Winter 2017 First Impressions – The Dumping Ground

I’ve been an anime fan for a long time, and I can say with some authority that there are times when it’s just not worthwhile to spend a lot of time talking about a particular series. I used to go into fine detail about every ounce of fanservice, sexism, or other element of ugliness in a show. I also used to devote a lot of time to first episodes that were just devoid of anything worth talking about. You don’t know difficulty until you’ve tried to write a thousand-ish words about something that’s essentially a clone of several other very average things! It’s also hard to stay silent, though, when you’ve devoted time to watching something. So here’s the very special space I’ve developed to give stuff a mention when it otherwise doesn’t have a lot about it worth analyzing. This post will be updated as I watch more first episodes. As usual – these impressions are based off of first episodes only (unless specified otherwise). These shows may completely turn around in subsequent episodes… but I doubt it! I’ve also given many of them joke ratings, but it should be fairly obvious from context what my feelings are.

 

Hand Shakers

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: 12

Source: Original

Episode 1 Summary: Tazuna is a typical teen with a not-so-typical interest in fixing things. He can become so distracted helping people fix their mechanical items that he makes himself late for appointments. One day he’s asked by a certain Dr. Makihara to stop by the local university. After arriving he discovers a girl, Koyori, sleeping in a hospital bed. Reminded of his dead sister, Tazuna grasps her hand and is awakened to powers beyond his imagining. Of course, there’s a catch – if he ever lets go of Koyori’s hand, she’ll die.

Impressions: I think there are a lot of choices to be made when producing an anime. It’s not often that I find one where the wrong choice appears to have been made in every single situation possible.

Visually this is an example of modern production techniques gone completely bonkers. The backgrounds are completely created using 3DCG techniques, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but they truly do not mesh well with the 2D character animation, which is animated at a different frame rate and causes the characters to look like paper dolls pasted on top of a backdrop. The background frame rate is too high and moves too smoothly – watching it reminds me of watching a modern television set with the refresh rate set too high. I start to get dizzy, because it feels like I’m looking through a window rather than at a screen. The effect is reminiscent of some anime-style video game openings and cut scenes I’ve run across over the years – an attempt was made to blend cutting-edge graphics from both sides of the equation, but technology and visual sense needed to join them seamlessly just didn’t exist. There are anime that are able to do it much better nowadays, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them.

And let’s talk about the women in this episode. We have one character, the class president, who’s defined by her huge chest that bounces unrealistically with the slightest movement of her body. Then there’s “Bind,” the female half of the duo that Tazuna battles this episode, who apparently exists to writhe on the ground in sexual agony, have her crotch stomped on violently, and make orgasm noises in the place of actual dialog. And there’s Koyomi, who’s a personality-less white-haired loli who seems to be there to get dragged around by the hand (but it’s okay, it’s part of the plot! /s). There’s so much male-gaze camera leering and sexualized violence in this episode that I was getting pretty uncomfortable. It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve seen something that’s trying so hard to be vile; most of the fanservice-focused series I’ve been aware of lately are goofier (which doesn’t necessarily make it better, just marginally less heartbreaking to watch as a woman and an anime fan).

Nope, no, nuh-uh, no thanks, dame, batsu, no.

Here’s an article on Sakuga Blog that explains some more about the poor visual decisions in this anime.

Grade: DD-

  

 

Kemono Friends

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: TBA

Source: Game

Episode 1 Summary: A very strange animal arrives in Japari Park. She can’t fly, she doesn’t have sharp claws, and can’t really swim. What she does have is endurance and intelligence, and this intrigues the Serval cat who pounces on her. Serval-san names the new arrival “Bag-chan” since her main defining feature is the large backpack she wears. They decide to head to the Library, where Bag-chan can hopefully find out what kind of animal she is. Along the way, Serval-san and Bag-chan fight a Cerulean, an antagonistic blue blob, and stop at a watering hole to talk to a hippopotamus. Hippo warns them both about a very large Cerulean guarding the gate between the Savanna, where they are currently, and the Jungle, where Bag-chan is headed. Her warning pans-out, and Bag-chan’s smarts are needed to help defeat the enemy. As she wanders into the Jungle, Serval-san decides to tag along out of curiosity.

Impressions: I was hanging out with some friends of mine yesterday and one of them was talking about having seen this show and how awful it was, so I know right then which first episode I had to look at next. While it didn’t quite send me into convulsions, it is a pretty good example of how not to make a an anime adapted from a game.

