Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2018

Another year, another anime season. For the most part, I don’t think it’s going to be an overly exciting one, but I’ve been wrong before despite my obviously impeccable taste. This time around I checked out 10 different premieres – and wonder of wonders, 6 of them have made the cut for at least a second episode. Find out below which titles made the cut and which have been consigned to the trash pile.

Ito Junji: Collection
Score: 3/10 (Dropped)

This was weird, and not in an especially good way. I went in expecting more horror than dark comedy, which I guess isn’t anyone’s fault but mine, but despite a certain scene involving a giant spider, not only were the horror aspects not particularly horrifying but the comedy aspects weren’t particularly funny either. I mean, I assume they were meant to be? I certainly wasn’t able to take anything here seriously given that the main protagonist in this first episode was a delusional little shit who cursed people for looking at him wrong – and said curses usually played out more like mean-spirited pranks than anything genuinely frightening or life-threatening. I get that each episode of this series is probably going to feature a completely different story and protagonist, but the tone of this premiere just felt so random and off-center that it completely dissuaded me from watching any further.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san/Teasing Master Takagi-san
Score: 4/10 (Dropped)

If it weren’t for the uniforms, I would have assumed this series was about two students in elementary rather than junior high school, and not just because of the character designs (man those heads are huge). I suppose Nishikata and Takagi are cute enough if you like that sort of thing, but the way they tease one another with the sole intention of making the other person blush puts me in mind more of 5-year olds than students who’ve got to be at least 13. Said teasing never involves anything that could actually be considered bullying or abusive – these mutual pranks (or in Nishikata’s case, only attempted pranks) are tiny and obviously not malicious – but this also means the show is about as boring as it sounds. It’s like sitting through 20-minute episodes of Tonari no Seki-kun without any of the actual comedy; each prank has a set-up of what’s probably only about 5 minutes but feels like it takes half an episode, and then the only payoff seems to be Nishikata getting frustrated that the prank didn’t pan out the way he envisioned and/or Nishikata getting somehow pranked by Takagi instead and being yelled at by the teacher for the umpteenth time. I was falling asleep by the end of the episode.

Darling in the FranXX
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)

I won’t beat around the bush, my reaction to this show is largely disappointment. The mecha anime I really love are few and far between, but I figured that if any new mecha title had a shot at appealing to my tastes, it might well be Darling. Unfortunately, while I do think the series has some potential, I also think that potential is more or less completely smothered under what feels like an almost compulsive need for fanservice. I make no exaggeration when I say that literally half of this premiere episode is made up of shots of various butts and the main female character’s miraculously elastic breasts. Moreover, while Darling might conceivably be hiding some originality under all that naked/tightly-clothed flesh, the first episode at least seems like it’s just taking nearly all the stuff I didn’t like about Star Driver, with vague hints here and there of the likes of Evangelion and Eureka Seven, and mashing it all together while pretending to be being funky and imaginative. Frankly, I don’t even see the point of an anime-original title if there’s going to be so little in the way of innovation or creativity.

Gakuen Babysitters/School Babysitters
Score: 5/10 (Dropped)

There’s really nothing wrong with this first episode per se; it’s easy to watch despite the heavy context, it’s got a positive feel while not glossing over the tragedy that brought it there, and the cast seems as about as adorable as you’d expect from a show about toddlers and the people who’ve chosen to care for them, no matter what else might be going on in their lives. In short, Gakuen Babysitters is a sweet but not cloyingly so slice-of-life title, with a bit of light comedy thrown in to help balance things out. My main problem is that I don’t see a whole lot of substance here either. It’s not that the series lacks depth, exactly, but simply that I don’t see anything particularly unique or compelling about it; there’s no real hook, no good reason for me to continue watching beyond “it’s cute so why not.” Ultimately, I suppose I’d just rather watch something with a bit more interest or impact behind it.

