The Summer 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Summer 2017 Shorts
At last, it's time to check in on the shorts premiering this season, and we're starting off with AHO-GIRL, a ten or so minute comedy centered around the lives of Yoshiko Hanabatake, and her perpetually miserable counterpoint, Akkun. Like many shorts, AHO-GIRL hones in on what is essentially a one-joke premise, with the joke being Hanabatake herself. This is a girl that is defined by two primary characteristics: 1) She has an insane obsession with bananas, and 2) She is, to paraphrase Akkun, too stupid to live. Essentially all of the comedy from this short comes from having Hana say/do egregiously silly or inappropriate things, and having Akkun be mortified, often to the point of uppercutting or body slamming his “friend” in response. The premise is certainly a bit mean spirited, and more than a little crass/perverted, which is why I found myself feeling bad for laughing so much at it. A lot of this show's success comes from Aoi Yūki's performance as Hana, where she doesn't so much as commit to the role as she does fully inhabit the character's particular brand of stupid insanity. I don't know quite how much of AHO-GIRL I can handle, but I can see why it's one of the more popular shorts of the season.
Next up is Netsuzou Trap -NTR-, which takes the NTR kink of cuckolding and puts a spin on it by having the protagonist and the character luring them away from their lover both be girls. While I can see the appeal of that initial premise of a girl in a relationship discovering her feelings for a friend of the same gender, NTR kind of ruins it for me with its intentionally trashy and uncomfortable vibe. Yuma isn't so much being seduced by her friend Hotaru as she is being forced into sexual situations by her, and the deliberate muddying of Yuma's consent may play into some viewers kinks, but it just makes me feel uncomfortable. This is also a short that runs only nine minutes long, though nearly two of those minutes are taken up by the OP, so almost the entirety of the episode is setting up Yuma's relationship with both her boyfriend and Hotaru and filling in the gaps with Yuma and Hotaru's sexual encounters. The only one who has any sort of unique characterization is Hotaru, and even then she's just played as the awful predatory lesbian stereotype that the medium as a whole should just be rid of already. This one is a hard pass.
Thankfully, things pick up with Tsuredure Children, which is decidedly more pleasant to watch than NTR. This is a much more wholesome approach to romance, so it certainly won't appeal to anyone looking for something a bit sexier, but I enjoyed watching a bunch of dorky high-schoolers fumble around romance without resorting to abusive/manipulative behavior. The episode is split into four separate vignettes chronicling the burgeoning relationships of eight different high-schoolers, and while section The Student President's Woes is a bit racier than the others, it remains firmly grounded in the show's good-natured tone. This is a longer short, at roughly 12 minutes, so we get a bit more time to spend with the story, but given the size of the cast things still fly by a pretty quickly. This first episode of Tsurdure Children is essentially what would happen if you took the love confessions from four different rom-coms, spliced them together, and watched what happened from there. It isn't groundbreaking, but it is definitely cute, and I could see myself enjoying following these relationships further throughout the summer.
If this summer has had one constant theme, it's that Amazon Strike seems intent on snapping up a lot of the more intriguing shows of the season, and that continues with Strike's short offering, Lights of Clione. Of all the shorts this summer, Clione was the hardest to pin down. At only nine minutes long (with a 2 minute OP), its first episode consists primarily of a poor girl named Minori being tormented at school, while her classmates Takashi and Kyoko struggle with doing the right thing to help her and reach out to her as friends. If it weren't for the ominous cues in the episode's last moments, or the fact that the show's poster and summary on Amazon's show page hint at more mysterious events occurring down the road, you'd be forgiven for wondering what the heck this show is even supposed to be about. It's a bit too short for its own good, the artwork is a bit rough around the edges (especially with the facial animation), but the solid direction of the episode and the promise of something more than just a sad school drama make Lights of Clione one of the first shorts of the season that I'm actively interested in investigating further.
