Chihayafuru Part 3

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

Unfortunately, my sister and I never got the chance to watch Chihayafuru Part II, but since we have seen the anime in full, it wasn’t difficult at all for us to jump right in to this film. On the other hand, we attended the screening with a friend who was completely uninitiated in the franchise; he was still able to enjoy the individual parts and follow the gist of the overall story, but I would strongly recommend watching Parts I & II first if you aren’t familiar with the manga or anime.

As with the first installment of the live-action trilogy, there was some over-acting in the earlier, quieter parts of the film, but once they got going with the karuta drama, the characters seemed a lot more natural.

The soundtrack, once again by composer Yokoyama Masaru (Your lie in April), was really good! My favourite was the piece with the cello and strings after the team first tied up their sleeves; it was so affecting!

Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern (Part One)

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Benio is a teenaged girl living in 1920s Japan. Contrary to the expectations of her family and school, she is more interested, and has more skill, in kendo than in housekeeping. She is also very much against the idea of arranged marriages, which turns out to be a problem when her father reveals that she has long been betrothed to young army lieutenant, and understandably, there was never a good time for him to tell her!

The film starts out moderately paced, with good time for development of the characters and the setting. Benio and her fiancé Shinobu both prove to be likeable people. I also appreciate that Shinobu’s grandfather’s discomfort at the whole marriage arrangement gets addressed on multiple levels.

However, a few scenes in the second half feel strangely truncated, including the part where Shinobu fights to earn the respect of his charges in the army, the parting of Benio and Ranmaru, and Benio’s seemingly ill-informed response to the riot during her first assignment as a journalist.

I have to stress that this movie is only the first half of the Haikara-San story, and so, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Other than that though, it is a funny, enjoyable, and well-animated adaptation of a classic shoujo manga.

The Scythian Lamb

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

As part of a project to bolster the population of a small seaside town, six ex-convicts are secretly paroled into the community. Their link is a young city employee, Tsukisue Hajime (Nishikido Ryo), who is responsible for helping them to settle in. Tsukisue himself, at least initially, is in the dark about the circumstances of the new residents. But things start to get a bit unsettling as he learns the truth and as he and his friends and family become personally involved with some of the parolees.

In turns humorous, suspenseful, and chilling, The Scythian Lamb is a thought-provoking tale that challenges the expectations of its viewers.

On the one hand, criminals who have paid their debt to society definitely deserve a chance to live a normal life once again; but on the other, if even just one relapses, it can have devastating consequences. The film provides a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of each of the ex-cons, while grounding the story in the perspective of Tsukisue.

INITIAL D Legend film trilogy

INITIAL D Legend 1: AWAKENING (Released 2014)

INITIAL D Legend 2: RACER (Released 2015)

INITIAL D Legend 3: DREAM (Released 2016)

3 stars (out of 4)

A reboot of the classic car racing anime series, the INITIAL D Legend movies play out pretty much as expected plot-wise. Main character gets challenged by various tough opponents, which he reluctantly takes on, all the while developing an appreciation for the sport.

I never saw the original series, but I’m sure the updated animation added to the excitement here, including impressive camera work that would zoom in on the driving inside the cars, and then seamlessly transition out as the vehicles maneuvered down the mountain course. I also had no complaints about the voice cast, which included Miyano Mamoru, Ono Daisuke, Nakamura Yuuichi, and Suwabe Junichi in major roles.

Mogi, the girlfriend, existed only as a plot device and to provide fan service in the first 2 films. Fortunately, she was redeemed a little bit in Legend 3, as she was given more lines and seemed like more of a friend and confidante for Takumi.

That relationship didn’t work as well for me as the one between the Takahashi brothers, though. It was realistic how they both shared a passion for racing; and I loved seeing their easy rapport and mutual respect for each other.

I was not quite convinced that Takumi’s dad would have told him nothing about cars and racing while he was growing up, considering the dad’s past and the racing culture of his hometown. A valid reason would’ve been that he didn’t want his son to get involved in racing – that I would understand; but that didn’t seem to be the case. Regardless, it did make for good comedy that the fastest guy on Mt. Akina had no interest in racing and didn’t know jack about cars!

Mid-Winter 2018 Anime Ranking

I haven’t started with one of these in some years, but there are actually a few decent theme songs currently, so let’s kick things off with my choices for best OP/ED songs this season:

1. The Perfect World, by Marty Friedman feat. Jean-Ken Johnny & KenKen (B: The Beginning ED)
2. KISS OF DEATH, by Nakashima Mika (Produced by HYDE) (DARLING in the FRANXX OP)
3. Treasure, by Narek (cv: Ishikawa Kaito) & Vino (cv: Umehara Yuuichirou) (Dame x Prince ANIME CARAVAN ED3)
4. Heavenly Visitor, by TRIGGER (IDOLiSH7 ED)
5. Ref:rain, by Aimer (After the Rain ED)

It’s the season of Sanrio and ramen. Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty and My Melody, not only has their own anime airing right now, they also have product placement and tie-ins with the other 2 “cute” shows on my list, How to keep a mummy and SCHOOL BABYSITTERS! Meanwhile, ramen is featured in the titles and content of 2 (very different) shows.

To tell the truth, I’ve been procrastinating about making this ranking. The reason is that there are so many really good series this winter that it’s kind of a pain deciding which show is better than which! Anyway, I’ll do my best.


