Spring 2018 First Impressions

It’s the first impressions roundup you’ve all been waiting for!

…that is, unless you’ve been waiting for one that enthusiastically covers all the reboots, spinoffs, and mega-franchise hits airing this season, because this roundup includes almost none of them. Not to worry, thougha couple of them are on our marathon backlogs, which just means we weren’t going to cover them weekly anyway, and there’s too little time to check the pilots of shows where a “hold” outcome is inevitable. Instead, Yata and Haru mostly had a field day with spring’s brand new offerings and wound up with one of their most selective weekly schedules yet, but not for a lack of trying. What’s sticking around? What’s out early? And why do these fucking horsegirls not overthrow humanity and become Earth’s dominant species? Answers to two of those questions lie below. Read on!

CALIGULA


Summary:
Paraphrasing from Atlus: “Mobius is a perfect digital world for the imagined benefit of humanity by μ, a sentient virtual idol program. People suffering in the real world who hear μ’s songs get transported to Mobius, where they often forget the real world exists and live their high-school lives over and over.” Psychology junkie Ritsu Shikishima appears to be one such unhappy person.

Yatahaze:
Caligula had a messy pilot, but it seemed like a calculated, controlled sort of messy, the kind that didn’t aspire to answer any questions and just threw hook after hook at the viewer with the hope that at least some of the bait would stick. The summary above answered most of the inquiries I came up with as the show’s premiere rolled along, but without that extra information, very little about Caligula’s first episode made itself clear. It wants to holds its cards close to its chest for now, à la something like say, Steins;Gate, whose drab, washed out visual design it evokes pretty well. The show casts an air of suspicion from the get-go and there’s very little fun to be had here, even when a joke or two surfaces. Caligula makes itself known by keeping itself hidden: it wants you to pay attention to what it has to say and fall into its discomforting, “something is amiss here” world.

For that to happen though, centering this episode around an intellectual wannabe like Ritsu was a death sentence. Going back to the Steins;Gate comparison briefly, Okabe and his cohorts are at least undercut by that show’s writing, knocking their delusional drivel down a peg whenever it verges on getting too pretentious. I don’t get that same sensation with Ritsu and Caligula; if anything, the show almost seems eager to show off just how smart (see also: insufferable) its protagonist is. Loathe as I am to admit it, this type of personthe kind who quotes Freud and Aristotle on the fly and tries sidetracking his buddies’ conversation about ramen to some psychological experiment about pikeactually exists out there. I’ve met them. They’re the worst, and I sure as hell don’t want to watch the archetype get glorified. Given no redeeming or humbling traits beyond how woke he is, Ritsu’s one element of characterization is a negative one and Caligula’s already playing him up as something of a hero, whisking his friend (a girl, of course) out of trouble when shit hits the fan.

I don’t get the sense that Caligula wants to dissect Ritsu as a character, but on the off-chance he doesn’t grind your gears like he does mine, maybe you’ll dig this series. It certainly has something to offer in other places; the aforementioned visual work is subtly good, as is the sheer “what the fuck”-ness of its late-episode twist, and even the plot points it hasn’t breached yet in-show sound interesting on paper. But whether Caligula’s got legitimate critique of modern society up its sleeve or not, I know I won’t be able to tolerate it if Ritsu’s the character delivering it to us, and that’s taking the unfounded, optimistic view that it will result in some coherent and unique argument. For what it’s worth, Caligula the Emperor got off to an okay start and quickly descended into tyrannical madness, so if this series sharing its namesake follows suit, I think I’m good with keeping my distance.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

COMIC GIRLS


Summary:
Four high school girls wind up rooming together at a dorm specifically for manga creators like themselves, each hoping to push the others to branch outside the comfort zones of their token genres.

Yatahaze:
Comic Girls’ premiere had a fair bit going for it; with evident genre self-awareness, an upbeat cast, and a surprising number of smears and clever cuts, the show certainly feels like it was directed and animated with a lot of heart and time to spare. I’ve got a feeling the sakuga community is going to have a blast with it, and even beyond its “oh no, I made a mistake on this manga, what should I do?” gag, the show’s nervous energy reminded me of Nichijou a couple times, a comparison no gag comedy should be ashamed of. But does it stand on its own?

It’s certainly got the potential to! I especially love the subtle but distinct differences between the two girls who just moved into the dorm and the two who’ve been settled there and used to each other for a while now. The artists all play with their respective roles well, too; they say “art imitates life” and “write what you know,” and the central conflict to characters like Kaoruko and Koyume are that they don’t know how to branch outside their own perspectives in their art, let alone their writing. On the flip side, Tsubasa embraces her genre space to an aggressive degree while Ruki can’t draw what she wants to at all, contractually shoehorned into penning lewd manga instead. With the understanding that Comic Girls is a gag-driven comedy and characters in these sort of shows generally aren’t that deep, it’s no surprise that these four are otherwise pretty shallow and happy-go-lucky. But if you’re familiar enough with the material they’re riffing off of, the series at least gives them all enough personality that an episode flies by.

