Time for episode 16 of Anime Pocket Reviews, and we have another mid-season special!
There really is some incredible anime in this cycle right now. The last cycle had some big shows (Kabaneri, Kiznaiver) but the impression I’m getting from the anime world is that this cycle is even bigger! A mix of excellent shows, much-anticipated premieres and returning classics means we are currently in a superb summer season.
I’ve been watching a few of these unfold. Some I had been looking forward to prior to this cycle, whereas some are a case of jumping on the hype bandwagon. There’s a great mix of shows here, but few we’ll start with one of the most widely anticipated show of this cycle.
Taboo Tattoo (S1, 2016)
The story follows Seigi (centre), a young kid with a strong sense of justice, having been taught the art of jujitsu by his grandfather from a young age. This moral sense leads to Seigi saving a homeless man from an attack. The strange man, as thanks, imprints a strange tattoo onto his hand. The tattoo is known as a ‘Spell Crest’ and enables the holder, once activated by a certain ingredient, to wield incredible power – such as jumping across buildings and using the elements. Seigi, given a tattoo known as ‘Void Maker’, is drawn into a frantic scramble between the U.S. Army and the Kingdom of Selinistan as they both try to collect the tattoos that have been scattered across the world. He is rescued and protected by Izzy (bottom-left), a U.S. Army lieutenant in charge of collecting all the Tattoos in Japan, and they help each other fight off the Selinistan threat.
As mentioned above, this is probably the most anticipated show of the current cycle, particularly for western audiences who may have been swayed by the more commercial appearance of the show and the actual inclusion of ‘American’ characters. The basic idea seemed good, but the first few episodes were so disappointing. It appeared to me that the idea of the tattoo’s was just a vehicle to create what was quickly becoming a quite cliché piece of anime. I’ve seen quite a lot of anime now, and it feels like I’ve seen all of this before: the kid thrown into a world he doesn’t want to be in, with a superpowered girl teaching him the ropes – a relationship that reminds me a lot of the excellent Fate/SN: UBW. However, the show is slowly now starting to develop into something a little more complex, with different sides and people with different and complex motives now becoming more apparent.
The characters, in truth, are not great. Izzy is a decent character but the lead, Seigi, is okay, at best. Past his skills in jujitsu – which are little more than filler for plot-holes – he seems like just another generic lead character. Past that, there’s really not any other really exciting characters in the series so far. There’s the Princess of the Kingdom – a sexually charged woman whose sexuality is more important than her personality – and a guy who looks like he’s come straight from the Matrix, and that’s about it. The drawing is probably the highlight so far for this show. It has really interesting, contrasting colours that look like they’re taken straight from a comic book, something I’m sure will please a lot of people.
Out of all the shows of the current cycle I’m watching, this was probably the hardest to continue with. At the beginning, it simply appeared generic in almost every area. A late surge from episodes 5&6 looks like pulling this out of a hole, and I think at the end of the day people will see this as a decent anime, but when you’ve seen so many amazing shows, and given the quality of other shows in this cycle, ‘decent’ is not quite good enough.
Orange (S1, 2016)
Romance, Slice-of-life, Fantasy, Tragedy
Orange follows the relatively plain life of Naho Takamiya (front & centre) – a young, shy high-school girl, and her close group of friends. One day, she receives a letter apparently from herself, written ten years in the future. Her future self recalls perfectly her day at school, particularly the arrival of a new transfer student, Kakeru (top & middle), who sits next to her. Her future self explains that she has many regrets ten years into the future, many of them concerning Kakeru, who she explains is ‘no longer with us’. Future Naho continues to send Naho letters, asking her to change certain things that she does (for example, bringing a spare lunch for Kakeru one day). Naho, despite being brought out of her comfort zone by the requests – and being unable to complete some of them – starts to fall for Kakeru, and takes it upon herself to try to save him.
First of all, this has to be one of the most natural shows I’ve ever seen. On the outside it’s just another high-school based show about people falling for each other, but when you watch it you soon realise that this shouldn’t be put in the same category as shows such as Toradora and Nisekoi. Orange finds beauty in the ordinary, and despite having an almost fantasy storyline, it’s actually the most honest of teen/coming-of-age shows I’ve ever seen. This is also a story with tragic undertones throughout, knowing that it’s about a kid who dies in the future, which really helps to magnify the deeply contrasting emotions that are a part of growing up.
