Heads Up! Cardcaptor Sakura sequel

As you can see from the video below there is going to be a sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura.

Apparently there will be an OVA released next September followed by a new TV series next January.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I think the original is one of the best-written anime series ever. The thing is, it had a perfect ending and there’s a real risk that any attempt at a sequel will diminish it.
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Your Name–Anime Movie Review

5 Stars

Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) is a new film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. It’s now showing in American movie theaters. Even better, it’s being shown in both dubbed and subtitled versions. I strongly recommend the subtitled version. But act fast–it’s not going to be in the theaters very long.

The animation quality is quite good and the writing is top-notch, probably the best thing that Shinkai has ever done. The plot is intricate but it hangs together very well. Unlike many of Shinkai’s stories it has a fully satisfactory ending.

I’m not going to say too much about the story to avoid spoilers. It involves two high school students. One is an awkward boy living in Tokyo who hasn’t given much thought to what he wants out of life. The other is a frustrated girl in a rural town in the mountains. She’s embarrassed by her duties as a miko at the local shrine, and wishes she lived in an exciting big city.

For some reason they start waking up in each other’s bodies on a regular basis. Afterwards the experience seems like a dimly remembered dream, but their friends tell them that they were acting strangely. Once they start leaving notes to each other they quickly figure out what is happening, but don’t know what to do about it.
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March Comes in Like a Lion Ends

4 Stars
March Comes in Like a Lion (Crunchyroll) is a fine show, but limited by the fact that it is based on an ongoing manga. As a result we have to settle for an ending that is basically OK, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. This might still turn into something great if it gets another season or two to really wrap up the story but there is no guarantee that this will happen.

This is a challenging cerebral anime where much of the action takes place inside the head of Rei, the protagonist. It took some time for me to get drawn into it but I ultimately found it rewarding.

We have a morose withdrawn hero who initially seems off-putting but when we get to know him he turns out to be quite likeable. Rei is young and naive and he has suffered things that in an ideal world no child should ever have to endure. Yet he has an unbreakable spirit and always strives to do the right thing, assuming that he can figure out what that is.
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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju S2 Ends

5 Stars

This completes the series Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (Crunchyroll) which turned out to be everything I could have hoped for. I can only urge everyone who hasn’t seen it already to watch all 24 episodes from the beginning.

OK, it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s not anime with catgirls. It’s a serious drama, anime as high art. Attempts to do that fall short more often than not. This one doesn’t. This one is witty and warm and poignant and wise.
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Winter 2017 Anime Early Impressions

Let me state right from the start that the two best anime series this season are continuations of existing series.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories (Crunchyroll) should wrap up the story that I praised here and here. This is a sophisticated drama, well worth your time. (If you haven’t seen the first half, be sure to watch it first.)

This will probably be the final cour of March Comes In Like A Lion (Crunchyroll.) This is a smaller-scale story without the grand historical sweep of Showa but it’s an effective personal drama that is sometimes chilling but often heartwarming. See my post here.
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March Comes in Like a Lion–Anime Midseason Review

March Comes in Like a Lion (Crunchyroll) was one of my two favorite shows last fall. (The other of course was Girlish Number.) (The Japanese title is Sangatsu no Lion “The Lion of March,” sometimes written 3-gatsu no Lion.)

This is sort of a sports anime, but an unconventional one–and not because the “sport” is a board game. In anime and manga any competitive activity can be the basis of a “sports” story, but the usual convention is to start with some young people who love the game but aren’t all that good at it, and follow them as they become champions through dedicated practice and teamwork.

Here we have a protagonist who is extremely talented, obviously a potential champion, but who started playing for the wrong reasons and now feels trapped. The real question is whether he can overcome the emotional scars of his youth and learn to love the game. (Or failing that, find a way to be happy doing something else.)

Rei Kiriyama is a 17-year-old professional Shogi player who lives alone in a barren Tokyo apartment, constantly practicing and studying the game. He feels alone and afraid, and has felt that way since he was a young boy when his parents were killed in an accident.
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2016 Anime Year In Review

I feel like I have to say this every year but…No, 2016 was not a terrible year for anime. You have to keep Sturgeon’s Law in mind: “90% of everything is crap.”

When fans look back on 2016 in the future, they won’t be remembering the 90%. It’s the other 10% that determines how successful a year is. So based on the 10%, 2016 wasn’t the best year ever, but it wasn’t all that bad.

Outstanding Anime of 2016

ERASED (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi) (Crunchyroll) is a superbly executed fantasy thriller with crisp plotting, edge-of-your-seat tension and a fine ending.

Last year I called Rin-ne (Crunchyroll) an “Outstanding” comedy. With the second season we’re at 48 episodes and if anything it’s funnier than ever. It’s incredibly hard for a comedy to keep up the pace for this long. (Consider the enormous drop-off in quality between the first and second seasons of Squid Girl, one of the few anime series to reach comparable levels of hilarity.) Kudos to the legendary talents of manga giant Rumiko Takahashi.

Notable Anime of 2016

The year’s best iyashikei anime was Flying Witch (Crunchyroll), a charming story about a young witch who goes to live with her cousins in a small rural town.

