Summer 2017 Anime Hits, Maybes And Misses: Altair, Made In Abyss And Welcome To The Ballroom

What's in your queue?
made in abyss summer anime season 2017 episode 1 review
Made in Abyss, an anime adapted from a manga by Akihito Tsukushi. (c) Kinema Citrus Studio

The summer 2017 anime season is now well underway, which means it’s no longer time for episode 1 reviews. Now that we’re four, five, even six episodes into these shows, it’s time to judge. Did Made in Abyss brilliant episode 1 presage a sudden, sharp decline? Did the terrible first episode of Vatican Miracle Examiners somehow lift itself up from disgrace? Did the promising episode 1 of Elegant Yokai Apartment Life live up to what it could be?

Let’s find out by assigning each show a verdict: “Hit” for the top-tier shows and conversation starters, “Maybe” for fun shows that you can live without if you haven’t got the time or it’s not to your taste, and “Miss” for the shows you just don’t need on your queue.

Altair: A Record of Battles

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VERDICT: MAYBE

Altair: A Record of Battles is still a low-rent Heroic Legend of Arslan. But Arslan is a high bar, and the show’s not bad. Altair becomes a more appealing character the more we learn about him, his past and his struggles, and his struggle between his heart and the seriousness of his role as Pasha is interesting to watch. The Turkish-inspired setting is unique enough to add a dash of extra interest.

Unfortunately, this show just cannot seem to get its political pacing quite right: things move way too slow until they suddenly move way too fast. Its emotional thermometer's a bit off too. If you ran through Arslan and want more political intrigue in a vaguely Persian setting, Altair might be worth a try, but it’s a pretty lukewarm follow-up.

Made In Abyss

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VERDICT: HIT

Made in Abyss is the season’s clear winner by several miles. Like, if every show in the entire anime season was hanging out in the Marianas Trench, Made In Abyss would be surfing the damn exosphere, merging with interplanetary space.

The real star of the show may be the titular Abyss, a gaping, massive crater that goes down so deep, no one has ever plumbed its depths. The whole setting rotates around the Abyss both literally and figuratively: the city of Orthos is built around it, the city’s economy and society are focused on the explorers who plumb its depths for ancient and valuable Relics, and both of our main characters, Riko and Reg, are tied inextricably to its secrets.

The mystery of the Abyss drives everything about the plot: did Reg really come from those unmapped depths? What even is Reg? What is each, increasingly more dangerous layer of the Abyss like? What really happened to Riko’s mother? Can Riko and Reg possibly survive their dangerous journey into the Abyss? The Abyss is a truly tantalizing place whose mystery is more than juicy enough to sustain the story.

The music of Made in Abyss suits every scene perfectly, driving urgency into tense scenes and adding whimsy to light-hearted moments. The character design looks like nothing else this season. The animation of things like Reg’s arms or a beastly creature swooping through the sky is seamless. The background work is especially beautiful, with a watercolor feel that grounds everything with a magnificent sense of place necessary for an anime where the setting is literally everything.

Our main characters, Riko and Reg, complement each other well; Riko is energetic, expressive, brave and smart, while Reg is quiet, adaptable and just as courageous. You really care for these children and are invested in their survival as they progress on their formidable journey, one whose dangers will only increase.

If you skip everything else this season, don’t miss Made in Abyss. People will be talking about this one for a while to come.

Welcome to the Ballroom

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VERDICT: MISS

Welcome to the Ballroom is the season’s biggest disappointment, for one major reason…

They don’t animate the dance scenes!

Yes, there are a few horrifying shots of giraffe-necked, colt-limbed humanoids in dramatic positions, a few seconds of footwork here and there, but Welcome to the Ballroom must be saving its budget for some extraordinary finale, because neither of the two spots where I would expect incredible dance animation have delivered (the video our lead watches that convinces him to join the dance studio, and his first dance at an event). Talk about this being no Yuri on Ice.

On top of that, I don’t like the characters. Our protagonist is good-natured and dumb and, frankly, bland. His whole “I need direction” schtick bores me. There doesn’t really feel like there’s much force of personality or interest behind it; his obsessive turn into dance, especially in the hands of a teacher as incompetent as Sengoku, is hard to take seriously.

Sengoku, by the way, sucks. He shouldn’t be running a dance studio considering the resentment he shows his student and his lack of interest in actually teaching him. The pretty girl remains nothing but a prize for our protagonist to win: his reward for being good enough is getting to dance with her, and she obediently coos and gasps over his growth and skills.

Like it or not, Welcome to the Ballroom was heavily hyped pre-season, so a lot of folks are talking about it. But I think it’s weak as a sports show and as a show about dance, and early comparisons to Yuri on Ice only hurt it. I can’t get over the body horror-esque aspects of the dance scenes, either. Who put all these Gumby people in an anime? It’s a no for me, dawg.

Stay tuned for more mid-season anime reports, and don't miss out on our previous ones, either.

Is there an anime not on this list that we should all be giving a shot? What’s the state of your anime queue? What are you watching faithfully each week? What do you plan to ignore? Are you really mad at my terrible choices or are you relieved someone finally said it? Turn on your location, I just want to talk. Follow me on Twitter at @ndmedinaaa, follow us at @PlayerDotOne and feel free to chat about the current anime season in the comments section below.

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