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Three-Episode Test: Jared's Fall 2016

Slow burns and burning passions

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, Jared Nelson falls for a cute kid, cute boys, and … an emotionally traumatized hikikomori Shogi master?

Poco's Udon World

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Single-guy-with-cute-kid shows have been somewhat common the last couple of years. And if you looked at the key art for Poco’s Udon World and thought, "this is basically Barakamon plus Sweetness & Lightning," you wouldn’t be far off. Like those series, Poco’s Udon World is a slice-of-life human drama framed around the relationship between an adult and a child. Add in a supernatural twist, and you have something different enough to (mostly) avoid cliché. Souta, a Web designer living in Tokyo, returns to his rural hometown in "Udon" (Kagawa) Prefecture on the island of Shikoku to sell off the udon restaurant owned by his late father. While there, Souta discovers a child, which he soon discovers isn’t a human child but a shapeshifting tanuki, sleeping in a cookpot.

Across the first three episodes, we begin to see hints of trauma and familial tensions in Souta's past, which would lead to interesting drama as the plot unfolds. Add to that the adorable antics of Poco the tanuki kid, the outstandingly goofy Gao Gao-chan shorts, and the tourism spots by Kagawa cultural ambassador/actor Jun Kaname at the end of each episode, and there’s enough here to keep me interested. If, like me, you can’t get enough of slice-of-life shows with cute children and enjoy tourism facts, then you’ll want to add this to your queue.

Yuri!! on ICE

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Who isn’t watching this show? For the statistically small number of people who haven’t already seen or heard about this show, Yuri!!! On ICE heralds the return of Sayo Yamamoto as director and chief creator of this original (yay) anime that has quickly become the talk of the Fall 2016 season. Yuri Katsuki, a world-class figure skater who always seems to falls short, returns to his hometown to figure out how to rekindle his love of figure skating. After a video of Yuri skating the routine of his idol, legendary skater Victor Nikiforov goes viral on the net, the very same Victor moves to Japan, unannounced, and decides to coach Yuri. This causes a young Russian skater (also named Yuri), who also idolizes Victor but hates Yuuri, to go to Japan to convince Victor to come back to Russia and uphold a promise.

But people watch this show for the amazing displays of sexual tension between Yuri and Victor, right? The sensuality in the show’s more personal moments have a sex appeal that feels more evocative than more overt displays of fanservice in this or other shows I’ve seen this season. The skating sequences in this show stand out as particularly well executed from a technical standpoint, but I think the camera in these sequences could borrow a little more from actual figure skating competitions to capture a more fluid presentation. I look forward to each new episode, and this series may be my favorite show of the season.

March Comes In Like a Lion

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Rosy Cheeks: the Anime. March Comes In Like a Lion, based on the award-winning manga by Chika Umino (Honey and Clover), follows the life of 17 year-old professional shogi player Rei Kiriyama. The introduction immediately shows us that Rei struggles with a deep-seated emotional trauma, possibly even depression, and has few ties to the external world. Rei has cultivated a relationship with the Kawamoto sisters as well as their adorable grandfather and ever-hungry cats. This show spends a great deal of its energy showing, through imagery or direct internal dialog, the gradual journey of Rei from the depths of his sorrow to fully re-engaging with the world. Or at least that’s what I hope it's doing. Most of the emotional climaxes thus far come from the supporting cast rather than the protagonist. Rei himself tends to exist apart in most of the scenes he’s involved in, which feels appropriate given his emotional state, but I doubt this show will be for everyone with its low level of dramatic tension. March Comes In Like a Lion promises to be a slow burn. In a season packed with dramas, it remains to be seen if I’ll continue watching week to week. I feel like this show may end up being more effective as a binge show.

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