Is it the kind of thing I think could sustain my interest an entire cour though? My track record with purely comedic cute-girls-doing-cute-things series isn’t that glowing, and while this quartet made for a palatable one-off experience, I’m not really invested in seeing them grow as artists, especially when there’s no guarantee that’s what route the series will go in the long term. But hey, if this sort of thing is more up your alley than mine, there’s not much dissuading me from recommending you give Comic Girls a shot.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

DRAGON PILOT: HISONE AND MASOTAN


Summary:
Recent Japan Air Self-Defense Force recruit Hisone Amakasu is struggling to get along with her coworkers due to a bad habit of letting her thoughts slip loose unfiltered, but a surprise encounter with one of the program’s secretsan Organic Transforming Flyer (basically, a camouflaged dragon)quickly gets her thrust into a new, awkward position: the dragon’s stomach.

Yatahaze:
Look, anytime voice actress extraordinaire Tomoyo Kurosawa is in a show and she doesn’t have the best performance of the cast, you know you’re in for a treat. Dragon Pilot was easily one of my favorite premieres this season, and its pilot (hehe) pulled off its endearing setup effortlessly.

Hisone is without a doubt my favorite new main character this season. Her social anxiety and inner snark are relatable as hell, and the way the show just throws her for loop after loop is extremely effective at conveying her self-deprecating confusion and introducing us to the rest of the cast, who run the gamut from “the gremlin new roommate” and “the senpai who’s trying too hard” to the higher-ups who understandably have their doubts about reserving a wing of the military for camouflaging dragons as fighter jets.

On that topic, Masotan hasn’t been formally named yet, but he is adorable. Dragon Pilot has a cartoony, childlike visual aesthetic in general, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how fucking moe this dragon would be. After glancing at the promotional artwork, I actually expected the human pilots to be kids too, but I’m relieved that the characters are adults, and pretty convincing ones at that. Dragon Pilot has other surprises up its sleeve too; if, like me, you assumed the dragon mechs would be, you know, mechs, the truth is even sillier: Hisone has to pilot the dragon stuck in the poor thing’s stomach. Don’t like getting swallowed and vomited back up as part of your job? Just be glad you aren’t coming out the other end. Leave it to the military to treat us like the lumps of meat we are.

With funny characters, fantastic direction, and smooth production merits, my only real concern with Dragon Pilot is the fact that it’s indeed in part a military story. Not only do military commentaries generally fall outside my wheelhouse, but any time a work involving the JSDF comes up, there’s a chance it’ll reek a bit too pungently of nationalism and aggression for me to feel comfortable with it. So far, if anything, Dragon Pilot has undercut any notion of self-serious, militaristic commentary; the first episode focuses exclusively on Hisone’s bumbling personal trauma as her life goes to shit and she gets eaten by a fucking dragon three times. But if the story soon diverges into foreign conflicts or taking out “the enemy” or something with sketchy implications like that, I’ll probably step back from it, especially because all the show’s strengths so far seem conducive to building up Hisone’s self-worth as an individual and her relationship with Masotan, whereas a military/country-first narrative effectively removes those core strengths.

Whether or not Dragon Pilot lasts the whole season for me more or less hinges on its endgame. The rest of the show is superb though, and for the moment I’d give it a strong recommendation, especially to anyone who likes understated, surreal comedy, passionate character writing, and adorable dragons covered in metal.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

FOOD WARS: THE THIRD PLATE – TOTSUKI TRAIN ARC


Summary:
The second cour of Food Wars’ third season, continuing right where its predecessor left off last fall; convincing Polar Star’s residents to keep fighting against Azami Nakiri’s takeover of Totsuki Academy.

Yatahaze:
As excited as I was for the return of anime’s greatest gift to foodporn and culinary science, I wasn’t expecting to immediately fall in love with Food Wars again this quickly. I made no secret that The Third Plate’s first cour last fall was the weakest of the franchise to date, essentially consisting of buildup for Azami and Central’s coup and backstories to pad out some tangential characters’ stakes in that conflict. It’s not as if the series lost what made it so fun—when it ramped up towards the end, it was plenty thrilling—but Central’s stranglehold was cheesy as hell, and when Food Wars couldn’t manage their comic evil with its more sensitive elements (Erina’s abusive childhood, for instance) the tone just went to hell.

Totsuki Train Arc isn’t wasting any time plunging the viewer right back into the chaos, but it’s doing so in a manner that seeks to immediately rectify that central (pun intended) problem with the previous cour: this is Erina’s rebellion just as much as it is Polar Star’s as a whole, and after cutting down most of her emotional scenes in the previous cour and treating her like a joke tsundere before that, this time it’s finally clear that Food Wars wants us to care about her. Better late than never, I say. Your mileage with this change of heart may vary, but I for one think it’s essential in order for Central’s eventual defeat to ring as resonant as the show intends it to.

