The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Winter 2017 Shorts
I was pretty leery of Koro Sensei Quest! because, well, spin-offs don't always work. But this ten-minute bit of insanity takes the characters of Assassination Classroom, reimagines them as failed heroes in a fantasy setting, and comes out feeling a little like Senryu, one of my all-time favorite fantasy spoofs. In this version Koro-sensei is the “Big Bad” (if you listen, the words used are usually translated as “Devil King”) and Knight Karasuma has been tasked with overseeing a class of “bugged” heroes. This means that they all have strange quirks, like only owning the front half of a suit of armor or only being able to equip toilet plungers. Not only is it pretty funny, but it also manages to keep some of the lessons from the original story intact, such as the whole class being under a spell that makes them perceive themselves as less than they are. The episode itself is divided up into little segments, which makes it move very quickly even if it gives off the impression that maybe it has ADD. Regardless, if you're missing Senryu like I am, this is definitely something to check out.
On the other hand, Fairy Forest Five is kind of nauseating. It suggests a world where on the other side of mirrors and fairy rings live girls called “anime-chans” or “animes,” and they're all just so cute, you know? They're also plastic-y CG with crappy rigging and all named after mushrooms for some reason. The show is what some of us were afraid Interviews with Monster Girls would be – some guy named JoJo (no, not that JoJo; that would make this a much better show) interviewing the animes about what they're into right now. Which is stuff like “the human world” and “reading by myself.” Bleh. Moving on.
I can't quite believe I'm saying this, but Nyanko Days could actually stand to be a bit longer. The story about shy Yuuko, who can't quite bring herself to talk to her classmates, and how her three anthropomorphized cats are her best friends/solace, has the potential to speak to a larger audience than the average cute cat girl show. But at only two minutes, all we got for a first episode was an introduction, and with that length, a third of which is taken up by the theme song, it doesn't look like it will ever move beyond superficial. On the other hand, if you're just looking for cute chibi cat girls…nah, it's still too short.
Chiruran ½ makes better use of its limited minute count. The Shinsengumi is always ripe for a spoof, and this first episode about giving Kinpachi a nickname does it well – it's goofy without being too over the top or beating its joke into the ground. Kaze Hikaru will always be my favorite Shinsengumi story, but this could be a fun time and I love the chibi character designs.
I was totally creeped out by One Room. I do recognize that I am in no way the intended audience, of course - the four-minute show operates on the premise that you want a cute, shy, high school girl to tutor her so that she can get into your university. But even without that the camera's languid, lecherous perusal of Yui's body to the point where she notices that “you're” staring at her breasts is icky and uncomfortable. The camera lingers on her legs, her crotch, her butt, and her breasts throughout the whole while she squirms with a combination of her natural timidity and possibly her awareness of what “you're” looking at. No, thanks. I've been on the receiving end of those looks; I don't need to have a show fetishize a bad experience.
Rounding out the shorts, we have the shoujo-style cooking confection Piacevole, which is pretty much what you'd expect. Heroine Morina (AKA Moririn) wants to get a job and impulsively takes one at Trattoria Festa because the small Italian restaurant looks cute. The head chef is of course a cute younger guy (or at least a cute short one) who reams her out for not knowing anything about Italian food, but the manager hires her anyway. Now Morina is off on a journey of culinary delights, or so it seems safe to assume. There's nothing much here to set it apart from other cooking shows apart from the pastel colors and very round character designs; it's still got play-by-play reactions to the food, cute uniforms, and cooking facts, although that last is put in the ending credits. But it does look like it could be fun in the way that all cooking shows are, and at four minutes, it has enough length to move a plot forward should one rear its head.
Alright, it's time for the shorts roundup! Much like the full-length shows, the selection of shorts this season is actually pretty sparse, but I did check out a couple of the new features.
First off, Nyanko Days seems pretty close to the platonic ideal of what a fluffy, feel-good short should be. Focused on the friendless Yuuko Konagai and clocking in at a lean two minutes, this first episode mostly just introduced her sad school life and the fact that she has three humanoid cats at home. The concept of returning home to a bunch of cats who don't just crowd around you, but actually offer moral support for your daily struggles seems pretty darn appealing to me. The show's aesthetics aren't really noteworthy, and so far there's not actually anything to its narrative, but neither of those are problems for a show like this. I doubt I'll be sticking with any of these shorts, but if I were to pick one, “tiny catgirls who love you and hope you feel better” probably has my money.
One Room, on the other hand, is about as far from my kind of pandering as exists in this universe. One Room is framed from an assumed first person perspective, where the viewer is given a succession of girls to leer at as they make casual conversation. “Leer” is really the only word for it - the camera's eye can't keep itself off chests and hem lines, lending a naturally predatory tone to what's already a very indulgent premise. One Room is essentially a very low-budget virtual girlfriend, and doesn't really seem to have any appeal outside of the illusion of anime girls paying attention to you.
