Another season down, another season to go. This upcoming spring looks a bit less stacked in comparison, but it’s not time to focus on that just yet. No, here Yata and Haru are back to wrap up their takes on the best this past winter had to offer…and a few other shows. Which ones were our favorites despite the stiff competition? Which ones ultimately let us down? How do they all stack up? Find out below in our winter 2019 final thoughts.
DOMESTIC GIRLFRIEND (DOMESTIC NA KANOJO)
So here’s a first: just the other night, I was welcomed onto the Subtitled Anime Podcast, where we specifically discussed DomeKano. I encourage all of you to give that a listen here, but if you want my thoughts in condensed written form, I’m still happy to provide.
I was…less happy to trudge through the first 74 goddamn chapters of the manga as preparation for that podcast, but it did give me some insight on why parts of this show’s closing stretch felt a tad rushed. Long story short, there were two extremely problematic arcs cut from the anime adaptation, and while the core events of each were more or less narrative-irrelevant, some of the tangential development that occurred during them led to what felt like out-of-character moments in the homestretch without replaced context.
For instance, Rui’s actions in the finale felt super out of place; at this same point in the manga, she’s actively trying to move away from Natsuo and she manages to emotionally distance herself from him to a far greater (if ultimately temporary) extent than what’s depicted in the anime. If faithfully adapted, these scenes would’ve given the anime a much greater sense of closure. Instead, we see she’s still horny as hell for the guy, presumably because there was no space to cram her resolve otherwise into the story. And that out of the blue “hey kiddo, you won a writing award! Here, meet my editor and also go give an impromptu speech” deal? Yeah, no, that was still super abrupt and awkward regardless of medium, as was Kiriya’s predatory behavior, especially considering his past in the manga, which…well, just give the podcast a listen if you really want to know more. It goes places.
Know who doesn’t go places? Basically the entire extended cast: Momo, Miu, and Alex in particular. Given what happens in the manga with them, again, that’s probably for the better. Even there, the meat and potatoes of this series is Natsuo’s relationships with Hina and Rui, and I don’t blame this adaptation one bit for prioritizing their arcs. For anime-only viewers, those three side characters above do feel a bit plot device-y as a result though, as they’re basically only there to establish a reason for joining the Literature Club and egg on one another to pursue their crushes more aggressively. On the flip side, some other side characters got better representation than I expected, notably Marie, who earns a heartfelt story all his own, and Fumiya, who’s a bro to the end. As for the main trio, there’s nothing to worry about there: their tale is presented about as good as it can be before the rushed final developments.
So yeah, while I mostly felt that its finale was a flop, overall I got what I expected and wanted out of DomeKano: juicy taboo romance with mostly solid writing and (considering its subject matter and the studio working on it) surprisingly good visual direction. Don’t look for any condemnations of its characters’ transgressions here though—aside from everyone and their grandma loathing Shuu, you’re not gonna find any—but if all you’re hoping for is pure schlocky entertainment, DomeKano manages better than most in its field.
Which is to say it’s a…
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
Whereas Dororo’s first quarter mostly consisted of monster of the week battles that involved Hyakkimaru slaying some vengeful spirit and regaining part of his human senses, this second quarter has gradually ramped up the show’s broader conflict: determining the relationship between Hyakkimaru and his family. For a while, Tahomaru’s inquisitive sense of righteousness and Oku’s incessant longing for her firstborn hinted that they might lead to a schism in the Kagemitsu clan, but in the end, paternal authority won out.
And I get it for now, especially with how commanding a figure Daigo is. In his eyes, the sacrifice he made all those years ago wasn’t only for his own glory, but also to benefit the people of his land plagued by famine and war. In the years since, he’s seen it blossom into a thriving area, and this is undeniable to those weighing the pros and cons of the choice as well. It makes sense Daigo would at first try sweeping Hyakkimaru’s existence under the rug and when that didn’t work, confronting him with his army—and that’s where Hyakkimaru was in for some bitter pills. Even though they’re “family,” Daigo barely sees Hyakkimaru as human, let alone one of his own. That stung for him and I’d have to imagine most of the audience as well, but even if Hyakkimaru’s own progenitors won’t accept him, he has another family-less traveling companion who will.
