First Impressions Spring 2021 part 2

And we’re back! No preamble, on with the first impressions!

Mars Red

It’s 1923, and as warfare has changed in this new century Japan has a plan to make sure it comes out on top, vampires! Code Zero, the first ever Japanese vampire unit has been formed, but it’s not military might they’re concerned with, not yet at any rate. No, the bigger problem has to be the sudden rise in vampires in Japan. Can this ragtag team of vampires put a stop to the swell of murders and infections before the streets of Japan are clogged with bodies, and what about this mysterious Ascra? Where is that coming from? It’ll be a difficult job, but you know what they say, takes a vampire to catch a vampire!

This show caught me completely by surprise, though I feel like I’ve been saying that about most shows this season. I don’t know what I was expecting from a period piece centred around a unit of vampires, but I’ve already got this show pinned as one of my favourites of the season (and there’s some really stiff competition this season). There’s just something so cinematic about this show, and it’s more than just the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, and the more reserved colour palette. This show isn’t afraid to let it’s characters and scenes just breath. When the action hits it’s really good, but there’s not actually all that much action, hardly any in fact. Most of each episode is just made up of character’s talking to one another, either setting up something for a dramatic turn later on, or just to let the characters discuss life and their perspective on it. It’s just captivating, there’s no other word for this series, it’s got me by the collar and won’t let go. I can’t wait for the next episode!

Blue Reflection Ray

Optimistic Hiori just can’t turn away from anyone in need, even if it means jumping in head first without a second’s thought. Ruka, on the other hand, is awkward and doesn’t really know how to interact with people or express herself. They’re two people who couldn’t be any more opposite, but when they both find strange rings their fates become more entwined than either of them could ever imagine. Now they’re magical girls, known as Reflectors, and they’ll fight to protect people’s feeling and heal hearts. Of course that’s if those other Reflectors don’t get in their way.

A lot of shows have surprised me this season, so I suppose it’s about time that I found a show that does exactly what I was expecting it to. Admittedly magical girl series all have a fairly well-trodden formula, girl finds magical artefact/chosen by furry companion, transforms and fights bad guys/collects thing. Throw in the energetic, super-happy protagonist and their shy/awkward counterpoint and the first three episodes of this series all play out exactly as you’re imaging they do right now. There is the chance that this series can add in some fun wrinkles down the line, but so far this is all comfortingly familiar. In fact, the only aspect that makes this series stand out so far is the visuals, with an unusual art style for the fights and character designs that take me right back to the old days of Clamp (though not as elongated). Speaking of the characters, can someone explain to me why that red tinge has been applied to all of them? It looks like everyone is suffering from a really bad cold. There’s just enough here to keep me interested and I’ve always had a soft spot for magical girls, so I’ll stick with this one a bit longer.

I’ve Been Killing Slimes For 300 Years And Maxed Out My Level

After dying of overwork, a Japanese woman is reincarnated as an immortal witch with one singular goal, to live as quiet and relaxing a life as possible! For the first 300 years it all goes perfectly according to plan, she goes out and kills a few slimes a day to earn enough to get by and generally does things at her own pace. But killing all those slimes adds up and, without even realising it, she’s suddenly one of the most powerful humans in existence, a fact that soon gets around. Now she has to content with dragons and demons coming to challenge her, and the spirits of all those dead slimes seeking revenge! Of course it’ll all work out, but things are definitely going to be a bit more lively from here on out.

I…I don’t know what to say about this series. Much like Blue Reflection Ray, the first three episodes of this series played out exactly as I expected them to. Main character dies, we’re introduced to this isekai’s quirk and then a series of characters turn up at her door, initially to pick a fight, but quickly deciding to move in and slotting into their designated comedy role. It’s all fairly by the numbers and there’s nothing really that bad, but nothing that’s holding my attention either. Unlike with Blue Reflection Ray, I don’t have a soft spot for isekai outside of specific series like Digimon, so there’s no hook to hold me in. The character’s are fine, the animation is fit for purpose and that’s all. I’m sure other people will enjoy this series and power to them, I was kinda hoping this would be my chill out anime of the season, but there’s just not enough here. I’m moving on from this one.