01. DARLING in the FRANXX (ep. 1-9) – Depending on how I feel about each episode week by week, any of the shows in my top 5 could easily be my favourite of the season. Ultimately I’m going with DARLING in the FRANXX because I’m most invested in the characters of this show. The ways they relate to one another are compelling and I’m curious to know more about their world, even if I’m not expecting to be blown away by originality.

The early episodes of this mecha anime presented the cockpit scenes as one elaborate, extended sex joke. I think it turned some people off. I, however, thought it was really funny! Well, I also liked Aquarion EVOL and STAR DRIVER, so apparently I’m not one to be easily offended by this type of material. (On the other hand, I do find a tad offensive the way we always see Futoshi eating something. You can always count on good ol’ anime to fat-shame the chubby kid whenever there’s an opportunity to do so.)

Since then, the focus has turned more toward developing each of the characters, and I’m enjoying that aspect too, since I really do care about these kids… Well, except for Mitsuru; I have a feeling even he might become sympathetic eventually, but for now I just feel really sorry for Ikuno, who has to partner with him.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. SCHOOL BABYSITTERS (Gakuen Babysitters) (ep. 1-10) – I love my sisters more than anything in the world, so I’m a super easy target for heartwarming stories like this that emphasize the bonds between siblings. Additionally, there is a big age gap between myself and my youngest sibling, just like Ryuuichi and Kotarou, so this brings back memories of when my baby sister was, well, actually a baby.

Ryuuichi and Kotarou are on their own in this world after suffering the loss of their parents. Naturally, they are very attached to each other. They get taken in by the Chairwoman of a private school, and Ryuuichi uses his experience in raising his brother to help out at the school’s daycare.

The anime is not as sombre as I’m making it sound. Most of the time, it’s lighthearted and sweet and funny. I laugh a lot while watching; and then afterward, I’m left thinking about the characters’ personalities and how different the various sibling relationships are.

Personally, I would never leave my child at a daycare staffed by guys, especially not if the adult in charge were someone like Usaida – he is disturbingly irresponsible! I think I enjoyed it too much when Kamitani whacked him on the head that time. Then again, I always enjoy it when Kamitani whacks people. Is that bad? – I absolutely do not condone hitting people (especially children) in real life!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


03. HAKATA TONKOTSU RAMENS (ep. 1-9) – This show depicts Hakata as a city teeming with killers-for-hire. It has a huge ensemble cast, and it’s really hard to keep track of who’s who and who is whose associate, but I can follow it enough to enjoy it a lot. All the double-crossing and personality quirks are a blast to watch, although I’m also glad we are finally getting some background on Lin.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

04. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2 (Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan 2) (ep. 1-9) – More Saiki K. goodness. It’s great to have Saiki and his friends and family back; their personalities and the situations they get themselves into are always hilarious. If you liked the first season, you will also enjoy this.

The current OP, “Psilent Prisoner,” by Psychic Lover featuring lead vocals by Kaidou (cv: Shimazaki Nobunaga), is very chuunibyou and kind of amazing. I wonder if I should have included it in my song list up top?


05. How to keep a mummy (Miira no Kaikata) (ep. 1-9) – So freakin’ cute. That’s pretty much all you need to know. This show, about a boy and his mini mummy, and his friends and their fantastical pets, takes the cuteness of something like SCHOOL BABYSITTERS and dials it to eleven. There’s no deep meaning, no complicated plot to follow; just sit back, relax, and let the warmth wash over you.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. B: The Beginning (ep. 1-6) – A mature investigative crime drama along the lines of PSYCHO-PASS and Terror in Resonance. Uploaded by NETFLIX in its entirety early in March, we haven’t had time to marathon it, but we did check out the first 6 episodes over 2 sittings and I’m intrigued by what we’ve seen.

In some ways, Lily, the female protagonist, kind of sticks out like a sore thumb. She has a more cartoony appearance than the other cast members and it’s obvious she’s there largely for comic relief. But I like her. B: The Beginning is dark, violent, and frequently disturbing. When Lily shows up though, it lightens the mood and makes things feel less horrifying.
(streaming on NETFLIX in its entirety)

07. Yowamushi Pedal: GLORY LINE (ep. 1-10) – We’re in the middle of the Inter-High and GLORY LINE (YowaPeda season 4) is once again as exciting and funny as the first 2 seasons. It’s nice to see the Sohoku boys back in the spotlight. Their team banter is always fun too, especially Naruko and Imaizumi. Now all we need is for Onoda to strut his stuff!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Dame x Prince ANIME CARAVAN (ep. 1-10) – This show is pretty dumb, but damn if it isn’t really funny too! It basically functions as a parody of reverse harem stories. The guys of DamePri are handsome to look at, I guess, but every one of them is a certifiable weirdo. Part of the joke is that our lead, Princess Ani, wouldn’t be caught dead dating any of them. Her reactions to the shenanigans are hilarious.

All along, there were hints that something shady was going on behind the scenes, but the anime has been fluffy and comedic for the vast majority of its run. Until now, that is; the tone suddenly shifted in ep. 10, and it seems like things will be a little more serious in the final stretch.

Funniest character: Prince Narek. He’s so ridiculously, obliviously full of himself that sometimes he only needs to show up and I already feel like giggling. Least-funny: Gurimaru. Mascot characters just don’t work for me.
(streaming at HIDIVE)


09. After the Rain (Koi wa ameagari no You ni) (ep. 1-10) – After the Rain is about a teenaged girl with a crush on her 40-something boss. As such, it tiptoes on some potentially problematic material. To its credit, the anime is sensitive and believable and not really weird at all, in no small part because Kondo, the boss, is a decent guy who doesn’t take Akira’s advances too seriously.

