Winter 2016 Spotlights

Overall, this season has turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable for me. Pretty much all of the shows I’m watching have exceeded my expectations. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime made a triumphant return, and I like the second season more than I liked the first one. Boku dake ga Inai Machi has had a lacklustre episode or two, but as a whole it’s been really good. It also has a really solid OP, by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, and ED, by Sayuri. Dagashi Kashi surprised me by being actually funny and not as fanservice-y as I’d expected it to be. Its OP is also good, but it’s the ED that is really catchy. Hai to Gensou no Grimgar doesn’t have memorable theme songs, but the show itself is interesting in how different it is from most “trapped in a video game”-style shows. On the “not so amazing but still entertaining” list, there’s Musaigen no Phantom World and Schwarzesmarken, neither of which have especially memorable theme songs(ok, the dancing bit in the Phantom World ED is kinda catchy). They both exceeded my expectations, however. Phantom World did so by being less similar to Kyoukai no Kanata and more similar to Amagi Brilliant Park, while Schwarzesmarken is less about the fanservice and harem elements of Muv Luv and more about the politics, war, intrigue and plotting.

This is also a good season when it comes to short shows. The Ultra Super Anime Time block in particular has Oshiete! Galko-chan, a delightfully gross sketch comedy; Sekkou Boys, a bizarre but hilarious idol show; and a series of 4-episode shows, the first of which was Tabi Machi Late Show and the current one being Kono Danshi, Mahou ga Oshigoto Desu. Sekkou Boys is the only one of those that has a somewhat memorable theme song, though. Outside of USAT shows, there’s Ojisan to Marshmallow – a show about a guy who looks like Paul Blart and is crazy about marshmallows, Ooyasan wa Shishunki – a cute slice of life comedy with a stylistically impressive OP, as well as Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara which has an extremely cute and sweet OP but is otherwise not very interesting. The longest of the short shows is Nijiiro Days, a show I can only describe as “reverse Love Lab”. It’s surprisingly adorable for a show with a male-dominated main cast. The OP and ED are nothing special, though. Finally, there’s Teekyuu, which is, well, Teekyuu.

 


Surprise of the Season: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

As you may have guessed from the fact that I didn’t even mention it in the above two paragraphs, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is my choice for most surprising show of the season. It achieved that with its 50-minute opening episode, which also immediately made it my favourite show of the season. It’s a period piece in the same vein as some of my favourite anime movies(The Wind Rises and Millenium Actress), and it’s excellent at drama and character interactions. There’s no other show this season that can match it, though Bokumachi occasionally comes close. This show, I think, is storytelling at its best. It’s not necessarily the pinnacle of anime, it could just as well have been adapted as live-action series, but that doesn’t matter too much to me.

One of the most important aspects of the show is, as evident from the title, the rakugo itself. The only other show with rakugo that I’ve seen is Joshiraku, and that show didn’t really take anything seriously, so it wasn’t really the same thing. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, on the other hand, takes its rakugo very seriously, and there’s a lot of effort put into the performance scenes. The result is… pretty amazing. Some of the skits are better than others, but they’re all superbly directed and acted. It’s genuinely funny, and the stories of the skits are genuinely interesting. Without the rakugo this show would probably still be my favourite of the season, but the rakugo elevates it to a whole different level. I had semi-high expectations for the show considering it’s based on a josei manga, but I never expected it to be this enjoyable and entertaining. It’s one of those once-in-a-few-years kind of shows.

 


OP of the Season: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Usura Koori Shinjuu by Megumi Hayashibara)

This race was much closer than the one for the Surprise of the Season. The other main competitor in this category was Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, mostly because I really really like Asian Kung-Fu Generation, but the song is good in its own right as well. The OP is also pretty action-heavy and otherwise visually interesting, which can’t really be said about the OP of Rakugo Shinjuu. Another contender, albeit a minor one, was the OP of Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara, because I love its art style and the song is catchy as well. As is apparent, it isn’t my favourite OP of the season, but it’s definitely the cutest one.

Returning to Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, however, here is an OP that is quite unusual. Its visuals are not the most exciting, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of style. Sepia tone, film grain and negatives are used in a way that evokes a feeling of days gone by, which understandably fits the show quite well. The music is jazzy and bass-heavy, with a somewhat odd melody and rhythm(especially at the end). I’m not well-versed enough in the history of music to tell if it’s appropriate for the era of its setting, but it fits the show very well. Again, it’s not as exciting or catchy as the OP of BokuMachi, but I’ve grown very fond of it over the past 6 weeks.

 


ED of the Season: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Kawa, Taredoki by Kana Shibue)

This was another close one, and once again between Rakugo Shinjuu and BokuMachi. The latter once again went for action and energy with very interesting visual styles and elements, and it complements the show surprisingly well, giving it an otherworldly feeling of horror. Other than that one, Dagashi Kashi was a minor contender with “Hey, Calorie Queen”, a really catchy song with Alice in Wonderland-inspired visuals. I like it a lot, and if it wasn’t for Rakugo Shinjuu, it would’ve seriously competed for the top spot together with BokuMachi. And I actually think both of them win out against Rakugo Shinjuu when it comes to energy and visuals, but the ED of Rakugo Shinjuu just happened to click with me, whereas the other two did not.

Why that is is kind of hard to explain, but I guess a part of the reason is that it’s a satisfying experience to end a night on. In this way, the energy of the BokuMachi and Dagashi Kashi EDs is actually not in their favour because the “hype-up” they provide makes the one-week wait in between episodes much more frustrating. The ED of Rakugo Shinjuu, on the other hand, is just a series of stills and slowly panning shots set to a once again jazzy but slow instrumental song. I can’t tell whether the lead instrument is a sax, a trumpet or a trombone, or something else entirely(I’m not good at identifying instruments by sound), but it sounds very nice. And as for the visuals, even though they’re boring, I absolutely love the way the characters are drawn in the final shot(pictured above). They almost visibly radiate personality. Again, not the most exciting or energetic performance in the history of anime, but it really fits the show, and it’s pretty unique to boot.

 


No Disappointment of the Season this time, because I kept my expectations relatively low, and most shows ended up exceeding those expectations anyway. Also, though it may be kind of boring that the spotlights were swept by a single show again(like in Summer 2015), and it may seem like laziness/indecision on my part, do keep in mind that the OP and ED are not separate from the show. The more I like a show, the more I’m inclined to try enjoying its theme songs. Which is, in part, what happened here. But I still do think that the relative uniqueness of the OP and ED of Rakugo Shinjuu is something that should be noted, and they’re plenty interesting in their own right.

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