Not that we’re anywhere near there yet; Polar Star, Erina, and a few extra third parties are aligned in their resistance to Central and the organization’s blatant rigging of the rules continues, but a change of scenery with this traveling exam arc means we’re probably not going to directly challenge the top of the administration for a while still. Thankfully, structured challenges with space to breathe are where Food Wars hits its stride, and that’s precisely what this arc seems eager to offer. Though I had cooled on Food Wars last year, Totsuki Train Arc looks to be the start of a strong rebound.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GEGEGE NO KITAROU (2018)


Summary:
The newest of several Gegege no Kitarou reboots, continuations of the 60’s manga where Kitarou, the last survivor of the Ghost Tribe, and various other yokai and creatures from Japanese mythology interact with the human world.

Yatahaze:
This was my first experience with the Gegege no Kitarou franchise, and I can confidently say I understand its appeal.

Coincidentally, I really want to like yokai stories—anyone who’s followed me for a while now knows that I end up trying a chunk of whichever ones come out on a seasonal basis—and yet I can’t seem to fully connect with any of them. Kitarou might be the nail in the coffin.

I say that because it’s good. It’s genuinely entertaining and the series’ production value is among the highest of anything airing this season, with vibrant color design, dynamic shots, and engaging voice acting all across the board. Its narrative is a little simplified, but I have a hunch this installation (if not the older ones too—again, I don’t know much about Kitarou) is aimed at younger audiences. Both Kitarou and the human protagonists feel childish and their dialogue seems simplified to match. As far as kids’ shows and tales about yokai go, I feel like this is one of the better efforts I’ve seen.

And it still just failed to hook me.

I don’t even have anything negative to say, really. If you eat this stuff up, you probably don’t need my recommendation. If you’ve never heard of Kitarou before but it seems interesting though, I do suggest you give it a shot. Between on-screen piss, body horror, and Daddy Eyeball, there’s plenty of slightly dark, weird shit out of left field to fill the time between plot beats. I just personally can’t see myself staying invested for a whole cour. One of the least objectionable drops I’m giving this season, but a drop nonetheless.
Final score: 7.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

GOLDEN KAMUY


Summary:
After returning from the Russo-Japanese War, soldier Saichi “The Immortal” Sugimoto is panning for gold in Hokkaido to provide for his fallen comrade’s widow when he hears rumors that a captured criminal hid a stash of Ainu gold somewhere and tattooed the skin of his escaped cellmates as a treasure map. Story goes that anyone who can find the gold can redeem half of it for themselves, so he and an Ainu girl he met in the wilderness, Asirpa, go looking for it, as do some of the other escaped criminals and the army.

Yatahaze:
A lot of people shit on Crunchyroll’s Anime Awards, but last year’s batch at the very least introduced me to a couple manga titles I’d never heard of since I rarely keep up with that medium. Among them was Golden Kamuy, and though I didn’t look much into the manga then, the plot synopsis sounded interesting. I’m always down for a good historical fiction story, and it’s rare that we get one from Japan featuring any mention of the Ainu people, let alone one with an Ainu main character. More than “hyped,” I was curious to see what Golden Kamuy was all about. Newly-formed Geno Studio haven’t exactly taken off with their recent works, but there seemed to be some interest whirring around this title. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

right?

Okay, okay, now that I’ve addressed the CG bear in the room, let’s be fair: Geno made no indication this adaptation was going to be some incredible visual masterpiece, and it’s definitely not one. The animation is stiff, the shot direction is inconsistent, and the production duties overall leave a middling impression, seriously holding back the potential of the source material’s action scenes. In more esteemed hands, I’ve got a feeling Golden Kamuy would be making positive waves instead of becoming one of the quickest throwaway memes of the season.

And that’s a shame, because while the execution has been far from commendable, the story underneath it still managed to hook me. The series’ first episode was rather dry and concerned with setting the stage, but I could tell Sugimoto and Asirpa had entertaining chemistry together and the series doubled down on that with its second episode, a surprisingly versatile addition that demonstrated the series could poke fun at its own self-seriousness without stalling the plot. Finding this treasure and enacting vengeance on the people who killed Asirpa’s villagers may take some time, but if Golden Kamuy can at least keep its main characters’ exchanges entertaining long enough that I can tell whether or not I like where the overarching plot is going, I sure don’t mind sticking around with it that long.

But while I’m not dropping Golden Kamuy just yet, it is the title closest to getting discarded. Visual stumbles aside, the series is leaning a little heavy-handed when it comes to say, background randos discriminating against the Ainu or Sugimoto being edgy as fuck. It wouldn’t take much for this adaptation’s negatives to outweigh its positives, but from what I caught so far, there’s plenty of potential here and the rugged, adventurous tone of the series is a taste of something different compared to everything else I’m watching this season. Fans of more serious or understated dramas may not find much to enjoy here, but I’m usually one of them too, and I’m still up for giving Golden Kamuy a few more weeks.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GURAZENI: MONEY PITCH


Summary:
Natsunosuke Bonda is a pro relief pitcher worried about his meager annual salary, hoping to prolong his success at the highest level and responsibly handle his money.

Yatahaze:
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Yata, this sure doesn’t sound like your average sports anime,” and you’re certainly right. Not that I dislike sports anime per se, but the whole “let’s be a good team so we can succeed” thing does gets a bit old after a while, and Gurazeni’s synopsis seemed like a breath of fresh air, a sports anime where the focus wasn’t going to be the sport itself, but the reality of making a living off of it. Add a bit of stat-crunching in there and I’d be totally down for Moneyball: The Anime.

