Monday, February 16, 2015

Winter 2015: What I'm Watching

Yeah, I'm late on this, because I've first been finishing up all the 2014-ending shows I was behind on before catching up with all of this season's new shows. (I'm still behind on a number of shows that started last year and are continuing into this season.) For now, though, let's look at this season's new shows. Since I'm doing this so late, this post will double as a sort of mid-season impressions post.

And yes, there's only one part this time; I only picked up nine new shows, so I figured I would just put them all in one post.

You can jump to any show directly by clicking on the links below:

Assassination Classroom
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
Death Parade
Dog Days''
Gourmet Girl Graffiti
Kamisama Kiss Season 2
Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls
The Rolling Girls



Assassination Classroom
Japanese title: Ansatsu Kyoushitsu


Quality education with some killer electives.

One day, the Moon was blown into a crescent shape, and the one responsible, a strange octopus-like creature, says he will do the same to the Earth in one year. To give Earth a fighting chance, he signs up to be a teacher, and allows his students to try to kill him within the year with special weapons designed to only harm him. Of course, being able to move at Mach 20 and having all sorts of other superhuman powers means this task will not be easy. At least he promises not to harm any of the students back--in fact, he is dedicated to giving these students, considered the "failure students" of their class, the best education they have ever received.

I was expecting something of a fun, silly show out of this one, and this show definitely provides that, but what I was not quite expecting was for this show to be so heartfelt. Based on a Weekly Shonen Jump manga that is a massive hit in Japan, Assassination Classroom, for all its quirks, is about the power of good teachers. The students of class 3-E are a broken bunch, not helped by the fact that the school they go to specifically designates them as a punching bag to scare the other kids into not being like them, so their newfound assassination mission ends up being a form of therapy and empowerment. Of course, stories of the underdog rising up are classics, but juxtaposing it with something as silly as killing a superpowered octopus monster sounds like it shouldn't work... and yet, it works, and it works really well. This is definitely one of my favorites this season.

Assassination Classroom is streaming on Funimation.

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Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
Japanese title: Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE!


In the name of love, they will give up all of their masculinity.
These five boys want nothing more than to spend their high school days normally, but their lives are upturned when a pink wombat-like being appears and conscripts them into fighting forces of evil with the power of love... which apparently entails transforming into "magical boys".

Okay, so this show is something. It's incredibly silly, and quite devoted to parodying magical girl anime with a gender swap and a whole lot of ridiculousness. It's not a show I would consider any sort of a masterpiece by any means, but it's a fun half hour every week, and worth it for the spectacle of it all.

Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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Death Parade


There's no "would you like to play a game" here.
Sequel Alert?: This show is based on the Anime Mirai short Death Billiards; that short is not legally streaming anywhere that I know of, but you can jump straight into Death Parade without watching it.

Two people find themselves entering the bar, Quindecim. They have no memory of how they got there or what happened in their lives up until then. The bartender, Decim, makes them play a game, one supposedly with their lives on the line. Unbeknownst to them, they have already died, and the game, designed to unearth the worst parts of one's soul, determines whose soul gets reincarnated, and whose soul disappears into the void. And what of one mysterious girl who finds herself at Quindecim and helps out there?

This is definitely the "intellectual" show of the season, and it's one I admittedly have some mixed feelings about. The biggest issue is that the "judgment" of this show is incredibly cruel and even manipulative, and is very unforgiving (the fact that it is prone to "human" error only makes it worse). Thankfully, as if to help counteract that, not every episode is a doom-and-gloom affair of rooting out the worst of people; some episodes are much more pleasant and heartfelt, showing instead the good in people, and one episode is even downright goofy and comedic. In addition, there's every much a focus on the actual workings of Quindecim and the people that work there as there is on the various judgments of people, which gives this show a whole new dimension of depth that should serve it well. If you are looking for an anime different from the norm, one that will make you think, this show is a must-see.

Death Parade is streaming on Funimation.

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Dog Days''


Games on the complete opposite end of the seriousness spectrum from the above show.
Sequel Alert: This is a sequel to the first two seasons of Dog Days, and it is recommend you watch those two first.

The three heroes, Shinku, Rebecca, and Nanami, make their way back to Flognarde for more exciting and relatively harmless war games with the three-country alliance of Biscotti, Galette, and Pastillage. However, an accident during the summoning ritual sends Shinku and Nanami off course to the Dragon Forest, where a new threat to the continent awaits.

As I've mentioned in a special induction I did for this show, Dog Days is a series dedicated to fun. It's not a show for those expecting anything serious or intellectual (please see the show above for that). It is a show, though, that does indulge in some worldbuilding, and the third season follows well in that tradition. It's also a bit more fanservicey than some might like, and some recent episodes haven't exactly been the best. But it's still overall an enjoyable series, and one you might enjoy if you just want a fun fantasy battle show with lots of cute girls (plus some handsome guys).

The third season of Dog Days is not streaming legally anywhere (except in Asia, for some reason). However, the first two seasons are streaming on Crunchyroll.

