Thursday, October 15, 2015

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Re-/Preview 2015-16 Special:: noitaminA (Summer-Winter)

Suffice to say—right off the bat—this will be a very different seasonal preview for noitaminA…

As previously noted, noitaminA has cut back on its television programming to just one show per season for the time being, as it has been in the midst of producing five theatrical movies in commemoration of its tenth anniversary. At first, it appeared that this practice would be ending in the fall, with Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and THE PERFECT INSIDER debuting, however, a look at their future schedule showed that this would not be the case. I was wondering if Tetsuro Araki would do KnK or Attack on Titan's second season first—perhaps finishing that series first before it debuts and tackling the new show on a normal TV schedule—but it appears that he has been doing the latter.

This recent shift may explain the announcement of Boku dake ga Inai Machi (BokuMachi)/ERASED, which was not among the big titles announced and sounds like one that would be easy enough to make and adapt. Having a preexisting story to work with means no original content to conjure up, either (and less work to do), and I would imagine that Araki might have become too preoccupied with AoT S2 to do his suspiciously-similar-sounding project in time ("Knocking on the Walls of the Armored Fortress"?). No concrete date was given either, mind you, but neither were the others, and to have a group announcement for all three, only to now announce a new title and no news on the other may say otherwise. Additionally, if memory serves me correct, there were two placeholder slots for autumn on noitaminA's site before the change to one as well. It's entirely possible that noitaminA (also?) may not have enough funds to do two shows in one season at the moment. However the reason, that is where things stand, and don't be the least bit surprised if the announced Saekano sequel (be it a TV series) comes before KnK, as well.

Alas, we will be sticking to the one-show-per-season deal at least through the winter. Due to this and the amount of early announcements, that also means we'll be chronicling three seasons of "lineups"—the first time we will be covering such a swath (if you could really call it that here). Nestled in the superlatives was also the rare, long-distance announcement of THE PERFECT INSIDER being streamed on Crunchyroll three months out, which automatically made it October's Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick—the earliest that one's been penciled in (Saekano may have been an auto-pick three months out, too, but a stream was not announced until a few weeks from its debut).

As you might surmise, this is also going to be an unusual noitaminA preview special. Or is that "review"? Due to a variety of reasons, I have not been able to watch Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, nor finish the preview of it in time, so instead, I will be providing a review of the series (in the spirit of the proceedings, it will be done a bit differently than previous reviews done here at HardDoor). That will appear later on, but in the meantime, we still have proper previews to dispense for THE PERFECT INSIDER and Boku dake ga Inai Machi (BokuMachi)/ERASED, making this special a review/preview duplex!

© Rampo Kitan Club

Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Alt. Title: Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

Debut: July 2, 2015
Director: Seiji Kishi
Studio: Lerche
Links: Official Site, FUNimation Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]:, Hulu
Picture Source: As is from Official Twitter Page

Synopsis: A string of murders at a middle school attracts the attention of a boy-genius detective—and he, the attention of a student at the school, who wishes to help him on the cases…

Pre-Review: I wasn't sure it would ever happen, but it finally did! Anime man-about-town Seiji Kishi (Angel Beats!, Seto no Hanayome/My Bride is a Mermaid, Kamisama Dolls) finally made a contribution to noitaminA, in the form of this paean commemorating the 50th anniversary of esteemed mystery author Edogawa Rampo's death. Of course, he brought along his frequent partner-in-crime, screenwriter Makoto Uezo (School Days, Akame ga KILL!, Humanity Has Declined) and his new playground at Lerche (SCHOOL-LIVE!, YUNA YUKI IS A HERO, Danganropa The Animation).

His relatively-short resume is filled with a variety of series across different genres: a good amount of major hits, a few divisive or of debateable quality, and a handful detested. He has his fans and his detractors, but given what he did on Seto no Hanayome, Kamisama Dolls and Humanity Has Declined, made an enjoyable Persona 4 the Animation in spite of an animation production that did not rise to the occasion and had serious inconsistancies, and got the best out of a full, if not also experimental, CGI production in Arpeggio of Blue Steel (which was also industry leader SANZIGEN's first full TV effort), I tend to be with the former.

