The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Winter 2018 Shorts
SimulDub Update: Dagashi Kashi has undergone some pretty major changes behind the scenes going into its second season. This sequel is being put together by a different studio, with new production staff in most of the key positions. The first thing most viewers will notice, however, is the shorter running time; this season sees the series cut from full-length episodes to approximately half that length. The good news for returning fans is that the solid animation and art have survived the transition more or less intact, as has the trademark humor. Even if we're getting less of it per week, the core formula of having Hotaru and company discuss various types of dagashi snacks remains as entertaining as ever. While not always outrageously funny, the raw passion that the characters pour into this relatively mundane topic makes their interactions both fun and charming.
The one area in which this sequel has taken a step back is in its slice of life appeal. The first season had a lazy summer vibe that made it accessible despite its obscure subject matter. Even if you didn't know or care about cheap Japanese snack foods, there was something relatable and nostalgic about watching a group of friends spend their summer break debating silly topics and having goofy misadventures. With the big cut in running time, the new season hasn't really found room for this part of the equation. The pacing feels more frantic as it hops from one skit to the next, and the end credits start to roll before that laid-back atmosphere can fully take effect. Enough of the show's strengths remain to make it worth watching for returning fans, but be aware that it may not be quite the same Dagashi Kashi that you remember.
The English dub brings back the core cast from season one, and the key players settle back into their roles with ease. Tabitha Ray's take on Hotaru remains the standout performance, lending her character a kind of manic energy that feels entirely appropriate despite being a slight departure from the original Japanese tone. The other main cast members don't get the same opportunity to cut loose in this opening episode, but their performances are well suited to their roles. The script remains pretty faithful in its translation of the dialogue, with some small changes here and there to keep the conversation flowing naturally. The big question going forward will be how the dub handles the new characters that appear in the opening and closing sequences, but for the time being it's as good as ever.
In a season already almost plagued with cuteness, Mitchiri Neko still manages to stand out with a 3:25 runtime. In part that's because its variety of adorable works best in small doses, but it also plays well with what it has—a few weird cat behaviors taken to their extremes. Mostly the joke is that cats like to fit into small spaces, even if there are other cats already present; I recently found three of my cats sleeping in my pots. It's so harmless that I barely registered that I had let Crunchyroll autoplay me to the second episode, making this an excellent little time sink for when you just need to space out. Also, episode two has a curling game. Is this the long-awaited moment for curling to finally get its own anime?
Working Buddies also uses cats as its main characters, but I found it less charming. That's mostly because the animation really turned me off—it's deliberately wobbly so that everything looks like it's blowing in a mild breeze, and black spaces are filled with noise like on an old television set. The plot, about three cats who apparently work together at a moving company (although I suspect that the gray cat and the orange cat will switch jobs every episode), just wasn't interesting or cute enough to work. Frankly, I'd have liked this short better if it was done with puppets like the opening theme or felt art like the ending. At least that would have set it apart in a good way.
I was pleasantly surprised by Takunomi, although it's still not my cup of the-beverage-of-your-choice. I was afraid that it would be strictly about people drinking, which I don't relate to or enjoy watching, so seeing it pay attention to heroine Michiru's life other than what she consumes definitely made it a more enjoyable twelve minutes. Nao was the most annoying piece of the episode, from her impromptu tutorial on how to pour beer to her hallucinations about a label, but I can see how other people would find both of those things more interesting or amusing than I did. This could be a decent little slice of life for those who prefer that genre to be on the short side, but on the whole, it doesn't feel like anything particularly special.
Alright, let's run down this season's shorts! There aren't too many this time, but at least one is a sequel to a full-length show that I enjoyed quite a bit, so hopefully that will end up spearheading a generally reasonable crop. Let's get to it!
First up, Dagashi Kashi season 2 was downgraded from a full-length to half-length show for its second season, along with switching production staff. Going in, I figured the change in show length wouldn't really affect the show's fundamental qualities, considering it was always built around a series of relatively disparate skits. But in cutting the show's running time, this season also seems to have largely cut the incidental moments of lazy small town living that actually made the first season shine. This premiere possessed all the goofy dagashi-related trivia you'd expect from Dagashi Kashi, along with some relatively solid animation, but nixing the original series' quieter moments has really undercut the sense of atmosphere that made Dagashi Kashi feel more like an engaging slice-of-life than a strict gag comedy. That said, its gags seem as strong as they ever were, so if you were less attached to the original's sense of atmosphere than I was, this is still a perfectly fine procession of low-key-horny snack-related skits.
Next up, we've got Mitchiri Neko, which appears to be a brief show about tiny cat creatures designed for very small children? Between the child announcers and simplistic content, this one felt like a pretty clear “we're licensing everything” pickup, a show designed to keep toddlers distracted by cute kitties with various sellable character gimmicks. It's harmless but also flavorless, so this one's an easy skip.
After that we've got Working Buddies!, another show about cats that's presumably aimed at a significantly older audience. Working Buddies!' appeal seems to center on undercutting its general “let's work hard and do our jobs!” setup with occasional dashes of surreal or menacing comedy, mostly provided by the main character Tapio's quietly intimidating boss. That's not a particularly strong sell, but this episode did offer a somewhat unique style of comedy, and its simplified art design nicely facilitated both its surface story and comic underbelly. In the end, the joke density just doesn't feel significant enough to justify a watch; a couple amusingly slow pans in on a deadpan cat face do not a successful comedy make. The show is perfectly watchable, but not engaging enough to stick with.
