Mid-Summer 2017 Anime Ranking

This post was delayed unfortunately, due to the fact that I fell behind on my anime viewing. But as per usual, the ranking applies to the first 7 to 10 episodes of the current season only. Some of these shows have ended already and that is not being covered here. My apologies for the lateness.

Shingeki no Bahamut VIRGIN SOUL-19
01. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (ep. 14-21) – No surprise this time. This summer has been a pretty weak season in general for anime and Rage of Bahamut 2 has had absolutely no challengers for the top spot, as far as I’m concerned.

In this second cour, I am very surprised, but also happy, that the romance subplot has become as prominent as the overarching conflict between the angels, demons, and humans; maybe more so. I didn’t go into BahaSOUL looking for love (that’s true in more ways than one), but I’m solidly onboard when the love story is set in the middle of a complicated narrative that’s populated with so many intensely likeable characters.

I continue to admire the confident and straightforward storytelling, even if this second half is maybe not quite as well-written as the first. After all, I have to admit it does seem a tad contrived that Nina and Charioce did not discuss what their side was aiming to do when they had the opportunity to. Considering that their respective goals include trying to thwart and/or kill the other party, it would have made sense to coordinate things a little bit better.

Oh yeah, after much teasing and withholding, Favaro is back for real now, a little older, a little wiser, and indeed, a little hotter than before.

ikemen sengoku 03
02. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (ep. 1-10) – Warring States Era time-slip stories are a dime a dozen, but this is the most adorable series of its type that I’ve ever seen. I can’t get enough of chibi Oda Nobunaga, Date Masamune, and all the other little Sengoku warlords. Each of the mini hotties moves individually and behaves in distinctly characteristic ways too. It’s so cute and detailed! The creative camera work adds a lot to the amusement as well.

Originally, I had hoped that Ikemen Sengoku would be like the Chiruran short, only with a little more substance. Well, it has far exceeded my expectations. The random gags are really funny (especially ep. 3, when Masamune and his pals learn to rap), and there is actually an honest-to-goodness plot. As if that wasn’t enough, how about some chibi sword-fight action? It’s got that too!

I recommend watching each episode more than once. There are usually several characters on screen and a lot of little things going on at the same time. This is a 3-minute short – things happen fast.

The sexually suggestive end cards, a shout out to Ikemen Sengoku’s otome game roots, are a bit much though. I can see them turning off male viewers especially, which would be a shame.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Made in Abyss 5
03. MADE IN ABYSS (ep. 1-10) – Child explorer Riko descends into the frightening depths of the Abyss in search of her mother. She is accompanied by her newfound best friend Reg, a robot boy she picked up in the Abyss. I liked the early parts best, when Riko and Reg were interacting with the other kids in the orphanage. Things have gotten decidedly darker and more disturbing since they set off on their journey.

I am watching this anime for Reg. I love his tolerant disposition, his gentle compassion, his thoughtfulness, his intelligence, his sense of morality, and his loyalty. More than any of the show’s other great mysteries, including Riko’s mother and the Abyss itself, I am curious about Reg and want to see him get answers to the question of who he is. Where did he come from; how is he part human and also part machine? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get those kinds of answers any time soon.

Saiyuki Reload Blast
04. SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST (ep. 1-10) – As a newcomer to the series, I’m certain there are many things I don’t understand as well as I could. However, SAIYUKI RELOAD BLAST is enjoyable even to me and it doesn’t seem to be too hard to follow in general. The 4 guys of the Genjo Sanzo Party get plenty of opportunities to show off their personalities through their interactions, and it’s often very funny.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu 09
05. Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU (ep. 1-10) – The Touken Danshi are Sword Warriors. They travel through time to stop the ghostly Time Retrograde Army, who are sent from the future, from changing past events.

Although the narrative got a bit unfocused in the middle, the main takeaway is how challenging it can be for the Touken Danshi to perform their duties. What if preserving history meant ensuring the death or suffering of innocents? Furthermore, what kind of toll would it take on the psyche if the doomed party happened to be someone they once knew and respected?

Katsugeki / TOUKEN RANBU is made by ufotable, the folks who gave us Fate/Zero. Unsurprisingly, this is one good-looking anime.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 14-23) – The ghost arc concluded (with the perpetrator getting off a little too easy in my opinion); and it was followed up by a handful of Sarada-centric episodes featuring her quest to learn more about her father and her lineage. In spite of being almost entirely Boruto-less, these episodes were some of the strongest of the series so far. Of course, Sarada did have the original Team 7: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura as her co-stars.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Kakegurui - 10
07. KAKEGURUI (Compulsive Gambler) (ep. 1-10) – Jabami Yumeko, a beautiful and smart gambling addict, joins an academy that incorporates gambling into all its extra-curricular activities. There, she proceeds to mess with the social order.

