From its sheer size to its plethora of high-profile guests, ACen has blown away all of my expectations.

I’ve had my fair share of convention experience in the past, usually to great success. However, my time at ACen this year far exceeded any con experience I’ve had before. As such, I wanted to share some of my favorite experiences from ACen 2019.

Towards the start of the year, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime dominated discussion. Hence, giving them their own panel was a huge draw for me this year. Among the ACen 2019 guests were assistant director Atsushi Nakayama, Animation Director and Character Designer Ryouma Ebata, and J-Pop artist TRUE, who performed the second ending theme for the series.

The group answered a series of questions submitted prior to the panel.

acen 2019
The group had their own booth in the main hall as well.

Why did you get into the anime industry?

Nakayama stated that anime from his youth such as Star of the Giants and Mister Ajikko served as inspirations. In particular, he cited the peculiar taste in direction of these series as what grabbed his attention.

Ebata, on the other hand, said that he had watched a behind the scenes program on Studio Ghibli. The program gave him the idea that being an animator might be cool, and so he chose to pursue that path.

As for TRUE, she admitted that she had started in a different genre, but discovered that doing work for anime would give her longer career longevity.

What are some big challenges that you’ve faced in this industry?

Nakamura was surprisingly positive, stating that he had not faced any extreme hurdles as of yet. Ebata, meanwhile, lamented the need to make compromises and deliver an imperfect work. TRUE, as a music artist, stated that set goals don’t really exist in her line of work. Instead, the challenge comes from having to feel your way through and finding something that works.

Did the manga adaptation play a role in how the anime looked, or did you stick strictly to the light novel designs?

Nakamura stated that he liked the original designs a lot. However, the world of ReSlime is vast and has a lot of ground that needs to be covered. As such, they took inspiration from both sources to draw out the best designs possible. Ebata also mentioned that it’s not good to deviate in theory. However, a slight de-evolution in style occurred in the anime, though he declined to give more specifics.

acen 2019
The anime certainly does share traits of both the light novel (left) and the manga (right)

What was your favorite episode of the series?

Nakamura picked episode 13, “The Great Clash.” In particular, he cited Gabiru’s battle with the Orc general and how much he liked the key animation work of Takashi Tomioka in that scene. Ebata favored the first episode, “The Storm Dragon, Veldora.” He greatly enjoyed the reincarnation scene and how the Great Sage character was utilized.

Around this time, Miho Okazaki, the voice of Rimuru, also joined the panel. As for her favorite episode, she picked episode 8, “Inherited Will,” and said that the scene where Rimuru absorbs Shizu proved quite moving.

Who is your favorite character?

Nakamura’s pick was Shion, Rimuru’s ogre secretary. The “looks capable but causes lots of trouble” trope appealed to him quite a bit, especially with her “cooking.” Ebata’s answer was a bit…simpler: “Rimuru’s slime form, because it’s the easiest to draw.” As for Okazaki, she has a particular fondness for Gobuta.

acen 2019
“Easiest to draw” is certainly a way to describe it.

Is there a difference between US and Japanese fans in that regard?

Both Nakamura and Ebata expressed shock at how popular the show was in the US. Nakamura added that he hadn’t even been to a closed event in Japan as big as ACen and speculated that it might even be more popular in the US. Ebata, meanwhile, simply offered his gratitude for such a strong turnout.

Overall, a rather enlightening panel, as were many others that we’ll be covering soon from ACen 2019.

It was just over two years ago now that Studio Trigger announced Promare, a feature-length film from the creative duo behind Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill.

Now that it’s finally out in theaters, it’s safe to say that Promare definitely delivers on the hype it promised.

First, the synopsis. Thirty years have passed since the Burnish, a mutated race of humans who can create and control flames, appeared on Earth. Now, a terrorist group called Mad Burnish threatens peace on earth. The ones who stand against them are the Burning Rescue team, a group specially trained to handle Burnish-related fires.

When rescue rookie Galo Thymos comes face-to-face with Mad Burnish leader Lio Fotia, a battle of epic proportions begins.

Promare
Lio Fotia shows off his powers as a Burnish.

A nonstop ride of insane action

Right out of the gate, this film is an absolute explosion of energy. The opening battle is intense, vibrant, and filled with great choreography played out by immediately lovable characters. Once this movie gets going, it simply does not stop. This is a runaway train with no brakes and practically every minute is jam-packed with at least a couple things that’ll get your blood pumping.

That being said, I suppose this is also a “too much of a good thing” scenario to some degree. The way this movie paces itself so well that you don’t even feel the transition between scenes is incredible. However, there were a few points where I wished that the story would just be allowed to breathe, especially in the second half.

A thematic buffet, though not an easily digestible one.

There are a lot of themes and concepts presented in Promare. Some are obvious, like this studio’s ever-present obsession with fascism and its downfall. Some are surprisingly subtle, like how far a person will go to save a loved one.

Either way, most of them went by so fast that I could barely ponder their importance before the next big idea hit. This is a film that merits at least two, possibly three viewings to really let its message sink it. Fortunately, it’s such a fun and engaging watch that this would hardly be a chore. I just wish it could have dialed it back just a hair to really let its main ideas sink in.

In typical Trigger fashion, Promare is also a celebration of everything that’s come before. References to Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill, and other Trigger shows pervade Promare‘s visual language. Yet, none of these references feel out of place or overly self-aggrandizing. Most of these allusions fit neatly in with whatever theme Promare is conveying in that moment, as expected from Trigger.

Promare
Galo’s Kamina-esque personality does not go unnoticed.

Promare’s approach to characterization is a bit off the beaten path. I wouldn’t really say any of the characters “grew” per say. They’re most useful as tools to discuss the intricate theming of the story. That said, these characters are far from boring. From Galo’s bombastic manly optimism to Lio’s stoic idealism and everyone in between, this cast is full of endearing characters.

Animation-wise, this is easily one of Trigger’s best works.

The news that this would be a primarily-CG work was a bit worrying, but this is by far one of the best looking CG anime I’ve seen so far. Explosive and vibrant colors make every frame a piece of eye candy, and the character designs have that classic Trigger goodness.

Moreover, the camerawork is absolutely stellar. Every shot focuses on maximizing energy and intensity, and the sense of constant movement keeps the hype building constantly. And, of course, the mech designs are incredible, drawing from a wide array of influences, yet still feeling unique and exciting.

Promare
Trigger mechs are always good mechs.

With the soundtrack, Hiroyuki Sawano is back for another endless stream of hype and exhilaration. While I wouldn’t say this is his strongest soundtrack, it does exactly what’s expected of it. Sawano’s work continuously builds on the film’s pure hype base and just keeps on building indefinitely. His insert songs in particular are quite impacting, often rather moving at times to truly highlight the most emotional moments.

Promare is a Trigger work through and through. Hype, dense theming, more hype, explosive visual presentation, and even more hype make this a film I’d love to come back to in the near future. Despite being a bit too dense at times, it’s certainly one to add to your list.

