APR Special: Winter ’18 Half-Term Report – Citrus, Darling in the FranXX, A Place Further then the Universe, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens & MORE!!

Was your New Year’s Resolution to travel? If so, you’re in good company!

A new year always brings with it dreams of a better future, and it appears that the anime-verse is doing the same thing, with a plethora of fantasy series dominating the Winter 2018 anime cycle.

Great news for fans of fantasy worlds and medieval-style action, bad news for us.

Despite our tendency to avoid mythical fantasy series, there is still a solid selection of shows that we are following. That being said, we’re starting this report with a continuation of a series that started last cycle!

Key
Title (Season, Episodes watched/season total [to be confirmed] x episode runtime)

Garo Vanishing Line Anime Review

Garo: Vanishing Line (S1, 17/24[tbc]x24mins)
Action, Fantasy

Garo is set in a fantasy world in which powerful Makai Knights protect humanity from demonic monsters knows as Horrors. Set in the fictitious Russell City, Vanishing Line follows Sword (Left), one of the leading Knights in a city slowly becoming overrun by Horrors, and rumors of an “El Dorado” seem to bring with it Horrors of increased ferocity. One night Sword saves a young girl from a possessed man who shouts the words at them, causing the girl to follow him around endlessly. Sophie (top) is searching for her older brother, with those words her only clue. After begging him, Sword agrees to help her, despite the reservations of the city’s other Makai Knights, who fear a dark plot developing under their feet.

As mentioned above, this is a series that we actually got really into, despite having not watched an episode at the time of our Fall Half-Term Report. A particularly dark action/fantasy with a modern setting, Vanishing Line started really well, each episode gripping and weighty in its own right but slowly feeding into the “El Dorado” mystery.

It’s a shame, because it’s actually in this cycle that this series has got harder to watch. The two leads aren’t the most captivating characters you’ll ever see, and there’s a growing feeling that the show is generally running thin on ideas – once you’ve seen one human-turned-demon you’ve seen them all, I guess? Still, Vanishing Line remains one of the weightier action series out there at the moment, with its feet firmly set in the world of reality despite the demonic theme. This is definitely an action series worth your time, particularly if you’re into darker titles.

Citrus Anime Review

Citrus (S1, 6/12[App]x23mins)
Romance, Teen

Aihara Yuzu (left) is a fashionable high-schooler enjoying the height of her youth. When she is forced to transfer schools due to her mother’s work and remarriage she has dreams of starting a new adventure and, hopefully, finding a boyfriend that she could show off to her friends back home. However, when she arrives she discovers that she has been transferred to an ultra-strict all-girls school. Her personality and looks causes her to clash with the uptight student council president Aihara Mei (right), who, it turns out, is also her new sister-in-law! The two of them are polar opposites but, confined to the same room, their lives beginning to overlap, Yuzu soon discovers the power of opposites to attract.

This is, likely, the most ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ series of the Winer ’18 cycle, but it really didn’t have to be. Much like the fruit it’s named after, Citrus feels like a really fresh series, with bright animation showcasing a modern, fashionable world. Understandably, though, the main debate in this series is the lesbian romance between the two ‘sisters’.

There are many ways to portray a romance, from the mature and complex psychology of Kids on the Slope to the rough-edged, teen-crushes of Nana, and the slight differences between one style and another are heightened when it comes to same-sex relationships. Whether you are enjoying Citrus or not likely depends on what type of romance you were hoping for, but for us, so far, it’s left a lot to be desired. A series that seemed alarmingly more interested in sex than love at the beginning, Citrus does at times come across as something of a fantasy, the story lacking a sense of relatability while also making no effort to tackle some of the major issues such as gay relationships in a country like Japan.

