damn cool fight scenes, the stand outs being Ayato and Kirin's duels. The first of them is particularly inventive, as Ayato and Kirin are both unable to block each others blades due to Ayato using one that cuts through nearly all matter, so the entire fight shows off the two's ability to dodge and stay on the offensive. It's really simple, but it's also equally gripping.

I've never seen a show quite so absent of flaws as this. It's not incredible, but it does what it needs to do so well that I was entertained all the way to the finish line once the first four episode arc showed its hand. This is what a great action show looks like, not too simple, but not too complex, keeping the excitement and discovery in perfect balance. I really hope we get a second season and I can't believe I just said that about a magic school harem show.

Final Score: 8/10

Attack on Titan: Junior High
Stephanie Getchell

Parodying one's work isn't an easy task to take on, especially if you're making fun of your own series. Such is the case here with Attack on Titan Junior High taking and poking fun at it's original dramatic self for the sake of cute chibi characters and laughs. The series takes on a slightly different premise as Eren and the gang begin their middle school days at Attack Junior High School (yeah, not so subtle naming), hanging out together and occasionally dealing with Titans from the adjoining school who tend to bully the humans by taking their lunches all the time. Hijinks ensue, of course, because comedy and stuff. Simple premise, easy to follow story lines and characters, fun moments. However, there is a large problem with the show and it's the attempts at parodying itself. This is because a lot of the references are so forced and everything is exaggerated to the extreme that it can take you out of the overall experience of the show.

As one of the few shows that I watched faithfully week to week alongside Dance With Devils, One Punch Man, Seraph, and Noragami, this show is one that just went so far out of left field that I wasn't sure if I should be loving the series or yelling at it for being so heavy handed. There were plenty of moments where the references were used in a clever way like the kawaii titan's crush on Jean or the masks we see Annie and Bertolt have in the festival episode, but there were dozens of other times where it was forced for the sake of "Oh look at me! I'm making fun of myself! Look at all the references!" with the final episode being the worst offender of this. I kid you not, Eren and the gang end up in a scale model of the city of Trost hidden away in the principal's office on the titan side of campus where they basically reenact Eren's titan form taking a rock and blocking the entrance (except this time using a key to open it). And then when the episode decides to go way out into left field and pull this little bit into the mix....

*sigh* I'm sorry, but the last episode just left me really mad. I don't know if all of this was on purpose in the Junior High manga, but I just couldn't take it anymore. By the time Levi and his band appeared, I finally said that I was happy I was watching the last episode because the show wasn't being clever anymore and was just putting in those references just to fill time and finish the story, leaving it a bit rushed by the end.

There's a clever way to handle parodies, something that Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun did with the shojou manga genre, and a bad way of handling parodies, which Attack on Titan Jr High has done. In the beginning it was a lot of fun with clever use of those moments we know and love from the original series and playing up certain traits in characters in order to satisfy the fan base. However, as time moved along, those moments kept being forced for the sake of the show and ended up executed poorly. To be fair, there were still gleaming moments of hope that I had for the series like the Annie/Bertolt episode, however there were much more sour moments that drowned out the good ones. This one is still a lot of fun to see, but I just suggest turning your brain completely off and just hanging on for the ride, because if you even start thinking and bringing any sense of logic into this series, you're only going to become frustrated by the end.

Final Score: 6/10

Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation-
Jonathan Kaharl

Troyca is going to have an interesting history at this rate. Started back in 2013, the studio only has two shows under its belt, but those shows really show off their ability to produce works to please the senses. Aldonah Zero and Beautiful Bones are both absolutely gorgeous shows with excellent sound design and breathtaking scenery, and these are easily their best elements. Now if only they could get material with knock out writing. I cannot stress enough how much I hated Aldnoah Zero by the end of season one, and the horror stories I've heard about season two make me glad I jumped ship. Beautiful Bones isn't the home run Troyca needed, but it is both a step in the right direction and an interesting swerve in how they show off their talents.

The series follows an eccentric genius who I suspect is asexual and only gets aroused by bones, the beautiful and strange Sakurako. She's an expect with bones, and her friend and assistant Shoutaro solve various cases in their spare time. Instantly, this light novel adaptation has much more down to earth focuses than the mecha epic of Aldnoah, and Troyca gets how to present that properly. All the effort is on making the world of the series feel as close to real as possible. There's incredible beauty in the most mundane details, especially the many bones Sakurako has in her home and discovers in her daily life. The scenery designers for this series need a raise, because this is absolutely masterful work and really adds life to the show that wouldn't exist without.

Beautiful Bones has some light novel style hiccups, such as the simplistic characterization passed off as more complex than it is, not to mention some weird sentences and dialog that feel like they came from a writer trying a tad too hard at times. Thankfully, the visual presentation distracts and tells an equal amount of information, and the voice acting is superb across the board. Ito Shizuka (who also played the ever wonderful Hilda in Beelzebub) does fantastic work as Sakurako, giving her both an enthusiasm and childish nature and an air of maturity when the situation calls, and it never feels wrong. The various victims and suspects of the various cases also really get to show their stuff, especially during the last major case of the series. There's a lot of drama to be had, but a lot of reserved moments too.

What makes the source material good enough to stand up, despite amateur writing issues, is the theme of death, and the staff understood this. The entire series is not about catching a killer or solving a crime, but exploring who the people involved were and trying to better understand those who have left us. The episode about an old woman's supposed suicide is especially power, giving a lot of development to Sakurako in the process. There's a lot of melancholy, but also joy, as the show is trying to help the characters accept that death is inevitable, but does not rob our lives of meaning. The bones thrown about everywhere especially add to this, as Sakurako, someone obsessed with death, treats them with incredible love and reverence. We even get multiple characters with arcs dealing with past grief - including Sakurako. The show also has some great chemistry between the cast members, especially Sakurako and Shoutaro. The kid avoids the light novel hero trap by being vulnerable and legitimately normal, but that normal point of view becomes a central element to helping Sakurako grow and contrasting with her harsh nature to help the meaning of her words and ideas be understood by those who hear them.

Everyone involved with this tried their hardest to elevate the material, and I believe they succeeded with flying colors. Beautiful Bones isn't really favorite material, but I enjoyed my time with it, and I'm so impressed with so many aspects of it. Troyca's second effort is a solid one that really shows off what they can do without the stink of god awful writing, and I hope things only improve for them from here.

Final Score: 7/10

Concrete Revolutio
Danni Kristen

When it comes to television and film, original works are hard to find. Media-making is a business, and it's smarter to adapt works that already have an audience than to take a chance on building your own. This is as true for the East as it is for the West. Before each new season comes around I have to slog through the lists of upcoming shows looking for ones I would and would not want to be stuck reviewing. Nearly every show in every season is either based on a game, a book, a manga, or an already existing series. Finding original works is tough, and finding original works with a sense of ambition beyond mass appeal is nigh impossible. I think that's what makes Concrete Revolutio so special to me. 

Obviously, there are many more reasons for me to love this show than just that. First of all, it has a gorgeous art style. The Pop Art layouts and striking bright colors work together to create a pure visual assault that's just as chaotic as the mish-mash of superheroes, spies, aliens, monsters, giant robots, and magical girls. It also brilliantly evokes the time period the show is set in, which is likely the 1960's after the breakthrough of Pop Art and during the worldwide movements among youth hoping for a brighter, more colorful future, so to speak. It's not a complete assault, of course. Scenes like the one I pulled the header for this review from have beautifully complementary color palettes chosen to convey the weight and emotion of the moment. I could write paragraphs on how the brief scene I took this review's header image from ingeniously uses both color and composition to provide insight into Earth-chan's emotional burden of the moment. I won't subject you all to my ramblings about why that episode is my favorite here, though., don't worry. 

The art style isn't of course the only other reason why I love Concrete Revolutio so much. The story is absolutely wonderful, too. If you've already seen the show, I know what you're thinking. The story is an absolute mess. It throws together just about every single action genre that otaku obsess over and on top of that adds in the politics of a Japan that is still dealing with fallout from WWII while facing new problems in the youth-led movements that erupted during the 1960's. Plus, it many episodes without warning drag the viewer between timelines hoping they'll be able to follow along. PLUS it often tries to cram entire stories and themes into a single episode when they really aren't suited to just one. It's incredibly dense and an undeniable mess, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the most intriguing and ambitious shows of 2015. It requires a lot of knowledge of these different genres as well as the history surrounding Japan at the time to follow well, which can understandably turn people off. I myself can say when it comes to the genres my knowledge ranges from working to pretty adept, however when it comes to 1960's Japan, I have a basic knowledge at best. Regardless, I'm able to enjoy Concrete Revolutio immensely, and have become more interested in learning about this era of Japan's history.

All of these are obviously reasons I love Concrete Revolutio, and that's without even mentioning the stellar soundtrack and some of the beautifully animated action sequences the show has to offer. However, the aforementioned fact that this is an original work - an incredibly ambitious one at that - ensures it has my absolute loyalty. It may at first seem like another show trying to put across the whole "maybe superhumans are bad and not helpful actually" narrative, but that's a bit too shallow a reading of the show. Concrete Revolutio absolutely loves all the different types of superhumans and monsters it features as well as the genres they all come from. The creators obviously adore them, which is still considered an immature and irresponsible thing for adults to be doing in Japanese society (in some ways Western society is the same way, but recently more "childish" interests have become acceptable among respectable adults thanks to Marvel and Hollywood). Concrete Revolutio is moreso a critique on considering "childish" things such as sentai heroes to be naive and not respectable. While the show does confront the fact that good and evil aren't as clear cut as heroes led them to believe as children, it also doesn't use that as reasoning to throw out that kind of morality entirely. Concrete Revolutio is aiming for something more nuanced - an evolution of black and white hero's morality. What Concrete Revolutio is aiming to say is probably best conveyed in a line Jiro says during one of the best episodes, "...not everyone can be black or white. Even if they're grey, if they believe in justice, I want to be an ally of justice." I was immensely thrilled to find out that more Concrete Revolutio is in the works for 2016, and I can't wait to see how it expands on its ideas already presented.

First Cour Score: 9/10

Dance With Devils
Danni Kristen

If there was any show this season that made me feel more affirmed in my sexuality as lesbian, it was this one. Not the silly show about cute and thirsty lesbians with guns but the show about a straight girl being romanced by a bunch of supposedly attractive men. Dance with Devils makes me thankful to be a lesbian. Prepare yourselves because I'm about to do some hardcore kinkshaming.

First of all, all the love interests in this show suck. Let's start with Urie. He's a playboy who wants to make Ritsuka his "pet." Then there's Shiki, who really wants nothing more than to find new ways to physically torture her. There's Rem, who has a stick perpetually up his asshole and constantly says he doesn't care about her. Then there's Mage, who'd be tolerable if he could figure out how to wear on a fucking blazer. Oh, wait, I forgot Lindo, her brother. I really didn't ever expect to find an imouto incest show aimed at straight women but here we are. All the men suck in this show, really. The fathers are supernatural beings who don't care about their lovers or children and only seek power. Their minions are all men who couldn't give a single shit about the female characters.

