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Flip Flappers

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A lot of hopes were pinned on Flip Flappers before it aired. Based on early art and trailers, it looked to have the same vibrant, intelligent and novel appeal of Kyousou Giga, a series that charmed the pants off many fans and is something of an under-appreciated gem. There simply aren’t enough shows out there that dare to be as daring, so anything even hinting in that direction is welcomed with open arms. This doesn’t always work out – Rolling Girls had a similar reception only reinforced by its earliest episodes, but ultimately disappointed in a major way. ‘Cautious optimism’ summarises most attitudes going into Flip Flappers; hopeful for its promise but aware of the potential for failure.

The first episode delivered in a big way. It was supremely energetic and sweet, fiercely imaginative and creative, and stunningly animated and presented – but so was Rolling Girls. Unlike Rolling Girls, Flip Flappers sustained this. It never ran out of ideas, never started dragging its heels, and never compromised on anything that made it stand out. Not content with that, it also displayed a great deal of depth and intelligence, and while that only emerged a few episodes in it quickly became apparent that it was hidden in plain sight from the beginning.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 is more Hibike! Euphonium. And I mean this in the truest sense of the word – it is a direct continuation of the first season, and if you liked that I’m hard pressed to find reasons why you’ll dislike this.

Specifically, it’s more of the incredible second half of the first season – that is, loaded with intimacy, emotion and feeling. Much of the first season was devoted to Kumiko and Reina, with the two only connecting in the second half. This second season has the two as close friends throughout (as if they’re only friends…), so we get so many of those wonderful, quiet, close moments the two shared. And with that relationship thoroughly established, the show takes the opportunity to really dive into the supporting cast – Taki, Asuka and Reina are explored and fleshed out into much more depth, and with Kumiko being involved in everything we get a lot of growth and development out of her too. It’s a take on the Hibike! Euphonium cast only afforded by the familiarity already garnered, and the emotional payout we get from it is tremendous.

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Gi(a)rlish Number

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Shirobako’s insider look at the animation industry, specifically the inner working of the animation studios, earned it widespread acclaim. It was a rare look at something most know little about, and combined with its delightful characters was an absolute joy to watch. Sure, it wasn’t shy about showing the difficulties you have to go through to complete a series, but it was still ultimately a love letter to the medium rooted in optimism and idealism.

In stomps Gi(a)rlish Number and laughs from the bottom of its cold, jaded, heart. It casts a cynical eye on the industry from the seiyuu’s perspective and does nothing to hide its sardonic attitude. Mockery of trashy, generic light novels, troubled production, garbage producers, the bullshit voice actresses are put through in the name of promotion, and more besides are commonplace and from no angle is the industry framed in a positive light.

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Occultic;Nine

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The Semi;Colon meta-franchise is back with Occultic;Nine, and this time it’s seemingly openly embracing the paranormal instead of going full-on science! The drama and conspiracies haven’t gone anywhere, mind you, and it’s far from a rejection of the pseudo-science that defines the meta-franchise.

256 corpses appear in a nearby lake; Yuuta Gamon, a high school student who runs a blog on the paranormal (with the aim of making a living off the ad revenue), sees it as a golden opportunity for his site. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in something far bigger and far more mysterious – along with 8 other individuals across all stripes.

In a first for the Semi;Colon ‘franchise’, Occultic;Nine started life as a light novel, not a visual novel. This, in tandem with a premise rooted in the supernatural and otherworldly, very clearly sets it apart from its predecessors. So how does it stack up?

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WWW.Working!!

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WWW.Working!!, an adaptation of Takatsu Karino’s webcomic, sits side-by-side with Working!! with the same premise but different characters – that is, it’s also a workplace comedy following the dysfunctional staff at a branch of the Wagnaria family restaurant chain. There’s no direct connection between the two series, but if you’ve seen Working!! then this will be comfortably familiar. The sense of humour remains the same, the characters are still anything but normal, and the romantic elements will sneak up and charm you all over again.

Yet it remains resolutely different. There are few characters that occupy the same functional role, and when they do they’re only minor characters, so you won’t be getting déjà vu anytime soon. This opens up a lot of new ground to explore in a setup that had already been covered extensively (or at least as much as you can get out of a workplace sitcom), ideally giving you more Working!! but from a fresh, new perspective! But different does not mean better, and WWW.Working!! is saddled with quite a few issues…

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Lostorage Incited WIXOSS

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The first WIXOSS series – the combination of Selector Infected WIXOSS and Selector Spread WIXOSS – really surprised me. It was far better than I expected, with heavy atmosphere, strong characterisation, and a genuine sense of dread. Expectations were low – it was essentially a Madoka-like trying to hawk a trading card game – but it surpassed them with ease.

It was a complete, self-contained story with a very specific concept closely connected with the premise of the card game itself. It didn’t leave room for natural and constructive expansion – so I was left wondering what Lostorage Incited WIXOSS would actually be accomplishing when it was announced. What direction would it go in? What would it try to do differently? Can it make itself stand out from its predecessor? Or, more likely, would it be stuck in Selector’s shadow, existing as an uninspired continuation of the TCG’s marketing? Mari Okada’s absence only raised concerns further, as her mark was all over Selector in a very positive way.

The good: it quickly made itself clear that it had few to zero links to the original beyond roughly the same premise. It was at least leaving the original alone, and trying to stand as its own thing. The bad? Well…

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Yuri!!! on Ice

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If the ‘fujoshi-friendly’ sports anime genre hasn’t reached its logical conclusion with Yuri!!! on Ice it is certainly working its way there. Kuroko no Basket, Free!, Haikyuu!! and many more all depict male relationships with heightened emotion, intimacy and intensity; the close trust and fierce rivalries in  sports provide a natural framework for this. And with those levels of emotion, intimacy and intensity, it becomes easy for fans to read romance and love into those relationships if they so choose – hence their large female and gay male fanbases. The attractive, athletic schoolboys certainly don’t hurt either!

But those romantic readings are still just fan readings. They’re no doubt at least somewhat intentionally cultivated, but there’s no real canonicity to it, and it’s far from a narrative focus. They hint and tease, but leave anything further to your imagination.

And then along comes Yuri!!! on Ice and blows the doors wide open by making every implicit allusion an explicit action, by putting a heavily and overtly romantic lens over the entire show, by dropping damn near every semblance of ambiguity and leaving only the most negligible semblance of plausible deniability (and grasping on to that requires a far greater reach than the alternative). And it does all this while being a damn good series about a washed-up figure skater working to become a world champion under the tutelage of his lifelong idol!

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