Back in the land of Crunchyroll we have Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat, which is one of the three super short series this season, clocking in at exactly three and a half minutes (with almost a third of that being the OP). Based off a visual novel, this breezy comedy is all about a boy named Handa who is turned into a cat by a Princess of the Afterlife named Patricia (I'm getting most of this from the ten second intro and Crunchyroll's show description). The actual episode focuses on a trio of other girls Handa lives with as a cat, and the shenanigans they get up to. While some of the gags are indeed funny here, it all flies by so fast that you have barely any time to process who the characters are and what's going on around them. The cast is apparently original to the anime, so I don't think knowledge of the game is a prerequisite here, but we're given so little to work with it's hard to say for sure. Also, this is a show that was made on the cheap with a capital “C”; the animation is extremely rudimentary and roughshod, almost as if it were animated in Flash (or at least very similar software). All of this being the case, I can't really recommend Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat. It's so lightweight as to actually leave almost no impression at all, so unless you're a diehard fan of the game you'd be better off saving your three minutes for something more important.
The other of the three-minute-long series is Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time, which at the very least wins the award for Best Title of the Season. It's about a lad named Sasuke Sarutobi who somehow or another winds up traveling to an alternate version of Sengoku Era Japan and gets the opportunity to hang out with his favorite generals across history. Despite my enjoyment of the title, not much else about this short worked for me. The 3D, chibi style animation looks cheap and awkward, and I have neither the knowledge nor interest in Japanese military history that I think is needed to find this premise inherently interesting. You might find something to like if you do love these historical figures enough, or if you're just desperate for some bromance in your life (even if the ugly animation robs the men of any of their cuteness or sex appeal). Otherwise, you're not missing out on much if you give this show a pass.
Finally, we have The Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor, which is based on a popular series of light novels and functions as a sequel of sorts to 1993's Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and is the last of the three-minute shorts. I have never seen the original Captain Tylor anime, nor do I have any familiarity with the series, so I can't say how faithful of a continuation this is. What I can say is that this is not a newcomer friendly series, with the entirety of this episode's three minutes devoted to bombarding the viewer with exposition, imagery, and characters that I'm sure would make a lot more sense to someone that has actually seen the show. For a sequel or spinoff to something recent, I would absolutely understand that, but when a show is almost as old as I am, I think the audience deserved a bit more than three minutes of rushed exposition to get caught up. The show looks fine, and I could see these characters and this world being fun with a bit more fleshing out, but as far as an introductory episode goes, Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor does not do a good job of welcoming new audiences to the franchise. Unless you're a fan of the property already, I'd skip this one. The good news is that if you are interested in catching up on the original series, Nozomi Entertainment has The Irresponsible Captain Tylor available for legal streaming on their official YouTube channel.
I think of Aho-Girl as being aggressively unfunny. It's admirably devoted to its single joke – that Yoshiko is a moron with no boundaries – but that falls flat every time. While humor is one of, if not the, most subjective forms of entertainment, usually even if I don't find something generally amusing, I'll at least crack a smile once or twice during an episode. That is sadly not the case here. When you get right down to it, Aho-Girl's brand of humor is more about making her long-suffering acquaintance A-kun uncomfortable than anything. It trades in jokes about how he doesn't want to see her flaunt her underwear, which she keeps offering to show him, how she's so stupid that she gets zeroes on all of her tests, and how she really, really likes to eat bananas, because ha ha, bananas are phallic. What really pushes this over the cliff of no return for me, however, is the closing gag about Yoshiko groping the disciplinary committee representative's breasts when she has explicitly been told not to. That's never funny, and neither is this short.
Tsuredure Children is more fun, although somewhat to my surprise I like it better in manga form. I suspect that's because this first episode crams four chapters into twelve minutes. Granted, as a 4-koma manga, each chapter is pretty darn short, but in animated format there's no time to really digest each story. That's likely a personal preference on my part, but if you're also the type of viewer who likes a little time between plotlines, it's worth keeping in mind. I will say that the goofy little love stories do hold up in their good-hearted absurdity, although the third one, about the smoking girl and the student council president comes off as much creepier with voices. (It's basically a parody of aggressive romances and does work on that front.) It's also easier to tell the characters apart with the addition of color, which is nice. Basically “nice” is the word I'd use to sum this episode up – it's just a little fluff to liven up your day.
