Summer 2019 Final Thoughts

Summer 2019 was one of the most stuffed anime seasons for the shounen genre in ages. Here at For Great Justice, we…mostly didn’t follow it. But hey, if you want some commentary on awkward high school girls, gay dorks in a band, and The Resistance…I N     S P A C E, then we’ve got you thoroughly covered. You know the drill; 2 writers, 13 shows, 1 article. Let’s wrap up this surprisingly diverse season in style!


ARE YOU LOST? (SOUNAN DESU KA?)


Yatahaze:
The little short that could made it to the end of the season, and that deserves a round of applause in and of itself, but I was not expecting the finale to go to places it did, molding the show from ultimately kinda forgettable to a long build towards a squeamish punchline. If you were at all disappointed that Are You Lost’s fanservice (or fan disservice) took the back burner and sometimes no burner at all as these four lost girls tried to survive on a deserted island, I’m happy to let you know that the finale featured two of them, uh…

…orally spitting contaminated water with bat droppings into each other’s anuses.

You know, for colon hydration! Better that way than risking a fatal stomach infection.

And that came out of left field for me, but it probably shouldn’t have; Are You Lost’s momentum was sturdy and its mission all season was to inform us of silly wilderness survival tactics as its characters grew to enjoy one another’s company. For a while food was its main focus⁠—later, tools like knives and bamboo became crucial. But there came a point at which the desperation wasn’t really there; all things considered, by the 3/4 mark of the show the quartet grew relatively comfortable with their simplistic island life. But then Shion, the spaciest of them all, got swept off to sea by a rip current and stranded on another island with no resources to sustain human life. Homare’s reckless thinking let her find her friend before sundown, but they were both severely dehydrated and exposed to searing heat while returning home, so

well…yeah, that shit happened.

To be honest, I’m glad Are You Lost ended with something memorable⁠—between that scene, everyone’s happy reunion on Island A, and Homare’s father racing to meet them via speedboat for some reason, I think everything will be alright for this cast. The real question is “was that worth it?” Would I recommend Are You Lost to anyone? Sure, I guess⁠—but only under the condition that it’s an easy to appreciate time-killer. Its characters are pleasant, its production suffices, and its story is uniquely its own as far as anime is concerned (to my knowledge), but the wow factor isn’t quite there to feel super impressed by it. Are You Lost is no desert island disc in and of itself, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun, if ultimately skippable, time.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

ASTRA LOST IN SPACE (KANATA NO ASTRA)


Yatahaze:
When I last discussed Astra here, the gang had just crash-landed on a planet with little hope of regaining the ability to fly. In true Astra fashion, that dilemma lasted about half another episode in favor of chasing down larger questions. But fair enough⁠—I thought some downtime would serve the show well, but it only ramped up with each episode all the way to the finale, and it largely did so without a hitch. Safe to say Astra Lost In Space was this season’s scrappy dark horse, blossoming from an over-serious, kind of dry premiere to an invigorating, genuinely heartfelt adventure tale by its finale. While the tone never quite expelled that youthful, approachable sense of wonder it first carried, this show did drill deeper than I expected⁠—to mixed but mostly positive results.

For most of Astra’s first half, the kids’ immediate situation⁠—being stranded out to space presumably as an assassination plot⁠—took the backseat to character growth established through planet-of-the-week missions. The second half’s success was either gonna ride or die on fulfilling the potential the first half set up, and in that regard it tried its damn hardest. From episode seven on (massive spoilers ahead, if that wasn’t obvious), the group made contact with Polina (Paulina? damn Romanization, who cares), an astronaut whose previous squad was wiped out. She survived alone in their ship’s hibernation chamber, and after being forcefully awakened, the team combined parts from both ships to take off again. All’s well and good there, but Polina knew something was off⁠—even beyond her century plus of cryogenic sleep, her timeline didn’t line up with theirs. Astra had laid the cornerstone for its most important plot reveal right under our noses, and it had done so with a new character who stood her own as more than a mere plot device.

