APR Special: Fall 2017 Half-Term Report – Black Clover, RWBY 5, Food Wars 3, The Ancient Magus Bride, Juuni Taisen + More!!

The summer, unfortunately, has well and truly passed. The nights are dark, and the days are cold, the sunshine as bright as ever, yet so much further away*, leaving us reminiscing over what was a fantastic Summer 2017 for anime fans.

My Hero Academia was the flag bearer for a cycle that bore an almost uncountable collection of fantastic returns and continuations, blended with some excellent new material – from the mouth-wateringly exciting Kakegurui, to the unexpected fun that was Aho-GIRL! Regardless of taste, there’s no doubting that Summer was full-to-bursting with series, leaving this Fall season with the unenviable task of picking everyone back up as the warm sun begins to hide under the white mist of single-digit temperatures.

Fall 2017 has a lot to live up to after an excellent Summer cycle. However, it is putting up one hell of a fight!

As expected, it doesn’t look at this stage like Fall will have the same quantity of showstoppers as Summer ’17. However, in terms of those A-Class titles, Fall is just as powerful as the big-brother cycle before it, with multiple titles that have been anticipated for months beforehand! From the continuation of one of our favourite ever series, to the beginning of what many are already expecting to be a classic to surpass Summer’s MHA, there’s plenty to get excited about as you lock yourself away from the frost rising over the horizon! Here’s the shows that have us hooked right now, starting with an unexpectedly gripping battle-royale series.

[Note: We are not writing these reviews all at the same time, so we might be at different points in the series compared to where it is at the time of upload!]

KEY: Title (Season, episodes watched/total episodes [To Be Confirmed] x episode length)
Genre(s)

Juuni Taisen Anime Review

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War (S1, 6/12[tbc]x24mins)
Action

Based off the 2015 novel of the same name, the story follows the events of the 12th incantation of the Zodiac Tournament, a competition that takes place every twelve years. A city of half-a-million people are evacuated, leaving twelve of the strongest warriors from around the world – each representing a different Chinese zodiac – to fight it out to the death. Each warrior has a poisonous jewel in their stomach that will kill them in 12 hours, and the warrior to collect all twelve jewels wins.

So many twelves!

Ahh, who doesn’t like a good, old-fashioned battle royale, from the land of Battle Royale itself? The Fate franchise has set the standard in Japanimation for this genre, but many more have attempted it, such as Mirai Nikki or the slightly less obvious Danganronpa. Juni Taisen tries to bring its own spin to it with the twelve warriors representing animals, but what will really set this story apart is its storytelling.

I didn’t really have much expectations for this series, but from the first moment this has made a mark with its darker take on the traditional tale. In the three series mentioned above, all of them had a main character that the story primarily followed – usually a morally correct person trying to do good. While that character exists in Juni Taisen, too, she is a minor character, the story sharing its time across the characters equally. This wasn’t clear at the beginning, though.

Some of the best storytelling we have seen in a long time led to a cycle which seemed to go ‘the character that you think the story is going to follow will die next’, at least in the first few episodes. All of the warriors want to win, and eleven of them will kill anybody who stands in their way, through whatever means of deception or cruelty that is necessary, which is leading to an extremely watchable series that is almost impossible to put down at this point!

Black Clover Anime Review

Black Clover (S1, 6/13[tbc]x23mins)
Action, Fantasy, Comedy

Set in a world of magic, the story follows Asta (left) and Yuno (right), two orphan brothers raised in the countryside. In their world, people are born with the ability to wield magic, and while Yuno’s magical prowess is almost unheard of, Asta is an anomaly – a child with no ability for magic whatsoever. At age 15 they receive their grimoires, magic books unlocking their potential. While most books have a three-leaf clover printed on the front, Yuno’s is marked with the legendary four-leaf clover. Asta, at first, doesn’t receive a grimoire at all. However, upon saving Yuno from trouble, Asta unlocks a special power of his own. Gifted with an even more mysterious grimoire – a grimy, black book, marked with a five-leaf clover – the two orphans head out into the world with the same dream, as rivals for the most coveted position in the land, that of the Wizard King – a role second only to the King, given to the most powerful magic wielder in the land.

