Welcome to episode 42 of Anime Pocket Reviews!
This episode, likely, signals the end of the Summer 2017 cycle for us, one of the busiest cycles we’ve ever watched! We were viewing a whopping 10 series at the halfway mark, and after this episode over half of them would have survived the competition!
This is also a good opportunity to look at the disappointments from the last season. Sakura Quest, after a strong start in the cycle prior to that, quietly drifted into the abyss and looks destined for incompletion. Touken Ranbu got usurped by its rival, The Reflection quickly lost its unique appeal, while Classroom of the Elite – probably our biggest regret of last cycle – failed to ever settle into the grand list.
Regardless, here’s a chance to celebrate two of the last cycle’s hits before we turn our attention to Fall. First of all, though, we have a welcome reintroduction to one of our favourite ever comedy franchises!
WWW.WAGNARIA!! (2016, S1, 13x23mins)
Comedy, Slice-of-life, Romance
“What’s with this family restaurant?”
Higashida (centre-right) is a serious first-year high-school student, the oldest child of his small, uncomfortably relaxed family. When his father’s company goes bankrupt, he is forced to take up a part-time job to pay for his school commute, amongst other things. He becomes a waiter at the local Wagnaria restaurant chain, joining the less-than-normal employees as they juggle part-time work and their equally awkward lives. Fellow employees such as Miyakoshi (centre-left), the airheaded lead waiter whose cooking is bad enough to kill someone; Muranushi (second from right), the strange child of a family of exorcists; and Shindo (second-left), working tirelessly as he struggles to pay back his father’s enormous debts to fellow worker Kamakura’s (far left) father are just some of the characters Higashida has to work with – and he fits in almost perfectly!
Basically Plot: A spin-off of the original Wagnaria series, this series follows a new collection of oddball workers at the local Wagnaria restaurant chain as they balance their part-time jobs and their equally awkward lives.
Wagnaria is a really good series – not just one of the best workplace comedies but one of the best anime comedy series full stop, so it came as no surprise that when the spin-off web-manga grew in popularity – published at around the same time as that final season of the original – an anime soon followed. Putting a year between the conclusion of the original series and the start of this one, and using totally new characters in a familiar setting allowed this series to attract fans of the original, yet has enough about it to be viewed on its own merits.
As mentioned earlier, Web.Wagnaria uses a similar environment – another part of the restaurant chain, with a nigh-on identical restaurant – but the characters in this series are completely new from the original. Sure, there are some noticeably identical traits between them – the male lead having quite a serious demeanour, while the female lead being something of an airhead is a copy from the original – but past that the characters, those two included, do a good job of distancing themselves from their predecessors. I don’t think they are as funny as the original cast, though.
Muranushi struggled to really get going, the joke about her quirky nature used and forgotten early on, leaving a very regular, shy teenage girl and a relationship with Masahiro that lacked the energy of the others. There were some really interesting side-characters, people such as the older and smarter Kisaki and the foreign work experience guy Kouki, who really contributed to the show when involved. However, these characters are used very sparingly. Perhaps weary of shrinking everything into a 13-episode space, the majority of focus is instead put on making sure the Shindo/Kamakura and Higashida/Miyakoshi stories are told. However, those two storylines are both really good. Not only are they all really funny throughout – Miyakoshi especially, who could be the funniest person in the whole Wagnaria franchise – but the show also does a good job of explaining and developing them as people, mixing in that balance of almost-slapstick comedy with classic teenage anime romance that the original Wagnaria was famous for.
Overall, Web.Wagnaria is a light and easily digested piece of comedy anime, with funny and enjoyable characters. The plotline could have done with some extra legroom, particularly because many side-characters miss out on their potential to make room for the main two relationships, but as anime comedies go this is a good effort. However, while the Wagnaria trademark has helped in some cases – the series following that ‘70% Comedy – 30% Romance’ blend that sets the original apart from its competitors – it also shines a light on the slight but evident difference in quality between the two. Web.Wagnaria is a whistle-stop tour for an already quick-and-easy series, and while you can definitely watch this on its own, if you can watch the original then it makes no sense to choose this one instead.