The same can’t quite be said for Funicia. While Polina at least had a personality, Funi was largely just…there? With minimal screentime, let alone dialogue, she mostly existed in the background, out of place among the older teenagers and almost solely serving as a reminder that something was amiss. Her striking resemblance to Quitterie despite supposedly being “adopted” just didn’t explain enough, and while the drama inherent in that uncertainty kinda backfired as a result, at least the series played the rationale straight: they’re not simply adopted. Hell, they’re not even just sisters. They share the exact same DNA; Funi was just “made” a few years later by her esteemed doctor mother. And from there the pieces started to fall into place; everyone in the original lineup was in fact a clone, created by a ring of wealthy professionals and either raised by their real parents as a surrogate body should they die, or sent off to adoption to keep the authorities from catching on. This hurt for some of them⁠—nothing to strip a human being of esteem like being told you aren’t your own personbut the revelation provided more comfort in answers than it did desperation. They knew why they were sent to disappear, and since they were incriminating evidence of ordinary citizens the government was attempted to crack down on, then if only they could return home as planned, they’d be welcomed with open arms by the state and have their creators jailed instead.

Just one problem⁠—their would-be assassin was still on board. Again, Astra basically shot itself in the foot in terms of an upset here; who else could the culprit be but Charce, whose backstory was solely called out as blatantly suspect earlier in the show and whose personality was too goody-two-shoes to feel natural amidst this cast overcoming their insecurities. Once more, I’m not sure whether Charce obviously being the con was a failure on the show’s part or just something inevitable that would’ve happened as long as it played its cards right. The only other option⁠—one I had admittedly banked on⁠—was that the government itself wanted them all dead and simply left clues to lead them to distrust one another instead of a united enemy.

And in that regard, I was half right; Charce was supposed to murder everyone and himself should the situation arise as it did, but while he was able to put aside his own bodily autonomy to briefly resume his mission, the others, grown attached to him anyway, got him to break down and accept he was his own person now and didn’t have to follow his king’s orders. His life could be his own. Let me be clear, while it’s got bells and whistles out the wazoo, Astra’s primary thematic message is a resounding triumph: you are not merely your parents’ flaws or bred to be the person they are. Accept your ability to choose your own path. Embrace it, even if they don’t, then find people who do. That’s exactly the dynamic Astra had built up early, and it’s hard to fault the show for anything else when that point was pulled off this well despite all the distractions that could’ve overshadowed it.

To be fair though, one almost did. Remember Polina? Yeah, she figured out that Astra The Ship’s residents were in fact from an alternate planet also named Astra, which politically functioned like an over-idealized “Imagine”-world after another World War resulted in a population exodus from Earth. Astra’s government, positioned as the hero overall, was actually a totalitarian regime with a lineage of kings censoring and rewriting the history of the human race. Do the returned kids happily change that in their graciously-lengthy post-homecoming timeskip? Hell yeah they do! They’re good eggs. But this reveal at the end is biting off a bit more than it can chew, and it’s obvious in the details: continuing to use a variant of the Gregorian calendar despite the elimination of knowledge of religion, for instance. There’s also a reporter who uses an obvious Ray Bradbury reference in his handle, which should be ironic for obvious reasons. But these minute places where the fabric doesn’t quite stitch right at the end don’t invalidate the show’s loftier goals, exciting climaxes, and lovely characters. Astra persevered to pull off one hell of an underdog story, and I see no reason it won’t end up among my favorites of the year overall.
Final score:
8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

CAROLE & TUESDAY


Yatahaze:
Usually I have about a week to mull over my thoughts on anime finales and find a convenient time in my schedule to write about the shows overall. Not the case here, though: Carole & Tuesday’s final episode just dropped about 24 hours ago, the last notable episode of the summer airing cycle, and it bowed both the show and season out to applause.

Like, my grievances and nitpicks with Carole & Tuesday have been well-documented and for the most part they haven’t changed; the show’s themes are immensely relevant in an age of heightened xenophobia, and when it’s focusing on political and racial tension, as it did often in this closing stretch, the series was at its most stimulating. Its commentary on the music industry remained far more hit and miss, as did its cast, with several side characters stealing the spotlight (and development) from the series’ titular duo and their “management team.” In the show’s final arcs alone, Angela & Tao’s personal baggage, distrust in candidate Simmons’ campaign circle, and an array of marginalized rappers were arguably the talk of the series while Carole & Tuesday themselves floated, as they seem wont to do with this script, in the background.

