Spring 2019 First Impressions

Thunderstorms are blowing through and allergies are ramping up, which can only mean one thing: spring is here, and with it, a whole new slate of anime to check out! This time around, notable premiering titles include Sarazanmai, Carole & Tuesday, and…

[checks the charts]   oh.               wow.

Okay, no beating around the bush, there’s not a whole lot else to watch this season, but that didn’t stop the two of us here at For Great Justice from giving most things a chance anyway and picking up a few surprises. Which other series struck our fancy? Which will be relegated to the Seasonal Anime Broiler? And is Sarazanmai really worth the hype? (spoiler: yes). Find out below on this batch of first impressions!


AO-CHAN CAN’T STUDY (MIDARA NA AO-CHAN WA BENKYOU GA DEKINAI)


Summary:
Ao Horie’s frustration with men is pretty justified; her dad is a lecherous hentai author who constantly meddles with her life and she knows the fast track to independence is to study hard, get into a great college, and move far, far away. There’s just one problem: a genuinely kind-hearted boy, Takumi Kijima, wants to date her, and while she thought turning him down would be a piece of cake, it’s proving harder than expected.

Yatahaze:
Of this season’s many shorts, Ao-chan definitely has the most potential to be a fun time; its premise is executed in a unique enough manner and its episodes are stitched together with a far snappier pace than most shows this season have managed. If you want to pick up a short this spring, this is easily the one I’d recommend.

However, it’s also not a super fulfilling experience for me as a short, at least not yet. Ao’s internal voice is fine, even if the script is a bit monologue-heavy, and her father is a mischievous asshole it’s easy to root against and even easier to laugh at. That’s all well and good.

So far my main complaint is that for all Kijima’s supposed greatness, he’s really no more than a bare-bones shoujo archetype. The series’ bland character designs don’t set him (or almost anyone in this cast, the dad aside) apart, nor does his behavior, and seeing as Ao’s change of heart is entirely reliant on her growing to like Kijima back, that connection between them feels very flimsy. The series has to give Kijima some unique personality. Maybe he’ll get that development, maybe he won’t and Ao grumbling in indecision will be the whole show, I don’t know. If Ao-chan can win people over by the end of the season, I might marathon it then—but as is, there’s just not enough here to keep me hooked on a weekly basis.
Final score: 6.5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

CAROLE & TUESDAY


Summary:
Tuesday Simmons, amateur guitarist and daughter of a Martian senator, runs away from home to Alba City, where everyone pursuing a creative passion goes to “make it.” It doesn’t take long after she gets there for some of her belongings to be stolen, and she runs into an orphan named Carole, who, in between getting fired from every job ever, busks with her keyboard. The two girls start living together and take their first step towards artistic greatness in an environment where automation is paramount.

Yatahaze:
Right. So. Recap: new Shinichiro Watanabe show. Original screenplay. BONES tackling the production. High expectations. Did it meet them?

Yes. Yes. Yes, pump this straight into my veins, it’s wonderful. Fans of Watanabe’s prior productions (especially Cowboy Bebop) are likely already familiar with his knack for lived-in urban settings, music-prominent stories, and lively casts, and all three of those are here in spades. I’m sure some curveballs lie ahead, but this show has also been pretty blunt about its overarching theme so far: who will value art in an age of AI, and how?

See, Carole & Tuesday sure as hell didn’t have to be set on Mars to be interesting, and it’s using that setting neither to ponder wildly about a utopian paradise nor a dystopian hell; the Mars of this show is run by as flawed and familiar a capitalist government as you’ll see here on Earth and its people don’t reap the rewards of their society’s technology equally. A select few, like Tuesday’s well-to-do family, has a lotso much so that they question in a very cold manner why she’d run away in the first place. Some, like Carole, drift from low-income job to low-income job only to return to a storage area of a house. More still seem to go about their daily lives taking touch-pad menus and hologram devices for granted. Carole & Tuesday is sci-fi in that sense, but much like its protagonists are hoping to convey human emotions, this show isn’t so wrapped up in its technocracy to forget about the basic human experience.

Some of its characters would love to, though, notably Mr. Tao, a callous, cynical music industry executive who runs a business staffed entirely by computers (other than himself). Going off on tangents about how the emotion of live performances “isn’t real,” and diatribes about how he can make algorithms create art that people will eat up, he’s exactly the kind of corporate figurehead we all collectively loathe in 2019, and people like him are sadly probably gonna be around for a while. Taking a child model-turned-wannabe singer named Angela under his wing, it appears the two of them and the system they represent will be the primary antagonists of this series, and I am soooo ready to see Tao eat shit in the end.

