Another year, another season of anime to plow through, hoping to find a golden nugget or two amongst the dirt. We’re changing up the (p)review format a bit here – instead of giving our first impressions on as many shows as we can watch, we’re just going to let you know what our top three picks for the season are. So, we’ll be telling you which ones we think will end up being the best and which ones we’re most excited about. If you were looking forward to us bashing the shows we thought were stupid, you’re outta luck this time, buddy. Onto the review!
To be honest, I wasn’t very excited about this season at all when I was first looking through the list of new shows. Unfortunately, my initial impressions seemed to prove true this time around. My top 3 picks for the season are some of the last shows I checked out, so up until that point I was very afraid this season was going to be a total letdown. Thankfully, these three shows gave me a little hope that winter 2015 might not be a total waste after all.
Death Parade takes place in a sort of purgatory bar. When two people die at the same time, they get sent here and play a random game to decide whose soul gets reincarnated and whose gets sent into the void. The main character and judge of these souls is a white haired dude named Decim. It doesn’t seem to matter if you actually win the game, though. Your fate depends more on your true nature being revealed during the match.
The show has good production values and also a pretty interesting premise. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it will be able to keep my interest long term. I’m not sure if there will be any sort of overarching story since it looks like each episode will focus on two different people playing a game. I tend to like shows that have longer story arcs, so we’ll have to see how this plays out. For now, I am intrigued and interested to see if this blossoms into anything more. It’s enjoyable so far, but only time will tell.
Maria the Virgin Witch
This story centers around witches in France during the Hundred Years’ War. A unique premise, to be sure. France is battling England and Maria hates war. That being the case, she does her best to stop the two sides from killing each other. There are other witches around, and each has an incubus and succubus at their command. It’s an interesting alternate history.
I can’t say I was really expecting to enjoy this show, but I think it ended up being my top pick for the season. The characters are all really interesting and the action and magic is well done and exciting to watch.
The only thing that seemed a bit out of place to me was the outfits of the witches and their companions. Given the setting and subject matter, they’re all dressed a lot more skimpy than I would have expected. There are a decent amount of sex jokes from the succubus, but I suppose that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Overall, the show is very interesting and seems like it could develop into a solid series with a story worth following all the way through.
Tokyo Ghoul √A
This is the second season of Tokyo Ghoul. You can check out my write up of the first season here. Basically, the show continues to follow a kid who is half human, half bloodthirsty ghoul. The first season showed him making this transition and struggling with the consequences. This season, he’s pretty much come to terms with the new person he’s become.
To be honest, I never actually finished the first season. I watched a handful of episodes and then got distracted by other things. I actually wasn’t planning on watching any of √A, but the debut shows this season were so lackluster I decided to give √A a shot. The first episode is jam packed with action, blood, and new characters I either hadn’t seen before or totally forgot about. It made me wish that I knew more from the first season because there was a lot going on.
If you are new to the series, definitely start with season 1. This isn’t a show you can just jump into. That being said, the first episode of √A made me want to go back and watch some more of the first season to see if my interest reignites. Will they? I’m not sure. But this show made me want to at least give the first season another go.
After delving into a bunch of promising series last fall, I ended up dropping them all. Instead I picked up Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis thanks to swelling praise on message boards. Its crisp plot and unbelievable, cinema-worthy production values made it my favorite series from last season. At a glance, Winter 2015 boasts the least exciting lineup in recent memory. That made choosing my top three, which includes two anticipated sequels and the celebration of a classic series, an easy task.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 2nd Season
High school delinquent Jotaro Jostar and company continue their pursuit of the evil vampire Dio in the second half of 2014’s Stardust Crusaders. But they better watch out as Dio’s host of Stand (bizarre spirits with very specific powers)-using allies await our heroes at every turn. Will Jotaro be able to discover Dio’s secret and finally defeat his family’s arch-nemesis?
Tired of the repetitive, overpowered battles of most shonen series? Do you long for pose striking characters named after musical acts? If so (and even if you’re not so keen on the second part), give Stardust Crusaders a look. Unlike most battle series, power levels don’t play a role in the JoJo universe. Instead, Stand users outsmart their opponents by taking advantage of their unique abilities – often with graphic, cringe-worthy results.
Add great animation and a production team that sticks close to the JoJo manga’s roots and you have the makings of an awesome adaptation. 2014’s series merely provided a warm-up for what was to come, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more bizarre cast, more unique battles, or a more badass protagonist among this season’s line-up.
Headless bikers, monster cops, Internet gangs, mad scientists – anything goes in the streets of Akihabara. Ride the flow of conflict as it sweeps Durarara’s large cast into conflict after conflict in this chic anime soap opera. This time around, a maniac masquerading as Hollywood movie monsters is on the prowl, shaking things up for our protagonists. A sensational gold afro-ed TV host, rising media star, and new students and gangsters add to the list of suspects in Durarara’s ever-growing cast of eccentric characters.
