Spring is just around the corner (if not already here), but the Megalo Boxes and Special Weeks and Tri Hero Academias can wait just a while longer: first things first, winter has ended, and what a winter this season was. This seasonal transition period was a bit tight, though: Yata and Haru both watched more than what they had time to cover here, but hopefully the quality will outweigh the quantity. The outcomes probably won’t surprise you either, but find out below what For Great Justice loved and simply put up with as this noteworthy winter anime season came to a close!
A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE (SORA YORI MO TOOI BASHO)
From what I’ve seen, even if people didn’t have problems with A Place Further Than The Universe’s final act, the crew finally arriving in Antarctica seemed to cool most people’s enthusiasm (pun obviously intended). Since Yorimoi took its dear time getting there, it relied on its well-balanced, growing friendships to carry the series along, and it did so in borderline-perfect fashion.
But after reaching their physical goal, the girls (well, three of them, at least) still had some emotional baggage to unpack; after all, this Antarctic stint was a short-term trip, and upon its conclusion, they’d be right back in Japan and re-settling into their ordinary lives. Yuzuki wondered if their friendship would last without close proximity. Hinata didn’t want to think about facing her peers again. And as the closest thing the main quartet had to non-essential characters, the two of them taking on these worries while they were actually in Antarctica didn’t necessarily feel like the best use of time. Yuzuki’s “are we technically friends?” crisis in particular wasn’t all that incisive and could’ve taken place at any point before or after then. Yuka Iguchi’s performance as Hinata in her focus episode was phenomenal, but it very much made up for the underwritten conflict beneath it. Both episodes were certainly watchable and didn’t betray either character’s mental state, but for a series which proudly outperformed almost every other this season on a writing standpoint, I couldn’t help but feel like it was letting its potential down right as it was approaching the finish line.
Thankfully it got those shaky moments out of the way before the grand finale(s), though. With those two getting some last-minute attention and Kimari’s personal conflict basically over before the girls even left Gunma, that left Shirase as the final member of the group to address what had been eating at her. It was a doozy, too: she hadn’t yet completely come to terms with the loss of her mother, and the closer she got to the sights Takako saw and the people Takako loved, the more hesitant she became to take those final steps. After some encouragement, she ultimately decided to join the crew on an expedition to the planned observatory site, where the other girls recovered Takako’s laptop, full of the unread emails Shirase had desperately sent over the years. Back at the station, everyone gave her space to grieve, and after getting that out of her system, she felt validated in the trip and even insisted Captain Todo keep the laptop. Back to Japan the girls went, penguin photo ops and the journey of a lifetime behind them.
What struck me most about A Place Further Than The Universe in retrospect was how casually it treated the actual “being in Antarctica” part. It’s great for capturing an audience’s intrigue, but the real meat and potatoes of the show was its cast, full of all the joys and hardships of becoming your own person, whether that’s achieved through escaping daily monotony or the burdens of one’s past. Yorimoi is an oddly specific coming-of-age story, but its sincerity is contagious and its appeal is universal…or perhaps even on a scale larger than that. I’d eagerly recommend it to basically everyone.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
AFTER THE RAIN (KOI WA AMEAGARI NO YOU NI)
Over on Twitter I already mumbled some abridged thoughts about After The Rain, but before going into specifics, let me just reiterate this: if you saw the synopsis of this show or heard about it through the grapevine and thought to yourself “I can’t get down with an age gap romance that wide,” well, I’ve got good news:
You don’t have to. Like I’d suspected for a while now, After The Rain doesn’t have one. What it does have is a teenager and a middle-aged man helping one another re-embrace their passions. It’s not only wholesome, it’s precise and sharp, demonstrating a keen understanding of how people of different ages see the world and what kind of insight they can offer each other if they listen.
