Brief early impressions of the Winter 2016 anime season so far
As before it's time for another set of my early impressions, this time supplementing my first episode takes after I've watched some more of these shows. Somewhat surprisingly, I didn't try out anything this season that was an outright miss; I'm not sure if this is because I'm getting better at avoiding loser shows or that I'm getting less willing to try things.
- ERASED aka Boku Dake ga Inai Machi: This is basically doing
everything right as a suspense show. It's interesting, compelling,
well put together, and has been at points both genuinely unpleasant
and genuinely beautiful. At times it's so successful as a show that
it's hard to watch due to the tension and power.
- Dimension W: So far this is a well done adventure/action show featuring
adult characters for once, instead of the usual collection of
teens. That puts it firmly in the axis of shows like Cowboy Bebop and
Darker Than Black, although it's so far not as good as either of them.
The show is moving along at a very good pace; we got a big reveal about
the situation in the second episode, for example.
- Akagami no Shirayukihime: This is back and so far pretty much the same as before, except that this time we seem to have an ongoing multi-episode plot. I'm fine with that, since it adds some additional interest and involvement to the whole thing.
- BBK/BRNK aka Bubuki Buranki: I'm quite enjoying this for what it
is, which is a (so far) uncomplicated shonen action story. It's well
put together and moving right along, although it could yet slow down.
Your tolerance for this will depend both on your interest in its
fundamental genre (since it's not doing anything special there) and
in your tolerance for CG characters. They don't bother me at all,
but some people really hate them.
- Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: This is a realism-inclined take on the
whole 'people wind up in a fantasy world', where our protagonists are
low level spuds who are not exactly having a good time. They are (not)
enjoying it about as much as you'd expect, and the second episode
was fairly blunt about this. The show
is beautiful and well put together, with generally interesting
characters, but it's not perfect; there was an jarringly unpleasant
bit of extended 'fanservice' in the first episode, for example.
So far I'm enjoying Grimgar on the whole but I'm concerned about where it's going to go. I am probably not going to enjoy an entire season of grinding brutality, for example, however realistic a depiction it is of people operating under those stresses and how they deal (or don't deal) with them. At the same time I don't see where else Grimgar can go with the setup so far; it would be equally jarring if it turned into something pleasant where the protagonists went on pretty high fantasy adventures.
- Active Raid: This is so far a generally enjoyable action show with
some interesting things, but it's also periodically slid into some
less enjoyable bits that I would preferred to live without, some of
which show rather questionable judgement (like the fanservice at the
start of the second episode). It's also got a bit more than its share
of not so much cliched as troped characters.
To the extent that the show has staked out where it's going, it's deeply
silly; it features crazy supervillain hackers of questionable taste.
But I'm willing to keep watching for now.
(I called the show not as smart as it thinks it is, and I stand by that.)
It's okay for now:
- Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!: This is reasonably funny so far (which is rare for me), partly because it's willing to be subtle. I'm not sure if the show's premise can sustain enough humour and interest to keep me watching all season, though.
I'm still watching:
- Myriad Colors Phantom World aka Musaigen no Phantom World: Oh
KyoAni, how you've come down in the world this time around. There
are a few interesting things here but they are mostly drowned by
the combined slather of your typical low-quality LN writing and
KyoAni's inability to do good fight scenes (I wrote an entire
rant about part of that).
- Koukaku no Pandora: This is written by Koshi Rikudo, the creator
of Excel Saga, but unfortunately it lacks the latter's manic
energy and thus much of its charm. It's okay and periodically
funny, but it's not really 'good' as such.
(The first episode actually did have that manic energy, but things slowed down after that.)
- Luck & Logic: It's yet another action shonen LN-based show and as
a result it's going just as you expect and is just about as cliched
as you'd expect, with periodic injections of stupid and annoying
things. It has mostly not been actively bad so far, just bland.
I think it managed to be funny once.
