Summer 2017 Surprise #1 – Princess Principal

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“Sometimes, a lie will become a truth in the telling.”

Studio 3Hz gained quite a name for itself as well as a loyal following after last years arthouse adventure Flip Flappers, and this year, it’s returning with a show that masters the style and smooth classiness of old-school steampunk and mixes it with an episodic spy-centric storyline. Welcome to Princess Principal.

The show centers around it’s titular spies, the stoic and compulsive liar Ange, the smug and rather gothic Chise, the always energetic yet inconspicuous Beatrice, the charismatic and verbally assertive Dorothy, and finally the enigmatic yet strangely mysterious Princess.

The characters all have distinct and fascinating personalities, especially Ange, who is cold, calculating yet never predictable and always surprising. Her stigma about lies and deceit lends well to the show’s narrative, as it plays with the audience’s expectations and always results in things never being as they seem. This makes for constantly twisting episodic narratives that feel complete and concrete.

The setting of the show is a strikingly detailed steampunk-ed London, which has all the workings of a functioning and believable world. It pulls no punches about it’s dirty and dusty rawness, from the actions performed by the main and supporting cast, as well as by the moving parts of the story itself, which all weave together solidly and have no moments of either narrative downtime or of inconsequential scenes.

The fact that it’s original also lends itself to the medium of animation rather well. Adaptations from manga or light novels have vastly different pacing, mostly revolving around the reader’s own speed while reading, but here, the story it feels properly condensed into the entire episode.

The fight sequences (aside from feeling frenetic yet always lighthearted, sort of like Lupin III) have interesting connotations to them, from regular gunfights in corridors, to car chases with gravitational components to them, to many more. They’re always different, always fun, and never feel interrupted by it’s dialogue and witty banter.

Another aspect that I’ve come across is the vast amount of fan theorizing that’s been going on even after just the first episode. The 1st episode’s story (while being rather uncomplicated in the grand scheme of things) is packed with little tidbits of potential secrets for the future, and knowing that the show is heavily steeped in lies, it’s not difficult to get carried away with predictions, and that also makes for fascinating conversation, especially in 4chan’s /a/ board, where watchers have already made character evolutions, revelations and more that all have solid backing and just increase the interest in the show ten-fold.

Researching the show’s staff, we get some very concrete ideas as to what this show might be about. Let’s take a look:

  • Director: Masaki Tachibana, most known as director of .hack//Quantom, Barakamon, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, as well as storyboard for Evangelion 2.0, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and 2nd GIG), and Noir.
  • Script and Series Composition: Ichiro Okouchi, known as as scriptwriter and series composer for Azumanga Daioh, Code Geass (and R2), Kakumeiki Valvrave (and Season 2), Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Planetes, and Turn A Gundam.
  • Art Director: Nobutaka Ike, most famous as art director for Paprika and Perfect Blue.
  • Music: Yuki Kajiura, who’s a legend in the medium and famous for the soundtracks and/or theme songs of the .hack franchise, Aldnoah.Zero, Arslan Senki, Baccano!, Boku dake ga Inai Machi, Chrno Crusade, Portrait le Petit Cossette, Fate/Zero (and 2nd Season), Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (and 2nd Season), the Kara no Kyoukai films, Kuroshitsuji (and II), Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Mai-HiME, So Ra No Wo To, and Sword Art Online (and II).

From these staff members (except perhaps Yuki Kajiura, seeing as her music, while excellent, doesn’t affect the story at all), it’s easy to determine the nature of this show and what it will try to be, and from the first episode, the signs are all there.

It’s a half action, half spy story, with moments of violence being preceded with secret plans and political manipulation, with massive twists coming in at the show’s climax upending everything we know about the show. These are all traits found in shows like the extremely frenetic and insane Code Geass, as well as the complexity and nuanced narrative of GITS, mixed with the excellent action choreography and visual style and flair that Kabaneri has. The art direction and backgrounds are all impressively realistic and detailed, and the design of the steampunk world itself is very concrete, but the show still lends itself to moments of interspersed warping and vastly “out-there” scenes, like the opening of PriPri as well as in certain scenes in Paprika. The show might be told in a non-linear way, seeing as episode one was labeled “Case #13”, and might either skip cases entirely or regress back in time to the forming of the team of spies.