That is, until the finale. On the eve of their debut LP, the duo reached out to all their connections thus far to organize a live-streamed, secret performance in protest of Mars’ increasingly normalized racism against native Earthlings. Was it essentially one of those corny 80s charity super-songs? Yes. Do I have a stupid, primal soft spot for those things? Apparently, ‘cause the scene worked for me despite an out-of-character, “all’s well that ends well” resignation from the presidential race by Tuesday’s mother and an even cornier clip where ICE (yeah, that ICE) tries to break into the concert hall and stop the stream. Sometimes the power of music can just entice you to overlook a series’ written shortcomings. Carole & Tuesday didn’t often have that weapon in its arsenal, but it pulled the feat off right when it mattered most. Props.

And yet with the little time to reflect I have right now, I’m still exiting Carole & Tuesday with mixed feelings. Its political discourse was something I had low expectations for at first, but it wound up becoming my favorite part of the show. In turn, that means the musicianship and quirky character writing I had eagerly anticipated from none other than Shinichiro Watanabe let me down, or at least delivered in far more sporadic doses than I would’ve presumed. It’s especially tough balancing my lofty expectations for thisan original work by one of my favorite directors in the businesswith its successes in less obvious places.

Maybe time will be kind to it, who’s to say, but overall I can’t quite get past how little I was invested in Carole & Tuesday’s journey as people and the show’s shallow, rose-tinted love for basic singer-songwriter tropes. Carole & Tuesday speaks truth to power and youth to complacency, but creativity and complexity are bafflingly traits it lacks below the surface. So here we are again, back where I thought I’d be as early as the Mars Brightest arcmildly disappointed and fatigued with Carole & Tuesday in spite of its last-minute Hail Mary of a finale. Will I ever dissuade someone from giving it a look? Probably notbut it’s also not a title I feel compelled to jump at the bit to recommend. With so much otherwise going in its favor, that should speak volumes about where I rest with this.
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 24 episodes.

COP CRAFT


Yatahaze:
How’s this for a surprise? Though I initially dropped it at first impressions week and never mentioned it in my Weekly Rundown, I eventually caught up with Cop Craft on a whim. I’d heard the chemistry between Tilarna and Kei remained entertaining and that the show’s political heart was in the right place even if it came packaged up in a magical policeman procedural. For better or worse, that’s exactly what I got.

But the story sadly isn’t the thing most people are gonna take away from this franchise. No, I’m afraid Cop Craft is gonna go down in the books as one of those shows that comes to mind quickly whenever we discuss how little animation an anime can have before it barely even functions as its namesake anymore. This title’s shot direction is confounding more often than it is serviceable, propping characters into the foreground at odd distances, rarely showing the speaker lip-flap, and stuffing action scenes with a mixture of quick, blurry cuts and over-held still frames. Cop Craft’s visuals are an active deterrent almost entirely across the board, save for its positively diverse character designs. Sound harsh? It ought to. With weaker themes or leads, I never would have given a second glance at this.

But Cop Craft does have sound themes and a wonderful, if archetypal dynamic duo persevering through the rough. To recap, at some point an interdimensional “gate” opened up in the Pacific island metropolis of San Teresa, and ever since, cultural diffusion between a race of elf-like magical peoples called Semanians and ordinary humans has led to more than its fair share of racial tension. In Cop Craft, a young Semanian noble, Tilarna, gets stuffed onto a police force with Kei, a grizzled vet at the job, as an attempt by an adversarial coworker to undermine Kei’s investigations.

Once the two proved they could work out their differences as colleagues as well as friends, they remained as a unit and continued to tie up loose ends from earlier cases, embark on oddball adventures of their own, and in the final arc, even get involved in an election scandal designed to tear the two races apart. Cop Craft’s message isn’t a particularly complex one, but I’m always down for an ostensibly straightforward cop thriller to 180 into a “fuck your xenophobia, change is inevitable, embrace it” rallying cry. Its ultimate ending is a tad naïve⁠—Tilarna decides to leak evidence against a candidate that would help a right-winger secure the office⁠—but in the moment, her faith in people to overcome it is presented as a virtue and after all the chaos she and Kei had experienced en route to that decision, I kind of can’t blame her. Cop Craft doesn’t call for an overhaul of the system, and that can be criticized as an inherent shortcoming, but it does question it to oblivion and back before resigning its skepticism for a faith in common good. For a show that could barely even hold itself together, I expected far worse.

