Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Anime-zing Race (Summer 2015 Edition): Week 1

New season, new race rules, same bad banner-making skills.
It’s finally time to start the Summer 2015 edition of The Anime-zing Race! As I mentioned in my last post, this season will work a bit differently, with more limitations on eligible shows and a number of non-elimination legs. In addition, this first leg will introduce another new aspect to the Race that I might do for any given leg.

Before we begin, though, there has been some changes to the race lineup. Castle Town Dandelion has ascended from the race, being way more like my preferred slice-of-life anime than I had expected, a look into what happens in Chaos Dragon has told me that I want nothing to do with that show, and Suzukinashi The Animation has not received a legal stream at the time of the race start, so those three are no longer part of the Race, and three shows need to take their place. Two of those shows will be Overlord and Sky Wizards Academy… but unfortunately, all of the remaining shows are either too ecchi (Shimoneta, Monster Musume, Prison School), too dark and gruesome (Gangsta), or are not streaming on CR or Funimation (God Eater). Or, they are sequels to shows I have not yet watched… so…

I am now allowing shows from past seasons to participate in the Race. There are two conditions, though, for bringing in a past show. First, I cannot have watched any episodes of the show already (not even one episode). Second, the show must be either: 1. A show for which a sequel season is debuting in the current season, or 2. A show which started in a previous season but is still airing new episodes. Shows that fall under 1 will take priority.

As such, based on those conditions, Gatchaman Crowds (Season 1) will be my final Race candidate. The full list of Race candidates are:

Actually, I Am
Aoharu x Machinegun
Charlotte
Classroom Crisis
Gatchaman Crowds (Season 1)
Gate
Overlord
Ranpo Kitan
Rokka: Braves of Six Flowers
Sky Wizards Academy
Ushio and Tora

While many of these shows already have two episodes up, this first leg will focus only on the first episode of each show. So, let the Race begin!





New to the Race this season are Roadblocks and Detours. On some legs, before I start reporting on which shows finish the race in which order, every show must pass a Roadblock. In a Roadblock, I will look at one aspect of an anime’s overall quality and note how well each show holds up to that aspect. Shows that do not hold up well may find themselves falling behind other shows, while the shows that are the best in that aspect can get the jump ahead. Detours are similar, except tI will split shows into two groups and evaluate each group by a different aspect.

This first leg features a Roadblock: Make A Good First Impression. There’s a certain art to making a first episode; it’s why one of my “Best of” categories every year is “Best Opening Episode”. A strong first episode should introduce some of the major characters of the show in a way that makes us interested in them, as well as introduce the basics of the show’s main premise, enough to get us interested but keeping enough hidden that we are curious about what can happen next. Especially good first episodes will squeeze in a strong mini-story into the whole episode, while still inspiring curiosity to see what further stories the show can offer. And, of course, above all else, the first episode cannot be boring, because nothing kills potential interest in a show faster than a boring first episode.

So how does each show’s first episode stack up? Note that each show’s entry will have spoilers for the first episode.

Actually, I Am: …quite enamored by this show’s first episode. The first half is pretty slow, as it merely introduces us to the main guy, Asahi, and his quirk of having the complete opposite of a poker face, as his inability to control his body language makes him easy to read and completely unable to lie or keep a secret. The rest of the first half is just build-up as his friends pressure him to confess to his obvious crush, the cool, distant beauty, Youko, plus some introductions to other girls that will likely be important. Aside from an amusing flashback on how a previous crush ended before he could confess, it’s not particularly interesting. The second half, though, kicks off the real story as Asahi discovers that Youko is actually a rather cheerful, friendly girl… oh, and she’s also a vampire. Not only are their reactions to finding out and being found out hilarious, but there’s also a lot of emotional charm to their encounter; since Youko had to quit school if her secret was found out, she had to distance herself from her classmates, so for Asahi to not only offer to keep her secret, but also to be her friend is rather sweet (even if not quite what he wanted). Overall, while the first half was not the best, a strong second half gives this show one of the better openers of the season.