Speaking of the end, it’s been posited that while they’re starting from virtually nothing together, Carole and Tuesday will take the world by storm…probably. “Probably” is a key word in this show, not just because it sums up the wishy-washy tendency for the entertainment industry to disrupt plans of greatness, but also because as is, Carole and Tuesday are still total underdogs. It’s hard to call them “nobodies”I guess Carole kind of is, but Tuesday has connections, should she have to fall back on themthough you don’t need to be a “nobody” to be rooted for. Anyone who wants to play music, to express themselves, to share the joy of artistry? That’s someone I can and will support.

Still, I was worried about one thing heading into this: if the show’s music performances would stack up to the spirit it touts. Turns out that anxiety was for nothing: both visually and sonically (the songs are delivered in perfect English by alternate, sound-alike voice actresses), the performances in Carole & Tuesday so far have been beautiful. Maybe not the most unique songs you’ve ever heard, but the point isn’t that these two girls attained some secret to songwriting that stops people in their tracks: it’s that they’re old-fashioned and sincere in an era of farcical show business, and that strikes a chord with people. They take to a stage by breaking into a hall. Their first go at internet virality comes when a bemused sound engineer films them without their knowledge. Carole and Tuesday are a novelty here and they don’t realize it, but that sincerity gets through to some people, including a drunkard executive named Gus, who tracks them down and offers to be their manager at the tail end of episode 2.

Considering I’ve basically written an essay of praise here, I think it’s obvious my recommendation is that yes, you should absolutely give Carole & Tuesday a shot. The real question is when you should give it a shot. It’s currently being held by Netflix until later this year and only airing through fansubbers, who are doing a fine job, but my reservations aren’t about that. Rather, Carole & Tuesday’s multicultural setting and use of English for performance scenes almost makes me want to say that y’all might as well wait until we get a full English dub before you hop on. I know I’ll be checking its dub as soon as we get oneit has the potential to go down as an all-time great dub in mass consciousness if they get the casting right. But I can’t wait for it. Not after a premiere this good in a season this desperate. Do I run the risk of seeing a “lesser” version of it first by that logic? I guess, but…well, you know what tramps like us were born to do.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

CINDERELLA NINE (HACHIGATSU NO CINDERELLA NINE)


Summary: Upon starting high school, former little league baseball player Tsubasa Arihara is dismayed to find her high school has no girls’ baseball club. Undeterred, she embarks upon starting her high school’s girls’ baseball team, quite literally from the ground up.

Harubruh:
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of baseball, and fittingly, there’s no shortage of baseball anime to be had this spring. There’s Mix, a successor to Mitsuru Adachi’s highly acclaimed series Touch, even more Ace of the Diamond, and of course, Cinderella Nine.

I basically only take in Ace of the Diamond via the manga at this point, so what made me pick Cinderella Nine over Mix? A big factor was that it was immediately available on Crunchyroll, unlike Mix, which initially was on Funimation only, and their apps are quite the pain in my backside to use. Go figure, Mix magically showed up on Crunchy’s site yesterday, so I might go back and check it out this weekend.

Another reason I picked Cinderella Nine is because it’s really cool to see women’s baseball get some much-deserved representation. Of course, there’s been shows about it before this, but it’s always a fresh breath of air when a proper series gets it dues. Though the women’s leagues here in the States are still taking root, Japan has a comparatively robust women’s baseball scene, so anything that can potentially draw further good attention to it is completely welcome in my book. Baseball’s a sport for everyone, the ornery olds and old-minded youngs who think girls can’t play hardball too can eat warning track dirt and maybe a used sanitary or two.

As for the actual show itself, even in the pilot episode which should ostensibly be one of the better animated episodes of a series, Cinderella Nine’s animation is pretty choppy and awkward, especially in the actual baseball action, but dammit does this show have its heart in the right spot! I was a complete sucker for Aihara’s classmates, who with zero experience with baseball, began to see what appeal the sport had to them as they played a pick-up game with some neighborhood kids. This ain’t just cute girls being cute on a baseball diamond; it’s showing a love of the game taking hold, and I love it.

