Having had the chance to peruse every new series airing this season, I’ve narrowed my list down to 10 shows (excluding sequels) worth watching this season…and Berserk, but we’ll get to that mess later.
For part 1 of my list, I’ll be covering action and drama series.
Fridays on Crunchyroll
“During Prohibition, the law held no power and the mafia ruled the town.
The story takes place in Lawless, a town thriving on black market sales of illicitly brewed liquor. Avilio returns to Lawless after some time away, following the murder of his family in a mafia dispute there.
One day, Avilio receives a letter from a mysterious sender, prompting him to return to Lawless for revenge. He then infiltrates the Vanetti family, the ones responsible for his family’s murder, and sets about befriending the don’s son, Nero, to set his vengeance in motion.
Killing brings more killing, and revenge spawns more revenge. How will the 91-day story of these men guided by a tragic fate end?” –Crunchyroll
Mafia stories are my go-to in pretty much any entertainment medium. From The Untouchables to Baccano!, stories of classy gangsters and crime-addled cities set to a Great Depression backdrop are my jam, and 91 Days has offered to scratch that itch for me this season. In truth, it may be relying a tad too much on classic mob tropes at times, but its story is so compelling and rich in atmosphere so far that it doesn’t faze me that much. This is mostly thanks to a lot of complex and interesting characters acting out a classic revenge drama, my favorite kind of plot for this setting.
Studio Shuka is at the helm of this project, coming fresh off the latest seasons of Durarara!!, and they are definitely showcasing their talents here.
From stellar cinematography to beautiful character designs, there is definitely a lot of care and effort being put into this project. However, there are also a few moments where the animation feels a bit rushed or the CG doesn’t fit right, so I am concerned that this studio might be biting off more than they can chew. Fortunately, the soundtrack is pretty solid so far, with a few good jazz tunes and some powerful orchestrations driving the drama in the right direction.
This one definitely has Anime of the Season potential, and I can’t wait to see how these 91 days of heart-pounding drama come to a close.
Mob Psycho 100
Mondays on Crunchyroll
“Kageyama Shigeo (a.k.a. “Mob”) is a 8th grader with psychic abilities. He could bend spoons and lift objects with his mind from a young age, but he slowly began to withhold from using his abilities in public due to the negative attention he kept receiving. Now, the only thing he wants is to become friends with a girl in his class, Tsubomi. With his psychic “mentor” (who has no psychic powers), he continues his daily life, attempting to realize his purpose in life.” –MangaHelpers
From the creative genius behind One-Punch Man, manga author ONE is getting yet another of his works adapted in spectacular fashion.
The strange and bizarre humor of Mob is pulled off brilliantly for the most part, though its intensity may drive some people away. So far the story is episodic, though I expect a bit of a meatier plot later on, and the odd but lovable Mob and inept con artist Reigen strike a great balance for both the comedy and character stories.
The animation, however, is where this show really shines.
This is easily the best-animated show airing this season, with a seemingly-infinite well of creativity and talent springing from Studio Bones to work on this project. All bets are off as ONE’s crude and haphazard art style is translated perfectly to the anime medium, with expressive character designs, captivating cinematography and shot composition, and intense color design that takes nearly complete advantage of the medium of animation. Throw in yet another bombastic yet strangely eerie soundtrack from the legendary Kenji Kawai, and the technical aspects of this series could not be stronger.
Once again, this series also has the potential for AOTS, and it may turn out to be my personal pick. If extreme comedy and awesome, experimental animation are something you crave, then definitely check out Mob Psycho 100.
Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet
Thursday on FUNimation
“It is thirty years after the failure of the Space Colonization Program. Humanity is nearly extinct. A perpetual and deadly Rain falls on the Earth. Men known as “Junkers” plunder goods and artifacts from the ruins of civilization. One such Junker sneaks alone into the most dangerous of all ruins—a “Sarcophagus City.” In the center of this dead city, he discovers a pre-War planetarium. And as he enters he is greeted by Hoshino Yumemi, a companion robot. Without a single shred of doubt, she assumes he is the first customer she’s had in 30 years. She attempts to show him the stars at once, but the planetarium projector is broken. Unable to make heads or tails of her conversation, he ends up agreeing to try and repair the projector…” –Steam
Who would’ve thought we’d see adaptations of two different Key visual novels in the same season?
Of those two, I prefer this one so far, though not by much. The story isn’t anything innovative so far, but it is definitely a very different and somewhat calmer, more introspective story to tell in a post-disaster setting, and the dialogue does hold my attention most of the time. However, the story doesn’t really seem like it can go anywhere all that interesting, and the Junker that the story follows seems to have his character development already charted out without much variation from what we’d expect. Still, this is Key, so I expect there to be some pretty decent drama by the end.
