Summer 2019 First Impressions

Right off the heels of one of the weakest overall seasons in recent memory, anime is back and summer is bringing the heat! By the end of this past spring, I think we here at FGJ had finished a combined like…6 shows? In comparison, we’re covering triple that in this loaded round of first impressions. But how many are we sticking withand which ones? Some obvious choices and some oddball surprises alike made the cut. Let’s run ’em down!

impress deez nuts
ARE YOU LOST? (SOUNAN DESU KA?)


Summary:
Four high school girls⁠—a sporto, a pampered princess, a bookworm, and the daughter of a wilderness survival expert⁠—find themselves stuck on a desert island. Shenanigans ensue.

Yatahaze:
As far as “fanservice shorts with some semblance of a plot” go, Are You Lost? manages to be surprisingly watchable. The show’s production seems competent, the voice actresses sell their roles well, and this title’s sense of humor is just off-kilter enough to keep me grinning every couple of minutes, ranging from deadpan toilet humor to “oh, of course this would happen” self-aware clichés.

Admittedly Bear Gryllsko-chan has mostly carried the first two episodes, as the other characters are all equally inept at processing the situation they find themselves in. That’s not to say they won’t get some growth later on, but with a series like this that’s also likely not its priority. What we’re left with are some predictable but sufficiently humorous gags and a bit of meandering between. The series’ 12-minute runtime may be this thing’s saving grace⁠— even though there’s a funnier, more diverse “help, we’re stranded” comedy on the bracket this season, Are You Lost? isn’t a lost cause. Its ceiling may not be high, but it hasn’t shown any indication of bottoming out early. Thanks to a couple surprising drops down the list, it clings to my ninth and final weekly slot…for now.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

ARIFURETA: FROM COMMONPLACE TO WORLD’S STRONGEST
(ARIFURETA SHOKUGYOU DE SEKAI SAIKYOU)


Summary:
Summoned to another world along with the rest of his class, resident otaku and class punching bag Hajime Nagumo finds himself stuck with the low-class job of Synergist, with only a single transmutation skill. Things very quickly go very south for Hajime after him and his classmates embark on a labyrinth raid.

Harubruh:
Hello, it’s For Great Justice’s token isekai apologist, Harubruh, here to cover a handful of the titles comprising the literal fuckton of isekai anime adaptations that are dropping this summer. Now, in the time since I have begun warming up to the isekai trope, I’ve read countless titles of the now-genre, and one of this summer’s hype monsters is none other than Arifureta.

I didn’t read particularly deep into this manga, but through the bit that I did read, it wasn’t a particularly outstanding or entertaining experience. Arifureta basically plays the edgelord harem revenge and power trip stuff straight up, with post-labyrinth Hajime looking like a prototypical DeviantArt roleplaying OC in both the design and OP abilities departments.

It puzzles me as to why the anime sets off with Hajime in the abyss, skipping maybe four chapters of the manga. (Yes, I’m aware it was a novel before that, and no, I didn’t read the novel format.) Was it because the staff was worried that adapting the original material in order would’ve lost some of the shorter attention spans before Hajime’s fall and transformation? It’s a somewhat jarring alteration to a narrative that I already had difficulty maintaining any degree of interest in. I mean, you know something is up with this when even the author themselves speak out about the handling of their series, as was the case here.

Arifureta’s anime adaptation was never destined to be my cup of tea, but if a cynically edgy power trip is what you’re in the mood for, look no further. I’m washing my hands of this in favor of something else to try in this absolutely stacked season.
Final score: 4/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ASTRA LOST IN SPACE (KANATA NO ASTRA)


Summary:
The year is 2061 and students from Caird High School are about to embark on a tradition now that space travel is physically possible and financially simple: Planet Camp. But not long after this group of nine arrives at their camp site, a mysterious portal sucks them all into deep space, where they luck into regrouping in an unattended nearby spaceshipAstra. With no adults to reach and similar portals on their tail, the kids must navigate each other’s prickly personalities, natural hazards, and their own suspicion as they try to get back home.

Yatahaze:
anime Zack spotted

So, now that we know I was obligated to check out Astra, is it good? We’re gonna have to break this down. You know how a program like say, Mayoiga isn’t really “good” at being a psychological horror show but rules at being a surreal comedy? (Whether it’s that by design or accident we’ll not get into for the sake of peace).

Well, Astra is giving me those same vibes. Even beyond the obvious plot similarities⁠—both focus on a group of strangers who’re stranded while supernatural phenomena hunt them down⁠—the show feels tonally similar; none of the characters are particularly likable on account of either their selfishness, denseness, or over-transparent “look at me, I’m the good kid” likability. The world-building can be awkwardly established, the scene to scene flow isn’t the best out there (a fact not helped by its double-length pilot episode), and yet…I’m invested. Invested ironically. Or is it seriously? Where does the line blur? I’m not sure I know the answer anymore.