Smiles and warm feels all around.

Aoharu x Machinegun: So this must be the lovechild of Ouran High School Host Club and Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3. From the former, we have a girl dressed as a boy, who then meets a handsome male who happens to run a host club (this time an actual host club, not a school club that acts as one). For bonus points, she also ends up destroying things in the club, and has to do things to pay back her debt. From the latter, we get a girl who gets drafted into the world of survival games (to pay back said debt), though with the added bonus that the others think she’s a guy. The premise is interesting enough and the main girl is pretty amusing with her bloodthirsty love of justice, but otherwise, there’s not much else to say as it’s a pretty average opener.

Charlotte: One of the more highly anticipated shows of the season due to it being a Jun Maeda work alongside things like Kanon, Clannad, and Angel Beats. This show manages to put up one of the strongest openers of the season… by virtue of making the male lead a complete scumbag. With the ability to possess another person’s consciousness for five seconds at a time, he uses the ability to cheat on tests into a prestigious school and even manipulate the feelings of the girl he likes to like him back. Utter, despicable human scum… and yet, it works, because it makes him interesting, and gives his character lots of room for growth. (It also makes his subsequent exposure, as well as being dumped by the same girl he manipulated, surprisingly satisfying.) This episode also does a good job of introducing the overall concept of a school designed to contain help these temporarily-superpowered teens, as well as hint at the backstory of the male lead’s family. Definitely a very strong first episode.

Classroom Crisis: This first episode probably did the best job of trying to draw interest in the show itself. The episode already had quite a lot going on with it, including a kidnapping and a rescue mission; it also presented an interesting setting that makes good use of the science fiction aspect of the show, and a reasonably interesting cast of characters. It might have been trying to do a bit too much, but overall it’s an interesting first episode that puts it toward the front of the pack.

Gatchaman Crowds: The first episode of this show gave us some establishment of the setting, the premise… and possibly one of the most polarizing protagonists in anime. Hajime is quite the combination of forthright, energetic, optimistic, and just a bit not right in the head (understatement), and she continually walks the line between annoying and amusing. I for one was more amused than annoyed by her, which is good as even from the first episode, it’s easy to tell that she’s going to carry the show, for better or for worse. As such I found the premiere to be fun and intriguing, and among one of the better ones in the Race.

Gate: This premiere introduces us to a raid force of fantasy dwellers invading and terrorizing a small part of modern Tokyo (before being utterly decimated by modern technology). It also introduces us to our male lead, an otaku who joined the Japan Self-Defense Force to support his hobby (which also helps justify his involvement and relative competence). While the episode ends as the SDF task force only starts to go into the fantasy land themselves, there are some good establishing moments, in particular with one girl whose parents died in the attack, that it’s able to at least spark some interest in further proceedings.

Overlord: It’s another “trapped in an MMORPG” anime… but the twist this time is that all the actual players we know of are gone, leaving the trappee, “Momonga”, with some much more human-like NPCs. While not a particularly strong opener in terms of engagement, there are some fun things like how Momonga, whose in-game skeletal avatar is now effectively permanent, has a much more reserved “inner voice” compared to the outer voice he tries to use to fit his character. The setting also has some interesting points, like how his guild seems to effectively has its own dungeon, complete with bosses that serve as his new NPC compatriots. All in all, a good enough opening episode.

Ranpo Kitan: Obviously, the premiere of a mystery show is going to want to maintain as much of an air of mystery as possible, so the mystery presented in this episode is nowhere near solved. Rather, we get an introduction to the major characters of the show, particularly Kobayashi, an effeminate-looking boy that seems to take particular delight in the fact that he has to solve the mystery or be incriminated himself. The atmosphere of mystery in this show is definitely strong in this one, and Kobayashi is a very intriguing character, helping make this opening episode another strong one.

