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Three-Episode Test: Ink's Winter 2018

A lot to love (and too little time).

Welcome to the Three Episode Test, where Ani-Gamers contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching (or not) from the current simulcast season and why.


A Place Further than the Universe

Streaming on Crunchyroll

One girl who’s never taken advantage of the freedom of youth but yearns to do so. One girl who’s ostracized for her peculiar aspiration fueled by a personal reason. One girl who’s never known anything about not knowing the freedom of youth. One girl who’s never had the fun nor freedom of youth but who does have a ticket to Antarctica. By the end of the third episode, all of these girls come together and decide to make good on the subtitle of the series.

I admit that said subtitle makes A Place Further than the Universe: A Story that Ends in Antarctica anticlimactic, but this is, after all, a story about the journey being more important than the destination (except, perhaps, to one of the girls). As is usually the case with these sorts of stories, the journey is physical and emotional. Each of the group of travelers has their own issue(s) to work though, and they will manage to accomplish that and much more with each other’s help.

What makes this worth watching is Jukki Hanada’s script and series composition, which brings the same strong sense of character chemistry, comedic timing, and tonal embellishments/subversions that make Nichijou, Steins;Gate, and Love Live! School idol project watchable (arguably the only thing regarding the latter). Animation from Madhouse and backgrounds courtesy of Kusanagi makes this a pretty show to watch; there are plenty of tourism adverts and prettily rendered everyday locales (the tanukis are amazing), and the detail put into facial reactions and emotive movements make this cute-girls-going-frigid-places anime damned endearing every week.

Laid-Back Camp

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Laid-Back Camp can be called a lot of things, but interesting is just not an adjective on or just off the tip of my tongue. This series – about a loner who loves camping in winter for the clear sight lines and lack of crowds, and the girl who comes to ruin those for her (yes, that’s sarcasm) – is a healing anime for its tone and scenery, a how-to anime in regards to pointing out camping basics, and a school club-based comedy. It’s informative, light fare with a flare for creating awe for communing with the outdoors in much the same way Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club inspires exercising on two-wheels. (You’re gonna feel like you should, maybe even buy some equipment, and then never use it.) It’s not a bad show. It’s cute in fact. And I actually do like Rin’s character; I want to see her warm up to group experiences as much as I want to see her infect the club with her loner's inclinations. For purely sympathetic reasons, I also want to see the antics of the club member working in the liquor store. But there’s just not enough here for me to keep watching in a season so chock-full of better offerings. Perhaps I’ll come back to this when I need something to mellow me out.

After the Rain

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

The most wonderful thing about this story about a waitress who has a crush on her manager at a family-style restaurant is that it is spot-on regarding the depiction of unspeakable feelings, the dizzying loops the mind makes when addressing them internally, and the various awkwardnesses that taints every interaction while so bottled up. On top of that, there’s some gorgeous shojo artwork, with plenty of sparkles and bubbles to go around, the inner dialog of the MC feels like what I remember thinking throughout high school, and character designs that run the gamut from gorgeously Clamp-esque to the beautifully ugly. (I think I have a hard sympathy crush on the oldest waitress.) The truly ugly however, or rather the potential therefore, lies in the very thin line that the depiction of this hopefully perpetual one-sided romance treads.

A high school student crushes hard on her significantly older (we’re talkin’ father figure here) manager, and there is no inappropriate interaction between the two as of Episode 3. But even if nothing comes of the crush, and god I hope it doesn’t (a la Garden of Words), the visuals might serve as a power trip or even a how-to for those with dangerous intentions; this is how real the series feels. Episode 2’s scene with the main character alone in bed remembering how her crush’s hands felt in a purely innocent situation and how it wordlessly turns that memory into an passionate fantasy is amazing but also potentially lurid. (When the phone buzzed, I … don’t really want to explain what I thought was going to happen.)

The tension this show strikes is amazing, but it is not in the show itself. Rather, the tension is external; waiting to see how it handles this relationship is downright stressful. But there are more than enough reasons to watch week to week than there are reasons not to … so far.

Junji Ito Collection

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I simply do not get all the loathing and disappointment heaped upon the first episode of this anthology series. Granted, I’ve only read one major work (GYO) by acclaimed horror mangaka Junji Ito, but I found that to be a good mix of the humorously bizarre and physically absurd – not anything I'd call scary. Regarding the two short stories trailing GYO, one just falls flat with a mild chuckle while delivering a decent pun, and the other, the longer of the two, has a rather gratifying grip on an underlying horror with regards to human nature … but it is more interesting than scary. But I do love Ito’s style, sense of pacing, and abundant talent for the depicting the grotesque, and I love this anime adaptation’s grasp of the same.

What’s important to understand going in is that horror is not always boo scares; sometimes real terror comes from dealing with malignant forces over which you have no power. Humans are excellent sources for this, which is why I actually applaud the choice of leading with “Souichi's Convenient Curses” and applaud the tone and art of “Hellish Doll Funeral” despite a) the horrible title, and b) the two-minute running time. All three episodes so far have been split into two tales, and none are of equal length. The final first episode, “The Lovesick Dead,” evokes the competency of Yamishibai’s “The Fourth Man” in terms of atmosphere but caters more to fright than scare (in a good way). That balance is Ito as far as I can discern through various reviews, and I think many are overlooking that because they’re not feeling scared. This is a must watch for me.