But I can tell I do want to see more of these idiots every week. I do want to eventually find out whether their predicament is accidental or sabotage, and if so, at whose hands for what ends. Whether I stick around only a couple more weeks or to completion, that’s still up in the air, but Astra managed to hook me in spite of⁠—or is it because of⁠—how little stock I put in its ambitions as a creative sci-fi mystery. Fingers crossed I’m rewarded for this move.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

COP CRAFT


Summary:
San Teresa City, a recently-formed border metropolis between Earth and an alien realm accessible by hypergate, is a place of mass immigration back and forth between worlds. As a result, it’s also a checkpoint of illicit trade, and two unlikely individuals⁠⁠—Kei Matoba, a cop with a chip on his shoulder, and Tilarna Exedilika, a young alien royalare teaming up to get to the bottom of a plot that involves a stolen fairy, a dead partner, and mass hypnotism.

Yatahaze:
Now see, when I type all that out, I’m really into it. Cop Craft’s premise is chock full of motifs I love⁠—the meeting of worlds (most recently pulled off to glowing praise with Blood Blockade Battlefront), a good cop-bad cop (er…more like jaded cop-oblivious cop) lead dynamic, and loads of clichéd dialogue that goes full circle from trite to inadvertently funny. It’s comfortably familiar.

Maybe too much so. Only when Tilarna took the spotlight did I feel like I was watching a program with a unique vision. When Kei is the focus⁠—and he is for a lot of screentime so far⁠—I’m left yearning for something more creative. He plays his archetypal role well, but it’s still ultimately just an archetype. Ditto for the villains, who unthreateningly try to assert their toughness to no effect on both our protagonists and myself.

By dropping viewers right into the trenches, Cop Craft also somewhat limits our exposure to the rest of its world. Kei notes that San Teresa isn’t the sunny paradise it’s made out to be, but…where is it made out to be that, like, at all? All we’ve seen is the doom and gloom, broken up by mere traces of humor, mostly via one partner’s haughtiness. Nothing to write home about visually either⁠—no cuts or character designs here appear truly awful, but it’s certainly not one of the most engaging experiences on the eyes this season either.

All of this is to say that Cop Craft has the pieces for a great show, but the formula hasn’t quite figured out how to proportion them yet. I’m also doubtful the series will question the order of Kei’s police force any more than it already has, and in contemporary times, it’s really hard to root for an aggressive, dismissive cop in my fiction of choice. I’m giving Cop Craft the dump⁠—but if gritty police procedurals or alter-world fantasies are your thing, then do be sure to give this title a look. It may not play to its genre’s strengths outstandingly, but if you’re more partial to the tropes and plot beats inherently found here, I see no reason why you wouldn’t get something out of it.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

DO YOU LOVE YOUR MOM AND HER TWO-HIT MULTI-TARGET ATTACKS?
(TSUUJOU KOUGEKI GA ZENTAI KOUGEKI DE NI-KAI KOUGEKI NO OKAASAN WA SUKI DESU KA?)


Summary:
After giving the answers they wanted on a survey, some kid named Masato and his doting mother get dragged into a beta version of a virtual world. This MMORPG seems to have a larger purpose though, and the fact that Mamako (really, that’s her name) followed Masato there doesn’t seem to be coincidental.

Yatahaze:
Also abbreviated as Okaasan Online for what I’m hoping is an obvious reason, Do Your Love Your Mom…? takes the cake as this season’s most outrageously long title. That’s really all it has going for it.

Yep, that’s right, contrary to some baseless (and some not so baseless) expectations, I did not dig the milf isekai. It shouldn’t be a shock that I wasn’t sold by the isekai bit. It’s the other half of that phrase I’m more disappointed in. Not that I want to fuck my mom, or that I want this Masato kid to fuck his mom, but-

okay, bear with me, this is gonna go places

I get the mom fetish. I understand how the idea of an older woman taking care of a more impressionable boy’s needs can be an appealing fantasy, especially among man-children who’ve had it well for most of their lives and can thank their parents for that stability and care. Looking for the same qualities in a romantic partner⁠—perhaps even going so far as to prefer an actual age gap⁠—it’s not the wildest fetish out there. Not by a long shot. And it’s rarely an Oedipal thing through and through; the attraction isn’t the blood relation, but the fulfillment of needs by a new person in a familiar role.

Does any of that actually matter in Okaasan Online? No, because Masato does not want to fuck his mom. Hell, he doesn’t even want to be near his mom. She’s too caring. Too nice to get annoyed at. Too…ideal mom. And there’s the problem⁠—Masato wants to maintain a normal, believable distance from this woman like your average angsty teenager does with their parents. He goes about it in a notably dickish way, attempting to…run into his computer at the first chance of escape despite having an average, comfortable life…but hey, again, normal teenage behavior [citation needed].