Rokka: What this opening episode did best is establish the setting of the show, both with the opening battle and in the exposition about the backstory of the demon god and the legend of the Six Braves. That said, right now Adlet is more annoying than anything, and aside from the opening battle, the show hasn’t done a whole lot interesting, so the show is clearly relying more on an interest in the setting to draw people in rather than having a particularly strong first episode.

Sky Wizards Academy: Of all the opening episodes this season, this… was the one that was an absolute failure. We get a vaguely interesting opening battle sequence… and then the show devolves into expositing about its “F-team”, while our male lead ends up in various accidental pervert situations (plus a completely-straight crash-into-the-girl scene with the girl even having toast in her mouth!), all while we also get needlessly reminded that he’s a “traitor”. Speaking of the girls, only Rico, the girl with an incredible ego, is even remotely interesting, if only because she’s the most unlikable. Oh, and the entire episode was boring. The animation, direction, and music provide way too laid-back of a feel for a show that really just needs to get together a story that is actually interesting. The failure of the show to do that, instead just following along with all the checkboxes of a generic fantasy harem show opener, and not even doing that well, means it has easily the worst first episode of the season.

Ushio and Tora: This old-school revival had some surprising charm to it. This is mainly because of how the titular characters play off each other, especially when Tora goes from menacing one moment and absolutely terrified and submissive the next when he realizes he does not actually have the upper hand against Ushio. Overall, it’s a fun opener more than anything.



Now that each show has been evaluated according to its opening episode, they must now race to the Pit Stop, based on how much I am interested in watching more of the show. The last show to check in… may be eliminated.

Coming in 1st place is Charlotte. The scumbag protagonist actually works well, and there’s plenty of other interesting characters and plot elements (and an adorable little sister) to keep me interested. This is definitely the show to keep an eye on as a front-runner for the season, though there’s plenty of time for it to mess up or for another show to catch up.

As for 2nd place… actually, I am seeing Actually, I Am arrive in the spot. There’s just so much charm to this show and I really want to see Youko make more friends and get to enjoy school life more.

Another surprising front-line finish comes courtesy of Ushio and Tora in 3rd place. While there’s obviously a shounen battle series here, the feel of this show seems to be more comedic than anything, and I am all up for that. The more the two leads can play off each other, the better.

Ranpo Kitan arrives in 4th place with a great mystery theme and a fun protagonist in Kobayashi.

Classroom Crisis takes 5th place with the help of a fun opening episode and a fascinating setting, though I’m not sure how much I’m going to like this new chief/transfer student.

In 6th place, we have Gatchaman Crowds. A fun opening episode and a surprisingly engaging protagonist in Hajime helps make for a show I’m definitely interested in seeing more of.

Taking 7th place is Aoharu x Machinegun. While the opening episode isn’t particularly noteworthy, the overall premise is plenty interesting enough to keep my attention.

Gate comes in 8th place. It’s mainly set-up right now (and I really want to see the blue-haired sorceress girl), but it’s an interesting take on the whole “Japan connects with fantasy land” concept that Outbreak Company first used, while being quite different from that show in tone already so as to minimize future comparisons.

Overlord takes 9th place, with an interesting enough take on the whole MMORPG-fantasy genre.

And while technically in the back of the pack, Rokka: Braves of Six Flowers takes 10th place easily, thanks to at least an interesting setting and bunny girl, even if I’m not too big of a fan of the lead guy.

The above ten shows all effectively got a free pass this week, as Sky Wizards Academy pretty much slept through the entire Roadblock, putting itself way behind. The show is just so generic and boring that I just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Not even reaching the Pit Stop, Sky Wizards Academy is the last show to check in, and it has been eliminated from the race.

Boring close-out screencap for a boring show.



Next week, with the obvious dud among the eleven dropped out, the remaining ten shows look to prove themselves over their peers. And to go along with that, they will take on a musical Detour that can help with opening up a path to victory… or bring their race to an early ending.

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