If there's one thing I dislike about the yuri genre, it's stories that make light of lesbian relationships as “practice” for “real” romances with guys. Also, I don't like predatory characters. Needless to say, this makes NTR not my thing. While I was okay with its original manga format, the anime feels like it's playing up Hotaru's predatory aspects, which makes me uncomfortable no matter what the genders of the characters are. The story – that Hotaru is “helping” her best friend Yuma practice for what she'll do with her boyfriend while simultaneously cheating on her own boyfriend to do it – is told with an emphasis on the sexual aspects rather than emotional, and frankly the art isn't quite good enough to pull that off: when Hotaru is running her hand up Yuma's leg, it looks like a skin-colored board rather than a human thigh. It also doesn't quite pull off enough of a teasing aspect with the racier bits, although I'm thrilled not to see drool involved with the kissing. If you're desperate for a yuri show, this might fit the bill, but I think maybe it'd be better to wait and see if the Citrus anime pans out.
Lights of the Clione may be one of the most depressing nine minutes I've watched in a while. The entire first episode focuses on the fact that Minori is the bullied girl in class, and while two kids think about helping her, they ultimately can't. So we watch Minori get bullied. A lot. While rational me completely understands that the two would-be saviors are just kids as well, and in no way want to let themselves in for the kind of horrors Minori suffers at the hands of their classmates, knee-jerk reaction me can't find much sympathy, because having been the Minori, I know how awful it is. Even if this turns out to be a heartwarming story of Minori eventually finding acceptance, between the ugly character designs, weird fish tank metaphors, and emotionally difficult content, this is looking like another pass.
Well, Ikemen Sengoku sure was five minutes of Sengoku-period guys playing tennis in weird CG. I'm not quite sure what else to say about it – it's kind of cute, and Hideyoshi's elaborate attack names are funny enough…and wait, did Nobunaga at the end tell me to come closer because he would let me sleep all night? I'm pretty sure it usually goes the other way, but hey, a good night's sleep is nothing to sneeze at – scoot over, Nobunaga. You have to be less flatulent than my dog.
I feel like we're coming into Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat in the middle of the story, because it just isn't making a whole lot of sense. There's a brief explanation of how an underworld princess named Patricia turned Nora into a cat, but then we just jump right in to girls with weird boobs are fighting over him and yet somehow don't want to kiss him to turn him back into a person and then they burn the house down. It's kind of funny (especially the house part), but it also makes even less sense that Ikemen Sengoku. That's not necessarily a bad thing if this can maintain its frenetic energy, however, and if you don't mind feeling lost, this is worth at least glancing at.
Tsuredure Children is my early pick for most the most promising of this season's new shorts. Its basic format of jumping from one quick sketch to another is well suited to a short-form comedy, and it has the added bonus of allowing the show to move on quickly when a segment doesn't work. The various romantic couples all have their own unique dynamics, and for the most part the humor manages to be cute and funny. Don't look for too much depth here, but simple fun is what short anime typically does best.
Aho-Girl also takes the comedy route, though it replaces the sweet sentimentality of Tsuredure Children with aggressive, intentional stupidity. The core joke is that the main character is a colossal and unapologetic idiot, and the results are mixed. I laughed a few times out of pure shock at some of the crazier antics, but too much of the show's material is just loud and obnoxious. I can see this being a very hit or miss series, and individual taste will likely determine if the hits are worth sitting through the misses.
Lights of the Clione sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. It deals with a much more serious subject, and I don't think I noticed a single joke in its first episode. The premise of two students struggling to help a bullied girl in their class certainly has potential from a dramatic standpoint, though it's not yet clear where the story is going. This series could have benefited from being told in full episodes instead of its shorter format, as it feels like it's just getting to the heart of the story at the end of the first episode. Keep an eye on it if you're looking for more emotional depth out of your short-form anime.
Netsuzou Trap also offers up a more dramatic story, though I'd classify it more as teenage melodrama compared to Lights of the Clione's more somber approach. This one's a yuri series with a heavy amount of fanservice, and its story is primed to turn into an emotional rollercoaster of lust and betrayal. It's tough to say if this one will be compelling or merely trashy. Again, full-length episodes might have been a better way of presenting the story.
Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time takes us out of the previous titles' eight to ten-minute range and into the shorter, three to five-minute territory. This one is exactly what it sounds like: jokes about Sengoku-era historical figures with an eye towards manly romantic tension. If that's your cup of tea, go for it. If not, the historical references will likely go too far over your head to be funny.
Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat also requires a generous amount of background knowledge, in this case on the game the series is based on. That makes it a tough one for me to call; with no sense of who these characters are, it's difficult to tell if the jokes are funny or not. At least it's obvious if you're part of the intended audience or not.
The Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor is a bit more baffling, as I don't see the point of it despite being familiar with the source material. Irresponsible Captain Tylor was a pretty entertaining sci-fi series, but this show seems to have nothing in common with it beyond a couple of character names. It's not particularly funny or interesting, so go watch the original instead of wasting time on this thing.
I took a look at most of the season's shorts (including the second episodes of some of them), and have listed them below in order from greatest to least interest for me:
Netsuzou Trap -NTR-– This one caught my attention partly because of the shameless premise but at least as much because of the sly wordplay in its name; while NTR is clearly meant as an abbreviation for the title, it's also a common abbreviation for netorare, a particular subgenre of hentai doujinshi involving a female character who winds up cheating on her male significant other. Given that the first two nine-minute episodes involve exactly that, I have no doubt that the double-meaning was intended. As salacious as the forced make-outs between flummoxed Yuma and aggressor Hotaru are, there's nothing light or joyous about what's going on here, with the second episode suggesting that Hotaru's actions might be fueled at least in part by her compensating for her boyfriend's uncomfortably aggressive behavior. That suggests to me that it's not going to handle the yuri elements completely frivolously, which has me intrigued enough that I intend to watch more.
Tsuredure Children – This one could actually be a lot of fun! Its 12-13 minute running time is subdivided into four short vignettes, all of which are about high school relationships. The first episode concentrates on confessions of love, while the second episode has follow-ups to two of the vignettes in the first episode plus two new ones. Four of these first eight are quite funny, while most of the rest lean more toward sentimentality, but all six pairings presented so far have at least a bit of a spark and some – such as the student council president with the smoking girl – have a lot of potential. The artistic quality isn't great, but I'm interested enough in what else may be done with this that I actually might watch more.
Lights of the Clione – Most shorts series are that way because that's the best format for their storytelling (or gags, as the case may be). Why this one is a short mystifies me, however, as its story would work much better in a format longer than nine-minute episodes. The first episode doesn't even put the full premise on display; it just shows a boy and a girl who are apparently friends and both separately concerned about a bullied orphan in their class, but hesitant to stick up for her because of a hostile class environment. That's as far as it gets. The opener indicates that they'll become a tight trio, and the bullying shown in the episode is awful enough that I'd love to see that happen. I'm not crazy about the artistic merits, but there could actually be a good story here. It's just too early to tell.
Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time – So this guy from the modern era “time slips” back to the Sengoku period, where he winds up playing tennis with chibi versions of Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu Tokugawa. Yep, this CG-animated 3½-minute short is every bit as corny as it sounds, though the attack names for the tennis shots are rather amusing.
Aho Girl – This plays out exactly as you might expect for a series adapting a 4-koma gag manga, with its 12-minute running time divided into four short gag routines. It's also exactly what you would expect given the title: a story about a boy saddled with neighbor/childhood friend Yoshiko, who's such a complete idiot that even her mother won't deny it. I can see this one not sitting well with some viewers, since most of the humor is at Yoshiko's expense and protagonist Akuru isn't above slugging her when she does something really stupid or treating her like a pet. Despite how demeaning it can be, some of it is still pretty funny and it moves along at a brisk enough pace that it never gets boring. It also has some fan service.
Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat – This 3½ minute short is connected to an adult visual novel series of the same name, but it looks more like a fun-loving spin-off than an actual adaptation. Though the first episode introduces part of the premise – that ordinary boy Nora has been turned into a cat by Princess Patricia of the underworld – it seems to assume that viewers will be familiar with the characters and the rest of the set-up, so it just jumps straight into wacky antics involving figuring out how to turn Nora back into a human and how that indirectly leads to burning a house down. It's definitely not as funny as it wants to be and the animation is pretty basic.
