It’s January again. 2016 is over, winter break is (sadly) done and, most importantly, the winter anime season is starting. I was a little hesitant about this season since not a lot of premiers sounded interesting, but we’ve still got quite a few good shows here. I’ll be doing this list like my previous reactions, but this time I’ll be including plot summaries and mentioning shows from last season that are still airing. As usual, I can’t/won’t watch everything, but here’s what stood out to me this season.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans 2
Learning about the world from her journey to Earth, Kudelia founded Admoss Company to strive for the financial independence of Mars. While inspecting a mining site of halfmetal, Orga Itsuka, leader of Tekkadan hired by Admoss as guards, senses an attack from a new enemy and heads out to confront them, along with Mikazuki in the mobile suit Gundam Barbatos Lupus.
Iron Blooded Orphans is the first Gundam I’ve ever seen, but I’m impressed so far. The second season has continued the strong political drama and cool mech fights from the first season and even improved in some ways. The cast has gotten pretty large, but it never feels bloated and some of the best episodes followed the younger members of Tekkadan who only had a minor role in season 1. The best part of IBL has been watching Tekkadan grow and become a real force to be reckoned with, and season 2 has focused on that far more than season 1 did. If you didn’t catch IBL before, it’s worth picking up.
March comes in like a lion
The protagonist Rei is a 17-year old professional shōgi player, who lives by himself, not having a real family, and has scarcely any friends. Among his acquaintances is a family, which consists of a young woman, Akari, and two young girls, Hinata and Momo, and who also keep numerous cats.
As of episode 13, March is one of the strongest shows of the fall season. It sometimes struggles to integrate its comedy with the drama, but the effectiveness of said drama more than makes up for it. March manages to make you care both about the shogi matches and about the people playing by explaining the rules of shogi and what each match means to the characters involved. The best part of March is how well it’s directed, with frequent shots emphasizing Rei’s loneliness and depression that work perfectly with the narration. March isn’t a perfect show, but it’s still a good one.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
Miss Kobayashi is your average office worker who lives a boring life, alone in her small apartment–until she saves the life of a female dragon in distress. The dragon, named Tohru, has the ability to magically transform into an adorable human girl (albeit with horns and a long tail), who will do anything to pay off her debt of gratitude, whether Miss Kobayashi likes it or not.
I didn’t expect a show about an office worker suddenly getting a dragon maid to be one of the best new shows this season, but Dragon Maid was pretty hilarious. Virtually all the jokes landed, especially when Tohru was trying to help Miss Kobayashi in weird ways like washing Kobayashi’s clothes in her mouth and cooking her own tail for dinner. The two leads already have a pretty strong dynamic and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them together. With the prospect of more dragon characters showing up, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get stale anytime soon. This is a definite watch.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
In a world separated into 13 wards, with each ward having an observation division controlled by the organization known as “ACCA.” Jean is known as the craftiest member of ACCA.
The first episode of ACCA did the impossible: it made bureaucracy interesting. Jean, the main character, Jean, is second in command of the Inspection Bureau of ACCA, which means he goes to the various districts of the kingdom of Dowa and inspects the local branches of ACCA, which essentially runs local governments. This doesn’t sound interesting, but Jean is clever enough to keep it interesting and the show has a sense of style that elevates the base content. There were hints of something more going on behind the scenes in ACCA with references to a possible coup in the future, but the first episode was mostly just setting up the world and characters and dropping hints about future plotlines. The art is a bit of an acquired taste, but is generally good (aside from one guy in ACCA who looks like a woman with a mustache). Even if it isn’t completely clear where ACCA is going, this first episode convinced me it’s worth watching.
Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga
Humans live in the world of Assiah, demons in Gehenna. The two dimensions are not meant to interfere with each other, but demons still possess creatures in Assiah in spite of this. The humans who can fight these demons are known as exorcists. Rin Okumura is a boy who bears the curse of being Satan’s illegitimate son. His foster father sacrificed himself to save him from demons. To avenge his foster father’s death as well as to prove himself, Rin decides to follow the path of an exorcist. (from season 1)
The most surprising thing about this season of Blue Exorcist is that it exists at all. The final third of season one went in a completely different direction from the manga and had an anime original ending, which usually means there won’t be a second season. The writers are handling this by basically ignoring the last third of season 1 and starting where it began to diverge from the manga. This adaptation has mostly followed the manga so far, and is pretty good. The first episode had a bit of good action, and Rin’s trouble earning his friends’ trust back after they learn the truth about his parentage is well handled. It’s not particularly original and never goes beyond a straightforward shounen action show, but is well executed enough that I would recommend it, especially to fans of season one.