This conflict is far from resolved yet, and I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll see of Tahomaru’s inclinations towards dissent with another cour on our plate, but letting it temporarily go here at the series’ halfway point was smart; this mini-climax gives us some larger context to chew on and more in-depth development for Daigo’s family, who until these last few weeks hadn’t quite come into their own as characters yet. I’m not entirely sure what we’ll get in cour two, but I’m looking forward to it all the same. Dororo may not have been a seasonal highlight most weeks this winter, but with episodes this consistent and only more weight piling up, who’s to say that won’t change this spring?
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 12 episodes.
GRIMM’S NOTES THE ANIMATION
I really had to summon every last bit of motivation I had to finish Grimm’s Notes off today, and now, I have to further summon even more to write something appreciable about this series to finally send it off.
I nearly dropped this without a single word or second thought, but the stretch I marathoned through happened to be when Grimm’s did its best, delving a tad into Reina, Tao, and Shane’s backgrounds before going into the big final battle. It only took 10 episodes, but we finally started to see Ex start to come out of his shell a bit, too.
I don’t think I’ve said it before, but a long-held opinion of mine is that the best strength of all mobage anime is the snazzy character designs, which, I guess is supposed to be one of the main draws of games of this nature. This was also true with Grimm’s Notes, though I feel some of these neat designs were kind of wasted on this comparatively lifeless adaptation despite Shane and Reina doing their best to breathe some life into the show.
I’m certainly not saying this was a bad show per se, just for nearly the entirety of its run, Grimm’s Notes was a perpetually unmemorable one that I’m probably not going to revisit, or even mention upon thinking up comparisons for whatever will eventually be the next mobage anime I pick up.
Final score: 5/10
Completed after struggling through 12 episodes.
KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR
(KAGUYA-SAMA WA KOKURASETAI: TENSAI-TACHI NO RENAI ZUNOUSEN)
Well, that sure was a gratifying final arc that did pretty much everything I wanted to see more regularly out of Kaguya-sama: more intimate scenes, more interconnected skits, utilizing the side characters in more creative ways with a quality over quantity approach—pretty much everything this series did in its last month’s worth of episodes was an improvement over its (still fine) early stuff.
In spite of that diversified narrative framework, Kaguya-sama still relied on the charm of its lead duo to persevere through any stumbles, and that gamble paid off. Not to say that Chika or Ishigami can’t carry a scene on their own or throw some wrenches into ones with their Student Council co-officers, but Miyuki and Kaguya themselves really do carry this whole show, especially once the lens widened to their home lives and not just their school duties. On one hand, Kaguya’s parents shelter her to an absurd degree and neglect her ability to like, you know, live, and while I want to say it’s taken to an unbelievable extreme for the sake of drama here, the 1% are pretty weird. It can happen, I guess.
But it shouldn’t, and after a life of playing second fiddle to her folks’ orders, this final arc focused on breaking Kaguya out of her shell a bit. Hayasaka continuously reminded Kaguya her patient methodology has never worked, but after that advice fell on deaf ears, she kicked her master into gear, taking advantage of Kaguya’s delirious sickness and unleashing her upon Miyuki as a twisted opportunity for them to get funky.
Of course, it only resulted in more misunderstandings, and for us that meant more laughs. Seriously, the bed scene might have been the most I’ve laughed at any show this season—in part because for once Kaguya took the lead, rendering Miyuki speechlessly afraid, and in part because I really didn’t think Kaguya-sama would go that far. Once it did, it couldn’t just revert to a time when that event never happened, too. It put both leads on edge, and right when their dynamic was starting to grow a little stale, that single narrative push catapulted Kaguya-sama into deeper and funnier territory for good.
In the end, both Kaguya and Miyuki stalled out on their advances for another countless time, and while that’s a bit of a bittersweet note to end on instead of a grand climax where one of the two just fucking confesses already, that corny “the more things change…” punchline fits this show to a T. Kaguya-sama had its occasional crests and troughs, but it peaked at its most pivotal moments and by the end of the show, even the less-developed members of its cast had begun to come into their own. It’s not a flawless romantic comedy or a particularly versatile one, but it is very fun, passionate, and damn good at the angle it takes. I’d recommend anyone who lived under a rock this season to give it a go.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
You know how every couple episodes one of these characters still acts bewildered by Yumeko’s life philosophy and you can’t help but think “folks, she’s been like this forever, why would she change now?” It legitimately drove me up the wall that so many people in this universe were so slow to catch on.