That resolution is in part boosted by Tilarna and Kei’s aforementioned chemistry. Cop Craft doesn’t sit on its wrists here pretending that society can operate all hunky-dory without hard work and an active desire to empathize; these two main characters demonstrate the struggle and joy that result from it for episodes on end. Whether they’re calling each other out for racist microaggressions, chasing down ghouls and gangsters, or…curing the other’s allergies in secret as a prank-favor (this is a thing in this universe? Damn, I’m jealous), Tilarna and Kei form the backbone of Cop Craft’s unlikely grace. Without a convincing partnership, this show would completely crumble apart, but they (and by “they” I really mean their fantastic respective seiyuu Mayu Yoshioka and Kenjiro Tsuda) manage to hold it all together singlehandedly.

That said, is Cop Craft really worth the watch? I’m tempted to say yes, but only on the caveat that you will not be treated to anything resembling intact visuals most of the time. This is a character and world-driven show through and through, and though it limps along often, its heart of gold and sassy, 70%-of-the-way-to-woke charisma make it a net enjoyable experience. A show of the season contender it is not, but a half-decent attempt at relevant social commentary with a lovable cast leading the way is something I try to not take for granted, and though this one has some underdeveloped ideas on what constitutes Great Justice, it was still a mighty fun time.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

ENSEMBLE STARS!

Harubruh:
Oh hey, I actually finished this.

After a very hectic tournament showdown, our boys in the Trickstar unit won on a technicality after their performance got edged out by the student council president Eichi in the vote tally. Following what was a pretty nasty plot orchestrated by the council to crush Trickstar and split up Akehoshi and his pals, the rather amicable resolution to it all was well, a tad underwhelming. Ehh, at least the performances were pretty flashy throughout the series.

As with most of these idol shows, I appreciated Ensemble Stars most when it leaned on some of its more absurd or silly bits. Some of the characters in this show were endearingly quirky, such as the token ninja chuuni kid, or any of the characters that ended up branded as the Yumenosaki Academy’s Eccentrics.

*checks the MAL entry for Ensemble Stars*

well shit, there’s a second cour of this coming out? In the fall too, like this upcoming week maybe?

Uhh, I’m not entirely sure I’ll be sticking around for that. I’ll be damned if the Trickstar boys’ enthusiasm wasn’t infectious as hell, but my attention span has already kind of timed out on this, and it might be difficult to refresh it. Ensemble Stars was an alright time killer for what it was though.

Final? score: 6/10
Completed? after 12? episodes

FIRE FORCE (EN’EN NO SHOUBOUTAI)


Yatahaze:
I really thought I was in this for the long haul. I still might be. But it’s the end of the summer and Fire Force has wound up plummeting from one of my most anticipated shows of the year to one of my least anticipated shows to get to every week. It’s not suffered any disastrous unraveling yet⁠—yet⁠—but its weaknesses are becoming less easy to ignore.

For an example, look no further than this recent Rekka Hoshimiya arc, where Fire Force’s tendency to objectify and disregard its female characters and butcher dramatic pacing were front and center. Coming off the Eighth Division’s successful raid of the Fifth and ongoing cooperation with Hibana, the higher-ups entered the rookies in an exchange program that resulted in Shinra and Arthur snooping around in the First’s HQ. It was there that they confirmed some sort of insect, bred and deliberately used for evil, can force some people to erupt into Infernals. Rekka, conveniently just introduced and already flamboyant as all hell, turned out to be the offender…or at least, one of what seems likely to be a system of them.

Just a few problems with this; first of all, having a character lose themselves to psychotic, twisted glee when we hadn’t even met them two episodes prior saps some of the punch from this reveal. It’s meant to be surprising, a complete betrayal of his comrades’ trust in him, but instead, his unsettling, upbeat behavior comes off as more like a half-hearted replacement for a fuller personality; since he has almost no time to come into his own before showing his hand as a villain, the show just rushes through the onset of the arc. I mean, I’m hesitant to even call it “rushing,” because this is a perfect example of Fire Force putting the plot before our ability to invest in it. Events just keep happening to give rise to other events, and the space in between them is nearly inconsequential with another surprise obviously waiting just around the corner and no time to digest why what just occurred would be meaningful to this cast.

In some shows, that setup works. Even earlier here, it wasn’t a significant mood-killer, just a bit awkward. But it’s becoming an active detriment to my fun, as is the more obvious elephant in the room: Fire Force just doesn’t have a clue how to treat its female cast with respectful agency. It’s only gotten worse since Tamaki, largely a “comic relief” damsel-in-over-her-head character, joined the fold at the Eighth. Now boobygrabs, disrobed clothing, and casual misogynistic dismissiveness have fully taken over as the flavor of the day. It’s just not appetizing.