It’s all very viable as of right now and up for debate, but this show is definitely one to check out. It’s not difficult to understand if you’re paying attention, but it does require some more inquiry and attentiveness from the viewers in order to be fully grasped.

P.S.: Don’t believe her lies.

Analytical and Self-Indulgent Guide to the Summer 2017 Anime Season’s Top 11 Most Popular Shows

So, as an avid anime watcher, the constant, never-ending resurgence of new shows is something that elates my pleasures into astronomical levels. New anime every season? 40+ shows? Endless enjoyment, probably until the day I die. I could not be happier.

So, I’ve compiled a list of the Top 11 most popular shows of the season, and will analyze them accordingly. Why top 11? Because I like to take one step beyond.

If there’s a particular show that I feel has something deeper to explore in it’s themes or technicalities, I will post about that show. Remember that I’m doing a daily 750+ word long blog breakdown about one of the most dense and complex series ever made.

Anyway, on to the shows (sorted from highest to lowest number of members in MyAnimeList):

  • Hajimete no Gal: A series which overtook the #1 popular spot for Owarimonogatari S2, which is honestly baffling. The sequel to an entry in one of anime’s most popular series? Defeated by a 10 episode long, high school ecchi show by a studio (NAZ) whose most popular show is Hamatora The Animation? By a director whose most prominent show is the rather infamous Masou Gakuen HxH, from the Summer 2016 season? One thing’s for sure, this guy can give you fanservice. That’s either a pleasant surprise or a dark omen about the future of the industry. I can understand the need for it though, as a seriously simple, sexy show about promiscuous high school girls with big breasts fiddling and fondling around with a self-insert main character. I get it, I’m a guy too. When the title of a show literally translates to “First Time with a Gal Girl”, it’s not difficult to surmise that this romp is probably not going to contain some deeply nuanced themes about the nature of humanity or some frilly stuff like that. Straightforward, raunchy, and easy on the digestive track. Sounds like Summer fare.

 

  • Fate/Apocrypha: Yet another addition to the exponentially longer and difficult to understand Fate series, which has bounced from studio to studio so much that it seems more like a genre instead of a series of interconnected stories. This one, though, focuses on… uh… let me take a look at the synopsis.

    The setting is a parallel world to Fate/stay night where the Greater Grail mysteriously disappeared from Fuyuki after the Third Holy Grail War. After many years of silence, around the same time as the Fifth Holy Grail War would have happened, the Yggdmillennia, a family of magi, openly declares their secession from the Mage’s Association, and that they are in possession of the Grail. The Association dispatches fifty magi to retrieve it, and all but one are instantly slaughtered by a mysterious Servant. The one remaining manages to activate the reserve system of the Greater Grail, allowing for the summoning of fourteen Servants in total. In the city of Trifas, two factions will fight for the control of the sacred relic, each of them possessing their own team of seven Servants : the Black Faction whose members are part of Yggdmillennia, protecting the Grail, and the Red Faction whose members were sent by the Mage’s Association, trying to take the Grail back. For an event of this scale, the Grail itself summons its own Servant, the holy Ruler, to oversee the conflict. This marks the start of the Great Holy Grail War.