And yet…I’m really no better. Before this season of Kakegurui started, I adjusted my expectations to meet what the show would actually offer me: lots of horny girls gambling with less than remarkable storytelling. Despite that, I kept my hopes up, like a bored kid opening the fridge every 10 minutes expecting something different to be in there, only to get more and more disappointed with the inevitable result: nothing changed. So too did nothing significant change with Kakegurui in XX. I can say I lowered my expectations all I want, but the fact of the matter is this: I feel let down, and the only rational reason I have to feel let down is because I didn’t lower my expectations far enough in the first place.
The final nail in the coffin was this season’s comparatively weak closing stretch, though it wasn’t without a highlight: Kirari’s tower game was simultaneously the dumbest and most gripping gamble of the show, an over-the-top concept bolstered further by Kirari and Sayaka’s extreme roundabout lust for one another. That’s the shit that makes Kakegurui fun: a reckless disregard for human life, edge up the wazoo, and gambles with stakes the audience can actually register. Most of XX was…not that.
Which is to say we had a lot of vague clan infighting and some subpar reprisals of characters from season one, especially during the deposit box gamble and Batsubami’s auction gamble. In the latter’s case, Batsubami at least received some characterization across the whole show and her attempted mutiny was sensible. What didn’t make sense was a mastermind of Terano’s caliber conveniently overlooking the promise of clan leadership as a prize for winning the tournament. If Batusbami was set up as a pawn to accumulate votes on a master’s behalf, why wouldn’t she refuse to hand them over and improve her social status once she had the chance? That whole linchpin of the finale’s conceit was logically bankrupt, and the auction itself was only designed as a vehicle for that half-hearted confrontation; it sure as hell wasn’t interesting in its own right.
Speaking of which, so much for this clan functioning as a strong set of antagonists; most of them just weren’t able to pull off whole scenes (let alone subplots) on their own and needed chemistry with other cast members to excite as rivals or enemies, both to the protagonists and among themselves. Even more egregiously, XX didn’t even give us a resolution to the tournament. I guess that sets up potential for a third season, but wasn’t determining that spot the whole point of this one?
All of which is to say that while there was some gas in Kakegurui‘s tank at the start of XX, I no longer have enough interest to continue the franchise even if it gets a third season. Not with weekly (and on FGJ, monthly) coverage, at least. The show’s too hollow and inconsistent in writing quality to enjoy for its plot, yet it’s too reliant on that to be enjoyable as an indulgent hate (or horn) watch. That’s not to say other elements of this production share the writing’s flaws—its visual aesthetic, voice acting, and soundtrack in particular are still generally commendable—but they weren’t enough to save Kakegurui XX from being perhaps the worst thing of all: forgettably unsatisfying.
Final score: 5.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI (KOUYA NO KOTOBUKI HIKOUTAI)
…as if Kotobuki would let me down there, though. I got to have my pancakes and eat ‘em too: Isao and his cronies assumed the role of reckless monopolizers mighty well and the rebels against them eventually included the entire Hagoromo, rival air squadrons, rogue pilots eager to secure free skies, and everyone in Rahama. To that end, Kotobuki was still introducing new characters left and right just shy of its finale. I wish I could’ve seen more of them earlier, but I also can’t blame the show for only throwing them together at the last minute. With how bombastic Kotobuki can get, it had to save some means of escalation for its final arc.
And escalate it did: between Johnny and the Kotobuki girls breaking out of a hostage situation on an invaded Hagoromo, Allen and Kylie getting shot down for investigating the sky gate, and Isao outstaying his welcome by taking matters of dissent into his own greedy, callous hands, the show made every moment of its final month’s worth of episodes a spectacle. The dogfights got crazier, the (still sort of vague) political tension got a little more palpable, and the camaraderie between the allied anti-Isao forces was perkier than ever. Say what you will about any of these characters’ individual arcs, but as a found family, even one bound more by contracts than emotional obligations, that crew had a bond up there with the best of those “soar the skies” stories.
