Hey, everybody, and welcome back to For Great Justice! The world may be continuing to go to shit, but the Anime Gods have been benevolent this year, and as we approach the halfway point of the spring season, Yata and Haru strapped down to make their positions clear on some of the season’s biggest shows. Which sequels have held up their hype? Which new entries appear to be the cream of the crop? And the most important question of all: is alcohol poisoning actually preferable to watching Eromanga-Sensei? The answers to all these questions and more lie below. Let’s jump on in.
Alice & Zouroku is a tale of two conflicting goals: one is to show the day-to-day life of Sana as she adapts to living with the Kashimuras outside the research facility. The other, at least for the show’s first arc, was to bring her back by force, and to showcase the series’ thriller capabilities as a result.
There was just one problem with that approach: the show looks fucking terrible when it tries to amp up the action. The emotional tension is at the forefront, making the poor cinematography and disruptive CG at least slightly more bearable, but it can’t be denied that the show’s big action sequences in episode 5 were atrociously directed. It probably didn’t help for many viewers that much of the series’ magic and logic seemed developed by whimsy. While I don’t think any of it actually contradicts itself, it certainly isn’t the most straightforward stuff to explain; people who became Dreams of Alice developed the ability to materialize objects and manipulate physics, basically. Sana herself isn’t even human, but the manifestation of the energy behind this process, and while the research facility wants to convert this abstract power into marketable energy and the government just wants to keep an eye on it for now, Sana simply wants to be human.
Unlike say, WorldEnd, whose writing dragged me out of the experience, Alice’s is centered on the hook that Sana can live a “normal” life as long as she’s genuinely cared for, and that message is at the core of everything the show attempts, be it slice-of-life fun and games or the hostage attack of the series’ early episodes. It’s able to make this work because its characters are a genuinely lovable bunch: Sana has all the curiosity and insecurities of a normal little kid, Zouroku and Sanae’s kindhearted, humble demeanors prevent them from only being comic relief characters (though they’re decent in that role too), and the government-backed retrieval team of Ichijou and Naito add their own dashes of personality to the picture. As conniving as many of her actions were, Minnie C was also a decent antagonist for the show’s first arc; by tying together her motive of potentially retrieving her lost husband again and her mission to take back Sana, the show was able to inject a sense of empathy into its most heartless individual.
My biggest question with Alice’s first half had less to do with the conflict itself as it did with the people behind it: Kito and the other kids had their own family dynamic of sorts, none of them coming off as purely villainous, but with their lot already out of the picture, it almost feels like they were just background fodder to justify having an early conflict in the first place. Those matters behind us already, if Director Katsushi Sakurabi can continue to deliver on Sana’s charming adaptation to family the same way he did with the cast of last year’s Flying Witch, I don’t really care where else the show goes from here. It’ll probably introduce some new antagonists and extraneous conflicts, but as long as Alice’s heart stays true, I’ll be there with it. It and its junk food product placement have won me over too much to turn back now.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.
ANONYMOUS NOISE (FUKUMENKEI NOISE)
So uh, in our first impressions writeup at the beginning of this season, I stated that “Anonymous Noise is trash, and therefore I am trash for liking it.” Well, turns out I had cast that judgement far too soon — but in all fairness, that pilot was decidedly iffy by any standard. I had every reason to be skeptical given the train wreck of a high-school-punk-band show that preceded it the season before.
However, now that I’ve had six weeks to really take this show in, I am convinced that Noise is one of the better offerings of one of the most stacked seasons I’ve seen in nearly two or three years. So how in the hell did it do it?
Well, start off with a cast of characters who all possess some degree of charm to them, with Yuzu and Alice being the huge standouts. We’ve been shown how much talent these two possess and their respective flaws, with Yuzu being physically unable to sing and Alice’s singing coming off as unrefined and wild, though I personally enjoy it. Even the bandmates have their charming moments, and nearly everyone has some sort of unrequited affection towards somebody else in this glorious love rhombus. Mix in the fact that this is one those shows where the dialogue just sort of flows, and we really have the makings of a winner.
I legitimately believed that this was going to be a non-stop barrage of angsty Evanescence wannabes just murdering everything with Hot Topic edgelord melodrama, but in reality, Anonymous Noise has been a rather light-hearted joker for the most part. The drama has been kept to a tolerable level thus far, with token jerk-ass Momo being the true root of most of it. Self-exiled ex-bandmate Miou has her dramatic bits here and there, especially regarding her somewhat endearing semi-friendly rivalry with Alice. Seriously, there’s bits all throughout where you’d think some big argument would break out, but most of the time these get defused (largely thanks to how oblivious Alice is) and resolve with a rational discussion.
There’s a degree of poise that Noise possesses as it uses these candid moments to resolve momentary drama while at the same time using those same bits to build towards the overarching plot. The comedic timing works well to balance the overall tone of the story, using a handful of running jokes (mainly at Yuzu’s expense) and simplified art to hammer it all home. Sometimes you don’t need fancy art (though it certainly does help) to adequately convey a narrative, and it’s rung true thus far for this show.
Unbelievably, Anonymous Noise appears to be something of an attempt by Brain’s Base to buck the trend of their shows getting uglier as they progress. Even the goofy style used for the character designs has grown on me. Yeah, yeah, you can dog on those awkward CG models and visual tomfoolery they used for In No Hurry’s performances all you like. Hell, the vast majority of the show features par-for-their-course art and animation, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t belt out a gorgeous scene (however short they may be) at least once or twice in an episode. Give me more scenes like this, please.
