Brief 'early' impressions of the Summer 2016 anime season so far
This time around, my early impressions have been delayed not just because I'm slow to write these up but also because I really don't know how I feel about a bunch of the shows in this season and I wanted to watch more episodes to try to figure it out. My first episode takes were reasonably optimistic, but then my gut started sending out various warning signs and I've wound up in a surprisingly grumpy mood with currently airing shows, the kind of mood where I start aggressively trimming the fat.
- Thunderbolt Fantasy: It's wuxia with puppets, and grand over the top
wuxia at that. I like wuxia, and I'm willing to live with the puppets
in order to get it. The show is absolutely committed to its various
things and this alone is glorious to see. Hopefully I won't get fed
up with the puppets.
(I expect that many people will hate this show for any one of its various sins; puppets, absurd grandiosity, etc.)
- Fate Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 3rei!!: This is my surprise show of
the season. After my last experience I
didn't have high hopes, but so far the show has been making things
happen and delivering various fights. This is much more like the
relatively action-filled first season than anything since.
- Qualidea Code: This is definitely a 'light novel' style show but it's delivering a bunch of enjoyable things, including repeatedly dunking on the lead character instead of puffing him up as secretly the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Almost not for me but okay for now:
- Battery: So far this is good character drama (although not flawless). I'm just not sure if I'm all that interested in the story it's telling. In some ways the lead characters feel like they're in no way only 12 years old; in other ways they feel very much like they're 12, by which I mean that they can be little shitheads. I find myself hoping that they'll start actually playing baseball soon, because that's probably going to be the most interesting part for me.
I'm still watching:
- Alderamin on the Sky: It's a popcorn watch, but I suspect that the
charm is going to wear off. There are probably only so many times I
can watch the protagonist be clever and right before I get bored.
(A show like this is not the place to look for compelling characters, interesting plots, or even genuinely clever solutions to tactical problems.)
Teetering on the edge:
- Taboo Tattoo: I thought I quite liked this, but the latest
episode headed in the wrong direction and even
before then it was merely entertaining, not compelling. My gut is
saying that I probably won't miss this if I drop it.
- Regalia - The Three Sacred Stars: The first episode was great, the next two episodes were merely okay (and a clear letdown), and now apparently new episodes have been suspended for two months. I'm not feeling too much of an urge to watch the last pre-suspension episode right now, or to continue watching it in general once it resumes new episodes (cf).
Probably dropped already:
- Scared Rider XechS: The first couple of episodes were interesting, but the third episode headed in a predictable and uninteresting direction. My gut currently says 'dropped', even if I might be bored enough to watch a bit more.
- Tales of Zestiria the X: I ranted about this on Twitter, but the third aired episode saw me disengage with the show in a big way. I just wasn't interested in slogging through a chunk of boring stuff that I'd effectively already seen in order to get to some okay action. In other seasons I might have continued, but not in this one.
- DAYS: This is an ordinary and at least somewhat absurd and over the top instance of its genre, and its genre doesn't work for me most of the time.
Not for me:
- Mob Psycho 100: It's very pretty and stylish, but I realized that I
don't really care about the premise or the characters, the humour
doesn't work for me, and the first episode didn't really do anything
to change that. Other people love it, though, and it's well made.
(Part of my disinterest is that I've heard that a lot of it is basically about Mob going through ordinary life issues and experiences.)
- 91 Days: I was quite enthusiastic about the first episode, but then
I realized that I wasn't actually interested in watching a show about
some mobsters killing each other. If this genre is your thing the
show seemed competent but not exceptional, although it didn't make
the characters particularly stand out from their archetypes.
(I thought this show would be my thing sort of based on my love of Baccano, but Baccano is a very different thing and its characters are about ten times more interesting than the sane, ordinary lot in 91 Days.)
- Planetarian: It's a tragedy. I'm sure it's a very good tragedy, but no.
- Orange: I think I'm basically done with straight high school
dramas, especially when they involve romance. I'm sure Orange
is good and moving and all of that (and apparently kind of tragic),
but I have a vast indifference in practice.
(So what about Sound! Euphonium, you ask? Well, apparently there are special cases everywhere. See also Toradora.)
- Sweetness and Lightning: It's an ordinary life setting and thus in a genre area that almost never works for me. Maybe its quality and charm would overwhelm that, but I don't feel like finding out this season.
