Winter 2019 First Impressions

We’re both back now! The Great Great Justice Hiatus is over, and what better time to return than the start of a new year? From the looks of it, this will be a pretty average season of anime, too: some favorites are back with new installments, some titles that slipped us by have started off on the right foot, and…uh…there’s plenty of unrepentant garbage floating around too, but all in a day’s work, right? No point beating around the bush, let’s jump right into our first impressions on this winter season!


DOMESTIC GIRLFRIEND (DOMESTIC NA KANOJO)


Summary:
Natsuo Fujii has a crush on his teacher and recently lost his virginity with a stranger. Under most circumstances, those two events would have nothing to do with each other, but it turns out the two girls are sisters! And thanks to his dad’s re-marriage, they’re all about to be step-siblings.

Yatahaze:
Ohohoho yes. Yes. This is the trash I’ve been waiting for. Domestic Girlfriend looks and acts like a corny bland harem from the late aughts and offers no apology for itself. This show just is because it can be, and given my previous track record when it comes to those sorts of horny fantasies (see uh, Seiren, Citrusboth also winter shows, by coincidence), Domestic Girlfriend is the rightful 2019 successor to that throne. What can I say? I love this smut in moderation.

But is it good? That’ll depend on what you’re really asking here. The whole setup for this ridiculous scenario is played shockingly straight, with the reveal coming out of left field for Natsuo not because it was a sudden development to anyone else, but because his father kept putting off telling him about it. Maybe also being the child of a divorced, embarrassingly flirty dad has something to do with it, but as soon as Natsuo walked by his pops on the phone, I had a feeling I knew where this was going. Hina, the teacher, and Rui, the girl Natsuo’s age, have a relatively reasonable sister dynamic even though they look nothing alike and their personalities are otherwise complete opposites. And Natsuo’s not a total moron, but he’s clueless in these circumstances. The boring self-insert protagonists of these shows are rarely their selling point, but at least this one is tolerably dull instead of aggressively so for now.

All that said, this is a self-insert harem, and I’m watching Domestic Girlfriend not because it’s particularly innovative or polished or praiseworthy, but because it checks enough of my boxes (of which incest is not one, I just want to make that clear). Every season has its junk food and some junk food is less nutritious than others, but as long as I don’t lose the plot completely and go around calling this the Anime of the Season, I think I can keep Domestic Girlfriend under control. This show is so dumb. I love it.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

DORORO


Summary:
After being saved from some thugs by a mysterious, silent wanderer with a cursed body, an orphaned child thief named Dororo decides to head out of town and follow him around. This new traveling partner has a checkered past, howeverone tied to the ongoing political instability of the Sengoku period and a ruler’s selfish wish.

Yatahaze:
I don’t know how familiar most of the anime community is with Dororo, but preliminary research shows me its original story was penned and illustrated by none other than the godfather of manga himself, Osamu Tezuka. Set in the distant past, it’s not like the half a century between his writing and the present necessitates any changes to the story itself, so I’m hoping and assuming this 2-cour anime adaptation will be a faithful one. Its look is updatedthe manga’s style is unmistakably 60s and this anime has a more polished, pale veneer to itbut that’s about all I’ve heard regarding changes so far.

I speak with distance here, of course, because I haven’t read Dororo or anything by Tezuka yet myself. Generally, reboots of old franchises like this are able to stoke my curiosity, but whether or not they’re really up my alley depends on the specifics involved. This one earns some credits for its wandering adventure backdrop and goofy child “protagonist,” whereas its hints that it will develop into a political revenge tale are neither here nor there for me. I fear it may lose me if it tries to coast on the latter alone without fleshing out either Daigo, Hyakkimaru’s “father,” or the nature of the vengeful spirits who capitalized on his hubris, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Though I’m not entirely sold on Dororo’s long-term sustainability yet, these first two episodes did warm me to its titular character as well as Hyakkimaru and what’s-his-face Grandpa-san. The action scenes are well-directed, the dialogue is serviceable enough, and there’s a purposeful, grounded tone here that I find beneficial to balance out the divine trickery of the show’s premise. I may hop off before its two cours come to an end, especially if it doesn’t tease me with any more substantial hooks after a few more weeks, but it’s done enough to warrant a watch for now.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

ENDRO~!