Kishi and Uezo are not perfect, but when they are on their game, they can create some truly great and precise anime. Beyond the synopsis, I'm not familiar with the works of mystery author Edogawa Rampo and I don't know what to truly expect from his eponymous series, but it looks like it could be decent-to-good. I have actively avoided spoilers and opinions, but the ones I have inevitably come across were fair, but not bowled over, either. It also seemed to have gotten a little too dark for its own good, which would not surprise me, since it looks like it could be one of those eclectic, but messy, type of shows.

Well, at least Masaru Yokoyama (Your lie in April, Queen's Blade, Arakawa Under the Bridge) supplied the score. He is perhaps the hottest composing talent at the moment, and with him currently tackling his highest-profile title yet in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, it's a distinction that is well-deserved. On an interesting note, the only other animated tale inspired by Rampo was the Rintaro-directed 1968 TV series entitled, Wanpaku Taiteidan, which just so happened to air on Fuji TV.

So, will Seiji Kishi's first foray onto noitaminA be another title of his that I will be fond of, or will it be relegated to the section of questionable works that he's made? I guess I'll just have to watch and find out!

Review: TBA…

© Hiroshi Mori, Kodansha / "Subete ga F ni Naru" Production Committee

Alt. Titles: Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider, Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider

Debut: October 8, 2015
Director: Mamoru Kanbe
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]: Crunchyroll
Picture Source: As is from Official Twitter Page

Synopsis: The discovery of a corpse by a young lab researcher and the daughter of his employer while on a company vacation opens the door to a wave of other connected killings…

Personal Take: Elfen Lied and Sound of the Sky/So-Ra-No-Wo-To director Mamoru Kanbe crosses paths with Gatchaman CROWDS and tsuritama scribe Toshiya Ono, Solanin mangaka Inio Asano, and composing legend Kenji Kawai (Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, Mobile Suit Gundam 00) to bring forth a murder mystery tale with a good amount of promise in it. Aside from sounding and looking like the kind of potboiler I tend to favor, Asano's character designs have a good, atypical, "mature" look to them, which should help heighten what appears to be a serious-minded show. My only caveat is that I hope it does not lose itself in being as grimy and messy as possible because of its subject matter (a la PSYCHO-PASS). Not helping matters, either, is my apprehension of Ono's work (nonplussed about tsuritama and its style, borderline-despise CROWDS) and Kawai's well-intended, but ultimately unremarkable, recent scores. I am looking forward to it, but I do not want to get too excited, either…

First Ep. Review: TPI had a look of maturity to it, but I was not expecting the narrative to be so much that way, as well. If anything, the series looks and feels like an indie in animation garb. The characters look, sound, and feel as if they are being played out in live-action by actors, the direction employs a particular style with the series' presentation that invokes the aura of a thinking-man's arthouse film, and the color palette is decidedly low-key and muted, which feeds greater into the realistic vibe (it should be noted that Fuji TV aired a live-action adaptation last October, too…). The series is very dialogue heavy, but also very conversational and natural, undoubtedly helped by the grounded feel of the characters. In a way, it is akin to the Monogatari Series, if stripped of its overt artsy veneer, non-sequiturs, fanservice, and comedic antics—which might actually be music to some ears if they were turned off by that anime's style (and I say that as fan of the series). And by that same token, its talkative style may certainly not be to everyone's taste. That may change past its premiere, but it feels as if the precedent has been set.