Finally, it's not actually a “new release,” but Crunchyroll also happened to pick up [email protected] for streaming last week, and I'm guessing most [email protected] fans will want to give it a try. The show is a totally absurd riff on the original 2011 [email protected] that introduces tiny pet versions of all the main characters that just run around and make nuisances of themselves. The puchis basically take the already-exaggerated quirks of the original cast and turn them up to eleven, resulting in characters like a version of Yukiho who digs holes around the office to crawl in and sleep. It's a very silly show, and if you already have any fondness for the 2011 [email protected] crew, it's definitely worth a look.
On the whole, Working Buddies wins by default among the new releases I saw, while Puchimas stands as the best followup to an existing show, and Dagashi Kashi finishes out the rankings as a minor disappointment. Not the best selection this season, unfortunately, but at least we've got plenty of great full-length shows to lean on!
It's a very light season for shorts this time around! Here are the three I saw:
Takunomi – At 12 minutes, it's one of the longer shorts of the season and looks to be focusing on a young woman who's comes to Tokyo for the first time for a job. Afraid of living on her own, she opts for a “share house” with three other women and quickly settles in comfortably with her new housemates. Drinking is clearly going to be a big part of this scenario, as a significant part of the first episode is devoted to the correct way to serve and drink Yebisu beer. This accompanies a focus on the best kinds of foods to eat during the summer with beer. The show is put together well and moves along at a smooth clip, but its appeal may be limited if you're not a foodie.
Working Buddies! – This four minute short's first episode focuses on a pair of cats working at a package delivery center under a cat supervisor to deliver packages. I get the impression that this crudely-animated series might feature different jobs each week, but its first episode is harmless and silly fun at least.
gdgd Men's Party – This 8.5 minute short is a spin-off of the 2011 short series gdgd Fairies, but I don't think you actually have to know anything about its predecessor to follow it. It's a rather crudely-animated CG affair about two young guys and an AI robot who traverse a fantasy setting inside a game in order to save a princess. It's pretty stupid, with a stream-of-consciousness approach to dialogue, but it does have a couple genuinely funny moments in its parody of slimes and a princess who needs to be rescued.
It's time to round out the season by previewing the short series that have cropped up over the past couple weeks!
First up is Takunomi, which is the HIDIVE exclusive short of the bunch. At around a dozen minutes, its one of the two longer short series of the season, and it uses that time to tell an appropriately simplistic story about a country girl names Michiru who moves into a share-house with three other Tokyo girls. The crux of this show is “bonding over food”, as the entire premise seems to be “watch Michiru and her new friends hang out, drink, and eat”, all while providing some commentary on their shared concessions. It's very much what you see is what you get. Are you in the mood for watching a bunch of twenty-somethings get mildly drunk and hang out together? Then this series might be for you! I though it was only okay, but I can see the appeal, especially if the girls' chemistry proves compelling enough to fuel an entire season of hangout comedy.
The other longer short of the season is Dagashi Kashi Season 2, another show for lovers of slice-of-life comedy and food. While I never saw the first season, it was really easy to dive into this new short-form second season. Kokonotsu works at a modest candy shop he inherited from his father, in a small town where nothing much happens. Alongside the friends and employees that help keep him company, Kokonotsu is consistently hounded by Hotaru, a girl who loves cheap-and-easy snack food. This is another fine show, especially if you're interested in seeing different varieties of Japanese snacks explained in thorough detail. If I had to pick, I think I'd give Dagashi Kashi the edge over Takunomi, if only because it's more interesting to look at, and I found the goofier high-energy comedy to be more to my tastes. Even if you've not caught up on the first season of this series, this shorter continuation could be worth watching.
Of the three super-short series, Working Buddies! is probably my favorite. It features two anthropomorphic cats named Tapio and Kuehiko, as they go about working different part time jobs together. This is a goofy and amusing little show, with Tapio and Kuehiko playing the classic buddy-comedy duo of hyperactive enthusiast and monotone straight-man—er, cat. The Flash-style animation is fine, though I think I liked the puppetry of the brief opening best of all; I wouldn't mind an entire series of cute puppet cats doing regular work things. In a season as over-loaded as this one, there are plenty of better slice-of-life shows on the market, but if you need a cute n' fuzzy quick fix, Working Buddies is your best bet.
The other cute cat show is Mitchiri Neko, which is perfectly harmless but skews too young for my tastes. The three-minute episode is comprised of several even shorter segments that feature little cats, including the titular Mitchy, getting stuck in cardboard boxes, trying to put on a soccer game, etc. There's no narrative to speak of, just a cast of pudgy kitties getting into vaguely amusing and colorfully drawn shenanigans. It's essentially Pop Team Epic for toddlers, if that makes any sense at all. Unless you have some tiny tikes in need of a few minutes of distraction, or you absolutely need more cat cartoons in your life, I can't recommend this, if for no other reason than its ridiculously obnoxious recorder soundtrack.
Last up is the CG-animated isekai short, gdgd men's party, which is essentially what would happen if a studio took a mediocre audio-drama and gave their interns a single afternoon to animate it, using the jankiest software they could find. In all seriousness, this show is ugly as sin, and even if the hilariously bad visuals are part of the joke, gdgd men's party is so awful to look at that I can't in good faith recommend it to anyone. The cast is also barely fleshed out, so listening to their back-and-forth dialogues revolving around isekai and MMO game clichés isn't any fun, either. Even if you devour all things isekai, feel free to stay far away from this show.
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