Summary:
A party of four adventurers led by the hero Yulia “Yusha” Chardiet successfully defeated the Demon Lord! Or rather, they think they did, but they messed up their final spell and accidentally sent them all back in time. While Yulia and her comrades don’t remember this, the Demon Lord does, and takes the identity of a “teacher” at their school with the goal of preventing Yulia from gaining hero cred to repeat the slaying a second time.

Yatahaze:
I’ve previously discussed my apathy towards the “defeat the demon lord” premise when it’s played straight, and very few shows that stick to it without some additional twist manage to capture my attention. On paper, Endro’s “no second chances” gambit is a hit, and in all fairness it was one of my favorite parts of this show’s pilot.

But it’s simply not enough to counteract how by-the-book everything else about this premise is and how little interest I personally have in that. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its audience: Endro’s production values are great, its cast of ditsy cute girls will be enough to win some people over, and I’ll admit I even cracked a grin at a few of its understated jokes (mostly courtesy of Mei).

But at the same time, it’s too clean, skimpy outfits notwithstanding. The heroes have a friendly rapport, but not one that’s particularly engaging. The dialogue serves to radiate good vibes, but it’s often too stiff to flow well as a result, and few of the character voices here have any gripping wit to them. I’m clearly not expecting endless sass from a show with an overall design as sanitized as Endro’s, but it’s all just too safe to stand out as is. If a wholesome take on this trope is what you’ve been waiting for, I think it’s finally here for you, and by all means, it does what it’s trying to do well. I just personally wish it aimed for more.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

GIRLY AIR FORCE


Summary:
Earth is under attack by Xi, an…alien force? terrorist group? foreign military division? I don’t know, they don’t saybut whatever the case, they’re wreaking havoc and displacing people, such as Kei and his childhood friend Minghua, who fled to Japan from China. During their evacuation, Kei witnessed a strange plane and its pilot and then became transfixed on joining the JASDF to learn more. He doesn’t have to wait long, as they promptly capture him for interrogation. Turns out he may hold the key to unraveling the Xi’s upper hand.

Yatahaze:
See, on one hand, Girly Air Force is fucking ridiculous. Kei is a milquetoast, angsty aircraft dork, the Xi require a tedious “here’s what we know” explanation to make any sort of sense as a practical enemy, and the show’s subsequent plans of what to do to defeat them are an indulgent, convoluted mess of gratuitous codenames and jargon.

On the other hand, this pilot could’ve been even worse, to the point that, despite everything, it does feel like a half-decent introduction to these characters, their goals, and how they intend to achieve them. Up until the episode’s final act where Kei and Minghua get captured and interrogated, Girly Air Force even sort of attempted to tastefully depict the stress of being a war refugee in a new land. It’s immediately subverted by Kei yelling at Minghua that she acts like a “naggy mom,” of course, but the fact that it doesn’t have to stand side by side with fanservice right off the bat shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Serviceable direction and a bit of restraint don’t stop the rest of this episode from feeling over-complicated at best and tone-deaf at worst, though. Add to that the blanket of blandness permeating every second of screen-time and the sort of similar (and infinitely more tantalizing) Kotobuki also airing this season, and Girly Air Force is an easy drop.
Final score: 5/10.
Dropped after 1 episode.

Harubruh:
Is it a thinly veiled recruiting drive for the JASDF or is it just a planegirl harem show in the making?

I couldn’t tell you.

What I can tell you is that I made it two episodes deep into Girly Air Force, one more than Yata. I’m clearly not acting in my best interests at the start of this season. The second episode was less aerial combat and more like “MC-kun takes the planegirl on a romantic date around an Air Force facility,” which…I guess you can figure how that probably went.

Aside from a small handful of meme-worthy faces and reacts, there still wasn’t a whole lot Girly Air Force had to offer, especially with a vastly superior “Girls in Planes” show airing concurrently. Yata’s pretty much hit everything on the head with this show, already.

Also, as a slight aviation geek, it entertains me to all hell that one of these advanced alien-fighting planes is a retrofitted F-4 Phantom, a plane that isn’t tactically relevant for anything other than literal target practice these days.

I’ll stick with Magnificent Kotobuki, thank you very much.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

GRIMMS NOTES THE ANIMATION


Summary: Based on a mobage, Grimms Notes is set in a world where people are bestowed with a “Book of Fate” containing the entire course of their lives written by a Storyteller. Rogue storytellers have been rewriting bad events into various old fairly tales, and it’s up to a group of kids with blank Books of Fate to restore order to the stories.