Durarara!!x2 Shou picks up where 2010’s Durarara left off, with high quality animation, cool character designs and charismatic BGM by Makoto Yoshimori (Princess Jellyfish). Though Durarara touts a large cast, the characters’ drastic differences in look and personality make keeping track of them a simple task. If you’re a fan of quirky, dark, character-driven movies like Snatch and Pulp Fiction, or the animated series Baccano! (also based on a Ryōgo Narita novel series) Durarara!!x2 Shou is for you.
Yoru no Yatterman
Faced with a dying mother, a little girl and her three companions are left with no choice but to travel to the Yatter Kingdom to seek help from the legendary Yattermen heroes. However, their approach is met with violent resistance. Why did the Yattermen, supposed heroes, turn their backs on out protagonists? Dismayed but not broken, our protagonists retreat but swear to exact revenge on the heinous Yattermen.
I love Tatsunoko Pro’s guts to re-imagine their beloved, classic series. They did it with Gatchaman (Crowds), Casshern (Sins) and (Shin) Hurricane Polymar. 2015 marks Yatterman’s 40th anniversary and to celebrate, Tasunoko has reworked one of its flagship series. Only this time the script has been flipped and the descendants of Yatterman’s original villains have become the heroes.
In this world “Yatterman!” is shouted in a fascist storm-trooper-like salute, and there are fleets of Yattermen soldiers. Yoru no Yatterman is cute, silly, warm fun. Tastunoko’s art and animation continue to impress me. I can’t wait to see how things have gone topsy turvy, and whether Yatterman can reattain their former glory.
My list runs the gamut of source materials, Stardust Crusaders is based on manga, Durarara started as a light novel, and Yatterman was an original animated series. As a fan of each series’ source material I know I will see these shows through – unlike last season. But I’m looking forward to each week’s Yoru no Yatterman most because it’s the most mysterious of the three!
Well, hot dog, I really didn’t know what to expect with this season. A cursory glance of Winter 2015’s titles left me with no excitement whatsoever. But, as I dug deeper into this pile of show, I found a few I like and a few more worth sticking with. Here are my top three.
Samurai Warriors is set in Japan’s Warring States period, one of the most storied eras in Japanese history. It’s the medieval times of Japan. Samurais, battles, castles, heroes, and villains. In the subsequent Edo period, the exploits of heroes from the Warring States period got embellished to the point that their feats seemed almost superhuman.
Take those already exaggerated tales of Sengoku heroism, view through the lens of anime and video games, and you get this show. Based on a video game series by Koei, Samurai Warriors gives the Sengoku heroes extraordinary powers that match those seen in the aforementioned game. Heroes take out entire units of soldiers in one swipe, jump 20 feet in the air, and are only matched by other heroes.
This is one of those shows you’re either going to love or hate. I usually have mixed feelings about shows like this, but after the first episode I fell to the side of loving it. It’s certainly cheese, but cheese with such commitment and skill that I can’t help but like it.
The design is such that the character costumes are the only things that are really anachronistic, and even they are stylized versions of what one might see in ukiyo-e. The set dressings and and landscapes stay (comparatively speaking) realistic, which is what gives this show its charm. The backdrop is traditional and the heroes pop in the foreground.
There’s nothing deep here, story or character-wise, but the time spent is sheer fun. Give it a try if you love history and Naruto/Bleach/Dragon Ball type shows.
Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)
If this show is anything, it’s unexpected. I’m not even sure how to begin describing it, but I’ll give it a shot:
One day, half of the moon explodes (stay with me here). Soon, the earth’s leaders learn it was the doing of a smiley-faced squid creature with inhuman abilities. All efforts to kill him have been futile. The creature promises to delay his destruction of Earth for one year if he is made the homeroom teacher of high school seniors.
Here’s the catch: in addition to regular subjects, he will teach the class how to assassinate him. If the class can do so by graduation, they will save the earth and win ¥10 billion. If they fail: bye-bye earth. This assassination is no easy task, as the creature can move as fast as mach 20, and has amazing reflexes.
If you still don’t follow, watch the show. It’s tough to tell from the first few episodes if this one will be good in the long run, but the premise alone is worth your watching. It has great potential for character development in the students and creature teacher. There are a lot of burning questions to push you through at least the first season: Will the students succeed? Where did the creature come from? Why is he so nice if he wants to ultimately destroy the earth?
There’s a bit more to this one that I don’t want to spoil, so be sure to experience this wacky action comedy sci-fi horror drama for yourself.
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
This was an unexpected favorite. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! is a shoujo show in the magical girl genre with a twist: These magical girls are guys.
The plot revolves around 5 handsome underachieving boymen. While two of our heroes are bathing in a sentou, an interdimensional pink wombat falls through a portal and begs them to help him protect the earth. Most of the first episode is spent on the pink wombat (using a mind-controlled teacher) to track down the boys and force them to become earth guardians. Of course, the wombat succeeds and the boys, (mostly) against their will, don outfits that aren’t totally meant for girls, but are pretty dang girly.