Score: 8/10

Generation 8 is finally here!

With Nintendo announcing a new Pokemon Direct yesterday, many fans were expecting a mainline entry into the franchise.

That’s exactly what we got, so let’s jump right into the details.

The Region

Many speculators were betting on a region themed around Great Britain this time, and they were spot on. The Galar Region appears to be shaped like a long island, much like Britain itself.

A whole new world to explore. Source: NintendoSoup

We also got some clear shots at what appears to be a clock tower, likely referencing Big Ben. Some lesser known landmarks like the British Hill Figures also make an appearance.

Even the outfits of some NPCs feel distinctly British, especially the school girl outfit of one of the trainers.

The actual shape and climate of the region is rather interesting as well. Unlike most Pokemon regions that tend to have a more horizontal or circular shape, Galar is very vertical in nature. A change like this could end up eliminating the typically circular route structure of past games. This might make movement feel much more linear in a directional sense, but not necessarily a progress sense.

There’s a noticeable lack of large water routes, save for a few lakes in southern Galar and some islands in the northeast. Perhaps some coastline exploration will be included to keep Water-type trainers satisfied.

There also appears to be a contrast between the rural and industrial areas. The new trailer opens on a small town with windmills and farmland plainly visible. On the other hand, the big city at the center of the region is hyper-industrialized. The giant gears and pistons feel like blatant references to the Industrial Revolution, a key moment in Britain’s history, so perhaps there will be some sort of conflict between these two lifestyles present in the games’ narrative.

The Names

Long gone are the days of simple color schemes for naming Pokemon games. Sword & Shield is certainly an interesting combination for a lot of reasons. With it being a direct reference to combat weaponry, a theme of conflict comes to mind rather quickly. Perhaps there’s more at play than just a rural/urban conflict. I’m sure we’ll find out more once whatever evil gang plagues this region is introduced.

There doesn’t seem to be any direct reference to royalty in the trailer. However, the wolf head crest on top of the new logos does suggest that Houses might come into play. This would most likely not be a major game mechanic, but more of a story feature.

The Starters

New friends for a new adventure. Source: Nintendo

Leading off the Starters’ introductions is Scorbunny, the new Fire-type starter. As expected, Scorbunny continues to follow the pattern of Zodiac-themed Fire starters. As for the color scheming, this is definitely the lightest-color we’ve seen from a Fire starter so far.

Whereas Litten had a black base last generation, Scorbunny goes for the exact opposite with a white base. For me, this new color scheme invokes the imagery of “white hot flames.” The patch on its forehead does have me a bit worried though; I don’t think fans can handle another Fire/Fighting starter.

After that comes Sobble, the new Water starter. Sobble appears to be a timid water lizard from the look of things. Very fitting that its introduction involves a camouflage ability, reminiscent of Vaporeon’s Pokedex entries. Perhaps this could be a clue as to Sobble’s moveset.

Lastly, we have Grookey, a monkey-like Grass starter. It’s pretty apparent that this one has a very lively demeanor, cheerfully banging a stick against a rock and quickly climbing up a tall chimney. The stick in its hair is a rather intriguing feature that reminds me of a caveman with a bone in his hair. This seems to give more credence to the theory that Grass starters are based on actual evolution, from dinosaurs (Bulbasaur) to primates (Grookey). I suppose Gen 9 would be the true test of this theory now.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear frontrunner yet in terms of popularity.

Scorbunny seems to have the most fanart so far, but Sobble seems to have a lot of backing as well, likely due to its timid nature. Personally I default to Fire types whenever I start a new game, so I’m on Team Scorbunny for now.

The Visuals

sword and shield

As previously announced by Nintendo, Sword & Shield will be on the Switch. This will make it the first mainline Pokemon game on a home console. Graphics have been one of Pokemon’s weakest points since the transition to the 3D space, but so far Sword & Shield looks fantastic. Everything looks crisp and clear so far. The camera angles in the trailer suggest a wider available field of view. Even the cinematics have improved dramatically.

The only thing I’m worried about at this point is player character movement and expression, which is easily Pokemon’s greatest weakness visually. The player character typically acts very stiff and robotic, and most shots that would show this seem to be excluded from the trailer. Still, there were also some cool shots of interesting character animation, like the player character dusting off her skirt before leaving her house.

The framing of Pokemon battles also seems to have gotten an upgrade. The environments the Pokemon battles take place in are exponentially more detailed than any game before, and the camera seems to have even more range to what it can capture.

The Gameplay

As for the structure, we’re back to the gym-and-badge style of previous games. Sun & Moon was a strong break away from this formula, but the formula still works so I’m happy they haven’t dropped it entirely. What interests me the most, however, is the end game content. The Direct presentation only mentioned “becoming the Champion,” and not a word about the Elite Four.

Additionally, the trailer shows several shots of an arena-like building, as well as the player character wearing a uniform with a number on it walking into said arena. This is purely speculation, but this might mean that the end game content is getting a slight makeover.

Trading in the Elite Four grind for a more structured tournament would be an interesting choice. Of course, the specifics would be what make or break it. Again, this has not been confirmed by anyone yet, but it’s still fun to theorize.

The Pokemon selection seems to be pretty strong so far as well. Favorite like Lucario, Tyranitar, Flygon, Pikachu, and Munchlax all make appearances in this trailer. Other, less talked-about Pokemon like Hoothoot, Meowstic, Minccino, and Wishiwashi also show up to bolster the roster, while not feeling too out of place considering the region’s climate.

Some fan-favorite mechanics still seem absent, such as the ever-popular Walking Pokemon feature that allowed players’ Pokemon to follow them around. Some fans also expressed disappointment that random encounters are back after their removal for Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee. However, as annoying as some might find it, I feel that this is a core aspect of Pokemon’s JRPG design that keeps the game challenging and exciting.

All in all, it looks like a pretty solid Pokemon game. Nothing so far that drastically changes how the game is played, but small, incremental changes have always been Pokemon’s way of doing things. As a lifelong Pokemon fan, I’m hyped to get my hands on these games later this year.

All I need now is to get a Switch.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis made a huge splash in 2014.

It had a unique and fun setting, and it solidified MAPPA’s place as a rising anime studio. So, having the sequel, Virgin Soul, be not nearly as good after three years of waiting is a bit disappointing. It’s not a terrible show by any means, but it just doesn’t capitalize on what made Genesis so fun and exciting, and I want to break down the differences in the two series to explore why Genesis is so good while Virgin Soul is just barely average.

To get it out of the way, let’s start with the one thing I think Virgin Soul does better than Genesis, which, conveniently enough, is the opening scene. Genesis opens with the gods, demons, and humans of old attacking the legendary Bahamut with all their might in the hopes of defeating him and saving the world. While it works pretty well in establishing world setting and mythology, the scene itself is pretty standard fare that you could pull out of a dozen other generic fantasy anime. The directing and soundtrack aren’t that great either. This whole thing might work much better as passing comments from side characters throughout the series. Yes, it has a direct bearing on the plot. However, it doesn’t really start overtly affecting our main characters until well into the series.

