Winter 2019 Mid-Season Thoughts

It’s the dead of a…surprisingly mild winter for each of us, but there is still time to get trapped indoors and watch anime, and what a bountiful selection of shows we have to choose from! Between the two of us there’s only one drop beloweverything else we’ve been watching ranges from “good enough” to a potential highlight of the year. Which series are Yata and Haru digging most halfway through our first season of 2019? Find out below!

DOMESTIC GIRLFRIEND (DOMESTIC NA KANOJO)


Yatahaze:
Domestic Girlfriend seems to be the widely-enjoyed trash show of the season, but what if it’s more than that? What if it’s…good, actually?

Wait, please, come back, I can explain (or try to).

Putting objective terminology aside, I’m certainly more invested in these characters than I could’ve possibly imagined I’d be at this point in the show. A few of the more recent additions like Momo, Miu, and that one sleazy Literature Club advisor haven’t made a remarkably positive impression yet, but the core family unit hasn’t stopped overflowing with juicy tension. Catch-up time: Rui still likes Natsuo, who still likes Hina, who has turned him down out of practicality and because she still really wants to be with her ex(?)-lover Shuu, even after demanding some space to quell the disdain between them and the kids. Regardless of the circumstances of their relationship (Shuu seems to have no intention to speed up the divorce with his wife), Hina just…genuinely loves him, even though she knows continuing their affair is “wrong.” As Rui continues to press matters with Natsuo, their blossoming sibling chemistry may go a step beyond it again, even though both are conscious of the fact that it will complicate things tremendously. None of them are free from sin.

And therein lies the charm for me: not only is Domestic Girlfriend reveling in how “wrong” these relationships are, it sympathetically understands that love is a messy as hell emotion and can overpower more rational reluctance. It hasn’t “shamed” any of its cast for embarking on these affairsthat shame comes from within, from these characters knowing that what they’re doing is frowned-upon at best and harmful to others at worst, and seeing how they navigate those feelings of guilt and desire make for a genuinely compelling drama. Yeah, sometimes the show goes a little overboard with itself (like, is Natsuo shoving a suppository up Rui’s ass really necessary? Probably not), but on the whole it seems to understand when to give these characters space, when to send them careening into each other, and when the serious and superfluous can overlap best.

That said, I am skeptical about some of those aforementioned new additions to the cast. So far Momo has been a relatively tasteful version of the “troubled teen who uses a vicious cycle of boys to feel better” archetype, while Miu is just kind of…there? I suppose that’s the point of her character, not that it makes her feel any more essential to the story. The only glaring red flag for me is their club advisor, Kiriya, who’s clearly a manipulative asshole. Here’s hoping we either don’t get much more from him or he at least cuts the invasive bullshit sooner rather than later. Beyond him, Domestic Girlfriend has somehow actively impressed me.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

DORORO


Yatahaze:
Dororo might just be my dark horse pick of the winter season. At first I wasn’t convinced of its longevity, but it’s safe to say I’m on board this train until it reaches its terminus now. The fact that it managed to hook me using (mostly) episodic monster-of-the-week adventures is even more impressive to meI often find that approach repetitive and dull after a few episodes, but Dororo manages to tap loads of character development with each encounter and build off its prior growth effortlessly.

Of course, it helps that Hyakkimaru’s transformation from automaton to organic human being began much sooner than I anticipated it would. As early as the series’ fourth episode, essentially just after its introductory material and one backstory, our silent protagonist became able to hear. Not long after, he also gained the ability to emit noise from his mouth and to feel things (in this case, searing pain) from non-prosthetic parts of his body. For someone whose senses revolved around other stimuli his whole life, these changes, ideally positive ones, are instead nothing but terrifying for him. He tries not to speak (it’s unclear just how comprehensive his grasp on language is anyway) and for a while he covered his ears at the onset of any noise. When all you’ve known is silence, even a whisper or natural ambience can feel deafening. The one thing he’s not been hesitant about is risking his body if it means defeating more evil spirits, hence why he and Dororo have continued to travel together despite all these changes.