86 Eighty-Six

Called ‘Juggernauts’, these unmanned combat drones are the main fighting force of the Republic of San Magnolia in their constant battle against the ‘Legion’ of the Empire of Giad. Of course this is a lie. The Juggernauts are not unmanned, they’re piloted by people, people the Republic have deemed not to be ‘human’. Anyone who doesn’t live up to the ‘ideals’ of the Republic, blue hair, blue eyes, is marked as an Eighty-sixer and forced to fight in this hopeless war. One such fighter is Shin, captain of the Spearhead Squadron, a veteran squad with an impressive survival rate, but the Eighty-sixers can only survive for so long and their last day may be soon approaching.

If this show appeared in any other season I’d probably be hailing it as my favourite, hands down. Unfortunately it’s got to contend with the likes of Megalobox, Mars Red and Vivy, but none of that takes away from the fact that this is truly a great show. It’s got a compelling set up, characters I’m immediately invested in and a bad guy I want to see torn down so bad I’m ready to grab my axe and hack into them myself. The Republic of San Magnolia is such a despicable institution I’m quite happy to label whoever’s in charge as pure evil. To take a group of people and say they’re not human, purely because you don’t like the look of them, then to throw them in death machines and have them fight for you? Yeah, no, that’s pure evil. I can’t wait for them to get torn down. At the same time I completely emphasise with Lena, the Republican controller of the Spearhead Squadron. I’m a white dude, I get being apart of the privileged majority, seeing what’s wrong in the world and not having a single clue on how to change things to make it right. I’m really interested to see what answer this series is going to come up with. Definitely check this out if you haven’t already.

Shadows House

Emilico is a living doll. She feels and hurts and gets hungry like a real person might, but she was made to serve the noble family that live in the Shadows House. They are a mysterious, faceless clan plagued by a bizarre sickness that means they are constantly covered in soot, though they can expel a lot more dependent on their emotional states. The living dolls are their servants and their faces to both the outside world and to other members of the family. Emilico is enjoying her life so far, getting to know the house and the family, but is there something more sinister going on?

And once more we reach the ‘Only in Anime’ category, where a show’s premise is so left field the only thing I can do is hold up my hands and say, ‘only in anime’. I mean, only anime could we get this bizarre set up of a gothic slice of life show with clumsy yet energetic girl playing servant to a bunch of walking, talking silhouettes. It’s such a mad idea and I’m so excited to see where it’s going, even if I’m incredibly worried for Emilico. Don’t fret over trivial things my foot, that’s exactly what she should be doing because they’re so obviously not trivial. Just who are the Shadows family and what is this soot? Also I’m not the only one not buying this ‘Living Doll’ explanation either, right? There’s so many things raising red flags every episode has me on the edge of my seat, even if nothing truly terrible has happened yet and we’re still just in the exposition stages. I can’t wait to see where this is going.

To Your Eternity

It began as an orb, cast unto Earth with no thoughts, no feelings, not even a concept of self. All it knew to do was change its form and that it could come back to life after death. For many years it was just a rock, but then it became a wolf and, finally, it met a human. It was a happy time, at least in part, but that soon came to its tragic end. Now it is a human, journeying the world, with no real plan or goal other than to see the world and experience new things. It will meet many other people along it’s journey and maybe it will learn a thing or two, but it will also have to say goodbye time and again.

This show is designed to make me cry isn’t it? I can feel it trying with each and every episode and I have no doubt that it’ll succeed in the end and I’ll be annoyed when it does. There’s a fine art to manipulating your audiences’ feelings and it’s best if you do it without them realising that you’re doing it. Unfortunately ‘To Your Eternity’ has been pretty blatant so far, but that doesn’t stop it from being good. It’s a slow burn series, our main character has only just learnt to say ‘thank you’ after three episodes, but I can’t deny it’s well made. I particularly love the animation for whenever our main characters transforms or comes back to life. There’s something really visceral about the animation that just draws me in. There hasn’t been too much world-building so far, just a case of ‘here’s a place and here’s some people’, but it’s got enough of my interest to keep me watching. I’ve already bought some tissues.