10. GARO -VANISHING LINE- (ep. 13-21) – Even though Sword and Sophie are the real main characters, it’s the episodes focused Luke that I’ve enjoyed the most. Also, ep. 16, a mostly stand-alone story about a chance acquaintance, proved to be a highlight. It was written well enough to make me care about this random guy. And it was refreshing to see that not everything has to be because of Horrors.

As previously stated, the action is great; and in particular, I am satisfied with the musical accompaniment during those scenes. A show like this is just crying to have some metal in its soundtrack; GARO gets it.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


11. VIOLET EVERGARDEN (ep. 1-10) – The animation looks absolutely stunning in this much-hyped KyoAni production. VIOLET EVERGARDEN tells the story of a former-soldier doll who starts a new life after the war as a letter-writer, while coming to terms with her past.

Disappointingly, the quality of the visuals far out-classed the rather unsophisticated narrative in the early stages. But then the anime apparently started following the source material more closely around the fifth episode and it was a huge improvement. My enthusiasm for the show increased dramatically.

Basically, VIOLET EVERGARDEN has taken the opposite trajectory of SANRIO BOYS (see below) in my rankings.
(streaming on NETFLIX weekly)

12. Record of Grancrest War (Grancrest Senki) (ep. 1-10) – This reminds me a bit of Lord Marksman and Vanadis (2014). Both have a political/fantasy setting, extremely fast pacing, and strong female warriors. Grancrest Senki is the less fanservicey and more respectable of the two.

The pace really is fast. There’s a war going on and there can be five or ten different things happening at the same time, with very little explanation. It is possible to enjoy it just from following the gist of it, though.

The series can also be terribly violent at times, but I feel the violence tends to be presented in ways that are more artistic than gratuitous. I also like that even doomed extras sometimes get decently animated fights before getting killed off. However, it’s kind of a shame that frequently, named characters with interesting personalities or backgrounds also just get killed off soon after their introduction.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. IDOLiSH7 (ep. 3-12) – The male idol anime of this season is fairly competent, though I don’t feel it particularly stands out among other shows of its genre. It’s realistic that IDOLiSH7 does not become successful immediately, and that in fact a couple of the members rise in popularity ahead of the others.

I kind of wish there was more focus on the rival group, TRIGGER. Two of the 3 guys have somewhat abrasive and rebellious personalities. They clearly have their own agendas, and I am genuinely interested in learning what their motives are. Plus, TRIGGER’s music is better; which isn’t actually difficult since the IDOLiSH7 songs are all terrible.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


14. Ms Koizumi loves ramen noodles (Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san) (ep. 1-10) – While this is a cute and pleasant show, it really has no plot. Gluttony is the name of the game for ramen-addicted Koizumi and her friends. We usually make sure to get some ramen in us before watching, or at least have food in hand, because man, all that ramen on display looks sinfully good. It’s definitely given us ideas on where we want to eat when we next go to Japan!

It can be argued that both this and last season’s Love Rice are pro-carb propaganda vehicles, and I’m not sure I can really support that message. While I do happen to be staunchly pro-carbs myself, it’s more of a personal preference and not because I have any delusions that this kind of diet is balanced or healthy. Having ramen every day, several times a day may sound heavenly, but it can’t possibly be good for you!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 40-47) – The Byakuya Gang arc was actually not bad, in that it was fairly enjoyable to watch. I didn’t see the grey in the criminals’ ideology, though. They were trying to gain public favour by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, but I think Boruto summed it up pretty nicely right from the start, that “stealing is stealing!”
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. Osomatsu-san 2 (Mr. Osomatsu 2) (ep. 14-23) – A clear improvement over the first cour, even if it still isn’t quite measuring up to the creative genius of season one.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


17. SANRIO BOYS (ep. 1-9) – SANRIO BOYS had a very promising start. The message of the first few episodes, that it’s okay to be yourself, even if you like Sanrio mascots and you’re a boy, was relevant and easily applicable to anyone who might feel they don’t fit in with the crowd for any reason.

Then, the show veered off into worshipping-Hello-Kitty-as-a-deity territory and they lost me. In ep. 7, the boys had a transcendent experience visiting the Sanrio Puroland theme park. I didn’t get it at all. I’m grateful I got to see it in this anime, though; now I know I don’t ever need to go there myself!

Now the new friends are putting all their resources into making a musical, even though it’s obvious none of them has any expertise in that sort of thing. It’s just not believable. All in all, SANRIO BOYS could have been so much better if it had continued to play out as a parable for the challenges of learning to accept yourself and to accept others who are different from you. What a missed opportunity.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

The Shape of Water

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

The Shape of Water is one part unconventional love story and one part Cold War-era spy thriller. After months of talking about it, we finally got out to see this film 2 days before it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I can’t say I was entirely sold on the romance between the mute cleaning lady and the mystical sea creature, personally. I think it takes more than true love to build a meaningful relationship. Although, pure love that requires no words is certainly a beautiful thing; it’s hard to argue with that.

The rest of the drama was more complex than I expected, which is good. Essentially, three sides had their own designs on the creature, which was being held captive in a top-secret facility in Baltimore: the Americans, who were willing to destroy it to learn from it; the Soviets, who would do anything to thwart the Americans; and Elisa, the lady who wished to save him. Beyond that, several individual players had their own beliefs and agendas as well, which made for a satisfyingly suspenseful story.

Our favourite character was Elisa’s friend and co-worker Zelda, who was really great at telling it like it is. Case in point: the washroom scene.

