Checking in on the Fall 2015 anime season part way through
Once again it's time for one of these now-traditional midway updates on my early impressions of the season. While there have been some surprises so far, things have broadly turned out the way that I expected.
- One-Punch Man: I didn't expect this to become basically my favorite
show of the season, but it has. The humour has been working for me
(partly because the show is willing to be understated and just let
the funny bits sit there without comment) and I like the overall
developments. It even recently managed an episode
that was mostly drama and that still worked for me. The presence of
Genos is very important for making everything work; Saitama is mostly
a force of nature, but Genos is someone we can connect to.
- Subete ga F ni Naru - The Perfect Insider: I go hot and cool on
this show as it oscillates around, but I can't deny that at its
best it is really good. It has a great grasp of understated
atmosphere and how to be horrifying, even if sometimes it spends
time ambling around in ways that make me kind of roll my eyes.
It understands that it's just as important to explore the characters
we're interested in as to explore the mystery, and both Moe and
Saikawa are great for this (Moe more so than Saikawa).
- Concrete Revolutio: This isn't as spectacularly great as Perfect Insider sometimes is but I think it has more consistency and it's doing a bunch of increasingly interesting things. Its stories can lack subtlety in both themes and execution, but it still winds up making them be interesting and periodically (visually) spectacular. And I quite like what its doing with its structure as it circles around both a central revelation that we know is coming and a whole series of reveals about the characters and the history of the show.
- Gakusen Toshi Asterisk: This is not a great show, as you'd expect,
but it's been a consistently enjoyable watch for me. The show is
simply well constructed and well made, and the characters are nicely
drawn and interesting. It's also mostly been free of what I'll call
'LN anime bullshit'; I barely roll my eyes when watching.
This is one of the two shows I watch the fastest once it becomes available (the other one being One-Punch Man).
- K - Return of Kings: I like these characters and this setting,
but gosh the story is moving slowly. One of the things that made
the first series work is that there was always something relatively
crazy happening (whether it was action, happenings, or revelations
about what was going on); this series has mostly lacked that.
- Owarimonogatari: I'm too invested in the Monogatari series to stop watching, but I still don't feel any real investment in the characters here because they feel less like people and more like cardboard cutouts spouting dialog. That could change (Monogatari has been able to get me to care) or the show could become visually interesting to watch, but I'm not holding my breath.
Hanging on on the edge:
- Utawarerumono - Itsuwari no Kamen: Kuon and Haku are great characters
but the show itself has mostly been going in circles recently as it
dragged in more and more other characters. This might be okay if the
new people were interesting too, but mostly they aren't and they don't
really contribute much to the interesting core characters that we do
- Mobile Suit Gundam - Iron-Blooded Orphans: Apart from the issue
of looming doom, the problem here is that nothing
here has really made me get emotionally invested. The characters and
story arcs are certainly interesting, but so far they haven't got me
on a gut level. It's nice seeing everyone maneuver around and have
problems and grow and so on, but it doesn't leave me with any sort of
burning desire to see the next episode. I almost dropped the show
before episode 7 (after a twitter ramble), but
I suspect I'm simply not up for two cours of this and will drop it
at some point, although I don't know exactly when.
(As I found out with Space Dandy, mere animation firepower and so on is not enough to keep me watching if I don't actually care.)
- Heavy Object: To be impolite, the bullshit involved with this show got to me, including the character dialog. I decided that the uninspiring conclusion of the uninspiring second arc was a good place to stop watching, because it was never going to offer me anything more interesting than what I'd already seen.
My top three shows this season are great and Asterisk is enjoyable popcorn, so I'm happy overall with this season; from my perspective, it's quite a good season. Certainly I haven't been tempted to pick up or watch anything else to fill in the time, and in fact I have pending stuff that I'd like to get to but I haven't found the time for.
Looming doom generally hurts my enjoyment of a show
Here's something that I've not so much discovered as realized recently: I generally don't really enjoy a show where there's doom looming over the characters. This was a factor in my initial reaction to Symphogear and it's come up again this season in Mobile Suit Gundam - Iron-Blooded Orphans.
It's not that I'm opposed to character death (although certain forms of it turn me off) or that I require happy endings from my shows. I think it's perfectly okay to kill characters, even in casual ways, provided that it fits the show and the mood. What's different about a show with doom looming over things is exactly that there is doom looming over things. If I know some of the characters are going to die, I can't watch the show without wondering who it is and when it's going to happen. Is it going to be this episode, this next scene? When is the knife going to be jammed in and twisted? One of the common effects of this for me is to devalue much of the work the show is doing to develop characters. Actually caring about doomed characters feels somewhere between wasted effort and falling for the show's emotional manipulation, which irritates me. And when I don't know who's doomed when, well, pretty much all of the characters get affected.
So on the whole, a show with looming doom winds up being kind of a strain to watch. There is a constant tension and worry in the background that I don't like; it's simply wearying.
Despite this I think that shows can have looming doom and still work. While I don't have fully formed thoughts on how yet, my incomplete thoughts are that an important ingredient is for the show itself to acknowledge the looming doom by having it affect the shape of the story and the characters. In this I contrast Sidonia and Iron-Blooded Orphans. IBO is has relatively consistently ignored the doom looming over the cast, with essentially no sign of it in the story, while Sidonia embraced it in the atmosphere of the show and even the character reactions from relatively early. As a result this aspect of Sidonia worked for me and did not get me down, whereas watching IBO remains partly wearying and tense in an unpleasant way.
(An interesting question is whether I'd be enjoying IBO if I didn't know the outside-the-show information that Mari Okada (the show's writer) both quite likes melodrama and has said that there's going to be suffering in the show.)