Harubruh:
Another season, another mobage anime for me.

I wonder if I’ll last through this one like I did with Last Period and Merc Storia. Both of those had a unique appeal to them that kept me inclined to keep tuning in. With Last Period, it was its relentless and unmerciful parodies of the various minutia of mobages, and Merc Storia was just a generally comfy time-killer on an off-day for shows on my watch list.

In comparison, Grimms Notes feels somewhat… lacking, though. It whiffs in the humor department, and doesn’t really have a particular comfy charm to it, either. Additionally, the action sequences are fairly cut and dry. It’s almost a bit of a shame, because I do find the fairy tale-centric setting more novel than the other aforementioned mobage shows.

I may continue further with it, or I may not. With the exception of the blessed Tsurune Sundays, I had difficulty coordinating which shows dropped on what days last season, and it appears I’m having similar troubles with this season as well. For now, Grimms Notes benefits from the fact that this winter has a dearth of genuinely appealing-looking new shows, as far as I’m concerned.
Current score: 5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes. (barely, though.)

HOW CLUMSY YOU ARE, MISS UENO. (UENO-SAN WA BUKIYOU)


Summary:
It’s pandemonium in a certain middle school Science Club. Borderline-mad scientist Ueno is just as madly in love with her junior, Tanaka, but Tanaka keeps ignoring or turning down her advances, which only encourages Ueno to go further…and weirder…and more intimate.

Yatahaze:
After hearing its concept, I instantly decreed Miss Ueno “role-reversed Takagi-san with Nichibros-tier humor,” and I not only stand by that comparison upon actually watching the show, I want to raise it on a pedestal for the world to witness. Between its top-class voice performances and the goofy Engrish phrases that pepper the screen at every other punchline, Miss Ueno is one of those gag comedies where the approach doesn’t seem prone to change that much, but the details of each scenario go off the rails in such a gratifying chase of one-upmanship that it doesn’t matter.

So it goes with Puberty: The Anime, and Ueno’s weird “inventions” only widen the possibilities. It doesn’t have to keep that up for very long, and I’m thankful for thatthis is a short series about half the episode length of your average program, and the animation is notably conservative, but the former fact helps keep each episode snappy and the latter gets skirted around due to the show’s other aforementioned strengths. Miss Ueno certainly isn’t gonna change the game, but this aggressively horny child and her crush look poised to be a ride to tune into each weekend this season.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR
(KAGUYA-SAMA WA KOKURASETAI: TENSAI-TACHI NO RENAI ZUNOUSEN)


Summary:
At the prestigious Shuchiin Academy, Student Council Vice President Kaguya Shinomiya and President Miyuki Shirogane obviously have feelings for each other, but neither views relationships as a manifestation of mutual strength. Instead, each is trying to trick the other into being the initiator of the confession, which, in their minds, is also a confession of weakness. If you thought your average romcom was slow to get to the point, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Yatahaze:
Kaguya-sama’s cynical outlook on love isn’t something I find myself attracted to in most circumstances. It’s correct in that all relationships involve power dynamics, but the notion that those dynamics are inherently harmful to one or both of the people involved is more proof that those people have some social skills to work on than any deep, woke “truth” about love as a concept.

Fortunately, I don’t think Kaguya-sama’s really echoing the thoughts of its leads, just playing into their egomania and drive to be the one pulling the strings. Even better, for as rich and bright as these kids are, they’re prone to overestimate just how far the other one is willing to play along with this game, and that’s the backbone of these skits so far. The constant visual flair and impeccable score heighten the drama and comedy even further. Not that this show wouldn’t be at least sort of interesting without them, but this material is tremendously elevated by SHAFT’s top-notch produc-

wait, this isn’t Studio SHAFT? This is A-1 Pictures? ….

W H A T?

