Mid-Spring 2016 Anime Ranking

In a season where there are some shows trying really hard to be smart (JOKER GAME, and arguably KIZNAIVER) and at the same time other shows trying hard to be really dumb (Sakamoto desu ga?, and arguably The Lost Village), it’s a challenge to rank them in any kind of order. Here’s my attempt at it anyway.

Assassination classroom 2nd Season - 22
01. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) (ep. 36-44, or SECOND/FINAL SEASON ep. 14-22) – Things are really getting serious as AssClass heads towards its conclusion. Koro-sensei’s past is revealed in detail at last. Predictably, the increased awareness of their target’s backstory does nothing to enhance the murderous intent of Class 3E.

I like the direction they’re taking with the story. While the students have been specifically tasked with eliminating the threat which is their teacher, in the big picture, the overall goal is actually to save the Earth. But they’re not the only ones who want Koro-sensei dead.

Whether he lives or dies, either way, I’m definitely going to miss Koro-sensei and his assassination classroom when this is all over.
(streaming at FUNimation)

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02. KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri) (ep. 1-9) – A lot has been made of KABANERI’s similarities to Attack on Titan. It’s clear that KABANERI owes some inspiration to its predecessor, but it’s easy enough to appreciate this series as its own entity.

Many of the characters have distinct personalities and it’s been nice to see their development as the story has progressed. In particular, Ayame has shown herself to be brave and forward-thinking. I think she has really risen to the challenge of leading her people, despite the fact that the role was thrust upon her unexpectedly. And Ikoma has displayed emotions ranging from joyfully ecstatic, to bitterly crushed, to everything in between. He’s a testament to nerd heroism: his inventions are not only protecting the survivors aboard the Koutetsujou from the Kabane attacks, but the selling/sharing of his technology is also helping to feed the train’s occupants!

Mumei started out as overly strong but unsophisticated; gradually she’s gaining some maturity through her experiences with Ikoma. I’m not sure about Biba, though; so far, he’s been too blatantly evil. I’m curious to see if they will do anything more interesting with his character. I hope so.

KABANERI has its flaws, but for the most part, it’s well-written, it looks great (especially the action scenes), and yes, we are also here for the musical soundtrack by none other than Sawano Hiroyuki.

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03. Re:ZERO –Starting Life in Another World- (Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu) (ep. 1-10) – It’s an ongoing mystery why Subaru suddenly finds himself in an alternate fantasy world where his life is constantly in danger. The good thing is he has the ability to start over at a seeming “save point” whenever he dies. However, it is scary and painful to be killed, and it isn’t known how often he can restart before it’s game over for real. Re:ZERO is entertaining, well-written, and at times, genuinely suspenseful.

I’m impressed that Subaru is actually a decent, likeable guy, considering that he is the male lead in a fantasy show full of female supporting characters. I like Ram and Rem too; they’re cute and they seem to have a complicated bond as sisters.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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04. MY HERO ACADEMIA (Boku no Hero Academia) (ep. 1-10) – It’s kind of like X-Men, except mutations (called “quirks”) occur commonly and are valued by society. Poor Midoriya (Deku) grew up idolizing superheroes all of his young life and is devastated when his quirk never appears. Nevertheless, he is determined to attend The Hero Academy. He does receive some unexpected help, but still it won’t be easy. Deku is so enthusiastic and hard-working. You just can’t help but root for him!

It’s weird to me that the bad guys actually call themselves “villains” in this show. Does it have a different meaning in their world? Or do they not believe in the justness of their own cause?
(streaming at FUNimation)

05. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge) (ep. 1-10) – The show’s bright and clean aesthetic is very appealing, and that’s a major selling point, even if I’m not at all a fan of the main character’s slack-off, do-nothing personality. Those types always annoy me. He is, however, the whole reason this series exists. And there are other things I do like, such as Tanaka’s long-suffering and enabling best friend, Ohta. Ohta comes off as really sympathetic and his lines are frequently smart and dryly funny.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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06. JOKER GAME (ep. 1-10) – D-Agency, a paramilitary spy organization, is created in Japan and its operatives are stationed around the world in this WWII-era drama. Most of the series has been more episodic than I expected. The early parts would feature one of the spies at a time in short stand-alone stories. They are difficult to tell apart from one another and we don’t get to know them much at all; which is completely intentional, since they are spies after all, and they’re not supposed to stand out. However, that has the side-effect of leaving me less invested in the show as a whole.