Though it was only a very brief bit in the second episode, I don’t think I’ve seen a baseball anime actually tread into explaining differences between gloves, and laying out how to to prepare a glove for break-in. If another show did it, I sure as hell don’t remember it. Points for Cinderella Nine there.

I’m an Oakland A’s fan, so I’m used to rooting for an underdog on the diamond. Cinderella Nine is this season’s baseball anime underdog, so if you like some sports, you’d better not sleep on it. This show’s got heart, dammit.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

DEMON SLAYER (KIMETSU NO YAIBA)


Summary:
Tanjiro, a boy with a strong nose and kind heart who lives up in the mountains with his widowed mom and siblings, travels down to the villages to sell charcoal for their income. One night he arrives back on the mountain late, however, and after a man encourages him to stay the night and avoid demons on his way home, he arrives the next day to find that said demons have killed his family. Or rather, most of his family: his sister Nezuko has been transformed into a demon herself, but she’s just lucid enough to not kill Tanjiro, who reciprocates by defending her from demon slayers. What will come of this unlikely pair now?

Yatahaze:
As a token Shounen Jump adaptation and the newest Ufotable production, Demon Slayer was handily one of the most hyped-up titles of this season, especially among diehard shounen fans.

Of which, and this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you, I am not one.

But that didn’t stop me from giving Demon Slayer a shot, and let me just say now, I get the hype. If you love shounen, nothing in this series’ two debut episodes is going to dissuade you from jumping on board. The storytelling is tight, the action scenes are powerful, the animation is mostly fluid, and there’s an obvious emotional hook. It’s got all the essentials right and doesn’t waste too much time before getting to the point. It’s fine. It’s absolutely fine.

But holy shit, I cannot stand Tanjiro. That’s more of a Me problem than anything Demon Slayer’s doing “wrong,” but his brand of oversensitive, screaming, incompetent heroism can try me via a relatable character, let alone one I don’t have any deeper reason to care about. I don’t know what territory this franchise explores in other mediums, whether it capitalizes on the distrust and struggle between humans and demons (like Shiki, for instance) or goes full action/adventure spectacle, but if Tanjiro continues to be the show’s focal pointand given that this is a shounen, that’ll more than likely be the caseI just have to give it a pass. Sincerest apologies to the Jump crowd, but it’s better to let you down early than drag my lack of commitment to it out for a whole season.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

FAIRY GONE


Summary:
After the end of Eastald’s War of Unification, “Fairy Soldiers,” humans altered to be able to summon “Fairies” for battle, have been strictly policed by the government. Well, that or they get employed by the government in its organization titled Dorothea. That’s what Free Underman (I’m not making that up, really, that’s his name) is up to when in a scuffle at an auction, he ends up enlisting a girl named Maria Noel, who was, to both their shock, able to harness a Fairy’s power naturally.

Yatahaze:
As expected of P.A. Works, this show looks pretty damn good. I love the relative simplicity and realism of the character designs and backgrounds. The CG fairies are a bit less congruent to the rest of the shots, but they’re not on screen enough to be consistently distracting. (K)NoW_NAME also return for musical duties here, marking yet another P.A. Works production in which they’ve supplied an OP, ED, and several insert songs. Unlike their best efforts in Grimgar or Sakura Quest, however, these songs are a somewhat awkward step into heavier music. Engrish rap rock works wonders for fantasy adventure AMVs, but when set within a show itself, these tracks actually break my immersion. However, some corny music shouldn’t be that big of an issue, so what’s the real problem here?

It’s a multitude of small but important nitpicks. First, y’all know me, I only get really into fantasy stories through strong character dialogue or fascinating worldbuilding. For the former, while none of Fairy Gone’s characters have been impossible to take seriously, they’ve also been so dull and unexpressive it’s hard to feel any enthusiasm for what they’re going through one way or another. The show’s dialogue often comes off as intentionally distant and formal, and while that’s fine given these folks’ occupation, some stronger internal voices would’ve been welcome.

That absence of distinguishing features extends to the worldbuilding, which, while quite pretty, does that thing where it heavily relies on location and date subtitles for information without actually providing context, directly or implied, as to why these details are important. I get that only two episodes in, a show’s not likely gonna reveal its full hand so early, but it’s still gotta hook people, and this didn’t hook me.

As for the fighting? The choreography is mostly fine, even if the character models dip a bit during those extended scenes and the soundtrack runs into that aforementioned problem, but “mostly fine choreography” isn’t what I personally gravitate towards fantasy shows for anyway. A lot of what Fairy Gone is doing will be “good enough” to fans of its genre. I’m just not one.