That’s it for the first impressions. Back to regular reviews next week and I’ve got a couple more shows to talk about before we get into last season’s series. See you then!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

First Impressions Spring 2021 part 1

Spring is here and the digital fields of the Internet are just bursting with new anime coming into bloom! Sorry, I may be a tad excited at the minute, at the time of writing this Lockdown is slowly being peeled back in the UK and I’ve actually been outside for the first time in months! I’d almost forgotten there was a world beyond my front door, but we’re not here to talk about that. Anime! There’s plenty of great offerings up for grabs this season, some shows that have taken me by surprise and others that have set some pretty high standards for the series to come. Enough waffle though, let’s get to it. Bring on the anime!

Vivy-Fluorite Eye’s Song-

100 years in the future the A.I. apocalypse is upon us. Over the past century A.I. have become much more commonplace, autonomous androids finding their way into all areas of daily life, but, for whatever reason, those androids are now in open war with the human race. Our only hope for preventing the utter annihilation of our species is a program sent into the past and an A.I. programmed for singing? This unlikely pair will have to find a way to put their difference aside and prevent key moments in history from going the wrong way, at least that’s how things appear.

This series took me completely by surprise. Maybe it’s the glut of disappointing Terminator sequels, but I heard time-travelling back into the past and my brain immediately tuned out. Thankfully there have been some really good reviews for this series so far that convinced me to give it a chance and I am so glad that I did. This show grabbed me by the collar at episode one and it hasn’t let go since. Whether it’s the brilliant back-and-forth banter of Vivy and Matsumoto, the excellent action pieces or just the clear amount of thought that has been put into this plot. I’m pretty sure we haven’t gotten the full picture from my favourite talking teddy bear yet, but I’m definitely sticking around to see it. If you’ve skipped this for whatever reason, do yourself a favour and check this out!

Joran The Princess of Snow and Blood

The year is 1931 and Prince Tokugawa Yoshinobu reigns over Japan with an iron fist. Under his rule their have been great advances in technology, but though all appears peaceful, there are shadows lurking in every corner. To battle those shadows there is Nue, the government’s secret executioner group. One of their top assassins is Sawa Yukimura, when she was just a child her entire village was massacred and she has since sworn herself to revenge. Quite by chance, the man who took everything from her also happens to be the one currently plotting to bring down the government.

I feel like I should be more into this series than I am. This is one of those rare animes where I actually saw the trailer before the show started airing and there was a lot that got me excited. Three episodes in though and there’s just something not clicking with me and I can’t put my finger on what it is. There’s a good set up and I do like the focus on the political goings on and espionage stuff, but maybe it’s a case of there being a bit too much world for me to get my head around. There’s just a lot of stuff that hasn’t been shown to us yet, or explained in all that much detail so it feels like the show is trying to keep me at arm’s length. Add on the fact that our main character spends most of her time either confused by, or suppressing her emotions in order to be an effective killer, and is it any wonder I feel no connection to what’s going on? I’m going to keep trying with this series, but so far it’s not looking good. That and the fights are over way too fast!

SSSS.Dynazenon

Yomogi Asanaka used to be just like every other Japanese high school student, but all that changed when he met Gauma, a self-proclaimed ‘kaiju user’. Now, alongside Gauma and two other strangers, a girl from his class who’s notorious for breaking promises and an unemployed slacker, they each pilot giant robots and defend the city from kaiju attacks. But why are the kaiju suddenly appearing and who are these other mysterious kaiju users and what are they after? More importantly, can this unusual group come together and stop them?

I really enjoyed SSSS.Gridman when it aired a couple of years ago, it had a real sense of nostalgia without actually being nostalgic for me. SSSS.Dynazenon gives me much the same feeling. I’m a big Power Rangers fan, have been since I was a kid, so when I see a show about teens piloting giant robots and combining them together to fight monsters, I’m automatically on board. You add on the usual style of great character designs we get from studio Trigger and a rockin’ soundtrack and I just know I’m gonna have a lot of fun with this show. I also like the little details, like how it keeps bringing up the damage that is being down by the battles with the kaiju. Of course there’s going to be damage, and consequences, to these fights and I’m so glad they’re not just being relegated to the ‘abandoned buildings district’ like other shows. I’m not really sure where the overall story is going, but I’m more than happy to stick around and find out.