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Ladies and gentlemen, I say the following with zero degree of lightness or frivolity: we … have … Pshuuu! Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles (a.k.a. A Young Woman Stalking a Young Woman Eating Noodles) is a joy, an absolute joy. I wasn’t going to put that much stock into this show initially, but I cannot help but offer my enthusiastic endorsement for it after reaching the bare bottom of my third helping.

Ms. Koizumi… has a lot of things going against it in the beginning: it’s a one-gag show (see title) that isn’t a short, the protagonist is super hyper, and none of the characters are old enough to drink yet. Despite those hurdles, what the show does deliver on is a light, yuri-framed comedy with plenty of ramen recipes as well as euphoric shots and gratuitous squees of delight in reaction thereto.

Like Wakako-zake, the meals are not presented with photorealism but a detailed love with dreamy blurriness. Ms. Koizumi… also has a running narrative, Yu obsessing over Koizumi, whereas Wakako... was a purely episodic affair with occasionally reoccurring characters. The two shows are opposites in execution, but the love for the fare and the dedication to showing the characters’ appreciation for it are right in line. I’m watching this through the end of the season.

Devilman Crybaby

Streaming on Netflix

I am a Masaki Yuasa fanboy and there’s no chance in hell I’m not going to watch this to the bitter end even though I’m woefully unfamiliar with the source material (and only vaguely cognizant of its progenitor’s penchant for sex and violence). That said, stop reading here and never even venture a watch if you are even slightly served by the advisories known as trigger warnings, because Devilman Crybaby is one big exploitation acid trip for the ages.

Having to stop at Episode 3 to write this hot take, while waiting for other series to air their third episodes, was torture. So I watched it again just to write this. I can’t help but feel this is one of the most perfect setups in anime history: a story heavily laden with explicit material, and an intensely visual director whose mature methods of storytelling target older audiences. (The only other perfect manga-come-anime pairing that comes to mind is Hiroshi Nagahama x Shuzo Oshimi.)

The exaggerated motions, or more precisely how movements are given exaggerated ferocity and power, bulk and sway, are simply fantastic. The color palates draw you instantaneously into whatever the mood demands. And on top of all the visual flare … there’s a pretty decent story, too! Early contender for AOTY 2018.

Citrus

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I was seriously craving some Class S shojo, and I thought Citrus was going to deliver. It kinda does, and it kinda doesn’t as an odd cross between Sweet Blue Flowers and Scum’s Wish. (Send your hate mail to ink@aniagmers.com.) As opposed to Scum’s Wish, which I thought featured uncharacteristically mature dialog for teenagers, I think Citrus nails it when it comes to Mei’s understated, emotionally motivated advances on her new stepsister. As someone who generally falls for people who fall for me (a terrible practice), I also feel a "No, don't!" kinship with Yuzu, and the show really makes her gradual awakening feel organic rather than forced for a camera pandering to the anime audience. But make no mistake, just by the end of the OP, you know where this series is headed.

And, yes, I do hate the fact this is sis-con, but I love that the series owns it in episode three. There’s also a lot to be said for non-verbal communication throughout this series: facial expressions, body posture, gestures, and reactions really tell a lot of the story here. I don’t think this will be a great series, but there’s enough to keep me watching something I was in the mood for and with a slight dark twist I wasn’t expecting. Also, I’ll pretty much watch any anime with a nano.RIPE song backing the OP just to hear it at least once a week.

Takunomi

Streaming on HIDIVE

Since Ms. Koizumi... doesn't have of-drinking-age characters, Takunomi picks up the other half of Wakako-zake's focus but fails to capture the essence of the pshuuu. Still way more palatable than last season's emotionally clingy flop, Love is Like a Cocktail, Takunomi at least employs 3 women who've lost their passion and find it at the bottom of a bottle or few. This contrasts the MC's youthful hopefulness, which I personally hope to see thrashed by the end of series (if it has the ovaries to do so).

There's photorealistic bottle love paid to the various libations a la Drops of God and Oishinbo, but no grandiose depictions of euphoria even close to those in the former. Still, like Wakako-zake, there's a lot of information about taste and the art of tasting (pouring, pairings, etc.) that really makes this an attractive series. Best of all, each episode clocks in around 15 minutes. While this still feels a little long, at least there's more story to contextualize the drinking sessions (even if they often fall to clichés). It's short and fun, can be informative, and flys by. I'll be checking this one out at my own staggered leisure throughout the season.

Everything else...

That's probably more than enough, but I am actually watching and going to watch a few more things:

Garo: Vanishing Line (Crunchyroll) — This continuation of a sequel is insanely good, and it just keeps getting better. We're more into getting to a destination now instead of episodic horror attacks at home, so there are new characters and new settings served up with the same ol' ultraviolence and pulp that made me love the first cour. I'm not stopping now even if I die.

Fate/Apocrypha — This balls-to-thewall Fate/title has my heart, and the second cour is soon to be released on Netflix. I have to finish this almost as much as I have to start watching Today's Menu for the Emiya Family (Crunchyroll).

Kakegurui (Netflix) — I have been hyped for "Thirsty Kaiji" ever since the key art promo landed … which was a LONG TIME AGO, and I have no idea why. People have been illegally streaming episodes and illegally loving the hell out of this show that features … oh that's right, I just remembered why I love this goddamned series I cannot watch: it's got MAPPA behind it, whose founder previously worked on such deliciously deviant gambling titles as Kaiji and Akagi and (less deviant but no less beautifully tense and visually dramatic) Chihayafuru. The show drops on February 1, and I'm all in.

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