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Gourmet Girl Graffiti
Japanese name: Koufuku Graffiti


The anime equivalent of soul food.
Ryou Machiko has been living on her own after her grandmother died. She learned cooking from her grandmother, but lately the food she made just hasn't tasted right. Things change, though, when her second cousin Kirin Morino visits for the weekend. What follows is cute girls cooking and enjoying food.

Based on a Manga Time Kirara series and animated by Studio SHAFT, who did Hidamari Sketch and several well-known shows that are very much not like this show, Gourmet Girl Graffiti is yet another slice-of-life show featuring cute girls. What sets this show apart is its focus on food, and what it reveals about the role food has in our lives, beyond just the cooking and eating and into how it affects our relationships with others. Of course, the show is almost infamous at this point for its sensuous eating scenes, which I personally don't have a problem with and think fit fine in the show, though your mileage may vary. All in all, it's my favorite show this season, which isn't a surprise if you know my anime tastes. Just a fair warning if you watch it, though: always watch it during a mealtime, or with some snacks handy, because it will make you hungry.

Gourmet Girl Graffiti is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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Kamisama Kiss Season 2
Japanese title: Kamisama Hajimemashita◎


In other words, "we're Japanese and like using weird symbols in our sequel titles."
Sequel Alert: This is a direct sequel to the first season of Kamisama Kiss, so watch that first.

Nanami and her familiar (and love interest) Tomoe continue their lives as Nanami continues to work out her duties as the god of the Mikage Shrine.

The first season of Kamisama Kiss was a very sweet show, melding its romance quite well into the supernatural, Shinto-themed story. It worked largely because while the romance was a significant part of the show, it was far from the only part; if anything, the supernatural aspect of Nanami's godhood is the main focus of the show, which is nice because I am finding more and more that shows that center around romance too much tend to tank. This show, however, has a nice, "naturally"-developing romance (given the supernatural world of the show) that is full of charm. And while all this describes the first season, so far it applies every bit as much to the second season too.

Both seasons of Kamisama Kiss are streaming on Funimation.

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Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
Japanese title: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata


Yes, the "heroine" is in this picture. No, she's not one of the front three girls.
One day, Tomoya sees a cute girl at the top of a hill, and suddenly gains the inspiration to make a bishoujo game visual novel. The only problem is that he later discovers that the girl he "met" is Megumi Kato, a plain, unassuming girl who has been his classmate for a while already. How can Tomoya, with the help of various other girls, turn this presence-less plain girl into the perfect heroine?

The "first" episode of this show was more of a fanservice romp than anything, but thankfully, episodes following it are less fanservicey and more focused on the story, which definitely has a bit of a parody aspect to it. That said, this show is worth watching purely for Megumi alone. Megumi is an absolute joy to watch. As a normal girl that others are trying to drag into becoming an anime archetype, Megumi reacts not with disgust or outright contempt, but with a combination of interest and biting sarcasm. Her "normal" reactions to the otaku world completely throw off the more otaku main cast, and are just an absolute joy to watch. The rest of the show is solid enough, but Megumi is the glue that holds it together, and the only reason a show like this can work as well as it does.

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls


Everyone in this group is of the Smile attribute.
Sequel Alert?: Not this time. This is a spinoff of the "iDOLM@STER" franchise, featuring an entirely separate group of girls from the group featured in the previous The iDOLM@STER anime (or the mecha space spinoff iDOLM@STER Xenoglossia). No previous experience with the franchise is necessary for watching this show.

Uzuki, Rin, and Mio are scouted by a producer from 346 Productions to join the Cinderella Project, where they and eleven other girls will have their chance to finally enter the spotlight as professional music idols.

The original The iDOLM@STER anime was an absolutely fantastic show that combined slice-of-life elements with solid character drama and a nice, multi-faceted look into the world of professional idol entertainment. So far, despite the different cast, Cinderella Girls is continuing perfectly well in that tradition even with a different cast. With idol anime gaining popularity in recent years, if you are late in catching the idol train, Cinderella Girls is a perfectly fine place to start from.

The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls is streaming on Daisuki. The first The iDOLM@STER anime is streaming on Crunchyroll. (And if you really care, iDOLM@STER Xenoglossia is streaming on Hulu.)

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The Rolling Girls
Japanese title: Rolling☆Girls

Merrily they roll along.
A great war has split Japan into several independent nations, where each nation is ruled by a designated leader followed by several "mob" members. While the leaders sometimes come into conflict with one another (especially now that several strange heart-shaped stones have appeared), the "mob" usually just stands around and offer moral support. However, when their leader ends up out of action, four mob girls, Nozomi, Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya, end up going in her place to moderate disputes in various nations.

This anime original work can be described as "someone at Wit Studio got tired of all the bleak, drab colors of Attack on Titan and wanted to make a show as colorful as possible." This show definitely has a fun aesthetic to it, kind of reminiscent of Kill la Kill except even more colorful and fabulous. The story is okay so far, with some nice moments here and there and the potential to be a solid, heartfelt show; that combined with all the pretty colors and cute girls equals a show that might not be high on my priority list but is another enjoyable entry in this relatively sparse season.

The Rolling Girls is streaming on Funimation.

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