Which brings me to my next point. Women are treated like shit in this show. There are only four women in the whole show: Ritsuka, her mom, her aunt Marta, and her friend Azuna. Marta is never actually in the show because she's already dead, but the man she was in love with couldn't care less about her and insults her any chance he gets. Ritsuka's mom existed solely to be kidnapped by the vampires. Not only does Azuna get killed off, but then Ritsuka, her best friend, decides to go along with the plans of the vampires who killed her. Finally, there's Ritsuka, who is treated like nothing more than a doll the entire show. Many times she is hypnotized leaving her in a vulnerable, glossed-over state. Her skin is praised for being "like porcelain." Musical numbers depict her as helpless, oblivious to her surroundings, and stagnant, much like a doll. Hell, one of the musical numbers literally shows imagery of a doll that looks just like her. Outside of the doll comparisons, she is repeatedly physically abused by men in the show. She is also continuously punished for acting independently of what the men around her tell her to do. If a man offers her help or advice, she always rejects it and ends up needing them to save her. The most hilariously explicit example of is when a man offers to help her out of a boat. She rejects his help and chooses to exit the boat on her own. She trips and bashes her knee into the stone dock, injuring it. It was both hilarious and depressing at the same time. 

What astounds and angers me the most though is how this is all supposed to be attractive and romantic to its target demographic: women. We give a lot of light novel adaptations and harems a hard time for their misogynistic content, and rightfully so. This is of course different as it is a show aimed at women directed by a woman instead of a show aimed at men directed by a man, but that doesn't make it any better. All this show is selling is the idea that women are helpless and that controlling and abusing them is romantic. It's downright insulting. Who the hell finds this attractive? It's one thing for this to be a consensual bedroom kink, but as an actual romantic fantasy it creeps me out. In the real world we call that hating and subjugating women. If that's the kind of ideal standard straight relationships are held to, then I'm incredibly thankful to be a lesbian. 

Final Score: 2/10

Garo: Crimson Moon
Joe Straatmann

It's surprisingly difficult to figure out what to say about such a basic action anime as Crimson Moon. It originates from a somewhat long-running armored suit hero franchise yet has no direct linking points besides the basic concept. Despite being a new story, the initial episode drops in on what feels like a mid-season plot. Coming from a genre that is built on special effects and pretty fights, the final battles are easily the weakest links. That said, the lack of entertaining climactic showdowns never feel like a huge failing. We have a paradox of a standard series and an oddity, and that makes it sound more interesting than it actually is even if it does have its charms.

If you know nothing of Garo, it's pretty easy to figure out. The subtleties may be lost since this rendition takes places in developing feudal era Japan with real historical figures and utilizing much of the country's mythologies that may be literally foreign to you. Wait wait wait, don't get that glazed over look and go to the next review! It's simple, I promise! The Makai Knights are the good guys who have to fight off the Horrors, demons spawned and replicated from the evils of mankind. In this case, the Makai Knight hero is Raikou, an amnesiac who has the power to wear golden armor that is locked and unlocked by mystic Seimei. Together with Kintoki, a Horror detector who is forever stuck in the body of a child, they protect the imperial Palace of Light, which is the big place of goodness nobody wants falling to the bad guys. Like I said, simple.

Not to make it seem like it's without complexity. Raikou was discovered in the woods that are generally surrounded by Horrors, so there are a few mysteries surrounding how he survived and if he could be secretly evil. The people in charge of the Palace of Light are generally corrupt individuals and most of the threats come about because of the actions of its so-called benevolent keepers. My favorite little touch is Raikou and Seimei's bosses are inhuman creatures who look like china dolls and have constant pithy remarks to make at the nature of humanity, not giving a single damn about touchy emotional conundrums. They're here to keep order, not deal with human relations crap.

Curious how this is an armored superhero show from a genre that prides itself on spectacle and how little it really cares about all of that. Sure, Raikou has a gold armor suit that shows up in every episode to dispatch the Horror of the week and it is deliberately noticeable 3DCG because the special effects act like fireworks (Watch Karas to see how the concept is fully utilized).  However, the makers pretty much surrender to the idea that the bouts are never in doubt and the climaxes are almost always cut weirdly short. Even the villain Douman isn't a particularly active threat as he crosses paths with the heroes multiple times in social situations even though they KNOW he's the villain. He kind of shows up at the doors of people who are vulnerable to being consumed by Horrors, gives them the last push they need, and then watches the result. When it fails, as these things are wont to do, he doesn't even seem that upset. It's like if Queen Beryl from Sailor Moon just shrugged her shoulders and wandered off to bake cookies when her plans didn't work out.

As much as it may appear to make the series bad, it doesn't do that as much as make it inconsequential. Crimson Moon is built off a slowly expanding string of character relationships and they manage well enough. I imagine if you're a Japanese history and mythology buff, there's plenty to like. Most noticeably, there's an episode solely based around Princess Kaguya, who you might remember from a certain Studio Ghibli film. If you're not into Japanese history, no problem. Getting the little historical nudges isn't a necessary element for the enjoyment of this the series.

Easily the greatest character is Seimei, a gender-bent version of a real-life mystic. I don't talk about voice actors very much mostly because while they do good work, the nature of anime kind of makes it feel like they're in a factory at times, putting a proper vocal stamp on this year's model of character archetype. Romi Park, Seimei's seiyuu, is a fantastic exception. Seimei is a multifaceted character who holds great magical power and responsibility, but is also a crazed hoarder who clashes with her aristocratic past, craving the wind of freedom. Romi Park makes Seimei a fun, relatable, and fully realized character, and it never feels like there's a false note giving into excessive quirkiness.

Here's the deal: If you like hanging out with pretty good characters within a demon-fighting show that brazenly undermines its own excitement,  Crimson Moon is good for that. It's extremely hard to marathon since its forward momentum seems paralyzed at times due to its lack of urgency, yet it is certainly watchable. The people at MAPPA certainly aren't any slouches in the animation department and this is a decent effort from them. We'll just have to wait and see if the second cour can break out the jumper cables and get the series moving.

First Cour Score: 6/10

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
David O'Neil

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, the latest iteration of the long running mecha franchise helmed by the key staff behind dramas like Anohana and Toradora, began with a remarkably powerful start, moving from grand action set piece, to interesting world building, to goose-bump inciting moments with a confident pace that screamed potential and had my hopes high for what was to come. The show has now reached the halfway point to continue on in the winter anime season, and while I'm still enjoying it, the show hasn't quite maintained the effective momentum it displayed early on in the show, and feels as if its in desperate need of some sort of change.

I think the term I'd use to best describe the latter half of Iron Blooded Orphans' first cour would probably be "dawdling". Early on in the show, it never felt like there was a second wasted. Every moment, every plot point, and every character interaction felt as if it was building the story and world in a way that didn't waste any time, and moved things along at a brisk, and constantly interesting pace. Recently though, it feels as if the amount of information and story content being delivered in, say, four recent episodes could have been delivered in simply two. Story arcs feel needlessly drawn out, there are episodes where it feels as if absolutely nothing of importance actually happens. Even some of the mecha action scenes, while still well executed, end up feeling hollow because its created no real reason for me to be invested in what's going on. If that wasn't enough, a few especially contrived moments of far fetched plot convenience sour the experience to some extent as well. The show isn't bad, it just needs something to spike some life into it. Other than the members of Tekkadan growing closer as a "family" like unit, very little has actually changed or happened in the grand scheme of the series' plot. There's all this teasing of political conspiracies, and interplanetary tensions, but that all just gets put on the back burner for more loosely constructed space battles for the protagonists to get wrapped into. It does have its moments of meaningful character development, or genuinely cool mecha action, but lately its been interspersed between long intervals of characters talking about things I don't really care about and doesn't affect much of anything.

To give the show some credit, the most recent episode at the time of writing (episode 13) is by far the strongest episode the series has had in quite a long time. It starts with a great action scene, mixed with big emotional revelations for multiple characters, and goes on to move the plot in a way that feels as if its actually adding insight into the overall state of the characters and their conflicts, rather than just padding out until the next action scene. The show has its fair share of flaws I'd like to see it address in the second cour, it often relies too much on dialogue in moments that'd be better delivered purely through visuals and actions, the animation can waver in quality from time to time, and the second half of the show takes a hit in the speed of its pacing that leaves it feeling slow and meandering for a good chunk of time. But still, when the show gets going it does result in some powerful moments and some memorable characters, and as a bonus it also boasts some solid 2D animated mecha action as well (something I'm always in favor of seeing more of). Iron Blooded Orphans hasn't quite lived up to its promising start, but it has time to change that, and even with its problems is still a solid sci-fi action show worth watching.

First Cour Score: 7/10

Heavy Object
Joe Straatmann

I've staged a fake intervention for Heavy Object due to its perverted mind occasionally derailing a show that for most of its running time is dumb, zippy fun. Oh, I don't expect a show about two twenty-something knuckleheads who are somehow talented enough to become war heroes to be completely chaste. In fact, one of my favorite moments in the show where they discover a porn video in their work area that somehow makes them work harder. However, when it gets so distracting that it completely puts everyone in danger, its pervholic antics need to be addressed.

Somewhere between Shadow of the Colossus and one of those mahjong games where the reward for finishing is a picture of a naked woman is this series. War of the future has shifted from armies to Objects, incredibly expensive and heavily armored vehicles that can level cities and militaries in a matter of minutes. While putting all of your eggs in one basket has been proven time and time again to be the absolute worst military strategy, if I were to nitpick every single thing this show doesn't understand about the real world, we'd be here all day. Just take it as some kind of alternate world even if it's supposed to be Earth of the future. I mean, the Antarctic arc portrays the cold on the southern continent as a mild annoyance with a battle interrupted by a colony of baby penguins running around without their parents (Apparently, their research was Happy Feet instead of March of the Penguins). There are specific places, but all of the surroundings are generic locales with no sense of place. The politics are some weird resurfacing of nobility mixed with war economy mumbo jumbo. They say stuff exists how it exists and you have to accept it. That's the beginning and end of Heavy Object's world building broad strokes.

When it focuses on the main characters and taking down the gigantic Objects, it's enjoyable. Qwenthur and Havia are generally likable louts who act as the brains and firepower respectively. Milinda is their Object pilot and Qwenthur's love interest who acts as a decent foil to the bromance even as the series tries to take her out of the picture often as to not have an obvious solution to most of the opponents. Their commanding officer Frolaycia is the obvious sex appeal of the bunch, but she is a skillful handler the troops on the ground with a real sense of humor at times. Seeing them get together and play off each other to topple each unique Object is entertaining and works as the core of the show. Some of the supporting cast, like Havia's unexpectedly unsophisticated fiancee through nobility matchmaking also help the experience. As an aside, yes, this show is in the running for the stupidest names in anime, especially with Major Copacabana tossed into the mix.

Now about that distracting sexuality. If it didn't literally play a prominent role, I'd let it go. Yet it constantly gets in the way of the story, makes one of the main characters look awful, and probably creates awkward circumstances the series brushes under the table with its more episodic format. The one instance most people who've had a taste of the show remember is when an Object restraint goes haywire, Milinda is suffocating to death, and Qwenthur is extremely resistant to save her life because it involves touching her breasts even AFTER she gives him expressed permission. Later on when Qwenthur, Milinda, and Havia are on the run for their lives, Milinda falls on Qwenthur and in the midst of being stalked by a giant machine that can level them in seconds, his reaction is, and I quote, "WOOT! Boobs!" So boobs are a major distraction for him that almost gets people killed, and he's our everyman hero we're supposed to relate to. Goodie. That's not mention when Qwenthur and Havia both gets their hormones in harmony, it shuts down the story. Such a case involves a pilot from another country who has the nickname "Size G." Take a wild guess how she got her nickname. Finally, Frolaycia has a certain dominatrix relationship with the guys where she promises sexual acts and peeks for being good troopers. I get helping morale, but there are times where they have weird talks about their kinks over communication channels that go out to entire coalition armies. How does this not get anyone in a river of court marshals, or at least funny looks from everyone in the military? It's even weirder when we learn Frolaycia's backstory with a mass of nobles who are essentially bidding on her to become a breeder.