While Masato is an unenjoyable presence to lead this story, it’s Mamako who tarnishes any semblance of a hook Okaasan Online had going for it: all those qualities that make her the ideal parent for like, a 5-year-old⁠—endless patience, cutesy talking mannerisms, a clingy pride in her son⁠—those just aren’t the same emotions expressed by someone who’s raised a kid as long as she has. The immersion is broken. Instead of toying with a niche fetish, however silly, the appeal just goes out the window. Mamako is written like the author’s never critically digested an interaction with their mom before: its calling card is awkwardly stuck in this purgatory where she’s too stereotypically mom-like to be taken seriously, but not exaggerated enough to be taken as fodder.

“But the show’s really a harem!” I can hear you cry from across the internet, as if that’s really a point back in its favor. The one distinguishing talking point of the show is already a bust⁠—the presence of “other options” is hardly a redeeming factor, not that I can judge them yet anyway seeing as the series began a week later than most of its competition and has only aired one episode thus far. Still, that episode was enough for me to get the gist: whatever Okaasan Online was trying to construct a monopoly around, it just flopped hard. Its production was nothing to write home about (though I do enjoy Pochi’s character designs) and its supposed story from here on out seems eager to bask in mediocrity. On the other hand, this lackluster pilot prompted me to write an essay about the psychology of mommy fetishes, so if there’s any loser here, it’s not this show. It’s me. Shouganai.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

DR. STONE


Summary:
A strange phenomenon spread across the world that turned all humans to stone. In 5738, two kids, the brainy Senku and brawny Taiju, reawaken from their petrified state to a world reclaimed by vegetation and loose beasts. It’s up to them to get to the bottom of how to reverse the phenomenon and rebuild human civilization.

Yatahaze:
I really love this premise. “Blank slate” worlds, for lack of a better term, are super intriguing to me in storytelling⁠—if given the chance to rebuild a society, how would you do it? The answer is sure to vary, and seeing the few remaining people negotiate how to run their world can be a blast. Not to mention the scenery in these sorts of shows is often fantastic, and Dr. Stone’s depiction of an overgrown Earth is no exception. This seemed like a recipe for success.

And then Senku started talking.

I honestly can’t recall the last time a show with such a golden premise had all its potential bankrupted by the sheer arrogance of its main character. Mr. Asparagus Head here is simply an asshole. The snickery “I only think logically” type. The sort who can’t help but utter something patronizing even when they’re trying to be nice. No⁠—the sort who doesn’t even try to be that nice, because what’s the point in this scenario. It’d be one thing if Dr. Stone seemed like it would call him out on his bullshit, but so far the only two reawakened comrades he has both defer to him and accept any and all criticism without a second thought. Taiju even seems happy to get reduced to the “dumb sidekick” role. Tsubasa, the first additional person the duo recovers, mostly follows his lead. It’s just too hard to root for Senku and even harder to go along with the show’s evident belief that this kid is really cool. I can’t buy it. He’s an asshole. And he singlehandedly makes what could be a fascinating sci-fi adventure nigh-unwatchable.

Well, that and these ultra-ragged character designs, but even then, one of these negatives drastically outweighs the other. Shame.
Final score: shit, I dunno, like a 6/10, I guess? C’mon man
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ENSEMBLE STARS!


Summary:
Anzu is a new student at Yumenosaki Academy, a school that has long specialized in training up male idols. She is chosen as the first student for a “producer’s course,” where she is to try to bring out the best in the various units aspiring to be Yumenosaki’s top unit.

Harubruh:
Oh look, I’m back on my idol show bullshit again, and the one I’ve decided to pick up this season is the anime adaptation of the popular Ensemble Stars idol mobage, which to my knowledge seems to be the most popular boy idol franchise not called “Idolmaster SideM”.

Originally due to drop at nearly the same time as SideM back in 2017, the Ensemble Stars fandom was forced to sit on their hands and wait as the broadcast was delayed, surely to address a quality issue or two. In the mean time, Happy Elements, the developer of EnStars, released a certain anime adaptation of another of their games, Last Period, a relentlessly scathing mobage parody show that I enjoyed quite a bit and even featured an Ensemble Stars cameo appearance.

So, two years have passed since that postponement, and what did the extra time get us?

A decently fun premiere, with some onstage guitar fight antics spicing up a usual mobage introduction, a strong follow-up establishing the fledgling units’ conflicts with Yumenosaki’s tough love approach to training idols, and the student council tasked with enforcing the status quo. Ensemble Stars is less tongue-in-cheek than its cousin Last Period, but there’s definitely still some of that slightly absurd Happy Elements anime vibe, with the aforementioned guitar fight in the first episode standing out as an example.