It’s hard to really judge how big the anticipation for this title has been over the last few months. It even went so far as to overshadow the conclusion to the last cycle! An established manga series, this anime – produced by the acclaimed Studio Pierrot – is expected to be the next in their line of 100-episode-plus medium-defining series such as Naruto and Bleach! High-company for a series that is still getting its feet under the table, but from the very beginning it’s easy to see why they have such high hopes.

Black Clover is an action series from a very similar mould to the huge success from Summer 2017, and its natural rival going forward, My Hero Academia. In fact, they’re both so similar – and so popular – that I will try to do a larger head-to-head article concerning this rivalry in due course. There’s many people who are already calling Black Clover a 24-minute cliché, a punishment for being beaten to the shot by MHA, perhaps. But, comparisons aside, Black Clover has set itself up brilliantly. A deep world with characters and cliques aplenty, viewed through the eyes of two unbreakable brothers (who have now been separated). In the long run – the rest of this series, and maybe even beyond – it will eventually have to break out of the plenty-used mould that it currently sits in, but six episodes in and Black Clover looks to have everything it needs to be a real hit going forward.

Food Wars Season Three Anime Review

 

Food Wars, The Third Plate (S3, 6/24[tbc]x24mins)
Adventure, Comedy

Following on from season two, Yukihira (centre) and the other leading first-years from the recent Autumn Elections tournament are introduced for the first time to the complete Elite Ten – the prestigious selection of the best students in the whole of Totsuki Academy. Yukihira nonchalantly reminds them that he is going to become the number one in the whole of the elite cooking academy, and while the Elite Ten ignore him at first, Yukihira tries his hardest to make his way through the seats towards number one, the quiet Tsukasa (centre-right). Later on, dark workings behind the scenes at the top of Totsuki Academy, with links to Yukihira’s father’s generation, begin to rear their head, putting the whole academy at risk.

Food Wars is back! One of the most reliable ‘action’-comedies in recent years, Food Wars is certainly a personal favourite of mine. Like many other anime series adapted from long-running manga published in Shonen Jump – one of Japan’s most successful manga magazines aimed at males, including My Hero Academia, Nisekoi and Tokyo Ghoul among others – Food Wars has an uncanny ability to produce meaningful story in a light-hearted environment, and this series appears to be no different.

What seemed like a relatively dull start with the Moon Festival has now, with Nakiri’s father leading a revolution through the entire school with help from the Elite Ten, become the beginning of what looks set to be an excellent story arc. Food Wars has already shown that it still has that fast comedic edge and love for food, but with a particularly dark storyline about to begin, The Third Plate looks set to be a fantastic addition to an already fantastic anime!

Anime Gataris Anime Review

Anime Gataris (S1, 5/12x23mins)
Comedy, Slice-of-life

When Minoa (front) was a girl, she was in love with a certain anime show. She doesn’t remember what it was, except that it involved a robot rising from the sea, a singing girl, and angels. Now, she’s a model high-schooler, sat in the back of her class next to the posh rich girl Kamiigusa (centre-right). Then, she accidentally overhears Kamiigusa talking profusely about her love of anime. Minoa asks her for help working out where her nostalgic anime memory was from and even though she isn’t able to answer it, infatuated by the usually uptight Kamiigusa’s love for anime, Minoa helps her set up an anime club at the high-school. Kamiigusa and Minoa are joined by fellow school otakus as they talk everything about their favourite anime series, while Minoa tries to catch up  and remember her childhood nostalgia. Meanwhile, the school council, with a history against anime, seems committed to getting them shut down!