Granted it’s not as if Fire Force is doing nothing right anymore; Hinata’s flashback episode was pulled off well and even Rekka’s breakdown, haphazard as it seemed to come pacing-wise, was delivered to a palpable sense of intended discomfort. The show’s institutional inquiries remain welcome and its visuals, when they’re not principally serving to mock Tamaki, are exquisite as ever. But the overall vibe has turned⁠—if not sour⁠—then a little stale. It’s poking its nose into some deeper territory but not the subjects it takes for granted. Faith has gotten me this far, but a new season means abundant opportunities for new titles to capture my imagination. If Fire Force wants to stay in my weekly rotation, it’s gonna have to outshine even fresher ideas, and I’m not sure it has the momentum to do so right now. We’ll see come later this month. Until then, consider my prospects of finishing it on hold at best.
Current score: 6.5/10
On hold after 11 episodes.

FRUITS BASKET

Harubruh:
Oh hey, I didn’t forget to write about Fruits Basket this time! I’m absolutely not implying this was forgettable; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

So with the Fruits Basket reboot’s second act of its so-called “First Season,” we met even more members of the Soma family, and got to see the backstory of Tohru’s best friends, the reformed delinquent Uotani, the mysterious esper Hanajima, and finally, everyone’s favorite hothead catboy, Kyo. The reboot’s second act took a markedly different route to the finish line compared to the original, but I honestly prefer how the reboot played out. Naturally, some material and details shown in the original was bound to get passed up, but I feel the reboot did the best justice by staying focused on the central cast’s background stories and feelsy moments rather than wandering about as the original did.

I don’t really have much to offer on it, aside from that I’m very pleased with how the Fruits Basket reboot has played out so far. It’s done such great justice to an old series that’s very near and dear to me, and has been a very fulfilling journey. I’m eagerly looking forward to what the second season coming next year has in store for us!
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 25 episodes.

GIVEN

Harubruh:
Given was a show that I opted to pass on after the first couple of episodes aired, and I’m certainly glad some of the coverage our corner of Anitwitter gave it convinced me to take it back up.

I thought it was a merely “decent” show on that aforementioned first try, but as it turns out, those ended up being some of the slowest episodes of the whole series as Given introduced and familiarized us with its rather charming cast. When I decided to take it back up after the tenth episode aired, I originally intended to watch maybe an episode or two a day to catch back up with it before the finale dropped.

…Nope. I marathonned the entire series until I was current in that first catch-up sitting. I did not expect a boys’ love series by Studio Lerche to be the show to fulfill the “whoops, this was easy to marathon” role this season.

Given had a variety of factors that boded well for it from the get-go, such as the anime being produced by this summer’s best studio. From the outset of the summer anime season, I kind of had doubts as to whether Lerche could deliver hits with either this or Astra Lost in Space, but deliver they did, with Astra ending up being my favorite series to air this summer.

The split between production resources didn’t appear to take all that much of a toll with either series, with Given featuring intelligent uses of lighting and palettes to make their shots stand out when they need to. Something I appreciated with Given was the amount of detail put into their backgroundstake for example, the scene where Ritsuka brings Mafuyu to the music shop for the first time. The backgrounds are detailed enough that I can actually identify the various brands of guitar strings for sale on the wall! The detail obsessive freak part of me very much enjoyed that bit. I also welcomed the use of CG for the performances. The lighting (or sometimes lack thereof) help to hide some of the inherent jankiness of it, but I appreciate the use of CG for the sake of accuracy as far as the guitar playing goes.

Our main cast Ritsuka, Haruki, and Akihiko are all a bunch of very good dorks that had me saying “mood” every other sentence, but out of the whole cast, I really found Mafuyu to be an incredibly relatable character. I tend to be a sucker for a well-written story about grief, but Mafuyu’s reaction to his boyfriend’s suicide probably related the most to me out of any story about loss I’ve found yet. In a cast full of relatable dudes, Mafuyu’s suppressed and somewhat shy personality probably falls closest to my own, and I found it incredibly easy to root for him.

I do wish that the final episode was a bit more substantial than what essentially amounted to a breather episode after how jam-packed the ninth and tenth episodes were, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Even that is but a very minor gripe. The rest of this series was really too good to complain about all that much.