My only real complaint is that the nudity on display was completely unnecessary. Right off the bat, Elisa bared her all to the audience. I was waiting for it to become relevant somehow later on, but it never happened.

Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Anime

Year-end best-of lists are highly subjective things. Let me just state that upfront as I suspect my list is going to look nothing like pretty much anyone else’s top 10 for 2017!

As usual, titles that finished airing (or finished airing for the foreseeable future) in 2017 were eligible for consideration. Click on the links below to view the previous seasonal write-ups for each show.

☆ TOP 10 ANIME:

#1. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (12 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

This is pretty surprising even to me. Yes this is reality; my chosen anime of the year is a short. And not just any short, but a full-on CGI one! Previously, I never would have imagined that a short format series could be a contender for my yearly top 10. Then I saw Ikemen Sengoku, which made impeccably good use of its limited runtime. It was the most entertaining Sengoku-period time slip story I have ever seen. It was also the best anime featuring Oda Nobunaga that I’ve seen, and there have been many.

The computer graphics were not especially high tech, but they were creatively used and all the tiny details in the warlords’ clothing, movements, and expressions were a delight to behold.

The show conveyed the guys’ personalities very succinctly and efficiently. The voice actors did an amazing job too. No matter the ridiculousness of the body proportions or absurdity of the situations, the seiyuu played it completely straight all the time.

My sister and I were both captivated by Ikemen Sengoku. We watched and rewatched and watched again. We laughed at the cuteness and the gags; we bonded over our shared experiences, including catching the latest episode at the airport once right before a Wednesday flight in August; and we argued over which end card was the most lewd. (For the record, I said Masamune’s, based on the English text; she asserted that Shingen’s was worst, based on the spoken Japanese.)

The craziness didn’t even stop there. The whole intent of this type of anime is to sell the related game and goods – and I was completely sold on the franchise. My sister and I collectively spent over a hundred dollars on IkeSen café drinks while we were in Tokyo. We each also downloaded the mobile game (something I’ve never been inclined to do before, in spite of all the game-adaptation anime I’ve seen over the years) and enjoyed it so much that we started throwing money at it. I have no regrets.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#2. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (24 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017 to Summer 2017

Rage of Bahamut 2 dominated my rankings for almost half the year. So how did it end up ceding the top spot to IkeSen? The answer is that endings are important to me, and I felt that BahaSOUL sadly dropped the ball in its final stretch. Specifically, it was the meaningless deaths of 2 prominent and well-loved characters that troubled me the most. Well that, and the implication that everyone’s efforts and sacrifices were maybe all for nothing in the end.

Because it was so wildly enjoyable otherwise, though, it still manages to hang on to the number 2 spot against ACCA.

#3. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept (13-ku Kansatsu-ka) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

ACCA was ultimately more satisfying than BahaSOUL, but it was also more of a slow burn. Underlying the mundane absurdity of this political mystery anime, there was actually a lot of heart. ACCA ended up as my favourite series of the winter season, and also the show on this list that I would most recommend to a general audience, even those who may not share my eccentric taste in anime.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#4. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Netojuu no Susume) (10 episodes + OVA)

Aired Autumn 2017

This was already finished airing when I wrote about it recently. The additional OVA episode presented a couple of comedic side stories. They were sweet and fun, even if they didn’t add much to the main story.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#5. STARMYU High School Star Musical Season 2 (12 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017

STARMYU 2 was an excellent follow-up to the first season. It was funny and entertaining, and it delivered on expectations and then some.

The weakest part was the ending. It is admirable to take heroic measures because “the show must go on,” but I believe there should be a limit to that, especially when physical injury (and the potential for long-term complications) is involved. (This actually applies to DREAM FESTIVAL! R as well.) So I have mixed feelings about its final message, but overall, it was pretty great.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#6. MADE IN ABYSS (13 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

Unfortunately, I was somewhat bored during the middle section of MADE IN ABYSS. Also, the show occasionally made some uncomfortable choices that I had to struggle to not see as fetishistic fanservice; and obviously the story is not really over yet.

The things that worked, though, were phenomenally effective. Character-wise, I really felt for Nanachi and her plight; and I’ve already gone on at length about my fondness for Reg. Plot-wise, the last story arc was outstanding. It was sensitively-written, chillingly horrifying, and heart-wrenching. It broke me, but I’m glad I watched.

#7. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans) (50 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2015 to Winter 2016, then Autumn 2016 to Winter 2017

The word-building and character-writing were really great. I appreciated the realistic, bittersweet ending too. Sure, the show had its ups and downs for me, but ultimately I would count it among my favourite GUNDAM series.

It was an added bonus that part of it was set in Canada. It’s also remarkable that one of the main characters became a paraplegic in the middle of the story. And never before had I ever had the occasion to think, “This man deserves a harem” until I met Naze!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#8. Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Sukeroku Futatabi-hen) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu‘s first season was the lead up to a foretold tragic event. The second season covered the aftermath of that tragedy, perfectly balancing the despairing feelings of the cast with interactions that showed love and forgiveness. Yotarou, with his endless generosity and open-heartedness, served as the physical embodiment of those values. I really enjoyed being immersed in their world and following the lives of these well-written characters.

That final episode twist, unfortunately, was too much for me. We already knew this was going to be a bittersweet story, and that characters we loved were going to die. It wasn’t necessary to sugarcoat the ending, especially not in such an awkward way. Usually, when a show has a crappy ending, it doesn’t cancel out the goodness of what came before it. This ending actually did, because its misguided reveal tainted the preceding events and forced you to see them in a new light.