And no, none of that is euphemistic. Akira does try to clinging to Kondou at first, and while that was written off as author-insert “wish fulfillment” by some detractors of the show early on, it becomes plainly clear as the series unfolds that this shallow desire of hers is something of an excuse, a placeholder fantasy to keep her from having to make a decision about going into rehab for her track injury. At no point does Kondou really reciprocate Akira’s feelings on a romantic level, and while his trajectory as a character starts at “clumsy man trying to be hip,” he eventually wises up, sets his boundaries, and discovers what made him tick when he was younger wasn’t necessarily having someone idolize him, but his love for his own hobby: writing. The whole second half of the show rotates around Akira and Kondou not falling closer together, but gaining happiness as they grow apart and learn to not treat each other as a crutch. Friends from earlier in their lives—Haruka, Akira’s trackmate, and Chihiro, a cynical hobbiest-turned-pro novelist from Kondou’s college days—both offer the final pushes, and in the end Akira and Kondou simply thank one another for their mutual discovery: even if you’re burdened under overcast skies, rain is never perpetual.
As a really clever trick, one of the final shots in the finale even suggests that this whole story, “After The Rain,” is in fact the title of Kondou’s new work, and that’s a wonderful touch which also in essence meta-textually waves off some of the series’ few missteps. By the halfway point, there isn’t really a single thing to complain about, but like any work with a misleading premise, After The Rain’s earliest steps were uncertain. The episode where Kase, one of the chefs at the restaurant, blackmails Akira into a date over finding out about her crush just felt cruel and contrived, included seemingly for the sake of artificial drama. It’s a double-edged sword too; on one hand, it ended up not negatively affecting the rest of the show (the option I prefer), but on the other, because it was never revisited and the stakes fizzled out, it was truly a waste of time, the one moment where After The Rain threatened to lose its focus.
All things considered though, I’m beyond impressed with how smooth and charming After The Rain was. I came in skeptical and remained so for a majority of my watch, but all those fears were misguided, and now the only thing I can do as someone who appreciated it is tell everyone else “hey, I know what you’re thinking, but there’s nothing outrageous about this one, so don’t worry.”
So hey. Haven’t seen After The Rain? I know what you’re thinking, but there’s nothing outrageous about it. Don’t worry.
Please give After The Rain a chance.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
THE ANCIENT MAGUS’ BRIDE (MAHOUTSUKAI NO YOME)
Honestly, where do I even begin? It had been months since I’d really loved The Ancient Magus’ Bride, but I was committed to seeing it through: a captivating ending with clear articulations of its points wouldn’t necessarily redeem all the middling, awkwardly-paced downtime in between highlights, but it would at least prove that the series knew what it wanted to say and lend those underwhelming sections some worth.
Guess what didn’t happen.
Episode 22, where Chise re-lived her earliest memories of family and eventually forgave her mother for her suicide, was as fantastic as Magus’ Bride had been since its first cour. Everything in the closing act beyond that, however, just melted into a mess of intertwining subplots and rushed character introductions, none of which were clear enough to follow and most of which just trailed off without a resolute ending. Magus’ Bride had struggled with pacing throughout its entire second half, but this was something else: between trying to ramp up the excitement with a few concurrent antagonists too many and effectively giving closure on the most engaging plot thread in the show two weeks early, the series’ final episodes were not only hard to make heads or tails out of, they weren’t even that interesting. Even the epilogue didn’t deliver: extremely serious concerns were brushed off by the characters in chibi gag sequences and the “marriage” scene didn’t at all convince me Elias had learned his lessons.
Am I projecting? Maybe. It’s no secret that I’ve felt like The Ancient Magus’ Bride was for too long the shadow of the show it could’ve been. All the praise I can give it revolves around not its characters, world, or production, but its ideas. It played with some pretty brutal topics, and I’ll give any show attempting to discuss childhood trauma, unhealthy relationships, and the sanctity of life a valiant thumbs up for its effort, but in this case, with little reason to invest in the actual plot, it’s more like giving a little kid with C grades a “good try” sticker on his grade-school papers. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but I have no doubts The Ancient Magus’ Bride really was trying its best. That’s the real disappointment here.