Funny story: the game on which this anime is based apparently shut down shortly before the anime broadcast began, so the way in which Serval’s narration (which clearly alludes to game mechanics) instructs the nameless protagonist on how the world works is not only clunky, but amusingly tragic in a way as well. A lot of the expository dialog is really obvious in its intentions, which made it really difficult for me to pay much attention. Serval describes the different skills that the animal friends have like a gamer might describe character stats and abilities, so I found myself starting to tune out. Japari Park is mapped like a game, with barriers between regions. Different animals have their own territories. There are enemy creatures and boss creatures sprinkled throughout the land, and it takes different skill sets to defeat them. Honestly (and no insult to anyone I know in real life), if one of my friends were describing this to me as a game they were playing, I might just ask them to stop.

I’ve spoken here before about CG animation and why I’m not a fan, but I can recognize when it’s done well, at least. In this case, I feel like there are some points where the characters just weren’t really animated properly – during the opening scene, Serval-san chases Bag-chan across the savanna, and while Serval skids to change direction, her body just stops and slides for a couple of seconds. I also happened to notice a couple of times where characters were talking, but their mouths just didn’t open. Creating animation is always a challenge, and no matter what method you use, there will always be difficulties. These examples, which I don’t want to call “laziness” or “sloppiness” but don’t really have a better descriptor to use, are just embarrassing, though.

I will say, though, that I think the character designs are pretty cute – all of the animals are human girls with animal ears and outfits. I am a little weirded-out by the lack of male animals, though.

Grade: D… for Dingo?

  

 

Spiritpact

Streaming at: Crunchyroll

Number of Episodes: TBA (likely too many)

Source: Chinese Web Manhua (comic)

Episode 1 Summary: You Keika is the last of his family line, a famous lineage of exorcists. Since his parents died when he was young, he never received the proper training and support, so his spiritual skills are untrained. He spends his days reading fortunes and his night scavenging for computer parts for his side business. One night, after witnessing a battle between a real exorcist and an evil spirit, Keika is hit by a truck and dies. His spirit, being more powerful than average due to his latent spiritual abilities, is still hanging around earth, though. The exorcist who he saw earlier, Tanmoku Ki, invites Keika to become his personal spirit helper, so that Keika doesn’t either disappear or transform into an evil spirit after seven days. He initially resists, but after being captured by an evil spirit, eventually joins Ki in a Spirit Pact.

Impressions: Sometimes entertainment is like a time machine, bringing you back to the days when you were an itty-bitty little anime fan just starting to spread your wings and fly. It was the late 1990’s/early 2000’s when I feel like I really came into my own as an anime fan, and I’m pretty sure someone produced this anime series around that time, locked it in a time capsule, labeled it “open after fifteen years” and dutifully forgot about it until now. This isn’t a dig on anime from that time period; though anime was going through a very awkward “how do we imitate cel shading on this computer and make it look okay on this background when all we have are rudimentary visual filters?” phase, a lot of really excellent, memorable anime series came into being back then.

This one, however, has none of the charms of, say, Descendants of Darkness (with which it shares some basic story elements) or even some of the dumpier episodes of GetBackers, which for some reason sprung to mind multiple times while I was watching the episode (now those are some weird memories). Mostly it just feels like a toothless pseudo-BL supernatural series made on the cheap. Not only is it unremarkable, it’s also incredibly awkward, with extremely over-acted character dialog that tries for comedy (but fails), and kooky chibi-style slapstick and character deformation that really isn’t flattering to the production (or humorous, even).

What might be of mild interest to some is that the show is primarily a Chinese-produced animated series that has a few Japanese staff working in partnership in the production. What we’re seeing on Crunchyroll is a Japanese dub of the series that’s apparently been broadcasting in China for a while (I did a short search for more details, such as broadcast dates, but couldn’t find much). There’s been some controversy already, with some people complaining about Crunchyroll streaming it when it “isn’t actually anime” – though they seem to have forgotten that Crunchyroll also streams RWBY (Western CG animation), Thunderbolt Fantasy (made with puppets), and live-action Asian dramas… but who am I to judge other fans and their complaints? I’m personally a bit more relaxed nowadays on what I think should bear the “anime” label – this looks like anime, and in this incarnation the characters are speaking Japanese. There are so many other things worth criticizing with this show, why waste time boo-hooing over its national origin?

There have been worse things this season, definitely. But there’s just something especially grating about an anime that recalls one of the happiest times in my fandom life and yet still makes me angry.

Grade: One half-rate supernatural bishie.

  

 

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