I’m hooked on this silly, silly show, guys. Anonymous Noise is very good, and it’s a crying shame a certain company is playing keep-away with this and its other titles. Check this out any way that you can.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes (fuck you, amazon)
THE ECCENTRIC FAMILY 2 (UCHOUTEN KAZOKU 2)
To no avail though, ’cause from its very first seconds, I’ve just been floored by how season 2 manages to retain the original’s charm with so many new characters, environments, and tensions thrown in the mix. Capitalizing on the strengths of an existing product is one thing, but adapting those strengths with cathartic reprisals of past events and a flawless grip on tone and mood is another entirely, and even if it comes at the price of Sakura Quest’s underwhelming effort so far (I’ll get to that later), I’d much rather have this be phenomenal than both of P.A. Works’ hit airing shows this season be average. Make no mistake, The Eccentric Family 2 is phenomenal. While it doesn’t seemingly contain one clear thread pulling everything together the way Souichirou’s death did in season one, this season is leaving us with no shortage of just as entertaining ideas and developments, all of which work marvelously on their own and may fit together as pieces of a currently foggy bigger puzzle just as well.
On one hand, we have the Nidaime, who won’t be granted that proper title by Akadama due to their bad blood despite overpowering Benten at every stand she makes against him. I adore how Benten’s fall from grace this season isn’t actually from grace; as far back as we can see, she’s always been an insecure, bitter person, and she projects this underneath her acquired strength. She’s long been framed in a position of power, which makes sense, as the story is told from a tanuki perspective and she and the Friday Fellows are an explicit threat to their existence, but Yasaburou’s fascination with her has made him fail to see through the guise she all too often puts up.
That all changed a few weeks ago, as he sees her broken and vulnerable with his own eyes for the first time. It’s a stunning scene, the kid following in tow as Akadama comforts her without sugarcoating any of the helplessness that she’s facing. Afterwards, the hierarchy hasn’t truly changed: Benten still gets cheap laughs fighting oni in Industrial Revolution Hell, for instance, but Yasaburou and the audience have now witnessed firsthand the limits of her indomitable charade. She can’t overpower Nidaime, and he wants what she looks poised to be given in his place. We don’t have a firm hold on Nidaime’s conscience either; from the look of things, he’s talked with the Ebisugawas, and there’s no telling what’s up their sleeves, or how far he’ll scheme with them if necessary.
Which brings us to the series’ other major player, that family’s too-far-gone patriarch Soun. Supposedly in cahoots with Tenmaya, a trickster with a grudge against Friday Fellows leader Jyurojin and no respect for just about anyone, the two appear just as likely to have some kind of deal worked out. Soun has abandoned his tanuki heritage with the goal of becoming a Friday Fellows member himself (and all the self-loathing cannibalism that implies), and since Tenmaya recently escaped from Hell himself and has a bone to pick with the group, it’s more likely than not that the two will take advantage of each other’s goals. Not exactly the most ideal of scenarios for the Shimogamo fam.
The details are limited at this point, but now that we know Soun isn’t completely out of the picture, the whole trajectory of the season has shifted. What was once about the dispute for Akadama’s inheritance has become something much more multifaceted, and that’s not even mentioning extra bountiful developments like Yaichirou’s budding relationship, Hotei being forced to take a research sabbatical as cover-up for a phony (?) scandal, or Yasaburou bummin’ around visiting old people like he always does. What sealed the deal for The Eccentric Family’s first season was its ability to naturally drag all its players to the same place for one final hectic climax. It was a true microcosm of the entire series’ power dynamics that forced each party involved to directly confront one another.
Having recently rewatched season one, I feel like this season already has both more elements in play and a less overt focus on any specific one of them, so I don’t know how the show will attempt to balance everything out in the end. I’d like to believe the franchise will keep up its track record and not falter, but if The Eccentric Family has taught me anything, it’s that all that can happen will. For the time being, I can’t deny my gut though; season two is fun, gripping, gorgeous to look at, and almost always makes for my favorite episode of anime every week. It’s truly back in the game. Fingers crossed all that idiot blood properly builds up to something and doesn’t leave us with too many loose ends.
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.
At Yata’s behest— and very much against my wishes— I have been summoned to write a very last-minute bit on the hype monster that is Eromanga-sensei. Aww, shit. I’m wondering whether or not it helped that I was half-inebriated as I watched the most recent entry in this stirring little saga, as my brief little flurry of live-tweets last night may or may not have indicated.
So… My Little Dumpster Fire Can’t Be This Entertaining, aka Eromanga-sensei. How bad could it possibly be?
Turns out, it’s pretty bad… yet I’m compelled to watch more. Big Order went a very long way in shorting out my previously low-to-zero tolerance level for crap like this. Even with the sheer amount of ridiculousness that’s already taken place in this show, Eromanga-sensei at the very least doesn’t leave me feeling like a piece of living filth after watching it, unlike that aforementioned literal war crime of an anime.
Yes, this is even after Megumi professing her love of dicks, or Masamune walking in on Elf Yamada playing piano in the nude in her home. Even after Masamune’s first confession to Sagiri, or after Sagiri removed the panties from a blindfolded and partially-bound Megumi, whose dirty girl act went up in flames as result.