By rights, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 should have been much higher on this list. Instead, I was so turned off of the whole thing after seeing the last episode, that it is with reluctance that I’m placing it even at number 8.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#9. DREAM FESTIVAL! R (12 episodes)

Aired mid-Summer to mid-Autumn 2017

I thought DREAM FESTIVAL! was one of the lesser known idol franchises, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the anime get a sequel. You know, I didn’t realize how much I liked and missed these guys until I saw them again. I especially enjoyed the first half, with its extended focus on Yuuto and Keigo of KUROFUNE. The portrayal of Keigo’s personal insecurities, in spite of his flashy good looks and flamboyant stage presence, felt very real to me.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#10. INUYASHIKI LAST HERO (11 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2017

Although there was ultimately no real message to INUYASHIKI, it did provide an interesting and thought-provoking look at the (mostly) irresponsible use of great power and what consequences it would have on society and on the ones wielding that power.

**********************************************************************************************

☆ Best Recap Episode:


Re:CREATORS ep.13. As was usual for this anime, Meteora talked and talked. But this time, there was added snark to her deadpan exposition. She even pinpointed some of the show’s and characters’ flaws and made fun of them! In her narration, she humorously played up her own character, while resorting to nicknames for people that she couldn’t be bothered to remember the names of. It was really funny and I enjoyed it a lot more than any part of the actual show itself. Best recap episode ever.

☆ Favourite Seiyuu:

Umehara Yuuichirou

I enjoyed so many of his roles in 2017, most notably: Charioce XVII, the smokin’ hot evil sovereign from Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL; Eugene Sevenstark, Orga’s loyal and outspoken deputy in GUNDAM: IRON BLOODED ORPHANS; and of course, my favourite chibi warlord from my number one anime of the year, Takeda Shingen.

Umehara was responsible for breathing some life into a whole bunch of stoic, expressionless dudes during the fall season: Ushii from JUNI TAISEN, Ouni from Children of the Whales, TSUKIPRO‘s Dai, DYNAMIC CHORD‘s Shinobu, THE iDOLM@STER SideM‘s Kyouji, and SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD’s Date Masamune. In general, though, it was probably more fun to hear him voicing impassioned characters like hard-luck Shinsengumi member Nagakura Shinpachi in Chiruran ½ from earlier in the year.

Umehara has a great voice, I like his performance style, and I also tend to like the types of characters he gets to play, so I will definitely be paying attention to any shows I see his name in from now on.

☆ Anime Songs Top 9 Countdown:

It’s a tiny list for me this year! As usual, the songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs, not the TV-size versions, that are being considered.

09. Kakuran Romantist, by Date Masamune(cv:Umehara Yuuichirou) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.7 ED)

08. sh0ut, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP2)

07. Hoshi no furu machi, by Numakura Manami (Fuuka insert song)

06. Yes / No, by STAR☆CONCERTO (Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time OP)

05. Masayoshi-ron, by Uesugi Kenshin(cv:Toriumi Kousuke) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.6 ED)

04. SunSunSunrise, by 9nine (THE REFLECTION ED)

03. gravityWall, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP1)

02. LET iT END, by SiM (Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL OP1)

01. FEED THE FIRE, by coldrain (King’s Game The Animation OP)

Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Music

I’m not inclined to do any kind of proper ranking for the past year’s music, so I’ll just recall some of the works that captured my attention and also a piece of my music budget in 2017.  Presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Angelo

I haven’t really been keeping up with Angelo, despite the fact that one of my favourite guitarists – Karyu (ex-D’espairsRay) – plays in the band, because KIRITO’s voice and hypo-melodic singing style are usually not to my taste. I don’t know, something must have changed, because “HETERODOX” is a pretty good listen all the way through! Even though it’s not quite as heavy as the music I typically listen to, it’s great in the car; and my CD is still spinning there now, as it has been since I received it back in October.

Favourite tracks: evil, Saigennai kawaki, HETERODOX

Actually, evil is my favourite song of 2017. Angelo uploaded the clip below, featuring the full PV for evil a patience-testing 3 months before the album (and any of its music) went on sale. I heard Karyu’s touch in this beautiful track immediately. By that, I suppose I what I mean is that the way I felt when I listened to it was similar to how I felt when I used to listen to some D’espairsRay songs. Karyu is indeed the song’s composer, as I later confirmed. KIRITO nails his delivery too; the slightly raspy vocals he uses really suit the song, and I don’t think he has ever sounded better.

coldrain

“FATELESS” was another solid release from coldrain. Seriously, these guys never let me down. The only song I got tired of was the one they didn’t write, UNINVITED (although it was kind of cool that they covered Alanis Morissette).

Favourite tracks: A DECADE IN THE RAIN, FEED THE FIRE

(FATELESS-album is available on iTunes Canada)

defspiral

The best news is that defspiral’s music is now on iTunes. Previously, I had to wait until I was in Japan to buy their CDs because they were not attainable from my usual online sites and also not available digitally. But no longer! Even the instrumental tracks are up, which is important; not only do defspiral instrumentals sound perfectly great on their own, but I always enjoy the full songs more after hearing them!

(AFTERGLOW-single, PHANTOM-single, TO THE GALAXY-album are all available on iTunes Canada)

lynch.

At the start of 2017, lynch. were in a dark place. Akinori, their bassist, resigned from the band in the fall of 2016 following his arrest for marijuana possession. The remaining members were so unhappy with the situation, they were reluctant to continue without him. But they had to. Refusing to hire someone new, lynch. instead enlisted the services of several well-known bassists to help in the recording of their 2017 releases.

