Welcome to another episode of Anime Pocket Reviews! As we continue our look back on the excellent Summer 2018 anime cycle, this time out we’re reviewing two very different series from the last anime period. Later on we provide our full review on the return of one of the biggest anime series of this century, but first of all, here’s a comedy series that you just have to see!
Grand Blue (2018, S1, 12x24mins)
Comedy, Young Adult
Iori Katahara (front) is taking his first steps towards the independence he has always dreamed of. Leaving his hometown to attend Izu University in the beautiful seaside town, he heads to his uncle’s scuba diving store full of hopes and dreams, only to be greeted by a group of large, rowdy and naked upperclassmen. Dragged unwillingly into a night of drinking, Iori starts his dream life face down in his underwear at university. However, he is the life of the party – much to the displeasure of his cousin Chisa Kotagawa (right, front) – and while it’s not what he imagined, he is determined to enjoy his life as a student and joins the scuba diving club.
Basically Plot: Iori moves into his uncle’s scuba diving shop by the sea to start his dream university life, but immediately gets wrapped up with the heavy-drinking (and often naked) members of the store’s scuba diving club.
As you may have seen during our half-term report, I was a huge fan of this comedy from the first moment. Much of what I say here will probably mirror that review, because this series really didn’t lose much momentum over the course of its whirlwind run!
Animation, in Japan and across the world, has always been the perfect medium for comedy, allowing you to do stuff with the human body that would be impossible in live action. While we’re used to rude animated series from America, Japanese anime comedies – while incredibly funny and slapstick – are always a little bit on the safe side, revolving around tropes such as underhanded comments to the camera or wistful people doing silly things. Grand Blue fills the gap in the incredibly full Japanese comedy market that I almost forgot was there – this is, for lack of a better word, a real tough comedy.
That toughness isn’t in terms of the jokes themselves, or the story. Like all the great comedies, this is a series full of slapstick, exaggerated reactions and plenty of shouting. However, why I think this is probably the funniest anime I’ve ever seen is because there are no lightweights or comedy characters in this series. A university-set series, Grand Blue is full of strong-minded, manipulative and no-nonsense characters, from the very front with Iori and Chisa, to the back with characters like Nanaka and Rei. It’s such a little thing, really, but the different in realism that it creates puts it on another level to the many slapstick series. This is also clearly seen in the animation – a beautifully sharp series where the characters all have slightly evil eyes, the classic anime trope of using miniature, ‘chibi’ animation to land punchlines is flipped on its head. Instead of making characters look cute to deliver a quiet line, this series makes the character’s faces appear grotesque in detail and almost stretched – think ‘the scream’ but with more colour and evil shining eyes. That is the type of comedy this series is going for, and it does it fantastically.
Of course, it would be nowhere, Grand Blue, without its comedy, and the jokes are really good. Revolving primarily around drinking, scheming and being general troublemakers, with the odd bit of young romance thrown in, Grand Blue is a comedy aimed at an older audience than great comedies such as Wagnaria and The Devil is a Part-Timer, and does such a good job at it that it made me laugh more than either of those! While the story itself was no more than okay – despite some attempts to inject a more emotional tone into it – it’s this series’ incredibly brave comedy that will win it deserved plaudits.
ANIME RANKING: #29 – A fantastic ranking, making it the only full comedy to break into our Top 30 anime of all time! At 29, Grand Blue sits alongside the likes of Sound Euphonium and fellow Summer ’18 hit Cells at Work.
If you liked this you’ll love: Honey and Clover (33) – Now, it really depends on what you really enjoyed in Grand Blue, here. If you’re looking for similarly strong (ahem, rude) comedy, then, as we explained, it can be hard to find one – although shows like Konosuba and The Devil is a Part-Timer would be a good start. However, if you enjoy the young adult freedom side of this show, then Honey and Clover is one of anime’s finest examples of it. Following a group of art students at different stages of education, this story focusing on young love is really beautiful to watch, and while the comedy and story are much lighter than in Grand Blue, that youthful adolescence is still their and is still wonderful!
Attack on Titan (2018, S3, 12x23mins)
Following on from season two, Levi’s (front-left) makeshift Scouts squad begin conducting experiments with Eren’s (front-right) Titan hardening ability as a way of sealing the wall when they hear that Pastor Nick, one of the few men with knowledge of the walls, has been tortured and murdered. Immediately suspecting a plot to keep the secret of the Titans inside the walls quiet, Levi leads his squad into hiding just before their base of operations is raided by Military Police. Guessing that they are after Eren and Historia (centre) for their abilities and lineage, Levi hatches a plan to unearth the government scheme and usurp its dangerous rule. However, when the table is turned on him and the squad by a figure from his past in the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, Levi and his young squad are forced to confront a new enemy – no longer Titans, but other people.