Final score: 5.5/10
Completed after 24 episodes.
I can’t say Citrus was one of my favorite shows of the season, but I enjoyed it on multiple levels: it satisfied my hunger for popcorn entertainment, its drama was legitimately compelling at points, and as an “oh, of course” type of genre-savvy romance, I couldn’t help but laugh at how transparent its set-ups were.
That’s kind of the problem, though: every more-informed source I’ve heard from has said that this series really isn’t meant to be a comedy on the whole, and with constant depictions of sexual assault in the earliest parts of its run, it’s hard to laugh at any of the show’s sketchier events.
And yet…I did, and while I recognize how privileged I am to not be personally repelled by how unnecessary and over the top the characters’ non-consensual advances are, I can’t deny that in separating these actions from the narrative and viewing Citrus as a series of schlocky writing decisions, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself about how absurd everything was. At the same time, the series legitimately made me care for Yuzu, whose likable personality kept bouncing back and forth between terrible plot beats so often I just had to pity her. Because I cared for the main character, I found myself invested in everything else going on, even though it was either predictable from a mile away, completely inconsequential, or just downright stupid.
The most vital reason for this is that Citrus can be unironically good in addition to its lowbrow moments, and when it attempts to, it almost always succeeds. Mei is a passive character (albeit with a convincing enough background for it to slide) but only the Tachibana twins in the final arc weren’t given enough space to come into their own. A majority of the cast is genuinely fun to watch interact when they’re not getting dirty. By the end (though I’m told as far as the manga goes, this is just the start) Mei and Yuzu do come around and start dating—and that’s fine. I’m not personally down with incest but these two step-siblings never once felt like real “siblings;” that was always either a contrivance to have them spend more time together or an excuse for additional drama. They’re not a “deep” couple and they don’t need to be, doubly so since Yuzu’s passion for anything can make the object of her desires so much greater on our behalf than it’d otherwise be. Each arc conflict on the surface seems like a battle of romantic rivals, but they all end with the characters coming to understand more about themselves and each other than they had before, not wasting even the tritest of tropes to still accomplish some long-term development.
And yet, can I really recommend Citrus? “So bad it’s good”-ness will never land the same for everyone, and my own roster of shows which fit that bill isn’t particularly glowing. My best advice is this: if you’re looking for a rich yuri romance with a stable tone and complex characters…look elsewhere. But go into Citrus expecting actual garbage—because there is some—and see if the rest of it can’t make you crack a smile. It’s more likely than you’d think.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
DAGASHI KASHI 2
Despite my previous experience with this series, Dagashi Kashi 2 was that show in Winter 2018. Mercifully, the 12 minute run time made catching up to the final episode a trivial task. All along the way, I kept wondering why I had to motivate myself to watch this, and I suspect in this case, it might’ve been the release time, because gosh, this certainly didn’t feel like a task to watch.
Like, I enjoyed this more than I enjoyed the original Dagashi Kashi anime.
The shorter runtime really helped liven the story up all along the way, not to mention that the story itself reached a mountaintop of its own, with Kokonotsu having a moment of self-reckoning after his manga was unmercifully dragged through the mud at a contest. This made for a perfect opportunity for Hotaru to reappear, as she immediately helps pull him out of his doldrum.
If there’s been anything of a theme with the successful comedy shows this season, it’s been that they’ve stuck to a simple formula. With Dagashi’s case, providing a taste of daily life in rural Japan by way of cheap snacks, as told through an old-fashioned small business that (initially) struggles to keep up with modern demands.
It’s really gonna be sad to watch this one go. I’m left wondering if we’ll see any more material adapted with the Dagashi Kashi manga set to wrap up any day now. This series deserves it.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
DARLING IN THE FRANXX
Hey, it’s me, that guy who wrote a ton of words about FranXX as a standalone piece a couple weeks ago.