Color me impressed then. Director Shinichi Omata surely carried some of his prior animation merits on SHAFT titles over to this role, and though his Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was a very different work tonally, Kaguya-sama shows he can adapt a more diverse range of storytelling well. Not quite “equally well,” at least not so farthe narrator who dominated the first episode’s skits intruded on the natural chemistry of the leads, though that was less of a problem in episode two, and in general each episode’s constituent skits have felt a little disconnectedbut other than that, there’s little to be skeptical about here. Kaguya-sama has such a strong, stimulating sense of self-importance that my few minor nitpicks ultimately aren’t that significant. Airing in the same season as the show below sets it up for some unnecessary comparisons, but the aims of each one are clearly different, and I’m already more invested in Kaguya-sama’s endgame than, uh…well, there’s not much point dragging this out any longer, is there?
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KAKEGURUI XX


Summary:
It’s the second season of Kakegurui and change is in the air at Hyakkaou Academy! Everyone’s still gambling, of course, but there’s more than just life’s savings, personal autonomy, and appendages on the line now: Kirari Momobami is stepping down as head of the Student Council and putting her position up for grabs, beckoning the children of several constituent “-bami” families as well as the rest of the student body to risk their all to take over the academy.

Yatahaze:
Remember Kakegurui? I remember Kakegurui. I remember its ceaseless horniness, its exaggerated revelry in wealth, and its bonkers cast. I’m a little shakier when it comes to season one’s actual games and gambles, but if there’s anything I learned from that experience, it’s that this is a show that doesn’t take its wagers all that seriously and uses them instead as means to an end for pitting these power-hungry rich kids against each other.

And call me what you will, but I for one enjoy me some rich kids eating shit.

Really, that’s the main reason I’m sticking around for XX. Lord knows Kakegurui can’t write its way out of a paper bag when it comes to setting up compelling gameplay tricks or sleight of hand, but now that I know to expect as much, I’m already finding it easier to enjoy the franchise’s sheer bullshit for what it is: schlocky, edgy entertainment where the pretentious fall apart. Like that one Jon Bois video about poker, but more erotic…and gross.

I’m sure that sounds mostly negative, and fair enough, it kind of is, but I don’t hop on board for the second seasons of all my 6/10s. Kakegurui, and XX even more so already, earned this one. Just because there’s no deeper writing below the surface doesn’t mean there’s not palpable drama going down, nor things to enjoy in the series’ production. This season’s broadening of the playing field should only help matters, as we have weeks worth of new characters to get familiar with while they tussle for social supremacy.

If you finished Kakegurui completely tired of the show’s premise, XX likely won’t reinvigorate the sparkbut for those of us who found ourselves captured by this niche in spite of its weaknesses, there’s nothing to be scared of here. For better or worse, XX is more of the same, but freed from the burden of expectationand I’m all here for that.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KEMURIKUSA


Summary:
In a mysterious, desolate world, one group of girls has learned to survive together and defeat evil “bugs” whenever they appear. They’re running low on water at their current base though, and just before they need to decide whether to stay or move on, a stranger “bug” that can talk appears and helps the girls out. Now they have another matter to tend to: can they trust him?

Yatahaze:
We won’t talk about the sequel that shall not be named in this house, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t check out Tatsuki and Yaoyorozu’s new offering, and frankly, if you enjoyed Kemono Friends, so would you. I don’t know what the bigger picture is in this world yet, but the cold open, uninviting surroundings, and lack of exhibition intrigued me much like those aspects of Kemono Friends did. Though this series is less outwardly “fun,” make no mistake, it retains the directorial tone that Tatsuki’s previous beloved hit did.

This makes for a hard thing to review, though: Kemono Friends built hype on a weekly basis by dropping clues of its bigger story until there were enough to form a coherent explanation for what was going on. Kemurikusa looks like it intends to do the same, but that approach working before isn’t to say it also will here. Worse, Rin aside, I honestly don’t feel that connected to any of these characters yetthe little sister twins are a headache, Ritsu is reliable but just kind of there, and even Wakaba’s positive perkiness comes off as irritating more than it does endearing.

Perhaps time will make the heart grow fonder, but in my experience, so does absence, and that’s what I think I’m gonna do with Kemurikusa until it’s over. If its reputation turns positive, I’ll probably marathon it then. If not, there’s not enough here yet to guarantee my interest.

That might be a controversial take, but keep in mind that if Kemono Friends and these first few episodes are any indication, Tatsuki’s formula is built around intriguing rather than exhilarating. His shows have stakes, but they’re deliberately shrouded or misleading at first, getting his audience to bite via the promise of revelations. Those promises only feel as vital as the questions they seek to answer though, and as okay a premiere as Kemurikusa had, at the moment, I could live with or without finding out where this show takes place, if Wakaba and the girls are indeed even human, and why the bugs are out for their blood. Add to that its hellish mid-week Wednesday air date and this has all the signs of a show I think I’ll enjoy more binged all at once (if at all) than attended to weekly.