So it's big, dumb, and its mind is in its genitals. Does that make it bad? Not totally, but it certainly doesn't help. Despite a few quirks in animating surfaces (The water looks like it comes from the 16-bit mode 7 era and dirt being driven over looks even worse), it looks nice, the action is satisfying, and I like most of the cast even with some huge reservations. It's not quite a winner, but if you need a military action series for the season, I wouldn't steer you away from it.

First Cour Score: 6/10

The File of Young Kindaichi Returns (Season Two)
Jonathan Kaharl

There were a surprising number of mystery shows this season, but Kindaichi will always have a place in my heart. As a mystery show, it's definitely the best of the bunch (I loved Perfect Insider for very different reasons), but that's no real surprise. The first season showed me that the writing for this series is wickedly clever and perfectly handled the art of misdirection, hiding the most obvious outcomes, even when you feel like you've sniffed them out. The stories this time are also even stronger, especially with more focus on reoccurring bad guy Hell's Puppeteer. The strongest arc was easily the Rose Mansion arc, as we finally got to see some more humanity from the master of murder as he's found himself in a strange situation where his unknown past is coming back to haunt him.

It's also still very newcomer friendly, despite. Every new arc introduces so many new characters and uses Kindaichi and friends in the same way that you're almost never lost, even with Kindaichi's main nemesis playing a more central role this season. Everyone is well defined from their first lines, and you get a good sense at motives and possible suspects early. This season also has a one hour special about an early case of Kindaichi's rival detective friend, Inspector Akechi. It gives a good run down of what the character is all about, while telling a surprisingly touching tale about what is right and wrong, and the challenges of living up to those standards, and it does it with the most unexpected character.

If you like a good whodoneit, you seriously just need to start this series. Pick any arc (except the Rose Mansion arc) and go nuts. This series is looking to insanely long, but I'm in for the entire ride. I'm absolutely hooked.

First Cour Score: 8/10

Lance N' Masques
Joe Straatmann

There have been no lack of competitors for worst anime of the year. It takes a special kind of bad to win the battle of face melting horrors. You can't simply be a light novel adaptation. You can't just be a harem. A gross fixation on younger characters or a complete lack of animation budget won't cut it. You have to have a certain something or combination of elements that passes through the terrestrial body and directly punches the soul in its bathing suit area. Unlimited Fafnir is out there with its PlayStation One monsters and hot springs episode in the middle of the climax, and it will eat you and your children alive if you just come at it with lazy writing. Lance N' Masques has the mettle to be a contender.

Enough attention-grabbing grandstanding. What makes Lance N' Masques terrible? It's surprisingly a difficult question to answer, but if I were to put a finer point on it, it would be it's a changeling of sorts, constantly shifting itself from one identity to another with little soul of its own and absolutely no eye for the bigger picture. You can't watch one episode and get a firm idea of everything wrong with the series. Oh, there's a bathhouse episode that sickeningly features the naked bodies of some of the youngest characters (Even with sequences forcing the censorship of nudity out with steam, promising the Blu-ray will show you everything. I don't ever want to know if you purchase it), the generic facial expression of everyone looks like someone in the room farted and they're very upset about it, and there are extremely odd continuity issues that pop up at weird times. All of those are merely pieces. The real puzzler is how none of it fits together. Large swaths seem absent, the jumps from one genre to another come out of nowhere, and it's surprisingly large-ish cast barely have any room to navigate through it all.

At first, we have a story of Yotaro as a new member of one of the last orders of knights who don masks and have super-powered lances to maintain justice in the modern world. Yotaro is down on his luck until he rescues Makio, a little girl who has a huge mansion and only maids to fill it. Then he protects Mako from being kidnapped by a nearly dissolved yakuza called Ban, and then Mako's insanely rich father decides to recall her overseas the moment she gets friends. This becomes some kind of mix between business/gang thriller and hero's journey. After that, he becomes friends with a load of women and goes to high school to become a normal person, though he gets dragged into an after school club to create heroes. Okay, so it's a harem, but the harem is about people becoming heroes. I guess it might be good if it's handled right and the people are developed... NO TIME FOR THAT! Yotaro's kidnapped and sent back to the island of his training because his former chief, a forceful and extremely muscular woman, wants him and gets uncomfortably close to sexual assault. While Yotaro is held prisoner, the women of his life sans character arcs head to the island to save him and many of them become masked heroes, like a Tatsunoko series just got vomited into existence.

We're not even at the Bee Train villain who appears late in the game where much is made about how extremely powerful she is only for her to get fiercely shoved aside the moment we get a real sense of what she's capable of. At least she's the one person who's committed to being a villain, as the series is one to try to turn all of the villains into good guys who were just trying too hard. Yeah, Yotaro's chief used her vast manpower and resources to kidnap a former student and almost rape him.  She's good at heart though, and sometimes she loves too much, you see? Right. The only string tying all of this together is a motif of kidnapping someone whenever the storyline is about to settle down and put in some foundation.

What it adds up to is a series that has no momentum and is only memorable for when it shifts to a weird fixation on significantly older people in awkward sexual situations with younger people (With Lance N' Masques occasionally doubling down with scenes involving potential parental figures). Even when it looks nice, it doesn't enhance the experience of watching it. The open is quite intricate in color and design, yet what it's about is something that is referred to at the absolute last minute, basically making everyone watching have no idea what in Sam Hill, South Dakota it has to do with anything. I will admit when it finally gets to the bit about a woman falling in a constantly shifting room, it's the one really effective moment in the entire show. Only a drop in the bucket, alas. Also, one gets the feeling some of the artists involved weren't properly instructed, incompetent at their jobs, or just plain rebelled against this production. During one showdown, the skies in the background turn tangerine with Ecto Cooler clouds. There's not a story reason for this and there's not an artistic reason for it. Someone simply decided the sky needed to be this color even as nothing else in the rest of the episode is like this even with other fights happening simultaneously.

Messy at its best, offensive at its worst, Lance N' Masques has just enough effort put into it to feel its makers maybe should've known better. It seems like something got incredibly screwed up in planning, either trying to cram two cours of story into one, having a rush to put it together, or some kind of dysfunction that ruins a project that was already an iffy proposition to begin with. With Asterisk War sharing the season, you don't need this light novel adaptation even if your taste swings towards the guiltiest of harem trash.  Whatever you want out of it, it will likely let you down.

Final Score: 3/10

Mr. Osomatsu
David O'Neil

To me, a comedy is only as good as its characters. Even if something has the most expertly crafted gags, or the most ridiculous slapstick, if the humor doesn't have funny characters whose personalities are able to pull off the jokes, it's all for naught. And its Osomatsu-san's characters that impressed me the most about the show. At first sight they're akin to the teenage mutant ninja turtles, six brothers with identical appearances but typically color coated for easy discernment (their faces also typically have different resting states), but the extent to which the show explores each character, and differentiates their unique personalities and styles of humor is what makes the show one of the strongest comedies of the year.

The show is filled with great humor and strong character moments, there are gags that are downright hilarious, like episode 8's Calming Detective Osomatsu, to episodes of genuine family drama like episode 5's plotline about Ichimatsu. The relationship between the brothers is especially interesting at times, feeling very real and more complex than it at first seems, while still having that light-hearted, tongue in cheek tone the show typically strives for. Episode 9 managed to take Jyushimatsu, probably the closest to purely being a "joke character" (a wide mouthed, always smiling goofball who mostly just says random nonsense) and create a heartfelt drama out of his character that dealt with some surprisingly heavy topics both subtly and effectively. It should be noted that not every episode is created equal, episode 10 especially, an episode about two characters transforming into girls, is an especially uncharacteristic low-point for the series. It's hardly anything uniquely terrible for comedies, the same sorts of bad jokes I've seen in countless other anime and western comedies surrounding switched genders, but that doesn't change that it's a really tasteless, mean spirited episode, and likely and likely insulting to any Trans or LGBT viewers. It's a string of archaic gags that aren't very funny, and are incredibly insensitive.

It's too bad that episode sticks out as such a bad turn for the series, as outside of it the show rarely dips in the quality of its humor and presentation. The visuals especially are something that only improved as the show went on. Early on it mostly relied on the unique, vibrant art style and gorgeous backgrounds provided by Studio Pablo, later on the show got much more loose and expressive with its animation, with almost Looney Tunes-esque expressive character acting for many of its over the top, cartoonish moments. At the halfway point of the series I am finding it unlikely I'll continue the show into the next season. The show's still funny, and I'll probably pick it up again eventually, but its still a somewhat formulaic gag comedy when it comes down to it, and its wearing down on me. But that isn't any reason to avoid watching it, Osomatsu-san is still a pretty, constantly hilarious, and occasionally even heartwarming series with a fantastic cast and clever gags to please any comedy anime fans.

First Cour Score: 7/10

One Punch Man
David O'Neil

One Punch Man faced the same challenge as every adaptation, to somehow boil down what made a work great and properly transfer it over to a new medium, while retaining what made people like it in the first place, and adding to it as well. It was adapting a manga that garnered most of its attention through memorable action sequences and a very unique comedic tone that may not be easy to capture, but the One Punch Man anime managed to adapt all the strengths of the manga perfectly, even if it also adapted some of the manga's flaws as well.

In terms of visuals the show never skipped a beat. Some episodes may have looked better than others, the first and last episodes especially stand high above the rest of the series as bastions of exuberant, varied, extended cuts of ludicrously detailed animation, but the rest of the show still featured consistent levels of high quality animation both in crazy action, and goofy character acting. The action is always a thrill thanks to the insanely solid production values, grandiose rock n' roll soundtrack, and careful attention to detail at just the right moments. Second viewings of big fight scenes are often littered with ridiculously over-drawn frames, that didn't NEED to be as detailed as they were, but were done anyway, whether for the hell of it or simply the love of the craft. The other selling point of the show is the humor, though it may not act as a draw for everyone. It's a bit slow, not the sort of show to leave one constantly laughing. It mostly acts on more low key humor playing off the mundanity of Saitama's life as a casual, but super-powerful superhero, and how his attitude clashes with the world around him, with rare moments of true comedic brilliance. This kind of dry humor may not resonate with everyone, but personally it kept me just entertained enough between action scenes. And it certainly helped there were those few truly great moments where it hit the mark just right. 