  • So yeah, the fact that this synopsis, which I imagine most of you read a little of, then subsequently skipped completely, is attracting so many people, that it’s a little strange. People who are seriously hyped for a new entry in the Fate franchise. This “snippet” of background lore made me confused and will probably mean this show is going to be too distant from me to ever make a mark. Why am I watching it then, if I haven’t seen a single instance of Fate except for 6 episodes of Prisma Illiya and it’s second OVA? Because it’s being marketed as a fully standalone edition. It’s a parallel world to Fate/stay night, but one that, according to some people online, doesn’t affect the story of Apocrypha. Not to mention that it’s done by a completely different studio, A-1, which means that it’s probably involving enough different people that it’s probably going to be different conceptually. A-1, though, has had a pretty bad history with me personally, The Asterisk War and Eromanga-sensei both garnering a 1/10 score from me, and their titular show Sword Art Online being a laughable meme instead of a creditable anime series. All in all, I hope this is at least entertaining to watch.

 

  • Owarimonogatari 2nd Season: This one came out of left field and seems strangely genius for the alleged “final” installment of the Monogatari series. It’s a 2-day long special, starting on August 12th and ending the next day. The sheer discrepancies between the main Monogatary season’s lenghts are something to dig into though,  because the fact that they are so different fits perfectly into the subversive and unnatural aura that the show emanates. Bake was 15, Nise was 11, SS was 26, Tsuki was 4, Owari was 12, Owari S2 is probably between 2-6, and finally Hana was 5. Outside of this, expect the usual colorful and layered shot composition, the delicious dialogue, gorgeous characters and trippy story arcs. It’s Monogatari, what else are you anticipating?

 

  • Kakegurui: Studio MAPPA is one that has released some gems of animation in recent years (Hajime no Ippo: RisingTeekyuu, Yuri!!! on ICE, Sakamichi no Apollon), but also some confusing and poorly executed mediocrities (Zankyuo no Terror, Punch Line, the latter half of Shingeki no Bahamut). Kakegurui, though feels drenched in a jazzy, classy vibe, apparent from it’s key visuals and it’s PVs, the only colors that stand out being deep crimson, shiny black, weak yellow, or pure white. The music feels Vegas-y, the cast of characters a deeply wacked-out and insane bunch. The theme in this one is gambling, and as a hardcore fan of the excellent Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, the idea of high school focused entirely on gambling makes my pants evaporate. Not to mention the more adult-looking character designs, fancy attire, and terrifying personalities, make this look like a contender for a massively exciting adventure. My expectations, though, remain at the appropriate level: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

 

  • New Game!!: This one needs no introduction. New Game! was one of 2016’s highlights of the Slice of Life genre, and it’s perfect combination of cute and sexy character designs alongside it’s dramatic workplace setting instantly separated it from the moe-blobey standards of the genre that it’s sadly garnered. Poppy, polished color composition, moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, and a sense of nonchalant positivity are things that are guaranteed in the second coming of the show, even though personally I’m hoping for a new spin on the formula. Studio Doga Kobo is a master at this style of show, with such well-regarded examples such as Yuru Yuri, Engaged to the Unidentified, Gabriel Dropout, and the super-popular Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. This is the safe bet of the season, and if you enjoyed the original, the sequel will most likely be more of the girls you love.

 

  • Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu: Studio ufotable is famous for their highly regarded adaptations of Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, but this time, they’re taking a previously untouched card game instead. The story revolves around time travelers going to the Edo period, to the year 1863. Their goal is to rewrite history, but their quest is halted when 2 spirits brought to life as warriors are sent by a sage are sent to fight the incoming invaders. Honestly, this one looks and sounds pretty run-of-the-mill action fantasy, and if you enjoy the Edo period and the fight sequences in Fate, then this show might be more than just regular Seinen action for you. This is Toshiyuki Shirai’s first role as director, having previously worked as Key Animator, Animation Director and Episode Director on random sections of Code Geass R2, Fate/Zero (+S2), Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (+S2), Soul Eater, God Eater, and Tales of Zestiria the X. At least you can expect some intense violence.