Now we even have something of an unrequited love interest with the introduction of Senju Muramasa, an author younger than Masamune with a writing style similar to his, yet far more popular in terms of sales. For a single episode, she was the roadblock in the way of Masamune getting his newest work published, and she loses against him in a writing contest because of course he was going to win it all, if even by a technicality. I’m actually somewhat thankful they didn’t make an arc out of the stupid contest.
Fucking Christ, what is wrong with me? I couldn’t possibly be getting some bit of enjoyment out of this, right? Had this gone on any longer last night, I might’ve actually delved into the strong alcohol to make it all go away. You can pretend to tip-toe around the step-sisterfuckery all you want, author-san, but you’re not fooling anyone, not even drunk me. It’s kind of too bad, as Elf and Bookstore-chan are actually somewhat enjoyable characters.
I’m not gonna say anything as crass and condescending as “this is the reason people think anime is weird/creepy/whatever” but it’s surely not a good look. Yeah, sure, this is a pretty show, but an unhealthy story is an unhealthy story no matter how much polish you throw on it…
…and yet, I’m still going to fucking watch the next episode. Eromanga-sensei is anime heroin, and we’re all the addicts. I’ve rode out some bad, bad shows, and I’ll do it with this one, too.
Current score: 3.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes. (kill me)
GRIMOIRE OF ZERO (ZERO KARA HAJIMERU MAHOU NO SHO)
Grimoire of Zero did not get off to a smooth start, but now that we’re halfway through spring, I can confidently make the claim that it’s one of the new shows I look forward to most. Mercenary and Zero’s conversations are the stuff of flirty adventure gold; it’s absolutely adorable to watch them grow closer to each other over time, and the gang’s episodic escapades are also getting less and less contrived by the week. The show’s early moments may have used Albus’ naiveté as a crutch, blowing the trio’s cover and forcing the antagonist of the week to confront them head on, but as the series settles into its groove by introducing a proper antagonist of sorts, he has significantly less room to fuck up the mood. Good development.
Though I say “of sorts” there because as far as we know, Thirteen isn’t a clear cut antagonist. As the latest episode explained, there are three witch factions at play in Wenias: the Sorcerers of Zero, who follow the book our titular protagonist wrote, the Sorcerers of the State, whom Thirteen is in charge of, and the rogue witches, who are the closest thing to pure evil the show has given us yet. But these parties all have different goals: the Sorcerers of Zero want freedom for witches, the Sorcerers of the State want social calm and order, and the rogues…well, they’re genuinely pretty heartless. The point is they don’t mix well, and Albus’ knack for getting the group in deep shit is almost an extension for how the Sorcerers of Zero, well-intentioned as they may be, are only fueling the rest of the kingdom’s distaste for magic. Between this, the racial discrimination against beastfallen, and a political structure that sustains these problems, Grimoire has a ton of potentially interesting ground to cover, and although it’s only dipping its feet in it for now, it also hasn’t stumbled with its worldbuilding once, even throughout the series’ early corniness.
But if I’m being honest, the solid worldbuilding is only supplementary to the show’s biggest tug: the rapport of the two protagonists. Zero hints early on that she genuinely likes being around Mercenary, while the latter keeps getting flustered by her attempts to make their relationship anything greater than one between an employer and client. Mercenary’s hesitance to connect is understandable; he’s either been cast aside or indirectly hurt the people who have cared for him his whole life, which is something that the intelligent and sheltered Zero hasn’t experienced on a personal level. His actions suggest he enjoys this time traveling with her (Albus a little less so), but he also can’t just strip his past out of the equation, nor can he talk about it after lying to the others that he has amnesia. All it took was a little trickery by Thirteen to plant the seeds of doubt in his mind, and the couple’s first confrontation after that didn’t go too smoothly; Zero realized that while he was being manipulated, he also harbored enough uncertainty about their pact that Thirteen was easily able to trick him, and that lack of trust on his end understandably stung her, as she’s been nothing but honest with him this whole time. These two would make a great lil’ couple, bickering and shielded affection and all, but like any couple, the early stages of a relationship are fraught with miscommunication, and now that that’s here and adds a new, realistic layer to their dynamic, I am completely hooked on seeing where they end up.
Grimoire is far from the most ambitious or polished production this season, but its heart and well-roundedness concerning its narrative overcomes any other issues in its path. Its slow start may be a hurdle, but whereas I was on the fence with the show during first impressions (I only had one episode to work with then, after all), I can confidently say that sticking with it has paid off, an outcome that looks poised to continue throughout the second half of the season.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.
KADO: THE RIGHT ANSWER (SEIKAISURU KADO)
I had some catching up to do with Kado: The Right Answer this week; it was one of the few shows on my radar during first impressions that I ran out of time to cover, and with a mysterious premise that could’ve easily flopped, I figured I’d give it some time to prove its worth and then actually give it a shot if public reception seemed favorable. According to my poll results, it was, and…
…well, I can see why the few of you who answered it responded so strongly on its behalf. Kado is undoubtedly the best new show of the spring, a fascinating and surprisingly believable take on what would happen if a giant alien cube suddenly manifested itself on Earth, controlled by an even more enigmatic creature with the goal of “advancing” humanity using his handy inter-dimensional (“anisotropic”) technology.
Or as it took me nearly 7 episodes to figure out, it’s a fucking Angel.