I feel irrationally guilty about not giving either of these shows a chance, since lots of people say they're very good, but this season I'm in a grumpy mood with almost everything and I'm just not interested. Apparently this season I mostly want to watch a few popcorn shows and be done with it; high drama can take the season off. I have other things to do.
In ongoing shows, Kuromukuro fansubs have disappeared and I find that I don't miss the show all that much, and I'm significantly behind on Macross Delta with little interest in fixing that so I think I've de facto dropped or abandoned it. This dovetails with my general mood this season. However, I'm still watching and quite enjoying Twin Star Exorcists; it's not high art, but it remains quite competent and has carried forward all of its attractive qualities (especially the character interactions).
Four shows I'm genuinely enjoying is not very many for a season, but whatever. Maybe I'll get up the energy to give Macross Delta another chance.
(Am I burned out on anime right now? I don't think so, but I'm certainly out of patience.)
My (Twitter) reactions to the first episodes of the Summer 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).
- DAYS episode 1: That was a reasonably fun and appealing instance of
its genre, although its genre is not particularly my thing.
- Tales of Zestiria the X episode 0: This was pretty decent by itself but
the end sequence suggests that this was all background.
- Taboo Tattoo episode 1: The writing is embarrassingly clumsy but the
show might be an okay popcorn watch for action and some bits were nice.
- D.Gray-man Hallow episode 1: I have no opinion here because this
can't really be followed without way more D.Gray-man context than
- Scared Rider Xechs episode 1: That was surprisingly competent and
engaging. It moved quite fast and mostly skipped (bad) exposition dumps.
- Regalia - The Three Sacred Stars ep 1: I like shows that drop you in
the middle of stuff, so I liked this. Also that action & that ending.
- Planetarian episode 1: That was well made and a solid story, but it
basically has to be a tragedy and tragedies are not really my thing.
- Alderamin on the Sky episode 1: That was a pretty decent start. Not
splashy or great, but competent and in a genre I often enjoy watching.
- Qualidea Code episode 1: That was a fun and decently done instance
of its genre. I may be reading a few things into the prequel bit, tho.
- 91 Days episode 1: Oh, I like this. We've got characters and a
situation and some suspense and intrigue, and people in over their heads.
- Thunderbolt Fantasy episode 1: This is 100% committed to its
aesthetic and that is awesome. I'm happy to watch fantasy Chinese
- Mob Psycho 100 episode 1: This is a very well made show that
basically doesn't work for me. Part of it is that Reigen is
- Prisma Illya 3rei!! episode 1: It turns out that PI is significantly
improved by simply having a plot going on. Who would have guessed?
- Battery episode 1: I have to call this 'delicately drawn'; it's pretty quiet and reasonably understated. The two leads interact well. →
(A → means there's further discussion on Twitter, a ♯ means that's it.)
I've not looked at Orange or Sweetness and Lightning, both of which are getting praise for high quality, because both seem to be in genres that almost never work for me and there have been enough other first episodes that I've wound up feeling overwhelmed by them all. I may change my mind about this later (and update this entry accordingly).
Looking back at the Spring 2016 anime season
Once again it's time for my usual look back at what I watched this past season to see how my early impressions and my midway views held up. As always, I write these partly because they keep me honest and partly because it's interesting to go back later and see how I was feeling about a show at the time.
- Flying Witch: This wasn't grand and ambitious the way some other
shows were and it's not flawless, but Flying Witch totally and
absolutely nailed its execution. As a result it was the most
consistently good and enjoyable show of the season; it didn't
necessarily aim really high, but it always delivered joy and wound
up being a great show. One of the many good things about FW is that
it generally knew to not oversell moments; often it let them be quiet
and short, whether that was for humour or for impact. I really
liked the ending.
(We could at this point have an interesting discussion about whether consistently delivering joy and sense of wonder is actually grand and ambitious in and of itself. But for this entry, I'll go with the common view that addressing big moral questions and so on are what's ambitious.)
- Concrete Revolutio: On the one hand, I feel that CR is amazing
and really delivered a powerful show overall, and this season had a
number of amazing and affecting episodes. On the other hand, it's far
from flawless in various ways, including basically reducing various
nominally important characters to standing around as spear carriers. I accept
that in in retrospect a number of the weaker episodes were laying
necessary thematic groundwork for the climax, but they're still weaker
episodes. As a result, my tentative view is that Concrete Revolutio
as a whole is a flawed (near) masterwork.