Although I think the greatest strengths of One Punch Man are its over the top action scenes and tongue in cheek humor, there is a certain amount of depth beneath the surface of the show. It's not especially complex, but as the show goes on we learn more about Saitama and what exactly he stands for, especially in comparison to the general attitudes of other heroes who occupy his world. He's someone who doesn't believe in the importance of power (the very power he appears to have an endless supply of), and mostly strives support the work of other heroes, and protect simply for the sake of protecting. He doesn't think of his cause as especially noble, he simply fights because its what he wants to do, while simultaneously respecting those who he believes encapsulate heroism better than he ever could. The show can be surprisingly thoughtful at times, and both Saitama and Genos develop well as characters throughout the course of the series. The rest of the characters on the other hand are hit and miss. Some like Mugen Rider are both entertaining, and offer a lot to the thematic intentions of the show, while many others feel like they're simply there to fill in the action scenes that'd be far too short if Saitama was involved. With that in mind, the spans of the show in which these characters are focused on over the main cast drag on quite a bit over the rest of the series, resulting in a few episodes that feel significantly slower and less interesting than when its at its best. But despite that, when the show works, it works brilliantly. The humor is a lot of fun, with a multitude of hilarious moments, the action incredible, featuring a lineup of some of today's most talented action animators, and it captures the heart and soul of the manga while still making it fresh for new fans. It's not perfect, and it may not click for everyone, but for me One Punch Man was an absolute blast, featuring nearly anything and everything I could ask for in an action comedy series. It's definitely worth checking out, whether you're in it for the laughs, or the spectacle. 

Final Score: 8/10

The Perfect Insider
Joe Straatmann

The Perfect Insider is everything I love about smart, subtle, and delicately-crafted pieces of fiction and probably a few things general audiences hate about them. Adapted from a nineties novel and taking place in the now, it's a long-form mystery where every single aspect was meticulously thought out and provides a richer experience on multiple viewings. It's also a series where the two main characters often sit in a room and spend almost half an episode trying to wrap their heads around a seemingly minute detail while spouting philosophy. The Internet has noticed the opening theme "Talking" is aptly named. There are moments of flair (Maria the Virgin Witch started the year with a scene where characters are talking as the sun sets behind them in real time and Pefect Insider bookends it with a similar moment), but its more often a steely, heady show that may be a scoch too sterile for the anime audience looking for something like Steins;Gate's brand of cerebral.

Even starting with a potential love triangle set to a funky dance tune in the world of technology and featuring an ending animation spawned from an insane amount of research into computer-generated art, its design is surprisingly most similar to an Agatha Christie novel. This is as basic a closed-circle mystery as I've seen stretch a whole season in quite some time. We have pretentious Associate Professor Saikawa and his perky student/longtime acquaintance/potential love interest Moe who are invited to the isolated island of a behemoth company in the computer industry based around genius Shiki Magata. Magata has been isolated in a permanently locked room for 15 years after an incident shrouded in mystery where she possibly murdered her parents. Saikawa is intrigued by Magata much to the annoyance of Moe, but when he finally gets the opportunity to speak to her, the supposed "perfect" computer system has a glitch, the door to Magata's room is opened, and the body of Magata with her arms lopped off glides out on a mobilized cart. Who did this? How did they get in? How did they get out? Why did they do this?

Figuring all of this out is most of the series despite some potential to head other directions. The eccentric trimmings once again only support a well done mystery. You can technically put the pieces together and the series never really cheats, but it's smart enough to keep ahead of the audience, placing the false leads to look like vital clues and seemingly aimless scenes are given strange underlining where it's unsure as to what its link is to everything. At one point, the makers decide to have a ten-minute chat with two Japanese voice actors entirely in English. What seems like an experiment in having a character who normally speaks English actually have a conversation in their native language is far more illuminating on subsequent viewings. The visuals are well planned out, emphasizing the distance and emptiness of its leads, yet it doesn't bedazzle or wow. All of it is kind of like the virtual reality rig they have sitting around the main facility. Sometimes it gets used to amazing results, but most of the time, it's kind of treated like more a piece of furniture than maybe it should.

What ultimately tips the show over to the good side is the relationship between Saikawa and Moe. At first, it seems detrimental with Saikawa as the typical insufferable professor who goes on and on about stuff he probably doesn't completely understand and Moe is a chirpy, naive girl who wants sempai to notice her and not the mysterious genius lady.  As the episodes roll on, they get a genuine personal relationship going by putting their brains together and finding respect for each other. Like everything else, it's a subtle progression that might not even be noticed. The result isn't flashy, but it does have one of the most realistic exchanges of dialogue in anime about what people mean to each other. "I hate your bad jokes, but I want to hear more of them."

Shiki Magata is the wild card. As a genius and an object of desire, much will be made about the plan she set in motion years ago, how "perfect" it is, and what it means. The episodes are bookended with recollections of Magata's past by another character, and what I see is how much they secretly suggest she doesn't have it together as a person (Or maybe not so secretly). She has obvious intelligence, but her plans are often so myopic and complicated that it points towards hidden deficiencies as a person. If there is one flaw, the series tends to let Magata off easy even though her actions are extremely questionable. I think we're supposed to get a sense of mystique all of the characters are supposed to feel for her while at the same time demystifying her and facing the reality of what she's done, but the edges are definitely softened as they maybe try too hard to give her a sympathetic side. But maybe that's them trying to show that even with people who know what she's done, she still has a certain allure.

A sizable recommendation from me probably dooms its prospects for popularity, but this is an intelligent anime that respects an adult audience and doesn't act as a copy of a copy even as it's setup is rather old fashioned. I have respect for shows that aren't clones of what sells, and I have even more for the shows that are done well. The Perfect Insider is all that, even if it occasionally suffers from the same qualities that make it respectable. Now if someone would just fund Despera already....

Final Score: 8/10

Shin Atashinchi
Joe Straatmann

I feel like I've dived into a season-long holiday Peanuts special which was made simply to cash in on the familiarity of the franchise and the success of previous specials. Adapted from a manga, Shin Atashinchi feels like a long-running comic from the funny pages that had a few bright spots of inspiration, but is merely spinning its wheels with flat comedy meant to appeal to as wide an audience as possible at this point. There were 300 episodes prior to this new series and I can't imagine there was anything left unsaid within that massive run. What exists here is little pokes at family life that stretches basic observations and minor inconveniences blown out of proportion into three seven-minute plotlets and even with its brevity, the jokes still feel obvious and run into the ground.

We have the Tachibana family with a mom and dad named Mom and Dad as well as their son and daughter Yuzuhiko and Mikan. Mother is the usual "do as I say, not as I do" matriarch who dashes to fads to improve herself yet simultaneously thinks she's beyond reproach. Dad is the salaryman who mostly has his face in a newspaper if he's there at all, though he still has a certain sweetness and understanding unlike similar fathers who mostly exist as satire (Ness' dad from Earthbound is a prime example). The kids are awkward teenagers who try too hard to be cool or have that person they like they go into over-the-top schemes to date that of course don't work the way they plan. I give credit for the family being able to somewhat learn and grow together and not being perpetually frozen in their starting point, but it's so bland that mom's constant issues with flatulence are actually a welcome flavoring. Hey, it's a piece where the mother is mostly the main character told originally by a female manga-ka. It's a kind of honestly you don't get to see every day with male authors of mothers leaning towards idealism and female authors leaning towards romanticism.

What holds the anime back is the structure. The vignettes are mostly made up of one joke where it's obvious where it's going. Mom wants to kill a bug and keeps buying more and more expensive can't-miss treatments, but she find old-fashioned cost-free swatting the way to go. There are few curveballs. Instead of interweaving what's going on with each individual family member into one episode, they're divided up to where they bang one drum until the head breaks and then move onto the next one. It has the same effect as taping together an entire "arc" from a comic strip and finding the humor flags when it's seen all at once instead of a daily chuckle.

There's an audience for these harmless family shows. I didn't particularly dislike watching Shin Atashinchi. I smiled at times and had a couple laughs. That said, it simply exists, mostly providing some positive reinforcement for the nuclear family in its wackiness. Yet so do about half of the sitcoms out there. I like its occasional candor and feel it comes from a world of truth and experience, but it's one of those shows about real life where you're probably better off living it than watching it.

First Cour Score: 5/10

Stehanie Getchell

I know I'm still an amateur when it comes to idol series. I've only seen a couple, those being Wake Up Girls! and Shonen Hollywood, the latter of the two you've seen me talk about on Rainy Day a good long while ago. This season there were two opportunities to have some musical fun in our lives. One was Dance With Devils which took the supernatural reverse harem and tossed in theatrics and music. The second was Starmyu, which took the typical idol series and camped it up quite a bit in order to give it such a theatrical vibe, since this is a school filled with boys training to be musical actors. The story centers around Hoshitani, a freshman in the musical department, who was inspired to apply to high school after happening upon a student practicing his dance steps. Thank to Ootori from the Kao Council, he becomes a part of Team Ootori where he joined by the shy and passive Nayuki, the manly kabouki actor Tengenji, the spoiled know it all Tsukigami, and the quiet and aloof Kuga. Together, the five train in order to pass the grueling performance tests in order to be formally accepted into the music department. Of course, this isn't an easy task for the boys as other members from the Kao Council and Star Teams stand in both their and Ootori's way.

Honestly, it's extremely hard to talk about this series, but not for the reasons you may think. Rather than having nothing to talk about, a problem I've had plenty of times in the past, there's so much I could talk about but it'd probably take all day! Not only that, but I'm still trying to get my thoughts in order since this is the last write up I'm doing and it's been weeks between watching the first and second half of the series. This is the kind of series that, on paper, should be something completely generic and boring since it's something that has been done over and over again by now. I mean, I haven't seen it yet but, Uta no Prince-sama is among those who seem to know what they're aiming for and do really well (it's had two or three seasons, if that's any indication). What helps tie this series together and keeps it from becoming the flop that it could have been was Hoshitani himself. Just as he was the glue that kept Team Ootori together when times were tough, his personality and outlook on the world is just so endearing to me that he even has me thinking all positively and cheers me up! With his energy combined with the rest of his team and, hell, the rest of the entire cast, it becomes such a great energy for me to consume as I watch the boys battle it out for stardom or see family/politics among the Kao Council. But, to be fair, some of the shifts in the final few episodes of the series were abrupt, causing a little concern. But, to be honest, I didn't pay too much attention because I was just having way too much fun with this series!

In the end, Starmyu is just a big old ball of fun that's actually well executed and written pretty well for all the camp and ham that's added in. Every member of the cast, whether in the main Star Team or not, each have their own qualities that make me fall in love, or sometimes hate, them. And let's not forget the friendships that are forged along the way. It's more of a feel good series, if anything, as all the positivity just sweeps you off your feet, all the while giving you relatable moments to experience for yourself. While this may not be one of the series that I faithfully followed week to week, it's one of the better ones I had the privilege to take on this season! It could be just the theatre side of my brain calling out to me and giving me something flashy and spectacular to see, but it would have fell flat on it's face if the story and cast didn't keep my interest. All in all, Starmyu is one of the hidden gems from the fall season that will, more than likely, go unnoticed. Don't be scared of this very out there idol series. It's much more fun then it appears to be! Hell, I already got my dub predictions for Team Ootori picked out if and when FUNimation decides whether to dub the series or not! I've got Austin Tindle as Hoshitani, Josh Grelle as Nayuki, Ricco Fajardo or Marcus Stimac as Tengenji, Justin Briner as Tsukigami, and Micah Solusod as Kuga. MAKE IT HAPPEN FUNIMATION!