Lerche’s out-of-the-park home runs with Given and Astra this summer have me absolutely thrilled that they’ll be adapting one of my very favorite manga series into an anime next year.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 11 episodes.

(P.S. a couple of Given’s songs are on spotify, give them a listen)

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


Yatahaze:
To my surprise and relief, Dumbbells was able to sustain some of its mid-season momentum through the remainder of the show. What started as a gimmicky edutainment series finally gave its characters some room to breathe and circumstances that could match the inherent silliness of its premise. Dumbbells’ biggest hurdle was predictability: there are only so many ways one-note characters in a one-note program can respond before they start losing me, and though the show neared that point on several occasions, its second half was able to diversify its approaches to gags just enough to keep me hanging on and occasionally even actively reveling in it all.

And it happened to weaker characters too! Hibiki was a strong lead from the start and Gina has a commanding presence, but once Dumbbells started giving gag highlights to folks like Tachibana-sensei and Akemi, I knew things were on the upswing. The series found ways to do the predictable gag then go the extra mile and throw a bizarre one in before you could properly contextualize the first one. Little shit like that enhanced my experience with Dumbbells considerably, and I only wish it were able to balance its attempts at being comedy with its desire to be edutainment on a more consistent basis.

Beyond that, I’m not sure I have much else to say about Dumbbells. While the finale attempted some heavy lifting to bundle everything together in a feel-good dramatic climax, I rarely cared for these characters more than as vessels for jokes, and for better or worse, so did the show. They never really faced any personal challenges to overcome beyond Hibiki’s initial goal of losing some weight. Any ground Dumbbells broke was on behalf of its premise itself, and the title is way more of a memeshow than anything particularly deep, but for what it was, I mostly had fun with it. Just know it’s the sort of thing where an episode or two will determine how much mileage you’ll get out of it. If the answer is “not much,” don’t force yourself to stick it out.
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

KARAKAI JOUZU NO TAKAGI-SAN 2


Yatahaze:
While I’ve long thought of Takagi as a show where consistent enjoyment mattered more than dramatic peaks, season two tried its hardest to give me the best of both worlds. Not only did its production coast at a slightly-higher standard than its predecessor, but the show benefited from its established familiarity; these characters are well-known by the time it kicks off, and beyond that, they’re still just kids⁠—not the deepest bunch of dorks in the world. So Takagi 2 is able to have its cake and eat it too; it pulls off the classic gags the series was built on and showcases more vulnerable moments of intimacy and [gasp] actual relationship development between Nishikata and Takagi.

But it’s not much more than hand-holding, and that’s just how I like my awkward grade-school romance anime! Say what you will about Takagi’s lasting value, but in a season like this, I needed something pure to balance out all the skeeviness, and I can confidently say I’d still enjoy it as much even without tonally distinct material to compare it to. The show’s just incredibly well-rounded.

But you know how this goes; I can only say so many nice things about a series that Does Its Thing Well so many times, and I’ve got nothing significantly new to add at the end of season two. Takagi is one of the “haha, mood”-est nostalgia trips in anime; it capitalizes on that pinpoint accurate pre-pubescent humiliation and bundles it up in a way that’s always uplifting, calm, and able to brighten my day a bit. I may not notice it gone immediately, but give it a couple weeks and if I don’t get another fix with something of this nature come fall, then its absence will be felt. Even if it never becomes a household name among anime fans⁠—its goal is too niche and subdued for that, even for genre standards⁠—Takagi-san is unabashedly itself, and I respect its tactful teasing even more now than I did before.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

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


Yatahaze:

And now for a romance anime that’s completely different.

Putting aside that this writeup will make no one happy, including myself, I enjoyed O Maidens to the end, thought its heart was firmly in the right place, and that its abundance of heart was what made it so invigorating from start to finish. Mari Okada has been writing loud, messy shows about teenagers for years and this is, if not the loudest or messiest in terms of content, certainly the one that embodies the common theme of “loud, messy teenagers are valid” most unflinchingly.