That said, if I had to keep watching extra shows this season to pad out a schedule, Fairy Gone is one of the first I’d pick back upit has a clear idea of what it wants to do and enough successful plot beats that sitting through a full episode is far from a slogbut I also just don’t feel attached enough to it to keep it on my slate right now. Might revisit it if critical reception improves by the end of its run, but I’m not holding my breath.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

FRUITS BASKET


Summary:
Temporarily homeless due to circumstances after her mother’s death, Tohru Honda takes residence in a tent on land that happens to belong to the family of Yuki Soma, the popular boy at her school. Yuki and his cousin Shigure happen upon her tent and decide to take her in as a housekeeper, and she suddenly discovers their family secret: the Somas turn into the animals of the Chinese zodiac when embraced by the opposite sex.

Harubruh:
Boy, does this take me back!

Though the original Fruits Basket anime aired back in 2001, I first checked it out just over a decade ago, on the recommendation of my then-best friend, who probably deserves a lot of the credit now for my current love of mushy shoujo romance fluff.

2019’s Fruits Basket anime is simultaneously a nostalgia trip and a breath of fresh air, and it’s fully aware of it. There’s the characters and the beginning of the story I recognize clear as day, but with new seiyuu and character designs that better fit the changes to author Natsuki Takaya’s art style over the years. It’s taking a bit of getting used to for me, but I definitely think they’ve made some smart choices for new seiyuus overall. This reboot has all it needs to appeal to the old fans of the series, such as myself, or a new generation of fans to come.

I never read the original manga, but apparently the old series didn’t follow along the intended storyline, or glossed over some important material for the sake of time. That’s apparently not going to be an issue here, as the stated mission of this from practically the first announcement was the new anime would stick to the manga’s plotline, a la Fullmetal Alchemist and the much better reboot FMA: Brotherhood. If the increase in plot quality is anything like Brotherhood‘s was over the original FMA, I think I’ve got a lot to be excited for here.

Random fun fact about Fruits Basket: It’s the origin of my current online handle. Sure, I’ve added some random noise to my handles over the years, but a character yet to be introduced in the new series is where you can trace my “Haru” moniker to.

The first two episodes have been largely spent building up the setting from which the drama and romance will kick off. It’s been a slow start, albeit a pretty one, but the real fun is about to start. The real story’s just now setting off, and there’ll be a LOT in store in the future. I’m happy Fruits Basket is back.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

HITORI BOCCHI NO MARUMARU SEIKATSU


Summary:
Bocchi Hitori is a new middle school student with severe social anxiety. Her only previous friend, Kai Yawara, is attending a different school, and not wanting her pal to grow desperately reliant on her, she issues Bocchi an ultimatum: “befriend everyone in your new class or we’re through.”

Yatahaze:
And so for these first two episodes, Bocchi fumbles around in search of friendship, second-guessing herself and gullibly taking everyone at their word. She manages to befriend the student who sits in front of her, Nako Sunao, and the two embarrass their class representative, Aru Honshou, into friendship as well. It’s slow going for Bocchi to even speak to anyone else though.

And right now that’s kind of a problem. At points, Bocchi’s inner monologues and foot-in-mouth awkwardness can be highly entertaining, but relying on that is a double-edged sword too, blurring the episodes’ developments together. The show’s best moments are when Bocchi does something truly unexpected, such as putting up a poster that her class is “abolished” or exclaiming in the middle of class that she’s “incredible at night” with no context. But more often than not, Bocchi and her new friends are less actively funny to watch than they are able to produce an occasional really good zinger two or three times an episode.

And while I enjoy that, it’s also not quite enough for me to say I’m hooked by this show. I’m not surprised thoughone of the most recent times this same thing happened to me was with original creator Katsuwo’s other adapted work, Mitsuboshi Colors, last year. I said Colors had potential, dropped it for most of its season, and then marathoned its 7/10-hood once the whole thing was released, and I’m inclined to do the same here. I just can’t see Hitori Bocchi becoming something I’m eager to tune into weekly this season, and I’d rather digest it at my own pace when it’s all available and I’m in the mood for it.

Sluggish pace aside, like Colors, there’s not much to actively detract from this show: the seiyuu performances are solid, the production is polished if nothing super ambitious, and as I said earlier, it culminates in a great gag every once and a while with few striking misses in between. If you’re craving a good 4-koma adaptation this season, this would be my recommendation. At the moment, I’m just not feeling it for weekly viewing.
Final (?) score: 6.5/10
Dropped (for now) after 2 episodes.