Konosuba Season 2
Kazuma Satō is a hikikomori (shut-in) die-hard fan of games, anime, and manga. A traffic accident brings his disappointingly brief life to an end, or it should have, but he wakes up and sees a beautiful girl who introduces herself as a goddess. She asks him if he’d like to go to another world but he can only bring one thing with him. Kazumi chooses to bring the goddess. With that, he is transported to another world and his great adventure subjugating the demon king begins, but first the hard work of finding food, clothing, and shelter begins. Kazuma wants to live in peace, but the goddess raises one problem after another, and then the demon king’s army has its eyes set on him. (from season 1)
Konosuba season two is starting off right where season one left off: with Kazuma being arrested for accidently blowing up a noble’s mansion when he saved the city. The rest of the episode proceeds in typical Konosuba fashion; all the adventurers abandon Kazuma because they’re afraid of getting arrested, Kazuma’s party stages multiple incompetent rescues and he’s only saved at trial because Darkness uses her family connections. The humor here is basically the same as season one with jokes about how incompetent the party is and how much of a loser/asshole Kazuma is. The latter occasionally strains likability, but Kazuma is still entertaining enough to work. The only real difference from season one so far is the slightly worse animation, although it’s hardly a deal-breaker. If you liked season one, you’ll probably like season two
Little Witch Academia
Akko Kagari is an ordinary girl who joins the renowned witch academy for witch girls, Luna Nova Academy. When she was younger, she went to Magical Festa, a magic show hosted by a witch named Shiny Chariot. Akko was so mesmerized and inspired by Shiny Chariot’s performance that she dreamed to someday be a “cool” witch like her. This young and impressionable Akko takes Shiny Chariot’s words as her own motto: “Never forget, a believing heart is your magic.”
Based solely on the first episode, Little With Academia has the potential to be the best anime of this season. While it’s a reboot and not a direct sequel to the OVA and movie, it’s captured the same charm as its predecessors. The setup is basically Harry Potter with the charm of a Studio Ghibli movie and the energy and aesthetic of Studio Trigger. It doesn’t seem to be going for any complexity, but that isn’t needed for something like this. All it has to do is keep the sense of fun and wonder going and it could be really great show. The only downside is that the animation, while good for a TV show, is a slight step down from the OVA. It’s also been licensed by Netflix and isn’t being simulcast so there’s nowhere to watch it legally.
Interviews with Monster Girls
Tetsuo Takahashi is a teacher working at Shibasaki High School and specializing in the physiological studies of demi-humans. His students include Akira Takanashi, a vampire and lover of tomato juice; Kyōko Machi, a dullahan; and Yuki Kusakabe, a yuki-onna. The school also employs math teacher Sakie Satō, a succubus.
Interviews with Monster Girls (Demi-chan for short) is pretty clearly not my thing. I didn’t dislike it at all; it just isn’t for me. That said, I’m still recommending it because it’s very good at what it does: being pleasant. The entire first episode focused on the main character meeting various Demi-Humans (Demi) at the school he teaches at and looking for a chance to talk to them about Demi-Humans since he’s writing his thesis on them. There are some jokes, but most of the episode is him meeting them and learning about the different types of Demi. There’s no real drama involved, just simple conversations between two characters with some mild humor, with some pretty decent animation and distinctive character designs. If you like this kind of show, I highly recommend it. It’s just not for me.
Gabriel White graduated at the top of the class at angel school and attends a human school on earth in pursuit of knowledge, but then gets engrossed in a web game and decides its too much trouble to go anywhere.
Gabriel DropOut has one basic joke: all the angels and demons in its cast are really bad at what they do. Luckily, it’s a pretty funny joke. Watching Gabriel turn from a pure angel to a hikikomori who only cares about her games is great and the supporting cast works well, too. Aside from her, there’s a demon who’s idea of evil is minor pranks, a demon who’s nicer than the angels and a sadistic angel who’s meaner than the demons. All of them together have a pretty solid dynamic so far. There was a bit of unnecessary fanservice, but nothing too distracting. The one concern I have is that the first episode gave away all the show’s jokes, which is why I’m slightly more cautious about it than some of the other premiers this season.
In the late Edo Period of Tokugawa Shogunate, hatamoto samurai and law enforcement officer Hasegawa Heizō Nobutame (1745-1795) supervised crackdown on arsonists and organized robbers. He was both highly skilled and merciless against criminals, who called him “Oni no Heizō” (“Demonic Heizō”) a.k.a. “Onihei.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Onihei is its source material. Onihei is adapted from a novel written in 1967 that went on to become a media franchise with TV shows, a movie and even a play. The story itself is pretty straightforward. The main character, Hasegawa, is a tough law enforcement officer in Edo Japan who investigates crimes. The first episode followed both him and a thief he caught who turned into an informant. It looks like it’s going to be an episodic historical police drama and is off to a reasonably good start. The first episode had a pretty solid standalone story about the thief chasing his old master and finding out the master wasn’t as honorable as he used to be. The art was fairly distinctive, with a fair amount of color filters to give it atmosphere, although the animation itself wasn’t anything special. The only reason I’m a little hesitant about this one is because both leads somewhat strain likeability. Hasegawa is introduced when he comes in to torture a suspect, and it’s later revealed that the thief had to be stopped from raping a woman when he was younger. If the show can get past that, though, it could turn out well.
None that I’ve seen.*
And that’s the list. There are quite a few good comedies, a couple of good dramas, and Little Witch Academia is back to save anime. Overall, it seems like we have a pretty solid anime season. Hopefully this means 2017 will also turn out well.
*I tried watching Hand Shakers but gave up after three minutes, so it doesn’t feel right putting it on the list.