Those travels…haven’t gone too smoothly. A cursed blade almost possessed Dororo, a few of their sought-after villains turned out to be morally ambiguous or escaped, and most notably, a stay at a temple/orphanage ended in nothing but shock and bloody torment after a nearby clan suspected its head, a sex worker named Mio, of being a war spy. Just after Dororo and Hyakkimaru both grew attached to her (and I must add, the show’s depiction of prostitution for survival was incredibly humble and empathetic towards her), she and the kids were brutally executed, prompting Hyakkimaru to go on a spree of vengeance. Despite what its genres may suggest, Dororo is not a very gruesome or aggressive showits relative silence and faded art evoke a calmness that persists despite whatever scheming is going onbut when it lets its emotion boil over, it doesn’t hold anything back.

That was shocking for me and for our protagonists as well. As their journey leads to a confrontation with Daigo and his recognized successor (or at least that’s where I’m assuming it will), Hyakkimaru will not only have to contend with external evils, but those rising within him as well. He’s simultaneously becoming more chaotic and bitter as a consequence of becoming more human, and I don’t know if some intervention from Dororo, the wandering Priest, and/or another outsider will be enough to calm his inner tumult. Whichever way Dororo goes, it shouldn’t take much work to remain a personal favorite of mine this season, and I look forward to seeing its full story out.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

GRIMM’S NOTES THE ANIMATION


Harubruh:

Yup, I’m somehow still hanging on to this.

I was fairly lukewarm about Grimm’s Notes in the first impressions writeup, and I still feel that was justified. That said, this show rebounded a bit with a backstory arc explaining Ex’s origins as the childhood friend of anime Cinderella. I also got a brief chuckle from the sudden slightly dark turn in Snow White’s episode…

I also found out why this series feels so dry compared to my previous mobage anime watches: the Grimm’s Notes anime is not made by the same folks who cranked out Last Period and Merc Storia. The latter two were produced by J.C. Staff, and Grimm’s was made by Brain’s Base, a studio whose works I tend to have a love/hate relationship with. So there’s that.

I have gotten a slight kick out of seeing anime re-tellings of these old European fairy tales, so I guess Grimm’s Notes gets a reluctant benefit of the doubt as a passable time-killer once more.
Current score: a very generous 5.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

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


Yatahaze:
If I knew when I started Ueno what I do nowthat its titular character is not the sole aggressively horny loon of the cast and that virtually every gag would revolve around trying to get Tanaka to touch somebody’s undergarmentsI can safely say I would not have stuck with this title. I can tolerate sketchy sexual suggestion with kids given the presumption that the work in question is making fun of, exploring, or indulging in the unfiltered puberty-induced thirst of its cast. But…

Ueno slowly revealed itself to be a different beast: this show effectively gave up trying to think of clever gags and replaced them all with lowest common denominator lolibait pandering. I found myself wondering where the punchlines were…until I realized unlike my initial expectations, Ueno isn’t really a comedy; it’s just an extremely uncomfortable ecchi show hungry for middle-schoolers and it accidentally stumbled into being funny a few times before it became clear it had no spark beyond that.

Sorry if I get anyone’s hopes up before now. I’m just as disappointed that I had raised mine.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 7 episodes.

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


Yatahaze:
I wasn’t doubting Kaguya-sama’s artistic potential this whole time, but as much as I could recognize what it was up to was leagues above-average, it took me a few weeks to really get into these characters for who they are. Perhaps, as I’ve noted, the narrator was just too omnipresent at the start of the show. Maybe the core premise of “Miyuki and Kaguya are trying to trick the other into showing interest” just got old a little quicker for me than it did for everyone else.

Regardless of the cause, in the last few weeks I feel like the show’s opened itself up to more diverse comedy, utilizing its side characters better and allowing its two “main” protagonists to initiate conversations beyond attempting to earn “points” over the other one.