But for all the unknowns in its loaded concept, the human, government-affiliated cast has acted nothing but realistically from the start. The show’s prequel, episode 0, gives us a little taste of what life was like for main negotiator Kojiro Shindo and his Watson-like sidekick Hanamori before the cube (Kado) appeared, and from that episode alone, you can clearly pick up on the sense that these bureaucrats know what they’re doing and take their work seriously. Without being emotionless husks, every character reacts to each new philosophical, scientific, and political obstacle with calculated teamwork, yet they still feel identifiable as individuals with their own additional goals and dispositions. By bouncing the humans’ unique ideologies off one another and Kado’s mastermind Yaha-kui zaShunina, the show gives us a pretty remarkable, down-to-earth take on what might happen if a government found itself in a quagmire of this magnitude, dealing with physics, intelligence, and morality the likes of which humanity has never seen.
But therein lies the caveat; as much as Kado appreciates great political drama, I get the feeling it’s completely ad-libbing everything based in science. In my humanities-inclined eyes, it’s earned the right to do that since the cast’s begrudging acceptance of the unknown adds fuel to the diplomatic fire, but I could certainly understand if someone more mathematically-informed can’t work around the (probably) bullshit jargon. Me though? As long as the in-universe explanations don’t retcon themselves, I’d much rather have the mechanics be made up than the character dynamics. Chalk it up to me being fascinated by the linguistic hulahoops and first contact-style miscommunication that the series heavily features or what have you, but I find it completely acceptable to keep what can be grounded in reality grounded and have a field day theorizing the rest.
And when I say “grounded,” I truly mean it; from top to bottom, the Japanese government in Kado is run like a well-oiled machine and the Prime Minister has largely aligned with Yaha-kui’s humanitarian bent, offering unprecedented transparency via the press and holding firm in his belief that Kado’s technology is like all technology, neither inherently good nor evil, and not the duty for one country to monopolize on if it can be helpful to humanity as a whole. Still, it’s dangerous to be in the hands of one nation, and the UN Security Council rather realistically threatens military action and economic sanctions against Japan if they don’t hand off the tech (in this case, “Wam,” an “infinite” energy source) to their jurisdiction. Tsukai, another negotiator on behalf of the government, airs her distrust of it completely, or at least humanity’s capacity to use it beneficially. Is anybody right? Is there even a right answer (hehe) to all of this?
Matters are made trickier when re-examining why Yaha-kui’s giving the Wam to mankind in the first place. While introducing this technology may be his initial means of establishing cordial contact with the rest of the world, his true goal is to “advance it,” and that alone should send glaring red flags to any seasoned sci-fi junkie, much less someone who’s more casual with the genre like myself. Giving us endless electricity is one resource problem solved, even if it results in some other economic trade-offs. But start getting a little more out there like he does when he suggests that humans should stop sleeping? I imagine many of us are a bit less of a fan there, not that his enlightened state would comprehend it.
That’s where most of Kado’s true conflict comes into play; it’s not the negotiations between parties which define this show as much as the tough questions it implores us to ask ourselves: at what point does “advancement” sacrifice the essence of humanity? Should we traverse that far or continue down the path we’re currently on? And do we as a species and a planet have the responsibility to tackle these queries collectively when the time comes, or will we continue to operate on a neoliberal, first-come first-serve basis?
These are the things I think about as I watch each episode of Kado, and while I don’t know which way the series will ultimately lean, I do know that I’ve enjoyed every second of it thus far. As a production, the CG is foregrounded reasonably well, with expressive body language compensating for the series’ general lack of crazy action and motion, and the backgrounds and foregrounds blend far more often than they clash. The few times they do look weird together, it mostly adds to the feeling of alienating unease that much of the series benefits from. My only real aesthetic concern is its repetitive score, and that’s not much to worry about when the rest of the material is this thought-provoking and entertaining. Maybe I’m just easily satisfied because it’s nice to see some political grace and my own country doesn’t look like it’ll supply me with any in the near future. But for real, if you can appreciate a well-written, slow-burning sci-fi drama and you’ve slept on Kado up until now, catch up. As far as I can tell, it’ll be worth it.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes, 7 including episode 0.
LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA (TV)
If the MAL average is anything to go by, Little Witch Academia has encountered a sustained decline in interest over the course of its second half. This kinda shocked me at first, as I’ve been more invested and engaged with the show lately than ever before. Talking with other bloggers, it seems like the general consensus is that the series’ first half was better at getting its themes across; there were less variables at play but each one had a clear bearing on whatever message the show was trying to send, be it a commentary on tradition vs. technology or an analogy for the strong-willed persistence of outsiders looking to become skilled in an art. Those goals, so the detractors say, are less prevalent in the second half, which has become much more side character-focused and overtly plot-driven, whereas a majority of the show’s earliest moments were centered around Akko bumbling around and making a fool of herself.
But does that explanation hold up? Whether it’s depicted through an artistic Yeti’s depression, witches breaking into the Hanbridge’s secular school, or the Cavendish family disputes, the same themes are clearly there, so it’s not the message that’s changed, but the style of delivery. To me, that’s what really shifted in the second half; where Akko’s own shenanigans and stress led much of the series’ initial momentum, it’s lately begun branching off into wilder adventures with additional themes, the common denominator being that they’re all pretty damn entertaining. Akko joining a socialist strike against her own school? Hilarious. Trekking through Finland for a cure to a disease that turns everyone into moss? Imaginative. Constanze channeling Gurren Lagann? It’s a Trigger show, you knew this was coming eventually, right? If the series’ first half was high on writing but low on creativity, the second has been the opposite; the scenarios have been a little sloppier, but they still contain morsels of points long since established and they’re far more invigorating than almost anything the first half could muster.