The characters are rather two-faced and irredeemable all around, but there’s no denying the show can be morbidly entertaining to watch.
(to stream at NETFLIX eventually)

08. Fastest Finger First (Nana maru San batsu, 7O3X) (ep. 1-10) – The buildup for this quiz-sport anime was not that exciting, so it’s taken a while to get rolling, but Fastest Finger First has taken off now that we know the players better and they are actively participating in a quiz meet.

As an aside, we happened to catch some of the real-life high school quiz bowl on TV while we were in Japan recently, which was pretty cool. This stuff is real.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Re Creators - 17
09. Re:CREATORS (ep. 13-20) – The show continues to be pretty talky and very meta. If I’m looking forward to it more than I used to, it’s mostly because I care more about the characters now that I know them better. Well, some of them I still don’t really get, including Altair and Magane, but I did appreciate the development that Selesia and her creator, Matsubara, have undergone.

I’ve almost forgotten that Souta is supposed to be the main character though. I wonder when he will become relevant.

10. My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia) Season 2 (ep. 27-35) – The practical training placement arc and the fight against Stain were not as interesting to me as the tournament, but they did reveal that there are darker things to come. Also, while I agree that Stain’s ideology had some merit, I thought it was grossly oversimplified and overstated.

But first, it’s time for the kids’ practical exams, which is the kind of material that My Hero Academia really excels at.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun (Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun, Cleanliness Boy! Aoyama-kun) (ep. 1-10) – Ostensibly, this is a sports anime featuring a clean freak soccer player. There isn’t really all that much soccer, though; and even the clean freak isn’t the featured character in many of the episodes! He’s more of a mystical enigma that other people react to. Luckily, these other characters are quite often at least as interesting as Aoyama himself.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Ballroom e Youkoso 02
12. Welcome to the Ballroom (Ballroom e Youkoso) (ep. 1-9) – There was a lot of hype for Ballroom before it started, but compared to the other unconventional sports show that’s airing (the quizzing anime), this one surprisingly doesn’t fare as well for me. It’s actually easier to grasp the rules and strategy of quiz bowl than ballroom dancing.

I’m also finding it hard to sympathize with the characters. The females, especially, get the shaft in terms of development. It often seems they exist only to be accessories to the men; and in fact, that is the way competitive ballroom dancing is evaluated? I didn’t know that. That underlying patriarchal, boys-club vibe, embodied by Tatara’s teacher Sengoku, kind of rubs me the wrong way.

The show is clearly knowledgeable about the dancing and the fancy moves, but the actual animation is limited and consists mostly of still-shots and pans. Yuri!!! on ICE this is not. Also, those stretched necks and distorted bodies are hard to get used to, though I’m trying. It just doesn’t look that good, c’mon.

13. Princess Principal (ep. 1-9) – The episodic spy stories, which seem to be presented not in chronological order, are reasonably interesting on their own; but I think I would enjoy everything better if I knew what the overall plot was.

Or maybe I just don’t have enough of a thing for cute girls as spies.

14. CHRONOS RULER (Jikan no Shihaisha) (ep. 1-10) – The actual plot involving trying to get Victor’s time and memory back is kind of boring. What makes this thing watchable is the humour that arises from the characters’ personality traits and quirks.

For example, it’s funny how Kiri is the most serious member of the family group and yet, since he is technically the youngest, he gets the least respect. Also, it was amusing the way Blaze spent all of ep. 8 in the background trying to solve a mildly complicated math problem.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

isekai shokudou 01
15. Restaurant to Another World (Isekai Shokudou) (ep. 1-10) – Once a week, the door to Nekoya Restaurant appears in other worlds and mystical creatures can enter and enjoy an exquisite meal of western-style Japanese cuisine.

The episodes are easy to watch and the food looks good. I do appreciate that the show attempts to tie some of the random stories together, but there’s really very little in the way of plot.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. THE REFLECTION (ep. 1-8) – Well, this is different. It’s a Stan Lee anime, and appropriately, it is flat-looking and minimally animated, sort of like a Western superhero comic book come to life. It sounded like a great idea and I was looking forward to it, but the pacing is strangely slow and I’m frustrated by the lack of music during most of the scenes.

Despite being one of the main characters, X-On seems rather unmotivated; it’s just weird. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be funny or what? Once, when Eleanor was captured, he simply went back to the car and sat down! He always has a mask on, so it’s really impossible to tell what he’s thinking or feeling when he’s doing nothing, which is most of the time.