And whew is it all the better for it. Before say, week 4, I was intrigued. Now? Now I’m hooked. Chika being the best character of the season is part of the draw, I’m sure, but put her aside and the show’s still elevating its game. With no dip in production quality Kaguya-sama’s gone from a one-trick pony to a show about love-troubled friends (or in Ishigami’s case, hostages) who refuse to acknowledge the love triangle forming between them. Every character is delightful and brings multiple unique traits to the table, and while I never quite know what I’ll get out of Kaguya-sama each week, I now feel confident it’ll somehow come with a satisfaction guarantee. It’s taken off as such a widely-enjoyed favorite that I don’t feel the need to regurgitate praise for it too hard; this is simply a very enjoyable rom-com delivered with passion that overachieves for its genre’s standards. Super pumped to see what else awaits us with it.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

KAKEGURUI XX


Yatahaze:
This…sure has been another season of Kakegurui.

I’m kind of at a loss for more substantial commentary than that. I’ve made no secret that for better or worse, this franchise has been a popcorn filler show for me, one that I can always find myself intrigued enough to watch, but not particularly fascinated by. XX hasn’t presented any remarkable challenges to that status, mostly satisfied enough with furthering this “who’ll be the new Student Council President?” tournament through pairs of episodes highlighting another game on Yumeko’s stepladder. Same approach as season one, no crazy twists changing the stakes (nor have the new characters been all that noteworthy on their own), just a few moderately-entertaining gambles and a dash of horny.

If I could offer any critique of how to make Kakegurui more entertaining, it’d only detract from what else it has to do in order to give these games the space they need to entice the viewer. That said, I wish that we saw more of Suzui, Mary, and Kirari than we currently have beentheir distinct personalities add so much to the show that Yumeko’s foolhardiness, fun as it can be, just doesn’t. The side characters we have revisited more frequently from season one (Sumeragi, Midari, and Yumemite especially) haven’t been characterized much further than they were previously, and even when they are (Yumemite’s second episode this season was actually one of Kakegurui’s most emotionally effective and tightly-written in a while), I can’t help but get the urge to see this development out of the series’ new cast.

But that’s all a matter of priorities I’m almost certain won’t be met, so I’m just taking Kakegurui for what it is: a show I wish I actively enjoyed more, yet still can’t bring myself to turn away from.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI (KOUYA NO KOTOBUKI HIKOUTAI)


Yatahaze:
I’ll say this about The Magnificent Kotobuki: I never doubt that I’ll enjoy my time with these characters each week. Halfway through, this title still exudes energy, what with its rapid-fire banter, strong personalities, and aircraft battles that somehow manage to one-up the previous week’s offerings more often than not. For all of that, it unquestionably remains on my watchlist and I eagerly anticipate it every Sunday.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that Kotobuki could be doing more by now, and I think that doubt is still there because there’s no promise that all these one-off or dual-episode stories will accumulate into a larger point. The slice-of-life-like workmanship is plenty appealing in its own right, but when a show throws this many compelling, recurring side characters at you (not to mention political intrigue) only to abruptly cut away from them by episode’s end, it feels like someone’s written an equation on a board, received a Eureka moment, then simply turned to the class and said “see ya next week” and walked out of the room.

Maybe it’s just too early for that criticism and the series is actively biding time until a grander payoff. Considering Mizushima’s track record, that’s probably the most likely result. But on the off-chance it’s developed this fascinating world and these delightful characters only to feel satisfied merely dropping glimpses of themes or events that will bundle them together even more tightly…that’ll leave me with a more bittersweet outlook. Still, the fact that I’m not nervous about it should be a good signeven should it settle for less, Kotobuki is one of the most exuberant and joyous titles this season, and I don’t expect that to suddenly change.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

MOB PSYCHO 100 SEASON 2


Yatahaze:
On one hand, Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 feels leaps and bounds more powerful than its already exceptional prequel. It’s dishing out an Episode of the Season contender what feels like every other week, with its pilot, episode 3, episode 5, and episode 7 in particular all drawing rave reviews from dedicated fans and the less devoted alike. The praise is absolutely deservedfrom a purely objective standpoint, Mob S2 boasts some of the most incredible sakuga I’ve seen from a TV anime, period. Whether or not the emotional beats it’s attached to land for you is another matter, but from the looks of it, there hasn’t been much grumbling to the contrary.