And while this might seem counterintuitive, I’m actually disappointed that’s more or less what I got. The show (and Bonda especially) could really use some spicing up. The tone is dry and flat, and not even in an immersive, weathered way. Just the opposite, in fact: Gurazeni looks and feels like an adult drama trapped in the appearance and framework of a kids’ program, with bubbly character designs, off-putting CG, and a weak reliance on firsthand narration to convey all exposition. Forget the fact that the actual ball-playing scenes look goofy as hell; the rest of the drama is supposed to come solely from Bonda talking about salaries, competition, and his eventual retirement, but he’s not allowed any space to be a character. He’s really nothing more than a talking head, and nothing about Gurazeni gives me hope that it’ll fix that core issue in a brisk manner. Without a relatable lead, nothing about this setup grips the viewer, and even if Bonda were an intriguing guy, the show’s stilted animation and dialogue are still far too poor to return to. Back to the minors with this one.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

Harubruh:
It must still be a rebuilding year for my lineup, because I can actually… kind of tolerate Gurazeni. For now.

Mind you, this isn’t anything close to a blockbuster. Yata does have a point about Gurazeni’s rather flat tone, and the assessment that this is quite literally Moneyball: The Animation isn’t all that far-fetched. Bonda’s single-minded obsession with the payout of individual players’ contracts wears itself out extremely quickly. This is literally as if Billy Beane were an animated baseball player.

Full disclosure: I am a die-hard Oakland A’s fan who is beyond tired of hearing about Moneyball. I will give a death stare to anyone who so much as utters the words “new market inefficiency” within earshot of me at a baseball game.

Despite that, Gurazeni still has some manner of appeal to me, at least for now. I like that instead of the tired “wunderkind learning to harness their borderline superpower sports ability” narrative that sports anime—especially baseball anime—love to use, Bonda is a middle-aged LOOGY with average stuff who’s very well aware that a major league career can end in the blink of an eye, as was made painfully aware with the rookie pinch-hitter that he retired in the first episode. I suppose that allows for some manner of grounding for Bonda’s all-encompassing obsession with money, seeing as he makes an average amount for a ballplayer, and we all know sports guys aren’t exactly the best at managing their finances after they hang up the spikes.

Though the first episode is something of a bummer, Gurazeni had a more appealing outing in the second episode, which featured one of Bonda’s retired teammates struggling to make the transition from player to color commentator, and the team’s pitching coach rightfully roasting Bonda for psyching himself out when facing players making more money than him. That pitching coach really is Gurazeni‘s saving grace at the moment.

Though fit and finish is not really a thing that sports anime are known for, or Studio Deen for that matter, I don’t really have a bone to pick with Gurazeni’s visuals, and yes, I do mean the CG animations as well. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine to see a poorly animated pitching motion in a baseball anime, and in all fairness, a pitching windup has a lot of moving parts, so it is something difficult to get right, and I don’t particularly mind that CG is used for most of the pitching sequences here.

I’ve already wrote way too much about Gurazeni. I can’t say that I’d recommend this to anyone, especially because I’m not sure that it can maintain enough of its charm to keep me on board when there’s another (better) baseball anime airing this season. We shall see.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

HINAMATSURI


Summary:
One night at yakuza crony Nitta’s luxurious apartment, a strange object containing a telekinetic girl falls on his head. The girl, Hina, blackmails him into being her caretaker, and despite the odds, the two form a surprisingly wholesome bond…though other telekinetic people seem to be after Hina as well.

Yatahaze:
Hands down, Hinamatsuri is the funniest anime of the spring and a solid contender for funniest of the year. Humor is subjective, of course, but I don’t think many would argue that its comedy is absurd and under-commentated. There’s not a complete disregard for manzai setups, but Nitta is the straight man as much as he’s the idiot, and the series isn’t reliant on just that type of humor. Nitta’s not the “react super energetically to everything going on” sort anyway, and the show is all the funnier for his stoic, delayed reactions. Hina is even more straight-faced, and while she rarely emotes, she’s far from solely a plot device.

That’s mainly because, as fantastic as Hinamatsuri’s comedic outbursts are, the show’s absurdity envelops its plot and drama too; Nitta and Hina’s relationship quickly grows from Nitta being confused and nervous Hina will trash his crib to…well, still being confused, but accepting that Hina will stay and that she deserves to be treated with respect. Hina herself doesn’t explicitly ask for it either; wherever it is she came from, she was treated like a tool there, and Nitta’s generosity surprises her and endears him to her, just as it does to us. Better yet, neither Hina’s physics-bending nor Nitta’s yakuza wannabe background are explained with overbearing exposition, allowing everything to take us by surprise when the ante escalates.

Studio Feel generally isn’t one I praise for their visuals, and Hinamatsuri’s character designs aren’t particularly distinct on their own, but the faded, down-to-earth color pallete clashes with the cast’s shenanigans to tremendous effect, juxtaposing their normal world with their far from normal lives. The animation also has a number of crazy highlights so far, and it wisely reserves its most ambitious cuts for its funniest moments.