Dragon Goes House-Hunting

Dragons are majestic, fearsome creatures, rightfully touted as one of the most powerful creatures in existence, but every rule has its exception. Letty can’t fly, he can’t breathe fire and he was just kicked out of his family’s lair. Alone and defenceless, he needs to find a new home fast if he wants to stand any chance of surviving. Luckily he’s engaged the services of Dearia, the Demon Lord of Real Estate (he has a business card and everything). Whether it’s a hidden-away cave or a newly built dungeon, Dearia promises to find you the home of your dreams, no matter how long it takes.

This show is fine. That’s about all I can say really, and I feel kinda bad about that. It’s not mind-blowing, it’s not earth-shattering, it just does what it does and moves along. The animation is fit for purpose and no more, the characters are fleshed out enough to set up the gags and that’s it. It’s not doing anything bad, but it’s in no way spectacular either. I can see the gag of Letty getting scared/upset by whatever home that Dearia shows him running a bit thin in an episode or two if they don’t add in any other elements, but honestly I don’t think I’m going to be watching this series that long. There’s a lot of really good shows this season and so something that’s just fine isn’t enough to hold my attention. As I said I kinda feel bad, because any other season I’d probably stick with this show, but not this season.

OddTaxi

The life of a taxi driver can be an unusual and ever-so fraught one. Take Odokawa for example, he’s the quiet type and doesn’t like to talk all that much, and yet that’s all his passengers ever seem to want to do. Whether they’re a college student looking to become famous online, a nurse with a confession to make or a criminal baboon, they’ve all got something to say. The question is, what does all this have to do with a missing girl, and who’s that hiding in Odokawa’s closet?

I’ll be honest, I was planning on skipping this show when the season started. As I mentioned with Dragon Goes House-Hunting, there’s a lot of really good shows airing at the minute and this one just didn’t grab my attention. My mid-week’s a bit light on shows though so I decided I’d give the first episode a try and I’ve been gripped ever since. Each skit with Odokawa’s passengers, or friends, are fun in and of themselves (the ones I get at least, I’ll admit a couple of the jokes have gone over my head), but then there’s that mystery plot. I’m a sucker for a good mystery and that’s exactly what this series is. There’s still so many questions and puzzle pieces and each interaction feels like its offering up another tantalising clue, or maybe it’s a red herring, or maybe it’s another mystery all together. I’m questioning everything and mentally trying to link all the pieces together and I can’t remember the last time a mystery series caught me like this. If you’ve skipped this show, for whatever reason, do yourself a favour and check this out right now!

Megalobox 2: Nomad

Seven years after winning the first ever Megalonia tournament, the legendary ‘Gearless’ Joe is no more. Now calling himself ‘Nomad’ and drowning himself in pills and alcohol to numb his pain, the boxer is a shadow of his former self. That’s when he meets Chief, a boxer with drive and a goal. He wants to buy the land his community is currently living on so that they can finally have a place to call their own. Joe decides to help him, but first he’s got to face his past and the pain that had been crippling him.

This is not the sequel I was expecting to Megalobox, it feels like a completely different series in some ways, but a natural evolution in others. It’s hard seeing the unbeatable Joe in such a sorry state in the first couple of episodes, and we don’t even know the full story of how he ended up like this. He’s still a compelling character though, maybe even more so now, and I’m rooting for him just as much as every time he stepped into the ring before. All the characters feel so real and Chief might just be one of my favourite characters of this season, if not the whole year. I adored the first season of this show and I’ve got a good feeling that I’m going to adore this season just as much, if not more.

That’s all for this week. Come back next week for more first impressions, including a house covered in soot, some non-autonomous robots and a shape-shifter discovering what it means to be human. See you then!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.