It’s only recently that there’s been a greater semblance of an overarching narrative, as Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki’s enemies are trying to figure him out. Ironically, because we are seeing things from an outside perspective now, that actually removes us even further from D-Agency. Lt. Colonel Yuuki and his spies remain as much of an enigma as ever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: DIAMOND IS UNBREAKABLE (ep. 1-11) – Something in Morioh City seems to be attracting stand users. It’s the 90s now, and our main protagonist this time is Josuke Higashikata, the illegitimate son of elderly Joseph Joestar.

There’s just no denying how entertaining JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure consistently manages to be. I may not love the character designs or the show’s technicolour aesthetics, but when all I need is some good dumb fun, JoJo’s always comes through.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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08. Shounen Maid (ep. 1-9) – Chihiro goes to live with his young and carefree uncle after his mother passes away. He refuses to just accept Madoka’s charity, and plus Chihiro happens to have an unnatural love for housework, so they agree that he will do the household chores in exchange for room and board.

The tone is consistently light-hearted, funny and positive, but what’s unique is that there is an underlying sadness here that doesn’t get addressed directly. On the one hand, it’s really heartwarming that Madoka and Chihiro have found and connected with each other after the loss of their sister/mother, but there’s no way child-like Madoka could ever take the place of Chihiro’s mother, Chiyo. It’s also perplexing that Chiyo seemingly made no plans for her child’s welfare and never introduced her son to her family, even when her death was imminent.
(streaming at FUNimation)

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09. BUNGOU STRAY DOGS (ep. 1-10) – I admit many of the references are lost on me, as the characters are based on real-life historical writers and I’m not very familiar with their works or backgrounds. As an uninitiated viewer, it seems a lot of focus has been on showing how wacky the cast is instead of presenting a real story.

It’s been getting a bit better recently, now that our main character Atsushi is finally taking the lead. Ep. 10 featured some good action and it convinced me that Dazai and Atsushi have a close mentor-apprentice relationship, even though I didn’t really get that from the show previously!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. The Lost Village (Mayoiga) (ep. 1-10) – A busload of one-note characters arrives at mysterious Nanaki Village to start their lives anew. A vast number of them are pretty annoying and stupid and nobody would have minded if they became fodder for getting killed off one by one as they faced the monsters in the woods.

The Lost Village can’t be considered good by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve got to give it credit for not pretending to be anything more than the shallow schlock that it is. In fact, the jury is out on whether this show is intentionally ridiculous or if it’s just plain bad writing. Personally, I’ve been taking it as absurdist comedy because it makes me laugh.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (Sakamoto desu ga?) (ep. 1-9) – This show is based on one single joke, and that’s that Sakamoto is absolutely, unbelievably perfect and cool in everything that he does. More often than not, it works and it’s funny! The best parts are when the bullies and tough guys find themselves becoming Sakamoto’s fans. I think those guys are more fun to watch than Sakamoto himself.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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12. Flying Witch (ep. 1-10) – This is a charming, slice-of-life series about a young witch-in-training who goes to the countryside to live with relatives. The characters are likeable, and more than a few of them are a bit quirky. Of particular note is Chinatsu, the little girl who is fascinated with witches now that she has gotten over her mild shock at the discovery that they exist. She is adorable and totally makes the show.