Some of the criticism is fair, though, mostly any relating to Little Witch’s antagonist, Croix. The problem isn’t so much that Croix is a poor antagonist, it’s that the show even has one in the first place. If LWA‘s first half had any resounding strengths, it’s that its “old vs. new” motif didn’t promote an idealized version of either philosophy, but a careful mixture of both. It recognized that too much of either would inherently undo Luna Nova, and it didn’t attempt to embody those extremes into individual characters. The content was strong enough to stand on its own, so adding Croix, who employs cartoonishly evil methods to drag information out of Akko and sweep her away from Ursula, just seems like overkill. Her introduction prompted Ursula to stop dawdling around and reveal to Akko the truth behind the Grand Triskelion (which has also given the series a refreshing, more immediate goal), and while that’s all fine and dandy, surely there were better ways it could’ve gone about it.
At the moment Croix is still mostly tinkering in the background, rarely receiving more spotlight than she’s worth each episode, but I have to admit that she hasn’t been handled in a particularly tactful way, and that’s the one lingering concern I have as the show moves into its final act. Aside from that, Little Witch Academia has never been as fun as it currently is, and while I’m a little nervous, I’m also thrilled to see how it’ll wrap everything up.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 19 episodes.
MY HERO ACADEMIA 2ND SEASON
As I sit here writing this, it’s the day after Mother’s Day, a time to reflect on all the love and guidance our moms have provided us with over the years. Not that I needed all those gifs of Deku’s mom crying from joy on my Twitter feed to remind me of the love at the heart of My Hero Academia, but those represent on a broader level why this franchise worked for me before and why it’s still working now.
Kind-heartedness is the blood pulsing through MHA’s veins, and that’s more evident than ever before with the Sports Festival. Because it’s a competition, there’s no true antagonist, just the whole hero class and beyond setting their sights high and hoping to get their foot in the door for later opportunities. Just because there isn’t any grand evil scheming doesn’t mean there aren’t hooks, and with an extended cast full of new, interesting characters too, the series has a broader group to work with than ever before. By contrasting the privileges handed down to the Hero class with the “keep your head down, just do good” vibe of the other UA branches, the series also offers us a look into the school’s operations, pointing out its own structural biases and asking if they’re really useful for getting the results they desire. So in other words, we can add standardized testing to the list of topics the show has gracefully provided social commentary on.
MHA is carried by the tide of its optimism most of the time, but just like in our world, not every aspiring hero grows up in an environment where they’re loved and appreciated. This season’s additional focus on Todoroki is another great point of contrast; unlike Deku, who was loved despite not having a Quirk for so long, Todoroki was planned from birth by his father, born into an unstable family with controlling parents who didn’t love one another. It’s interesting to think that his “rebellion” is in essence aiming to become a hero in the truest sense of the word: not after the prestige of beating his competition, but by helping people, even if that means denying the fiery half of himself in the process. Obviously to get there he has to cut down his classmates’ chances, but he’s long made his peace with that, and this tug of war between his own motivation and his father’s influence offers a point of reflection not just for the show in general, but for Deku and especially Bakugo, who overhears Todoroki’s story and is forced to ruminate on his own privileges and goals.
And through all this, the action itself has been mighty entertaining. My Hero Academia gets what makes superheroes so exciting: the nature of the people behind the mask and the diverse array of powers they control. This season has honed in on the spirit of heroism just as much as it has the strategy behind combat, and it’s been nothing but a fun, consistent ride. As we enter the one-on-one battles, I can only assume we’ll get more of both, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.
RAGE OF BAHAMUT: VIRGIN SOUL
If any single issue plagued Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, it was its single-cour time restraint. Its episodic first half was a thrill ride, but it didn’t space out or properly contextualize much of the more plot-oriented material in its second half.
As a 2-cour sequel, Virgin Soul has more time to work with and several recurring characters, so although it’s not going batshit crazy from the start, it’s rewardingly grounding its story in many of the exact ways Genesis couldn’t. That show thrived on the rule of cool, sometimes at the expense of well-articulated characterization. Virgin Soul has refused to make those same mistakes twice; it’s used its more ample time to follow its main new protagonist Nina on a day to day basis, and while yeah, she’ll kind of be essential to the story as it gets going, for the time being, it’s been an absolute blast to just watch her mess around and get dangerously horny.
Get it? Because she turns into a drago-
For real though, there’s something to be said about a character who I pause the episode for like 5 times per week just to take screenshots of. Rage of Bahamut is pretty experienced when it comes to silly facial expressions, but Nina’s are on another level entirely. Sumire Morohoshi has brought this character to life and beyond, and while the pace of Virgin Soul has been slow, Nina makes it feel like things are still progressing. Whether that’s by arm wrestling bystanders for a quick buck or selling food at a kiosk, she and the core protagonists always have something keeping them busy.
Not to say that there isn’t some serious conflict going on either; Azazel made good on his promise to lead a demon rebellion, essentially staging a series of terrorist attacks on the festival intended to celebrate the anniversary of Charioce’s victory over the other species. And in the lead-up to this, the human Lord perceived Kaisar’s moral waxing and waning on the matter as a liability, stripping the Orleans Knights of their bodyguard duty until the demon uprising blows over.