Basically Plot: Continuing the Attack on Titan story, Levi is forced to turn away from the continuing fight against Titans and lead his makeshift squad of scouts on a rebel operation to unearth a conspiracy involving the ruling royal family.
Attack on Titan is back! With a nuanced change in storyline and a clear plot to follow, season three has picked up the ball that season two had dropped and ran with it, creating a series that is not just as dark as you would expect form an Attack on Titan series but also incredibly watchable in a way I haven’t seen since the first season.
That slight change in narrative style, or more appropriately, focus, has made all the difference in season three. There have only been slight changes, but all of a sudden, the series has got that sense of jeopardy back without trying to force it upon us. The change in story, a change that has not just saved Attack on Titan in the face of serious competition in the ‘best anime right now’ stakes but has elevated it back onto the perch where that first season still sits, comes in two forms.
The first is a change from external conflict to a more internalised story, in all aspects. The big thing that jumps out at you concerning this season is that it drifts away from the original concept of humanity versus Titans and the insurmountable odds that come with that. Season three, instead of pitting everyone against a common and unrelatable enemy instead sees the ‘heroes’ playing the role of evil rebels. One of the earliest story points sees the squad have to, for the first time in their lives, kill other human beings, and the power behind that as a new concept – for the characters and for the show – is really exciting to watch and immediately breathes new life into a series that I wasn’t exactly super excited for.
The second change comes in terms of the characters. One of the smartest things this series does is that it gives the three leads, Mikasa, Eren and Armin, a well-earned break. Dropped to the role of side-characters for the most part, this season gives Levi, a hugely popular and noticeably no-nonsense character the centre stage, and he pulls it off with all the charisma and self-confidence that we’ve learned to love about him. Also, by dropping the three main characters back a touch it heightens the sense of squad and community that the rebel group has, bringing previously boring characters into a much better light where it actually feels like they are doing what would be expected of them instead of being forced into other scenarios for the sake of keeping them fresh. Hange, the nutty professor character, is a particular highlight of this season thanks to her having a clear role and us feeling like she actually has a serious role to play, something I haven’t felt about her since the early days of season one. Also, it’s worth saying that the new characters, particularly Jack the Ripper, are excellent additions to the cast – if only for this season, they have helped to give this series its life back just as much as the others.
For the majority of it, Attack on Titan season three is just what you would expect from the series – the animation is sharp and bright, the fight scenes are excellently choreographed and it’s not a series that shies away from dirty conflict, something the show has built its name upon. However, the changes in story and particularly its angle of approach have given this series a serious boost, and it felt at points like we were watching a brand-new, individual storyline, especially when compared to the relative meandering of season two. Attack of Titan is most definitely back, and the clearest indication of that fact that I can formulate in my mind is that I season three’s was arrival kind of caught me off-guard, but I know exactly when it’s returning now – April 2019 will see the conclusion of AoT S3, and I am more hopeful about those episodes than I have ever been over this series!
ANIME RANKING: #2 – I was so very close to putting this back at the number 1 spot, but alas it is not quite ready to reclaim the position it lost to Durarara all those years ago. If I could have a joint-first I would, though, and with the next season already looking exciting, there is ample opportunity for it to return to the Culture Cove throne.
If you liked this you’ll love: Terra Formars (60) – For many years Attack on Titan has been the blueprint for how to do an action tragedy, so there are countless series that create a similar atmosphere to it. While we have only seen the first season of this anime, there is no other series we’ve seen that creates that same feeling of powerlessness and horror as well as Terra Formars. A dark action series following an expedition’s journey to a Mars infested with killer cockroaches, this series is a futuristic alternative that’s perfect for Attack on Titan fans.
The last few anime cycles have been really good. So good, in fact, that I had almost got accustomed to a handful of anime to watch every week.
While it’s early on, it looks like this Fall 2018 anime cycle is going to be something of a cooldown. Not only are there so few big names – unless you’re invested in huge titles such as Sword Art Online, which has a new story, or Fairy Tale, the huge anime title that is airing its final season – but the original series are looking average at best. SSSS.GRIDMAN looks childish, My Sister, My Writer and That Time [stupidly long title] Slime have strange undertones and generally look cheap and while Zombieland Saga (pictured above) shows potential, it’s hardly enough to carry this cycle on its own. I honestly don’t know if we’ll be doing a Half-Term Report right now, because we’re only watching two or three shows as it stands!
What are your thoughts on this cycle? Are we missing something, or is it genuinely just a poor run? Let us know in the comments, and subscribe for regular anime reviews and recommendations! Look out for episode 51 of Anime Pocket Reviews which will be a Netflix Special, including a look at season five of Bojack Horseman.