Final Score: 8/10

Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid
Jonathan Kaharl

I'm still amazed by how wrong Valkyrie Drive went. It's the most simple idea imaginable. Put a bunch of lesbians on an island. Give them superpowers. Have fights and make out scenes. Done, print money. But something happened here that just caused the entire production to spiral into a mess that I'm not sure even know who its target audience is anymore. I mean, I could just say straight het otaku guys for all of its grossness, but even then, why even bother with the set-up or same sex relationships as the entire point of the series? This show was a surprising bomb, and I can completely see why. It's too gross for a yuri audience, too offensive for a general audience, and too gay for a straight guy audience. There's even some transphobic plot points mixed in there just to make everything worse. This is astounding, because Valkyrie Drive does have some merit in there, and a lot of promise to be some great queer trash, but it kept finding new ways to sabotage itself.

Mirei and Mamori building a close relationship from dire situations and quiet bonding is still here, and it works when it appears, but then the show has to work in its poor excuse for a plot. Akira being a woman dressed as a man to control the island and hide her identity makes both little to no sense in nearly every way, only makes sense if you're a sexist ass, and manages to throw in some uncomfortable queer erasure and trans violence into the mix (when she's revealed to the island as being a woman). Just making her a handsome woman in charge and having her overthrown would have been just fine. But no, how else will we have a subplot where Mirei and Mamori's relationship is threatened by a *gasp* MAN!? Which also makes no sense because Mamori is STILL raging a monster obsessive crush on Akira when she appears before her as a woman and in a wig. It's also redundant, because Mirei and Mamori are making out in the intro and are central to the marketing as being together. Of course Mamori isn't going to end up with Akira.

The actual plot that pops up around the last five episodes involves a girl from Mirei's past named Momoka, a member of the soldier organization Mirei was drafted into. She was the girl from Mirei's flashback in episode two, a weapon girl that was turned into an experiment after Mirei was secretly sent to the island, and the girl has gone mad from the experiments, her life as a soldier, and Mirei's inability to kill that ended up with her abandoned. She's a mix of good and bad for the show. She gives it a much needed shot of energy, along with her ridiculous crazy girl performance and whole affair with Charlotte, but he also ends that really terrible Akira subplot in the worst way possible.

She's a great representation for the entire show, because just about its entire run is filled with stupidly fun ideas and gay sex, but also bounces in some heterosexual fetishism and general distaste for queer characters. I mean, Akira's other reason for being here is to give the entire female cast a case of the not gays. It's a yuri action show, and the series just has to show that the girls are totally into men, guys! You're not left out! Gah. I'm bisexual, but this isn't bi representation, this is mainly gay erasure. Very few characters have outright gay relationships, and the most queer character, Charlotte, is an idiot dictator that ends up a pawn of the big bads. Only three couples really get any outright positive representation (Mirei and Mamori, Lady Lady, and the two henchwomen that Mamori meets on first reaching the island) and even then, one of them has to muck things up with the Akira subplot. But at least we got Lady Lady. Now if only they had a substantial presence in the show.

I know talking about queer politics in a show made by a man who just really loves titties seems weird, but Valkyrie Drive invited this conversation with its concept and marketing. It doesn't really manage to fully satisfy any audience, queer or not, with exception to those types of bottom feeders who will eat up any porny garbage because they haven't heard about hentai archives yet. It's an absolute mess of a series, but I don't completely hate it, nor even dislike it. Oh, I dislike a LOT of things in it, but more often than not, I can still find something to be engaged by. As far as ecchi goes, I've seen far better and far worse, but I've never seen a show so poorly defined. If you want some good lesbian fun, go watch Aria AA or Sakura Trick. If you're really interested in this series, watch only the first three episodes and the one with the giant girl, then look up the make out scenes. Maybe Meifong's episode. That's all you really need to see. Oh, and look up the score, that's the one truly fantastic part of this mess.

Final Score: 4/10


Anime de Training EX!
Joe Straatmann

It is what you think it is. Under the guise of using idols in training to promote healthy exercise to the otaku audience, what we have is an excuse to look at underaged girls in tight outfits. The exercises are explained well enough, but it's hard to tell how to get the pose right if the camera angles insist on putting the buttocks in the way or placing breasts mostly in the frame. Strangely disturbing is their method of having the girls talk directly to the viewer, like we're a special friend to them. At one point, a hand reaches into the frame from the audience's POV and takes the glasses from one of the girls as she goes to sleep. Most horror movies don't have such spine-chilling moments. Most of the girls are a couple weak traits and a dream, and that's all there is to them. That is, except one.

Shion does not do exercises as much as pray for the revival of ancient, dark gods. She is as much of a goth as an idol show will allow, occasionally letting her true cuteness show through even though she is LORD OF DARKNESS AND GIGGLING SWEETLY IS NOT A THING THEY DO! It's played for laughs, and it's the one enjoyable element this series has. She's featured on episodes 4, 7, and 11, so those are at the very least worth watching. As for the series as a whole, just let it stay as one of the titles you ignore scrolling through Crunchyroll's selection.

Final Score: 4/10

Jonathan Kaharl

Episode ten of this series as the characters talk about an anime called "JC-MESHI!" and describe it as something they like that's also completely hated as the lowest ranking anime out there with no production values and only three voice actresses. I'm not leading into a Teen Titans Go style rant on meta-humor here, on the contrary. If any show deserved the right to cast some shade on its critics, it's this one. Because really, who would even have any strong opinions on this show?

This is one of the most harmless little things I've ever watched, and it never really bored me. It's the most safe anime you can possibly imagine, with just enough odd moments and solid set-ups to keep it as a nice distraction. It's just a nice little comedy that throws in some cooking tips, and that's just fine It only takes up three and a half minutes an episode and benefits a lot from its solid voice cast. It's just enjoyable. There's really not much else to say ...except this series should never attempt gags with animation.

12 Episode Score: 6/10

Stephanie Getchell

ALL OF THE KAIJU FOREVER!!! Well, technically there's really only one that's caused the entire mess we're thrown into. What seems to be an anthology in the beginning becomes an overarching story that ends up connected by the end. And my earlier complaints of Banba's involvement in the series are subsided as well because we learned how and what made him involved in the maddening chase for these unknown creatures. Even with the lacking budget this project must have had, it used it rather well by creating this mysterious and yet disturbing series that will keep you in edge throughout. While some of the overarching plot elements seem to go off the deep end, it still manages to connect to Banba, Kimura, and other recurring characters up until the very end. As for the possibility of a second season, it's there, considering how it ended, however I think it's fine as it is; making it both a satisfying and tragic ending for Kagewani. This is one of the better executed shorts I have ever seen, hands down, and it was a thrilling ride to watch.

Final Score: 7/10

Komori-san Can't Decline!
David O'Neil

Komori-san Can't Decline makes me kind of sad, because it's almost a good show.....almost. The show's biggest strength is probably it's protagonist, Komori. She's fun, sweet, and actually has a nice little character arc over the course of the show, learning the meaning behind why exactly she won't decline (no really, and it's actually pretty cute). It had the potential to be a decent short gag comedy series, but unfortunately it fails in nearly everything else. The frequent boob jokes are the worst offender of the series, being frequent and unfunny. Making this even worse is the actual boob slapping sound effect added in nearly every time Komori moves, and how Komori's boobs seem to be the only part of any character's bodies they ever bother to animate more than the bare minimum amount throughout the show. And even beyond that the humor isn't especially good. Very few jokes actually got a laugh out of me, with a majority of it falling flat. It doesn't utilize anime as a visual medium very well, and mostly just treads over familiar 4-kouma manga humor water without straying far from the norm. Episodes fly by, I'll give it that much. It's so short one could make the argument it at least didn't waste much of my time, but I still think that time could be better spent on funnier gag comedies.

Final Score: 4/10

Joe Straatmann

Isn't it great when you get to watch someone you don't know anything about get murdered or irreversibly possessed by a (I presume) vengeful spirit or spirits you also know little about for 3 minutes every week? No? Hence why I'm not so hot on Kowabon. About the absolute pervasiveness of technology and social media in our life, the shorts center on a ghostly girl or occasionally a band of evil spirits that can only be seen by electronic eyes terrorize people who Skype, text, take incessant selfies, or must obsessively document every little moment in life. For kicks, the spirits also kill random people who just happen to be on camera or whose job is monitoring cameras. These are actually the best episodes because they're the ones that mostly have structure beyond being fake snuff films and they tend to have creepier material. Personally most disturbing is a woman who has a video camera monitoring who's at her doorway and she can't seem to to shake a seemingly random passer-by who asks her nonsense questions. This would be a great 15-30 minute episode of something if it was leading up to some kind of point, but as a 3-minute short, it's okay, too.

The animation is live-action footage rotoscoped and it's no Flowers of Evil. There's little depth in the visuals and the animation feels like it's missing half of its frames (And probably is). It's obviously made the way it is because they have very little money for the project. That said, they do occasionally create a properly unhinged atmosphere and build on it in the oh-so-short amount of time in an episode. Unfortunately, it's not tethered to anything. I've watched the first 12 episodes straight through, and while there are hints at pieces of an origin story involving a beach, it's essentially watching a death of the week with no emotional resonance whatsoever.

12 Episode Score: 5/10

Magical Somera-chan
Danni Kristen

This is easily one of the funniest shows this year, and definitely one of the strongest shorts. All the humor in this show was Teekyu levels of absurd, and the best part was there was no one there to play the straight man. Family dog becoming permanently fused with food? Perfectly normal. Strangers wearing bread rolls on their wrists? Happens every day. Catching a literal yuri fever? Just another day in the lives of Somera and her friends. Magical Somera-chan's jokes are always hilarious. As far as the animation quality is in Somera-chan, it's your standard short anime quality: very limited, though I don't see that as a negative. There's also really no background music or plot to comment on. Magical Somera-chan is ultimately just composed of good voice acting, a cool art style, and hilarious comedy. With each episode only being three minutes in length it's well worth the forty or so minutes it'll take to watch the whole thing. 

Final Score: 7/10

Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note
Jonathan Kaharl

This was an interesting little turn for the mystery show. KZ dials down things for a pretty simple kids solving low level crimes thing, but it works because this is just an element to necessitate the development of the cast and their relationships. Every character in this series is a cute dork in some fashion, all with their specialties, and everyone gets a chance to show how useful their skills can be. The cases are also pretty good on making them emotionally connected to the cast, like our heroine torn on telling the police on one certain case because it may hurt her new friend.

It's a very melodramatic but amusing series, never rocks the boat but entertains pretty easily. If you want a light shojo series with some sort of twist to it, I'd say give this a shot. Its not too light and not too heavy.