I see only one example of a good traditional shoujo series: Orange (Crunchyroll.) Aside from the fantasy premise, this is a smart and fairly realistic story about the difficulties involved in preventing teen suicide.

I’m not giving Natsume Yujin-cho 5 (Natsume Yuujinchou Go) (Crunchyroll) an “Outstanding” award because its the fifth season of a long-running series which doesn’t break any new ground. Still this series about a boy and his encounters with the spirit world remains consistently good.

Charming/poignant story with a cute kid #1: Sweetness & Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma) (Crunchyroll.) A young widower wants to learn to cook for his daughter and gets help from a lonely high school student.

Charming/poignant story with a cute kid #2: Poco’s Udon World (Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari) (Crunchyroll.) A lonely bachelor begins to come to terms with his past when he takes in a lost little boy (who is actually a shape-shifting tanuki.)

At last! Girlish Number (Crunchyroll) finally gives the anime industry the treatment it deserves!

Was this the year that the isekai genre finally wore out its welcome? We had a brutal deconstruction in Grimgar (Crunchyroll). Konosuba (Crunchyroll) was a trashy parody of the genre. And of course Girlish Number told us a little too much about the people responsible for foisting this stuff on us.

However Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Crunchyroll) goes a long way toward redeeming the genre by giving it a Groundhog Day twist. The nebbish hero doesn’t somehow become heroic when transported to a fantasy world. He acts like an immature teenage otaku, the results are horrid, and he actually learns from his mistakes.

Special “Eat Your Vegetables” Award

What do you get when some talented people get together to make an anime series that is inspiring, educational and morally uplifting? Something like The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu.) Really I don’t have anything bad to say about this series about the hard work and sacrifice that goes into creating a new dictionary. It’s totally admirable. It just doesn’t excite me much.

Still Watching

You may be surprised that I didn’t give an “Outstanding” award to Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (Crunchyroll.) It’s been excellent so far (my take here and here) but it’s really a 2-cour series in which only the first cour aired in 2016. By my rules judgment must be withheld until 2017.

March Comes In Like a Lion (Sangatsu no Lion) (Crunchyroll) has also been excellent so far, but a lot will depend on the second half. Our talented but emotionally-scarred young Shoji player really needs to grow up and get a grip. (He’s had some terrible breaks but he’s also lucky in some ways and he doesn’t fully appreciate that.)

Girlish Number Ends

4.5 Stars

“Snark” is not highly valued in Japanese culture so it’s rare for an anime to excel in snarky satire–but Girlish Number delivers it in full and is wickedly funny (Crunchyroll.)

It’s not uncommon to have an anime series about the making of an anime series (or a manga, or video game, or whatever.) Generally it focuses on a group of idealistic young people who struggle, make mistakes and confront numerous obstacles but eventually succeed in producing something they can be proud of. Not so here. There’s no pretense that the anime series being made in this story (called “Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord“) is anything but crap. Though the ending of Girlish Number is more-or-less upbeat, it’s mostly because the characters have come to terms with working on a crap series.

This conforms to something I’ve said before. Anime is subject to Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of everything is crap.” So if you want to work in anime, it stands to reason that most of the time you will be working on crap. But if you’re Japanese then you are expected to be 100% enthusiastic about your job, 100% of the time. That has to be somewhat draining but it turns out that it can be funny to watch.
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Fall 2016 Anime Early Impressions

This year had a promising start last winter but the rest of the year has been uninspiring. There have been some watchable shows but the best ones have been sequels. What’s missing are those special shows that feel new and exciting.

That aside, this season still has some new shows that seem interesting enough for me to recommend as “possibly worth your time.” Here they are, with the most promising first.

natsume-yuujinchou You can’t go far wrong with Natsume Yujin-cho 5 (Natsume Yuujinchou Go) (Crunchyroll). This is the fifth season of the critically-acclaimed series previously called Natsume’s Book of Friends in English. The writing remains as excellent as ever. If you are a fan of the earlier seasons then you shouldn’t miss this.

If you aren’t familiar with the series it’s worth checking out, but I’d recommend that you watch at least the first season before watching this. (That’s the first 13 episodes here.)
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R.I.P. Steven DenBeste

I was sorry to learn of the death of pioneering anime blogger Steven DenBeste. He did a lot to spread interest in anime and encourage people to take it seriously.

He first gained fame back at the turn of the century as a political blogger (generally right-wing but very pro-science.) Back then, of course, the right-wing blogosphere was a great deal more civilized than it is today. His posts were well-informed and tightly reasoned. Back around 2002 his site, USS Clueless, was one of the leading voices in favor of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. That didn’t work out well but it’s worth remembering that at the time the policy was supported by most of the leading U.S. politicians, including Hillary Clinton.

After that he apparently got sick of political blogging and started a new site called Chizumatic, devoted to the decidedly non-serious subject of anime. Except he did take it seriously, writing long-form articles that subjected an anime series to the sort of detailed analysis that one might give a respectable literary work.

There had been anime blogs before, but nothing like this. He inspired many other bloggers (including me) and helped give the whole subject a bit more respectability than it had previously enjoyed.

As the years went by and his health deteriorated he stopped writing the long-form pieces but he continued to post regularly almost until the day of his death. (Mostly about fan-service.) These pieces kept his site popular right to the end.

So long Steven! You will be missed.