So yeah, come late March, I may have something more to say about Kemurikusa. Until then, it won’t be a staple of my weekly watchlistbut that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye on it. If you want to support Tatsuki after his unceremonious departure from Kadokawa or just feel down for a unique mystery show, give it a shot.
Final (?) score: 6/10
Dropped for now after 2 episodes.

THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI (KOUYA NO KOTOBUKI HIKOUTAI)


Summary:
In a barren world, business has taken to the skies in order to transport goods, and pirates thus roam the air to intercept them. There’s a constant need for protection, and that’s where the Kotobuki Squad comes in! This team of aviation bodyguards has a fantastic track recordit’s their personalities that could use some ironing out.

Yatahaze:
It’s here! It’s The Third Aerial Girls Squad from Shirobako!

Well, sort of. Both were directed by the same person, one of my most beloved anime directors today, Tsutomu Mizushima. Mizushima’s best works tend to feature large casts who engage in rapid-fire conversational dialogue, and The Magnificent Kotobuki is already no exception. Apparently this idea’s been in the back of his head for a while, and you can tell just how much care and attention to detail went into the worldbuilding so far as well as the piloting procedures depicted. I’m no plane otaku, but it’s not hard to find one, and they agree that for the most part, the safety checks and maneuvers of the show’s takeoffs and mid-air dogfights are accurate.

Not that you have to be an aircraft hobbyist to feel the hype for this showjust the opposite, in fact. Mizushima’s direction makes these fights immersive and easy to follow even without gratuitous exposition. There’s a conceivable lack of chatter in the midst of the showdowns as the roaring sound direction righteously commands the spotlight. I also really like that the show doesn’t bombard the audience with emphasizing the dangers of these fights; these pilots accept the risks, they know how to minimize them, and it’s their job, so they just go out there and do what they do best. So far, it’s their pride on the line more than anything, and I’m eager to see if and/or how that changes as the series unfolds.

And I do get the sense that this series will unfold. Because there’s been virtually no third-person narration so far, the details of this dangerous (but very pleasant-looking!) universe are still a mystery. The second episode offered some more cluesapparently there was some sort of event that led to an extreme dive in population and there’s been some political instability in its wakebut beyond that, the specifics have yet to be revealed. The same applies to these characters’ pasts. For now they’re easily recognizable by their token interests and perspectives on flying, but the epilogue of episode one indicates they have lives and commitments beyond their current employment as well. Coming from different backgrounds, it’s no wonder their levels of maturity vary and keep causing problems. It’ll probably be a slow burn, but The Magnificent Kotobuki has one of the highest ceilings of potential of any story this season.

But then there’s the part that’ll make some people skeptical: the animation itself. I honestly can’t fault the CG in most cases, especially the aircraft and the fighting scenes. Kept to itself, there’s nothing all that negative to write home about. When it mixes together with 2D though, it’s a bit rougher to look at, especially because that often selectively happens with some character models while others in the shot remain in 3D. It’s not distracting enough to actively take away from everything else the show is doing well, but when the two modes appear in the same frame, it notably doesn’t look as good as it could. Still, that’s but a cosmetic complaint about a series that’s otherwise off to a fantastic start. I’m super excited to see where Mizushima takes The Magnificent Kotobuki.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MOB PSYCHO 100 SEASON 2


Summary:
With one branch of Claw destroyed, Mob, Reigen, and co. return to their totally normal everyday lives for this second season of Mob Psycho 100.

Yatahaze:
I’ll get it off my chest now: while I enjoy Mob Psycho 100 and I think its first cour benefited from airing in a near-drought of a season, I definitely wasn’t as into the franchise as a lot of people, so I was curious whether or not I would find myself hyped enough to pick up this sequel for weekly viewing.