There are still a ton of unanswered questions floating around: where did Hina and Anzu come from? How many more people will show up? Is it really okay to bring young children to nightclubs? (Lain tells me it’s not, Nitta should watch that). I’m sure we’ll get there eventually, but for now I’m content to let this silly cast feel each other out as they get used to their new lives. Hinamatsuri is a blast and I highly recommend it to all.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KAKURIYO NO YADOMESHI


Summary:
Aoi Tsubaki inherited her grandfather Shiro’s ability to see and interact with yokai, or as this series calls them, ayakashi. When Shiro dies, a god and master of the ayakashi Tenshinya inn captures Aoi as collection on Shiro’s debt and orders her to be his bride. Furious, Aoi storms off and befriends one of his underlings, Ginji, instead, who’s running a failing restaurant that Aoi refuses to let fall apart.

Yatahaze:
I didn’t hear much about Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi before diving into it, but everything I did hear involved a comparison: “it’s like Spirited Away meets The Ancient Magus’ Bride meets Natsume’s Book of Friends meets Restaurant to Another World…” so on and so forth.

On the other side, I think what those comparisons were getting at is that Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi doesn’t have much personality of its own. Its premiere is very exposition-heavy and sets the overarching stage for the show rather well, but the content within doesn’t feel all that original or gripping. More often than not it felt like Kakuriyo was just checking off boxes of elements from those works listed above with the hope that something would stick, but the series’ lackluster visuals, grating main characters (Ginji is an exception), and derivative plot beats robbed this premiere of any compelling fun or drama. There’s certainly a coherent narrative being presented here, but between the inn head’s abrasive personality, Aoi’s overplayed sob story, and a general tonal disconnect between show and audience, I couldn’t help but keep glancing at the clock waiting for this one to tick on by.

Even for avid fans of mythological stories and josei, I don’t see much to recommend about Kakuriyo. Although the pieces are there, they’re not handled in a particularly memorable way, and something tells me even the most patient of viewers will find its well of ideas runs dry before its first cour ends, let alone its second.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

LAST PERIOD: THE JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE DESPAIR (LAST PERIOD: OWARINAKI RASEN NO MONOGATARI)


Summary:
In a fantastical world plagued by demons known as “Spirals,” heroes known as “Periods” rise up against the Spiral scourge. A young boy named Haru is accidentally admitted as an apprentice into a squad, shortly before a burglary sends them into bankruptcy. Now Haru and his friends must take on ludicrously low-paying quests in order to rebuild their squad.

Harubruh:
Okay, I know what you’re all thinking, so go ahead and get all of the juvenile period jokes out of your system.

Next, I definitely didn’t pick this up because the protagonist happens to share a name with me.

As I write this, Last Period is kind of an oddity for me. It strikes me as one part Konosuba, one part Witch Craft Works, and one part its own unique thing, and I’ll attempt to elaborate as best I can. Like Konosuba, this show is set in a fantasy world with a video game-like system and its comedy relies heavily on how its characters’ personalities bounce off one another, albeit in Last Period, it’s much more good-natured and far less perverted. For some reason, the Wiseman crew that appears to be the rivals to the former Arc End 8th Squad give off a similar vibe to Tanpopo’s crew from Witch Craft Works, only that the Wisemen are way OP compared to our heroes, at least for now. Though these elements work to Last Period’s favor, I’m not actually sure what this show is aiming to be.

I mean, this feeling could be a complete swing and a miss, seeing as my impression of this is only based off the pilot episode; the second episode comes out after our deadline for this article, so we’re all kind of out of luck as far as that’s concerned. Going off of the pilot, the cast is certainly endearing, the visuals are passable, the banter is lively, fourth walls do get breached somewhat, and the punchlines will put a grin on your face, but nothing had me laughing out loud.

I hope I’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of what Last Period’s aims are upon my watch of its second episode. The potential is definitely present for some quality entertainment. We’ll see if it can last until our next article.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

MAJOR 2ND


Summary:
Sequel to Major, the long-running baseball anime, Major 2nd follows Daigo Shigeno, son of world champion baseball phenom Gorou Shigeno, as he attempts to rekindle his love for the game after failing to meet his lofty expectations during his first swing with a baseball team.

Harubruh:
It’s kind of incredible that being the huge baseball fan that I am, this is my first real experience with the Major series, aside from a handful of chapters of the manga here and there. It’s likely due to the fact that the mountain of material—over 125 episodes, roughly half an hour each—looks truly insurmountable when I already have a daunting behemoth of a backlog as it is.

Be that as it may, I found it fairly easy to fill in the blanks upon starting Major 2nd. It’s relatively friendly for newcomers such as myself, and it’s loads more charming than the other baseball anime airing this season.

As opposed to struggling to keep my attention trained on the computer screen as I sat through two episodes of Gurazeni, Major 2nd immediately caught my eye from the start and kept me focused on it. The dialogue is fresher, the comedy is actually funny, the action is passably depicted, and the baseball IQ is better, an impressive feat considering Major 2nd is only covering local little league right now.