First Cour Score: 6/10

Second Opinions

Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation-

Joe: The first impression and the reality of this one are two very separate things. Everyone was all over the Sherlock/Watson relationship of the leads and how this is very much like Japanese Bones, but that really isn't what this is. At times, they do solve murders and figure out what happened to the bodies of found skeletons, but the end goal isn't just to create a puzzle to work the mind for a half-an-hour. It's about figuring out who these people were and celebrating their life from what's left after they die. That's a pretty unique approach and it handles it well, occasionally beautifully with a handsomely mounted production. It still is kind of standard though, and many of the episodes have 75% of runtime with necessary content, making room for plenty of treading water and stalling. For something that's 12 episodes, there's a noticeable amount of padding. Still, viewers love their geniuses who solve things others can't with gleeful eccentricity, and Sakurako is a damn enjoyable one. More than enough to pull this show to the positive end of things, at least. Final Score: 7/10

Stephanie: Watching Beautiful Bones these past few months has been an interesting experience. It's a different take on the detective drama that we typically see in anime, more because it takes a slightly similar approach to western media such as the TV series Bones. Each case has been intriguing and fun, with me trying to unravel each and every new mystery along the way. The characters also keep the story moving, with Sakurako being the obvious best character because of her personality and philosophy regarding human life. However, the final third of the series threw me for a bit of a loop when a supposed major villain is inadvertently introduced... only for that story line to become unresolved by the end of the twelve episodes... And, while we're at it, let's just bring up Sakurako's problem with Tatewaki reminding her of her dead little brother because we don't see any kind of resolution going on there. As you can probably guess, the ending of this series clearly set up a possible second season; which is no surprise since shows try to aim for that next season. However, it's hard to say if Beautiful Bones will be granted that second or if it will just stay where it is now. For the sake of the story, it needs a second season in order to resolve those unfinished plot lines. For the sake of viewership, we'll have to wait and see how it's done in Japan before finding out if it's warranted a sequel. None the less, despite the story problems, it's a pretty decent mystery series that I think more of the hard core mystery fans will get some enjoyment out of. Final Score: 7/10

Concrete Revolutio

Stephanie: It's honestly hard to say what this series has been working towards this season. Sure, there are two time lines we're working from, and some of the individual stories in each episode were interesting to see unfold, but it doesn't seem to wanna try anything too out of the ordinary. It's like it's one part comic book story mixed with Tokyo ESP, and we all know how I feel about the latter of the two. Luckily, Revolutio is moderately more interesting by adding every kind of superhuman you can find and tossing them into a single world. Part of this problem may be the large amount of characters that are in the series itself and the amount of side stories and development that seem to be rushed during this first half in order to reach the end game that we got. And, even with that, the end game still felt a little underwhelming... Jiro's motivation seems extremely off and much more confusing than what I had initially started with. I think the execution of this first half had great ideas, but also didn't fully explore them like they really wanted to, focusing on outside forces and movements, rather than looking at series internally from the main cast of characters. Without the motivations explained properly, or at least hinted at pretty well, then it makes for a messier series. This first season of Revolutio was good, but could have been better. I just hope the second season improves on the first. First Cour Score: 6/10

Dance With Devils

Jonathan: After the sadomasochist got an episode, I knew I was pretty much done. I don't have the same problems with Dance With Devils Danni had (due to being a trash loving deviant bisexual), but it is very repetitive, and not as utterly insane as Diabolik Lovers to really justify finishing it. It does not help that very few characters are likable or engaging, especially the brother. Holy hell he's awful, and I'm not sure he was supposed to be unlike the pick up artist dick of the cast. The musical aspect goes a long way, but not enough. Six Episodes: 5/10

Stephanie: There always seems to be that one series that I decide to see at the last second each season. In this season's case, that would be Dance With Devils. The series went from a possible stereotypical reverse harem that could have been terrible to something that is actually pretty well written and extremely enjoyable as it breaks the usual model by becoming a theatrical experience. As everyone knows by know, I did go to school for theatre so, of course, when Johnathan told me during a Heavy Storms recording that I have to see this series, I sure as hell gave it a try. There is more to like outside of the musical numbers and good looking demon boys, mind you, as the story and character development, while riddled with cliches, is still well done and executed! And this all coming from an original series! Not an adapted manga or game (though to be fair, a game version was released shortly after the series started airing), and it was one that I couldn't help but sink my teeth into week after week! And I'll get to enjoy it even more for weeks to come as I head into the second half of the Broadcast Dub provided by FUNimation. By the way, I can't wait for it to be released on home video, cause they will be dubbing the songs and I learned that Dawn Bennet, who voices Ritsuka, went to school at Berklee School of Music, so I wanna hear her sing damnit! Final Score: 9/10

Garo: Crimson Moon

Stephanie: Garo has been one interesting ride. Starting out with my glimpses of the live action sentai show, I thought it was a good series that I wouldn't mind sitting down and eventually marathoning. Then Garo: The Animation came around last year and, as many know, I gushed a decent amount over it while covering the series. Now we have Garo: Crimson Moon and I have some rather mixed feelings. Sure it does take the same feel and tone that the original live action show and the first animated series took, but it's been much more lighthearted about it with the occasional dark stories compared to those predecessors. To be fair, Crimson Moon has improved over the course of eleven episodes (episode 12 is a live action special with the seiyus so I skipped that one), but I do have a rather large issue that I suddenly noticed while watching the second half of this first cour. You know what sometimes will bug me? When series or franchises try using the same story lines or connections over and over again. Recall the first animated series where (and this is spoiler territory so you've been warned) we find out that Leon and Alfonso are actually related thanks to their respective mothers. Not only that, but Alfonso does inherit mekai armor from another Mekai Knight before his short stint as Garo himself after Leon basically goes balls to the walls insane and loses it. What Crimson Moon decided to do was reveal that Raikou is originally from this wealthy family and has a little brother from another mother who does not have Garo's power, but there is some bull s**t power struggle and politics involved. AND we finally have a second Mekai Knight, Zanga, whom we just met and we find out is a former noble who just doesn't wanna be a noble anymore after some early romantic/political bull. See where I'm going with this? This series is using some of the same through lines that the first anime had, and it makes it feel a little unoriginal. While the episodes and baddies of the week are fun and the main villain hasn't done too much to the story, it's almost like history repeating itself and I get the feeling that I'm going to be slightly irritated in the coming weeks like I was during the first one. But, I digress, it hasn't been terrible so far. Just kinda meh, really. First Cour Score: 6/10

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Joe: I wish I had more time. I typically adore the offbeat Gundam series, and Iron-Blooded Orphans certainly has my attention with the main cast who act as family with each other but the headlining duo are also capable of unflinchingly shooting the members of their company who intentionally tried to sabotage them. Yes, potential complicated morality in a Gundam series! Anyway, I just haven't gotten around to watching most of what's out, but I'd like to. Three Episodes: 8/10

Mr. Osomatsu

Danni: I quite enjoyed the first few episodes I watched of Osomatsu-san. The reference-fest that was episode one wasn't quite my thing, but thankfully it wasn't representative of the whole series. The following episodes I watched were more of a cynical comedy about a bunch of aimless twenty-something brothers. It was funny and somewhat refreshing. After that, though, I kind of slacked on my anime watching and fell behind on pretty much every show. Then episode ten of Osomatsu-san aired and I felt nothing but bitter resentment for the series. I saw discussion of the episode from some of the trans women I follow on Twitter, and they were not happy. Reading further into their discussions, I found out that episode 10 of Osomatsu-san contained a plot device in which some of the male characters dressed up as and pretended to be women in order to con the Matsu brothers out of some money. I shouldn't need to explain what about that infuriates me as a trans woman. I live in a nation where a viable defense for someone murdering me is because I "tricked" my murderer into thinking I was a woman. There's nothing funny about Osomatsu-san using the scenario of men dressing up as women to deceive other men into thinking they're women. That kind of thing is not only harmful to trans women but also hurtful to me personally. It negates any enjoyment I had or could have had for the series. (As a disclaimer, I didn't watch the episode myself because I knew it'd only piss me off. I found out about it through secondhand accounts.) Two Episodes: 2/10

Jonathan: This is some funny shit. It's the Regular Show of Japan, but with nostalgia and optimism replaced by dark, biting cynicism, and it is fantastic the large majority of the time. Except episode ten. Episode ten might be the worst episode of anime I've ever seen. You've probably read why from David and Danni, and yes, it's really as bad as they say. Just skip that episode. Ten Episodes: 7/10

One Punch Man

Danni: One Punch Man is easily one of the best shounen action anime in years. The only other title I can think of worthy of that designation would be Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. Animation-wise, One Punch Man is definitely the best. Madhouse brought in some amazing animators to work on this show and the result is beautiful. This show might not have a lot of substance to it - literally all you need to know about the plot and gags lies there in the name - but the style more than makes up for it. In fact, the show's weakest moments are when it tried to tackle drama or insert thematic material. It just doesn't work. One Punch Man is a series about a guy punching people. Given how beautifully animated the scenes of people getting punched are, it doesn't need to be anything more than that. Not every anime has to be packed with the thematic material you'd find in an Ikuhara show. Sometimes good shows really can just be about bad guys getting punched. Final Score: 9/10

Jonathan: I knew I'd have fun with this from the start. I love the manga, I loved this, especially for the fantastic animation work. But seeing almost the entirety of the many chapters I read condensed into twelve episodes with a surprising lack of narrative context kind of made me realize this series was probably not ready for an adaptation. I love the ideas (a comedy about failure with a main character who still fails with unimaginable power) and the characters, but there's really no story here, even though it's built up in the background. Maybe we should wait a few years for a season two. Final Score: 8/10

Stephanie: If there was one show where the words "the hype is real" could be applied, than it would be One Punch Man hands down this season. Not only is it action packed from beginning to end, but the humor and characters that go along with it are just simply wonderful! You would think you would need to turn your brain off in order to enjoy this series, but you actually don't! It's rather clever in both writing and execution that not only do you get to go on a rollar coaster of a ride, but you also get some well thought out moments and ideas coming through. Mostly in the way of Saitama, but I digress. You both want to root for the heroes as well as laugh at their silliness and ham as it plays the fine line between overly serious and complete and utter ham extremely well! Saitama's character, in particular, is one of the more interesting superhero characters I've seen in a long ass time in any form of media, including the Marvel Universe! That's saying a lot right there. With the superhero genre being overly saturated, this show, as well as Saitama himself, are a breath of fresh air that was so very needed. The only question left now is, will there be more One Punch Man? We shall see, folks. We shall see. Final Score: 9/10

The Perfect Insider

Danni: I came to Perfect Insider late to the party. It had already been airing for weeks by the time I got around to giving it a try. In those weeks I got to see quite a few people gush on how amazing the series was and how it was the best anime of the fall. I like rooting for the underdogs and boosting anime that's woefully underrated, so I went into Perfect Insider feeling optimistic. I was thoroughly underwhelmed. Its OP and ED are both really good, but that's about it. The episodes I watched just felt incredibly dull and lifeless, with a washed-out color palette to match it. Maybe that's part of the "brilliance" of the series I'm somehow missing. Who knows. I didn't like it. It's a show about an annoying nihilist who's apparently really cool and gets followed around by a devoted girl who is extremely into him for some reason. I didn't completely give up on Perfect Insider though until the scene implying a middle-aged man has sex with his thirteen year-old niece. If rape is the most compelling thing in a show, it really isn't a show I want to watch. Three Episodes: 4/10

Jonathan: Easily one of the year's best, but not for the mystery element. Honestly, the mystery of this show is awful and stupid. The strength it has above all other shows this year is the dialog. It's really good at making all these characters bounce off each other, and the main three characters all develop into very interesting and likable people in their own right, even the one who murdered her parents. I also like that its core theme ended up being so simple instead of something needlessly complex. Just be warned, this is not light watching. Final Score: 9/10