KONO OTO TOMARE: THE SOUNDS OF LIFE


Summary:
A high-schooler named Takezo joined his school’s koto club out of sympathy for some girls who gave a lackluster performance upon his enrollment. Now in his second year, they’ve all graduated and he’s the only member left. Worse, his club room is plagued by loitering bullies…that is, until a renowned delinquent and grandson of a recently deceased koto-maker, Chika Kudo, tries to join. But Takezo refuses to let him, assuming that he’s just another bully until Chika steps in enough times to prove he’s got no ill will towards Takezo or the koto. If anything, he wants to make up for his poor relationship with his grandfather.

Yatahaze:
Now, see, that all sounds fine. But w h e w was it taxing.

Simply judging this by its writing, Kono Oto Tomare did have a coherent plot. Bullied kid gets saved by a new guy, stubbornly perceives that new guy to also be a bully, and needs an intervention to realize that new guy’s checkered past doesn’t mean he’s out to cause everyone trouble.

The execution though? Goooooood that was some edgy, glacially slow shit. I’ll check out just about anything with the tag “music” on it, and a show about a koto club seemed unique enough to even get me a bit excited. But as far as that first episode goes, that’s really only a cover to form the basis of this BL romance in the making.

Which, again, isn’t inherently a turnoff to me, but it is when the two main characters are as annoying as they are here. Were the koto an actual focus instead of a pitied afterthought of an instrument to either of them, I’d maybe chance it and try the second episode, but I don’t have even a morsel of interest left after that derivative pilot. Props for having a half-competent production, but even the visuals weren’t my style. Corny without being funny, so wrapped up in its self-seriousness that it lacks all self-awareness, Kono Oto Tomare was a huge flop for me.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

MIDNIGHT OCCULT CIVIL SERVANTS (MAYONAKA NO OCCULT KOUMUIN)


Summary:
Miyako Arata just landed a job with Shinjuku’s “Nighttime Relations” office…which he soon comes to learn means negotiating disputes between various youkai invisible to everyday humans. He was in for a shock, but so were his seniors when Miyako started actually communicating with them, something no one on the job had previously been able to do.

Yatahaze:
You know it’s a bad season overall when I’m half-tempted to stick with a show this stiff and underachieving solely for the possibilities that lie in its premise. Its execution was the definition of average; nothing hooked me, nothing made me recoil, it’s the epitome of an “oh yeah, this exists” sort of production on every level.

And while I’d normally just cut my losses there and move on, I do want to take a minute to say that if you think this concept would be up your alley, then in a season like this, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving Midnight Occult Civil Servants a shot, especially if you also fancy its bishounen archetypes. For me, the most frustrating thing wasn’t the series’ visual clunkiness, but how its cast (Seo aside) has like, no personality whatsoever. It’d be one thing for the humans to suffer from this, but the conflict between the angels and tengu in this first act was dry too, even though they were clearly going for something more emotional. It’s just hard for me to extend interest to a show that barely tries to elevate its conceit above the lowest acceptable standard, but everyone’s got their token odd picks, and there are far worse ones out there than Midnight Occult Civil Servants.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ROBIHACHI


Summary:
Robby Yarge has hopped from job to job with no purpose and that’s precisely what he wants: to not have his freewheeling life interrupted. He’s got no choice once a debt collector starts tailing him, though…except that collector, Kita Hatchi, in turn decides to hell with stuffy rules, he wants a life of unpredictable fun now too! So the two of them, with even more debt collectors on their back, take off to Isekandar, a utopia they saw advertisements for during their chance encounter. Also, this show is set in spaaaaaaace.

Yatahaze:
Look, I love “X IN SPAAAAAAACE” adventures as much as the next guy, but it’s a simple fact that anime is kind of really good at them, and the playing field for that genre and this medium has been historically stacked.

That’s my nice way of saying that while RobiHachi doesn’t really get any storytelling essentials wrong, it’s also not actively setting itself apart from the classics or even indicating it has the charm to pull off a whole cour of wacky pleasure-seeking in spaaaaaace to a lesser but still engaging extent. The animation is stiff, the dialogue feels ironically procedural, and the character designs are all that exact sort of messily eccentric neon overload I can’t stand.