Despite being the son of an international baseball superstar, Daigo fails to hit at all for his little league team. Compounded with a weak throwing arm and the heavy expectations of being the son of an all-time great player, along with the back-handed commentary that comes with his failures, the boy becomes discouraged and drops out of the game altogether after the end of his first season, and it’s hard to blame him for it. A year later, he gets called up by his old coach to fill when a handful of starters come down with the flu, and he reluctantly takes the field again, and that’s where we’re at after two episodes.

We only that far in, but I can already tell that Major 2nd is the superior of the two baseball anime airing this spring. Most baseball anime I’ve seen tell their story from a pitcher’s perspective, but if the endcards aren’t teasing me, it appears that Daigo will not only be a position player, but he’ll move behind the plate to play at catcher, also known as the best position in baseball, at least according to me, anyways.

A baseball anime about a position player? Count me in.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MEGALO BOX


Summary:
In this reboot of the 60s classic Ashita no Joe, Junk Dog, an illegal citizen with no ID, participates in rigged underground boxing matches to make a living, but he knows he has the skill to properly win fights. After the Shirato Group announces Megalonia, a prestigious boxing contest, and JD has a run-in with one of its biggest stars and promoters, his coach schemes to find a way out of his debt: registering JD with a fake ID and aiming for the top.

Yatahaze:
Hot take time: I didn’t care for Megalo Box.

WHOA NOW, calm down. Before you all jump on me, take that statement at face value and with a massive grain of salt. Dissect it with me:

“I,” as in me, For Great Justice writer and general idiot Yata, “didn’t care for,” as in “did not really connect with,” Megalo Box.

No judgment. No “this is a bad series” baloney. I’m not here for views, and I don’t like riling people up with exaggerated negativity. That’s just not my style. I wanted to love this premiere, I really did. But as much as I appreciate it being something completely different from the rest of this season’s offerings, spiritually in line with its predecessor, and artistically expressive enough to convey the whole throwback aesthetic well, I just…I dunno, I just didn’t care for Megalo Box.

That’s probably not a satisfying answer for most of you, but I don’t know what I can say other than I felt like the series relied on the viewer being invested in its conflict from the get-go, something fans of Ashita no Joe probably had no problems with, but coming in uninitiated, I felt underwhelmed by its characterizations and worldbuilding. No disrespect to Ashita no Joe if it helped pioneer this (I don’t know anything about it), but the chiseled, courageous hunk wanting to prove himself and the whole desert slum/urban utopia divide have become such archetypal elements of stories like this that they feel empty without any further elaboration, and so far Joe comes off as a bland protagonist with no additional purpose as a result.

From what I’ve heard, you don’t need to have seen Ashita no Joe to enjoy this reboot of it; plenty of people have taken the dive and immediately loved it. But that just has me more confused, like there must be something I’m missing here. I respect its look and appeal, and anyone out there into boxing, underdog stories, or class conflict should at least give the show a whirl. For whatever reason though, I was not compelled to stick around for more. Guess I’ll own up to the unpopular L on this one and walk away.
Final score: 7.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

MY HERO ACADEMIA 3RD SEASON


Summary:
The third season of hit shounen series My Hero Academia, kicking things off with a recap episode and UA’s finest doing some training in preparation for the League of Villains’ re-emergence.

Yatahaze:
My Hero Academia Season 3 really didn’t give me much to talk about yet and I don’t know what lies ahead since I haven’t read the manga, so I’ll keep this brief:

The recap premiere was basically a pointless exposition-fest and I still don’t see why the series is giving so much screentime to Mineta. Literally nobody wants that. A swimsuit episode, I’ll take. The “Wild, Wild Pussycats,” I’ll take. Their angsty Bruce Wayne child? I’ll even begrudgingly take him.

But can we not drag this already weaker-end material down even further with this repetitive perverted plum bullshit, please?

Anyway, good franchise otherwise remains good, albeit with a slow start. We’ve got 2 back-to-back cours to work with again, though, so I’m not worried in the slightest. I’m glad MHA is back, and I look forward to actually having something to say about it shortly.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

REAL GIRL (3D KANOJO)


Summary:
As punishment for being late to school, bitter otaku outcast Hikari Tsutsui ends up meeting seemingly promiscuous Iroha Igarashi and the two enter an ambiguous relationship that Hikari doesn’t know how to respond to.

Yatahaze:
Real Girl is a high-school romance for those who hate it when their partners play hard to get; Iroha is one of the most forward characters I’ve ever seen from a romance anime, Hikari is defensive and insular but often just as blunt, and the two become a couple and kiss multiple times across the show’s first two episodes. It moves fast.

