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Three-Episode Test: Alex's Fall 2016

A well-balanced (anime) diet

Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why. In this entry, Alex Osborn gets an anime tailor made for him as well as a few surprises.

Izetta: The Last Witch

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I’m not one who typically gravitates toward politically-charged historical fantasy, but somehow I knew I was going to like Izetta: The Last Witch. Maybe it has something to do with the fact it’s written by Hiroyuki Yoshino, the man behind Guilty Crown, another original anime I’m quite fond of, and who also had a hand in Code Geass – the only other somewhat political series I have any affinity towards. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because the promo I saw features a stunning red-headed girl who soars through the sky on a rifle. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Izetta: The Last Witch is set in a fictional pre-World War II era and centers around Finé, the strong and courageous queen of a small country called Eylstadt, as well as her childhood friend Izetta, the aforementioned gun-riding witch who is believed to be the last of her kind. After the two reunite, Izetta pledges to use her magical abilities to protect Eylstadt from an overwhelming military threat. While the political intrigue will be a big draw for many, it’s the bond these two strong and capable female leads share that has me committed to watching this show every Saturday. Well, that the gorgeous action sequences that effectively meld military and magical elements into a cohesive and stunning visual package. If the the gun-riding and tank-hurling magical skills demonstrated by Izetta in the first three episodes are any indication, we’re in for one heck of a ride.

Yuri!!! on Ice

Streaming on Crunchyroll

When I first heard a figure skating anime was part of this season’s lineup of new shows, I couldn’t have been less interested. But when I learned that Yuri!!! on Ice is from director Sayo Yamamoto, I knew I had to at least watch the PV before writing it off on the basis of its subject matter. After all, other sports anime like Yowamushi Pedal and Free! managed to win me over despite my virtually nonexistent interest in either biking or swimming.

After being wowed by the preview's animation, with movements (on and off the ice) that felt true to life and had a real physicality to them, I knew I had to give the show a shot. What I got was more than just visual treat. Yuri!!! on Ice is about more than skating; it’s also a coming of age story centered around a boy named Yuri Katsuki and his rise from defeat in the hopes of one day standing alongside his idol, Viktor Nikiforov, as equals.

Unfortunately, the pair of episodes that followed didn’t quite capture me like the premiere. They hastily resolve Yuri’s slump-induced weight gain and motivational struggle in favor of over-sexualizing Viktor and heavy-handedly expressing Yuri’s love and admiration for his mentor in a way that cheapened the character complexity formed in that first episode. However, I still plan to watch Yuri!!! on Ice every week in hopes that its characters, including Yuri’s rival and Russian counterpart (also named Yuri), undergo meaningful development.

All Out!!

Streaming on Crunchyroll

In addition to the heartwarming sense of camaraderie that pervades most team-based sports anime, the promise of learning a bit more about a sport I’m relatively unfamiliar with is what draws me to shows of this genre. So, knowing virtually nothing about rugby, I decided to give All Out!! a shot in hopes that, despite its somewhat formulaic premise, this new series from Madhouse and TMS Entertainment would at least serve as a fun and moderately educational watch this fall.

After giving the first three episodes a chance, I can say with confidence that All Out!! is indeed formulaic. The show centers around a hot-tempered high school kid named Kenji Gion, who flips out anytime someone makes a crack about his short stature. (Think Edward from Fullmetal Alchemist but even more obnoxious.) As a newbie to the sport, Gion has a lot to learn about teamwork and discipline, and I hope the show chronicles that maturation process even if I don’t stick around for all 25 episodes. The animation is serviceable but hardly a standout, which is unfortunate for a show based around such a physical sport. With plenty of other promising new anime vying for my time this fall, I’ll be taking a break from All Out!! for now, but I'll return if I’m desperate for something to watch during a slower season.

March Comes in Like a Lion

Streaming on Crunchyroll

The minute I saw the preview trailer for March Comes in Like a Lion and learned that it was created by Honey and Clover author Chica Umino, I knew it was going to be a favorite of mine this season. After watching the first three episodes, I say with confidence that it currently sits firmly at the very top of my list for the fall.

March Comes in Like a Lion centers around a highschool boy named Rei Kiriyama, a 17 year-old professional Shogi player who’s a bit of a loner. With no immediate family of his own, he finds friendship in a family of three sisters who, having also lost their parents, care for him as if he was their brother. It’s this bond that has me captivated by the show and happy to sit through its somewhat dry and slow-paced Shogi matches.

As much as I love how it boldly addresses themes of loss and depression, there are a few abrupt tone shifts, thanks to awkwardly placed scenes of cartoonish comedy, that undermine the moments of melancholy. But that’s really the only gripe I have with a series that, on an emotional level, feels as though it was created specifically for me. The music beautifully complements the internal struggles that plague Rei, and the animation is top notch when it truly counts. So yes, March Comes in Like a Lion will absolutely be a part of my Saturday morning routine all season long.

Poco’s Udon World

Streaming on Crunchyroll

At first glance, the premise of Poco’s Udon World is nothing particularly new or special. A young web designer named Souta Tawara from Tokyo returns home to visit his parent’s udon shop only to find a little boy named Poco hiding out in the family’s since-closed restaurant. Five minutes into the first episode, I was already getting Barakamon vibes. But that all changed when Poco, assuming his true form as a tanuki, suddenly spouts ears and a big bushy tail.

Despite this odd little twist, Poco’s Udon World has that same endearing pseudo-father premise found in anime like the aforementioned Barakamon and Usagi Drop. In my case, that’s hardly a bad thing. Being a late 20-something who could easily picture himself in a similar situation, maybe just without the tanuki-transforming toddler twist, I have a soft spot for shows of this ilk. The art has soft, dreamlike style that pairs well with the narrative, and while the animation work is nothing to write home about, it gets the job done.

I’ve enjoyed my time watching Poco adorably fumble his way alongside Souta, pretending to be a normal little boy, and unless the story takes a horrifying left turn, I’ll stick around for all twelve episodes to see if Souta decides to leave his city life behind for good in order to revive the family udon business.

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