Winter 2016 Anime Preview: What the Heck Is “Rakugo”?

The winter anime season is cracking along, and with a few episodes of new shows under our belts, it’s time to carry on with the keepers and drop the duds back into the 2D oblivion from whence they came. In addition to some strong carryovers from fall, such as Haikyu!! and Osomatsu-san, winter sees some highly anticipated continuations (Akagami no Shirayukihime, GATE, Durarara!!) as well as the usual slew of new stuff. This season is shaping up to be a bit of an odd one, with two runaway favorites dominating the conversation while the rest of the season floats somewhere between “not bad” and “please don’t make we watch another five minutes of this.”

As usual, we’ve picked the best of the new anime for your viewing pleasure, from a not-to-be-missed fantasy thriller to a peculiar comedy featuring Japanese candy. Simulcasts are just a click away, so snuggle up in that down comforter and check out our five top picks for winter!

 

ERASED / Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

winter_bokumachi

Twenty-nine-year-old Satoru Fujinuma dreams of being a manga artist, but, after repeated rejections, scrapes by as a pizza delivery driver in Tokyo. Increasingly, his mundane life has been interrupted by a strange supernatural phenomenon in which he suddenly finds himself sent back a few minutes in time in order to prevent some death or disaster around him. When someone close to him is killed, Fujinuma is once again thrust into the past—but this time, not by minutes, but decades. Fujinuma awakens eighteen years in the past as an elementary schooler, just weeks before a childhood classmate, Kayo Hinazuki (voiced by Aoi Yuki), was kidnapped and killed. Now Fujinuma (Shinnosuke Mitsushima as an adult, Tao Tsuchiya as a child) must not only save Hinazuki, but discover how the murder in his past is connected to the terrible events of his present.

This seinen thriller, based on a highly regarded manga by Kei Sanabe, was widely anticipated going into winter season, and after three episodes I can certainly see why. The introspective Fujinuma leads a fascinating cast of fully realized characters brought to life by strong voice talent (Shinnosuke Mitsushima and Tao Tsuchiya play especially well off of each other as the adult and child Fujinuma). Excellent direction and pacing from Noitamina veteran Tomohiko Ito (Silver Spoon, Sword Art Online), along with polished art and expressive animation, make this show a pleasure to watch. Best of all, BokuMachi’s gripping plot and tense atmosphere leave viewers craving the next episode every week—this is the kind of show that makes you want to marathon the whole thing in one go. I’m not sure if I can write more about this one without spoilers, so suffice it to say that BokuMachi is very good indeed so far. If you watch one show this season, make it this one.

For fans of: Steins;Gate, Death Parade, Subete ga F ni Naru

Watch it now on Crunchyroll, Hulu, or Daisuki.

 

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

 

winter_rakugoshinjuu

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju begins with the release of a young delinquent (Tomokazu Seki) from prison. Although he has nothing but the clothes on his back—and those only recently acquired—he is determined to track down Yuurakutei Yakumo (Akira Ishida), a respected master of rakugo (a form of traditional comedic storytelling), in order to become his student. Yakumo has consistently refused to take apprentices, but when the young man, who he nicknames “Yotaro,” explains how he fell in love with rakugo whilst watching Yakumo perform at the prison, the master shocks everyone by taking the ex-con as his first student. Yotaro soon comes to realize that the master he admires is a man haunted by the past, and that his reasons for accepting him as a student may be entwined with the tragic death of his closest friend and colleague, Sukeroku (Koichi Yamadera).

This lush historical drama is adapted from an award-winning josei manga by Haruko Kumota. Rakugo Shinju is the kind of anime we are not treated to often: mature, measured, and deliberate, this show is very much focused on the human drama of its small cast, and is content to take its time creating atmosphere and dwelling on its characters’ smallest conversations and gestures. Director Mamoru Hatakeyama (Sankarea) skillfully uses the “camera” to direct viewers’ attention during the rakugo scenes, bringing the stories to life even for those totally unfamiliar with this kind of performance. An outstanding veteran voice cast, including Tomokazu Seki (Sagara Sousuke, Shinya Kougami), Akira Ishida (Kaworu Nagisa, Koutaro Katsura), Koichi Yamadera (Spike Spiegel) and Megumi Hayashibara (Rei Ayanami, Lina Inverse), further bolsters this impressive production. Although the pacing in the double-length first episode is a bit disjointed (it was apparently cut down from a longer OVA), Rakugo Shinju hits its stride in the second and third episodes and shows no signs of any drop in quality. Another one not to be missed this season.

For fans of: Sakamichi no Apollon, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, House of Five Leaves, the obligatory Joshiraku

Watch it now on Crunchyroll.