A lot of this is down to Naho, who is so far comfortably one of the best female characters I’ve ever seen. Very reminiscent of the videogame Life is Strange’s Max, she is a character who isn’t designed to be cute – like many of her counterparts in the genre – but instead simply becomes cute as a by-product of her honesty and believability. It’s not just easy to get behind and support Naho as she leads the show; it’s unavoidable.
The drawing in this show is also incredible. Like Naho, it has an air of hand-drawn honest about it, and you can sense the effort that went into drawing and animating this piece. It’s a style that perfectly complements the style of the characters and the show overall: beautiful honesty and soft realism are the buzzwords for this show.
Pre-cycle, this was probably the show I was most looking forward to. Still, it’s exceeded any expectations I had for this series. I hate to keep saying the same word, but Orange’s honesty is so delicately executed that it elevates itself to a higher plane than most anime shows – especially of the genre – seemingly without meaning to.
Berserk (S1, 2016)
Action, Dark, Fantasy, Horror
Berserk follows Guts (picture), a wandering ex-mercenary known as the “Black Swordsman” who is famous for wielding an incredibly large iron sword. A few years have passed since the events of a solar eclipse, in which he witnessed the sacrifice of his people – the legendary Band of the Hawk – by their old leader Griffith in a selfish attempt at becoming one of the God Hand. The only people who survived the ‘Eclipse Ritual’ were Griffith, Guts and his lover Casca, who lost her sanity amid the horrors. Guts and Casca, as a result of the ritual, were branded with marks that attract all manner of evil spirits to them as a form of torment. As a result of the betrayal, Guts leaves Casca in safety and sets off to kill Griffith in an act of vengeance. In the story, Gut’s search for Griffith continues, and he is joined – unwillingly at first – by a small elf called Puck. His journey leads him to a heavily religious army called the Holy Chain Iron Knights, whose new leader Farnese struggles to come to terms with the horrors of her job, of her faith which she is supposedly bound to, and of Berserk.
Berserk is the flag-bearer for this cycle thanks to the acclaimed manga source material, and in terms of anticipation I think only Taboo Tattoo could get in touching distance with this. It is also, by a mile and a way, the most divisive show I’ve ever seen, splitting the anime community in terms of the simple question of whether this show is good or not. The source material is very popular, and was actually turned into an anime series back in 1997, and this series is the sequel to three Berserk anime films from 2012-2013. That original series got a very similar review to what I think this version will receive.
First of all, this is certainly the most adult anime I’ve ever seen. After watching episode six just moments before writing this review, I worried to myself that, chances are little kids are going to be allowed to watch this – because it’s a cartoon – and that if this was produced by a western company and broadcast by western TV people would be up in arms about it. The action, which is the spine of the early episodes, is incredibly graphic and gory for anime, and is almost reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s 300 in terms of feel. While it could be referred to as ‘over-the-top’, there wasn’t really any point where I thought it was excessive; as excessive is, in a way, the style of this show.
The plot itself is one of those classic ‘lone operator’ stories, a staple for classic action series and movies throughout the years. It also has a very medieval feel, with knights, swordsmen, witches, burning at the stake, religious motives etc. all giving Berserk this emotion. The story starts like a train on fire in terms of unrelenting action, and it’s not surprising that the series quickly starts to meander as it finds its general pace. If I remember rightly, I remember being quite disappointed with slow episodes 4&5. However, even now it’s found its mark Berserk still keeps that dark, horror theme and is still operating at an exciting enough pace.
They seem to go hand in hand, so it won’t surprise you that there is also a big sexual element to this show, with a lot of sex scenes and generally people being naked. However, Barserk saves itself by drawing all the characters is if they were Ken & Barbie dolls. With no areolas and men without genitalia. Which, in an awkward way, leads us to the most divisive part of the show: the drawing style.
The drawing style used for Berserk is quite unique, not just for anime but even for its genre, if you think about shows such as Attack on Titan. The drawings are rough and grainy, using dull colours almost exclusively and the definition to the characters only achieved through the blatant drawing of thin black lines across the surface. Many negative words have been used to describe the style of Berserk, and I think this is the main factor to the negative responses received. A word often used is ‘cheap’ and I wouldn’t say that’s incorrect – it certainly looks much cheaper than other shows from this cycle. It is a very untidily drawn, rough anime; but that is perfect for this show. The dark, gritty theme of the series and the dark, gritty drawing style complement each other perfectly, and helps to distance Berserk further from the incredible pool of action anime there already is.