In contrast, the opening of Virgin Soul is one of the best parts of the show.

It quickly establishes a potential new villain for the series by having him kill off literal gods. This recontextualizes Bahamut’s world around the idea of humanity’s rise in power at the expense of other races. It sets up some great intrigue as to how much the world has changed since Bahamut was defeated at the end of Genesis, creates a new set of themes involving cultural dominance and racism, and gets us excited to see how our heroes will deal with this new crisis.

Unfortunately, intrigue is about as far as Virgin Soul gets in regards to surpassing its predecessor. After this opening scene, the series becomes much less focused and meanders between a bunch of different ideas, and the muddled nature of these ideas makes them much less compelling. It’s not that any of these ideas are executed horribly, though there are a few that come off as hamfisted. However, trying to focus on the king’s ambitions AND the racism against demons AND Kaiser’s faltering social status AND Nina’s introduction AND another subplot related to the angels all at the same time is far too much of a burden for the opening episodes any narrative to handle.

Having too many ideas is far from being a bad thing on its own.

However, too many ideas crammed into a single space just makes the story feel bloated and off-balance. It doesn’t allow for each idea to be explored properly and with enough depth.

Meanwhile, the first episodes of Genesis show us almost the complete opposite, where the story is short, sweet, and to the point. Favaro and Kaiser are rival bounty hunters looking to make some cash. Then they get swept up in a mysterious adventure plot surrounding the half-angel Amira as cryptic hints of a looming threat begin to emerge. The entire first half of the series generally sticks to a monster of the week format. This gives us time to learn about the characters and grow attached to them before everything hits the fan in the second half. While that second half eventually falls apart, what kept me going was the fact that I legitimately cared about the main cast.

Speaking of the cast, let’s get to what I think sits at the heart of the differences between these two shows. The characters in Virgin Soul aren’t necessarily bad, and some even have the potential to be great, but a lot of the writing around them feels either really awkward or just downright stupid, especially with the comedy elements.

Like you have this scene where Bacchus is trying to figure out if Mugaro has heterochromia, so he tries to secretly take a peek at her eye while she’s asleep even though it was never established that Mugaro was actually hiding her eye vs. just having long hair that hangs down over it like half of all the fucking anime characters in existence and Bacchus could’ve just asked like a normal person, so instead he ends up getting kicked in the face by Nina and is labeled as a pervert. Or this other scene where Nina reveals that being excited by good-looking men makes her transform into a dragon so Azazel suggests that he should literally fuck her in order to use her powers to help the demon cause.

And don’t even get me started on Nina herself.

I’m as much a fan of the genki girl archetype as anyone else, but this just isn’t a good version of it. Yes she’s bubbly and cheerful and an all-around fun gal. But, much like the rest of the show, they throw this jumbled mess of ideas on top of her. It makes her character much more confusing and often contradictory in terms of the actions she takes.

And of course there’s the dumb transformation thing too. I get it: anime can make really dumb ideas turn out really well. Still, a high fantasy setting with heavy-handed discussions of cultural hegemony and literal racism and genocide is not the place to have your kooky anime bullshit. The scene in episode 6 where Nina becomes unable to defend herself because, BY PURE COINCIDENCE, the people who are trying to kidnap her are a bunch super-hot guys, was the final straw that led me to drop the series.

Compare all of that to the straightforward simplicity of the characters in Genesis. Favaro is a fun-loving trickster, Kaiser is a chivalrous gentleman, and the actions they take reflect these personalities. Despite how overused this kind of setup is, Genesis has the perfect pair of protagonists. The way they play off each other in natural, genuinely comedic ways makes them all the more fun to watch.

Even the flaws of the characters in Genesis are much more believable and interesting.

Favaro is a brutish rogue that loves women and partying. He chooses to live life in the moment, and his skills as a bounty hunter allow him to do that. However, this also turns out to be his Achilles Heel because if gives him a big ego and often gets him into trouble.

Kaiser is a fallen noble who works as a bounty hunter in order to regain his status. He despises Favaro for something that went down between them in the past. He’s an upstanding and chivalrous person on the surface. However, his stubborn adherence to honor and pride ends up blinding him to the truth.

In Virgin Soul, nobody seems to have any believable character flaws that make them more interesting.

The flaws that they do have just feel unnatural.  They exist more to progress a certain plot point rather than have an actually engaging personality trait. Great characters feel like real people. Unfortunately, the only new character in Virgin Soul that feels like a real person is the main villain. Making us see the heroes as boring and unengaging in comparison to the villain is hardly a good writing strategy.

Even some of the characters returning from Genesis aren’t as interesting. Nobody cares if Bacchus wants to return to heaven because the idea doesn’t surface in Genesis. If it was, then it was in passing and not given any focus whatsoever. Now it’s suddenly a big character conflict in Virgin Soul? That’s kinda hard to believe.

Even Kaiser isn’t as interesting as he was in Genesis. They replaced the headstrong and prideful gentleman with a boring and reserved knight captain who’s worried about his own position. This is even more bizarre considering that the events of Genesis have taught him not to act this way. If there was more at stake for Kaiser than just that, then this change in character could be believable. Maybe give him a family that he had to provide for. As it stands, however, they just decided to completely change his character in that ten year gap.

In the end, Virgin Soul fails two basic tenets of storytelling.

  1. Focusing on an idea and logically building on it.
  2. Creating believable characters with engaging personalities, 

In contrast, Genesis pretty much nailed both of these for most of its run. Its overambition, while admirable, ultimately led to its downfall. This seems to be a problem with original MAPPA properties on the whole, but that’s a topic for another time.

There’s been 20 years of Pokemon.

It’s almost hard to fathom just how long-lived and massive this franchise is. In just two decades it’s become the most financially successful franchise in the world and still stands as one of the most iconic anime and video game franchises of all time. In celebration of 20 years of success, they decided to do something a bit different for the 20th movie, Pokemon: I Choose You!

The film stands as a hard reboot of Ash’s origin story and tells how he met Pikachu for the first time. Once that’s finished, however, it moves into an entirely new story. After Ash and Pikachu’s encounter with Ho-oh, Ash receives a Rainbow Wing, a sign that Ho-oh has chosen Ash as a trainer whom he deems worthy of battling. Ash, Pikachu, and the new friends they’ve met along the way travel towards Ho-oh’s nest, meeting tons of new people and Pokemon along the way.

Will Ash and Pikachu become strong enough to challenge the legendary Ho-oh?
Source: OLM

There are so many things that I love about Pokemon: I Choose You.

Most notably, it handles its nostalgia effortlessly. Rather than beat you over the head like Mastermind of Mirage Pokemon did, I Choose You’s nostalgia is mostly very subtle. One of my favorite points is how the two Pokemon League trainers battling at the very beginning are actually two of the trainers from Mewtwo Strikes Back. It’s the simple things like that that make the nostalgia work so well.