Things are looking up for 2018, as Akinori is coming back!

Typically, when a Japanese musician has to quit in order to not bring shame upon his band, it is a life sentence, regardless of the nature of his crime. It is pretty unheard of for such a person to ever be reinstated. But this is lynch.. The way I see it, they never needed an official bass player. They were a 4-piece for many years before Akinori came along. It has to be him. And it warms my heart that lynch. are about to be reunited at last.

Favourite tracks off “SINNERS”: KALEIDO, SORROW

(SINNERS-EP and BLOOD THIRSTY CREATURE-single are both available on iTunes Canada)

OLDCODEX

“they go, WHERE?” had a couple of songs that I couldn’t listen to (smiling, Julio), but overall, it was a balanced effort by OLDCODEX. Their previously released SERVAMP and Kuroko’s Basketball songs were included. And A Black Toy aptly demonstrated that they can put together a very competent techno-dance song, and at the very same time, still prove that rock is best!

Favourite tracks (not including Deal with, which was released in 2016): Million from Codex, Outsomnia

ONE OK ROCK

ONE OK ROCK released 2 versions of “AMBITIONS” early in 2017, one for their domestic audience in Japan, and the other, with all English lyrics and a slightly different track list, for international listeners. Not every song clicked with me, which is how it goes for me and ONE OK ROCK, but there were definitely a number of gems, including Bedroom Warfare, Bombs Away, Lost in Tonight

And favourite track (not including Taking Off, which was released in 2016): Bon Voyage. At face value, the lyrics are about a depressing break up; but I can’t help but sense some hopefulness too, as if someone who was caught in a toxic or abusive relationship finally has found the strength and resolve to move on. The way the light keyboard melody rises above the dark-sounding guitar and bass, sounds almost giddy to me and reinforces this hopeful feeling.

(AMBITIONS-album, international version is available on iTunes Canada)

SHIN

“Good Morning Dreamer” was the solo EP release of SHIN (ex-ViViD). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his new music is more in line with the side of ViViD that I had liked most, the rock side that is. SHIN really is an amazing singer, and it’s great to hear from him again.

Favourite tracks: Weakend, 4444

VAMPS

Like ONE OK ROCK, VAMPS aimed to widen their international fan base in 2017 with the release of a full-length, all-English album. My previous experience with VAMPS music was kind of ambivalent – some of their songs I really loved, but many I didn’t. “UNDERWORLD,” which included previous singles CALLING, INSIDE OF ME, Rise Or Die, and Sin In Justice, turned out to be impressively good, and really consistent too. Unfortunately, this might be the last we hear from VAMPS for a while, as HYDE and K.A.Z. put their project on hiatus in December in order to recharge.

Favourite track: RISE UP, because I love the dark melody and heavy instrumentation. The theme of saying goodbye to the past and starting anew (as if, but not limited to, giving up your mortal life to become a vampire), which recurs throughout the album, is perfectly captured in RISE UP.

(UNDERWORLD-album is available on iTunes Canada)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like The Force Awakens, if you think about some of the events in The Last Jedi a little bit, it doesn’t completely make sense.

For instance, at one point Finn and Rose go off to find the Master Codebreaker, only knowing their target would be in a certain place and wearing a specific piece of attire. That’s actually worse than the “Map to Luke.” What, this nameless guy is in that one location always? He never goes home to sleep; he has the attire visibly displayed at all times; and there’s no chance he’s already been enlisted in someone else’s mission? At least things don’t go exactly the way they wanted, but it’s still not quite believable that Finn & co. would even bother to undertake such a not-well-thought-out-virtually-zero-chance-of-success plan.

Also, I thought it was a ridiculously stupid mistake for the Resistance to voluntarily sacrifice one of their top personnel when this was clearly not even the final battle. Narrative-wise, I understood why it had to happen; but considering the difficult fight that’s certainly still ahead, it made no sense.

It seemed like half the things the characters were trying to do were for nothing.

Beyond this, I know many dissatisfied viewers have questioned the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, the various plot holes and inconsistencies. I have to say, I actually agree with nearly all of the complaints. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the film anyway.

At the end of the day, The Last Jedi is thrilling and fun, and it solidly lives up to what I’ve come to expect from Star Wars episodes – lots of great action and heroes that are easy to root for. The humour works for me too – the funny scenes are some of my favourite parts of the movie. Oh, and overpowered BB-8 is awesome!

Mid-Autumn 2017 Anime Ranking


01. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Netojuu no Susume) (ep. 1-10 complete) – 30-year-old Moriko reacquaints herself with the world of online gaming after leaving her job. She soon becomes very attached to Fruits de Mer and her in-game friends. Little does she know that real life and fantasy are about to collide in unexpected ways.

This is such a cute and sweet show. The characters are sympathetic, likeable, and funny. Moriko’s reactions are especially great.

On a personal level, I’ve never been much of a gamer myself, but I have recently developed an attachment to an online game for the first time in my entire life (note: see previous post). Even though it’s not an MMO, the experience nevertheless gives me an extra level of intimate familiarity with some of the themes of this anime. Yes, I can attest it is absolutely believable that a grown professional woman could carry on like a middle-school girl because of a game.

