The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide Spring 2017 Shorts
The World Yamizukan was one of my most anticipated shorts premieres as it continues animation studio ILCA's ongoing love affair with urban legends. The previous seasons of Yamishibai have been a treat, and while each had limited animation and varying success story to story, they still managed to covey a unique concept and sense of dread in a five minute run time. This latest incarnation has finally stretched the limits of what's tolerable with what a camera that merely sweeps over blue artwork on a white canvas. The opening episode's alien abduction story fails to scare or creep and its picture book imagery isn't doing it any favors.
Love Rice, on the other hand, has entertainment in spades. Japan has been in the midst of an anthropomorphization craze ever since Kan Colle's ship girls took the country by storm. Most of these inanimate objects turned human characters are imagined in strange mobile games, but Love Rice finally brings it to anime. Different strains of rice are represented as boys at a school dedicated to reviving the industry in the face of bread's popularity. At some point an idol group will be formed, but in the mean time there's all kinds of zaniness revolving around the wonders of onigiri. Thankfully, this show is in on its joke of a premise and are having a great time with it.
Last season's One Room series of voyeur shorts with designs from the character designer of 'Hentai Prince' and the Stony Cat got a male version. This time you, the viewer, are the manager of a dorm with an athletic brunette, an aspiring actor, and guy with glasses who wears very little. This show doesn't seem to be in on its joke and it has zero chill on diving right into that male fanservice. The ending sequence has some kind of x-ray vision moment where the characters' clothes just...dissipate. The preview for the next episode, at least, hints at some first-person view sex. Despite its ridiculousness, Room Mate's biggest problem is that the character designs aren't attractive enough to make up for it.
Kenka Banchō Otome: Girl Beats Boys is exactly what it sounds like. Hinako steps in for her twin brother Hikaru and attend a school for delinquents in his stead. The school's seedy reputation is obvious immediately because its covered head to toe in graffiti. Hinako is immersed immediately into the school's fighting culture when she's challenged on her very first day. The story could have easily gone into a damsel in distress route despite Hinako masquerading as a boy but color me surprised when she kicks her opponent's ass. Somehow her impressive fighting skills will also win her the hearts of five guys, too. Can this be done in a short? I haven't seen a genuine romance short series that actually delivered drama in its run time since BONJOUR Sweet Love Patisserie, but it's not impossible.
The Silver Guardian seems a least half a step ahead of its Chinese-produced brethren. The main character's battle with an endless horde of undead from on top of a Mayan pyramid summoned by the full moon didn't entice me personally, but there was a cute cat.
While we have a handful of new shorts this season to go along with returning and continuing titles, none of the premieres I checked out really struck me as must-watch material. Some of these newcomers might be competent enough to find an audience, but I don't see any of them lighting the anime world on fire.
Kenka Bancho Otome runs a little longer than most of the shorts on this list, with its first episode clocking in at around eight minutes instead of the usual four or five. It feels like it could have just as easily been produced as a regular-length series, and its first episode probably would have benefitted from the extra screen time. We're introduced to the basic premise of a girl going to a high school full of tough delinquents in place of her brother, and we meet a couple of her male rivals. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of basic questions to be answered by the time the end credits roll. The visuals are decent apart from the grayed-out coloring on background characters, so this one might have some promise depending on where the story goes.
The Silver Guardian also falls into the “long short” category, though this one looks less appealing overall. The story seems to be an odd mix of super-powered action and a romantic comedy centered on interactions in an online game. Even if that strikes you as a promising combination, the execution is pretty poor. The first episode's big battle scene relies on really cheap-looking CG for the hero's undead opponents, and weak writing undermines any appeal the story might have had.
Love Rice fills a niche that I didn't know existed by combing male pop idols and, well, rice. This short-format comedy tries to wring some laughs out of teenage boys boosting the popularity of rice through song and dance, but the first two episodes aren't particularly funny. The novelty of the concept might be worth about five minutes of your time, but that's about all there is to it.
Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan! brings the largest number of exclamation marks to the table, for whatever that's worth. Excessive punctuation aside, this one's actually kind of fun in a cartoonish way. A handful of incompetent aliens try to invade Earth, only to realize that they have no idea what to do with the seven billion humans already living there. The first couple of episodes made me chuckle a few times, so this one could be worth keeping an eye on.
Room Mate appears to be related to last season's One Room, and shares that series' unusual first-person narrative format. The female cast has been swapped out in favor of a trio of hot guys, and the viewer-insert protagonist is now a young woman who just moved into their apartment building. This is still a really bizarre way to make a show, but at least now we can choose between being a silent dude or a silent lady for five awkward minutes at a time.
The World Yamizukan tries to fill this season's horror niche, but the first two episodes meet with modest success at best. Its visual style reminds me of the “motion comics” that get made from time to time, with mostly still drawings that occasionally move around in the frame. That's fine for a short series like this, but the problem is that the first two episodes come up short in the scare department. Unless it can come up with some creepier twist endings, this one may be an easy skip.