And yet, while I stand by all those compliments, I can’t help but feel like Kotobuki was a bit…too straightforward, I guess? I’m still having trouble trying to verbalize why exactly I never quite fell exceptionally in love with this title. The technical details were executed well, the characters had loads of personality, and the “show more than you tell” worldbuilding is right up my alley. I suppose it’s just that as fun as Kotobuki can get, it really is a show meant to be fun, and I rarely felt any deeper, endearing struggle, whether that be via individual character arcs (Reona getting over Isao and Kylie getting over boredom came closest) or through a more thorough examination of Isao’s shit-eating grin “fuck you, I got mine” philosophy.
I suppose that’s just as well though. Securing freedom of the skies was always equated with freedom of the soul in Kotobuki, and with Isao essentially out of the picture and his source of wealth getting blown to bits so as to prevent anyone else from following his egotistical footsteps, the skies are as open as they’ve been in a while. I can certainly think of worse rallying cries than “life can be dangerous, but do what you can to enjoy it.” Whether Kotobuki does something truly magnificent or simply fine lies in the eye of the beholder. I’m somewhere between the two, but that won’t keep me from giving it a recommendation as one of the season’s most invigorating sleepers regardless.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
MOB PSYCHO 100 SEASON 2
There it is. The Goodest Boy in anime gets his happy ending, or at least one where he doesn’t die and convinces a nearly invincible force to chill the fuck out and reflect on his mistakes. I don’t know how this team manages to up the ante with every single arc, but they do, and this one rightfully serves as both a capstone to a wonderful second season and a summation of Mob Psycho’s lifeblood:
Power doesn’t mean shit if you’re an asshole to people.
It’s a tried and true trope, but that doesn’t invalidate it, and few shows live it to the extent Mob Psycho 100 does. Every significant emotional beat, every wild showcase of sakuga, anywhere that spirit is applied, the series’ poignancy skyrockets a hundredfold, and this season’s final arc was full of such moments. The whiplash of jumping from a relaxed, low-stakes school race to the Kageyama’s residence going down in flames while Claw made their move to take over the fucking world was one hell of a way to kick start this act, and it rarely let off the gas from there. The few times it did, I mostly felt that it could be attributed to the vast diffusion of screentime among Claw’s lackeys before Mob got enough of his energy back to stand up to the organization’s leader, Toichiro, face to face.
When he finally did, it resulted in a sufficiently destructive animator’s orgy, yes, but to me the season’s true peak came one episode prior. There, Toichiro’s right-hand-man, Serizawa, was revealed to have been recruited personally by his new “master,” offering this man so fearful of his power and the outside world a place to belong. The parallels to modern radicalization via the internet aren’t hard to draw, and they’re twice as powerful when it’s shown that Serizawa may be scared, but he’s more manipulated than he is actively malicious. Toichiro makes it as clear as can be that he doesn’t actually care about Serizawa or any of his other pawns—to him, they’re just that—but Mob cares for Serizawa’s well-being the same way he cares about everyone’s; by not seeking out recognition for his empathy, but just wanting to help people. That’s how kind and selfless a person he is. In the epilogue, Reigen recruits Serizawa to help out at Spirits and Such, giving this foil who’d barely been introduced a couple episodes prior a full developmental arc…and he wasn’t even a main character.
Mob Psycho 100 is sometimes really just that good. When it’s not that good, it’s not too far off either, but the sheer grandiosity of its peaks do tend to make its downtime a bit…dull, if not meandering. I can’t say season two was devoid of those dips, but it made better use of its time than the franchise’s first season did, and boy did it deliver when it mattered most, supplying several of the best episodes of the season. It’s not my anime of the winter, but it’s a damn close runner-up, and I can’t blame anyone who’d place it as their recipient of the gold. Who am I to judge anyway? Your life is your own.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
THE PROMISED NEVERLAND (YAKUSOKU NO NEVERLAND)
Whew, okay, no beating around the bush; in a mighty stacked season, no series captivated me to the extent this first season of The Promised Neverland did. I found myself swept up early and the show never weakened in suspense, all while somehow keeping those edge-of-seat revelations fresh, exciting, and in service not just to the plot but also its characters’ psyches and bonds with one another. From the first episode to its last, Neverland stunned me in a way few anime thrillers do, and I’m tremendously looking forward to its second season already greenlit for next year. I’ve been informed it’s a different beast, but one I’m excited about all the same.