Unlike Moriko though, I did not quit my day job and become an Elite NEET. Not yet anyway!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. INUYASHIKI LAST HERO (ep. 1-9) – Ichirou, a middle-aged man who appears older than his years, and Hiro, a high school boy, are both killed when a flying saucer crash-lands into them. The hit-and-run aliens proceed to hastily reconstruct the victims’ bodies using machinery in an effort to cover up the accident. Thus, our 2 main characters unwittingly become cyborgs at the start of this action/sci-fi drama.

INUYASHIKI examines how Ichirou and Hiro each handle their newfound bodies and super-human abilities in vastly different ways. The consequences that result are fascinating, often tragic, and thought-provoking.


03. JUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR (ep. 1-10) – Warriors representing the 12 animals of the Zodiac are recruited to take part in an epic battle royale. It’s a fight to the death where the last survivor is the victor.

JUNI TAISEN spends a lot of time setting up elaborate back stories for the various participants. The stories are good, but it’s weird that the characters are often killed off quickly and unceremoniously afterward without really getting to demonstrate their skills in a proper fight.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. DREAM FESTIVAL! R (ep. 7-12 complete) – Depending on how you count them, there are as many as 6 male-idol series this season. (Note that I am not even counting the female-idol shows!) TSUKIPRO, THE iDOLM@STER SideM, DYNAMIC CHORD, and Love Rice 2 are fully part of the Autumn cour. IDOLISH7 doesn’t officially start until January, however 2 advance episodes have been broadcast already. That brings me to DREAM FESTIVAL! R, which began airing mid-August and thus already had 6 episodes under its belt before the current season began.

Of the many idol franchises, DREAM FES is probably one of the least hyped of the bunch. It happens to also be one of the best of its genre. Well, STARMYU is probably more crazy-fun overall, but that show is also way cheesier and more fantastical, whereas DREAM FES is a little more grounded in depicting the hard work and challenges faced by the performers.

I still dislike the CG stage work and transformations, which can’t be helped, but the narrative parts are really good! The characterizations are detailed, and the expressions and interactions show that the creators put a lot of effort into making each of the guys seem like real people with their own goals and perspectives. It helps too, that there are only 2 main units, consisting of 7 guys total, a manageable number.

KUROFUNE received a bit more of the spotlight this time around, which suited me just fine. I thought Keigo and Yuto’s development in the first half was believable. I totally didn’t expect that we’d be seeing Keigo’s schoolyard bullies again too, but I loved that even that relationship got revisited.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05. Food Wars! The Third Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: San no Sara) (ep. 1-10) – The first 5 episodes covered Totsuki’s Moon Festival, in which Souma was cast as the underdog (again) against one of the Elite Ten. Then things took a sudden dark turn as Erina’s creepy father returned from exile to engineer a hostile takeover of the school, putting everyone and everything at the whim of his unbending beliefs of culinary right and wrong. Souma and company quickly find themselves at odds with this new dictatorship; but of course our hero has never been one to back down when it comes to taking on the establishment.

Souma’s cool confidence is always fun to watch; and as usual, the dishes featured in the show look scrumptious.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. THE IDOLM@STER SideM (ep. 0-9) – The idols of 315 Productions number 19 in this guy-version of the iDOLM@STER franchise. I absolutely do have trouble recognizing all the characters and placing them in their respective groups.

It’s an interesting gimmick that the agency specifically recruits talent from outside the entertainment field, however some cases are not as convincing as others. It’s hard to buy a doctor and lawyer putting aside their hard-earned and expensive educations to become idols (when they haven’t even been barred from practising their professions), for instance.

I do appreciate that the performances are beautifully animated and not all CGI, truly a rarity nowadays for an idol show. I also love the realistic depictions of various locales, some of which are familiar to me in real life, including Haneda airport and some of the livehouses where the units perform.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. GARO -VANISHING LINE- (ep. 1-10) – The latest GARO anime takes place in the fictional location of Russell City, USA, a dark and gritty urban jungle. Once again, there’s a whole new set of characters to accompany the new setting.

So what’s good about this GARO? Well the animation and fight scenes are intense and packed with motion. Frankly, it’s a bit much for my poor little computer to handle sometimes! Also, the show features a lot of racial diversity among the characters without making a big deal of it. And from Gina to Sister to Luke’s mom Adelaide, I can’t think of many series with such an impressive collection of seriously cool and kick-ass ladies.

How does it compare to the 2 previous GARO anime series so far? I think it’s not quite as good as GARO THE ANIMATION; I still liked that one more, and more consistently. However, VANISHING LINE is way, way, way better than CRIMSON MOON.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Children of the Whales (Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau) (ep. 1-9) – The first episode was intriguing and beautiful, probably the best premiere of the season. However, it didn’t really set the tone for the rest of the series, which went on to take several sudden left turns in the following weeks.

Cerebrally, I liked seeing the differing approaches taken by Suou and Ouni when their people were attacked. I personally agree with Suou’s high-minded tactics more, but I can appreciate that sometimes it’s only the person who’s willing to get his hands dirty (and bloody) who can get favourable results when your opponent is not so high-minded.

The more fantastical content, related to the Nous at the heart of the ship, is weird and not explained that well, so I don’t enjoy that stuff as much as the character drama.
(to stream at NETFLIX eventually)

09. TSUKIPRO THE ANIMATION (ep. 1-10) – Another slice-of-life idol anime where it’s a weekly challenge to identify the characters and match them with the units they each belong to. Just to complicate things, people from TSUKIUTA. also make cameo appearances occasionally.