In spite of all that, I find it hard to bash on RobiHachi too much, ‘cause at least it’s otherwise competent at setting up its story. Simple competence isn’t enough to get me interested though, and every single point of this premise fit some derivative trope to a T. If you think your love of bishounen in spaaaaaaace is enough to get you through the doldrums, give RobiHachi a shot, I guess. Can’t say I’d extend that recommendation to anyone else though.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

SARAZANMAI


Summary:
After they accidentally break and make fun of a kappa statue in Asakusa, three middle schoolers, Kazuki, Toi, and Enta, are transformed into kappas themselves by Keppi, the god whose statue they destroyed. To change back into humans, the boys must fight “kappa-zombies” and collect “Plates of Hope,” which will fulfill their wishes. However, while in kappa form, the kids can only win if they are “connected,” which entails unwillingly revealing uncomfortable secrets to one another.

Yatahaze:
Hey, yeah, we’re late to the party, but Sarazanmai is the new series by lauded director Kunihiko Ikuhara and it is everything we’ve waited for and then some. Don’t know him? Well, in typical Ikuhara fashion, this show involves desires, puns, theatricality, surreal humor, and gender being a fuck. If any of those are deal-breakers, then uhhhh…understand you will not be let down gently.

Thankfully, here at For Great Justice, that’s all shit that we tend to love, and Sarazanmai is no exception. I’ve gotta say, I was a little worried that like Ikuhara’s other notable one-cour effort, Yurikuma Arashi, this series would start sluggish and have to compensate at the last minute due to the director’s intentional use of repetition. Good news, though: Sarazanmai still has its fair share of recycled transformation sequences, but it’s also not dragging its feet. It can’t afford to, and it doesn’t intend to. Ikuhara’s directness with motifs and plot revelations this time around is almost a bit disappointing, but the man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to tell a story in one cour and if that means speeding things along a bit in order to get a satisfactory ending, so be it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ikuhara shows can be A Lot to digest, especially for a newcomer to his style, and though Sarazanmai is comparatively to-the-point, the point itself is still buried in symbolism and allegories and unforeseen twists I can only dream of this early into the show’s run. What I’m gathering is that this series intends to further explore topics including but not limited to the paradox of wanting to have close ties yet remain guarded, the ways that desire (mostly in the form of reverence or protection so far) can manifest, and how the arbitration of that desire is itself arbitrary by the hand of established power structures.

Also ass. Lots of ass. That’s the wonderful thing about Ikuhara; you get the philosophical and the whimsical wrapped in one, playing off each other, existing in unison or with distance depending on whichever fits any given scene best. For all the talk of Ikuhara’s “weirdness,” his flair isn’t so much one of unprecedented bells and whistles, but of a complete lack of fucks to give about anyone who might find themselves easily turned off by say, I dunno, kappas extracting balls out of little boys’ rectums.

I swear this show is more enjoyable than I’m making it out to be.

But at the same time, Sarazanmai thus far seems a very Ikuhara work for a fanbase already cultivated to his interests. Most of his projects revolve around similar themes and are to some degree more accessible despite their lengthier episode counts. Side by side, Sarazanmai may be more structurally direct, but its details are also unapologetically, ostentatiously weirderand with this man, that’s both a compliment and a necessary change. I can’t blame an uninitiated viewer for being confused or turned off by this seriesthere are certainly easier introductions to Ikuhara out there and his style isn’t for everyone in the first place. But let’s not conflate “ease of entry” with “richness of material.” For that, only time will tell, but as an Ikuhara fan already, I’m very eager to see where specifically this story of secrets will go and what bizarre treasures await us in the months ahead.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

Harubruh:
Sarazanmai is the most I’ve ever looked forward to watching a Kunihiko Ikuhara work.

Utena? I haven’t watched it yet; yes, yes, I know I’m a terrible anime fan. My introduction to Ikuhara was Penguindrum, which I marathonned through shortly after it finished airing. Though my memory of it is vague, I definitely remember the hook of what I now know was Ikuhara’s distinctive flair with visuals and storytelling, though my captivation somewhat wavered after how incredibly far Yurikuma Arashi went over my head.

Sarazanmai’s first teaser trailer dropped only a couple weeks after I returned from my trip to Japan, having spent one of my favorite days over there in Asakusa, the district which serves as this show’s setting. I even stayed on the Sumida River, very close the Azumabashi bridge that Sarazanmai features quite prominently. My eager anticipation grew seeing the characters among the landmarks of the area which I had just visited, such as Senso-ji Temple, the Kaminarimon, the Asahi Beer HQ which serves as the backdrop for Azumabashi along with the Sky Tree, and others.