The animation is solid on the whole, though it doesn’t seem to be quite as masterful or impressive as it wants to be.
The character designs are either very basic or slightly overdone, but the background art is incredibly solid and definitely conveys a cohesive and depressing setting. A lot of the planetarium scenes do have some solid camerawork, but very few moments specifically that immediately come to mind. The soundtrack is typical Key fair without much variation, and it doesn’t seem to have its own identity yet like Clannad, so that’s also a bit disappointing.
Had this been a full-length TV series, I may have ended up dropping it by this point, but because there are only five episodes and the series actually ends next week, I think I’ll still be enjoying it by the end of the series, so I can give it a tentative recommendation.
Saturdays on Crunchyroll
“Kazamatsuri, a modern, well-developed city renowned for its burgeoning greenery and rich Japanese culture, is home to Kotarou Tennouji, a high schooler least privy to the place’s shared values. Content to fill his pockets with frivolity, the proud and nosey boy whiles away his time pestering the self-proclaimed delinquent Haruhiko, and indulging in his amorous feelings toward the oddball Kotori.
Equipped with the superhuman ability to permanently rewrite any part of his body to multiply his strength or speed,
Kotarou is naturally drawn to the supernatural. One special meeting with the lone member and president of the Occult Research Club, the “Witch” Akane Senri, leads to Kotarou reviving the Occult Club by recruiting Kotori and three other members: the clumsy transfer student Chihaya, the strict class representative Lucia, and the unassuming Shizuru. As Kotarou unveils hidden secrets of each member of the Occult Club through their shared adventures, he will inevitably encounter a fate that only he might be able to rewrite.” –MAL Rewrite
The other Key visual novel adaptation this season has its own share of impressive moments, though doesn’t quite live up to its company’s name yet.
The air of mystery about this series is definitely its best driving point so far, and I am curious to see how this plot eventually weaves together. However, it’s also mired in some pretty awful comedy and cliché character development. I do like that Kotarou actually has some semblance of personality so far, though the antics that he gets himself into can be a bit grating at times, and some of the girls that he’s surrounded by are just straight-up stock archetypes so far. However, when the character drama does finally come into play, it definitely pulls it off just like I would expect from a Key series.
The animation is a mixed bag at this point, and definitely less impressive than I had hoped.
The character designs are very typical of a Key anime, which I am still a fan of, but there is a bit of inconsistency and they tend to go off-model more often than they should. The girls’ uniforms also really bug me for some reason, with their overdone designs and garish color palette really throwing me off. Nothing about the shot composition or set designs is very impressive, but it is at least competent, though there is also a not-so healthy helping of bad CG to go along with it. And, much like Planetarian, the soundtrack is typical Key fair, but doesn’t have a strong identity yet.
Of the more plot-driven shows that I’m still watching this season, this one is probably the most likely to be dropped for me, but I might stick around a bit longer to see if Key can pull off their signature emotional climaxes.
Fridays on Crunchyroll
“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” –MAL
Alas, poor Berserk! I knew him, Rickert.
What had once been the undisputed king of medieval dark fantasy has become the laughing stock of the anime community, while avid Berserk fans either rant until they cry themselves to sleep, or try to justify this abhorrent mess out of pure denial (a practice dubbed “Phantom Menacing” by film critic Chris Stuckmann). The 1997 adaptation of the Golden Age arc still sits comfortably in my Top 25 anime of all time, and that anime’s existence is one of the few things that saves the 2016 series from the absolute depths of depravity.
While I’m only just now recapping the Golden Age in my own reading of the manga and I have yet to read any farther than that, it’s clear that this new adaptation is butchering its own source material, jumping from chapter to chapter at breakneck speed in an attempt to cram in as much information as possible. On top of that, the full-CG animation is beyond embarrassing, sitting comfortably at the “amateur Youtube project” level of atrociousness, and the cinematography and blocking are so incompetent that the show is actually physically painful to watch at times.
However, there are two things that make this anime slightly above the level of pure abomination.
First is the soundtrack by the master composer Shiro Sagisu of Evangelion fame, and his unhinged and menacing compositions propel this series forward as best they can. Second…well, it’s still Berserk. This isn’t me trying to excuse this horrid mess of a series, but at its core, it really is still Berserk. The emotional baggage Guts carries from his betrayal by Griffith at the God Hand, the weight of sin upon all the characters involved in this story, the sense of abandonment by God in a harsh and uncaring world, the unwavering air of oppression and stagnation as the world slowly devours itself: it’s all there.
I still can’t recommend this series to anyone, and maybe it’s just my unquenchable desire to see more of Kentaro Miura’s magnum opus on screen, but at its core, this pulsating pile of waste is still Berserk, something that even the worst writers and animators can’t take away.
That covers all the action and drama series that I’ll be watching this season. Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll cover the comedy and slice of life entries on my list.