The highlight of the series was ep. 5, which might have been one of the best things I’ve seen this season. Basically, the 4 guys of SolidS went on a drive around the city in a borrowed car. TSUKIPRO is not exactly a plot-driven show anyway, so this was the perfect way to get us familiar with these idols as they experienced something mundane, yet funny and very relatable.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. Welcome to the Ballroom (Ballroom e Youkoso) (ep. 13-23) – Recent episodes have been more focused on the characters than the dancing, which is a welcome change, in my opinion. And when there is dancing, it’s often actually animated, not just still frames.

The sexism and occasional body-shaming still crop up, but I’ve gotten past that in this show. By now, I can just ignore that stuff and try to make the most of the positives.


11. King’s Game The Animation (Ou-sama Game The Animation) (ep. 1-9) – For the second time in his young life, high school student Nobuaki is targeted to participate in the King’s Game, in which he and his classmates receive mysterious text messages ordering them to do perverted and cruel things or else suffer a gruesome death. Nobuaki was the sole survivor of the earlier game.

The anime takes the unusual, and probably unwise, tactic of trying to cover the events of both King’s Games at once. In general, it is ridiculous and stupid and trashy. That said, it tends to not be boring either.

The main reason I came to this show was for coldrain’s OP “FEED THE FIRE”, a truly awesome song which really deserves to be in a better anime than this!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. Just Because! (ep. 1-9) – Eita reunites with his middle school friends when he returns to his hometown during his final year of high school. It is a difficult time for them, as they prepare to make the transition to the next stage of their lives, education-wise and career-wise, and in terms of romance.

The show utilizes a subtle style of storytelling. It’s so understated that it look me quite a while to figure out who is crushing on whom and what the coordinates of the love triangles are. Honestly, the languid pacing bored me for most of the first half. I’m following it a bit better now, though obviously, this isn’t really my kind of show.

13. Osomatsu-san 2 (Mr. Osomatsu 2) (ep. 1-10) – The first episode felt like a great comeback effort, but subsequent offerings haven’t really measured up to the levels of fun of the first season. In particular, I really don’t get most of the Cave-matsu skits. I enjoy them even less than the Girly-matsu stuff. If only we could get the pretty boys back instead.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


14. Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (~Sousei no Himegimi~) (ep. 1-9) – Protagonist Cardia is a walking weapon whose skin is poison to anything it touches. She ends up being taken in by Lupin and his colleagues. They are also investigating her father’s work, likely the cause of her affliction.

Code:Realize is based on an otome game, so I think we’re supposed to like at least some of the guys. Unfortunately, their personalities and the main romance (with Lupin?) are sorely underdeveloped. The story is also pretty weak, Finis’ motives especially (he’s evil).

The show looks reasonably good though. The character art and the steampunk Victorian London setting are nice.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 27-34) – Boruto and his classmates’ excursion to the Hidden Mist Village turned out to be pretty tedious and boring. I was so glad to see the kids back at home finally, only to discover that it means we have to sit through a bunch more filler episodes before they actually get around to the graduation exams.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD (ep. 1-8) – Didn’t I say, only last season, that “Warring States Era time-slip stories are a dime a dozen”? Well, here’s another one already. Just like in Ikemen Sengoku (game version), a modern day girl is magically transported back in time to an alternate reality 1500s Japan. Only in this case, the Sengoku warlords happen to be vampires and werewolves.

It’s hard to get into the story when they’re trying to incorporate so many characters in a short time, and basically not doing a very good job of it. Therefore, the events seem to unfold without proper build-up. It also bothers me that Yuzuki constantly looks out of place in her modern dress. Is it supposed to be a joke that she can’t get a change of clothes?

Stupidly, the best parts of the show are the closing credits. Almost every episode features a new song sung by a different warlord, with new visuals. My sister dropped the anime long ago, but she continues to check out the EDs. This might as well have been another idol show rather than the low-rent otome fantasy that it is.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. DYNAMIC CHORD (ep. 1-6) – “Dynamic” does not describe this anime at all. Not much of anything happens in it. All that the guys seem to do is brood and look up to the sky, accompanied by random sound effects and maybe a moody piano or clarinet piece. Sometimes though, they brood to rock music, and then it’s slightly better. I’m not even kidding.

There’s something to be said for plot subtlety, but this is ridiculous. These guys really need to learn to say what they think instead of cryptically running away and hiding every time. How many missing band/musician story arcs can one show have?

Some of the performance animation, if you can even call it that, is so cringingly bad, I think they would have been better off using still images. It’s perplexing that they bothered to air this in a season so overflowing with higher-budget boy-idol shows. But then again, I’m sort of still watching it. At least the music isn’t bad.

Also watching:

Love Rice 2 (Love Kome –We Love Rice- 2nd Season) (ep. 1-10) – It’s the rice idols vs. the bread idols once again, but oh no, this time ramen is also a contender. Disappointingly, the cooking feature did not make a return in this sequel.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Notable drop:

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Mahoutsukai no Yome) (ep. 1-5) – The most hyped and probably highest-rated show of the season… didn’t really do anything for me! After the initial 2 episodes, I didn’t particularly like Elias, the mage of the title. I kind of expected that we would get some good interactions between him and Chise that would endear them both to the audience, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Instead, the following story arcs were more on the arty, philosophical, and dry side. The pacing was slow enough to rival the underachieving DYNAMIC CHORD and there was basically no humour.

It seems to be a high budget production, so the imagery is pretty, but this type of fantasy anime just doesn’t appeal to my plebeian tastes. I have a feeling that fans of Mushishi or Natsume’s Book of Friends (both of which I also eventually dropped) would have a better appreciation for this sort of show.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)