It was safe to say that this show had a good hook with Shino’s unit performing their hearts out in front of a mostly vacant auditorium after it emptied out following the performance by the vastly popular and well established Akatsuki unit. I’ve seen it done in similar fashion before, but for me, it’s still as good a hook as ever with music shows.

It’s kind of foregone that I stick with these idol shows come hell or high water, so why change that now? Ensemble Stars appears to be a plenty competent entry in the idol genre, so I’ll be around for more.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

FIRE FORCE (EN’EN NO SHOUBOUTAI)


Summary:
In an alternate universe steampunk-ass Tokyo, some people are ordinary humans, others have special pyrotechnic abilities, and some of both, labelled “Infernals,” end up spontaneously combusting, requiring the assistance of a specialized Fire Force to be peacefully exorcised. Shinra Kusakabe, a third-generation pyrotechnic with a traumatic past, joins one of these fire forces right as a more nefarious plot to manually detonate Infernals begins.

Yatahaze:
Fire Force was hyped to hell and back by the shounen crowd (understandably so, seeing as this is Soul Eater author Atsushi Ookubo’s next big adaptation) and one glance at its incredible sakuga and refined writing proves that it could easily sweep in people outside that genre locus. As is, it’s already a seasonal frontrunner.

The series is simply firing on all cylinders (not sorry) in every regard: the worldbuilding is tantalizingly left to incidental detail, the main characters already have depth after just two episodes, and the weight of the Fire Force’s job⁠—to essentially kill people gone hopelessly berserk⁠—is not glossed over whatsoever. For a flashy shounen series, very little time is spent on atonal levity, much less outright fanservice, nor is it leaning into its grim backbone with pessimism or misanthropy. Fire Forcenot unlike most of Soul Eater, but even more so⁠—seems to understand the delicate balance of recognizing that its characters have varying degrees of hang-ups to work through en route to solving a wider plot conflict. In this case, the emergence of a deliberate Infernal-creating antagonist is likely tied to Shinra’s own trauma, or at least adjacent enough to dredge back up that pain. I can’t wait to see what leads the force finds now that they have reason to suspect a larger scheme is afoot.

But the biggest piece of praise I have for Fire Force is that even putting aside that expressed conflict, I’m still totally immersed with the world it’s set up. Not unlike say, My Hero Academia (my field of reference for modern shounen adaptations is kind of limited), the world doesn’t feel like an afterthought; much the same way that sun gods seem to have replaced our world’s deities as the prominent divine beings, the fire forces are an infrastructural solution to an existing problem that extends far beyond the main cast. Tender moments like the captain comforting a newly-orphaned child right after sending her father to the afterlife (and chewing out his rookies for publicly displaying their weapons for the job in front of the next-of-kin) show a responsibility inherent in this profession that something like Soul Eater and all its whimsical comedic musings simply didn’t prioritize. Call it maturity or whatever, but it’s wonderful to see Ookubo turn away from that and let the tension in this story hang in the air.

Though it can still be fun, I promise! The action itself is breathtakingly beautiful, wisps of fire constantly smoldering, ashes sparking, character movements kinetic as fuck; it’s a lot to take in, and even with the somber background, it’s enough to make your jaw drop in stupefied awe. The fact that Fire Force gives similar treatment to light-hearted scenes of Maki goofing off with fire pets also suggests they’ve got their resources worked out well for the long haul. It’s one I’m eager to follow to the end, and I’ve got confidence in Fire Force’s writing and cast that I’ll remain interested the whole way.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GIVEN


Summary:
Ritsuka Uenoyama is in a band, and when he finds a mopey guitar newbie named Mafuyu Satou in his schoolgrounds hiding spot, he initially helps repair the kid’s guitar with the hope that he’ll leave⁠—but once that connection’s been established, there’s no turning back. Mafuyu is hooked, and his attention is giving Ritsuka and his bandmates an extra kick of motivation.

Yatahaze:
As a shy and admittedly moody rock guitarist myself⁠—I even started in 6th grade with a guitar I inherited from my dad, just like Ritsuka⁠—Given’s probability of resonating with me was, well, practically a given. It didn’t disappoint aesthetically either. The character work was a little dry so far and the chromatic saturation of certain shots felt a bit excessive (though not to the caliber of the PV and other promo material), but I can put those minor nitpicks aside without a second thought because whoooa boy the music. The music was so good. The songs are not only scored well, they’re mostly animated realistically. Guitarist plays an Asus2? It’s depicted as an Asus2. Bassist noodling away? Seems legit. Drummer tearing up that hi-hat? Yeah…that last one’s a bit messy, but overall Given’s performance scenes pulled me in just as they did to Mafuyu.