I’m also the guy who likely won’t be writing a ton of words about FranXX in the near future. It’s no secret this spring season is offering us a ridiculous number of shows, and since I only have so much time in my schedule and FranXX has only earned more and more of my skepticism as its run drags on, I’m planning to put the series on hold for now and let Haru take over the reins for our coverage of it starting next season.
Aside from the time it takes for me to watch, digest, and recap the show, my other reason for putting it on pause is pretty simple: my overall takeaway of the entire series hinges on its conclusions about gender and the characters’ robotic, dystopian society, and it seems to be in no rush to actually conclude anything. The last couple weeks have at least addressed those plot threads again as promised, but FranXX is just a bit too slow and secretive for me to place any trust in it, and its value as pure entertainment only dwindles the more seriously it strives to take itself. It’s stuck in a lose-lose situation either way; when it’s wasting time, it can be funny at the expense of its own reputation. When it’s trying to rebuild that reputation, it’s undercut by all the frivolous bullshit that’s shaped our impression of these bland characters up until now. Will fulfilling development eventually come? Maybe. But I won’t be the first one to tell you about it.
It’s just too much of a wild card and I’m not invested or hopeful enough to stick with it as is. I gave it the benefit of the doubt this long and I may do so again…just not at the moment.
Current score: 6/10
On hold after 12 episodes.
KARAKAI JOUZU NO TAKAGI-SAN
In these Final Thoughts articles, the most wonderful thing a show can do is give me either a lot or nothing to talk about. A lot, and I have plenty of material to work with. Nothing, and I can basically paraphrase what I’ve already said. Takagi-san is the latter, in a good way, of course. Even as it wrapped up, the series’ formula didn’t change and it didn’t need to: Nishikata was going to keep getting ahead of himself, Takagi was going to keep taking him by surprise, and the rest of the characters were going to get tiny little skits in the margins here and there. One-trick pony shows usually die quick: either the joke wears the viewer out, or it has notable highlights that make the rest of the time tedious. For me, one cour is precisely how long I could keep up with Takagi-san without it feeling too repetitive, and it managed to sidestep the highlight problem by being unrelentingly consistent from skit to skit.
Still, it would’ve been a shame to not go out on top, and while I would’ve loved a scene from the post-timeskip manga where Nishikata and Takagi are happy, married parents, going back in time to when the two first met wasn’t just a fine move, it was an illuminating one for one of the few questions I’ve had over the course of the show: why did Takagi first start teasing Nishikata anyway? Why was she interested in him specifically? There had to be some reason beyond his clumsiness, right? Or if there wasn’t, how did she first find out about it?
He showed up late to class on the first day because Takagi had dropped her handkerchief and he brought it to the school’s lost and found. The rest is history.
Sure, Takagi-san wasn’t the most ambitious or exemplary gag show, but it got tremendous mileage out of one simple, down to earth concept, and for that, I have nothing but respect for it. If you’re looking for a silly little series that totally nails the awkwardness of being a little kid on the verge of puberty (with fantastic voice acting to boot!), look no further.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
One of the best ways I can personally tell that I really enjoy a show is when it’s good enough that it makes me look forward to whatever day of the week that it airs. That Takagi-san actually managed to have me looking forward to friggin’ Mondays is an impressive feat not managed since the final season of Top Gear back when the three buffoons hosted it.
I already loved the simple formula behind Takagi-san, but the show really took flight as it very obviously began to introduce the elements of a budding romance between Nishikata and Takagi, one which most of us happen to know the eventual outcome.
Takagi-san struck a good balance for me. Though at times it did seem like she was about to give Nishikata a stroke, Takagi’s teasing remained playful and good-natured. His utter incompetence at his retaliation attempts made Nishikata’s inadvertent “critical hit” on Takagi such a worthwhile payoff, it really made this a rewarding show to watch to the end.