 

  • Koi to Uso: Japanese for “Love and Lies”, this is this season’s first delve into the often insulted and berated, yet also deeply desired realm of netorare. Couples cheating on each other is a source of pleasure for many lovers of romance stories, it’s taboo-esque nature adding an extra layer of intensity and “wrongness”. Studio LIDENFILMS is returning once again, right after putting out the most popular non-sequel show of last season Akashic Records. This time, though, the relatively generic looking designs of Records is gone, in favor of a pastel, low-key and sleek style that screams modern Shoujo. In Winter we had Scum’s Wish, which looked very similar and explored parallel themes,  and whether you personally like it or now, it’s was one of that season’s top 5 most popular shows. There is an audience for these shows, and seeing as this is the same director of Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches, some level of talent is definitely being poured into this show.

 

  • Gamers!: Underground studio Pine Jam was formed in late 2015 and has yet to released a project that has broken new grounds. I’ve met some hardcore fans of Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou li Desukara, and it’s most popular product, the ONA Getsuyoubi no Tawawa, has garnered some level of community acknowledgement. This season though, they’re seeking a simple concept in the way of a high school gaming club, with a strong sense of romance to break up the comedic consistency and provide, as the show’s description boldly states, “misunderstandings”. At face value, it seems like a run-of-the-mill high school romcom, and learning that this is Manabu Okamoto’s first directorial debut, the future is not looking too bright for this one.

 

  • Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni: With this new harem show come the first of the droves of isekai series that are plaguing this season like maggots, and this one starts and proceeds in the same way that countless others of it’s ilk are doing. Just like last year’s Re:Zero, our titular hero Touya has died and reborn into a fantasy land with his smartphone, and, as the show’s description proclaims, “travels around nonchalantly”, which immediately tells me that this show is going to contain no sense of drama or story at all. That’s perfectly fine, though, there are plenty of excellent shows that utilize this plot-less formula, some of them being the peacefully pleasant Non Non Biyori and the always funny and memorable Lucky Star. Production Reed has been rather unapparent in it’s history, it’s most famous show being Winter 2016’s lowkey Shoujo romcom Nijiiro Days, and Smartphone‘s director’s past experiences being 2014’s adaptation of 4-koma manga Himegoto, aside from the odd hentai. The formula isn’t difficult to pull off, though, so this show is probably going to deliver the simple harem isekai adventure romp that it wants to portray.

 

  • Netsuzou TRap: After reading the manga, I can say that I am slightly more excited for this show than previously perceived. The manga itself is nothing special, just your typical secret yuri story between childhood friends, but one thing that it does do rather differently is the sheer amount of hot-n-steamy scenes between our two main girls. It seems that every chapter there is a groping, or a passionate kiss, or a lust-filled moment. This is why I believe that this show is as short as it is, with episodes only lasting 10 minutes. This will probably be so these frequent scenes in the manga can be spaced out accordingly along the duration of the show, and I believe that that’s a smart decision in order to tighten the pacing and evade the often misused concept of anime original scenes or episodes. The studio behind the show, Creators in Pack, is another unknown studio whose largest show has been the panned Bloodivores, while it’s director has worked on the studio’s second largest hit, the slice of life Danchigai, but little else.

 

  • Ballroom e Youkoso: Industry legend Production I.G came out with a surprise, after adapting this sports manga about ballroom dancing. From the PVs, the show looks to have a choreographically astounding quality, with detailed and realistic designs and a wonderfully layered and complex attention to detail in the clothing. It’s characters looks like a hyper-stylized melting pot of Kuroko no Basket‘s tall, slender and mature anatomy, Haikyuu!‘s cartoonish and outlandish roundness and flow, and a bad case of giraffe neck. It’s director, Yoshimi Itazu, has only been director in the Fall 2015 movie Mitsuami no Kamisama, but he’s worked as key animator for Eyeshield 21, Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), The Wind Rises, Paranoia Agent, Paprika, Usagi Drop, and Wolf’s Rain, many of these which are deemed classics of modern animation. The guy has his animation chops, at least, so we can expect some Yuri!!! On Ice level of dancing.

 

So, those are the Top 11 most popular coming shows of the Summer 2017 season. Hopefully we get something truly meaty and awesome. I’m betting on Classroom of the Elite.

See ya around.