ANIME RANKING: #49 – A victim of the excellent series that came before it, WebWagnaria is forced to settle for a solid but unremarkable position in the middle of our list, sat just behind Konosuba and No Game No Life.
If you liked this you’ll love: Nisekoi – Of course, if you haven’t already then you need to watch the original Wagnaria series, but assuming you’ve seen that also, then Nisekoi could be you next favourite series! While Wagnaria is the king of the comedy-heavy romance, for a true rom-com experience there’s not many better shows than Nisekoi. With a beautiful mix of funny high-school romance and simple slapstick comedy starring a range of characters, Nisekoi is bound to become one of your favourite ever series.
Saiyuki Reload BLAST (2017, S1*, 12x23mins)
Action, Adventure, Comedy
“We can only keep going forward.”
Set in a fantasy version of earth, the story follows four heavenly warriors as they arrive in India, heading towards the source of the anomaly outbreak that has led to evil demons running rampant over the area. The story also looks back at their time spent in heaven 500 years ago, when a young Goku (centre-left) was taken under Sanzo’s (centre-right) wing amid concerns over his potential behaviour.
Those of you that read our Summer ’17 Half-Term Report will remember that the last cycle had what was in essence a shootout between two very similar series. There was the popular Touken Ranbu franchise’s latest series, Katsugeki, and this – two warrior series following fighters in an ancient setting. While I wouldn’t say that either of them was exceptional, Saiyuki Reload BLAST certainly had more positives going for it.
First of all, it’s worth stressing that the plot for SRB is not particularly good. The basic plot behind it felt slightly unoriginal, and the execution of said plot was not very good. Looking back at their past was a really good move, but it felt like it left us with more questions about the present than answers. Meanwhile the actual travelling of their journey felt pretty one-dimensional, lacking both the time and creativity to pull of a travelling series such as Cowboy Bebop or, to a lesser extent, Black Lagoon.
What SRB does have going for it, though, is the four stars. As attractive as they are funny, the four heavenly warriors are some of the coolest fighters I’ve seen in a long time. The animation style helps, with sharp lines and bold yet dark colours creating an edgy and powerful feel, accentuated by four really confident leads.
If Saiyuki Reload Blast was given a straight 24-episode run instead of this 12-episode cour then maybe it could have been a really good show. It has a strong foundation, with some fantastically cool characters offering something edgier than other fighting anime right now, like Touken Ranbu and My Hero Academia. However, this series is let down by unimaginative storytelling, making sticking with this series something of a slog. Nevertheless, we got through it, and we would definitely be interested in a second season of Saiyuki Reload BLAST!
*EDIT: Upon research, it turns out that BLAST is a prequel to 2004 anime series SR Gunlock, meaning that there is technically a sequel to this! We might have to check this out at some point…
ANIME RANKING: #73 – A show that won’t live too long in the memory, BLAST sits deep in our list of anime alongside titles such as Fuuka and Days.
If you liked this you’ll love: Bungou Stray Dogs – While the setting is quite different, there’s a surprising amount of connections between these two series. Two series following a group of rag-tag fighters for good, both series have won plaudits for their dark and gritty take on their well-played genres. BSD’s world of superpowers is cleverly designed, and with a unique animation style and well-developed storyline to boot, we’re sure you will love this excellent series.
New Game!! (2017, S2, 12x24mins)
Wait! Check out our review of season one here!
Follows Aoba Suzukaze (centre) and her friends at Eagle Jump, excited from completing their latest videogame, Fairies 3. They don’t celebrate for long, though. As production for their latest title begins, the employees are invited to enter their own unique character designs for the game. With the help of her mentor and inspiration, previous character designer Yagami Kou, Aoba’s designs win the competition, earning her the role of lead character designer! The series follows the production of Eagle Jump’s latest game, with Aoba and her friends given even more responsibility at the company.