Again, this is 100% (not sorry) earned; it doesn’t always get to this stage in a snappy manner, but Mob’s thematic undercurrent has long been a mission to cultivate the inherent good in every person, and while my few gripes about season one mostly revolved around taking a bit too long to reach those payoffs, this second season has the benefit of a pre-expanded cast and a larger pool of side characters to choose from. It’s kept the tone of these episodes more optimistic even in the face of unprecedented villainy and drama from unexpected avenues. Like, that whole fifth episode? Absolute spectacle and a heartwarming ending? I actually almost cried. Mob out here bringing the best of an action showcase, tightly-written character drama, and dark comedy all at once with no reservations. Truly, we are not worthy.

You know who else isn’t worthy? One Reigen Arataka. By and large, this season I’ve fallen in line with Mob’s fandom more than I ever have…until the last two weeks. I’m still trying to sort out my feelings on this “going our separate ways” arc. First of all, Reigen’s dismissive, confrontational tone in episode six felt extremely un-Reigen without prior foreshadowing and really could’ve benefited from some in order to come off as a more natural development. It was obvious from the earlier episodes that Reigen still doesn’t quite understand where Mob was coming from emotionally, but never has he lashed out quite as hard as he did here. In turn, Mob did something truly bold: he distanced himself from his master. What little we saw of Mob during this stretch indicated that he’s just as happy, if not happier, hanging out with his actual friendsbut this wasn’t an arc for Mob’s sake. This was for Reigen, and after his cockiness led him to a botched TV appearance that drew the public’s widespread ire, he had a chance to own up to his fraudulent business practices and…didn’t.

Am I surprised? Not particularly. But something Mob has emphasized until now were the ways Reigen could grow when exposed to Mob’s unflinching kindness. When faced with the opportunity to own up to his deception, he lucked out from some still-confounding circumstances and settled for Mob’s admission of admiration in spite of his own exploitation of him. This can’t be where this ends though, surely. It may be hard to teach a crafty dog altruistic tricks, but if this is the bulk of Reigen’s character development, it’ll remain a massively unfulfilling caveat to what’s otherwise been a franchise of extreme rewards. There’s still half a cour left, and even should Reigen’s irresponsibility go unchallenged again, I doubt Mob S2 will stumble far from its status as an Anime of the Year contendereven if this most recent headscratcher was enough to dial my appreciation for everything else it’s doing back a tiny notch.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

THE PROMISED NEVERLAND (YAKUSOKU NO NEVERLAND)


Yatahaze:
Understanding full well that the most I have to offer regarding The Promised Neverland is speculation for long-since passed events from a manga I haven’t read, I’ll try to keep my brainstorming under control.

That will be hard. It’s a testament to how damn gripping The Promised Neverland is that it will be hard. Let’s start off with a different point:

This series has such a firm grasp on the fundamentals of mystery and horror direction it actually leaves me awestruck. It knows how to keep developments in the dark, when to reveal its hand for maximum impact, and how to string together these cliff-hangers so that each episode ends leaving you craving more. It’s easier said than done to nail this formula week in and week out without the twists growing obvious or their moments of revelation dulling. Call it what you will on that front“predictably written,” “genre-savvy,” whateverbut one thing it’s absolutely not is ineffective when the time comes.