To spare you the suspense, I am, and these first few episodes had a lot to do with that. Mob’s overall themes of self-improvement are hard to take seriously with how often and unapologetically most of the supporting cast shits on people with good hearts. There’s enough levity to balance it out for the most part (especially when it involves Reigen, bless), but it still occasionally leaves a sour taste in my mouth, even if it does kind of accurately reflect the vain goals of teenhood. I was hopeful Mob S2 would further lessen the painfully on-the-nose social commentary that dominated its first season and instead focus on just being fun. So far, it kind of has.

Who’s to say if it’ll continue down that track (don’t answer that, I know the response is “manga readers”), but Emi’s introduction and the exceptionally-tense one-off evils of episode two were solid progressions down Mob’s slice-of-life and suspense avenues, and if that’s just the start, then I am so ready for more. I’m anticipating this sequel will ultimately re-tread the condemnation of Claw with a “new” head honcho antagonist, but even if it does, Mob Psycho 100’s reputation as a sakuga powerhouse precedes it, and no other returning show this season has as stacked a reputation to live up to. I certainly believe it can string together more hits than misses againand either way, I’ve got me a whole new batch of Redraw Reigen memes to wake up to every day, so Mob S2 can only be a good thing.
Current score: 8/10
Watching after 2 episodes.

MY ROOMMATE IS A CAT (DOUKYONIN WA HIZA, TOKIDOKI ATAMA NO UE)


Summary:
Secret novelist Subaru Mikazuki accidentally fed a stray cat while visiting his parents’ grave and it followed him home and now they’re roommates, the end.

Yatahaze:
I’ve never been much of a pet person, but I won’t deny that under the right circumstances, I can scroll through “silly animal does something silly” videos as easily as the next guy and lose a lot of time. Script one well and you’ve basically got a recipe for success in my book.

Aaaand then there’s My Roommate is a Cat, which does just about everything it can to make the cat of its namesake the only thing worth watching the show for. Not to discredit this catit’s a very good cat, a very cat-like cat. But holy shit, Subaru is one of the most dense and aggravating protagonists I’ve seen in a while, completely unable to extend common courtesy to most of his peers to a degree that simply getting a pet isn’t going to fix. He’s sort of presented as a savant, cold at his folks’ funeral and rude to his editor and friends not because he seems mean-hearted but because he doesn’t really know any betterbut that doesn’t make this any more delightful to watch.

Repeating footage via a mid-episode character perspective shift rarely works for me from a dramatic angle too, and this pilot’s reliance on that to give the cat any sense of voice just felt like an excuse to drag out the clock. This isn’t a very eventful episode, and it’s not helped by how unlikable Subaru is and how little time the cat gets to direct the action. At least some of the “worse” shows this season extended a hook for me to grab onto. From its characters to its concept to its production, My Roommate is a Cat is just…half a show. It feels like half a show. What better score to give it than this?
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

THE PRICE OF SMILES (EGAO NO DAIKA)


Summary:
Yuuki Soleil just accepted greater responsibility as the young princess of the territory of Harlant. Proving her ability to rule to the Royal Order and keeping her bodyguard friend Joshua in line are next on the agenda, but neither are going all that smoothly so far.

Yatahaze:
This is a special original series to celebrate Tatsunoko Production’s 55th anniversary, and if, like me, you’re wondering what’s so special about year 55 compared to any other year they could’ve chosen, congratulations, welcome to the club. I don’t have an answer.

It’s fitting that The Price of Smiles doesn’t feel like it has any powerful sense of purpose yet either. While I like most of its pilot’s storytelling techniques in theoryhow it just drops you into the world, how there’s little explanationPrice suffers from a more fundamental problem: it’s just not that interesting.

Clearly the trajectory it’s on will entail Yuuki realizing her government is involved in warfare and reacting to that and some dissidents’ calls for her monarchy to disband. With that in mind, this first episode felt in no rush to address that, and all its additional worldbuilding in turn felt irrelevant. Either way, I don’t mind sci-fi political action adventures just for the sake of themselves, but ideally I’d prefer something a little more unique and a little less predictable. Despite how “fine” the rest of The Price of Smiles’ pilot is (especially its CG integration, which deserves some outright praise), it’s just not a show I have any motivation to continue. Seems like decent enough genre filler if this is your sweet spot, but other than that, I can’t say I was hooked.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

THE PROMISED NEVERLAND (YAKUSOKU NO NEVERLAND)


Summary:
As far as orphanages go, this one doesn’t seem that bad at first! 38 children between the ages of 6 and 12 are lovingly cared for, given ample time to run around besides some tests, and they all get adopted by age 12 without fail. The one thing they can’t do is leave the promises, but when two of the oldest kids, Emma and Norman, do so in order to return a forgotten stuffed animal to a departing peer, they see the real reason they’re being kept here and vow to escape before fate catches up to them.