As for the plot, while it’s tonally softer around the edges (its roots are shounen ai as opposed to shounen, after all) I can’t help but immediately think of something like Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. New musician running into a devoted one with a decent band in motion and joining up with them? Same shtick, different setting. Not a bad thing at all though; especially with how hyped up this series’ source material seems to be, I’m optimistic that Given’s pilot isn’t coercing me into a story that’s all flash and no feeling. Ritsuka is a decent lead, and while the other characters haven’t come into their own quite yet, I also can’t knock it too hard⁠—it’s playing with only one episode available, after all. A medium even better-suited for the expression of sound is about all fans could ask for, and while I’m going in blind, I’m already confident Given has enough core strengths and additional flourishes to be a seasonal keeper.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

HOW HEAVY ARE THE DUMBBELLS YOU LIFT?
(DUMBBELL NAN KILO MOTERU?)


Summary:
When Sakura Hibiki realizes her appetite is getting the best of her, she looks into joining a local gym but doesn’t want anything too intense. However, she gets more than she bargained for when she meets a classmate at Silverman’s, a place where boasting explosive muscles is the norm.

Yatahaze:
This? This right here? This is how you convince hordes of otaku to exercise. Dumbbells may self-advertise as a fanservice show, but it’s also workout edutainment. Not sure you’re into that? Neither was Sakura at first, but look where we are now.

Though the show is kicked into gear by a friend telling her she’s putting on weight, she’s not actually that heavy in mass or plump in figure. If I have any thematic concerns about Dumbbells, it’s that it might send the opposite of the intended message, causing people of all ages and body types to worry about their weight unnecessarily. Lord knows we have enough factors involved with body image stress already and I can’t knock anyone for feeling that Dumbbells, intentionally or otherwise, is poking fun at a topic that shouldn’t be grounds for cheap laughs.

That said, I ultimately think its heart is in the right place, at least overall. None of these characters are forced into joining the gym and after a visit or two, all of them genuinely want to build some muscle and bask in the glow of bodybuilders. The reverse male gaze is strong here and while I’m not personally into bulging muscles, I am on board with expressing body positivity. These guys and gals want ‘em? More power to ‘em (in both essences of the phrase).

But is Dumbbells actually fun? For the most part it slips byjust enough for me to keep it on the watchlist. I said the same thing about last season’s BokuBen at first only for it to become the show I looked forward to most each week, and while I don’t think Dumbbells would follow suit quite that closely, you truly never know with popcorn series. The characters are all mostly enjoyable with great narrative voices despite the informative dialogue (special props to Ai Fairouz for voicing Sakura so well I didn’t even realize it was her debut role), and the lack of an antagonist makes the whole show about as breezy as it can get. Right now I can dig that. We can re-evaluate later, but even if Dumbbells doesn’t do anything too unique beyond the premise it’s currently executing, it’s doing that well enough to get a pass.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

IF IT’S FOR MY DAUGHTER, I’D EVEN DEFEAT A DEMON LORD
(UCHI NO KO NO TAME NARABA, ORE WA MOSHIKASHITARA MAOU MO TAOSERU KAMO SHIRENAI)


Summary:
Despite his meager 18 years of age, adventurer Dale has a solid reputation in his local village and a level head. Maybe too level⁠—after stumbling upon a young orphaned demon girl in the forest, he decides to take the child, Latina, back home and raise her as his daughter.

Yatahaze:
Alright, first things first, I am aware that this series takes a problematic turn towards its later stages. I’m also aware it’s unlikely that this anime adaptation, at least this season of it, will reach that far into the source material. Solely judging it on its “adventure world, but also raising a kid” conceit, how does it fare?

I mean…it’s fine.

At some points even actively great! Latina’s language barrier is played straight well (even if she learns the humans’ tongue conveniently quick) and I love those little details about Dale knowing some elementary demon words thanks to sorcery and the like. While his bland, nice guy personality has me reluctant to praise him too hard, I’m also appreciative of how If It’s For My Daughter… is down for the “it takes a village to raise a child” approach to Latina’s babysitting. She’s clearly most attached to Dale for understandable reasons, but the other adults in this show are good-hearted so far and can keep up with Latina, even if they’re initially sort of stumped as to why she’s there. The show’s biggest appeal is the cute kid herself, though: she’s genuinely adorable.

But at the same time it’s all…too nice, too palatable, too dull. Y’all know I can get behind comfort-oriented slice-of-life stuff and that I love shows about family, but in If It’s For My Daughter’s quest to be as friendly as possible right out of the gate, it also saps virtually every character in this cast of a distinct personality. The same can be said for the visuals, which I’m thankful aren’t grimdark one bit, but also contain no distinguishable quality whatsoever.

Surely there’s a larger plot here, right? These sorts of adventurer series rarely stick to their fluffy charms long and this thing’s long-ass title implies a conflict, but the fact is this: through two episodes, the only thing that would urge me to come back to this show is Latina, and even she’s hardly the most original creation since sliced bread. If this premise sounds right up your alley, you might as well go for it, but If It’s For My Daughter has been more of an absence of bad decisions than a presence of excellent ones. In a huge first impressions week, that’s simply not enough to make the cut.
Final score: 6/10
Dropped after 2 episodes.