Why? Because even in episodes where not many new things happen, keeping track of which characters for sure know, have a hunch on, or are completely ignorant to some other event is a lot to digest and decompress. Though the escapees’ original goal was to take the entire orphanage with them, there are really only about 7 (more if we count the demons removed from the action) characters deeply invested in making this escape plan succeed or fail, but the goalposts reposition themselves so frequently that just staying on top of what’s happening becomes half the fun.

Most importantly (for me at least), it genuinely is fun. Neverland knows its premise is super grim and by some standards, a little hard to take seriously, but instead of pushing the shock value, it primarily hooks the viewer by encouraging them to think ahead, not act surprised. This more cerebral lens attains balance paired alongside scenes where I can’t help but empathize with the characters, and that overarching tone makes the truly jumpscare-worthy moments shine.

All that said, given how often the stakes change, I’m hesitant to fixate too much on where the pieces currently fall. The series’ mid-season “WHAT” moment at the end of the latest episode implies that Kronefor most of the run so far, a total wild cardis about to disappear on behalf of Isabella’s superiors. Perhaps she’d been planning that this whole time, perhaps some off-screen development occurred, but whatever the case, though the kids don’t know it yet, they’re about to have a weight lifted off their backs and a source of information stripped…or so we think.

All I know is that Neverland really hasn’t stumbled in any major way yet, and if it will anywhere at all, it will likely be a matter of concluding this season on a satisfying but open-ended enough note to leave room for future installments. I sure hope it can pull through there, and I hope even more that we get those sequels greenlit. This title absolutely deserves it.
Current score:
9/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

RUN WITH THE WIND (KAZE GA TSUYOKU FUITEIRU)


Yatahaze:
While the rest of these write-ups are indeed essentially “mid-season thoughts,” Run With The Wind is already 80% over and this is the first chance I’ve had to talk about the show in-depth here, so forgive me for taking a big picture approach to this one.

Ahem.

Y’all, Run With The Wind is the most immersed I’ve been with a sports show since Ping Pong: The Animation, all the while taking a thematic approach counter to that title. Not that there’s any real basis for comparing the two beyond being extremely potent names in the same genre, but it’s been neat for me to compare and contrast them in order to figure out what about appeals to me in the sports anime that I end up loving. So far I’ve settled on this: for me, characters with lives outside their sport of choice, with emotions that stem from a confluence of origins and with stakes that extend beyond the conclusion of the show are what can separate a sufficient sports title from a truly remarkable one. If, like me, you find yourself invested in shows that respect their characters as singularly unique individuals in some areas and completely average, ordinary people in others, Run With The Wind is a show for you.

I don’t just say that because each character in this cast is written like a realistic college-aged adult working out the kinks in their lives, either. De facto team captain Haiji seems interested in sports psychology, and while he’s recovering from his own previous injuries (mostly kept hidden to the rest of the cast but clear as day to the audience), he’s doing a commendable job at building up a team of runners who almost surely would have never taken up the hobby without a nudge (or several). Thus far there’s been no room for miraclesthese young men have put in the physical and mental work to earn their spot in the Hakone Ekiden, a prestigious, selective, and grueling relay marathon. As I sit here writing this, it’s taken five months for the show to reach the start of this race, but it hasn’t wasted a single moment’s time getting there. All the buildupthe catalysts for the team’s enthusiasm, the individual hang-ups each person has had to rebuff, and their prior histories slowly unravelingit’s all been essential to imbuing this climactic event with the weight it needs. Run With The Wind plays the long game, but of course it would: it knows this is literally a marathon, not a sprint.

And as such, I don’t have much more to say other than I’m super pumped for its final arc here. Even a less than ideal ending (not that I’m expecting one) would be hard to put a damper on just how inspiring and delightful this series has been for me up until now. Along with Mob and Neverland, Run With The Wind is an easy Anime of the Year 2019 contender. If you’ve slept on it so far, please consider giving it a shot.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 18 episodes.