Yatahaze:
Heading into this winter, everyone was hyping up The Promised Neverland, and one episode, let alone two, is enough to see why. As a suspenseful story as well as a visual production, this show is in a league of its own this season. I won’t spoil the twist at the end of episode one just in case you, like me, haven’t heard the murmurs about it yet, but rest assured that it instantaneously turns these kids’ lives upside-down and only scratches the surface of the obstacles they’ll have to overcome if they want to live prosperously.

That’s not too much of a giveaway, I think, considering the clues that their orphanage isn’t all nice and dandy are apparent from the start: branded skin, psychological training, one set of uniform clothingthese children don’t really know any better, but the audience should be able to tell they’re not there with their own wellness in mind, and even the most genius among them have no clue what it is they’re fully up against in their unfolding endeavors to escape. Completely ignorant of this story’s later twists (Haru isn’t though, and boy did he enjoy seeing me react to the beginning), I have some hunches of my own, but too little information to be certain, so in a way, I’m figuring out the orphanage’s weak points in real time with these characters. That’s the perfect way to experience a series like this and a testament to how Neverland is revealing just the right amount of information from the get-go.

Of course, of everyone curious about Neverland, I realize I’m probably in the minority in that I don’t know a thing about it beyond what I’ve seen on-screen with my own eyes. Not to worry though, CloverWorks is adapting this thing with keen dramatic precision, crisp animation, and a stirring anime debut soundtrack courtesy of Takahiro Obata. When Neverland wants you to feel joy and hope, you’ll feel it, and when they rip it out of you with one clean, heart-wrenching swipe, your breath will be taken away. Even with recent “darker” thrillers such as Made in Abyss and Devilman Crybaby, I can’t remember the last time a series has successfully jumpscared me not once but twice and maximized each moment’s impact this well. If Neverland can keep this up, it’s not just contending for the title of Anime of the Seasonit’ll be an Anime of the Year contender. If you’re a fan of mysteries, escape thrillers, and/or horror, do not skip this one.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

THE RISING OF THE SHIELD HERO (TATE NO YUUSHA NO NARIAGARI)


Summary: Naofumi Iwatani is an average guy who finds himself summoned to another world, where he and three other people are called to action as Heroes sworn to defeat the Waves of Catastrophe wreaking havoc across the land. This fantastical turn of events quickly turns extremely south for Naofumi.

Harubruh:
Man, all I came here for was another Kevin Penkin soundtrack. That, and Yata swore he’d watch W’z if I watched this. I’m not sure which of us was the winner here.

With absolutely zero prior experience with the Shield Hero franchise—which is kind of a rarity for the isekai genre these days—I’d planned on watching this immediately after hearing Penkin was composing the soundtrack. Little did I know how this franchise was actually quite eagerly functioning as the flag bearer for the isekai genre’s gross obsession with slavery.

Shield Hero’s nearly hour-long premiere spent the better part of thirty minutes alternating between infodumps and building up the giant chip on Naofumi’s shoulder, with the King skipping over our Shield Hero’s introduction after the other three heroes (with super cool weapons that can attack) were introduced. It took me two tries to actually labor through this scene, because I audibly groaned and left my room after my first go-around. Later on, when the King brings forth a group of prospective teammates to form parties with the four heroes, Naofumi, who as the Shield Hero is unable to wield an offensive weapon, ends up with no teammates, and nearly is told to make do by himself before a beautiful woman decides to team up with him.

She ends up robbing him of all his money, equipment, and to top it all of, she accuses him of raping her. Go figure. After the King and the other heroes collectively disown him, Naofumi is left nearly penniless and the subject of universal scorn no matter where he goes. The now embittered edgelord, determined to leave the hellhole he’s found himself in, proceeds to purchase a child slave to train to use a sword, seeing as the slaves of this world are forced to obey their masters through some curse magic.

Pleasant, huh?