What I find interesting about this gender-bending comedy is that it walks a fine line. Seeing a man in girls’ clothes is not unheard of in Japanese comedy (or other cultures’ comedy), but usually that man has thick stubble and wears the girliest costume to emphasize the incongruence. This show doesn’t do that. Its heroes’ costumes aren’t necessarily girly, but rather girlesque. The boys aren’t comedically strapping, but handsome guys that could be mistaken for girls.
The whole idea is played for comedy, but not overtly. Other elements (pink wombat, evil chikuwabu) are certainly comedic, but the crux of the idea of the show is downplayed. It makes one wonder: What is masculine? What is feminine? Are these male heroes less masculine for using costumes and powers considered “girly”? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I feel any show that makes you pause to ask questions like this is worth a second look. Also: talking pink wombat.
My taste in anime tends to be very niche, and I hardly have time to watch the stuff anymore, though I remain a big fan. That said, the metric I used to judge these shows was simply if I’d be willing to find the time to watch more episodes. These are the three that I decided would keep me coming back for more.
I’m a big fan of horror, so of course something called Death Parade was on my radar. Each episode is its own vignette that explores character relationships strained by having their souls judged by a host of eerie characters in a bar in between heaven and hell. The stories, while fairly derivative for fans of Twilight Zone-like plots, are still interestingly told, animated, and voice-acted.
Seems like a mix between Paranoia Agent (my favorite anime), Mushishi (due to the stand-alone stories, and for starring a guy that, truth be told, looks a whole lot like Ginko), and the Saw movies, although with more emotional trauma than pure torture fodder. Death Parade wants to strip people down to their humanity and explore the darker aspects of human nature in a bizarrely colorful and playful way. At this series’ best, it could tackle some really interesting themes like the more fulfilling episodes of Paranoia Agent or chapters of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
Even if it falters, I think it may still warrant a viewing because of the stylish visuals, fairly interesting stories, and characters lovingly animated with enough sweat, snot, and spittle to fill an Olympic swimming pool. I’d consider this series to be one to look out for if you want some genre fair that is a little on the darker side. Death Parade is definitely the only thing like it on the air now and I’ll certainly be watching more.
Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)
I feel weird about recommending this one, because this series’ premise is baffling and its popularity is similarly baffling. When I was in Japan, I saw Koro-sensei’s goofy grin adorning manga covers at every bookstore I went to. However, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu definitely knows how to entertain with its good blend of whimsical comedy and fun action.
The first few episodes easily managed to coax some laughs out of me, and the show presents a good metaphor for the love-hate relationship we all may have felt for our teachers at one point or another. The manga has enjoyed an insane popularity, boosted of course by the Jump label, but with that comes high expectations for the anime’s ability to do justice to the characters and plots.
Should the anime manage to capture the same tone and charm of the manga, then this will definitely be a hit, and I feel like its well on its way. It’s always good to have a new intellectual property, and especially an absurdist comedy, enjoy this kind of popularity. Anyone looking for some out-there laughs will probably be able to enjoy Ansatsu Kyoushitsu.
Kantai Collection -KanColle-
The mecha-musume genre is alive and well and every year it seems like a handful more crop up, but sometimes they’re worth a look. l’m willing make the argument that this series is in that camp. You get what you expect from KanColle, but I feel like that’s not necessarily a bad thing. KanColle’s original iteration was an online/mobile game with the same general premise: a bunch of girls are half warship for some reason and engage in naval battles. The gameplay is similar to the other games in the genre: collect an army of ship-girls, battle, and level them up.
The show is similarly derivative. It’s a familiar mix of large-scale fight scenes, military vehicles, moe girls, awkward, forced slice-of-life, and the obligatory fan service. This is one case where suffering through the latter might be a good way to enjoy the former as the introduction promises this series may indeed have a darker side to it. The character designs for the ‘Abyssal’ fleet are well-done, sleek, and otherworldly.
The fight scenes promise to impress with their epic sense of scale and gorgeously-animated explosions and gunfire. Even when the animation slips into CG, the transition is more subtle than I’ve seen, though it can still be slightly jarring. CG may be a necessary evil for a show where the main characters are warships and aircraft carriers though, as it helps animate the types of sequences KanColle is looking to pull off; stuff like a single arrow splitting into a handful of WWII era fighter jets that descend upon a creepy submarine monster guns ablazing.
I could almost describe this as explosion porn because to me the most satisfying part was experiencing the visceral thrill of the over-the-top action. I don’t generally recommend things on the spectacle alone, but I feel like this is a classic example of a generally entertaining series. While KanColle certainly won’t blow anyone’s mind it may be pretty good entertainment to just sit back and enjoy. It’s a little dumb, but inoffensive, and if you let yourself become engrossed you may find yourself enjoying the characters and rooting for them during the badass fight scenes.
Winter 2015 Anime Wrap-up
And that’s that! These are Tofugu’s top picks for the season. Death Parade and Assassination Classroom seem to be the only two that more than one of us liked, so those are our top recommendations. However, I (John) personally have Maria the Virgin Witch at the top of my list, but we’ll have to wait and see how all that pans out. Time will tell.
So tell us – what are your top picks this season? Any super awesome ones we should be checking out? Let us know in the comments!