What’s more, all of the old story beats that the film reuses from the TV series are revamped without losing their original intent. It condenses Ash and Pikachu’s first meeting to about half its original size, but doesn’t lose any impact. As the story goes on, old friends show up again in different ways. Each nugget of nostalgia is retooled perfectly to fit the new story. I also liked that the goal for the film is much more personal for Ash. Saving the world is nice and all, but Ash actually choosing to go after Ho-oh makes the journey overall so much more satisfying.

I was very skeptical about the new characters that replace Misty and Brock, but they turned out pretty solid as well. They don’t really stand out much aside from brief glimpses of their back stories, but they’re not meant to. This is Ash and Pikachu’s story, and it absolutely nails that point. Not only that, but it adds in so much extra information to enrich both the main story and the Pokemon world as a whole.

The new characters are a more-than welcome addition.
Source: OLM

I also really like the new antagonist for this movie, Cross. Yes he’s mean-spirited and cold, but his dialogue isn’t overly evil. He just doesn’t see being friends with Pokemon as having any value in their training. His dialogue reflects this really well without going overboard. This also creates a great ideological battle between Ash and him as they battle throughout the film.

Admittedly, there are a couple issues.

Marshadow’s role as the new legendary Pokemon is a bit odd. It works well at first, but then it does something at the climax that seems totally out of left field. It felt like they needed something to instigate the final climax and that’s just what they came up with. Granted, that climax is absolutely massive and incredible, so I’m not too upset.

My other big complaint is a low point that Ash has after a battle with Cross. It just felt like they went a little too far with some of his emotions. I get that he’s a kid and kids say hurtful things sometimes. It just felt like they went a little too far. Once again, however, the sequence that follows this more than makes up for it.

The animation for this film is simply stellar.

Great color work, fantastic Pokemon designs, and tons of moments that are just epic and awesome. There’s also a ton of detail put into the backgrounds and character designs. One of my personal favorites was how the Celadon Gym was covered in solar panel because Grass-types. There is still quite a bit of CG, but it’s mostly confined to the set designs like in X&Y. When we get CG Pokemon, the camera keeps them out of focus so as not to distract us.

Plenty of iconic shot recreations as well!
Source: OLM

As for the soundtrack, Shinji Miyazaki pulls out yet another fantastic score. The tracks reused from the TV series have new life imbued into them. The new tracks are just as strong and add new and powerful emotions to each scene. It’s just a great soundtrack overall.

This might be my favourite Pokemon movie so far. I’ve been re-watching all of the films for a large project I have planned. And yet none of them have come close to the raw emotions of I Choose You. The thing I love the most about this film is that it’s all about the thing that I personally love the most about Pokemon as a whole: interacting and having fun with Pokemon. The biggest appeal of Pokemon is being able to capture, train, and become friends with hundreds of different cool and powerful creatures, and this movie absolutely nails that point.

Pokemon: I Choose You! has set an incredibly high bar for all future films. However, if this is an indication of things to come, then I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store!

Final Score: 8.5/10

Check out this list of the best summer anime from this year!

It’s that time of year again. The time where we take stock of all the anime from the past three months and decide which ones are the best. Here are my Top 5 anime from the Summer 2017 season.   

(Note: Sequels are not eligible for this list. However, HeroAca season 2 and Owarimonogatari season 2 are some of the best experiences I’ve had with anime all year.)

5. Princess Principal

Source: Studio 3Hz

The only guarantee with Studio 3Hz is that you’re going to get something very, very different, be it coil-based sci-fi utopias (Dimension W), or Alice in Wonderland meets Madoka Magica (Flip Flappers).

This time, the studio has rolled out yet another exciting entry in the form of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow meets R.O.D.” with Princess Principal.

There are very few spy thrillers in anime, but this one is definitely one of the best. Its engrossing episodic stories and gripping action are simply marvellous.

I’m still kind of shocked by how much detail they poured into the main cast of this series. Each of the girls on the spy team feels unique and fleshed out enough for me to care about them, and yet the spy atmosphere still keeps part of them shrouded in mystery.

As someone who generally doesn’t like steampunk, the aesthetics of this particular steampunk setting are very much to my liking. There’s something almost monolithic about the London cityscape as a whole that’s intensely gratifying.

Unfortunately, I’m still not a fan of the post-Victorian/Edwardian costume design. This is a very minute detail though. I’m also insanely happy that Yuki Kajiura is finally back to making interesting soundtracks again after a string of generic thriller OSTs, and her unique blend of dark jazz, orchestra, and electronics is perfect for this series.

There’s nothing too thematically deep with Princess Principal, and the ending does feel a bit rushed. But as a straightforward spy thriller, it’s definitely worth the thrill ride.

4. Tsurezure Children

Source: Studio Gokumi

The romcom genre has been seeing quite a bit of innovation over the past few years. Most notably, the focus on actual relationships instead of just the buildup to them has made for a much more interesting watch, and Tsurezure Children is a great example of this.

The series showcases an array of different couples at different points in their relationship and how each of them react in different situations. Tsurezure Children is about quirky relationship comedy in its purest form. The openness and honesty of its presentation of the different situations is incredibly refreshing.

Studio Gokumi does a great job of creating a charming and appealing visual aesthetic. The bright colors and insanely cute character designs layer the series in a rosy tinge that gives even the most awkward moments an upbeat feel.

There’s nothing particularly noteworthy on the soundtrack for this one. However, its competence at supporting the cutesy atmosphere is more than enough.

TV shorts have become a proving ground for new ideas that just wouldn’t work as a full-length series, and Tsurezure Children is definitely one of the best and worth checking out for romcom fans everywhere.

3. Re:Creators

Source: TROYCA

Imagine a world where the fictional creations of authors and directors can come to life and interact with us in our world. How would these characters react to the idea that they’re a work of fiction? How would they confront their creators about the events that happen in their stories?

Re:Creators attempts to provide a thrilling and intriguing answer to these kinds of questions. The meta commentary on storytelling easily captivates those like myself who want to understand how stories are created.

On top of that, the characters that the series creates aren’t just interesting in their relationships with their authors. Their relationships with each other and how the contradicting tones of each fictional work clash with each other in meaningful ways provide a ton of content to sink your teeth into.

This might also be the best series that studio TROYCA has worked on so far. (Unfortunately, that’s not exactly a huge accomplishment considering their past works). Sleek character designs, fantastic lighting and colour balance, and superb action make it an incredibly fun experience.

However, despite all that, there was this strange feeling about the presentation that I couldn’t shake off. I hesitate to describe it this way, but there was something about the animation that just felt kinda fake. Not enough grit or individuality to its overall presentation. There were moments where I felt like I was watching a big budget summer blockbuster made to generate revenue. This is hardly the atmosphere I’d want for an intellectual take on the nature of storytelling.

Fortunately, Hiroyuki Sawano has returned again for another high impact soundtrack. His work easily fills the series with enough life for me to overlook these criticisms.