I really hope this isn’t the last we see of these two as far as anime is concerned! I’d love more of the status quo, or even an adaptation of the spin-off set in a future where the two are married and have a daughter. I’ll take anything, I just need more of these two’s antics.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
LAID-BACK CAMP (YURU CAMP△)
Not unlike Takagi-san, Laid-Back Camp basically took one idea—cozy, adorable campers camping—and ran with it way farther than should’ve seemed plausible. I hesitated all season long to crown it as a favorite since so many more dramatic, bolder, and highly-esteemed titles were also airing, but at this point I don’t think I can deny it any longer: Camp warmed my heart week in and week out, and now you might as well name me a permanent member of Secret Society BLANKET.
Every single person in its cast was a delight, and it effortlessly struck that hard-to-grasp balance between “cutesy girls being overbearingly cutesy” and “realistic characters acting how normal people would” in almost every scenario. Nowhere is this emphasized better than in how getting the campers together (that is, the Outdoors Club and Rin plus Ena, who doesn’t really do this at all, and Toba-sensei, who was mostly there for the beer) was treated as the series’ climax. Because each individual camper had their own social sphere throughout the course of the series, this unification of everybody for a potentially one-time event carried significant weight, and everything the Christmas camping entailed did not disappoint. Revisiting Camp’s best gags and forming new ones which could only ever work under those circumstances, the final two episodes made for one of the most fulfilling conclusions I’ve ever seen to an iyashikei series.
It’s no secret then that Camp is one of the best—if not the best—iyashikeis I’ve ever seen, period. It’s a recipe for success for its genre: beautiful, down to earth scenery, adorable, easygoing characters, wholesome humor, and an atmosphere of complete camaraderie. I can’t recommend it enough, and I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting it in the autumn for years to come.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
What on earth did we do to deserve Yuru Camp?
Out of everything I watched this season, this was without a doubt my favorite show. Between a charming cast, appealing visuals, satisfying character development, a knack for comedy, and an unbelievably good soundtrack to complete the atmosphere, Yuru Camp had the complete package.
It’s not going to awe you with sakuga, but Yuru Camp didn’t need it to convey the wonder of the great outdoors and the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside. There’s no drama, but seeing Rin come out of her shell and join along with the Outclub’s Christmas camping and the respect given to her desire to solo camp in the meantime was a heartening thing to behold. I love that this show demonstrated that you don’t always need a depressing low point to be able to convey a meaningful narrative.
For a show about the outdoors, I found Yuru Camp’s incorporation of technology noteworthy, with the girls’ use of texting functioning as a means for them to coordinate camping plans and share experiences with one another and the viewers. I respect that it was treated as the useful tool that it is, rather than turning it into a needless distraction.
It seems completely natural to say this was a fantastic show, but three months ago, I had absolutely no idea Yuru Camp would be one of the best shows to not just air this season, but probably this whole year as well. It still surprises me just how out of left field this was.
Surprises such as Yuru Camp are nice. I’ll be coming back to this one for ages.
Final score: 9 talking pine cones/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION 2ND SEASON (3-GATSU NO LION 2ND SEASON)
I’m wrestling two conflicting desires now: March Comes In Like a Lion was already knocking on the door as one of my favorite anime of all time, the kind which seems like it could effortlessly offer an endless supply of diverse stories with nuanced characters. But it won’t—all good things must come to an end eventually, and 44 total episodes of March is more than enough to satisfy my thirst, even if there’s more material to adapt. I wouldn’t object whatsoever to a third season down the road; every character in this stacked cast is adorable, complex, or both, and there are so many additional avenues March could take them down.
And yet this is a beautiful stopping point. Rei continued to grow throughout season 2, but the bulk of his learning came in the series’ first installation, allowing his newfound confidence to lift up the people around him, namely Hina, higher than ever this time. Season two also fleshed out various side characters through bold, immersive vignettes with ease, and giving folks like Meijin Souya and Yanagihara episodes of their own just proved how spectacular March could remain through the perspective of older characters.
