It's that time again, roughly three weeks into the new 2015 winter season, so I'll offer some thoughts about the current season's offerings.
First off, we have five (count 'em) of these this season. If you've watched more than a dozen anime shows, you know what I'm talking about. A high school boy has special magic powers, rounding up a harem of high school girls (with the occasional loli and older woman) with normal magic powers, fighting evil, saving the day, and getting into all sorts of accidents with the girls.
These shows all tend to be light novel adaptations, with a minor budget, released to advertise the original material. Their quality tends to vary somewhere between mediocre and average.
Here's what we have:
The titles really emphasize the chuuni fantasy embodied by this genre: we have alternate readings in two of the titles, and every single title has katakana. Three of them are in the form "something の foreign fantasy word".
Isuca started rather late into the season, and so only the first episode has aired so far. There's a high school girl who wields a bow and seals monsters with magic, and a high school boy who seems to have inherited Touma's magic cancelling abilities and Rito's miraculous falling abilities: in the first episode, he has managed to pull of the Master level skill "fall on top of girl and land with girl's panties on top of face". In the setting, monsters drain people's life force in exchange for "the ultimate pleasure". The main heroine has already managed to lose all her clothes, all in the first episode. Yes, this is that kind of show, for better or worse.
Our second show is Absolute Duo. In this world there is a special power called Blaze (fantasy setting, check). High school students who are compatible with it enter a school to train as assassins. The school itself serves as a research facility for this power. Blaze allows one to manifest one's soul as a weapon, although the main character is an Irregular and instead wields a shield as his Blaze (special MC power, check). The students form into pairs to work cooperatively for the duration of their school life; the MC is paired with with a silver-haired Swedish beauty, who doesn't mind sharing a room with the MC wearing only an unbuttoned shirt and sharing a bed, even (fanservice, check). Both of them seem to have a dark past and are seeking vengeance (Avengers, according to the show's terminology).
The setting for this one is that children who have memories of past lives are able to wield magic and are trained in order to fight the monsters called Metaphysicals. This one's relatively lighter on fanservice, but the male main character is special as expected, possessing memories of two past lives and thus is capable of single-handedly annihilating a Metaphysical that would have required a hundred people to defeat, and has one girl in each arm, one from each past life. Thus, it well deserves its place here.
We've already gone over three of these, so even non-anime-watchers should be familiar with the drill by now. An exiled demon slayer boy with some special power has a cute demon lord successor and a succubus adopted into his family, and he fights to protect them from demon assassins. He also meets his childhood friend, a cute girl of course. Thanks to a pact that causes said demon lord girl to go into heat whenever she betrays the MC (did I mention that she's a tsundere?), much service is to be had.
Finally, last one. Our setting this time is a world under attack by Dragons with dark matter powers, and human girls, called Ds who gained the same powers. The Ds are sheltered from attack, as the Dragons are attracted to them. Again, the male lead is special in that he is the only male D. Descartes jokes inbound.
Generally, these kinds of shows are fairly unnoteworthy and tend to be mediocre, although I personally enjoy watching them to satisfy my inner child, as well as for their music and fantasy settings. However, this season is interesting because with so many of them airing simultaneously, it's much easier to examine the state of the anime industry at a single point in time.
Absolute Duo is noteworthy in that it's not really a harem; there's a clear main heroine and the original LN notwithstanding, I'll be surprised if the show ever pairs the MC with anyone other than his Swedish beauty. The show also began with a light fake-out, introducing us to a nice girl who was promptly eliminated from the school's entrance exam and will never appear again.
Shinmai Maou no Testament seems to take itself more seriously. It doesn't quite fit the standard fantasy ecchi harem template, in that its writer can be said to have made an effort toward writing an original plot, although it seems to be hitching a ride on the recent benevolent female demon lord bandwagon (see Hataraoku Maou-sama! and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha).
Unlimited Fafnir is dumping mythological terms as often as it can (Mjolnir, Midgar, Caduceus, Brionac, Gungnir, Necronomicon, Aegis, Brynhildr, Muspelheim, Marduk, Babel), so it's a good chance to get in some tangential learning if you like mythology (but it makes full use of its artistic license, so don't expect historical accuracy).
Again, I can't say much about Isuca as it began airing late, but somehow it feels like a VN adaptation rather than an LN adaptation, and indeed, when I checked right now, I see that it's a manga adaptation, which is quite rare, I think. It's an old series starting in 2009 with only five volumes to date, perhaps explaining its 10 episode season.
That about wraps up the fantasy harem quintet for this season. As this post is getting long, I'll go over some of the other shows at a later date.
Continued in part 2.