I should mention that, as of episode 6, the story has now begun to make a transition into a more romantic story. However, people looking at this and hoping for a deep story that tackles same-sex relationships will likely be disappointed by what is, at times, a very NSFW show.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Anime Review

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens (S1, 7/12[App]x23mins)
Crime, Drama, Comedy

Tonkotsu Ramens is set in a fictional version of the city of Fukuoka, in which crime is so widespread that the city has developed a large and vibrant underground community, with more criminal syndicates and hands-for-hire than you can count. The story primarily follows Lin Xianming (second right), a crossdressing hitman working to find his sister and clear his family’s debt. After a simple job becomes complicated, he is crossed by his employer. When he is sent to kill Banba (far right), the owner of a local detective agency, he instead decides to work with him. Banba is in the heart of Fukuoka, with friends ranging from a local Ramen stall broker to a hairdresser-turned-hitman and his elementary school assistant (far left). Joining the friendly crowd, Lin works to discover truths about his family, the criminal underbelly of the city, and the mythical ‘hitman hitman’, the Niwaka Samurai that is the talk of the town right now.

This is, so far, a really good series. For me, this is a great example of the difference between anime adapted from manga comics and anime from light, YA novels, as is this series. Unlike many of the traditional one-cycle series, Tonkotsu Ramens’ story is something of a slow-burner, the mystery developing at a natural pace which makes it much more watchable than, for example, Black Clover. This is also helped by a sizeable cast of likeable, engaging characters that help to keep each episode interesting. There’s a really nice atmosphere to this series, also. A strong jazz instrumental and modern, sleek location along with the colourful cast stops this series getting bogged down by the subject matter – the murder mysteries are actually second interest behind the characters, and particularly the growing, poignantly close relationship burgeoning between Lin and Banba.

This is a series that already draws a lot of comparisons to Durarara. Both character-heavy series started as light-novel franchises, and both anime feature jazz soundtracks along with a similar overriding tone of light-hearted organised crime. Of course, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens has a long way to go before it can even stand in the same district as that #1, 70-plus episode series, but to be drawing comparisons with such an established and well-received name shows that it’s doing something very right.

Dagashi Kashi 2 Anime Review

Dagashi Kashi 2 (S2, 6/12x12mins)
Comedy

Continues on from the first season of Dagashi Kashi, following the adventures of young Kokonotsu (back, right), the only son of a rural Dagashi store owner, as the hip and eccentric Hotaru (Left) tries to convince him to keep working in the family business and not leave to pursue his manga aspirations.

This is something of a Culture Cove first. This is a rule that we’ve always tried to stick to, a basic rule of entertainment – we are actually watching this without ever even knowing of the first season! Labelled simply as ‘Dagashi Kashi’ on popular streaming site Crunchyroll, we were already too into this series by the time we realised it was actually season two.

That probably explains why the story doesn’t strike us as being complete. However, without knowing the details – early on Hotaru was so enigmatic I wasn’t sure if she was even human, or real – the essence of the story was easy to understand and get behind. The animation style is really interesting, also, with cross-eyes characters making the series look like a mix of Japanese animation and classic British cartoon serial Beano! Whether this series leaves a mark long-term is up for debate, but for now, this is a pleasant comedy series.

A Place Further than the Universe Anime Review

A Place Further than the Universe (S1, 6/13x23mins)
Teen, Slice-of-life

Mari Tamaki (centre-right) is a high-school girl who worries whether she is making the most of her youth. She dreams of flunking school one day and riding the train the other direction, but is always too afraid to take the plunge. Then she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa (centre-left). Nicknamed Antartica, the socially reclusive girl is teased by everyone at school for her obsession with the continent, but when she explains her plan to travel there to Tamaki, the once cautious girl finds herself determined to get them both on the journey of a lifetime.

This is a pleasant series. In a sea of fantasy, this is a really honest and natural show that focuses on growing up anxieties that most people have, particularly about making the most of youth. The difference, though, is that this show does it in a hugely positive way. There’s no teen angst or fights or break-ups like in other teen slice-of-life shows, instead the series’ four main characters form a role-model group of outcasts who show what you can achieve with good friends and a dream worth chasing.

This wasn’t a show I was planning on watching at the beginning of this cycle. However, the excellent characters and their unwavering positivity won me over from episode one. Of course, so many of these shows struggle when jeopardy is brought into the series later on, so it will be interesting to see how the show tackles its inevitable darker moments, but so far this series has been surprisingly good.