Not that it let the children down, either: on the basis of Hina’s bullying arc alone, this season seemed to resonate with more people than the first did, but it didn’t stop with her simply overcoming that one situation. Part of the final episodes’ point was that life goes on, and we should take solace in what we do have instead of what we lack. Hina knew deep down she was loved; her family was there for her, Rei was there for her, and eventually a teacher with some guts stood up for her, but having a support system doesn’t always relieve one’s internal troubles. With Takahashi moving away and Chiho still rehabilitating in the countryside, Hina felt scared about what the future would hold. Ascending into high school can do that to anybody, bad hairdo or not.
How March S2 handled these final moments was wonderful, though: after studying her ass off to get into Rei’s school, the two friends walked there together approaching a new start. Hina had escaped her middle school hellhole and had new opportunities there and an increased role happily helping out Crescent Moon. Rei had gained not only the ability to recognize his own self-worth, but to not hinge that self-worth on other peoples’ happiness and his every action. As in life, things usually balance out to a middle ground given time, and seeing he and the Kawamoto family happy (and gaining closure with his first adopted family) was tremendously fulfilling. Fans of the show’s shogi side may have felt a little neglected due to how little a role the activity played towards the end of this season, but considering how Rei’s only purpose in life before this had been to succeed at shogi, casually announcing his climbing status over dinner demonstrates just how far he’s come and what his priorities now are.
March Comes In Like a Lion is simultaneously one of the most visceral and heartwarming anime I’ve ever seen. Across its two seasons, there are a handful of moments where its eccentricities overreach, but overall, this franchise is a masterful character drama, depicting emptiness, anxiety, and familial struggles with a compassion and grace unparalleled by any other lengthy anime franchise I’ve seen. Its first season had my highest regards last year and its second season has done nothing to damage that.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 22 episodes.
THE RYUO’S WORK IS NEVER DONE! (RYUO NO OSHIGOTO!)
I’m a man of my word. I got caught all the way up with this, but I’m certain that finishing my watch of Ryuo with an eight episode marathon was probably not the brightest idea I’ve had.
Ryuo could’ve actually been a half-decent show had it not repeatedly gone back to the derivative lolicon jokes. Color me surprised that the most interesting part of a show built around shogi is when the characters are actually playing said game. The big matches are depicted in a pitched and intense manner, leaning a tad heavy on jargon while never actually going particularly in-depth with explaining said jargon. At least Ryuo has the courtesy to pan over the game board so you can get some sense of how each match develops.
In all honesty, Ryuo would’ve been vastly better if Yaichi (y’know, the Ryuo) just kind of.. wasn’t there. Keika and Sora both developed into legitimately interesting characters as this progressed, especially the former as she chased her dream of becoming a female pro shogi player, which is apparently a difficult task in an already oppressive society for women. Hell, even Hinatsuru and most of her friends were interesting when they weren’t used as folly for the lolicon jokes.
All that said, since we did have to put up with Yaichi, it would’ve been nice to see even just some brief glimpses of his final three matches against the Meijin rather than to just immediately skip to an “oh, he won four in the row and defended his title after being thoroughly dominated for three and a half matches” ending in the final episode. It ended up spoiling the bit of drama that built up in the leadup to and beginning of said matches.
My quickest possible summation of The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is that it’s a show for people with extremely short attention spans that follows a game played by people who don’t have short attention spans.
Final score: 4/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
Throughout the second half of this winter, I had half-jokingly been in awe of the fact that I had an effective 6-way tie for my favorite show of the season. Of all those shows, Violet Evergarden’s highlights were handily the best; its stellar debut episode and a number of superb one-offs along the way culminated in one of the most fulfilling climaxes I can remember in a long time, with Violet sinking into a downward spiral after acknowledging her hand in several innocents’ deaths and hesitantly climbing out of that hole with the hope that her new job will make amends for the war’s destruction.