The reason Flying Witch is relatively low on my list? Well, nothing really happens in it. I hate to say it, but honestly, it’s a little too laid-back for my taste and I find it kind of boring. Also, I rather disliked the behaviour of our main characters during the café segment (eps. 7-8), in which they tricked their waitress and harassed the other customers (although they didn’t seem to mind too much). Fortunately, Makoto and company are not that boorish usually.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. RAINBOW DAYS (Nijiiro Days) (ep. 13-21) – I was worried about my tolerance for this show since it is airing this cour without the accompanying Club RAINBOW live-action segments. I’m relieved that the developments have been just slightly more interesting than in the first half and the new characters (in eps. 17 & 18) have proven to be a welcome addition.
(streaming at FUNimation)

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14. KIZNAIVER (ep. 1-9) – Several high school kids are unwittingly enlisted to take part in an unethical human experiment in which they become linked to each other through feeling/sharing each other’s pain. It’s all for a lofty purpose, apparently.

From the special episodes which preceded the series, it seemed the people who were working on the project were pretty hyped about its concept and characters, which succeeded in piquing my interest. Unfortunately, after 9 episodes, I still find the whole thing to be underwhelming. The characters are not terribly sympathetic, the humour often misses its mark, and the romantic shipping seems forced and melodramatic.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching:

MACROSS DELTA – but I’m not caught up enough to include it in the rankings or have much of an opinion about it. Word is, the songs are quite good; of course, it’s girl-idol pop music, so I’m not a reliable judge of that aspect.

BROTHERHOOD FINAL FANTASY XV – only 2 short episodes have aired so far. They’ve been low on substance but undeniably fun anyway.
(streaming at Crunchyroll and YouTube)

Mid-Winter 2016 Anime Ranking

showa genroku rakugo shinju - 5
01. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (ep. 1-10) – Definitely not your typical anime production, Shouwa Genroku plays out more like a live-action period drama. The rakugo at the heart of the story is a traditional style one-man stage play, where the pieces are classics and what sets the performers apart is their delivery.

After the stunning double-length first episode, Shouwa Genroku flashes back to Yakumo (Kikuhiko) and Sukeroku’s youth. It’s a slow burning character study; and we know there’s going to be tragedy on the horizon, although how things will end up that way is a mystery.

The setting is immersive and the characters seem like real people, each full of charm and flaws. Kudos to the voice actors in this show, who must convincingly portray their characters performing Rakugo; and especially Ishida Akira in the lead role, who plays his character as an awkward young man, all through his evolution to becoming an elderly Rakugo master.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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02. ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) (ep. 1-10) – A well-written time-travel murder mystery. Like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, the show’s premiere revealed a fatalistic present, only to go decades back in time from the second episode on. It’s been a tense and thrilling ride so far.

It doesn’t seem like Satoru’s efforts to prevent each victim’s murder will accomplish much, as long as the killer’s identity remains unknown. But wait, we might be further along than I thought.
(streaming at Crunchyroll, DAISUKI, and FUNimation)

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03. AJIN (ep. 1-8) – The way Kei’s personality is sometimes very cold and clinical, but other times emotional and impassioned is very interesting. I’m eager to learn more about ajin and what it is that turns people into them. So far the show has been great with its pacing and with how it reveals tantalizing morsels of information a little at a time.

It’s hard to believe that almost all the humans are heartless money-grubbers, though. I can see there’s a message here that the normals are maybe less human than the ajin. Well, the problem is, how can you not see it? It’s pretty heavy-handed.

The CGI may be a barrier for some viewers. At times the movements can look really good, however, just as often, they look stiff and unnatural. The quality is similar SIDONIA, and not as polished as in BBK/BRNK, for instance. Also, as I was searching for a screenshot, I became acutely aware that the colouring is all grey; so yeah, definitely not a great-looking show. Good thing the story is strong enough that it makes up for the visual flaws.