Good or bad thing? Depends, apparently⁠—even if the show didn’t to a fault, most of its audience flinched weekly. That’ll happen when there’s a pedophile muddying things up, a teacher neglecting his agency to end a case of student-on-faculty harassment, and the aggressors in at least one of these cases is an underage girl. I don’t want to dwell on this too much because it ultimately wasn’t crucial to my enjoyment of the show (for reasons I’ll expand upon shortly), but fair enough if any of that is a massive turn-off for you. Art doesn’t have to be morally upstanding in its entirety or, in O Maidens’ case, reflect solely the views of its most morally upstanding characters to be worth engaging with. What I want to ask is this: were those uncomfortable events in service of the show? Did they add anything that this title would be lesser without? (You know, aside from the controversy in and of itself).

And I’ll be honest, I’m torn here. These two subplots essentially existed for the following reasons: to reiterate that its lead protagonists were coming from a place of naivete and unaware of their full autonomy in dealing with adults, and to provide drama for its own sake. The latter is not especially surprising⁠—this is a Mari Okada anime and to anyone saying that this came out of the blue, I kindly invite you to rewatch just about anything she’s previously written⁠. Drama for the sake of expressing over-the-top romantic and social angst has been her M.O. for years, and to that end, I’m okay with it.

What I’m less certain of is if O Maidens accomplished something more by Saegusa’s inclusion at all and Milo and Hitoha’s subplot taking up so much time. In the end, the more active of these villains gets punched in the face and forgotten about. The other one just…glides by passively, briefly gets hung out a window while tied up, and ends this story with his dignity relatively intact. I understand that likely didn’t sit well with people and I’m no Milo apologist⁠—but I do want to recognize that predatorily grooming a minor was not Milo’s sin⁠—his was one of negligence; flimsy blackmail aside, he could have ended his awkward hell several steps before it got physical, and though he shouldn’t be applauded for baiting a child even if he had no intention of banging her, to me it’s a stretch to interpret the lack of punishment he faces as a a moral verdict by the series on his actions and not simply a realistic portrayal of his environment and privilege.

And that’s where, again, I think most of the debate is coming from: a lot of things in O Maidens, as in real life, just kinda happen with little regard for institutional justice; there’s no narrative obligation for Saegusa to exist in this show at all. The feelings he instills in Niina could have been less creepily attached to a character closer to her age. Hitoha likewise “not feeling seen as a woman” by Milo both physically and physiologically could have been routed through a character that remains anonymous as Hitoha scours the web for ero-lit advice. That neither of these things happened and that O Maidens didn’t have a character explicitly say “hey, pedophilia and leading on minors is bad, don’t do that shit” is not a failure on the show’s part. Just as enjoyable aspects of shows don’t always need a plot-given reason to exist, negative ones don’t either. What’s paramount is how these aspects are depicted, and I don’t see how anyone could walk away from O Maidens claiming the series leans closer to apologizing for that behavior than it does criticizing it other than a willful misinterpretation of the text.

Ethics out of the way, O Maidens had another surprise up its sleeve too: a jarring tonal shift for its final act. The show had always managed to inject some humor into its proceedings, whether by silly reaction faces, interrupted dialogue, or just good ol’ dramatic irony. But it always felt grounded. This final arc…did not; the school’s executives decreed a complete bar on PDA after Rika and Shun, arguably the purest damn couple of the whole series, get spotted near a love hotel (trailing Hitoha, concerned for her safety) and tried to expel them only for the rest of the Lit Club to break into the school at night, take Milo hostage, and come to their senses by shouting their grievances at each other. Did it work? For the cast, yes. For me?

Also yes, though I’ll admit I was holding my breath for the whole final two episodes. While undeniably different in tenor, O Maidens’ finale just reaffirmed the show’s thematic strengths and inquiries: it resolved that love is messy in adolescence, messier than you even realize in the moment, and it wore that heart on its sleeve as things just escalated for the hell of it in that typical Okada fashion. I’ve kept bringing up this show’s writer for a reason: contrary to talk of her “dropping the ball,” I actually found this to be the show most quintessentially hers to date, bearing all her typical tropes and interests with a refined touch and an impulse to simultaneously keep the audience on the edge of their seat. It feels like her broadest venture yet into the adolescent romantic subconscious, perhaps picking more brains than she can reassemble (Momoko’s lesbian awakening came to an abrupt conclusion and Niina’s agent of chaos personality meant her yearning remained mostly unresolved), but at this point I would rather see her bite off more than she can chew than twiddle her thumbs rehashing ideas to the same effect. Love it or hate it, O Maidens was undeniably a step beyond the norm, and I for one couldn’t help but cheer it on through its adorable musings and seedier inclinations alike.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

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

Harubruh:
Well, after flying rather high in my first couple writeups about it, The Ones Within kind of ended up gliding to the finish somewhat weakly. My assessment might seem a tad harsh, but I feel it’s justified given how much more in-depth the previous episodes had focused on other members of the team. The Bonus Round in the final episode didn’t offer much aside from a small glimpse of Iride’s past, if you could even call it that.