ISEKAI CHEAT MAGICIAN


Summary:
Along their way to school one ordinary day, childhood friends Taichi and Rin are summoned to another world, where they suddenly find themselves under attack by a monster. A group of adventurers bails them out, and introduces them to the local guild, where they eventually discover that they possess OP cheat abilities. Isekai shenanigans ensue.

Harubruh:
It took me a minute, and by “a minute,” I mean yesterday, when I could finally sit down and check out Isekai Cheat Magician, and boy, I’m glad I didn’t just write this one off.

Falling under the increasingly rare category of “Isekai Title That I Didn’t Read Ahead of the Anime,” this show had a fairly standard-for-the-fare introductory episode, establishing our main duo of Taichi and Rin’s relationship as good ol’ childhood pals before they find themselves enveloped by a magic circle and suddenly spirited off to another world.

I mean, it’s pretty much the standard rinse and repeat pattern OP isekai formula, but the “childhood pals” addition has my interest piqued, especially seeing as this series seems to have no intention of leaving Rin as just a “helpless maiden to be rescued by OP MC-kun,” evidenced by her actions in the opening battle sequence. She’s also got arguably as much if not more personality than MC-kun Taichi, as she rightfully chews him out for attempting to sacrifice himself as bait for her to escape from the demon horse that was chasing them down.

Like most other shows of the genre, Isekai Cheat isn’t winning any awards for style or originality, but hey, it looks to be some good, simple fun, and I had a good time watching the premiere, so for the moment, I’m sticking with it.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 1 episode.

KARAKAI JOUZU NO TAKAGI-SAN 2


Summary:
Season two of G-rated schoolyard almost-romance Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san.

Yatahaze:
Yup.

Yup, it’s a second season of Takagi-san, alright. Not sure what you expect me to say⁠—it’s got the same strengths (great voice acting, extremely polished production, vicarious nostalgia) and weaknesses (repetitive conversations, small-range cast) as its predecessor and doesn’t seem likely to change any of that. Hard to fix what’s mostly unbroken. I’m hoping that this far into the material, the anime will get a bit less inconsequential from skit to skit, but that might just be wishful thinking that’ll never come to fruition because hell, why would it? Takagi-san knows what it wants to do and I know that while I’ll pine on and on for it to do something more linearly progressive with its setup, I’m also content enough with its weekly shtick to eagerly tune in anyway. Welcome back, tease goddess.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

MAGICAL SEMPAI (TEJINA-SENPAI)


Summary:
An unnamed high-schooler is only looking for a club to relax in, but he literally and figuratively gets roped into being the assistant of his senpai, an amateur magician. And she’s terrible at this.

Yatahaze:
There are precisely three (3) things I feel inclined to praise Magical Sempai for: first, Sempai is so catastrophically incompetent at magic but so positively dedicated to it that you kinda can’t help but root for her to improve. Second, while the gags themselves are more often than not tiresome and lowbrow, the characters are expressive enough to keep a viewer moderately invested. And third, thanks to its 12-minute runtime, this show’s pilot didn’t really have time to drag. It’d have to be Sempai-levels of bad if it really wanted to, and it’s not quite to that point.

But the point at which it lies certainly isn’t a praiseworthy enough one for me to bother with a second episode. Magical Sempai doesn’t put up any false pretenses: it presents itself as the repetitive, time-killer gag comedy it is, and I can at least respect that, waving it off on its way to the discard pile.
Final score: 5/10
Dropped after 1 episode.

O MAIDENS IN YOUR SAVAGE SEASON
(ARABURU KISETSU NO OTOME-DOMO YO)


Summary:
Five girls in their school’s Literature Club are facing a few predicaments. The members, despite relative personal inexperience with the topic, are quickly gaining notoriety for discussing the sexual characteristics of literature, and the faculty don’t like it one bit. Just as the school attempts to shut their club down for that (and having no advisor, whoops), the girls are also stumbling into the awkward throes of puberty on their own.

Yatahaze:
I’d ask “where was this show when I was a teenager?” but the answer is obvious: in Mari Okada’s brain. Savage Season is her latest work as scriptwriter as well as its manga’s original creator, and anyone familiar with Okada’s typical themes and motifs⁠—adolescent isolation, trauma, and mommy issues⁠—knows that a premise like “girls discover horniness” is something right up her alley. Coming into this summer, Savage Season was my most hyped title.

It made good on that hype.

I mean, any show where a girl walks in on her crush masturbating to The Blue Hearts then runs through town in shock seeing euphemisms everywhere she looks is sure to be a hit (don’t ask too many questions), but Savage Season hasn’t wasted a single moment so far. That girl, Kazusa Onodera, has huge Kimari (of A Place Further Than The Universe) energy in both looks and mannerisms, and likewise she’s an adorable, oblivious lead for a show like this to initially focus on.

