As should come as little surprise to most of you, I, a man who likes superheroes, comics, and tabletop gaming, also enjoy anime. If you don’t, that’s cool, the point of this week’s blog isn’t to try and sell people on one of my hobbies. No, today I just wanted to take a moment and share some thoughts on this season’s offerings with those who do enjoy the medium, and might be looking for a few good picks.
As a rule, when the new anime season starts (about every 3 months) I watch everything that comes out. My friends and I even have bingo cards and a drinking game we play based on standard tropes. Now, while I try the first episode of everything, I usually only keep going with the ones that either are great out of the gate, or look like they have potential. See, animes can shift a lot tonally through a run, so I try to give it a few episodes before I decide if I like it or not, unless the first episode is just something I have zero interest in. That’s also why I’ve waited until the season is halfway done for this feature (and will do so again if it’s repeated in the future). It allows me enough time to really get a sense of the show, and offer a more informed opinion.
With all that explanation done, let’s move on to Drew’s Q3 Mid-Season Anime Review
When Sword Art Online came out, I considered it to be one of the most interesting, original concepts I’d seen in a long while, even if .hack had beaten it by several years. When Log Horizon came out, I felt like I’d sort of seen this before, but the take they had was so different from SAO that it hooked me anyway, and in fact is a better series overall in my opinion (though SAO’s first 12 are damn near perfect).
Anyway, it’s a few years later now and I feel like the “stuck in an MMO” genre has sort of been bled dry in the wake of SAO’s success. So, when Overlord opened up by going right to that same well, I settled in for a retread of the same old stuff. But now, eight episodes in, I can honestly say the show is standing on its own in a way I never expected. For one thing, it’s slow, and I mean that in a good way. SAO and Log Horizon both zip through the time in their respective worlds, letting people get acclimated off camera. In Overlord, that’s far from the case, as the main character has no idea what’s happening, or anyone to talk with, and is forced to slowly, painstakingly gather information. It makes for a new spin on the genre.
Really, I think it comes down to the fact that this anime explores a different theme than the other two. SAO was about survival, brutality, and finding the courage to live on despite the death around you. Log Horizon focused on the social aspect, examining how people, and a community would form and evolve in a world with fundamentally different rules than ours. Lots of knock-offs try to rehash those themes, but Overlord goes another direction. That show is about uncertainty and exploration, trying to cope with being shoved into a foreign existence with no explanation or leads to follow. To me, it works, and if it sounds like your jam then I’d recommend giving it a whirl. Stay for at least three episodes though, as it will take that long to get a real sense of where the show is going.
This is an odd one, in that it jumps from lots of comedy to very serious back and forth. This is a technique that doesn’t always work, but when it does (like with Angel Beats) it can be crazy effective. The general plot is that some people gain extraordinary powers during their adolescence, and a school has been built to house and protect them until their powers fade, lest people from a different organization turn them into lab rats. Obviously it’s not really blowing the top off anything in terms of story, but that doesn’t matter as much, because this is a character driven show more than anything else. And the characters are pretty well-crafted. They fall into their default roles during the humorous parts, but show a lot of good writing and thought when things get serious.
I do have to give them props for starting off with a genuinely unlikable protagonist. The guy is a real shitbag out of the gates, and they don’t pull punches on that fact until the very end of the first episode, when they add in a family member to humanize him a bit. Overall, he starts off closer to the villain that a hero, and not in a cute, wink at the audience way. That theme continues to run throughout, at least so far, and it’s handled surprisingly well. Aside from the characters, the powers are interestingly thought out, as well as the defects they come with, so it makes for a pretty entertaining show.
If you don’t like the shows that hop from one emotion to the other, well-done or not, then I’d steer clear of this one, otherwise give it a shot. Go at least two deep on this one, since the first episode is more set-up than proper showcase of what will be coming.
In Case You Missed It: Assassination Classroom
On top of just talking about good shows from this season, I’m also going to touch on ones from earlier runs that I loved and feel like deserve a little more attention. The upside to these is that, if you didn’t catch them before, you can pick them up and watch the whole thing as of today.
Assassination Classroom is a great example of how solid plot, characters, and writing, can turn around an idea that is, flat-out, ridiculous. The plot of Assassination Classroom is that a monster which can move at inhuman speeds and is almost impossible to kill has destroyed most of the moon. It has sworn to the do the same thing to the earth in roughly a year’s time, but until then has decided to teach a class of failures in a school, giving its students time to try and kill it before it destroys the world.
Hey, I told you going in that the premise was really fucking dumb. And it is, it so is, but within two episodes I found myself not caring about that. As soon as I got past the “Well, this is stupid” part and actually suspended disbelief, I really enjoyed the show. Every character, from the monster to the students to the government overseers, is well-written, fleshed-out, and interesting to watch. It’s one where the people in it grow and learn from their experiences, a trait I always love when I can find it regardless of the medium, and while action is always teased as a possibility, it’s rarely the true focus of the show.
Unless you know you can’t get past the first stumbling block of the premise, give it a go, this one you can get a sense of in two episodes as well. It’s an odd one, but somehow that ends up only adding to the charm, and personally I’ve got my fingers crossed that we get more episodes down the line.
Okay, that wraps up my first mid-season anime review. If you folks liked this, then perhaps I’ll do another in three months.