Winter 2015 Anime Preview: Season of Sequels

It’s still plenty chilly outside, and what better reason to stay inside with a fluffy blanket than a new season of anime? Actually, calling winter a “new” season is a little misleading: with the amount of sequels airing, it’s difficult to think of a season less new than this one. After five years, fan favorite Durarara!!’s long-awaited second season is finally on the air with a new studio behind it and about twice as many characters as I remember. Shinto romance Kamisama Hajimemashita graces us with an unexpected but very much appreciated second season, and sports powerhouse Kuroko’s Basketball returns for a third. Meanwhile, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Aldnoah.Zero, and Tokyo Ghoul all continue from where they left off at the end of summer.

As far as new shows go, winter is traditionally a lean season, but there are still a few worthwhile titles to help us get through these cold months. Perhaps the macabre theater of Death Parade, or the vibrant energy of The Rolling Girls, or the labyrinth of visual metaphor that is Yurikuma Arashi can help keep the winter chill at bay. With simulcasts a click away, there’s no reason to wait until spring. Here are five of the best new shows available to watch right now.

Death Parade

In a bar called Quindecim, a mysterious bartender (voiced by Tomoaki Maeno), invites two people to play a game with their lives at stake. Well, “invites” is putting it politely, as there are no other patrons, no visible exit, and a pointed implication that the loser will be killed and strung up in the back room like a grisly marionette. As the game progresses, it becomes clear to the players that more than just their lives are on the line—in fact, the results of this game, and the pieces of themselves they reveal while playing, may seal the fate of their eternal souls.

This psychological thriller originally debuted in 2013 as the animated short Death Billiards (many will remember its more widely-known Anime Mirai cohort that year, Little Witch Academia). So far the show is having little trouble living up to the promise of the short: the initial episodes have been tense, emotionally demanding, and fraught with enough ambiguity to keep watchers guessing (and spark quite heated discussion online). Madhouse doesn’t seem to be skimping on the production side either: the character designs are interesting and distinctive, the art is crisp, and the gloomy palette of the bar adds to the unsettling atmosphere. So far it’s difficult to say what the format of the show will be in the long run, though it appears from the opening (undoubtedly the best of the season) that the overarching plot may focus on the staff of Quindecim who arbitrate over the dead rather than the players themselves. Whatever its ultimate form, Death Parade is so far surely in the running for most promising show of the season.

For fans of: Death Billiards, Hell Girl, Death Note, spontaneous dance numbers

Watch it now on Hulu

 

The Rolling Girls

Ten years ago the Great Tokyo War led to the disappearance of most of Japan’s ruling class. Without leadership, the nation fell apart into the prefectures of old, each protected by vigilante gangs lead by super-powerful fighters called “Bests” who duke it out with the support of their mobs of mundane followers (the “Rest”). Nozomi Morimoto (Ari Ozawa) is one such supporter. When her local Best is forced out of action for a while, she and three other girls take it upon themselves to travel the country in order to help other gangs that were seeking the Best’s help.

This action comedy is the first original anime from Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Hoozuki no Reitetsu). I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this show based on the promotional materials aside from cute girls riding motorcycles, so the premiere took me by (very pleasant) surprise. The Rolling Girls is a riot of color and energy, with gorgeous art direction and flashy action sequences. So far I’m adoring the whimsical, wacky tone and colorful cast, and Nozomi herself is working well as a likable everyman in a world too vibrantly absurd to fully absorb yet. After the first two episodes it’s hard to tell where the series is heading, but if it remains as entertaining as the premiere (and if Wit can keep up the production quality, God help them), it will be a must-watch this season.

For fans of: Kyousougiga, Yozakura Quartet, Sekai Seifuku, Kill la Kill, colors

Watch it now on Hulu

 

Yatterman Night / Yoru no Yatterman

After years of fighting, the masked hero Yatterman defeated and exiled the thieving Doronbo gang and founded the peaceful Yatter Kingdom. Young Leopard (Eri Kitamura, unfortunately at her most irritating), a descendent of the exiled Doronbo gang, has grown up hearing tales of Yatterman’s heroism. One day an encounter with denizens of the Yatter Kingdom leads her to believe that all is not as it seems—rather than heroes, the Yatterman are unjust and cruel. Swearing to punish the Yatterman for their evil ways, she takes up the mantle of her ancestor Doronjo, leader of the Doronbo gang. Assisting her are the decedents of Doronjo’s right-hand men, Boyacky (the delightful Hiroaki Hirata) and Tonzra (Kenta Miyake). Together, the three enter Yatter Kingdom, intent on dismantling Yatterman’s unjust rule.