It may have taken a while to get here (and I’m admittedly skipping over a bunch of tertiary developments), but in the latest episode, Azazel finally made his move, but without securing Nina’s explicit word that she’d help. Things aren’t looking great for him right now, and it’s only a matter of time before all these cards come fully into play. Fortunately, “matters of time” are something Virgin Soul doesn’t seem to have a problem with. It may not be the most original action fantasy in the world, but it’s a damn thorough and consistently entertaining one.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.
Long story short: We’re what, like six episodes deep into Re:Creators now? I’m just six episodes in, and I already think this show is Troyca’s crowning achievement. Yeah, Sakurako’s Boner was okay-ish, but so far, Re:Creators is on a whole ‘nother level.
This is probably the most fascinating premise I’ve encountered in an original show: What if the beloved characters from fictional franchises across multiple forms and genres of media were to come to life and converge in the world of their creators, and what if they have a chance at influencing the outcomes of their stories via said creators?
Though I was hesitant to pick up another Anime Strike show, (hence the absence of a piece from me on this show during first impressions) I was interested in Re:Creators from the moment I’d first heard of it, precisely because of how underwhelmed I was with Troyca’s past offerings. Those shows might’ve come up short plot-wise, but they’re rather pretty shows at the very least. Thus, since Aldnoah.Zero and Sakurako aired, I’ve regarded Troyca as a rapidly maturing studio on the verge of an epiphany. I really hope this is the show where they finally come into their own as a studio.
There’s quite a bit of promise to be had here—the literal characters of the show cover the essential spectrum of Japanese fictional pop-culture works: the shounen-light-novel-turned-anime swordswoman Celesia, the fantasy JRPG librarian NPC Meteora, the magical girl Mamika, cyberpunk franchise dad-with-great-name Blitz Talker, the definitely-not-Shinji Ikari mecha pilot Kanoya, and the knight Alicetaria —who totally isn’t something out of a dark fantasy such as Berserk or the like — amongst a few others. And of course there’s the token Protagonist-kun Sota, a struggling yet aspiring artist who is connected in some way to the apparent big bad Military Uniform Princess bringing these characters to the real world.
How the show has gone about weaving these diverse backgrounds into a cohesive plot has been encouraging. We’ve seen some existential crises, replete with authors having their respective competence or incompetence thrown back in their faces in their interactions with their creations, like Celesia’s argument with her author or Kanoya ruining his creator’s home to ward off some government thugs. One of my favorite bits in particular has been Meteora’s development— both regarding her creator and herself. Though her counterparts may not enjoy them, her attempts at jokes had me laughing. I’m always down for some puns.
With the main cast having taken shape as of the most recent episode, now we’re really beginning to see what this show will be made of. We saw glimpses of these different characters’ perspectives clash before, but uh, holy shit, episode six. The debate between the difference (or lack thereof) in killing for justice and killing for fun and the conflagration that resulted still seemed like a more civil and productive conversation than anything going on in American politics. (oooooooh I went there)
Speaking of a salty topic, I’m going to vent again! Joy!
At this point, I’m actually legitimately mad that Amazon cornered the market on the quality shows this season with these exclusive deals. I didn’t mind when it was just Crunchy and Funi mainly divvying up the vast majority of shows, but I’ll be damned if I fork over $160 a year for their exclusive shows and some free shipping on the two things I purchase through them a year. Prime seriously just isn’t worth it for me, considering the blu-rays for a series can generally be had for like fifty bucks— I’ll just save my money and buy those when the time comes.
To hell with your exclusive deals, Amazon. Making those of us not already on board with Prime go through a double paywall with no cheaper option available comparable to the trifles I pay monthly for Crunchy and Funi – both of which offer superior services to yours – is a pretty shitty and condescending way to treat the fandom you’re trying to court by any means necessary.
It’s a shame that many folks might miss out on this. For me, Re:Creators is giving Tsuki ga Kirei a run for the best original show airing this season, and that’s some tall praise. I have high hopes for this show, and I really hope it can fulfill them.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes. (no really, fuck you, amazon)
P.S. Hiroyuki Sawano isn’t all that bad, guys. The OST is okay.
THE ROYAL TUTOR (OUSHITSU KYOUSHI HAINE)
Surprise, surprise. I’m still watching The Royal Tutor, and I’m finding the ride to be quite an enjoyable one.
What’s happened since our introduction to the show? Well, Heine and the princes took a trip to Wiener Town (no, really, actual Wiener Town) as a chance for them to mingle amongst their subjects before giving each prince an episode of focus as their tutor begin to familiarize himself with his charges. This involves Heine literally having to pursue Leonhard, the tsundere shrinking violet who should be protected at all costs, after the prince attempts to flee from the tutor. Later on, we get an episode following Licht, who apparently moonlights as a waiter at a niche cafe in town as his father (y’know, the King) attempts to figure why his youngest son would work there by joining the cafe’s waitstaff for a night à la Undercover Boss, much to the prince’s chagrin. The latest episode expanded upon Bruno, the brainiac prince, as he embarks on some scholarly endeavors with a presentation at a university.
Meanwhile, all throughout these bits, an antagonist of sorts is introduced: Rozenberg, a noble who is an underling of the first prince tasked with digging up dirt on the younger princes and their tutor in an attempt to foil their aspirations to the throne. It should be interesting to see how this will develop, given the handful of clues we’ve seen regarding Heine and King Victor’s pasts.