The solid blend of action hype and deeper thematic elements in Re:Creators make it an amazing watch for all types of viewers and should definitely be on your shortlist of anime to watch this year.

2. Zaregoto Series: The Beheading Cycle

Source: Shaft

Whereas Re:Creators is good for a more general anime audience, the Zaregoto Series will most likely appeal to a much smaller audience seeking out eclectic arthouse projects.

This series adapts the novel series that NisiOisiN worked on before the critically-acclaimed Monogatari series, and you can very much see the roots of Monogatari in Zaregoto. Extensive use of wordplay, bizarre yet relatable characters, and a pursuit of intellectual depth that constantly rides the line between brilliant commentary and pretentious drivel are all present in Zaregoto.

Presenting a discussion on genius through the frame of a murder mystery seems like a no-brainer in hindsight. Yet the story never sacrifices its solid mystery elements in favour of philosophical rambling. Both elements are fascinating all the way through.

As if the story wasn’t weird enough, Shaft returns once again for another hyper-dense visual presentation. Every single shot, every set design, every moment of character blocking adds meaning to the story. Of course, it hardly tries to hide this fact either, as Shaft is prone to do.

Despite prevalent use of CG, the animation is almost always insanely gorgeous. There is some absolutely stellar character art and camerawork on display here. And, as if Princess Principal wasn’t enough, we’ve been graced with yet another fantastic Kajiura OST. This time, we get a more offbeat mystery vibe that can still carry an intense amount of emotional weight.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path that still has a beating emotional heart to it, the Zaregoto Series is definitely right for you.

1. Made in Abyss

Source: Kinema Citrus

And of course we can’t finish this countdown without the biggest hit of the season. With one of the most vibrant and exciting fantasy settings in years, Made in Abyss will capture the hearts of adventure-lovers everywhere.

Everything feels so unique and fresh in a genre that has grown stale seven times over. Be it the wide variety of Lovecraftian creatures or the all-consuming massivity of the Abyss itself, the series exudes creativity at every moment.

Beneath its adventurous surface, however, lies depths and depths of dark and disturbing ideas. And, quite often, these idea go much further than most shows have the stomach to. Yet, the emotional core of its characters is never lost. Their determination is tested at every bend in every conceivable way imaginable, and they still rise to the challenge.

This series takes a tour of the entire emotional spectrum, from stoic inspiration to crushing agony to unbearable sorrow. It simply refuses to let up until it feels satisfied.

On top of that, the artwork of Kinema Citrus and Studio Inspired is simply astounding. From its lush greenery to its jagged mountains to its more exotic fungi dwelling deep in the Abyss, every single piece of background art feels entrancing and inspired. The character designs feel familiar, yet also unique and memorable, and the creature designs by Kou Yoshinari are absolutely terrifying. Everything about this world feels contiguous and alive, something that’s very hard to find even in a good fantasy series.

To round it all off, Kevin Penkin’s electronic/orchestral score matches up beautifully with this setting. Every sensation is heightened by the nuanced and spellbinding OST, giving the Abyss a sense of grandeur, excitement, and depth.

With its masterful storytelling and incredible animation, Made in Abyss is a solid contender for anime of the year. However, I caution you against taking this series lightly. Even at its happiest and calmest, anything can happen down in the Abyss. A graphic content warning should go without saying for this title. If your stomach can handle it, then brace yourself for the best dark fantasies in years.

Let us know what your favourites were from this season and check out our list from last season.

Clockwork Planet initially made my list of most anticipated anime of 2017.

It’s got a really cool and unique setting, and it’s from the same author as No Game No Life. Granted, I was a bit more skeptical this time since this project was handled by Xebec, whose work is pretty much all over the map when it comes to production quality. Still my hopes were quite high.

Unfortunately, it seems my hype got the better of me. The first episode of this series is borderline terrible overall, even though there’s a lot about it that I liked, especially the chemistry between the two leads.

While a good chunk of this can be attributed to Xebec’s lacklustre presentation, a lot of what makes Clockwork Planet slip gears resides on a more fundamental writing level. Two examples of this really stick in my mind.

The first is the introduction of the main character, Naoto. Initially, the story portrays Naoto as someone who has a passion for clocks and other gear-based technology, but also has the distinct inability to make this technology function. Later, however, when a highly advanced automaton named RyuZU crashes through his ceiling, he’s able to hear which gear is causing RyuZU to malfunction and fix her up good as new.

clockwork planet
Seems simple enough.
Source: Xebec

Just so we’re clear, this kid can’t fix a regular old clock to save his life, but his ears are so powerful and accurate that he can fix one of the most complex pieces of technology that exist in this world.

I understand that they’re trying to set up Naoto as an underdog protagonist with a unique skill, but what really bothers me – aside from how little this setup makes sense – is how easy it is to fix it and make this idea work. And the solution is already present in the story.

Naoto is a child.

If Naoto was someone who’s at least fairly competent at fixing clocks and other tech, but is denied praise by his jealous peers or skeptical customers simply for being young, then it would be all the more gratifying when he succeeds and sticks it to everyone who put him down.

Or, better yet, establish that he has a complete theoretical knowledge of complex gear layouts and can use his ears to immediately identify the problem, but also give him shaky hands, making him typically incapable of fixing the problem himself.

This exponentially heightens the emotional catharsis of watching him tackle his shortcomings in order to succeed when he calms his hands enough to fix RyuZU. It also gives him an optional character arc to pursue later in the series in his attempt to completely overcome his shaking.

This is just something I came up with off the top of my head. How can a project with a whole team of writers and editors fine tuning the idea not make this work?

clockwork planet
I guess they were too busy making adorable robot girls.
Source: Xebec

Now let’s jump to the very end of the episode. We discover that a major section of the world, which is constructed entirely of gears, is collapsing in on itself. This event might lead to a chain reaction that could destroy the entire world. Naturally, the protagonists immediately spring into action to try and prevent this.

Of course, the story couldn’t just leave it at that.

Not only do they have to fix the gears to save everyone living on them and prevent the end of the world. They also have to do it before the military SCUTTLES THE ENTIRE BLOCK, KILLING 20 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE PROCESS.

I have never seen a more bizarre mix of apathy and incompetence from an anime military. I understand that they’re trying to set up the military as the antagonists in this story. They made that really obvious with how the big scientists of this world interacted with a military officer.

It’s not that hard to convince us that the military is going to be the bad guys in an anime. Even in anime where the protagonists are in the military, the military turns out to be the bad guys.

If it’s about showing off the military’s incompetence instead of how evil they are it still doesn’t work. May I remind you that we’re dealing with the lives of 20 MILLION PEOPLE! Being for the greater good doesn’t make sense either. The suddenness of this decision and total lack of exploring alternative solutions is simply baffling. You’d think that “try to fix the gears” would come up in conversation before “break off a piece of the planet and kill 20 million people.”