Chiruran ½ is a show about a chibi-sized group of Shinsengumi, bloodthirsty killers with adorable faces. So far, there's very little to this one - it's a rapid-fire gag comedy, full of expressive faces and defined by necessarily snappy timing. I'm guessing you need a fair bit of historical context to enjoy Chiruran, because so far it essentially seems to be a series of punchlines based on the audience's assumed understanding of its renowned protagonists. But even given that, this mostly seems like a speedy series of fairly mundane jokes.
Finally, Piacevole is easily the most visually and narratively accomplished of the shorts I ran through. Offering lovely backgrounds, charmingly minimalist character designs, and rapid-fire dialogue, its first episode introduces us to Morina Nanase, who finds a part-time job at a local italian restaurant. The show essentially feels like a shorter version of a workplace slice of life like Working!! or Servant X Service played in fast forward - but the thing is, my general impression of those shows is that they could stand to be both shorter and faster. By quickly establishing a warm tone and then speeding through conversational gags, Piacevole offers a classic slice of life formula in convenient pill form.
As the guy who did episode reviews for Assassination Classroom, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I've enjoyed the first few episodes of Koro Sensei Quest! this season. The character designs are recognizable in their simplified forms, and the plot of each episode seems to mirror a story arc from the original. The parody twist here is that the Class E kids are low-level RPG characters and Koro Sensei is the final boss. Not the most original way to set up a self-parody, but it's close enough to the premise of Assassination Classroom that actually feels appropriate here. The comedy is consistently amusing, though watching the original series is a requirement if you want to be in on most of the jokes. Give it a shot if you've been missing the lighter side of Assassination Classroom ever since the finale.
On the opposite end of the fun spectrum, we have the somewhat unsettling One Room. It's framed as a first-person-ish experience, with the viewer's silent character interacting with a trio of generic anime girls. It'd just be a little odd if that's all there was to it, but the first episode casts the audience as a college student ogling his teenage neighbor. Lovely. At least One Room has reasonable production values, which is more than I can say for Forest Fairy Five. Between the awful CG animation and audio that sounds like it was recorded with a cell phone, it's unbelievably bad before you even get to the lifeless jokes and stiff acting.
In between the good and the bad, we've got a few run-of-the-mill shorts about cute characters being cute. Piacevole features an energetic girl starting a part-time job at an Italian restaurant, and it looks like it could be decent if you're looking for slice of humor with a low time commitment. Nyanko Days is even shorter, and it's tough to tell if this cat-girl comedy will be any good or not based on two minutes of content. If you prefer chibi swordsmen instead of girls with cat ears, then historical comedy Chiruran 1/2 might be more your speed. Of course, from where I'm standing, the distinct lack of Koro Sensei condemns even the best of these to a distant second place.
Unlike the Fall 2016 season, which had an abundance of creative shorts, the pickings are much slimmer this time around. Only six are available at this time, broken down as follows:
Forest Fairy Five: This series creates 11 minute episodes using ridiculously cheap CG animation and fills it with some of the most utterly, completely, mind-numbingly pointless content imaginable. Be merciful to yourself and skip it. Nyanko Days: In the mere two minutes that this series offers (a quarter of which is the closer), a girl who has trouble making friends at school comes home to a trio of anthropomorphic kittens. It's definitely a go-cute-or-go-broke show but has promise on that level.
Chiruran ½: This two minute long gag comedy looks like it's going to cycle through chibified versions of the Shinsengumi. The first episode focuses on the nicknames of various members and is only vaguely funny in the process.
Piacevole: A girl has resolved to get a job, so when she sees a Help Wanted sign at the beginning of a long forest path she jumps on the opportunity. Despite the disapproval of a young, genius-level cook, she gets hired anyway. At four minutes this one actually has enough time to tell at least a bit of a story, which makes it come out quite a bit better than some of the other dreck shorts out there. Production values are at least decent, too.
One Room: This four minute short, told entirely from a first-person perspective by a silent character (the character can hear him, though) is about a high school-aged-looking girl named Yui who has moved in next door to the viewer and is seeking help in her studies. And that's about it. Two other characters are shown in the opener but don't appear, so this could be a mini-harem series? Whatever the case, it has the makings of a light serial drama and features some respectable production values.
Koro Sensei Quest!: At 10 minutes this is one of the longer shorts of the season and by a mile the best of the lot. It uses chibified versions of the original cast and short vignettes to tell the story of Assassination Classroom with a computer game theme, complete with the closer being an 8-bit rendition of the original series' opener. Some of the bits will be funny even without familiarity with the original series, but you'll definitely get more out of this if you've seen at least the first two seasons.
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