Anime Gataris is comfortably my unexpected success of the cycle so far. On the face of it, this is such a simple premise. I’ve tried other notable high-school club series before and didn’t get on with them, and this looked form the outside to be just another high-school series. What attracted me to actually watching this series was its eye-catching animation style – not necessarily exceptionally done, but incredibly bright and vibrant – and that dragged me into what is just a superbly fun series!

The series is, in much the same way as the recent Akiba’s Trip, a homage to anime culture in Japan. The club even visits Akihabara, the setting for AT, in episode 3. As a cute little bit of trivia, Anime Gataris is actually adapted from a famous anime short that used to play between anime screenings in cinemas a few years back. This is certainly a series aimed at major anime fans, and I am unsure whether this would seem as fun to someone who is new to the medium. Personally, I am in love with this series! It remains to be seen if, when the happy-go-lucky nature of the series is inevitably diluted by the need for story, Anime Gataris can remain as easy and enjoyable as it is right now, but for now I am enjoying every bright colour and obscure anime reference this series gives us.

The Ancient Magus Bride Anime Review

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (S1, 6×24/24mins)
Fantasy

Follows the unfortunate life of Hatori Chise (left). As a child, her brother and father left her and her mother alone. Eventually, cracking under the pressure of raising her, Chise’s mother committed suicide in front of her. A string of unsuccessful foster families followed until, shutting herself off from the world that seems to reject her, she sells herself into slavery, seemingly looking for her death. She is brought by Elias (right), a mysterious, non-human mage who pays an extortionate amount of money for her, declaring her to be his bride. He brings her to live with him in the English countryside, where she is formally introduced to the world of magic. He tells her that she is a Sleigh Beggy, a superbly rare being that absorbs and releases a never-ending flow of magic through her, and Elias looks to hone her ability.

Black Clover above might have had some anticipation and aspirations, but even that behemoth is probably not as big a series from day one as The Ancient Magus Bride. This title has actually been floating around in anime circles for the last 12 months, when the 3-episode prologue series Those Awaiting a Star was released (something we’re not including in this mini-review). Finally, though, the actual series has begun, and so far it is living up to its AAA status.

This is a series thick on fantasy, and in terms of its use of magic and the spirit world and all of those classic staples of a magic series it has a similar feel to Mushi-Shi, an acclaimed fantasy series set in Japan. This, though, takes place in the sunny English countryside, and has a strong old-English fairytale feel about it. Chise is a beautiful main character, vulnerable enough to the world around her that you find yourself in her shoes without even realising, and that breathes more life into the magical world. The themes so far in The Ancient Magus’ Bride are, at times, a little strong – Chise is, after all, a slightly suicidal young girl owned by a demon – which makes this series harder watching than the other series in this cycle, but it’s worth it, because it has already produced some of the most dramatic and emotional scenes this year!

The big question a lot of people have about this going forward is the relationship between Chise and Elias, notably whether this relationship between the old ‘man’ and his teenage bride will become anything that could make this series really uncomfortable. That aside, though, a have no concerns about this going forward. With the amount of money and effort being put behind it, I have confidence that this will become one of the great fantasy series a la Mushi-Shi.

Blend S Anime Review

Blend S (S1, 5/13[tbc]x23mins)
Comedy, Slice-of-Life

BLEND-S follows Maika Sakuranomiya (bottom-right), a kind-hearted but misfortunate high-schooler. She has dreams of one day studying abroad, but for that she needs a part-time job, but no one will hire her because of the scary look she pulls when she smiles. Then, one day she is spotted by Dino, the foreign owner of a very particular maid cafe, where each waitress fulfills a certain character trait. Dino finally gives Maika a job, playing the ‘sadistic’ maid at his small restaurant, and with the help of the other workers and Dino, she begins to settle into life at the quirky cafe.