Not unlike A Place Further…, I also get the sense that this show’s whole club will get close to equal time in the limelight when all’s said and done. Already, Kazusa’s classmates feel like fleshed out people with their own problems: Niina Sugawara is pretty and knows it, thanks to the disproportionate unwanted attention she receives from desperate boys. Rika Sonezaki comes off as uptight but is insecure and struggling to realize anyone would romantically like her. Hitoha Hongo, the club’s actual writer, is getting emotionally manipulated in a work relationship, and Momoko Sudou is…just kind of there right now, though some shot direction in the OP suggests she’ll pursue a relationship not with one of the boys, but with one of her female club members. In the tumultuous territory that is a high school’s social hierarchy, the Literature Club gives these girls a place to be themselves, to express interest in controversial topics without serious ridicule, and an environment where they don’t need to be performative in order to be accepted. And it’s about to be confiscated because no teacher⁠—presumably mostly male⁠—wants to supervise it.

So if you haven’t been writing this down, in just two episodes Savage Season has tastefully touched on issues of shock, harassment, self-worth, coercion, the affordance of safe spaces, and the double standard of men vs. women comfortably talking about sex in the public sphere. And we have a whole season ahead of us still. Like I said, I was expecting Savage Season to be a good time based on my prior appreciation for most things Okada, but this is already posing itself to be one of her most unflinchingly honest social commentaries to date, and the unprecedentedly wonderful production by Studio Lay-duce isn’t letting the source material’s potential down one bit. It takes serious chops to tell a story about topics this sensitive this tenderly and infuse them with the appropriate amount of humor and thoughtfulness at every turn.

If Okada tries double-dipping later on and goes a bit overboard with either one of those traits, my opinion may damper a bit (and it’s happened beforesee last year’s Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan for a recent example), but I can only judge this based on what’s been presented to me so far, and so far I have nothing significantly negative to say. This is a savage season indeed, and the leader of the pack shares that name.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

THE ONES WITHIN (NAKA NO HITO GENOME [JIKKYOUCHUU])


Summary:
 Avid escape gamer Akatsuki Iride and a group of other let’s players unlock hidden content upon clearing a game called “The Ones Within,” and they all soon wake up in an unfamiliar place where an alpaca-headed teacher by the name of Paka tasks them all with various games where injury and death may occur, all in order to reach 100 million views in a high stakes real-life Let’s Play.

Harubruh:
Well, I have my sleeper hit for the season here.

I really cannot process why The Ones Within has been catching such mixed reviews among the corner of Anitwitter that I follow. I went in expecting some manner of edgy battle royale clash and what I got was… a somewhat Mayoiga-esque collection of video game Let’s Play-ers engaging in rather absurd challenges related to their various specialties.

I mean, sure, Paka (voiced by Kenjiro Tsuda, no less) and his whole 13th Avenue setup have had a fair bit of foreboding and what have you, enough for me to certainly not let my guard down regarding a sudden turn for the dark, but I’m surprised at just how goofy and straight-up fun The Ones Within and its characters have been so far. The cast has a good balance, between the too-pure-for-this-world Akatsuki and the fighty hothead Anya, or the scaredy-cat horror game playing Karin, amongst many others. The dialogue between everyone is very lively and their roles are played to a T.

Of particular note to me with The Ones Within is a plethora of rather interesting visual cues that I didn’t really expect out of a show that many have already dismissed as an afterthought. This show has something of a penchant for eye candy with its tendency to play with lighting, shadows, and changes to the overall visual tone. For me, this show’s really punching above its weight.

The Ones Within handily surpassed my expectations in its first two episodes, and it’s an easy and entertaining keeper for the time being.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.

VINLAND SAGA


Summary:
In the early 1000s, Icelander and ex-Vikings crusader Thors is just trying to live a quiet, good life with his wife and children free from King Harald’s rule back on the continent. But fate comes knocking anyway when another warrior forces Thors back on the seas to be assassinated⁠—and no one was expecting his young son Thorfinn to stowaway on the journey. Thorfinn will see the truth behind adulthood and strength in this world and presumably seek vengeance for his father.

Yatahaze:
I say “presumably” because Vinland Saga has aired three episodes and we’ve still yet to reach this pivotal introductory plot point. These are the decisions you can make when you have two cours to work with and over a decade of source material to adapt, I suppose, but that isn’t going to stop me from cutting to the chase: Vinland Saga feels slow. Like, sloooow. Advertise it with all the gore you want, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m walking away from a trio of episodes that I found enjoyable enough as background material but failed to rein my attention in.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s a take shared by most who go into it either. For a classical war story, it’s not off to the most explosive of starts, and to some degree I can appreciate that. No grudge or crusade of this period just begins without warning⁠—distaste builds up, cultural dissonance rings, the seeds of hate get sown⁠—that’s the setting Vinland Saga is trying to establish. Leif Erikson returns from his expedition to a village playfully telling him he’s full of shit, a slave goes missing and Thors is in the minority in wanting to avoid giving him back to the owner, there are all these neat little details that flesh out the story’s world…but the core characters are all so low-key that what could be a decent slow-moving character drama feels more like an action show still sluggishly arising from its slumber. The other shoe hasn’t dropped.