Stephanie: This series may be a slow mystery that just doesn't seem to go anywhere or attempt to try something new, however what makes it compelling are the psychological elements and some of the visuals and writing that are well executed. The main trio of characters that the series uses to tell the story are each interesting in their own way with the two different story lines we see connecting to one another the more we watch the show. To be fair, the pacing can be a large issue as it does drag it's feet early on and in the middle, but when you push through it is a rather well made series and one of the more solid mystery anime I got the chance to see this year. It's not one that kept my interest in order to faithfully watch it every week, but it's also not a decent marathon either. It's kinda in the middle in terms of what I enjoyed this season, leaning toward the weaker side. But I can blame shows like One Punch Man and Noragami for that one. Final Score: 7/10

Young Black Jack

Jonathan: I don't think there was quite another show this season that entertained me so often, which is weird because I was really annoyed by the series early on. Thankfully, the show stops casting shade on an entire generation to move onto such wild plots as a man with missing limbs going on a revenge spree, and Black Jack goes to Vietnam and gets tortured. I'm okay with that. The series is perfectly paced to create solid tension and build up the lead character, and it has quite a few stand out episodes, especially the finale (though it does feel a tad rushed). Definitely an interesting entry for the year. Final Score: 7/10

Stephanie: I've probably mentioned this, but I know nothing about Black Jack aside from the fact that I guess I needed to watch it. I'm not entirely sure if Young Black Jack was a good way to introduce me to the franchise, however I will say that it introduced me to Black Jack himself prior to the name change. Using historical moments and movements in order to inspire situations and stories in order to fuel our doctor friend into becoming who he is does give some good background. Then there are the characters peppered in throughout that don't just give some background to the Black Jack franchise, but also come from other manga published by the same original author. What really hinders my thoughts on the series is that lack of knowledge I have of the franchise. Sure, having the beginnings is great, but if I don't get the references then where does that leave me? This series is clearly one for the fans of Black Jack, but it was still rather enjoyable to sit through; even if it wasn't one of my favorites from this season. Final Score: 6/10

Staff Picks

Concrete Revolutio
Jonathan Kaharl

You may not know this about me, but I'm a pretty huge superhero fan. I was expecting One Punch Man to be my favorite series of the season, and while it certainly had technical chops, seeing one of my favorite manga animated made me realize that the actual story of the series was very incomplete and really didn't warrant a series yet. Don't get me wrong, I was entertained, but I couldn't help feel that the series was missing something. That's where Concrete Revolutio came in and filled the role of what I was craving. Superhero action is all fine and good, but using superheroes for social commentary? Hell, Gatchaman Crowds is my favorite anime ever, and RE: Hamatora is in my top five. This series was already right up my alley.

The premise is simple and brilliant, so much so that American comics have already been using such a premise with series like Astro City and Grant Morrison's Superman run. It's a normal world, and then superhumans suddenly come into being, and humanity reacts. The series takes place after WWII and sometime in the 60s, portraying Japan as a troubled country with clashing between the old and new generations. Making things more complicated are the superhumans, various beings of absurd origin that fight monsters and evil-doers across the world. Magical girls, yokai, cyborgs, robots, aliens, kaiju and more are all real and not just childish fantasy, and the Superhuman Bureau is in charge of keeping these new types of beings under control. Along the way, they clash with the paranoid elite factions of the Japanese police, protesters, rogue villains, vigilantes, invaders, and all sorts of other crazy stuff. However, the series also flashes forward into the future, where main character Jiro has left the Bureau and has started a superhuman revolution in the shadows, and that revolution proves itself to be completely justified as the series reveals how the world governments reacted to the appearance of superhumans.

This series may be one of the best meta text exploration pieces I've ever come across, and that's not something I say lightly (it's in the company of Watchmen, The Filth, and Astro City). Seiji Mizushima really captures comic staging in his direction (helped by the incredible art team on board), while the script writing from Masaki Tsuji, Shou Aikawa, and the rest of the series staff pump a lot of unexpected depth into characters meant to represent simple concepts. The brilliance here is that every character represents a different genre. Jiro is the young man who wants to live up to the ideals of the heroes he worshiped, Kikko is a magical girl and see things in a mostly positive light while worrying about her crush on Jiro, Futora is the embodiment of every anime mascot character of the era in both immaturity and lack of worldliness, Emi is the very old school monster princess from a mix of legend of pulp retelling, and so forth. This isn't just to represent, but also to create a varied and divided cast that constantly argue about the events and issues before them.

Jiro's sense of justice leads him to doing questionable things as he tries to cope with the complicated reality around him, Kikko blinds herself to harsh truths for the sake of her idealism, Futora sees everything from a child's perspective and does some horrifying things because of that perspective, and Emi's possessive streak and ego from her upbringing and archetype only serve to cause more problems and fail to see the bigger picture. Everyone is littered with likable traits and massive flaws that lead them to doing questionable things, such as threatening each other for personal desires, or even carrying out a genocidal act or cheering on murderers without question. These moments never feel too jarring either, nor at least jarring without being meant to be jarring.

It's also clever how superhumans and monsters are used politically. The Magento school of extremism does come up, but that's not the focus. Most conflicts revolve around kaiju sympathizers, the shady actions of an ad agency, youth in peaceful protests on the verge of riots, and skulduggery between politicians. It mixes in how we, the audience, viewed these stories and characters through various ages with real world issues, historical events, and plausible what ifs centered around strong and simple ideology found in the material the series is playing with. Phantom Breaker Claude is probably the best example, as this late cour villain goes on and on about the conflict between the simple ideas of justice, freedom, and peace that most superhumans believe in, and he makes some frighteningly real sense that mirrors real world political movements. The series just handles this all so well with such a large and diverse cast, covering all sorts of viewpoints and people, from simple entertainers to space explorers.

And damn if this isn't one of the best looking aesthetics that Bones has ever used. The series looks exactly like an American comic book combined with the sensibilities of a good action manga, with all those simple contrasting colors and shapes. It switches between abstract landscapes and goofy character designs to the more grounded city shots and average people in work clothes. It creates a perfect contrast that represents this world and its people perfectly, a normal, restrained world on the verge of becoming something fantastical. Also, the insert songs. Don't even get me started on the brilliance of those.

Concrete Revolutio is one of the most ambitious and fascinating shows I have ever seen, and it drapes itself in such familiar material in so many clever ways. This isn't a show for otaku, it's a show for nerds. It's a show for the people who had Spider-Man backpacks before the movies existed, watched Power Rangers religiously, and got sucked into the world of capes and crooks. But most importantly, it's a show for those nerds who have begun to mature and create a sense of self, and this series forces you to question those ideals you learn from these childish things, and it does it while celebrating all these different genres and stories. It's like the Japanese version of a lost Grant Morrison story, and I adore it for that.

First Cour Score: 9/10

Danni Kristen

I'm a huge fan of Monogatari. One of the first pieces of anime merchandise I ever bought was a Japanese-imported issue of Newtype magazine that featured Monogatari Second Season characters on the cover and came with a poster of Hanekawa and Senjougahara. The first piece I ever wrote for IRD was a review of TsukimonogatariSo it absolutely comes as no surprise that my staff pick for Fall 2015 would be the newest installment in the series - Owarimonogatari. This season jumps back further in the Monogatari timeline, each arc taking place at different points Monogatari Second Season. The first three arcs take place after the events of Tsubasa Tiger and prior to Hanekawa's trip abroad, while the final arc actually takes place at the same time as Tsubasa Tiger. Also, while there are technically four arcs in Owarimonogatari, the first three are essentially one complete arc as they all deal with the issue of Sodachi Oikura - the series's newest character - and her thorny relationship with Araragi. The final arc, Shinobu Mail, takes up the latter half of the season and deals with the bitter return of Shinobu's first minion, who had committed suicide hundreds of years earlier. 

Overall, this was a pretty solid season, though it's definitely not among Monogatari's best. It had a fair amount of both high and low moments that made for some good arcs that unfortunately fail to match the quality of those from Second Season or Hanamonogatari. In comparison to previous seasons, Owarimonogatari felt incredibly restrained, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was a good thing because it reigned in on its grosser tendencies that dominated Nisemonogatari and Tsukimonogatari. It even reigned in on the fanservice almost completely, with the season's first half containing at most a few comments about Hanekawa's breasts (Now, as far as I'm concerned a lack of fanservice is neither good nor bad, but it is surprising given the series's abundance of it). This aside, SHAFT restraining themselves with this season also unfortunately resulted in a restrained art style. Obviously a restrained art style for Monogatari is still very different than what one would find in most anime, but it doesn't do the show any favors. Monogatari has always been a bit like watching a slide show, but the unique directions taken in the show's composition and backgrounds always more than made up for the lack of dynamic movements. Owarimonogatari did achieve this at points, such as the beautiful first episode, but there was a lot less of it than usual, creating some of the series's least impressive visuals. 

While Monogatari has always been known for its beautiful  pretentious  unique art style, it has also been known for it's well-crafted characters, and the characters in Owarimonogatari all get a chance to shine. One of my favorite moments in this season is a heated argument between Shinobu, who is trying to ignore and distance herself from her first minion, and Kanbaru, who is intent on convincing Shinobu to deal with her own emotions. The weight of this argument comes not only from the fact Shinobu is threatening to kill Kanbaru for her disrespect, but in the dialogue and the masterful way in which it is delivered by the voice actors (Maaya Sakamoto as Shinobu and Miyuki Sawashiro as Kanbaru). This moment perfectly exemplifies Suguru Kanbaru's personality. During the entire arc she had functioned purely as comic relief, so its striking when she throws all of that aside to tell Shinobu what everyone else won't out of either fear or absence. It provides great setup for her character arc in Hanamonogatari. It's also an important moment for Shinobu too, because it's the moment where her cracking facade of indifference finally crumbles into anxiety and insecurity over, essentially, having to confront a devoted ex you have no longer have feelings for. Araragi and Senjougahara are also given their own great character moment in the final episode in the form of a short phone call Araragi makes to ask for her advice. Later in the episode he's informed that both Senjougahara and Hanekawa are in danger and need his help while he's busy dealing with Shinobu's first minion. Araragi shows how much he's grown by running to neither of his friends' aid. Instead, he trusts that Kanbaru can help Senjougahara and that Hanekawa can help herself. These acts are small, but they show just how much he's grown. The Araragi we first saw in Bakemonogatari had a suicidal hero complex that led him to take on the problems of others even when no one would benefit from his doing so. 

The star of Owarimonogatari, though, was easily none other than Ougi Oshino, Meme's mysterious niece/nephew (As we see in Hanamonogatari, Ougi is sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl). Ougi had popped up already in a few different arcs acting as a devil on the shoulder of characters at critical moments, but here we see entire episodes dominated by Ougi's presence, and it's both wonderful and terrifying to watch. Ougi clings to Araragi for the first few arcs of Owarimonogatari, presenting a clear threat to Araragi, who can't seem to dismiss them. She does much more than whispering in Araragi's ear in these episodes. All of the characters in Monogatari exist to pick away at pieces of Araragi's aloof and self-destructive personality while Ougi instead tears away at it. Araragi, who is usually aloof about his thoughts and feelings, finds himself telling Ougi much more than he feels like he should. They never pry it out of him like other characters have to. He simply finds himself spilling his guts whenever he talks to them. It confuses him, but he doesn't see it as enough to dismiss their presence. It's ultimately his trust in Hanekawa that peels him away from them, as Hanekawa clearly sees the threat Ougi presents. Ougi's snake-like presence is not only conveyed through smart visual tricks, but also through the extremely talented performance of Kaori Mizuhashi. In the end, Owarimonogatari may not be some of the overall best work in the series, but in terms of character focus it was absolutely outstanding. 