This season has been above average for decent theme songs. For two of the best, in my opinion, you need look no further than AJIN’s OP and ED. I did a double-take when I saw flumpool’s name in the opening credits; I never knew they could sound this good! And Miyano Mamoru’s “HOW CLOSE YOU ARE,” a heartbreaking acoustic ballad full of longing and regret, is also quite the departure from his usual upbeat dance music.
(to stream on NETFLIX in future)

04. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) (ep. 23-32, or SECOND SEASON ep. 1-10) – AssClass has been so much fun to watch! The season premiere episode was great, and it’s continued strong each week, even while varying between lighter and darker story arcs. It’s nice to see the students and staff getting some character development too, especially Nagisa and Irina.
(streaming at FUNimation)

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05. Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayuki-hime) (ep. 13-21) – I wasn’t sure what to expect from this second half of the series, as things on the romantic front seemed pretty resolved by the end of the first cour.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Prince Raj’s personal growth and how he’s been inspired to better himself. He’s become an unexpectedly sympathetic character. And Obi, as Shirayuki’s bodyguard, has had many opportunities to shine lately. I like him a lot.
(streaming at FUNimation)

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06. GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH (Hai to Gensou no Grimgar) (ep. 1-9) – GRIMGAR’s team of volunteer soldiers are tasked with killing goblins in order to earn a living. But more than battling the goblins, which seem to be intelligent and social creatures, they are hunting them. It is intentionally disturbing, and I like that.

The kids spend a lot of time sitting around, talking, maybe too much time, but I find that it’s preferable to the opposite situation. By comparison, currently airing series “BBK/BRNK” also features a ragtag group of juveniles forming team in a fantasy setting. BBK/BRNK has no shortage of action scenes, but after 3 episodes (which is all I watched before dropping), I couldn’t get a grasp on why the characters were working together, and I didn’t care about any of them.

Although GRIMGAR takes its time developing its characters, it had my attention even after just one episode. But it really does move at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Did I mention how pretty it is? Regardless of content, this anime might just be worth watching for the breathtaking watercolour artwork alone. It is that gorgeous.
(streaming at FUNimation)

07. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans)
(ep. 14-22) – After some unexpected conflict at the Dort Colonies, Tekkadan make it to Earth with Kudelia. Things won’t be easy from here on out. Kudelia’s work is just beginning and there’s no telling if the Tekkadan members will even be able to go home.

Whenever IBO’s writers raise a death flag on a character, they pretty much will follow through on it without fail. Not necessarily saying that is a good or bad thing, but I certainly didn’t expect that the title of the first OP, “Raise Your Flag,” could have had that kind of meaning!
(streaming at DAISUKI, Crunchyroll, and FUNimation)

08. Mr. Osomatsu (Osomatsu-san) (ep. 13-22) – A runaway hit in Japan, Osomatsu-san continues to provide irreverent and random comedic goodness. I like it best when the Matsuno brothers look like themselves or appear as their bishounen versions. I have to admit I don’t really get the Girlymatsu stuff.

My favourite episode so far is definitely ep. 16, featuring that outrageously inspired Mad Max parody.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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09. PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE (ep. 1-10) – The whole sport of Stride, which requires the closing of city streets and the cooperation of many people for a few minutes of parkour/foot racing, strikes me as impossible, or at least highly impractical. But to dwell on that would be missing the point. PRINCE OF STRIDE is not asking to be taken seriously. This is a show that has been known to check off anime tropes onscreen! And yes, one of the teams happens to be an idol group and another team spends time modelling fashion in photo shoots. I had to reset my expectation bar to a slightly lower setting after the second episode, but I’ve been enjoying it just fine since.
(streaming at FUNimation and DAISUKI)

10. Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace) SECOND SEASON (ep. 39-48) – Even though I don’t especially think I look forward to Ace of Diamond every week, once I start watching, it’s always riveting. I take for granted that this show will always be there for me with a weekly dose of Seido baseball. The thought that it will be ending soon, for real this time, does leave me anticipating a bit of withdrawal.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Haikyuu!! Second Season (ep. 14-23) – After the stretch of intense training, the Karasuno boys are facing some of their toughest matchups to date. It’s good to see them making use of their improved skills; and I like how the players’ personalities are having an impact on gameplay.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

KONOSUBA
12. KONOSUBA –God’s Blessing on this wonderful world! (Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!) (ep. 1-9) – Amazingly, there were 3 series this season in which a boy dies after being hit by a motor vehicle and subsequently receives a new life of some sort in the first episode. That would be ERASED, AJIN, and this show, KONOSUBA.