To the show’s credit, perhaps that’s the point; both Hikari and Iroha clearly have some baggage, it’s just Hikari’s that we know about in detail since he’s the one narrating everything. But even though Iroha isn’t quite on his level of social pariahdom, it’s refreshing that she isn’t treated like a popular queen either. Something’s broken with both parties already, and it makes their relationship come off as contrived and shallow, neither of them experienced or mindful enough to understand what a healthy, committed relationship is actually like. While chatting with some friends about this series, I called it Oregairu Lite, and the core of the comparison makes sense: a loner and a beauty find each other and realize their isolation has stunted their emotional maturation. Strip that away, though, and “Lite” doesn’t even begin to describe the world of differences here, from Real Girl’s lack of an interesting supporting cast to its indistinct character designs. Real Girl is its own show, for sure, but a lesser one.

If its goal is eventually to guide Hikari and Iroha to a more nuanced understanding of themselves, I may come back and give it a second go later on, but at the moment I don’t feel confident enough to predict its trajectory one way or the other. Part of that comes down to the speedy breakdown of events, but the other thing is that Hikari is not enough of a compelling narrator/protagonist to sell this story on his own. The mystique comes from Iroha. The tension comes from Iroha. And until I hear that Real Girl treats her like a complex character in her own right, I’m not going to put my foot in my mouth and claim that this series has depth beyond your average throwaway wish-fulfillment romance. It certainly doesn’t have anything notable or praiseworthy regarding its production, and while you don’t need expressive character animation to sell a compelling drama, it surely doesn’t hurt. Everything Real Girl might do right has been done right before, and there’s no guarantee. More hardcore fans of adolescent romances may have more patience than I do, but as for everyone else, I can’t give the series much of a plug as is.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

SWORD ART ONLINE ALTERNATIVE: GUN GALE ONLINE


Summary:
Socially awkward as a result of a complex about her extreme height, Karen Kohiruimaki finds a respite upon attaining a short and cute avatar in the popular virtual reality game Gun Gale Online, and we follow along as she begins to befriend some fellow gunners. Yes, this is a Sword Art Online spin-off.

Harubruh:
Thank God that we have Franxx (which I have forgotten to watch the last few weeks) and the drama it triggers weekly to divert any possible discourse away from the *Sword Art Online* spin-off that began airing this season, because the first two episodes of GGO have been an absolute blast.

Set in the same universe as SAO, but featuring its own bespoke set of characters, Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online follows a girl using the game featured in SAO’s Phantom Bullet arc as a means of escape from being a very, very tall person in a world designed for shorter people.

Though people may hem and haw over their perception of Reki Kawahara’s writing, Gun Gale Online truly feels like a breath of fresh air because it really is just that. With the story written by Keiichi Sigsawa and the characters designed by Kouhaku Kuroboshi, the combo behind such great titles as Kino’s Journey and Allison, all set in what was by far my favorite of Kawahara’s worlds, this show was kind of a no-brainer for me. Sigsawa’s wry sense of humor in his writing and his expertise with regard to guns, and girls with guns, effortlessly made for an entertaining story that just needed a competent studio to make a good anime, and I’m quite happy with the job Studio 3Hz has done so far with their adaptation.

Adding to my enjoyment is this anime’s convenient timing, right on the heels of my having dumped 50+ hours and counting into the newest SAO video game, Fatal Bullet, which if you haven’t guessed is *also* set in Gun Gale Online and in which the main characters from this very show can join your party. Seeing the consistency in the scenery in the anime with some of the locations in the video game gave me some added entertainment value.

Also of note, GGO has also had plenty of #relatable moments from its main character, LLENN, with her firing off quotable phrases and priceless reaction faces with entertaining regularity.

I think you guys should be able to tell by now that I’m having a blast with this show. I dare say that a fair percentage of people who disliked SAO might even get a kick out of Gun Gale Online. I’m sure enjoying the hell out of it, and I hope you do too.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

TADA NEVER FALLS IN LOVE (TADA-KUN WA KOI WO SHINAI)


Summary:
Amateur photographer Mitsuyoshi Tada has an unlikely number of coincidental run-ins with two foreign girls who also transfer into his class and school club. Is there more to them than meets the eye, though?

Yatahaze:
I’ve gotta assume there is. Teresa has been treated like royalty by Alec and the latter has mostly exhibited strict, bodyguard-like tendencies despite the two of them ostensibly being the same age. Nothing’s confirmed this yet, but if Tada-kun’s big reveal is that Tada himself fell in love with a European princess or something without realizing it, it’s got some work to do building up its dramatic tension to a point where that sort of cheap storytelling trick will land.

And that’s a shame, because all things considered, I’m otherwise loving this show. The cast is exuberant and energetic, the art and shot direction are likewise, and token pervert Pin-senpai aside, the show’s sense of humor is marvelous, embracing the sense of community the Japanese characters had already fostered prior to Tada running into Teresa. Like Teresa herself, just watching these folks I get the sense that I’ve stumbled into a tight-knit group of friends who treat each other like family, and that playfulness is contagious. The second episode admittedly didn’t hit its comedic beats as well as the first one did, but if the series can at least average something between the two, it has the potential to be one of the funniest shows of the spring. Either way, as long as Teresa remains a diehard fan of Rainbow Shogun, there will be screencap gold aplenty.