Now that I think of it, breaking off a piece of the planet would still mess things up, right? I mean, unless they’re shooting them off into space I guess, but they didn’t say that. They can’t really put the gears anywhere that wouldn’t interfere with the planet itself so scuttling the block wouldn’t help anything. Do you see how broken this is?

clockwork planet
Not exactly a lot of room for construction. Source: Xebec

This was the moment where I decided that I couldn’t put up with this series any longer.

Despite how much I loved the show’s aesthetic and the interactions of Naoto and RyuZU, I could not continue. The sheer lack of oversight in constructing a consistent and believable sci-fi setting fundamentally breaks any suspension of disbelief this episode could have built.

I’m sure this conclusion isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s seen this first episode. I just needed to vent about this a bit after all that stupidity and show just how easy it is to fix these gigantic problems.

Clockwork Planet might not be as great as we hoped, but you can check out my favourites of Spring 2017 for a ton of shows actually worth watching.

The Pokemon Sun & Moon anime is an absolute blast so far. 

The series oozes fun out of every pore and it’s just really pleasant to watch. Moreso, a lot of new character ideas have me hooked as well. The new direction they’ve taken Team Rocket is one such idea. It’s kind of shocking how it only took two episodes to make the classic villains interesting again.

While watching Pokemon X&Y, the only part of the series I considered more negative than positive was Team Rocket. This was because, for a vast majority of the series, they were one-note villains whose only goal was to capture Pikachu. I want to break down a few examples to show how Sun and Moon rectifies that almost immediately.

In episode three, the first Pokemon they battle is not Pikachu, but instead a wild Mimikyu. Because they’re down to just Meowth and Wobbuffet again, they need to bolster their team in order to make progress. Unfortunately, Mimikyu turns out to be quite the handful, and Meowth ends up completely traumatised by this battle.

team rocket
Not exactly according to plan. Source: OLM

Later on, Ash and Pikachu encounter the same Mimikyu and battle it.  However, Team Rocket jumps in to stop them because they saw Mimikyu first and want another go at capturing it. Meowth challenges Pikachu to a battle, audibly acknowledging that Pikachu will annihilate him. However, Mimikyuu, who displays an intense grudge against Pikachu, decides to save Meowth.

Rather than gloat and parade about in arrogance, Team Rocket know that their opponent completely outclasses them. This makes Mimikyu’s choice of siding with them all the more exciting. It’s not fun watching the good guys beat up on weak villains, so evening out the sides makes the battles so much more intense. This single writing choice humanises them so much more than their debut in X&Y.

The ending of this battle throws yet another curveball into the mix.

This time, the bear Pokemon, Bewear, abducts Team Rocket from the battle scene before Pikachu can send them blasting off. This misdirect hints that the writers are tiring of Team Rocket’s formulaic exits. As such, they’re trying out new ideas for Team Rocket experiencing defeat, and to brilliant affect.

Time for all the good (and bad) children to go home for the day.
Source: OLM

Moving on to episode four, Team Rocket spends most of their time trapped in Bewear’s den, desperately trying to get out, but Bewear forces them to stay every time they try. Jessie is frantically throwing Poke Balls at Mimikyu hoping to catch it, but to no avail.

Eventually, she takes a Luxury Ball from James, who tries to take it back claiming that it’s part of his collection. We’ve already seen James’s bottlecap collection countless times in the past, so hearing that he collects rare Poke Balls fits right in with his character, and it’s a nice little add-on to make him feel a bit more fleshed out.

Jessie captures Mimikyu with the Luxury Ball, but Bewear catches her when she tries to pick up the ball. Initially, Team Rocket fears that Bewear will eat them, but they relax when he starts feeding them honey, playing into Team Rocket’s needy attitude towards food.

Later, while Bewear is away, they attempt another escape just as a flock of Pikipek swoop in and steal Bewear’s berry stockpile. Team Rocket seems almost appalled by their thievery, the irony of that being lost on them entirely as expected. Jessie decides that they should take the berries back to repay Bewear for the food and shelter.

This creates a new dynamic reminiscent of classic Team Rocket.

In this instance, their criminal desire to capture new Pokemon in the Alola region has almost been relegated to a secondary goal, with their personal goal of getting the berries back for Bewear taking priority. If they happen to capture some Pokemon along the way, then all the better. As expected, they ultimately fail to capture the Pikipek or Pikachu in the end as Bewear interrupts their battle again. They do manage to get the berries back though, so it’s still a partial success.

team rocket
New friends can be both a blessing and a curse I guess. Source: OLM

Rather than the worn-down desire to just capture Pikachu, Team Rocket’s first two appearances in Sun and Moon are motivated by two entirely different desires: to get stronger, and to repay someone’s kindness. And this trend of giving them interesting motivations for each episodes seems to be continuing so far, which makes me a very happy Pokemon fan.

I don’t expect this from every episode, but I really hope they keep this up for as long as possible. After all, having Team Rocket be just as fun to watch as our main heroes is pretty awesome!

I love analysing what kinds of references and homages are included in a piece of media.

It gives me insight into what a writer or director values and how their own writing process works. However, the use of homage can be even more impacting.

A good homage not only makes it clear what the homage is referencing. It must also apply itself in a way that’s fitting for the work in which it resides. One of the most famous examples of this is the opening title crawl from Star Wars, which pays homage to the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. It’s a very striking technique, but the meaning that it conveys might be a bit obtuse for most of us since there are very few people alive today who grew up with the original Flash Gordon.

However, if you strip away all the specific details of each work and realise that George Lucas used an homage to a high-flying space opera action-adventure franchise with enticing fantasy elements to open his own high-flying space opera action-adventure franchise with enticing fantasy elements, then you can start to see why a Flash Gordon reference has much more meaning than simply saying “It’s a Flash Gordon reference.” By putting the idea of Flash Gordon in the audience’s head right at the start of the film, those who were familiar with the franchise will immediately have a subconscious idea of what they can expect from Star Wars.

The side-by-side comparison is even more striking. Source: Flash Gordon, Star Wars

In turn, after becoming the massive cultural icon that it is today, Star Wars is now the one that other works are paying homage to, be it exhilarating action sequences with similar design elements, or a single quote whose popularity is so inescapable that its meaning is immediately resonant (“I am your father!”).

But I’m not here to talk about Star Wars. I’m here to talk about anime.

One of my favourite moments of homage from the past year of anime comes from episode eight of last fall’s Gainax-esque fever dream fantasy, Flip Flappers. If you haven’t seen this series yet, I won’t be spoiling any major plot details aside from vague descriptions of thematic character development. I do highly recommend that you check it out soon as it’s one of my favourite anime of last year.

In episode eight, the two main characters, Cocona and Papika, search for a certain item in an ever-changing fantasy dimension. In this episode, the dimension appears as an expansive and futuristic cityscape currently under attack by monsters.

As the second half rolls around, a giant monster is stomping around the city and destroying everything in its path. As a result, our two leads must pilot a set of combining mech suits in order to defeat it.