I will say 9nine’s ending song is really catchy though. In a pretty weak season for anime music as well as anime in general, “SunSunSunrise” is proving to be one of the highlights.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. Ninja Girl & Samurai Master S2 (Nobunaga no Shinobi: Ise Kanegasaki-hen) (ep. 40-49) – The other super-cute, Sengoku-period chibi comedy short starring Oda Nobunaga. While still played for laughs, this ongoing series at least endeavours to be a slightly more accurate representation of historical events than the ikemen short.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

vatican miracle examiner
18. Vatican Miracle Examiner (Vatican Kiseki Chousakan) (ep. 1-9) – Roberto and Hiraga are Vatican priests hired specifically to debunk false miracles, so they are uniquely required by their jobs to tread the fine line between being believers and disbelievers.

For a show featuring the Catholic faith, there’s an awful lot of occult, blasphemy, Satan-worship, wielding the Bible to inflict blunt-force trauma, and Nazis. It’s actually pretty hilarious. Those endless panning shots – seriously, it’s hard to find a scene that doesn’t pan – that’s hilarious too.

Quite obviously, I cannot recommend Vatican Miracle Examiner as a good anime. However, we genuinely get a lot of laughs at the expense of the show and its characters, so I won’t say it isn’t fun to watch.

19. DIVE!! (ep. 1-10) – All the exclamation marks cannot hide how boring this diving anime is. Part of the problem is that diving is a lonely, individual sport. There is no team.

DIVE!! seems to preach that if you are not giving up everything to devote yourself to the sport, then you’re not trying hard enough. I mean it’s one thing to resign yourself to the fact that you won’t have much opportunity for fun and socializing while training, and accept it; it’s quite another to have your mentors tell you outright to forget about your friends and to not be too buddy-buddy with potential rivals. It’s just so unpleasant.

Ironically, they’ve more or less thrown that out the window now. Yoichi has temporarily(?) taken over the main character role and, in spite of what he said to Tomo earlier, he’s actually interacting with his club-mates like they’re friends or something! The show is definitely better for it anyway.

20. KONBINI KARESHI (Convenience Store Boy Friends) (ep. 1-7) – I thought this would be silly and fun. Oh how wrong I was. How did we end up with a slow-moving, humourless romance following several potential couples, none of whom come across as interesting or particularly likeable? The titular convenience store is hardly in it even, and it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the story whatsoever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

BORUTO -NARUTO THE MOVIE-

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

The focus of the latest NARUTO movie is on the next generation; it’s something of an epilogue that explores what growing up would be like for Naruto’s son, Boruto. Whereas Naruto lost his parents at infancy, Boruto has a loving family. However, Naruto’s heavy responsibilities as Hokage frequently keep him away from home, even on special occasions, which frustrates and angers his son. Not to mention, Naruto understandably has no idea how to be a good dad.

Boruto, Sasuke’s daughter Sarada, and the other kids are really cute here. The families are all cute, actually, providing for a great ending credits montage.

“BORUTO” has all the elements that are central to the franchise, such as teamwork and family issues. Familiar characters are true to their personalities without becoming caricatures of themselves. There’s some humour and an action-packed fight to protect the village, with just the right amount of nostalgia mixed in. And it’s all nicely encapsulated in the length of a feature film.

Of the NARUTO films that I’ve seen, this one is by far the best. In fact, it might be the best NARUTO anything that I’ve seen or read, period.

NARUTO THE MOVIE: ROAD TO NINJA

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2012 (in Japan)

Naruto and Sakura are targeted by Madara and thrown into an alternate reality where things are a little off. Their friends have different personalities; and Naruto’s parents are alive, while Sakura’s are the ones who fell heroically in battle long ago.

The film works pretty well as a standalone story. Don’t expect any development of the primary plot, but it does shed some light on Naruto’s past and recalls the parents he never knew.

ROAD TO NINJA features the usual ninja battles and light humour you would expect from the franchise, but there’s more of an emotional element with this installment. Sakura’s annoyance with her family was believable; the writers might have done too realistic a job in the depiction of her parents’ behaviour. And just try not to cry during a flashback scene in which Naruto’s mother Kushina speaks to her infant son for the last time.

I wasn’t as bothered by Sakura’s portrayal as I usually am. She seemed a little less useless, as portions of the film were actually told from her point of view. Unfortunately, she was still called upon to play the role of damsel in distress.

The screening I saw was English-dubbed, which was fine, since I’m already familiar with the voices from watching the original series on YTV years ago. It’s an excellent dub overall. It’s obvious they took a great deal of care with the pronunciation of Japanese names.