I said at the beginning that this series has split the anime community, but the opinions of this show, from what I’ve seen, are not a clean 50/50 split. Instead, the general feeling is that this is not a good series. I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with that idea. This series is a dirty, ugly breath of fresh air for an anime industry that constantly feels on the verge of going stale. The themes of the show are incredibly strong and help the show pack on hell of a punch. This feels like a classic action series, but with a quite brutal twist, and is something that I wouldn’t just recommend to anime fans but all fans of classic action movies and TV. Like I said, the series did get into a bit of a lull, but you get the feeling now that the series is now preparing for a barnstorming finish. If so, this is going to be one hell of a ride that you need to get on!
New Game (S1, 2016)
New Game follows Aoba (centre), a young girl who dreams of designing characters for videogames as a job. The story follows her as she graduates high-school and moves into her first job, as a young character designer at Eagle Jump, the company that created her favourite game as a child. As the only new recruit that year, she is taken under the arms of the current workers, including lead character designer Yagami (front & right) – a tireless worker who designed the characters for the game that inspired Aoba to design characters herself.
As you can imagine this is a very soft and happy show from the same ‘how-to/coming-of-age’ model that was thrown into the front of the anime scene by the surprise success of the excellent Shirobako over 2014-15. Compared to that, a show that received acclaim for its ‘down to earth’ style, New Game is a show that has its head firmly in the clouds. At some times it unintentionally comes across as a bit fantastical because of this, and the whole ‘airy’ vibe of the show will certainly stop this show from being taken seriously by the majority of people – something that I’m unsure whether it wants or not in the first place. A good example of this is the drawing. Anime eyes are famous for their size and general ‘cuteness’, but even for anime New Game’s eyes are excessively cute. All the character’s eyes are like precious crystals, they’re so shiny, and lead character Aoba’s eyes are purple. She’s not the only one with the strange colour, either.
This is a series very much driven by Aoba – a character who, I imagine, will have an incredible amount of appeal towards the young female market this show is surely sold to. She is the face for a show that is selling cute by the bucket-load, with every character of the all-female show easily branded with that tag. However, the fact that this is a show, like Shirobako, is also loaded with industry details about the creation of videogames saves it from becoming excessively soft.
It’s harder to imagine a bigger contrast between shows as we have between New Game and the aforementioned Berserk. I almost feel slightly guilty for making a soft show follow on from that, but that shouldn’t take away from your opinion of what is looking like a solid piece so far. There’s really not much to this; it’s simply a cute, all-female show about making videogames. This won’t necessarily be very memorable, but it’s an honest show that has its charms.
So there we have it. Some have disappointed, but more have completely blown me away*, and yet again it’s the ones you’re not really that interested in at first that impress you the most. With all the in mind, here’s my ranking of these series so far:
4. Taboo Tattoo – A show that, despite pre-cycle hype, appears to be distinctly average. Slowly starting to develop a bit of uniqueness and character, but will need a massive turnaround to save itself from being ‘just another superpower anime’.
3. New Game – A solid show that I’m sure will have large appeal for a certain demographic, but will probably be too cute for a larger one. Still, it’s a decent effort in a genre that I would like to see a lot of. Fail to see where it can go from here, though, in the next few episodes.
There’s a big gap between the two above and the two below…
2. Orange – A show that is just as dramatic and as exciting as any flashing lights show. Its unique sense of beautiful, unforced tragedy means this should, if it continues as it’s started, be one of my favourite high-school-based anime shows of all time.
1. Berserk – An utterly unique, no-holds-barred piece of action that I could have said a lot more about than I have. If it ends with as quick a tempo as it started with, this will be one hell of a series.
*I know that it appears that two have excited me and two haven’t, but if we include the other shows that I’m watching right now that are not included here because they are continuations – such as Food Wars S2 and Re:Zero – then you understand why I make that statement.
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 17 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring…
Hmm. As I write this conclusion, looking ahead at what anime I’m looking forward to watching, i realise that I’m not watching anything that isn’t being aired right now. At least, not passionately. Right now, I can’t really say what will be in the next Anime Pocket Reviews with 100% certainty, which i guess is exciting in itself! If I was to guess, I would expect the next APR to feature Rokka -Braves of the Six Flowers-, which was another series that people were excited for when it was airing in 2015.