Flip Flappers takes advantage of its episodic nature to the fullest extent.

It explores interesting themes and uses the visual cues of past works to give the viewer a starting point on where to begin the exploration of these ideas.

Episode eight clearly pays homage to an early anime industry staple: the super robot genre of the late 60s and early 70s. Even the actual mech itself bears resemblance to the titular mech of the 1974 classic, Getter Robo.

Looks like something that’d be right at home in anime from the 70s. Source: Flip Flappers

An homage to the super robot genre is a great way to set the tone that this episode strives towards. The super robot genre is inherently fun, exciting, and jam-packed with action, which is exactly what happens in this episode.

It’s really cool seeing an homage to super robots in a mid-2010s fantasy series. However, it’s not nearly as cool as the second homage lurking under the surface.

This second homage is embedded not in the design or tone, but in the characters. This time, we’re hopping over to the second branch of the mecha genre: real robot. This comes in the form of the main character, Cocona, who has been struggling with defining her purpose in life and who she is at a deeper, more intimate level.

This struggle with self-identity sits at the very core of the real robot genre.

From Gundam to Gunbuster to Evangelion to Gurren Lagann, the last of which is itself a masterwork of homage covering the entirety of mecha history up to its release in 2007, mecha has always been a vehicle for discovering self-identity.

This type of character arc in an episode focused on a giant robot fight solidifies the connection between Cocona and past real robot protagonists, particularly those of Gainax origin. This dual-layer homage resonates not just with super robot fans, but real robot fans as well.

Yet another addition to the “young anime character goes through life-changing experience” category, but in an awesome and exciting way. Source: Flip Flappers

In essence, Flip Flappers is doing something similar to Gurren Lagann, but on a much smaller scale – and that’s one of the things I love so much about this episode. It captures the excitement and adrenaline of super robot and crafts a scenario around a character that would be right at home in real robot. This combines what are arguably the best parts of each sub-genre into a single homage by a stroke of genius.

Episode eight of Flip Flappers was easily one of the more impacting and captivating episodes of anime I had seen from any show that aired last year. It and several others throughout the series demonstrate just how powerful a perfectly-crafted homage can be. This type of writing adds so much hidden depth to a series and makes it even more enjoyable. I really do hope more writers and directors make use of this kind of storytelling in the future.

This week we review WorldEnd. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

There’s this new anime adapted from a light novel series. It takes place in the distant future, and it’s part of the military/action/magic genre. The story focuses on a slightly jaded young man with a special power, and it features demi-humans and a wide variety of cute girls with huge swords, whom the main character lives with.

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes already. The thought of yet another trashy light novel series plaguing the market when there are so many other stories that could be adapted is still a worrying prospect. Fret not, however, because WorldEnd is actually worth the effort put into it.

500 years have passed since humanity has gone extinct at the hands of the powerful and fearsome “Beasts.” The races that survived this calamity now make their homes on floating islands in the sky.

Only a small group of young girls have the ability to wield ancient weapons capable of destroying the Beasts and reclaiming the surface. Officer Willem Kmentsch has recently been assigned to look after these girls. Their journey will bring them closer together and, hopefully, heal old wounds that even time can’t mend.

Can Willem learn to look after the girls while also overcoming his own trauma?
Source: Satelight

WorldEnd is definitely not your typical light novel adaptation.

While it does have a few moments of overt fan service, the overall tone of the series feels much more relaxed and less frantic – at least until the drama kicks in. No dumb misunderstandings used for gags or unacted-upon romances. Weird ecchi scenarios are (mostly) out of sight. Nothing that wholesale distracts from the overall experience.

Additionally, since the light novel series had already ended before the anime aired, the anime actually presents us with a finished story. Seeing a completed product is another huge plus that we rarely get.

WorldEnd even has some interesting themes that it explores throughout its run. The concepts of memory and self-identity play a huge role in how these characters carry on as the story progresses. There’s actually a legitimate threat to their existence, both physically and mentally. This makes watching their struggles all the more compelling and gripping to watch.

Having such an endearing cast definitely helps push these themes along. Source: Satelight

Willem has his own baggage to bring in as well.

The memories of his past failures still haunt him and weigh him down. It gives him a much more vulnerable appearances than other light novel protagonists. He’s actually kind of weak emotionally, and seeing him actually feel things about his situation other than mild anger or embarrassment (the default emotions for LN protagonists) is extremely refreshing.

This feeds into the romance storyline as well in Willem’s slow-growing relationship with Chtholly. As coy as it usually is, romance in anime is finally getting around to the idea of actually having relationships in their stories, instead of a long buildup to an unsatisfying sort-of conclusion.

There are legitimately cute moments between Willem and Chtholly that make me want their relationship to succeed. However, there are also some parts where it doesn’t seem to go far enough, sliding back into bad anime cliches. In the end, having a romance that both characters recognise is happening is definitely a step above the usual, and I hope we get more of it in future stories like this.

Good anime romances are hard to come by, and this is definitely one of them. Source: Satelight

The animation is solid, but definitely not without flaws.

I tend not to expect much from Satelight, but the action scenes are captivating and well-choreographed. The character designs needed a bit more of a unique flair, but they aren’t totally generic either. Having so many non-human characters definitely helps alleviate the issue.

What this animation team really handles well though is the lighting, especially during nighttime scenes, and the way that they can draw out emotions using said lighting really helps push the story along.

As for music, Tatsuya Katou brings his typical averageness that I would expect. There’s not too much I can sink my teeth into and there aren’t that many notable themes. However, some vocal tracks are definitely worth noting. I never thought I’d hear an old English folk ballad in a sci-fi/drama anime, but it works surprisingly well.

If being better than the other mediocrity in its genre is all it has to do, WorldEnd succeeds brilliantly. Having actual stakes and human emotions in the story does wonders for getting invested. However, in the grand scheme of things, quite a few elements still need some fine-tuning. The fact that this seems so much better than shows like Asterisk War or Akashic Record says much more about the genre than it does WorldEnd.

Still, I can definitely recommend checking this one out. It’s a fun time with some solid drama and an endearing romance element; much more than I can say about other shows from this season.

Check out my thoughts on some other great anime from last season.

Final Score: 7/10

Prequel additions to legacy franchises have started becoming more common in anime.

Unfortunately, most of them don’t tend to play out very well. Sometimes they don’t respect the original source, and sometimes the source is too far in the past to clearly remember. Either way, many of these installments, such as Young Black Jack, end up falling flat. So, creating a prequel to one of the oldest and most recognized anime titles in history, Astro Boy, will definitely turn some heads for better or worse. Thus we come to yet another title from last season: Atom: The Beginning.

Years after a major catastrophe devastates Japan, humanity has grown to rely on the aid of robots and AI to move society forward. In this world, two young researchers, Tenma and Ochanomizu, are working on creating a new type of AI. Unlike previous systems, theirs will be one that can understand and respond to human emotion and morality: a robot with a heart. Thus begins the adventures of A106, a robot whom his creators believe will revolutionize the world of robotics and AI programming.