Better yet, all season long I’d absorbed the possibility that while we’d probably get a sequel given the franchise’s popularity, this first season’s finale might not be the most conclusive of episodes as a result. What a delight to be proven wrong! The kids’ immediate goal of escaping the farm before their time ran out was a great enough hook that even a subpar, blatantly “evil” antagonist wouldn’t have ruined the tension, but Isabella was far more than that. Even before the finale exposed more of her background, including her own crush as a kid on the farm, her prior attempts to escape before opting to be reined into the system for her own survival, and the indication that Ray is her biological son (with who?), Isabella was a fascinating villain for how her perpetuation of the system in order to ensure her own life isn’t inherently morally bankrupt. She still got to live well into adulthood and genuinely enjoy taking care of the kids, whereas rebellion at a younger age wasn’t fully possible for her, not without the coordination and teamwork of an entire house.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for this younger generation. Emma and Ray (with help from a now-disappeared, though not explicitly dead Norman) were able to get everyone age 5 and up on board with the plan, prepare them in plain sight for weeks, and fulfill the escape across the cliff without a hitch. The flawlessness of this final effort was made all the more fulfilling after the desperation in the episodes leading up to it, wherein Isabella spoiled the group’s first scheme, reveled in what she perceived to be their discouraged depression, and stood in shock after they burned down the house to provide a distraction long enough to escape. Those episodes had no shortage of emotional catharsis either—Emma, leg broken and all, clinging onto Norman as he gets motioned out the door, Ray attempting to self-immolate before Emma introduces her secret plan that wouldn’t require any more sacrifices, and even Isabella’s expanded role in the finale—The Promised Neverland refused to let any moment go by without a racked brain or a dry eye. I really can’t sing this show’s praises enough. It’s my tentative anime of the year and even with loads of promising titles on the horizon before 2020, I’ll only feel spoiled if we get one even better than it.
Final score: 9.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
RUN WITH THE WIND (KAZE GA TSUYOKU FUITEIRU)
I’d already predicted as much during our winter mid-season article, but Run With The Wind didn’t let me down in its closing stretch one bit. This series was already one of my all-time favorite sports anime and a mature, compelling character drama to boot, and I can’t retract any of that praise. These five final episodes that aired between then and now were all part of the same climactic event: the Hakone Ekiden, the race that the entire series had built to until now, and for the most part it allowed each character roughly half an episode of standalone screentime to reflect on their journey; their states of mind before Haiji recruited them, and everything that’s happened since to change them for the better.
And really, I think that’s the most fulfilling thing about Run: whether these guys’ dedication to the team was voluntary or forced, in the end they all came out much more confident in themselves, empathetic to one another, and willing to face challenges head-on. This was personally no more powerful than the cases of Prince (from near-shut in to scraggly underdog), Yuki (who it’s implied opens up again with his parents after shutting them out of his life), and Nico (who got his health back in shape after being discouraged from running in high school). But those are just my personal highlights—everyone had a well-earned moment of full-circle glory in this final arc.
It wasn’t a walk in the park though. Shindo got seriously ill and was tasked with one of the most physically demanding sections of the course. Even after being encouraged to forfeit (an act I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed him for considering his state), he recklessly muscled through to the end. Ditto for Haiji, whose only half-healed knee finally let go as he approached the finish. I don’t want to get too swept up in the “valor” of either of these guys risking their health for the sake of what’s still ultimately just an event, but at the same time, the fact that they willingly shouldered such intense pain for the team was nothing short of tearjerking. Doesn’t hurt that they’re also arguably the two kindest and most cheerful dudes in the show.