- Kiznaiver: I really liked this overall. The weakness of the show wound up being the sci-fi plot and the character of Sonozaki herself. The great strength of the show was everyone else and their interactions, which really worked very well. I think the show's ending mostly worked on an emotional level, although I was relatively indifferent to the plot details.
- Twin Star Exorcists: This is another show where the real strength
is the character interactions, not the plot and the action. Our two
protagonists feel real in their interactions and the show's doing a
good job of having them grow slowly closer in a natural way. On the
flipside, it suffers from being a long shonen action show (it's
planned for 50 episodes, apparently); we're clearly not getting
anywhere fast, even if TSE keeps throwing new escalations at us.
- My Hero Academia: I griped throughout the show's run about its
slow pace, but recently I found myself thinking 'damn, I wish there
was a new MHA episode to watch this weekend'. If I miss a show,
it did something noteworthy and worth recognition.
- Gakusen Toshi Asterisk: Watching Asterisk made me realize
that this sort of show lives and thrives in significant part in the
variety of the fights. Unfortunately Asterisk's tournament arc
gave us a whole series of fights that were too much the same despite
being individually interesting. The departure from that at the end
was a breath of fresh air, even if I find Flora's squeaky voice
I'd be happy to watch another season of Asterisk if it isn't another tournament arc, but I won't be particularly troubled if we don't get any more (cf).
Special merit 'I want to like it' award:
- Space Patrol Luluco: Several women I follow on Twitter say that
this really speaks to their adolescent experiences in a way
that very few other shows do. I'm not sure that this was
fully intentional on the part of the creators, but so what.
My personal view is that I could clearly see this in early
episodes but then the show was mostly eaten by its fanservice
crossovers with other shows. The ending wound up being okay
but didn't particularly move me.
(See also Bobduh's review.)
Okay, or maybe on the edge:
- Macross Delta: I've realized that this show's basically fallen in
my view to being a decent, ordinary show. It's okay. I've enjoyed
watching it, there are nice character moments, sometimes the action
is great, sometimes it lands a solid emotional connection, but in
the end I'm just not feeling any real passion for it any more the
way I did in the beginning.
- Kuromukuro: I like the character moments and broadly like the
action, but the show is moving too slowly to really hold my
attention. That people in the show quite often don idiot hats doesn't
help, and the show playing coy with its many mysteries isn't working.
(I'm now several episodes behind and I'm finding that I don't really miss the show; if I never see any more, that's okay. This is probably not a good sign.)
I finished it:
- Haifuri: I dropped this for wasting my time then un-dropped it to watch the last two episodes, because I heard they were the action episodes. Which they were, for low expectations of 'action'. So I can honestly count this as a show that I finished. I wouldn't recommend that anyone else bother, though.
The top three shows this season were each very good in their own different ways, and then I had about two and a half enjoyable popcorn watch shows. That makes this a pretty good season by my standard (probably better than last season now that I cross-compare things).
An opinion on translating terms from Japanese to English
My hot take as a consumer of translation: it's possible for a translated term to be accurate & faithful and also be a bad translation.
It can even be a bad translation if the word of god from the creator is 'this is what it's supposed to be in English'.
A great exhibit for 'the word of the creator is sometimes wrong' is the official title romanization of Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky.
I believe that Miyazaki himself is on record as wishing that he'd known more at the time and officially romanized ラピュタ as 'Raputa'.
Miyazaki famously named the city in the sky (and the film) after the flying island from Jonathan Swift's book, and because he did so he was very clear that the proper romanization was of course 'Laputa', which is what Swift was using. What Miyazaki didn't know at the time he made the romanization choice is what Swift was probably alluding to with the island's name and what it means in Spanish.
I'm reasonably convinced that 'sleigh beggy' from The Ancient Magus' Bride is another unfortunate translation choice, tho it's not clear.
I say it's not clear because I haven't found an authoritative reference for what the original Japanese version of the phrase/term is. There's a formal title that translates more or less to 'Beloved Child of the Night' (cf), but I don't know if there's a short informal term used for it in the original manga.
(I suspect there is but I don't know for sure.)
When you need to immediately redefine what your translated term means, something has gone wrong. Cf <link>
A 'sleigh beggy' is a relatively obscure type of fairy from English folklore (specifically from the Isle of Man). However, this is not what the term means in the context of The Ancient Magus' Bride, where it instead means a special type of human. That Seven Seas had to immediately redefine the existing term this way is, to me, not a good sign.