Kokkoku – January 8th: 6/10
Score: 6/10

I’m still very on the fence about this title. On the one hand, the show automatically earns points for depicting an entire lower-middle class family (nearly all of them adults) and their various real-life situations and struggles, which is wildly different in both character type and backdrop to probably roughly 90% of all other anime currently airing. On the other hand… well, despite having an interesting premise, I can’t say that I think it was executed all that well, primarily thanks to a lurking worry that all of the action is going to be unnecessarily violent and sexualized – and no, the ED certainly doesn’t help assuage my fears on that front. It might have been better for the anime to start off in at least a slightly lighter vein, rather than jumping straight into a plot involving kidnapping, ransom, and probable murder, likely complete with enough blood splatter to be deemed appropriately ‘edgy’ and ‘alternative’. I’ll give it one more episode just to be fair, but I’m not holding my breath that Kokkoku will be smart enough to keep me interested.

Sanrio Danshi/Sanrio Boys
Score: 6/10

Well this is a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to be the show of the season by any stretch of the imagination, given its insistence on almost embarrassingly transparent displays of manservice coupled with its roots as a blatant advertisement for Sanrio. I’d be happier if the company stuck to accessories and school supplies rather than anime (isn’t Hello Kitty making them for than enough money as it is?), and was expecting something along the lines of last summer’s dull Konbini Kareshi as an absolute best-case scenario. That said, I quite like the premise of a high school boy liking cutesy Sanrio characters but being too ashamed to admit it. While I have no particular love for Sanrio myself, I think just about anyone can relate to liking something that society or their peers might generally frown upon, simply because it’s considered too immature for their age or not gender-appropriate. Sanrio Danshi probably won’t be winning any prizes for depth, but that’s actually a pretty decent start for a story. Add to this the generally pleasant artwork and vibrant, upbeat atmosphere and this is, surprisingly, a fairly solid opener. I don’t know whether or not I’ll be sticking with the show the whole way through, but it’s at least earned a second episode.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho/A Place Further Than The Universe
Score: 6.5/10

I wasn’t planning on watching this title at all, but then a bunch of people ended up praising it so highly that I felt I had to give it a shot, if only out of sheer curiosity. I’m slightly on the fence about the result – I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s one of the best shows of the season – but I’ll readily admit that it’s far more than the same-old ‘cute girls doing cute things but this time vaguely relating to Antarctica lol’ type of show I was expecting from the synopsis. The main reason for my wariness is that I’m tired not only of anime about groups of high school girls, but also of anime about groups of high school girls who have an initial goal to do something and then never actually get around to doing it (mostly because they’re too busy getting crushes, talking amongst themselves about nothing in particular, and whatever else Japanese schoolgirls apparently do most of the time). That’s still a distinct possibility here – seriously, if the girls never make it to Antarctica, or at least make some serious progress to make it there, I’ll be incredibly letdown – but I can’t deny that there’s plenty of energy and charm here. I’ll therefore be keeping tabs on it at least for a while longer.

Violet Evergarden
Score: 7/10

I’ll admit it, my expectations for this series were fairly low. To say I’ve liked nothing that KyoAni’s put out there would be a lie (mostly because Hyouka), but I was left cold when everyone else seemed to be talking about nothing else aside from the likes of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Nichijou, Chuunibyou, and Euphonium. What can I say, I guess I just don’t care all that much for cute girls (with exceedingly high-pitched voices) doing cute things while the camera focuses on their legs a lot. And having paid very little attention to Violet Evergarden before it began officially airing, I had no idea that a) the main character would be a largely emotionless young woman/cyborg/robot/whatever, or that b) said character would be set against a pseudo-European and immediate post-war backdrop. So basically, my expectations were already exceeded within the first 30 seconds of the premiere. I’m not necessarily completely sold yet – there are a lot of questions here that need answering – but I’m certainly curious enough to keep watching. Sure, on the technical side of things there’s obviously been a lot of money and work poured into this, but what’s really selling it to me is the potential for some fantastic world-building. I’d be quite happy if the mystery of Violet herself is unraveled bit by bit, so long as the former is given the attention it deserves.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni/After the Rain
Score: 7/10