Final Score: 7/10

The Perfect Insider
David O'Neil

Last season, the fantasy mystery series Rokka grabbed my attention early on, but when all was said and done left me severely underwhelmed. When this season presented me with yet another promising mystery thriller whodunnit, this time in the form of the semi-sci-fi mystery show The Perfect Insider, I was worried history was about to repeat itself. Luckily though, this wasn't the case. Perfect Insider impressed me around nearly every turn, from its visuals, to its writing, to its conclusion, and has left me thinking about it even weeks after finishing it.

The show is a slow build to be sure, many episodes consist almost entirely of nothing but characters talking, with more and more details on the characters and the details of the mystery being dripped out to the audience bit I bit. While it can drag on a bit in rare cases, most conversations are bursting with underlying motives, conflicting philosophies, and constantly shifting relationships, keeping me totally engrossed in the show even when its often just a collection of characters standing or sitting around having a conversation. Nearly no word is wasted, everything in the show is building to major developments for the characters and a conclusion that perfectly encapsulates the themes of the show, a story about relationships, love, and death, one that uses the complex differing motivations and ideals of each character to explore these ideas in some fascinating ways. While I was caught off guard by the big mystery reveal when things started coming together, what really made it so effective for me was how it provided totally new revelations and material for exploration in regards to some major characters. It's a mystery that pays off in the best kind of way, by putting the focus on the characters first and doing some fascinating things along the way.

And despite the show consisting of a lot of talking, it doesn't rely entirely on words either. The show makes fantastic use of lighting, framing, and visual storytelling, constantly expressing information through picture rather than sound. Each episode is packed full of gorgeous shots, dense with subtext and underlying meanings. It doesn't boast much in the form of impressive animation, but stays very consistent throughout, and throws in just enough moments of character acting in major emotional moments (and occasionally comedic moments) in order to get across the feelings of the characters. The Perfect Insider's slow pace may not be for everyone, but piecing together the differing mindsets of the characters, along with watching them change and grow over the course of the story, was incredibly rewarding experience that led to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. It's a well made, clever, suspenseful mystery thriller, with a heartfelt story about togetherness and isolation beneath the surface. One of my favorite shows of the year.

Final Score: 9/10

Noragami Aragoto
Stephanie Getchell

There were so many sequels, this season, that I had been looking forward to! We finally got the second season of Haikyuu, as well as some more of my guilty pleasure, Diabolik LoversSeraph of the End has become just a big ball of fun for me to see, while you've been seeing my thoughts on Garo: Crimson Moon for the past couple of months now (I still consider it a sequel season to Garo). However, if we want to talk about anime that I really wanted to have a second season and got my wish, then I'd have to say Noragami is at the top of that list! And, as it so happens, I decided to make it my Staff Pick for this season. Partly because it's a great series to begin with and was bound to be brought up, and partly because I'm slightly selfish and wanted to beat the other seasonal staff members to the punch... Or the shrine, if you will.

Noragami Aregato continues right where the first season left off by bringing in the very popular and well known Bishamon arc from the manga to the anime. The first half of the series gives more background into why Bishamon has a burning hatred for Yato, and why Kazuma is both devoted to his master as well as indebted to Yato (if you've seen season one, then you know Kazuma helped in Yukine's ablution without Bishamon's knowing). The second half introduces us to the god Ebisu, and his plan in order to tame and control Phantoms, dragging Yato and...... Nora into the mix? Many secrets come to light and many changes occur, making the established relationships between characters either grow by leaps and bounds or dissolve into nothing. But that doesn't mean it still isn't the big ball of action and humor that it's always been.

Something that I loved about Noragami was it's ability to pull at you emotional heartstrings all the while giving you those action intensive moments and those hilarious ones that involve the many faces of Yato... That guy can be a meme in and of itself. While I watched the first season, Yukine's arc was one of the most intense rollar coaster rides, emotionally, that I sat through in a good long while. I'll admit that I cried just like a hell of a lot of people. However, I'm sure Aregoto went and topped itself in that department. From the Bishamon arc to Yato getting his little shrine to Ebisu and much more, the series kept it's tone throughout and just dialed the level of heart string pulling to eleven and beyond! That gut wrenching cry from Bishamon... I just can't... Ugh... But it's not the only thing that's done right in this series as the story still keeps everything connected while developing an even greater plot line that can carry over for many seasons if it really wanted to. And, by the looks of things, it just might! The build up for each arc has been amazing, with the writing for this second season being among the best I've seen all year! Granted, it wasn't that hard, however considering most of the really well written series took place during the winter season, this is a much needed relief.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, the characters of the series and their relationships continue to grow as they themselves develop. Bishamon and Yato took center stage in each of the arcs, character wise, as Bishamon deals with the plight of her regalia and Yato comes to terms with his past and what he wants for his own future. And although Yukine had a larger role in the first season, he doesn't entirely take a back seat as his role in the series does change, causing his character to mature as well. Even Nora has a few little moments during the second season to where you almost feel some pity for her even though some pieces of her story are still unclear. This basically goes back to the writing of the series, but how the cast was written this season was simply amazing and captured so many things that I know will have an effect later on down the line. Of course, I don't want to go into spoiler territory for those who may not have seen the series or have completed Aregoto, and it's a really hard thing to do, but just the way the characters have been written this season has given me so much excitement because I'm so attached to them! When they feel happiness, pain and suffering, and even frustration, so do I! It's just really well done on so many fronts that I became attached to this series extremely quickly.

As we all know, I do follow the broadcast dubs from FUNimation, so of course that means I've been following the dub for Noragami. I really have to give props to ADR Director Caitlin Glass on this one, because not only is she dealing with some of the most emotional moments of the franchise so far, but she's taking over directing from Mike McFarland who has made a name for himself as the FUNimation director you have to have for your larger properties. Of course, this also means that the main cast returns, with Jason Liebrecht, Bryn Apprill, and Micah Solusod returning as Yato, Hiyori, and Yukine respectively and each taking their roles to the next level as of episode eight of the broadcast dub. However, I do have to give praise to both Elizabeth Maxwell and Eric Vale who return as Bishamon and Kazuma because the two managed to carry the first half so well and made me cry puddles of tears. We also have a batch of newcomers to the series with Michelle Rojas and Phil Parsons taking on Bishamon's regalia Aiha and Kugaha in the first half; while we have the return of Bryan Massey and John Burgmeier (whom I have not heard in forever) voicing Okuninushi and Ebisu in the second half as well as Clifford Chapin jumping in as Hiyori's new love interest Fujisaki. It's humanly possible that Glass managed to out do what McFarland did in season one, so round of applause for her!

Noragami, in general, is an amazing series. I, personally, think that this is Studio Bones returning to form after having some 50/50 series in the past several years. In Aregoto's case, the story has been progressing wonderfully and the characters are just as lovable and relatable as always with moments so strong that you'll be moved in some way. So much so, that the second season out did itself and is better than the first! As my good pal, Hardy, put it when we recorded the Dubbie Awards episode of the Dub Talk podcast, "Noragami is good anime," a fact that some people don't seem to see. Can it be full of action and knock down drag out fights? Yes. Can it be balls to the walls insane at times? Yes. Is it capable of making you ball like a baby at points? Totally. Is it a well written series with amazing characters, animation, music, and acting that it deserves to be seen? ABSOLUTELY! If you have not seen Noragami yet, you have to fix this right away because it is one of the best series I've seen in a very long time! So much so that it was the one show that I was most excited for each week while it was airing and that I'm currently watching through a second time thanks to the dub. Now all that's left is to wait god knows how long for a third season. Cause, holy crap, does it need one! F**K YOU SENPAI!!

Final Score: 10/10

The Asterisk War
Joe Straatmann

As throngs of putrid light novel adaptations assailed my personal space this year like a crowd of zombies who all accidentally peeped on a pink-haired high school student while she was changing, I figure I might as well be fair and point out the good ones. Mikagura School Suite is a surprisingly forgotten gem from Summer that did well even with a limited budget, and this season, we have perhaps one of the most polished and well executed series of magic high school tournament fighting cliches. The first episode gives the viewer every reason to think this is an incredibly disposable work with superb wrapping paper. Perhaps it still is, but it's an entertaining one that puts in the required elbow grease to overcome the vast amount of conventions that act as its foundation.

Yes, the hero of Asterisk War is a self-insert guy with a self-insert design and his supporting cast is a harem of archetypical women who will at some points show some interest in him and by fanboy extension, you. Yes, we have a high school of students with special abilities who square off in a hugely important tournament to relate to the target audience AND have an easy setup for which to hang a plot on. Yes, there is tons of unneeded fan service, sometimes involving a junior high girl who developed quickly for her age. But I'm not mad. Not even close.

I like to think of this as how good Toonami viewers remember the original Tenchi being before they went back to it and fought the desire to gouge out their eyes. Perhaps not THAT good since nobody here is Washu levels of awesome, but almost. Main character Ayato even falls on Tenchi's level of sweetness as a student at a school of techno-magic duelists to figure out what happened to his vanished sister. He runs into literal princess Julis in one of those, "Oops, I didn't know this window led to a women's dorm room but it's an honest mistake" moments, and it is as idiotic as these scenes tend to be. Thankfully, as Ayato develops a group of elite girl fighters he surrounds himself with, their interactions are far more respectful.

What I ask of these kinds of shows is that they at least have characters who can be passed off as human and aren't just traits and kinks rolled into attractive vessels. Asterisk War is surprisingly good with developing characters and giving them quality repartee. Julis, Claudia, Saya, and Kirin aren't simply girls who fawn over the hero and just happen to be talented at their magical sword fighting (Or in Saya's case, gunplay), but they have desires, dreams, some kind of depth, and they're self-aware with how Ayato treats them and the other girls. One episode I appreciated was when Saya and her new battle partner Kirin have a day out to get to know each other because sleepy-eyed, introverted Saya has no idea how to be social. Sadly, they do share a shower and one is underdeveloped for a high schooler and the other is a junior high student. You know, you don't HAVE to do these scenes if you don't want to. Please, don't tell me if you actually wanted to do them.

The most attractive qualities of Asterisk War are easily witnessed within the first few minutes. A-1 Pictures has outdone themselves this season with this and The Perfect Insider. Everything is absolutely slick from the opening animation with constant movement, 3DCG integrated nearly seamlessly, and painstakingly involved duels. As a purely commercial venture, it settles for being skillful and clean, but I dare say there are very few corners cut in this production. The fights can be extensive, smooth, and feature plenty of action even if they do manage to tactfully sneak in speed lines now and then. This series is pretty much the textbook example of what a title with good animation is.

Look, I'm not going to say this show doesn't have some light novel stink on it. Ayato's affection is laid on too thick to the point where he's kind of being weirdly cruel in treating all of the girls all equally like his true love while every single one of them is aware of it. Yet it's a great looking series with almost perfect pacing, exciting action, and the essentials in storytelling and character building packed with the fan service. It may be a conventional school tournament fighting show with harem elements that exists just to make money, but damned if it isn't a quality one.

Final Score: 7/10


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