In these last weeks, I was beginning to worry I had maybe built this up too much. Upon starting Sarazanmai, my worries very quickly subsided. The contemplative buildup quickly leapt into absolute absurdity, all taking place in what was one of my favorite areas I stayed during my brief visit to Japan. Amongst all the mayhem, butt-stuff, and visual cues I’m now full-well prepared to see on repeat for the next three months, Sarazanmai in two episodes has taken me back to a happy place.

I have to watch these episodes like three times over. One for the initial watch, two to try and better absorb any Ikuhara-isms that might go over my head, and third to catch all the spots around Asakusa that I’ve been to. Any more watches after thatand that definitely happened with the pilotare pure enjoyment. I’ve seen some minor squabbling about the plot rushing too quick to a point for an Ikuhara work, but I feel I better comprehend Sarazanmai two episodes in than the Ikuhara shows that preceded it.

Sarazanmai’s an absolute blast to watch, and every episode takes me back to one of the happiest days I’ve had in my life. The utterly absurd fun that the actual plot so far has turned out to be is just a bonus, and I feel excited seeing this show go pedal to the metal. I’m eager for more.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

SENRYU GIRL


Summary:
Eiji Busujima, a boy who looks like a delinquent but has a heart of gold, and Nanako Yukishiro, an equally likable but socially anxious girl, bond as members of their school’s Literature club, communicating through senryu, a type of haiku.

Yatahaze:
Hey folks, you familiar with Komi-san? Because I couldn’t stop thinking about it while watching Senryu Girl, unfortunately in the “wow, these are almost the same premise and this is the lesser of them” sort of way. Mute chick befriends some randos, pseudo-haremy elements pop up, repetitive humor in abundance. It’s all there, but in this case most of the punchlines being haikus only really feels like a gimmick. Taken on its own, Senryu Girl is hardly terrible, but considering its episodes are about half-length and I still found myself checking the clock before it wrapped up, I think it’s safe to say this one just doesn’t have enough oomph to keep me engaged. If you’re really really into this fluff, go for it, but for me its aggressive inoffensiveness (and aping of a better title) makes it an easy skip.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

WE NEVER LEARN: BOKUBEN (BOKUTACHI WA BENKYOU GA DEKINAI)


Summary:
Nariyuki Yuiga used to be a mediocre student, but after pushing himself for years, he’s become well-rounded in every subject. His principal even agrees to grant him a tuition-reducing VIP recommendation into university for his merits…on the condition that he helps two of the school’s brightest students excel in their area of actual interest, which is, of course, not the one they’re naturally talented at. Add a sporty childhood friend in and Nariyuki now has three girls clinging to him, begging for academic advice.

Yatahaze:
Mood.

Okay, okay, I’m neither that bright nor that thirsted after, but BokuBen is all about quick laughs, and it’s…somehow doing the trick for me? Like, it’s very clearly a harem; all its ecchi elements are forward and undeniable, and if those are inherently a deal-breaker for you, so be it. In a lot of cases, they’re enough to turn me off to a show too.

But I’ll be damned, while its writing isn’t anything super deep or praiseworthy, BokuBen is more often than not a fun time, sustained by love interests with *cough* actual personalities and a male main character with an internal voice slightly more unique than your average given milquetoast protagonist. Don’t get your hopes too highat the moment these characters still fall into archetypal roles more than they do subvert thembut there’s at least legitimate chemistry between them too. Couple that with a snappier pace than most of this season’s comedies and a slew of fantastic reaction faces, and BokuBen somehow ended up the speculative pick that most easily captured my attention, despite its male gaze camerawork and “MC as savior” vibes being so antithetical to what I usually enjoy.

And honestly, that’s enough for me with a season this weak. I need me some watchlist filler, and I’d certainly rather take a show with a charming cast and some mundanely problematic gags than one that inoffensively bores me to tears. I can’t say I’m particularly hopeful that BokuBen will raise its creative threshold, but as long as it doesn’t dramatically lower it either, this series seems poised to give me just enough laughs to keep me coming back. I’m surprised too.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

WHY THE HELL ARE YOU HERE, TEACHER?! (NANDE KOKO NI SENSEI GA!?)