Honestly, I never would have imagined enjoying a series like this. At its core – and you’ve probably got a similar feeling reading the plot – this series appears like one of those terribly cheap harem series that live for a few cheap laughs and a touch of soft porn and little else. However, Blend-S has done a good job so far of building a set of decent characters with interesting personalities. The characters they play adds another dimension, but there’s no denying that Blend-S is still looking like a series with little more to offer than some light-hearted fun. This is fun for now, but will we watch it till the end? With shows like this, one flat episode can spell the end, so right now it’s anybody’s guess!

And finally, a little bonus from across the water!

RWBY Volume 5 Review

RWBY (S5, 5/14x22mins)
Action-Adventure, Comedy

Following on from S4, Ruby (bottom) and her makeshift team RNJR, led by Qrow, arrive in Mistral. The world is still in shock over the fall of Beacon Academy, caused by the militia group the White Fang, causing people to scramble for the other relics, powerful items only useable by the Maidens. Qrow and the others head to Haven Academy, where the Spring Maiden’s relic rests, eager to get hold of it before the fast-rising White Fang. The Spring Maiden left her post over a decade ago, leaving the relic behind and her location unknown. However, Qrow claims to have found her location, hiding as a member of Raven’s – Qrow’s estranged sister’s – rebel tribe. Meanwhile, Blake Belladonna (top), ex member of RWBY and, before that, the White Fang, is at home, deep in faunus country and in the centre of the White Fang revolution – the once peaceful rebel group quickly being turned into something more dangerous.

Yes, unknown to us until a day after the first episode, RWBY is back! If you were not subscribed at the time, you may have missed our review for Volume 4 of the popular web-series. To put it simply, it was pretty awful. However, it felt the whole way through that it was a setup for this volume, and that has been confirmed by what has been a very solid start to this season. Notably, S5 is set to be two episodes longer than S4, while all the early episodes were noticeably longer than the average RWBY episode. Episode 3 and 4 were much smaller, but there’s enough signs so far that RWBY is becoming a much more reliable, much more polished series now, and that, I’m convinced, is for the better.

It’s not like Volume 5 has much to live up to – in fact, I have forgotten much of the backstory behind this series, because it has been so long since I was seriously into it – but so far, this feels much more like the series we fell in love with, a good mix of action and comedy framed by their unique machinima style. I have personal questions about the growth of the four main characters, because they have to change eventually, but the last major question is whether the story in this Volume will do RWBY justice, or whether it will lead us onto a future volume once more. Honestly, right now I’m just happy to see this excellent series back to its free and unpredictable best!

Despite the autumnal weather outside, Fall 2017 is looking like a very cheerful series, with plenty of series to put a smile on your face! Here’s our ranking at the midway stage for this cycle:

Black Clover Anime Poster

7. Blend-S – Fun, but unremarkable. Might not finish.
6. Juuni Taisen – Strong, dark and very watchable series.
5. Food Wars 3 – Good progression of site favourite. 
4. The Ancient Magus’ Bride – Blockbuster fantasy anime.
3. RWBY 5 – Long-running success, back to its best.
2. Anime Gataris – Out of nowhere, full of laughs!
1. Black Clover – Set to be a major title for many months!

On a side-note, this has to be one of the best anime cycles I’ve seen in terms of intros! Black Clover and Juuni Taisen have two of the best intros I’ve seen in ages, while Ancient Magus Bride has an awesome outro song and Anime Gataris has one of my favourite intros of the year, if not of all time!

What shows are you watching right now? Are the big hitters ruling your week, or are you falling for more indie shows, maybe even ones like Kino’s Journey and Recovery of an MMO Junkie?! Let us know below, or follow us on Instagram to join the conversation!

The Wallflower Anime PosterSubscribe to The Culture Cove for the latest and greatest anime reviews! Why not check out our Anime Rankings page to see where your favourite shows rank, and watch out for episode 43 of Anime Pocket Reviews, which will feature popular reverse-harem comedy The Wallflower!

*Of course, if you live somewhere other than the UK, this might not be relevant!

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