(Watching this makes it clear just how much of a standout last season's Asterisk was.)
The only reason I'm still watching all three of these shows is that they're right there and I'm apparently kind of bored this season. If I was sensible I would drop them and use my time to watch better things from my copious backlog. In a stronger season they might all be misses on the grounds that they're too boring (as opposed to misses on the grounds that they're bad).
Not for me:
- Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Not my kind of show or setting and sadly its general excellence was unable to
overcome that. Lots of people love this, for good reason.
- Dagashi Kashi: In practice, not sufficiently funny to overcome that it's a setting and setup that generally doesn't work for me.
Not considered for various reasons:
- Lupin III (2015): I bounced off the first episode after a few minutes
and haven't tried it again, partly because I've heard that the actual
content is not too compelling.
- Ajin: There was no way to watch this until very recently, and
apparently it's a horror show anyways. Horror is not my thing.
- GATE second season: Apparently I can learn from experience, because
I thought back to my generally unenthused reaction to the first season
and decided not to continue it.
- Schwarzes Marken: Since this is part of the whole Muv-Luv Alternate setting, allow me to burst out in laughter. It's by all accounts terrible on top of that.
There's a bunch of LN-based action shows and romance shows and so on that I'm just skipping completely based on the premise and initial writeups alone. The ANN preview guide was very helpful, or to be more exact Nick Creamer's reviews specifically; he suffers so that we don't have to.
So far this is a reasonably solid season, although perhaps not a deep one; I can see situations where I wind up watching only four or five currently airing shows.
(Utawarerumono - Itsuwari no Kamen is still alternating between derping along and attempts at serious deep drama that it hasn't really earned; the latter come off as somewhat over the top and ridiculous.)
My (Twitter) reactions to the first episodes of the Winter 2016 season
As before, I've decided to collect here all of my tweeted reactions to the first episodes I've seen (in the order I saw them).
- Myriad Colors Phantom World episode 1: Fanservice galore, which is a
negative, and no KyoAni spark of life. But okay otherwise in an LN way.
- ERASED episode 1: I came in knowing something about the premise and
with that, this was a great first episode. I want to see more.
- Active Raid ep 1: A pretty good but also fairly stock start for this
sort of thing. And wait, she's still a minor? That explains some bits.
- Pandora ep 1: That was surprisingly fun and decent in a popcorn action
way, although I could have lived without the big fanservice joke.
- Dagashi Kashi episode 1: That was fairly good and I found it reasonably
funny, but it's also clearly not my thing at all. So it goes.
- BBK/BRNK episode 1: That was a pretty good version of an action shonen.
Snappy, well done, good action sequences, doesn't waste time. Solid.
- Luck & Logic episode 1: Perfectly competent and okay but bland, with
nothing particular to distinguish it from the next action shonen show.
- As I expected, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is not my kind of thing
at all. I can see the appeal but in practice it leaves me totally cold.
- Dimension W episode 1: That was plain good in a classical adult
action show way. We have setup, characters, mysteries, everything done
- Grimgar ep 1: Slow and I could have lived without the fanservice bit,
but the setup et al is intriguing enough to earn it another episode.
- Lupin III (2015): Well, that was an abject failure. The start of
episode one irritates me too much to continue right now & probably at all.
- KonoSuba ep 1: That was okay and periodically amusing, but the characters aren't really alive yet and it's kind of flat and limited so far. →
The one remaining new show is Ajin, but at this point I'm not at all sure if I'll be able to watch it any time soon. I've also become uncertain about its genre; if it's really a horror show about alienation from humanity and the horrible things that people do, I'm probably not interested in the first place.
Myriad Colors Phantom World illustrates bad fight staging for us
Let's start with my tweet:
I re-watched the big initial fight in Phantom World and no, KyoAni either (still) doesn't understand fight staging or doesn't care.