Something noteworthy about this show from my perspective is the number of rookie voice actors employed for The Royal Tutor. Aside from Shouta Aoi, who lends his voice to the playboy prince Licht, most of the main characters are voiced by relative newcomers, with some even making their debut here. Considering this is a comedy that largely derives its punchlines from its characters’ personalities and their reactions, you can color me impressed with their performances so far.
Speaking of performances by voice actors, not only do the voice actors perform the song for the ED, but at the end of the seventh episode, they actually performed the ED dressed as their respective characters in a rather…uh, unique touch to the ending credits.
The Royal Tutor is that token overperforming comedy that endears itself to me that I usually see one or two of per season, and I don’t plan on ditching this show any time soon. Not after those ending credits, man.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.
Coming into the season, I touted Sakura Quest as the non-sequel I was looking forward to more than any other. Its wacky first episode delivered a stirring mix of empathetic millennial working woes and weathered optimism that I found incredibly easy to sink into. As the spiritual successor to Hanasaku Iroha and Shirobako, two other fairly popular and successful P.A. Works series tackling similar themes, I figured Sakura Quest would closely follow suit and secure its place as the best new thing this spring has to offer.
But something has seemed off with the show ever since that first episode, and after weeks of contemplation, I think I can finally put my finger on what. It isn’t the themes themselves, which still strikingly pierce me at least once or twice per episode and leave me with something to ponder long afterward. I have a fairly drab view of work: I think while a strong work ethic and willingness to help the community are great, what we’ll really be remembered for are the things we leave behind, not the exertion of energy on the task itself. Sakura Quest seems to have a similar outlook. I can vibe with it.
This was neatly articulated in episode 5, when as the Tourism Board sought for ways to attract outsiders to Manoyama, they decided to start a 100-year, constantly-amendable crafts installation at the town’s station. The project – if maintained – will outlive all of them before it comes to completion, but sometimes that’s the most you can hope for. Furthermore, its first piece, a wood carving continued out of sheer passion despite the death of its commissioner, felt like a particularly poignant extension of this philosophy, as did a moment two episodes later where Yoshino found a way to credit the deceased owner of a house set aflame as collateral for the film shooting in the area. People with dreams, whether they’re hoping to coast along on passion like Maki or searching for somewhere to feel special like Sanae and Yoshino, may have to settle for a more selfless role. For Japan, maybe that idea’s a little more common than it is here in the States, but coming to terms with your limits is tough for anyone, especially when you’re in your early 20s and have more freedom and opportunities than you’ll have at just about any other point in your life.
So yeah, the show’s message is hitting me decently enough. But Sakura Quest just doesn’t feel satisfying most of the time, and since I appreciate this realist outlook on nostalgia and dreams for what it is, I don’t think that’s why. Rather – and I swear I’ll try keeping the HanaIro and Shirobako comparisons brief since they’ve been beaten to death by other reviewers already – those shows employed a visual energy that Sakura Quest lacks. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of phenomenal shots or moments of witty, attention-grabbing dialogue, but much of the show feels blandly executed and visually lackluster.
“So what,” you might ask, “does it really matter?”
In most cases, I’d understand the skepticism, but it honestly does. If the storytelling isn’t going to change, then the presentation doing so would be a huge positive. Those aforementioned P.A. Works shows didn’t just thrive from good writing, they used expressive character animation and detailed, informative sets to their advantage. Sakura Quest, on the other hand, feels like it relies on shots that aren’t distant enough to emphasize the scenery nor close enough to pick up on body language. If the series’ whole point is to demonstrate how a bunch of young adults navigate feeling worthy in a world that’s relegated them to promoting a washed-up town in the sticks, then giving that town in the sticks a sense of place and the people running it a sense of character is key. Disregarding those opportunities has made it exponentially harder for me to feel intimate with the show, and thus while it’s doing everything fine on paper, it’s also not burrowing its way into my heart.
Furthermore, much of those other shows’ early episodes included self-contained narratives and events of seemingly little importance, allowing the audience to get a handle on each character’s personality and their relationships before attempting to use them to push a grander point. HanaIro would’ve been a much weaker show if it hadn’t built up its primary familial conflict over the course of its run by separating several of its linchpin characters from one another until later in the series. Shirobako would’ve been a slightly weaker show (it’s pretty hard to fuck up gold, tbh) if its characters were depicted as successful from the get go. In comparison, Sakura Quest has essentially, as fellow aniblogger Derek Lyons expressed, introduced its characters in “more of a ‘throw it against the wall and hope something sticks’ fashion than with any coherence.” Yoshino aside, that’s a claim I wholeheartedly agree with, and even though the show got her right, she’s rarely the driving force of any episode.
There’s something to be said for total immersion storytelling, but when the cast lacks a sense of presence, the story’s themes have to pick up extra, unnecessary slack by developing them as it attempts to grow itself. There is substance to these folks, as the last few weeks have made a little clearer; Sanae and Maki in particular only grew from some pretty heavy narration and exposition-dumping, but at this point, it’s a necessary evil. Though they failed to leave any impression on me minus a comedic gag or two early on, I now have a clearer idea of where their minds are, what they hope to do in Manoyama, and what their connections to the place (or lack thereof) may mean in the long term.