Can A106 learn how to be human?
Source: Production I.G.

In terms of being a predecessor to Astro Boy, it’s a bit here and there.

I can’t say much myself since I’ve only seen about five minutes of the original series. My memories of the 2003 reboot are quite vague as well. Based on the knowledge I do have, however, most of the continuity and spirit of the original seem to be in tact. The fact that Astro doesn’t appear at all in the series is probably one of its best points. This allows A106 and his creators take center stage.

The series also offers a surprisingly deep take on the nature of AI. It isn’t anything entirely unique or original, but it presents the idea of an AI slowly becoming more and more sentient in a grounded, yet emotional fashion. A106’s ability to process emotions and learn new things about the world makes it a fascinating character, and I love pretty much every moment we spend hearing his own thoughts. The final episode in particular is a tour de force of Ghost in the Shell-level deepness, with A106’s thoughts becoming so complex that they seem indistinguishable from human thought, and the conflict currently underway at that moment is intensely emotional in a panicky kind of way.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few moments where the series stumbles.

In particular, episodes 8-10 basically devolve into Robot Wars: The Anime. It also feels like it turns into a shounen battle series, and not a good one either. While some of the moments in this section are clever, a lot more are just plain boring, and it almost completely ditches the AI-centric narrative for a while.

Some of the characters are a bit hit-and-miss as well. Tenma is probably the hardest character to deal with. I know he actually is a pretty bad person based on the first episode of Astro Boy, but seeing that nature show up here as well makes him a bit hard to stomach. Other characters don’t get fleshed out nearly enough as they needed to. In particular, Motoko and her brother, Moriya, who is supposedly Tenma’s rival, don’t really do anything interesting. They’re just kinda there to hang out I guess. Aside from A106, Ochanomizu and his little sister, Ran, are the only really interesting characters. I absolutely love their passionate and engaging approach to robotics.

Character interactions are definitely a bright spot though.
Source: Production I.G

With the animation, Production I.G. and OLM have teamed up to create a solid presentation.

The cartoony character designs have been modernized without losing their original feel, making them unique and fun to watch. I love A106’s design as well, especially the color scheme that makes him pop off the screen. The animation and movement itself is crisp and impacting most of the time. However, the heavy use of CG during the robot wars segment gets a bit tiresome.

As for music, there are a few really memorable themes that sell the emotional weight of some scenes. Unfortunately, there are also just as many that feel hoaky and entirely out of place. Overall, lots of highs and lots of lows.

Atom: The Beginning is a series with a lot of technical and narrative flaws, but has a shimmering heart of gold at its center. Its ideas about the self-development of AI are thought-provoking and engaging. Having a strong main character acting out these ideas makes it all the more enjoyable. Despite some severe hiccups in narrative and presentation, this series is more than worth your time.

Atom: The Beginning is available through Amazon’s Anime Strike service.

Check out this series and my other favorites from the Spring 2017 season.

Final Score: 7/10

The anime industry has developed an obsession with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Be it the gothic shounen mysteries of Pandora Hearts or the playful fantasy adventures or Flip Flappers, Wonderland seems to be weaving itself into the fabric of anime culture more and more. This Spring season brings us yet another take on this subgenre with Alice and Zoroku.

Sana is a young girl possessing a strange power called Dreams of Alice. This power allows her to materialise anything she can think of. 

After escaping from a laboratory where she lived as a test subject, Alice ends up in the normal world where she meets an old man named Zoroku. With encouragement from covert government officials, Zoroku decides to take care of Alice. This will mean both hiding her from lab agents and integrating her into modern society. Can Alice learn to coexist in Japan without causing chaos with her mysterious powers?

Can Zoroku help Alice live normally in modern society? Source: J.C. Staff

My favourite thing about Wonderland-inspired anime is how creative they can be.

Alice and Zoroku is no exception. This series is always visually engaging on a creative level. Epic action scenes in the middle of a crowded city, exploring an expansive Wonderland dimension, and everything in-between come to life in a brief, but detailed 12-episode run.

These kinds of shows also tend to have a dark and surreal undercurrent to their stories, which Alice and Zoroku handles quite well. It fits snugly into the “cute girls do suffering” genre popularised by anime like Madoka Magica and WIXOSS, both in a physical and emotional sense. 

The anime’s first half is a single arc of Sana evading (or failing to evade) capture by lab members. The concepts it presents about Sana’s existence and those who have similar powers can get rather unsettling. This arc is thrilling to be sure, but it also feels unsure of itself tonally.

Alice and Zoroku really starts to shine in its second half.

This section is much more about Sana interacting with others and coming to terms with being a normal girl. 

When she’s placed in an emotionally complex situation she’s never experienced, she often describes her feelings as “frazzled.” The childlike simplicity of her phrasing sells her confusion and lack of maturity, as does the string of rash decisions she makes. 

I’ve been craving a show that really tries to explore the unnerving confusion of early childhood, and Alice pulls it off fairly well, despite getting a bit out of hand with its actual plot.

The rest of the cast is just as engaging as Sana. Zoroku’s “annoyed old man” personality is a bit stereotypical, but he brings a tonne of compassion and worldly understanding. This mixture of sternness and wisdom makes him the perfect caretaker for Sana. 

The other “Dreams of Alice” users have their own stories to contribute as well, often adding an even darker tinge to the story. Hatori’s childish fantasies gone wrong or Minnie C’s demented delusion create a vibrant living cast of interesting people.

The Alice comparisons continue in the supporting cast as well. Source: J.C. Staff

J.C. Staff’s animation definitely has its ups and downs.

I absolutely love the character designs. They feel like a blend of Madoka Magica and Seitokai Yakuindomo (an odd combination, I know) that can sell both the cuteness and the dread each character portrays. 

The colour design is usually fairly solid, but can get a bit out of hand with more intense scenes. And, unfortunately, obvious CG usage abounds during the action scenes.

We seem to have gotten to a point where CG in anime falls into three categories: CG that’s hid well, CG that’s not hid well but they at least tried, and CG where they don’t even try to make it less noticeable (see The King’s Avatar). Alice and Zoroku is firmly in the last category. As disappointing as that is, it becomes a bit more bearable later on.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that TO-MAS (Flip Flappers, Momokuri) composed the music for this series. Quirky and offbeat or intense and exhilarating, the music excels at elevating the emotions of each scene. One track in particular featuring a solo vocalist really hooked me, something I can always count on from TO-MAS.

Despite a bit of tonal confusion and some annoying CG, Alice and Zoroku is definitely one of my favourites of the season. Its cast of confused, yet endearing characters trying to figure out their place in the world makes this series a joy to watch, especially in its more intense moments. It ultimately puts a new spin on Carroll’s nonsense narrative to give it a more compelling coming-of-age theme.

If you’re looking to ease yourself into a darker slice of life, Alice and Zoroku is a solid start.

Final Score: 8/10