Summary:
Male student stumbles upon female teacher in a sexually compromising situation. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Yatahaze:
Y’all got me excited. I saw the screencaps. I saw the disbelief. I thought we were gonna have a second consecutive season with DomeKano-tier age gap bullshit, and…Why The Hell Are You Here, Teacher?! sort of is that, at least on paper. But in practice, virtually every sketchy shot is hidden until Blu-Ray release behind censors and the characters are merely vessels for easy gags instead of actual attempts at, you know, characters. Kojima’s personality isn’t consistent, Sato is the most forgettable main I’ve seen in a hot minute, and I hear this cast is supposed to rotate every handful of episodes to even more characters, who I can’t realistically assume will fare any better than these leading two. I can’t invest in any drama here, nor do I have any incentive to take it for the half-obstructed porn it is, so this short doesn’t really have any reason to exist, let alone work its way onto my watchlist.

That’s right, this show needed to go farther. I have half-assed ecchi antibodies now. Only the most taboo hullabaloo will do. Look what you’ve done to me.

Character designs were solid though, and it also isn’t [glares at the isekai fans] slavery apologia, so uh…3/10, I guess? Yeah, let’s go with that.
Final score: 3/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

THE WISE GRANDCHILD (KENJA NO MAGO)


Summary:
Yet another young man meets a untimely end in a traffic incident, and is reborn in another world as an infant adopted by the great wizard Merlin Walford. Given the name Shin, he is raised as a grandson by the mage, and learns to tap into some extremely overpowering magic, with one hitch: The old man never taught Shin any common sense. Isekai antics ensue.

Harubruh:
The Great Avalanche of Isekai Anime Adaptations continues to pile on, and this season, we have The Wise Grandchild, also known as Kenja no Mago.

As you may recall, I’ve warmed up considerably to the isekai genre (or trope, whatever) after finding a nice set of comparatively wholesome isekai titles, some of which are finally starting to receive anime adaptations after waiting behind some slave-glorifying garbage. The last two seasons, that “Relatively Nice Isekai” title was TenSura, and this season, it’s The Wise Grandchild’s turn.

Can I just call this Kenja from here on? “The Wise Grandchild” doesn’t lend itself well to quick writing.

I have a fair bit of experience with Kenja no Mago already, having discovered it and read  somewhere in the neighborhood of two volumes worth of manga a couple years ago. It was a fun little read that felt fairly refreshing in comparison to some of the uglier titles out there. Sure, I never picked it back up after I ran out of material to read, but after its adaptation was announced, I remembered the good laughs I had at it back then and thought, “Sure, why the hell not?

Two episodes in, I’m already having a lot of fun with this. Yeah, sure, it’s a ton of the derivative “OP self-insert isekai” tropes, but it has a different air to it. It’s much less Serious Edge show like say, Shield Hero, but rather more of a goofy tongue-in-cheek Konosuba variety of show, with much of the humor coming at Shin’s expense on account of his complete lack of common sense or ability to throttle his magic powers. The cast has a lively rapport to them, with Shin’s somewhat ornery (also overpowered) divorced grandparents’ light-hearted bickering, or his new bestie August (who so happens to be the prince of the land) taking a sarcastic jab or two as best friends tend to do.

Maybe it’s just because I tend to miss the dramatic sakuga-fest productions that people tend to gush over every season, but I don’t see where some of the sharp criticism I’ve seen over Kenja’s visuals actually plays. I mean, sure, this show ain’t anything to write home about, but it’s more polished than some of the other middling shows I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s certainly an inoffensive looking show in my book. Sometimes simplicity works, and I choose to believe the simple designs work here.

Sure, write this off as another piece of isekai garbage if that’s your inclination. Hell, I was on the “isekai blows” bandwagon until pretty recently, and a lot of them still do blow! I can understand why someone still in that line of thought would drop this. I don’t know, life’s too short to miss out on fun stuff, and this goofy-ass isekai sure seems like an entertaining watch to me. Kenja sure as hell is a reaction face gold mine, and that by itself makes it a valuable asset.

To quote an old favorite show, what’s fun is good. The Wise Grandchild is a fun show for me to kick back to, and therefore it is good. Feel free to disagree with me all that you like.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.


Whoa, calm down, buddy! We haven’t forgotten about Dororo either, which will continue to occupy a spot on our watchlists in this otherwise slim season. What shows are y’all sticking with? How many takes do you firmly disagree with above? What did we get right? Chime in with 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.

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