Having skipped on watching the widely-acclaimed Revue Starlight, I was eagerly anticipating seeing what Kinema Citrus was up to after hitting a grand slam with Made in Abyss only to be kind of let down by this. The visual presentation for Shield Hero feels lacking in comparison to Abyss, and I’ve yet to hear anything from the soundtrack that would remotely compare to “Hanezeve Caradhina” from Abyss’ outstanding soundtrack. Even then, this all still feels like it’s more than the source material deserved. Maybe Kinema Citrus and crew are saving the best bits for the finale, which might come soon…

[checks notes]

Holy shit, this show is two-cour? Oh hell no, count me out. I’ll just wait until Penkin posts the soundtrack on Spotify. I don’t even particularly care to participate in some of the downright poisonous Discourse concerning other elements in Shield Hero, but I will take my stand on one. There are absolutely zero ways to somehow redeem the inhumane concept of slavery, and I wish the otherwise enjoyable isekai genre could just wash its hands of the “humane and compassionate slaveholder” fetish it’s got. Full stop.

The only element that I really feel like commending Shield Hero for is the ED. It’s actually a good song and there’s the bonus for me of knowing that the show is over.

You remember the old saying about putting lipstick on a pig, right? Well, Shield Hero is that pig. You can give a mediocre isekai novel a quality anime adaptation, but all you’re getting is a mediocre isekai anime. In the mean time, I’ll be watching That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime, the most competent isekai that I’ve come across that’s not called Konosuba.
Current score: 4/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

W’Z


Summary:
It’s the sequel to Hand Shakers. What more do you need to know?

Yatahaze:
I know, you don’t even have to say it. You’re thinking, “but Yata, you beat the dead horse like everyone else and dropped Hand Shakers instantaneously on account of it being a cringy visual vomitorium. Why even bother with W’z?”

Because I’m a man who doesn’t know what’s good for him, obviously. But that’s fine, ’cause if I wait any longer than this, I’ll miss my window to rant about W’z, and I promise this is the last you’ll hear me speak the name until next January. That’s the plan, at least, but it takes work to mentally forget how exceptionally ugly everything GoHands crafts (some might say “shits out”) is. After laying my eyes upon it again, I’m not sure how easily I’ll let it go.

See, at least Hand Shakers‘ debut was bewilderingly stupid from start to finish. Here, the “plot” takes three quarters of an episode to kick in, and in that meantime, if you close your eyes and ignore what your brain tells you lies beyond them, W’z is, uh…listenable. Funky, like, in a good way. And the subs suggest that Protagonist-kun is going through some sort of arts vs. the “real world” dilemma with his folks, so that’s a pleasant enough break from the chains and torture of its predecessor. But nothing good can last, and by the end of the episode, GoHands made sure to remind me just what creative team this entity belongs to.

Of course, I wasn’t planning to watch this show in its entirety anywayit is apparently a direct sequel to Hand Shakers, even if the shared lingo didn’t crop up until the endbut I’m glad morbid curiosity got the better of me here. Now I know that if they really try, GoHands can partially restrain themselves for about 18 minutes before flushing their whole kit and caboodle down the proverbial toilet. After something like Hand Shakers’ first episode, that genuinely deserves a round of applause. Baby steps.
Final score: 3.5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.


Ending an article with two stinkers doesn’t leave things in a positive place, but allow me to rectify that. We only covered our first impressions of new shows here, but between the two of us, we’ve been keeping up with Run With The Wind, SAO: Alicization, and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime since last season, and we’ll have coverage for those shows going forward in our future winter articles.

Anyway, what premieres have you enjoyed so far? Think we missed the mark on the ones we got to? Agree with us? Let us know in a comment below or over on Twitter. Until next time, thanks once more for your continued readership, and we promise to not make you wait as long between seasonal coverage pieces again. Feels great to be back.

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3 comments

  1. I’m probably the only person in the world sticking with Girly Air Force and not Kotobuki (though Girly Air Force is starting to lose me as well.)

    Like

  2. Episode 3 of the Price of Smiles finally hooked me. I was not ready to drop it but not really into it during episodes 1 and 2, but episode 3 has finally gotten things rolling and while that’s probably not a good sign for an anime that it takes three episodes to grab someone, at least I now have some expectations for it going forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with hippo on GAF… Other than that, it looks like Neverland is our only overlap.

    I will suggest you might have dropped Smiles too soon. Eps 2-3 really put a different spin on what’s going on.

    Like

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