(Yes, sure, 'sleigh beggy' is likely obscure except to people deep in English folklore. The problem with the Internet is that explanations of puzzling, obscure things are only an search away, ready to mislead you in this particular context.)
I could also rant about 'Maho Shojo Madoka Magica' officially turning into 'Puella Magi Madoka Magica', but that's a tired subject by now.
The short version of the rant is that the connotations of 'Maho Shojo' to a Japanese audience are completely different than the connotations of 'Puella Magi' to an English audience. One is a common, well known, specific genre reference, the other is a Latin phrase used by nothing else. And the genre reference is very important to the show in context, since Madoka is built on and is riffing on magical girls shows.
Yes, 'Puella Magi' is the official translation by SHAFT (as far as I know). That doesn't magically make it a good one.
A thought on Concrete Revolutio and its exploration of heroism (and My Hero Academia's too)
I rambled a bit about this on Twitter, but I want to put this down in a more durable (and slightly longer form). So:
@thatcks: An obvious thesis: I think it matters for Concrete Revolutio that the usual Japanese phrase for 'hero' is apparently 'ally of justice'.
This is 'hero' in the sense of (super)hero, which is what the characters in Concrete Revolutio are. I don't know enough to know if Japanese has a single word that directly maps to this (English) concept, but according to this blog entry on ConRevo translations the Japanese phrase the show uses for this concept is seigi no mikata, which literally means 'ally of justice'.
Continuing from Twitter:
This puts a stronger spin on Concrete Revolutio's constant interrogation of what justice is (and what it means to be its ally).
Characters like Jiro care so much about justice because, well, when they think of themselves as heroes they're literally allies of justice.
If Jiro (or anyone) cannot see what justice is or where it lies, they cannot be the heroes that they want to be and imagine themselves as.
Let me rephrase that to be clearer. When ConRevo's characters think and worry about this, they're of course thinking in their native language, using their native terminology. So when Jiro thinks about being a hero, he literally thinking about being an 'ally of justice', since that's the term and phrase he uses for it. Naturally what you think of yourself as influences what you think about and what your concerns are, so the very term the characters use in ConRevo makes them worry about what justice is (and what it means to be an ally of it). A hero must be 'heroic', whatever that is, but in Western (super)hero works this need not have much to do with justice; however, an 'ally of justice' must be doing things that are on the side of justice, wherever that is. And if you wind up not being on the side of justice, your self-image can fall apart; after all, how can you call yourself an ally of justice any more?
This gives various characters in CR quite strong reasons to cling grimly to their own visions of what justice is, even when it disagrees with other people or leads them to absurd results. I imagine that it also drives characters to want simple, clear definitions that they can follow, instead of messy complicated ones that are very situational and unclear. If you can't see where justice is, how can you know what to do in order to be an ally of justice? Maybe if you act, you're actually working against justice and so being a villain.
This brings me to My Hero Academia and another set of tweets:
A thought: both Concrete Revolutio and My Hero Academia are kind of asking the same question but with totally different viewpoints on it.
And I think that the difference between ConRevo and MHA comes down to the term they use for what it is they're asking about.
In that both ConRevo and MHA are asking 'what is it that makes you a hero/how do you be a hero', but MHA uses 'hero' & CR 'ally of justice'.
So Concrete Revolutio interrogates what justice is, while My Hero Academia asks what is at the core of heroism (vs power & capability).
As far as I can remember from watching it, Boku no Hero Academia consistently used the English 'hero' for what its characters are, not the Japanese 'seigi no mikata' (it even put 'hero' in its Japanese title). One of the clear themes in MHA is that Midoriya (and true heroes in general) are defined by their willingness to act even without the surety of power and conversely that power alone doesn't make you a hero (Bakugo is the poster child of this (also)). Midoriya is not a hero because he has power, he's a hero because he selflessly throws himself into situations to help others who need it (starting with his climactic moment in episode 2).
So, as I see it, both Concrete Revolutio and My Hero Academia have as a theme the question of 'what does it mean to be a hero', except that because they use different terms for it they wind up exploring the question from quite different directions. MHA uses the English 'hero' and winds up approaching it in a way that's very natural to Western audiences. Concrete Revolutio uses the Japanese 'ally of justice' and so winds up exploring the question of what justice is; is it adherence to a law, or to morality, or to the humanity of those you're helping, or what?