SWORD ART ONLINE: ALICIZATION


Harubruh:

It’s kind of weird that Sword Art Online is currently airing, and that it isn’t the main lightning rod of choice Discourse in the anime fandom this season. The previous cour had a, uh, moment… but we can skip that.

I’m quite thankful this isn’t the lightning rod of the season.

Having had some harsh opinions about this franchise in the past, I’ve really come back around to once again enjoying and appreciating Sword Art Online in the last year or two, in spite of its multitude of flaws over its run. Alicization has been by far the most immersive arc in the series yet. The anime has made some omissions from the novel storyline for the sake of time saving, but despite that, I feel as though the plot has progressed at a strong pace, never really feeling as though it’s lagging or rushing. It’s not all too hard for me to get behind a “topple the all-powerful Church making the world miserable and bring home the childhood friend they abducted” plotline. This particular point in Alicization’s run is just past where I’ve read up to in the novels, so every new episode is a surprise, and this week’s entry was no exception.

Worth mentioning (at least in my book) is that Sword Art Online: Alicization is a damn strong gateway drug to BL doujins. For real though, the Kirito/Eugeo bromance is one that transcends SAO, as their respective seiyuus have a very strong rapport going back many roles before this.

Watch Sword Art Online: Alicization. It’s the good stuff.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 19 episodes.

THAT TIME I GOT REINCARNATED AS A SLIME
(TENSEI SHITARA SURAIMU DATTA KEN)


Harubruh:

So, over the last season and a half or so, I’ve continually been surprised at how this little isekai that could has kept me not just coming back to kill time, but has actually entertained and kept me engaged week in and week out.

With the exception of Konosuba, the vast majority of these isekai shows that have taken the anime fandom by storm have been rather big swings and misses for me. What set Konosuba apart was its absolutely merciless sense of humor and its relentless parody of its own genre. That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime sets itself apart with some rather innovative presentation and just a ton of good feelings.

Seriously, it seems like with every episode, Rimuru befriends someone, quite often a foe he just defeated, and proceeds to forgive them and offer them a job to do and place to stay in his fast-ascending nation of monsters, goblins, and other typecast would-be fantasy foes. Eyecatching battles, lively, sometimes snarky dialogue, and a fair share of silly reaction faces are all just an added bonus to Slime’s formula of fantasy, friends, forgiveness, and good feelings that keeps me coming back every week.

Sure, the outcomes have been predictable, but Slime has been the closest show I’ve yet found to the holy grail of anime I currently seek: an iyashikei isekai. Just like how Rimuru redeemed the sins of the orc army a few episodes ago, Slime has redeemed a genre I was prepared to write off completely. Since taking this show up, I’ve been actively searching for more isekai titles to check, and I’ve been content with the handful I’ve found. Hell, I’ve even found an edgelord isekai title or two that I really enjoy reading.

For that, I owe this show a lot of gratitude. It’s got a lot of heart, and I can’t help but appreciate that.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 20 episodes.


And that’s all for this mid-season update! We dunno about y’all, but while we’re looking forward to spring, we’re also not looking forward to all these great shows ending so soon. What have been your favorites of the winter? Agree or disagree with these takes? Anything we’re overlooking? Let us know in a comment below or over on Twitter! Until next time, this has been Yata and Haru of For Great Justice. Thanks as always for reading!

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Domestic Girlfriend is definitely something I am enjoying even knowing the overall plot is fairly trashy. They have definitely handled the subject matter better than I thought they would even if it is very melodramatic. Still not sure about the new cast members but I guess we’ll see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “As I sit here writing this, it’s taken five months for the show to reach the start of this race, but it hasn’t wasted a single moment’s time getting there.”

    What amazes me is just how *right* Run’s pacing has felt. Never rushed, but never dawdling either. Yeah, there’s not a lot of time left for run… But we don’t need it. Unlike so many sports shows, the actual competition isn’t the point – it’s the crowning moment of all that has gone before. (If that makes any sense. Euph followed a similiar construction.)

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s