The Irresponsible Galaxy Tylor – Set centuries(?) after The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, this 3½-minute short casts a banjo-sporting descendant of Ueki Tylor and his companion robot Yamamoto (clearly based on Captain Tylor's first officer) as garbage collectors who discover a ship mired in a space-time rift. It turns out that the girl to be rescued is none other than young Empress Azalyn from the original series. That suggests that this is not a stand-alone, and familiarity with the original will be expected. This is another case where it feels like much longer episodes would have suited the material better, as this episode has a very hurried feel. Technical merits are mediocre at best.
It's time to check out this season's shorts! Given that this is a particularly barren season for full-lengths, the shorts kinda need to do some heavy lifting this time. Let's see what we've got.
First off, Tsuredure Children is basically kryptonite for me, easily one of my overall favorite shows of the season so far. The show's first episode is essentially just a twelve minute procession of love confession scenes, as we jump between four different pairs of high schoolers all on the verge of a relationship. Every one of these scenes was charming in their own way, with each character defining themselves as distinctive and likable in spite of the harsh time constraints of the episode. Sometimes we got internal monologues, and sometimes the show simply let the characters' rapport demonstrate the tenets of their relationship.
The show's visual execution is perfectly fine, but the key strength of this episode was definitely the writing. It is a lot harder than it sounds to make audiences care about characters, and Tsuredure Children gracefully managed it with four different couples in about three minutes apiece. Tsuredure Children was funny and adorable and fluffily romantic all at once - it somehow got away with just shaving the sugary frosting off a whole series of relationships. Apparently I could happily survive on a diet of frosting alone.
Next up, Aho-Girl is one of those comedies predicated on pretty much just one joke - in this case, “heroine Yoshiko is very stupid,” with a side of “heroine Yoshiko likes bananas.” Great comedies can wring unexpected laughs out of even the simplest premises, but Aho-Girl is unfortunately not a great comedy. The first episode relied extremely heavily on “Yoshiko says something silly, her childhood friend A-kun yells at her,” to the point where not only did things quickly get stale, but the show also just felt sort of mean. The show eventually introduces a couple more characters, but its style of hyperactive, slapstick comedy was a general miss for me.
Nora, Princess, and Stray Cat is one of those shows whose premise is easily the best thing about it. The show is ostensibly about a guy who got turned into a cat and can't turn back, but the opening song of this brief episode basically positions him as a bored cat stuck in the middle of a bunch of harem suitors. “Harem where the main guy is a cat who just doesn't care” is exactly the kind of nonsense that appeals to me, but the episode itself isn't all that great. The show's comedy is snappy, but it's mostly basic stuff, and the show's look is as cheap as can be. It's very short, so you might want to take a look and see if its comedy works better for you, but it's a skip for me.
Next, Ikemen Sengoku combines chibified character art and rudimentary CG to arrive at one of the more off-putting visual styles I've seen in anime. In addition to looking like a cheap, malware-laden browser game, it's also pretty purely a vehicle for fans of sengoku era generals who want to see them pal around in a slice of life setting. Very limited appeal plus awful-looking execution equals easy skip.
Finally, Netsuzou Trap -NTR-'s title gives the game away - “netorare” means “partner-stealing kink,” and that's what this one's all about. In spite of theoretically offering a welcome gay relationship in anime, it's pretty much all simplistic fetish material, opening with the predatory lesbian trope and staged like something between a daytime soap opera and a softcore porno. The characters play to their contrived scenario types too much for anything to feel real, so there's not really anything to invest in here.
That's it for me! Overall, I give a strong recommendation to Tsuredure Children, conditional “maybe this style of comedy is for you” recommendations to Aho-Girl and Stray Cat, and a big no to Sengoku and NTR. Not necessarily the best ratio, but considering Tsuredure Children is one of my favorite shows so far even including the full-lengths, I'd say we got off pretty well.
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