And even if it does say, next episode, am I really that hooked? Putting aside the fact that (groan) Amazon is clinging to ownership of this one, I’m not all that into the ragged art style or the soundtrack or the voice acting or just about any production detail that can save a series on the bubble. Vinland Saga is just doing its thing⁠—fans of the source material will likely be fine with that, people really into that genre niche may indeed love it, but it’s not really excelling at anything for me to give it specific praise. Hold a gun to my head and tell me to resume another show from this season, and this might be the first one I’d pick back up, but unlike medieval Europe, anime isn’t a life-or-death experience, and I can’t say I’m super excited about keeping Vinland Saga on my plate just to see if I suddenly become more attached when the going gets tough. Future me can re-evaluate as needed.
Final score: 7/10
Dropped after 3 episodes.

WASTEFUL DAYS OF HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS (JOSHIKOUSEI NO MUDAZUKAI)


Summary:
Fresh into high school, all Nozomu Tanaka wants to do is get a boyfriend. Her dumb ass enrolled at an all-girls school though, prompting her to pester everyone around about leads, fantasies, and pretty much everything else that enters her brain for even a millisecond⁠—not that her classmates are all that much better.

Yatahaze:
Wasteful Days of High School Girls might be this season’s biggest dark horse. I’m known to enjoy slice-of-life comedies like these most when they’re least in your face about their gags and can glide by with goofy nonchalance. That’s precisely Wasteful Days’ M.O. Some of these characters are new to each other, some have been friends (or at the very least, acquaintances) for years, and that’s evident with every interaction in this series. I adore that sort of lived-in dynamic in shows where characters acting like, well, people, is kind of the point.

Granted most of their personalities are…heightened, but not to the extent that they become caricatures. A lengthy part of the pilot is dedicated to assigning nicknames for everyone. Some come easy: Akane Kikuchi is labeled “Wota” due to her manga (specifically BL) obsession. Shiori Saginomiya becomes “Robo” as a result of her stoicism. Nozomu needs a name too, and after fumbling through options like “Head is Half Her Body” and “Family Are Nudists,” (something we’ve yet to verify), the other girls finally settle on “Baka.” Are they right? Yes, but to some extent, just about everyone in this show is a moron. There’s a chuuni, a womanizing sensei (college-age only, he insists), and a girl who always has headphones on to listen to financial talk radio. Wasteful Days’ class contains some clichés, but they’re clichés for a reason: they exist. So do these other weirdos the main girls and I really don’t know what to make of at first glance.

But I know what to make of Wasteful Days so far, and it gets an easy thumbs up from me overall. Beyond the characters themselves being generally fun to follow around, the series evokes laughs with jokes both minuscule and large, with setups that flash by in 5 seconds and ones that evolve over the course of half an episode. It boasts a rock solid (if not particularly incredible) understanding of what makes a comedy series tick and it grounds all that in the lazy indifference of high-school tedium. I can’t say it’s one of the most original voices in its genre: while it clearly takes inspiration from titles like Nichijou or Nichibros, it certainly doesn’t stand as tall as they do. However, in a season mostly stacked with hyped shounen and niche premises, a slice of unpredictability with a more familiar, lackadaisical tone is actually welcome, and Wasteful Days fills that role well.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 2 episodes.


Is it wrong to blatantly neglect one of the most hyped sequels in a season premiere retrospective? We don’t think so, but everyone has their own favorites and new pickups to be enthusiastic about⁠—so what shows are you sticking with this season? Anything we missed that we should keep an eye out for later? Let us know in a comment below or over on Twitter! Until next time (which may come sooner than you think), this has been Yata and Haru of For Great Justice. As always, thanks for reading.

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2 comments

  1. I think… Magical Sempai would be a lot more bearable if it were shorter, two or three skits and then outta there. Six or eight minutes, tops. I like this kind of gag comedy, and it’s wearing on me.

    Wasteful Days is solid, and doesn’t waste a moment pretending to be anything it isn’t. I appreciate the hell out of that in a show.

    Maidens… softens a bit in it’s second up, but it works. There’s no way to keep up something like the first ep without killing the audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I can’t say this is the first time I’ve seen psychology of mommy fetish brought up, but at least this is the more respectful version I’ve seen. That being said Okaasan Online did work for me, though to be honest it’s more because I enjoy its type of humor than any attraction to Mamako.

    Liked by 1 person

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