Now that it’s already started down this road, Sakura Quest continuing to develop its cast in tandem with the quintet’s work is perhaps the series’ best bet, using their predicaments to highlight the futility of saving a place that doesn’t want to be saved, and doing so out of obligation, not conviction. But for a 2-cour show, I’m already genuinely nervous that it isn’t getting the mileage that it could. It’s totally possible that everything will snap into place later and make up for this shaky, lukewarm start, but that’s the most frustrating thing; this show could be so, so great, and I don’t know if it even recognizes where it’s letting itself down, much less how to make those baby steps to improvement that seem so frustratingly in plain sight.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.
TSUKI GA KIREI
At the start of the season, I predicted Tsuki ga Kirei would be a shamelessly vanilla adolescent love story and that’s exactly what it’s given me. It hasn’t wasted too much time either, as its confession went down early and positively. Sure, its moving CG crowds are still a little jarring, but they’ve been less emphasized as of late and the traditionally-drawn visuals are light and eye-appealing. There aren’t any stunning, bombastic cuts of animation prowess, but why would there be? The show knows that its charm lies in small, anxious moments of friendship and first love, and it expresses those through fitting body language and dialogue that can feel as casual or stifled as the situation demands. It’s just a good, lighthearted teen romance through and through.
Which I guess might suggest that there’s nothing unique to the series, but I’m also not so sure about that. For one thing, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a series about youth who, in addition to their romance, also have outside activities they’re striving to achieve great things in. By splitting the focus between Kotarou and Akane, you get to see what their home lives are like, how they interact with their friends, and what their passions mean to them. Combined, this culminates in a much richer understanding of who they are and who they want to be than if the story were to solely focus on their time with one another. A good romance is grounded in thoroughly-explored characterization, and Tsuki ga Kirei has notably used its screentime wisely in this regard.
The other main thing that sets the show apart from the crowd is its willingness to rein in unnecessary drama. I’m a fan of melodramatic anime as much as the next guy, but as Oak always says, there’s a time and a place for that stuff. When Chinatsu, who by all means is a more outgoing, louder, and overbearing character than Akane, admitted she had a crush on Kotarou, Akane offered back an explanation that made her position clear without feeling too confident or out of character. Like a true friend, Chinatsu picked up on this and respected it, but also admits that she feels deserving of proper closure. Both of these actions subdued what could’ve spiraled into a ridiculous, overcharged love triangle and gracefully reflected the nature of mutually-respectable friendship better than many shows of this ilk do.
That these supporting characters are still able to push themselves into the narrative without holding it hostage is a wonderful thing, and their relationships to the leads feel natural and intuitive. The show’s adults in particular are fantastically written, supporting their kids more often than not, but also showcasing the understandable parent-isms that many anime teen dramas often avoid, despite their presence being such a fundamental element in what makes children who they are.
It honestly surprises me how Tsuki ga Kirei can feel so satisfying while actually doing so little week in and week out. I was almost sure my interest would fall off with it towards the start, but I’ve grown to love these timid, adorable dorks and I want to see them be happy. Considering some of the latest romance anime I’ve enjoyed were the likes of Scum’s Wish and Seiren, this sure is a pleasant reset button. Tsuki ga Kirei probably won’t maintain everybody’s attention, but it’s trucking along as smartly as it can with what it has to work with. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Oh, except for like, a whole OVA of the post-ED comedy skits. I can ask for that. And I really want one, because they’re hilarious in a “me irl, same” kind of way but don’t fit into the tone of the main show. Please grant me this one wish, Feel.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.
WORLDEND: WHAT DO YOU DO AT THE END OF THE WORLD? ARE YOU BUSY? WILL YOU SAVE US? (SUKASUKA)
What am I doing watching this show? Could I be enjoying my time better with something else? Will I stop stalling and take the hint?
When it comes to speculative pick light novel adaptations, all of these questions are just as important as WorldEnd’s actual drawn-out title, and ones that eventually led me to drop the series 4 episodes in. As much as I want to say the show wasn’t doing anything wrong, there were some sketchy writing choices that really sucked me out of the world, which was the thing that most gripped me in the first place. From Nygglatho explaining the humans’ backstory to Willem (who already knows all this) to him revealing the true nature of the girls’ swords after one night of research that anyone could’ve conducted this entire time, the whole thing reeked of plot conveniences and an increasing reliance on “bland male protagonist is perfect at everything” syndrome. The only times he breaks that identity are when the show leaks through some of its more obvious LN humor and edginess.
With shoddy writing comes a lack of concern on my behalf: It’s hard to invest in the emotional stakes of the characters when seemingly any explanation can anticlimactically change on a moment’s notice. Several of WorldEnd’s individual themes about violence and indoctrination are handled well in small doses, like Tiat’s trip to the hospital to “come of age” and Chtholly’s anxious romanticization of her last free days before battle, but those aren’t enough to keep me hooked when so much of the story feels hacked together. There are certainly less interesting things you could watch this season, and I’m continuing a few shows that have their fair share of writing flaws, but WorldEnd‘s have personally killed anything I thought the series might have going for it. Oh well.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 4 episodes.
And that’s it for this update. As always, feel free to leave a comment below (or shout out to us via Twitter) with your thoughts on these writeups as well as the shows themselves. And as long as the world hasn’t entered nuclear winter by around this time next month, we’ll be back for our final thoughts of the spring. See you then!