Here I was mentally preparing myself for the worst when this turned out to be one of the best premieres of the season. Yes, I’m still extremely leery about a series that primarily involves a romance between a 17-year old high school girl and her 45-year old family restaurant manager, but I desperately want to give this one a chance anyway, because there’s also a lot to like here. The artwork is vivid and stylish. The exposition is basically zero. The characters are genuinely likeable. The dialogue between them is good and the lack of dialogue even better – I’ve always had a deep respect for anime that can not only pull of the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ thing with aplomb, but also let the silence itself just be, without the need to hastily fill it in with either random chatter or background music. Put succinctly, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni has a lot of impact to it, and I’m not about to drop the title without very good reason.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen
Score: 8/10

Given my huge soft spot for this franchise (Sailor Moon might have been my magical-girl first, but Cardcaptor Sakura has always been my #1), I’m probably incapable of talking about the show with any kind of objectivity. For what it’s worth though, I think we’re off to a very decent start, with an opener that wastes no time in getting back into the swing of things. I’m glad the romance between Sakura and Syaoran, which has never been my favourite part of the series, didn’t take up the whole of this first episode – not because I don’t like them together, but simply because I find many of the other relationships in Cardcaptor Sakura, romantic or otherwise, to be far more interesting. I can certainly see why this aspect played an integral part of the premiere; it is, after all, a direct follow-up to not only where we left off both in the original show as well as the Clear Card prologue episode, and I fully expected it. However, I’m hopeful that ample time will still be given to the major magical plot point itself, as well as to the many other, often quite subtle and complex character dynamics that made me fall in love with this anime so completely in the first place. And just briefly, on that note, I’m very happy with the visuals here. Obviously they’ve been updated to look fresher and smoother than when we last checked in nearly two decades ago, but the art style is more or less identical, albeit with a few minor changes to reflect the now slightly older characters. (And hey, we’ve also upgraded to smartphones!)

Question of the post: As always, what have been the best and the worst premieres for you this season? Any shows you’d consider a must-watch that didn’t make this list?

10 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2018

  1. I’ve read some of the Violet Evergarden fantranslated LNs, Violet’s past will be duly answered. The source uses a lot of emotive language to bring places and characters to life on page, something which I hope can be translated across the 14 eps Kyoani has.

    The Junji Ito one appears to have lost something in translation from page to anime – the mangas are supposed to give that feeling of morbid body horror. The Souichi ones were meant to be macabre, I think.

    The Idolish 7 premieres were pretty good (Eps 1-2 were aired in advance). For an idol show, there’s potential for a lot of inter-group drama and character developments for the main leads and their rivals.


    1. Glad to know there’s some good material in Violet Evergarden to look forward to.

      I definitely understand what you get about Junji Ito and the material being lost in translation. I can easily see what the anime /could have been, but unfortunately what we actually get just isn’t cutting it for me.

      I’m happy to take your word for it with Idolish, but even the okay idol anime just aren’t my cup of tea. To be completely honest, I’ve always found them vaguely creepy, much as I find the majority of Japanese idol groups vaguely creepy IRL.


  2. None of the new shows (other than Cardcaptor which is more of a continuation) have really been a must watch for me. There’s a few I’m probably going to really enjoy but they first episodes aren’t amazing. The one show I’m really interested in after watching its first episode is Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens mostly because I knew nothing about it going in and then it delivered a pretty decent set up. Whether the show remains decent future episodes will tell.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the season so far.


    1. I didn’t get around to watching that one, but it it gets rave reviews then I might try it out eventually. For now though, it looks like I have plenty to be going on with – especially since, unusually, I have 3 carryovers from the fall season.

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  3. I’m quite happy with Sakura, too. I haven’t actually watched all of the original yet. I wanted to prepare for this season, but didn’t get around to it in time, so now I’m watching Clear Card hen anyway. I’m still having a little disorientating experience (since I don’t know who Eriol (sp?) is, for example, and a couple of other developments), but I’m fine with picking things up as I go. I like the visuals, too, and I’m looking forward to the rest.