Despite the given plot, TPI doesn't play its cards from the outset, focusing more on introducing the characters (primarily the two leads), their dynamic, and what I assume is the background that will lead to the aforementioned. Within its twenty-odd runtime, we are introduced to aloof, antisocial Sohei, an associate college professor, and peppy, inquisitive Moe, the college president's daughter and a student in his architecture field, who is also happens to be smitten with him. (Note: Their backgrounds appear to differ slightly in the anime from the novels, which the Synopsis and others have used. This threw me off a little during the episode, until came across the given link afterwards.) They are something of a pairing, but not quite dating either (though Moe surely wishes…). Moe reveals that she had a video "chat" with the famed/infamous Dr. Shiki Magata—a genius programmer who Sohei idolizes, but is secluded on an island after allegedly murdering her parents fifteen years prior (she accuses "a doll" for the act, instead…). Despite this (and for Sohei's sake), she uses her pull to arrange a seminar trip to the location…

That the series is easing itself into its plot is a breath of fresh air—to say nothing of the whole show itself—when I have encountered so many recent shows that desperately try to stuff as much composition and expository dialogue as they can into the first episode or two. The conversational tone of the dialogue helped parse out information and details succinctly and naturally, all the while not getting bogged down with rattling off everyone's names and titles, and other minutia. Where shows also get lost in their ambition from the get-go, this series feels at ease and sure-footed. There is a real confidence and assurance in TPI, in that director Kanbe is fully in control of the story and how it will unfurl itself. It was only the first episode, but it felt like more was conveyed and accomplished in its type of approach than what is normally seen in the first episode for a big, hyped-up title or franchise entry. In spite of its steady pace and darker aspects, dare I say it was actually enjoyable to sit thorough?

Overall, THE PERFECT INSIDER proved itself to be a fascinating watch from its outset. The production is more atypical than I was expecting from all sides, but it fares quite well. The acting was quite good, and it was great hearing a deeper-voiced male lead than your higher/teen-ranged usuals. While I was more focused on the good dialogue than the score (did it even play?), the OP and ED are excellent, both in awesome animation form (notably the OP) and song selection. I had my reservations, despite wanting to see this perhaps more than any of the other noitaminA titles announced months ago, but much of them were quickly assuaged by the wrap of TPI's premiere. A very solid endeavor appears at hand, but like always, time will ultimately tell.

©2016 Kei Sanbe/KADOKAWA/Bokumachi Animation Committee

Alt. Titles: Boku dake ga Inai Machi, BokuMachi, The Town Where Only I Am Missing

Debut: January 7, 2016
Director: Tomohiko Ito
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official Japanese Site, Official English Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]: Crunchyroll, Daisuki, FUNimation (Beginning January 7, 2016)
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: A floundering mangaka possesses the particular ability to go back in time and prevent the deaths of others. However, one fateful attempt at righting a wrong has now left him in his time in grade school, where he vies to save a classmate who will disappear in the coming weeks…

Personal Take: As mentioned earlier, this is the surprise entry to the noitaminA block, which was not previously announced alongside the group of high-profile shows earlier in the year, or was ever even insinuated at on the block's official site. Rampo Kitan and THE PERFECT INSIDER already debuted but Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, curiously, has not been heard of since. If Tetsuro Araki and WIT STUDIO's title was indeed delayed, this appears to be its replacement: a seemingly easy-to-do, safe-bet work that shouldn't take too big a bite out of the budget (which noitaminA is digging deep in for its 10th anniversary projects) and which might appeal to the lucrative female demographic. [Update (12/26/15): whatever the case, "Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress" is still very, very much alive, and aimed for an April 2016 debut!!]

I tried to perform some Frankensteinian stitching of the varying premises I've come across on BokuMachi, but the relative gist is there and it sounds interesting, but just mildly so. It feels familiar and one description involving the death of the protagonist's mother gave me generated images of Your lie in April. I am unsure that will be the case or is the producers' intentions, but I'm more positive than ambivalent for the show. However, I'd like to see more information and visuals before I go anywhere in either direction. On the staff side, Sword Art Online director Tomohiko Ito (Occult Academy) will be re-teaming with his Silver Spoon writer, Taku Kishimoto (Usagi/Bunny Drop, HAIKYU!!) back at current noitaminA go-to A-1 Pictures.