The Ones Within’s finale also ended up being yet another bait-and-switch on a turn to dark or foreboding nature, but I’m kind of alright with that. This show was really at its strongest when it leaned on the slapstick comedy or the warm and fuzzy tender moments.

Despite that gripe, I still feel like The Ones Within was a worthwhile watch. While it was definitely was one of my better popcorn shows that I can recall within the last few years; it certainly didn’t end up being “Mayoiga, but gamers”, as a I had hoped it would, but it certainly functioned adequately as a fun little laugher with some catchier visuals than other popcorn shows.

The ending seemed to imply that there’d be more to come, seeing as the merry crew of gamer dorks have yet to reach the 100,000,000 views needed for them to advance however they may. Would I pick up a supposed second season?

I’m not so sure about thatbut at least I finished this one.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

WASTEFUL DAYS OF HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS
(JOSHIKOUSEI NO MUDAZUKAI)


Yatahaze:
I’ve already announced it over on Twitter in an attempt to get more eyes on this before the fall rush, but it’s worth repeating: Wasteful Days of High School Girls was my favorite show of the summer and currently ranks among my top three anime of 2019.

Seriously.

Were there more ambitious productions? For sure. Gutsier stories? Of course. Was Wasteful Days a master-class in comedy sakuga à la Nichijou? Hardly. But I’ll tell you one thing it was for me: an absolute riot. 24 minutes of straight snickering and nearly no dips in quality. Furthermore, on a stacked airing day of an even more stacked season, Wasteful Days was my #1 most anticipated show almost every week, the sort of thing I could and always did immediately put on after getting home from work to unwind with.

They say comedy is the most subjective genre of entertainment and that’s true even of shows with higher production value than this one, but one thing that makes or breaks an ani-comedy for me and most people I’ve talked to is what Wasteful Days prided itself on: explosive voice acting. With a fairly static aesthetic, this showmore than most of its competition in recent yearsneeded to rise to the occasion with some other resource, and this entire cast knocked it out of the park. The banter ranges from playful to awkward to just plain bizarre, as does most of its subject matter; one minute you’ll get a gag about something mundane, the next you’ll get Tanaka talking about poop, and later on the show will somehow found a way to make both topics plus several other loose threads from episodes back re-converge into an even grander punchline. Some things are inherently silly, but all comedy relies on delivery to sell the point, and Wasteful Days refuses to ride on autopilot there.

It does so without resorting to mean-spiritedness, too. The few times it inches close, the aggressor becomes the butt of the joke or Tanaka is just…being Tanaka, not intentionally mean, or at least not aware of how her actions come off, but only causing havoc for everyone because she has no filter. And yet the series also keeps her empathetic, and that forms the crux of the finale, wherein her friends are all desperately trying to help her pass to the next grade but she just can’t retain anything she studies. The twists that occur over that arc made for one of the best episodes of any anime this year, bar none, and only re-solidified its place as my personal favorite seasonal of the last three months. Add to that the prior episode, wherein the girls’ weirdo teacher is revealed as Akane’s vocaloid producer crush and…man, this show seriously knows no bounds.

There’s a full smorgasbord of emotions on top of its overt humor, and I guess that just cements the golden rule of comedic character writing: bad things happening to mean, funny idiots gives a decent enough dopamine kick, but bad things happening to nice, funny idiots will make their plights even more endearing. Through hell and high water of their own doing and others’, Wasteful Days’ cast is, as you’d expect given all this praise, one of the most endearing ragtag ensembles of the year so far. All they lack⁠—literally and figuratively⁠—is name recognition. Consider this my effort to help rectify that.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.


And that’s it for the summer! One more season to go for the year (and decade!) and one last chance for new series to earn a slot among our favorites for each respective period. Who’s up next? Find out in a few weeks with our upcoming Fall 2019 First Impressions. But for now, what were your favorites of this summer? Want to share any of your own thoughts about our writeups here? As always, feel free to leave us a comment below or over on Twitter, and until next time, thanks for your continued readership. See y’all again soon.

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