Regardless of how you felt about Violet as a character, this ninth episode (and the few leading up to it) marked a crucial turn for the show’s tone, framing Violet not as an emotion-bereft doll devoid of personal purpose but someone so overwhelmed by the consequences of her actions she nearly decides the best thing to do is kill herself. Evergarden preferred more conventionally sad avenues to dark ones, but the series’ ninth episode was a maelstrom of both pulled off with some of the most riveting direction and uncomfortable acting (in a good way) I’ve ever seen out of a TV anime. The light at the end of the tunnel was a huge relief.
There was just one problem: with 4 weeks left, this wasn’t actually the end of anything, and how could the series could top it? On the back side of her epiphany, my hope was that Evergarden would continue to showcase what Violet had learned with another set of one-offs. Such standalone pieces tended to get incredible mileage out of the Doll Service’s clientele, and their structural focus on the worlds of individual characters as opposed to the series’ wider, less persuasively dramatic continent helped rein the viewer in.
To the show’s credit, the one late standalone they did was yet another episode-of-the-year contender: Violet helped a dying mother pen a series of letters to her young daughter to be sent to her on her birthday over the next 50 years…while said young daughter was right there and distraught about being ignored by her parent in deteriorating condition. Seen through the eyes of the child, this episode was even more heartbreaking than it otherwise would’ve been, and having gone through enough personal growth to outwardly empathize the girl, Violet herself felt just as broken up as we, the audience, did. It’s hard to credit specific staff for these highlight episodes: most of Evergarden was directed by a revolving door of KyoAni regulars and while big names did their best, each effort was defined less by the strength of their storyboarding and animation and more by the strengths of the material they were adapting. The production was just too uniformly noteworthy to call out specific visual peaks…and that’s almost more impressive.
And yet, despite being one of the most daring and gorgeous television anime I’ve ever seen and delivering several of the winter’s most emotional and stirring episodes, Evergarden still ultimately falls short of its potential for me. Its standalone episodes were its most striking, but not necessarily because they were written more tightly, but because the scope never extended to too large an arena: Violet’s client would have a problem, and she would solve it while learning something about feelings along the way. It’s a simple formula, but that simplicity was an advantage, one not found during the series’ notably weaker moments such as its closing arc about terrorists on board a diplomatic convoy or basically any subplot pertaining to the war, which never got enough context to be intriguing for its own sake. Thankfully, Evergarden mostly steers clear from dwelling on anything more than its characters’ personal stakes in the conflict, but the few times it does, the drama falls flat.
So yeah, Evergarden isn’t perfect. Putting aside the still-divisive aspects about Violet’s character, her path towards self-discovery is skimmed over in between episodes during the series’ first half, and once it’s established, not all her interactions with clients and coworkers are created equal. But while its story alone likely won’t turn heads, Violet Evergarden’s execution was rarely something to dismiss. I’ve got a hunch the series will go down in popular memory as a technical marvel with some absolutely heart-wrenching high points, and frankly, I’m satisfied enough with that.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
ZOKU TOUKEN RANBU: HANAMARU
Zoku Hanamaru stayed on cruise control for the rest of the ride, remaining the mildly entertaining, mostly light-hearted slice-of-life show it’s been since Hanamaru’s first episode. The last two episodes were actually a decent high point, with an unusually quality fight scene adding a decent highlight to the final mission.
I think I found the first season of Hanamaru more entertaining overall — the cast is so dizzyingly vast in Zoku Hanamaru that it made an already unfocused large-cast slice of life show even more so. Characters introduced in Zoku tended to practically vanish after their introductory episode. Having Kashuu Kiyomitsu as the central character helped a tad to abate Zoku’s lack of overall focus, but it remained a glaring factor for the entirety of the run.
Like its predecessor, Zoku Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru is adequate entertainment without substance. It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not particularly great, either.
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
And that’s that! Apologies again for the incomplete lineup, but coverage for multi-cour titles like Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Arc will resume later on and marathoned stuff like Devilman Crybaby will get standalone pieces sooner or later, it’s a promise. For now, though, there’s no time to waste! We’ll be back in a couple weeks with our first impressions over the spring season, and we hope you’ll be right back with us. Until then, as always, thanks for reading!