Eps. 1-2 Review: ERASED/BokuMachi did pretty well in setting itself up in its first episode and fared a bit better than I thought it would in its grounded presentation of its lead and other characters. I was under the impression that he would be your garden-variety struggling artist/otaku and everyone else just requisite archetypes. They aren't groundbreaking, either, but there is some depth to be mined from Satoru and his situation as a whole. The most interesting aspect is that his pseudo-time leap ability isn't mined for humor or wonderment, is played completely straight as just something he is able to do. In a wide field of bang-zoom displays of superpowers in anime, this was very refreshing, as ERASED's mundane setting and straightforward murder-mystery. Sometimes less is definitely more…

However, what you read in the premise is essentially what you get in the premiere, which made it feel as if nothing truly happened of note. This is in great contrast to the bulk of responses over the episode, which apparently struck a strong accord with many, particularly with how it ended. I assume most either went into the series cold or on basic information, as it was already "spoiled" in other descriptions of its plot elsewhere. When I originally wrote the synopsis for ERASED, I was conflicted about outright mentioning the "fateful" occurrence, as it seemed like a vital aspect to mention, but I was unaware of what context it was given in (before or during first episode). Given how much I dislike spoiling things, I elected to be vague about it—even though I sort of spoiled it two paragraphs later—but on the other hand, I also liken it to the shock over SCHOOL-LIVE's first episode, which would have been a genuine one if that show hadn't been even more upfront about what it was about before it debuted. (Perhaps an unfair comparison, I also believe S-L! was more impactful and effective in divulging its premiere twist than ERASED.) If possible, I rather play along and not say too much, either way, which makes such occasions all the more rousing when they throw the viewer for a loop. (I learned my lesson the hard way towards the end of Code Geass' first season, when I regularly perused around for info and glanced over at rundowns and reviews of episodes I had yet to watch of shows, spoilers be darned. Suffice to say, I have stayed away from them since then…)

The second episode effectively serves as "Part 2" of the premise's layout.  Whereas the previous episode was simply the set-up for the rest of the show, the follow-up established the beginning of the uncertain future-to-be after it. Along with some reasonably-solid character development, Ep. 2 helped give ERASED more depth and foundation. On the other hand, it was still difficult to dismiss how predictable and rote it all felt. Nothing that occurs in it—from the way Satoru (inevitably) treats his "second chance" through his interactions with those around him, to a semi-mysterious friend that may or may not somehow know what is going on with him—feels like something you couldn't surmise happening in an "undoing past wrongs in the past " kind of tale. Outside of the character designs, quality production values, and Yuki Kajiura (another carryover from an Ito show, with Sword Art Online) score, ERASED does not feel wholly remarkable or notable, if not that original. The direction and screenplay are solid, as well, but have not arisen past that, yet, which may be necessary if the story does not venture past its routine level. A beacon in the form of the quiet, yet heartwarming, conclusion of the second episode did, however, offer a glimmer that Ito and Kishimoto are capable here.

I did not think ERASED would be on too many radars, but judging by the word-of-mouth, it already appears to be a big hit out of the gate. Given how much of the first episode was just the premise, it did not have a great impact on me, as I was expecting a bit more beyond just establishing that. It is one of the unfortunate side-effects of researching a title and knowing what it is about, only to be told what you already know and nothing more in the premiere. The second episode was both a continuation of the premise and the start of what happens past it, but despite being an improvement from before, the series still feels more competent than impressive or distinctive. Regardless, it is remains early and there were signs of more fulfilling storytelling towards the end of Episode 2. My confidence in that being the case, to be honest, is not very high, but at least something's there. However, given its plot and components, it's not hard to see why people have been captivated by ERASED/BokuMachi so quickly.

©2016 Kei Sanbe/KADOKAWA/Bokumachi Animation Committee
[Second BokuMachi/ERASED main promo picture, probably equally good enough for the main slot; Taken as is from Official Site (top image)]

[Update 1 [12/26/15]: Changed title from "Boku dake ga Inai Machi" to "ERASED", Aniplex of America's English title for the series. Also changed promo picture (and included a second one above), updated copyright information, and added addtional show & link information.]

[Update 2 [01/15/16]: Added review for eps. 1-2.]

-Extras Gallery-

[First montage picture for preview.]

©2016 Kei Sanbe/KADOKAWA/Bokumachi Animation Committee
[First BokuMachi/ERASED promo picture; Taken as is from Official Site (top image)]

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