Darling in the Franxx Anime Review

Darling in the FranXX (S1,7/24[tbc]x24mins)
Sci-fi, Action, Teen

Darling in the FranXX takes place in a post apocalyptic future, in which humanity has been driven to endangerment by robotic monsters known as klaxosaurs. Humanity has set up a mobile city fortress, Plantation, in which sits the Birdcage, where children are created with the sole intention of piloting large, humanoid war machines known as FranXX. Piloting these machines is a delicate task, in which a male and female must connect seamlessly for it to move effectively. Hiro (left) was once a young prodigy in the Birdcage as leader of Squad 13, but after failing to connect with any of the other squad members he is left on the side, slowly losing his purpose in life. Then he meets Code: 002 (right), a half-human-half-klaxosaur pilot with an infamous history. Despite her exceptional skill, nobody has managed to pilot a FranXX with her three times and survive. When the Plantation suddenly comes under attack and Zero Two’s co-pilot once again dies in battle, she extends her bloodied hand to Hiro, giving him a dangerous opportunity to finally Pilot a FranXX.

This was, arguably, the poster series for this Winter 2018 cycle, an original mecha anime series created by something of a dream team of staff. FranXX is almost an ode to a golden age of anime – created by Studio Trigger, a company formed by the director of legendary mecha series Gurren Lagann and with show production featuring key staff from some of the biggest anime series and films of all time, this was almost a success waiting to happen. However, you can push to the side the countless odes this series gives to anime past. Darling in the FranXX, so far, is setting a new standard for modern anime.

I really can’t speak highly enough of this series. On the face of it this looks like just another mecha anime, and a slightly sexual one at that. There is a huge amount of sexual innuendo in this series thanks to the design of the machines, in which the male grabs two remotes that protrude from the suit of the female, who pilots on all fours in front of their male counterpart. That, likely, is a factor that has put off some. However, it is clear that the series as a whole has an undercurrent of YA sexual anxiety, a fantastic double-entendre in which the story is not just about piloting robots to save the world, but also about love, connections, and that awkward first time, with a dystopian style similar to the American YA wave of the early 2010’s. This deep, double-genre story is the most major example of what has to be some of the best writing in an action anime I’ve seen so far.

If that’s not enough, this series also has a beautiful anime style. A while ago we did an article about the rise of CGI in anime, particularly in mecha series. Darling in the FranXX breaks the mould by being a completely drawn series in an era where it is becoming harder and harder to do so. The action scenes are crisp and bright and the seamless style really helps create a realistic world when, in reality, this series should come across as far-fetched.

Darling in the FranXX truly does feel like something of a one-off, a Concord moment in modern Japanimaiton. Never have I seen a series with such a staff list and such backing that doesn’t just excel in most areas, but pushes the boundaries, too. It may only be seven episodes into a potentially 24 episode run, but I honestly can’t see this series going wrong – we don’t even know anything about the wider world, as of yet. This is going to be a huge series, I’m sure of it!

I think we’ve found a wonderful collection of series to watch right now!

Some series have fallen by the wayside, most notably Record of Grancrest War, and others not included here are hanging on in the background, but there is still plenty of solid shows worth keeping up with!

Here’s our ranking for the Winter ’18 series we’re focusing on right now:

Darling in the FranXX Anime Poster6. Citrus – Started off in a poor fashion, but is slowly turning into the show we hoped.
5. Garo: Vanishing Line – The opposite to above, as a passionate start begins to taper off into mediocrity.
4. Dagashi Kashi 2 – Simple, pleasurable, bite-size teen comedy.
3. A Place Further Than the Universe – A feel-good coming-of-age drama full of positive vibes!
2. Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens – A crime mystery comedy with a great cast, a potential classic in the making.
1. Darling in the FranXX – Flaunting its excellent production and script, this monumental series has the potential to be a series for the ages!

In almost any other Half-Term Report, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens would be our number one, without doubt. Not only is it good, it’s completely the type of series we fall in love with. However, it really feels like we are in the presence of something truly special with Darling in the FranXX. So long as it doesn’t totally change paths, surely we are witnessing one of the most memorable series of recent years?

What’s your series of Winter ’18 so far? Let us know in the comments, and subscribe for regular anime reviews, recommendations and debate!

The Culture Cove

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