This season's shorts are not off to an auspicious start with The Silver Guardian. Based on a Chinese webcomic (and a co-production with China), the series' first episode can't quite seem to fit in everything that it wants to. I think that gamer boy Suigin has somehow been trapped in a game (possibly a cellphone game, given love interest Riku Rei's significant glance at a broken phone) that is linked to the protection of their boarding school, which was naturally built on an old graveyard. Riku Rei and Suigin met when bullies tossed Suigin's kitten Wanchoi into the pool because that's the fastest way to prove that they're assholes, and Rei revived Suigin when he dove in to save the kitty and nearly drowned. Or at least, that's what we're led to suspect – the whole thing is described for Suigin after the fact by his sparkly hot friend Ranshou.
It's clear that The Silver Guardian has more story than could reasonably fit within its allotted thirteen minutes, and that it's attempting to remedy that by using a tortured combination of in medias res and flashbacks and relying on telling rather than showing. The upside is that it doesn't look horrible, and I love the little scene of Suigin playing an old pixel sprite and midi music game. But this is suffering from being a short, cutting it off at the knees before it ever really has a chance. Maybe if they'd wasted less time on random fanservice this would have had more of a shot.
Next up is The World of Yamizukan, an odd little horror series. I was totally onboard for this one at first – I loved the creepy photographic stills, the gross zombie hand, and the mysterious old tome. The animation style is also fascinating: it's very limited and done in what looks like paper figures clipped from a 1980s manga. It definitely enhances the atmosphere, as well as the sense that we're gathered around a fire in a darkened space, our blankets or sleeping bags pulled up around our heads for comfort as someone tells a scary story. It feels like the anime version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Unfortunately the show lost me with the alien revelation – I was really hoping from something much more supernatural in the evil forest god or monster vein, which the second episode more than delivered on. If only we could have gotten Vincent Price to dub it.
I only made it through one episode of Love Rice even though two were out when I watched it. This is one of those cases where the anthropomorphization of inanimate objects may have gone too far, but do keep in mind that I hate “talking food” commercials in general. In any event, Love Rice turns different strains of rice into “hot” human boys (that hair would beg to differ) in order to promote rice consumption. Apparently later they'll form a boy band to compete in the harvest festival against the humorously named Yeast King (no word if Mister Matzo Meal will also be there), thus fulfilling their lifelong dreams of rice being worthy once more. Or something. If you're desperate for a “cute boys” show, I suppose this will do, but only if you're okay with the fact that if rice becomes more popular, you may actually be chowing down on the heroes of the series.
Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan, on the other hand, is kind of wonderful. It follows the (mis)adventures of Don-sama, an alien who looks kind of like a kid's drawing of a hippo who decides, after reading a self-help manual, to become an invader. His first target? Planet Earth, because it's supposed to be super easy to invade. Unfortunately no one told him that there were seven billion humans already occupying it, making his plan to gather them all in one place go not-so-smoothly. Or that if he put all the humans in his spaceship, there'd be no one to make him sushi. Or that even if he turned everyone loose, he'd still be stuck with the loafers of society, who decide that his ship is a better place to do nothing than their own homes. Poor Don-sama. This invasion thing is not as fun or as easy as it sounded, is it? It'll be fun to follow his deliberately poorly-drawn adventures for four minutes every week as the show plays with the absurdity of his self-made situation.
I take it back – if you're looking for a “cute boys” show (that isn't STARMYU), Kenka Bancho Otome is a better choice than Love Rice, if only because it looks like it has more of a plot. It's about Hikaru (probably not her real name), a girl who somehow ends up going to Shishiku High School, which is the ultimate thug battle academy – as in the opening ceremony is all of the first years beating the crap out of each other in an attempt to be named the strongest. Hikaru can, in fact, hold her own, even though we only see her fight Totomaru in this eight-minute episode. It isn't particularly amazing, and you can find a similar story done better in Izumi Tsubaki's manga Oresama Teacher, but this episode is decently entertaining. I suspect as it builds the cast and (hopefully) loses the narrative style of Hikaru looking back on her entrance to the school it will get better. But it isn't actively bad, so if you're short on shows, it's worth a glance.
And finally we have Room Mate. Yeah, I think I knew I wasn't going to like this one. I'm not a big fan of “first person” shows (animated or otherwise), and I'm just as likely to be icked out by the female gaze as the male. Perhaps if I was more thrilled by the idea of three guys all being potentially interested in me instead of the very thought provoking a panic attack…In any event, this is very much just One Room redone for a female audience. It plays a bit much with its camera angles for its first person schtick to really work (how are you both facing the guys and seeing them in profile at once?), and it's also trying too hard from the fanservice perspective. Maybe the best way to put it is this: if the post-credits scenes in Hiiro no Kakera made you uncomfortable (or gave you a form of secondhand embarrassment), this is not the show for you…especially the post-credits scene.