I had been kind of off of the trapped in game/fantasy world genre for a good while, but this season I’ve ended up following 2 such shows. GRIMGAR is the dark, serious take on the theme, where the adventurers need to think about cooking, cleaning, and making a living; and a mistake can mean death.

By contrast, KONOSUBA plays the scenario for laughs, in much the same way as IXION SAGA DT did. I’m happy to report that it isn’t even close to as offensive as I’d feared, although it maybe isn’t quite as funny as I’d hoped, either. Overall, it’s still been pretty enjoyable, low-intensity entertainment.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. DURARARA!! X2 Ketsu (The Third Arc)
(ep. 25-34) – All the pieces are in play and getting ready for the grand finale. However, the preparation is taking a while. There really are too many characters! After all this time, it’s pretty hard keeping track of how everyone is related to each other and what their individual objectives are.
(streaming at Crunchyroll, DAISUKI, and FUNimation)

14. GATE: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri (ep. 13-21) – Fortunately, the main focus has been on power struggles and politics and dragon hunting in the Special Region. The show has yet to descend to full-on fantasy harem, and for that, I’m grateful.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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15. Active Raid (ep. 1-10) – This series about an armoured police force tries to be both funny and serious, but unfortunately, it isn’t terribly successful at either comedy or drama. The attention that’s given to police protocol is impressive; and even though the characters are pretty one dimensional, they are sometimes amusing to watch. Overall, though, the show’s not that good.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. Utawarerumono: The False Faces (Itsuwari no Kamen) (ep. 13-23) – This show’s been all over the board. There’s been a big war that kind of fizzled out, some big reveals, a plot-twisting death, some power-struggle scheming, and some nothing episodes. At least the girls all seem to have something useful to do lately, and they’re not just sitting around looking at and drawing yaoi; and all that time that Haku spent cleaning gutters might finally be paying off.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

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17. RAINBOW DAYS (Nijiiro Days) (ep. 1-9) – Pretty forgettable show about the daily lives and romantic exploits of 4 high school friends. It’s a half-length program only. The other half, “club RAINBOW,” is live-action, and it features the 4 male seiyuu who play the leads doing random activities. Club RAINBOW is totally trivial, but it actually leaves a much greater impression than the actual anime itself.
(streaming at FUNimation)

18. Dimension W (ep. 1-9) – Normally, this type of dark and gritty science fiction would be right up my alley, but Dimension W really lost me with the ghost story in eps. 4 and 5 and never regained my interest again. There are too many unimportant characters, and not nearly enough development for the leads to make us care about them.

It kind of feels like we’re in the middle of the second season of DRRR!!, with how convoluted it is and how difficult it is to keep track of the characters. Except we’re only at 9 episodes of a single cour of Dimension W, as opposed to 50+ episodes of DRRR!! over 7 years!

Also, what kind of idiot (main character) brings a sports car to navigate across a torn-up terrain?
(streaming at FUNimation)

19. GARO: CRIMSON MOON (Guren no Tsuki) (ep. 12-19) – Every once in a while an episode will impress us by being not bad, such as the one involving the other brothers (ep.16), but at this point, I’m mainly watching because now that I’ve come this far, I may as well continue for completion’s sake. I have long since discarded any hope I had for this series.
(streaming at FUNimation)

20. Sekkou Boys (ep. 1-10) – About a group of idols who are literally plaster busts, and the long-suffering manager girl who has to look after them. The Sekkou Boys talk, but they do not move, not even their lips. I’m sure there’s some social commentary in there somewhere, but the only reason I can make myself watch this is that each episode is less than 8 minutes long, and it’s usually over before it becomes excessively tiresome.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)