Basically Plot: Following on from season one, New Game continues to follow Aoba and her friends as Eagle Jump begin production of their next game.
The original New Game – with one exclamation mark, if you didn’t notice… – was a decent enough series, but nothing that special. It was ranked at #63 here at The Culture Cove at the time of writing. However, through a little bit of tweaking this second season has become one of our favourite anime series of 2017!
What New Game has always done really well, and has continued to do so in S2, is the cute factor. Continuing with an all-girl cast with eyes like jewels, set in a world full of bright and happy colours, this is a series that is certainly not subtle. To some extent, I think the plotline in terms of how the game was actually made is still somewhat lost behind this factory shine, but that’s more an issue of personal preference in this season. The major problem the first series had was that the need for cuteness seemed to out-prioritise everything else. Everything, from the world to the character’s dialogue, seemed aimed towards that.
The biggest change in season two is that, almost knowing themselves that they had built the ‘cute’ foundation already in S1, the characters have been matured. Perhaps helped by the fact that they have more important jobs now, the key characters have turned their attention towards the objective. With the support of side-characters that can fill the cute ‘watch me try my hardest’ role – I’m thinking of the three interns at this point – Aoba and the others are free to start acting like more genuine and understandable people. This time, when Aoba says ‘I don’t want to lose to you’ (or something along those lines) there feels like there’s genuine weight behind it, as opposed to being a throwaway publicity line by the writers. The quality of the two new characters can be debated. I wasn’t really a fan, but what they did was help turn the main cast into the well-rounded characters that S1 was crying out for.
It’s such a small tweak in the grand scheme of things – the story itself follows an almost identical path to S1, just with a new game project – but it’s all this series needed. New Game has built on the positives of the first season and with the support of a more rounded, honest cast, has created a much more human and incredibly engrossing series that still has that feel-good factor. I remember at the end of season one comparing this series to Shirobako, the king of all creation series, and thinking it was a mile off it. New Game is certainly more of a comedy – and still is in S2 – but this slightly more mature story has brought it much closer to that very high mark.
ANIME RANKING: #46 – Jumping seventeen places, New Game has set the record for biggest improvement from a season by a very long way! Now sitting firmly in the centre of this long list, New Game is now in the company of other successes such as Death Parade and Konosuba!
If you liked this you’ll love: Shiro Bako – Uninspiring, I know, but there’s no denying that fans of this excellent series will absolutely love Shiro Bako. Arguably the best creation anime there has ever been, Shiro Bako delivers a slightly more mature brand of comedy, while also taking the detail of the creation and feeling of realism in characters and world to a higher level. Turning the attention from a game studio to an anime company that actually produces fully-fledged anime episodes, with a lead character that is one of the most rounded female leads in the whole anime world, makes Shiro Bako (#10 in our anime ranking) one of our must-watch series, particularly for fans of New Game!
Second Season Syndrome is a serious problem for creatives working in all genres.
Usually, SSS involves a series’ sequel (or book follow-up, film return, your favourite indie band’s next album once they’ve become mainstream etc.) – through a mixture of first-time novelty wearing off and attempts to create new content falling flat – at least not living up to the standard of the first, or at worst, damaging the original content. Many examples in anime and TV, from my experience, involve the second season’s quality dropping compared to the first, the recent second season of Berserk along with Tokyo Ghoul √A being two notable examples. However, as much as I try to think, I don’t remember any series improving to such an extent as New Game has done!
It really has gone from being a throwaway fun-flick to a weighty workplace comedy, and deserves huge praise for its improvement! Can you think of any series that have gone from nothing to something in season two? Let us know in the comments!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for our upcoming Fall 2017 Half-Term Report, reviewing some of the biggest series airing right now, including Black Clover and Juuni Taisen!