Yatterman Night is a spinoff of the venerable action comedy franchise Yatterman, which originally aired between 1977 and 1979 (and is certainly not required viewing for this show). The original series chronicles the antics of an extremely goofy gang of thieves (think Team Rocket levels of incompetent, petty villainy) that is continually thwarted by the Yatterman, a masked boyfriend-girlfriend duo that outsmarts Doronbo’s silly plots and wacky mechanical contraptions with seventies fashion and giant robot dogs.

Yatterman Night, on the other hand, seems like some kind of strange postmodern take on the whole concept. By having the trio assume the identities of their long-dead ancestors, this show has managed to transport all the trappings of the original 1977 series—cartoony costumes, catchphrases, etc—into a semi-realistic setting where the characters affect them as conscious anachronisms. It’s an odd juxtaposition for sure, but it’s also surprisingly fun and interesting. It helps that the show is pretty stylish visually, with excellent animation from Tatsunoko (Ping Pong, Muromi-san) for the first two episodes. If the idea of well-animated fights with robots dressed in bellbottoms appeals to you, I recommend you get in on what looks to be an intriguing ride this season.

For fans of: Casshern Sins, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Samurai Flamenco, fashion jumpsuits

Watch it now on Hulu

 

Yurikuma Arashi

In the far reaches of space, the planet Kumalia has exploded, causing a meteor shower to rain down on earth. For some reason, this made all of the bears in the world rise up, assume human intelligence, and feast on cute girls (NASA never warned us about this). A human schoolgirl, Kureha Tsubaki (Nozomi Yamane), falls in love with her friend Sumika (Yui Ogura) and swears that she will not back down on her feelings, but is devastated when Sumika is attacked and killed by bears. Meanwhile two bears, Ginko (Miho Arakawa) and Ruru (Yoshiko Iruta), infiltrate the school disguised as girls to look for a delicious human meal.

Where to even begin with Yurikuma Arashi. This fantasy drama is brought to us by the idiosyncratic mind of director Kunihiko Ikuhara (Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum), and has plenty of his hallmarks. Stock footage of endless winding staircases? Check. Character catchphrases? Double check (shaba-da-doo). Abstruse symbolism? Got it in spades. Visually, the show is definitely worth a look: though the character designs are themselves a bit bland, the show features gorgeous, detailed backgrounds and Ikuhara’s quirky directorial style, which I very much enjoy. After three episodes, this show is certainly in the realm of “challenging and interesting”: Ikuhara is working with some heavy themes, and if we began to speculate now about what he’s trying to say about lesbians, societal disapproval, female sexuality, and bears we’d be here the rest of the day. That said, I’m not sure it’s in the realm of “entertaining” or even “comprehensible.” Like most Ikuni projects, you’re just going to have to go along for the ride on this one.

For fans of: Mawaru Penguindrum, Revolutionary Girl Utena, violence against bears

Watch it now on Hulu

 

Maria the Virgin Witch / Junketsu no Maria

During the Hundred Year War, witches from both England and France take part in the conflict. Maria (Hisako Kanemoto), an idealistic young witch, hates the war and the constant battles around her. Along with her familiars, a succubus named Artemis (Youko Hikasa) and an incubus named Priapos (Mikako Komatsu), she uses her magic to stop battles on both sides and protect her friends. Meanwhile, Maria’s supernatural intervention draws the ire of the Catholic church and agents of heaven itself.

Based on a manga from Masayuki Ishikawa (author of Moyashimon), this raunchy historical comedy is so far surprisingly decent. The setting itself is rather novel, and the show has so far been well paced and fairly funny. As you can imagine with a succubus and incubus amongst the cast, most of the humor revolves around sex (and for mysterious reasons all the witches in medieval France have the fashion sense of a modern dominatrix), but there is also an undercurrent of seriousness, as Maria sets herself in opposition to an impotent and corrupt church and a God that she believes has abandoned humanity. At this point I’m unsure whether the show is trying to make any concrete statement on these topics, or how Maria will ultimately balance its bawdy humor with some of the more serious theological implications it’s raising, but I’m entertained enough to keep watching for now.

For fans of: Moyashimon, Rage of Bahamut, medieval peasants

Watch it now on Hulu

 

What are you watching this winter? Let us know in the comments!


Kelly Quinn has watched the Death Parade opening more times than she cares to admit here. She can also be found on Twitter.

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