Six new shorts are available for simulcast streaming this season. Of those, the best is probably Kenka Bancho Otome – Girl Beats Boys. It is an 8 minute short which is related to an otome game of the same name, which is a successor to a line of games about boys fighting for supremacy in a school. Basically the same scenario here, except that the protagonist is actually a girl passing for her twin brother (the last point is not made clear in the first episode) as she enters a graffiti-filled school dominated by delinquents. Once her infamous name is revealed, she has to defeat a fellow student seeking supremacy of the first years and shows that she is quite capable of doing so. This is a remarkably good-looking and well-animated short which shows a lot of promise for fans of fight series and/or reverse-harem content.
The Silver Guardian is a Chinese co-production which clocks in at about 13 minutes. Most shorts are exactly right at the lengths that they are, but this one more than most cries out for a full-episode treatment, as it only vaguely hints at the backstory behind how the male protagonists winds up as a supernaturally-empowered warrior protecting a mausoleum against a horde of undead in an alternate reality. The story implies that he's doing it to protect Riku Rei, the pink-haired female lead who's also a (two-way?) love interest in a poor boy/rich girl scheme, but how he being saved from drowning by her led to this is unclear at this point. The animation isn't horrible, so this is one of the more watchable of such co-productions so far.
World Fool News Part II is a roughly 10 minute short which primarily focuses on the activities of a broadcast news room. Its first episode details “new” changes made, such as a minor adjustment to the opener and a legendary weather caster who's about 90 and spends as much time reminiscing about her dead husband as actually relating the weather. It's mildly funny, with hints of someone behind the scenes pulling strings, but the CG art and animation is rather crude.
Love Rice is a four minute short which seems to be about various strains of rice being represented by bishonen boys attending a school devoted to promoting rice, perhaps even through an idol path. And yes, it may be even dumber in execution than it sounds. Mediocre technical merits aren't the only thing that fails to impress here.
Room Mate is the reversed-gender counterpart to last season's One Room. In this case the first-person viewpoint is that of a new female manager for a boarding house populated by a trio of eccentric but standard-looking bishonen. Looks like the series isn't going to be shy about fan service, but it's clearly not something intended for a straight male audience.
The World Yamizukan uses 4½ minute vignettes to tell mini-horror stories with an absolute bare minimum of animation; in fact, most of both episodes to date are composed of stills. The first involves an alien abduction, while the second involves a snowman who comes to life and definitely isn't Frosty. Decent as horror stories go, but too short to have much substance.
It's time for the shorts roundup! The full-length premieres may be all reviewed, but there's still plenty of bite-sized anime left for perusal. So let's see what this season offers in the micro-anime department.
First off, the The [email protected] Cinderella Girls Theater is pretty much exactly what you'd expect - tiny skits starring the many stars of Cinderella Girls in chibi form. [email protected] is often at its best when it leans into its universe's general silliness, and three minute doses of gimmick idols screwing around is a pretty okay time. The humor is all simple stuff and there's nothing like the series proper's excellent animation, but if you're a fan of [email protected] in general, this seems to offer an agreeable dose of silliness. If you haven't watched the franchise at all, I definitely wouldn't start here - begin with the impressive original series and see if you like that before getting into all these secondary properties.
Moving on, The World Yamizukan is essentially just an illustrated radio drama, offering a series of short horror stories. There's no animation at all, but the show's procession of still illustrations are still somewhat arresting in their own way, if rough. The execution gets awkward when the show attempts to portray the illusion of movement - it was hard to take the still images of this episode's man and wife sliding across a forest background all that seriously. Even just within this one episode, it felt like the show's visuals weren't actually helping the storytelling. And considering the horror story being told wasn't particularly good either, YAMIZUKAN feels like an easy skip.
Next up, Love Rice is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin - a school comedy/male idol show themed around the protagonists' love of rice. The show is essentially just one joke repeated, but it at least has a sense of energy, and the character designs are nice enough. If you're interested in seeing just how many rice-related puns can be crammed into a goofy “we gotta save the school!” narrative, it might just be worth a look. Personally, Yakitate!! Japan has pretty much burned me out on this particular joke for all eternity.
Finally, Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan! actually seemed to be the most promising short I watched, though there wasn't really much competition. Makeruna matches a colorful, distinctive visual design with speedy pacing and an amusingly deadpan sense of humor to arrive at a low-tier but watchable comedy. Our “hero” Don wants to do something with his life, and so he's decided to become an Invader. There are a couple okay sight gags (I liked the sequence of Don receiving a tearful goodbye from Mom before heading off to invade), but the episode is mostly just energetic and visually interesting.
Ultimately, I'd put Aku no Gundan at the top of this heap, but I frankly wouldn't recommend any of them. Shorts tend to be even more hit or miss than full-length anime, and this season is looking pretty heavy on the misses. At least you can always go watch Teekyū!
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