I feel sufficiently grump about Kyoto Animation failing once again on fight animation that I'm going to say more about this than fits on Twitter. What I mean by 'fight staging' here is blocking out the fight, ie establishing where all of the characters are in physical space and in relationship to each other, and thus how they move around over the course of the action. Good fight staging means that the fight actually makes physical sense and that you can follow who is where (and often that interesting things are happening).
We're going to look at a specific piece from the initial fight. Start by watching this clip from Phantom World (which was conveniently already on sakugabooru for me). Don't focus on the animation quality, ask yourself how you feel about it as just a piece in a fight (in fact, basically the climactic piece). Does it really work? Does something perhaps feel off? Because for me, even on first watching it felt somehow a little bit wrong or nonsensical.
Well, that would be because it is. Specifically, it has staging that doesn't actually work. Let's break down the flow of action and call out the staging inconsistencies, or at least the obvious ones:
- Mai and the monster are fighting on the school sports field.
- Mai sprints away from the monster and straight towards a clock tower
(at the edge of the sports field) that has students watching from
behind it, with the monster following her. How the shot is framed and
how the people behind the clock tower immediately scatter implies that
the monster is close behind her. We are certainly supposed to feel that,
just from how it's presented.
- Mai performs a gratuitous jump, dive, and complex pivot to come up
standing right in front of the low front wall of the clock tower area.
All of the cues in the shot say this, and say that she's stopped here
because she can't move any further back (away from the monster).
We don't see the monster during this bit of the clip, and there is clearly a bunch of empty space in front of Mai (between her and the monster). What happened to it following close behind her in #2?
- The monster charges at her. However, the shot suddenly shows a vast
distance between her and the monster and it takes the monster a
significant time to charge up to her. This is again inconsistent
with #2's close-behind monster.
What's really happened is that the show has teleported the monster backwards so that it can do a big dramatic monster charge and have a 'Mai braces and readies herself' brief cut (and also have #3).
- We switch to a view behind Mai. As the monster strikes at her, the camera pulls back. Say what? In #3, right behind Mai was the retaining wall; we have nowhere to pull back to.
- Mai jumps up and significantly back to evade the monster's strike;
after a flip in midair she lands right in front of our new, pulled
back camera position. Say what again?
Of course, what's really happened is that the show has teleported Mai (and the monster) forward from the clock tower area, because otherwise it would not be able to have the dramatic backwards jump evasion it wants here.
- Mai jumps back again from the monster's strike, jumps back a third time from another strike, and finally we pull back through the pillars of the clock tower as the monster charges into it and gets tangled.
There are other staging inconsistencies in shot sequences just before and after this clip. For instance, immediately before the clip begins we had a shot sequence that established that the clock tower was more or less straight to Mai's right, yet in #2 she sprints straight back from the monster rather than having to cut to the side.
The individual actions of this fight are more or less okay and it has a certain amount of dramatic beats. What it does not have is consistent staging. As a result this is not actually a real fight; instead it's a clip show of dramatic moments. The whole fight has not been storyboarded by working out what happened and how it flows; instead the clear priority has been to have a sequence of dramatic shots happen, with some vague attempt to glue them together in a reasonably consistent manner. If two dramatic sequences are inconsistent with each other, either the show doesn't notice or it doesn't care.
In other words, the show prioritizes moment to moment dramatic cuts over a fight that is dramatic when taken as a whole. The result is subtly unsatisfying and weightless, as the inconsistency and the resulting unreality rob the overall scene of some of its impact. You may not consciously think of this as you watch the clip, but it's quite likely that a part of your mind is trying to keep track of stuff like where everyone is and as a result is raising warning flags that something feels off.
(Bad fight staging can happen in live action if you do not plan out your shot to shot continuity, but you at least have a higher chance of noticing it when you have actual people standing in places and moving around. Given how anime seems to be put together, I sometimes marvel that it ever has good fight staging. I assume that there are directors who are amazingly good at keeping track of the overall scene in their heads as they storyboard out each individual angle, sequence, and cut.)