    I’m pretty much with you on Junji Ito collection. I remember liking the Uzumaki live action film, and being somewhat okayish on Gyo (I’m told the manga’s better), but this did nothing for me. Not only was the humour not funny to me, I felt it was all a little mean spirited. The doll-short near the end was utterly pointless, and the first skit of the second episode didn’t make things better. Not my thing.

    The teasing anime is my kind of thing, but it’s not really enough to support a full show. This should have been a full show, or they should spend more time on the class mates to mix things up. I’m fine with it, and I even like the designs. I’m also fine with the voice acting (which is a common complaint I’ve heard: they sound too old). I sort of like it, but not as much as I hoped.

    Darling in the FranXX isn’t a disappointment for me, mostly because I didn’t even intend to watch it. Then I clicked on it anyway. Well, I’m going to watch the next episode, too. Not sure how far I’ll get. It might be one more episode to the end, it might draw me in, I might drop it. I was fine with the fanservice here; it seems part of the concept somehow, and I’m actually mildly curious what they’ll make of it. Middle-of-the-road show for me. Wait and see.

    I actually quite liked Kokkoku. I’m not a fan of the brand of “delinquent brutality” at display here, and that ending is just awful, but the setting is intriguing and the characters are well handled and episode two continued in that vein. It’s something rare: an anime thriller that actually works for me, despite indulging in the sort of brutality I dislike.

    Universe is okay. I have little to say about it other than that. The show openly acknowledges that the kids are in over their heads, and I like that, but at the same time there’s a hint of over-expressiveness in the designs that doesn’t appeal to me. Overall I like it.

    Violet Evergarden was a solid premier. I was prepared to dislike it and instantly drop it, but I didn’t. I’m drawn to the story, but sort of put off by the style. I’d prefer a more subdued soundtrack, and fewer visual clichés like that paper flying away in the wind. It all adds up to some sort of Disney-feel which isn’t my thing. But it’s still good.

    I really like Koi wa Ameagiri no you ni, and mostly for the reasons you metion in your post, too. There’s this scene where the 45 year old manager places himself into the shoes of our main character’s suitor, and it’s a younger version of himself. It’s this scene that gives me hope that they have enough awareness of the problems involved to make it work. “After the Rain” is a transitory stage after all. Things dry up, and then what? One of my favourites.

    I like both Sanrio Danshi and Gakuen Babysitters, the latter especially will likely be one my feel-good staples of the season. I also liked Yuru Camp, though it’s a fairly standard CGDCT show, and Mitsuboshi Colors, which is a little more off-beat, and more in the vein of older shows like Ichigo Marshmallow (though not as good).

    Finally, I’m baffled at why I like Killing Bites. It’s awful. Think last season’s Juuni Taisen, but take away what made that series fun, add a thick layer of sleeze, and draw out the fights without actually adding tension or making them interesting. I don’t recommend watching the show, and yet I sort of like it. I think my childhood self might be geeking out over the animal imagery. I’m openly happy that people acknowledge the honey badger over the more common wolverine that usually inhabits the trope. Similarly, the digging motions of the bunny girl (in the opening) do actually remind me of rabbits, even if it’s of cartoon rabbits. That’s part of it, but is it all? I don’t know. Killing Bites is awful, and if you didn’t want to watch it, I’ll tell you here and now that that’s the right decision. And yet I’m still entertained, and I only partly understand why. (I’ve dropped plenty of similar shows before an episode is over.)


    1. Eriol is introduced in the third season of the original anime series. He’s very important for that particular story arc, but probably a relatively minor character overall now that said arc is done.

      I think I would have preferred it if the doll-short near the end of that Ito Junji episode had been the main story. It felt way creepier, but yes, there really didn’t seem much point to it given that it was only about a minute long.



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