Though Shindo’s shaky stint was foreshadowed in the hours preceding the event mighty well and Haiji’s knee finally giving was less of a twist than it was a long-overdue consequence of him pushing it too hard, every stint of this final arc kept me on the edge of my seat, especially when the weather took a turn for the worse coming down the slopes. Maybe the adrenaline was contagious or maybe I’m just an especially anxious worrywart (this just in: it’s both), but I had the feeling some other unexpected spill would go down, and that kept my attention hooked and my body tense. That aside, talk about immersion! Run With The Wind put me squarely in the mind of each of its participants with roughly equal attention. I really couldn’t ask for a better finish.
I guess they could’ve, but let’s not get greedy. Kansei came in the top ten, and given their setbacks, that’s absolutely astounding. Kakeru carried the team to a degree (him narrowly beating his Rikudo rival was basically inevitable the way the story had set up that subplot), but he was far from the only one who made impeccable time. And really, I think that’s what I’ll take away from Run With The Wind; not the Kakeru-Haiji re-encouragement feedback loop, not the individual tribulations each runner overcame, but how the team as a whole, just the existence and persistence of people who grew to care about each other, made these unlikely college dorks a force to be reckoned with. The brief but mostly-satisfying epilogue implied as much: when several of the seniors graduated, the team grew and continued, but the tight-knit bond between them wasn’t as apparent. Sometimes you only get those runs once in a lifetime—hell, it was even Haiji’s last from the looks of it—so treasure them when they show up. I’ll be doing the same with Run With The Wind overall.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 23 episodes.
SWORD ART ONLINE: ALICIZATION
It’s been quite the journey since Kirito and Eugeo set off from Rulid Village, and seeing the emotional payoff after the rapport the two—plus Integrity Knight Alice later on—had built up over the course of the prior twenty-three episodes. I daresay the farewell in Alicization’s finale got me even more worked up than the end of the Mother’s Rosario arc back in 2014. (Holy shit, time flies.)
Alicization’s arc was quite the roller coaster, and it’s technically only halfway over! I’m honestly a bit glad that SAO appears to be going on a break until October. Not only do I get some time to psych myself back up for the second half, but this break also provides plenty of time for Yata to catch up, should I finally convince him to actually take this up. I…have my doubts about that, though.
Now that the anime has passed the point that I had read the novels up to, I’m curious how the upcoming War of Underworld arc will unfold. I could always read ahead, as I’d done for SAO arcs in the past, but I’m rather tempted to hold out and see what happens when the new season drops in October.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 24 episodes.
THAT TIME I GOT REINCARNATED AS A SLIME
(TENSEI SHITARA SURAIMU DATTA KEN)
Well, I reached the finish line for Slime, and that’s quite the accomplishment given some of my prior misgivings about the isekai genre. Even Yata enjoyed this after giving this a second chance, which is a downright incredible achievement for anything of the isekai fare.
Despite those feats, it still felt as though Slime stumbled and was in the process of finally tripping over itself as it crossed the aforementioned finish line. The pacing for the Shizu’s Students arc felt rather underwhelming, lacking the suspense or the satisfactory payoff of Slime’s prior arcs, such as the Orc Army arc. I had only read the novel up to Rimuru’s first encounter with Yuuki, but I’m pretty certain that there’s no shortage of source material that’s causing this perceived feeling of a slight rush job. I feel like the final (actual) episode they spent on the Shizu/Black flashback might have been better spent fleshing out the Students arc more, and the recap episode with Veldora and Ifrit playing shogi matches in the background was certainly an unusual look as well.
But hey, a second season will be coming out sometime next year, so at least there’ll be more fun times to be had with this! I sure seem like a downer on the final few episodes, but even despite my nitpicks, it was still a fun arc, and it seems like a nice, happy spot to bring Slime’s first season to a close. This has been a good little uplifting series, and I’m eager to see it return in 2020.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 24.5 episodes.
So yeah, no real surprises here. We do have a tendency to dodge hot takes like that bullet slime. But as always, thanks for reading anyway! What were your favorite shows of the winter? Which ones are you most looking forward to next season? Let us know in the comments below or over on Twitter! Until next time (about 3 weeks from now), this has been Yata and Haru of For Great Justice. We’ll see you then!