 

Dagashi Kashi

winter_dagashikashi

Kokonotsu Shikada (Abe Atsushi), known to his friends as Coconuts, lives in a small rural town with his father, who owns a shop that sells dagashi: small snacks and sweets beloved of children with pocket money to burn. While Kokonotsu’s father dreams of his son taking over the family shop, Kokonotsu has ambitions of becoming a famous manga artist (seeing a pattern this season?), and is determined to leave his small town—and his father’s dagashi shop—in the dust. Kokonotsu’s life is turned upside down (surprise!) when Hotaru Shidare (Ayana Taketatsu), the eccentric daughter of a famous candy manufacturer, arrives at his father’s shop.

Dagashi Kashi is bog standard shounen romcom fare at heart, with its unique angle obviously coming from its focus on obscure Japanese candy. How much you enjoy this show will really depend on how amusing you find Hotaru’s bizarre antics and how interested you are in learning about foreign snacks—but as of the first three episodes, both of those things are working pretty well for me. Hotaru’s complete and utter weirdness keeps things unpredictable and entertaining enough to get a few laughs out of me each week, and so far the adaptation of Kotoyama’s manga by animation studio feel. (which I’m apparently not allowed to capitalize) has been consistent and well executed. Dagashi Kashi is worth a look for anyone in the mood for a light and wacky comedy.

For fans of: Jitsu wa Watashi wa, Seto no Hanayome, Majimoji Rurumo, Mysterious Girlfriend X

Watch it now on Daisuki or Hulu.

 

Dimension W

winter_dimension w

In the year 2072, the discovery of the W dimension has allowed the monopolistic New Tesla corporation to provide the world with an unlimited source of energy, extracted and distributed in the form of small devices called coils. Along with the officially distributed coils, there exists a black market for illegal coils, which tap into a dangerous amount of Dimension W’s power. Kyouma Mabuchi (Daisuke Ono), a grumpy luddite with a passion for classic cars, is a Collector who makes a living recovering such illegal coils from the criminals who use them. When a collection job gets Kyouma involved with Mira (Reina Ueda), a unique android created by the secretive founder of New Tesla, Kyouma finds himself with a new and unlikely partner.

This seinen science fiction show is based on a manga by Yuji Iwahara, who will be known to most as the character designer for Darker Than Black. Indeed, the Darker Than Black vibes are strong here in more ways than one, given the near-future setting and the loner protagonist that uses knives and wires as his weapons of choice. Said protagonist is—so far, at least—a rather dull curmudgeon who brings little of interest to the show; on the other hand, I find myself liking Mira more and more, and hope she continues to take center stage as the show progresses. Relatively new animation studio 3hz and 3DCG studio Orange bring some nice visual flair to this series under the direction of veteran Kanta Kamei (Usagi Drop, Nanana’s Buried Treasure), and suggestions of an overarching plot promise to raise the stakes soon enough. A solid, if not groundbreaking, sci-fi action series to follow this season.

For fans of: Darker Than Black, Psycho-Pass, Tetsuwan Birdy Decode, Un-Go

Watch it now on Funimation or Hulu.

 

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash / Hai to Gensou no Grimgar

winter_grimgar

Haruhiro (Yoshimasa Hosoya) awakes one day in the RPG-like world of Grimgar, with no memory of how he got there or his life before he arrived. Though he soon meets other people, like him, they remember nothing but their own name. Haruhiro and his friends are told to form a party, learn fighting techniques, and kill enemies as part of the city’s volunteer guard, but do any of the them have the skills—or the nerve—to do what it takes to to survive in their new world?

Yes, I am also surprised to see this light novel adaptation make my list this season, not least because it is about the 492nd iteration of the “oh dear, we’re living in an MMORPG” premise we’ve seen in the last few years. Granted, this show is more visually enticing than some of its generic cousins: director Ryosuke Nakamura (Aiura) and A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, GATE) have bestowed Grimgar with lovely watercolor backgrounds, a soft palette, and some skillfully animated scenes. But the main reason this show is here is that, after three episodes, I’m still rather interested in finding out what exactly this show is try to do with the genre. So far, Grimgar has been subdued and contemplative, punctuated by surprisingly brutal moments as the protagonists struggle their way through an alien landscape that none of them seem particularly equipped to deal with. Add in the mystery of how the cast arrived in the world, and I’m beginning to wonder if Grimgar is aiming to be the Haibane Renmei of the stuck-in-a-video-game genre. Or perhaps just a sincere effort to bring awareness to the suffering of virtual goblins. Whatever it is, for those looking for something somewhat different in a pretty tired genre, Grimgar may be intriguing enough to try this season.

For fans of: Sword Art Online, Accel World, Btooom!, Log Horizon, No Game No Life, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Overlord, GATE, KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Watch it now on Hulu or Funimation.

 

Nothing here catch your eye? Check out the full winter roster here, and be sure to let us know what you’re watching this season in the comments!

Kelly Quinn recommends everyone who hasn’t picked up Osomatsu-san yet rethink their decisions. Tell her how bad her taste is on Twitter.

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