I’m concerned Tada-kun might take a more melodramatic turn as it ramps up, but I’m only concerned because it’s doing the whole “silly high schoolers acting silly” shtick so satisfyingly up to this point. Add to the equation Doga Kobo’s reliably pretty art style, Mitsue Yamazaki’s low-key aptitude with series like this, and the voice actors’ tremendous efforts so far, and this could either be a sleeper hit of the season or one of those comedies that can’t maintain its momentum when it tries to get serious. Time will tell, but for now I’m excited to revisit Tada and crew each week.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

UMA MUSUME: PRETTY DERBY


Summary:
In a world otherwise identical to our own, esteemed race horses of the past can get reincarnated in the bodies of horsegirls, girls with a horse’s ears and tail who can run really fast. The best of the best train at Tokyo’s Tracen Academy, where they compete as racers and, if they’re quick enough, also perform as idols. Special Week is one such horsegirl, raised in isolation and urged by (one of) her mother(s) to become the best horsegirl in the country!

Yatahaze:
I want you to go back to the first time anime stunned you. Like, really left your jaw dropped to the floor in total disbelief, forcing you to loudly exclaim “WHAT?!” over and over because there was no word stronger than that and all other words failed you. Maybe it was FLCL’s unfiltered adrenaline. Maybe it was Kill la Kill’s risqué explosiveness. Chances are statistically high that it was something else entirely, but the specific show in question doesn’t matter, just the fact that it happened. We’ve all had that anime moment.

Someone, somewhere, will have that experience with Uma Musume. God bless them.

To be honest, I kind of wish I could be there to absorb the bewilderment from them, because as silly as the series is, I fear it wasn’t “blow me away, make me question my sanity again” silly.

Not that it has to be, I suppose, and Special Week is already a mighty fun protagonist to follow regardless, striking a personable sweet spot between determined and ditsy. The rest of the show more or less follows suit with what you’d expect from any “climb to the top” sports show and “oh look, it’s a transfer student” slice-of-life series; Spe-chan arrives with the goal of being the fastest horse in Japan, immediately proves herself capable of that if not much else, and takes kindly to the teammates who scout and befriend her.

And personally, that’s exactly the problem: while I’m glad Uma Musume is succeeding on more conventional grounds and I’d still recommend any sports or slice-of-life junkie curious about it to at least give it a shot, I didn’t show up for conventional grounds. The novelty of “hey, what if this was a track show, but with horsegirls” lost its luster pretty quick, and while it crops back up in tiny, hilarious ways, I can’t help but feel like I’m watching an extremely normal show with only an occasional surreal twist. Not to mention Trainer-san’s antics aren’t funny at all and actually inject the series with an extremely common anime trope too many.

That’s right, you heard it here first: the horsegirls show is too normal to capture my attention.

Call Life Alert. I’ve fallen into anime hell and can’t get up®.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

WOTAKOI: LOVE IS HARD FOR OTAKU (WOTAKU NI KOI WA MUZUKASHII)


Summary: Narumi Momose, a closet fujoshi, and Hirotaka Nifuji, a gamer nerd with no shame, have known each other for ages due to their hobbies but just started working together. In the corporate world, their refuge in each other soon turns to a relationship, though calling it “love” might be a stretch.

Yatahaze:
Every season there are a few series which premiere on the late side and only release one episode apiece before we publish these first impressions pieces, and among them, there’s almost always one that doesn’t give me enough material to make an informed judgment call. This season that potentially-great, potentially-sloppy title is Wotakoi.

The greatness is mostly latent too; I’m a sucker for workplace dramas and an even bigger sucker for rom-coms, both labels which define this series to some extent. While the characters’ backgrounds are still sort of vague and one-note, the voice acting is lively and in this setup’s best-case scenario I can easily see myself being entertained by Narumi, Hirotaka, and their half-in-the-closet coworkers for weeks to come.

It’s everything else I’m doubtful about. Not only are the characters indeed very one-note still, I’m always (and by “always” I mean “since Saekano“) hesitant to praise potential in otaku-centric stories without a firm handle on what the series’ ultimate endgame is. So far Narumi and Hirotaka don’t really seem like they’d date well—Narumi is too high-energy and emotionally immature, and Hirotaka feels too “look at me, I’m always right” to get along with Narumi over the long haul. If the show wants to help the two of them grow, I’d be down for that, but if the development ends up lopsided, preachy, or spineless, I also don’t have many reservations about discarding it quickly. The animation and art design are far from invigorating on their own too.

But despite all that I can see the glimmer of hope here, so unless the show quickly proves my optimism misguided, I’m all for giving Wotakoi a couple more weeks. I wouldn’t say it’s noteworthy enough to pounce on if these sorts of shows aren’t really your thing, but they are incredibly mine.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.


And that’s all for now! We know our watchload ended up on the lighter side this season, but hopefully that’ll give us more time to put out additional content and work through our backlogs. A slower season has been a long time comin’, and we don’t want to waste it. Anyway, what were your thoughts on this spring’s premieres? Got a favorite yet? Can’t stand one of our decisions above? Let us know! Leave a comment below or hit us up over on Twitter. Thanks again for your readership, and until next time, this has been For Great Justice.

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