Spring 2020 Mid-Season Thoughts

As the world continues to be a mess, this season’s animethe ones that haven’t halted production, at leastcontinue to be pretty damn good. Between the sticky summer weather beginning to rear its head and the crazies taking to the streets from ill-informed sociopathy, this is a damn good time to stay indoors and watch some fuckin’ anime, and that’s what we at FGJ have been up to. However, Haru’s been under the weather lately and needed to prioritize getting rest, so this is a solo Yata mid-season update, with all the rambling, big words, and unproofread self-fellatio you’ve come to expect from the site’s Most Chaotic One. The brand lives on. Buckle up for some aggressively positive takes.

Disclaimer: as it was planned to be one of Haru’s shows, there’s no writeup below for My Next Life as a Villainess (it’s still fine, 7/10, I guess?), but the other seven seasonals I’ve been watching are all represented. Here’s where I’m at with them.

ASCENDANCE OF A BOOKWORM SEASON 2


Yatahaze:
Last time I discussed Bookworm, I said that I had a lot of faith in this material, so much so that if it ended up disappointing me, that let down would stem from the uncharted territory of “finishing” a series with a lot of buildup. Halfway through this second season, it hasn’t faltered yet, which could be a blessing or a curse. This anime adaptation has covered through four volumes of a light novel series which currently has [quickly Googles] twenty-three volumes total. If Ajia-do continue to adapt this franchise, they have years worth of material to cover. But I don’t know if they will, and if this second season is all we get, if not forever then for the foreseeable future, I’d love to go out on a thematically clear and resounding note.

That’s where Bookworm’s endless parade of new faces, entrepreneurial obstacles, and talking points becomes its albatross just as much as its source of vitality. Myne’s recent indoctrination to the Church is less an “indoctrination” and more a series of negotiations between her and Ferdinand, who patiently but coldly tries to adapt her to blue-robed nobledom while she in turn tries to evade institutional strangleholds on her freedom. All things considered, she’s getting a lot of her demands met, even if it means having to win over those skeptical of her altruism. Some of them are reasonable; she’s frail, so living with family and commuting to the church was a relatively easy thing to grant. The business side of things was rougher; Ferdinand and Benno have had their disagreements regarding Myne’s future plans, and getting the narrow-minded child prodigy to formally intertwine the ins and outs of the business world and this world’s religious culture is an uphill battle. What is one to do when the ultimate endgame is, has always been, and looks to still be to produce books in a profitable and socially justifiable manner?

It keeps taking her by surprise, but it’s honestly a breath of fresh air for the rest of the cast to not let her play this off as an “oh, youuu” quirk. When the conversation always come backs to reading, figures in all sides of her life have to remind her that though she can’t stand a world with no demand for publicly-passed around books, there really isn’t any demand. To say nothing of literacy rates and class stratification, Myne is simultaneously playing CEO and priestess in order to fulfill her deepest ambitions, and the only reason she can pull it off is because she’s accrued more knowledge in her previous life than anyone her reincarnated age should be able to express. Even though this formed the crux of the whole show up to now, it’s really hitting home here as Myne attempts to justify restarting an orphanage from the ground up because the pangs of human decency she still has keep tripping over her need for cheap, exploitable labor. What, you think just because this is an anime starring a literal child that it isn’t also cruel economic commentary about the self-serving and shallow nature of philanthropy? Think again, bucko!

The show isn’t letting her get away with all of this unquestioned, and even if her narrations suggest that it leans in agreement with the idea that Myne Did Nothing Wrong, it doesn’t take a genius to determine that even actions with positive consequences can mask negative side-effects. I’m curious to see how Bookworm addresses that, and the extent to which it really “ends” the story this season. There’s nothing less satisfying than a series bursting with potential suddenly fizzling out without a shot at adaptation closure, and I sincerely hope that even if it isn’t seen through to completion, it leaves us with more than mere food for thought, tasty as it is. Regardless, Bookworm’s really hit its stride despite the absence of life-or-death stakes lately, and I’m eager for more.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

BNA: BRAND NEW ANIMAL


Yatahaze:
Works in the Studio Trigger canon don’t necessarily have to be defined by their resemblance to Western cartoons, and as tired a point as that’s become lately, BNA has walked that path so rewardingly thus far that it bears repeating at least one more time. With a few minutes per episode chopped off and a non-stop blend of episodic detail and overarching worldbuilding keeping things too concise to meander, this show has effortlessly squeezed intrigue and charm from its initial premise.

It’s able to for two main reasons: first, its themes about asylum from oppression, the messiness of corporate politicking, and general social unrest can be toyed with playfully or presented at serious face value, allowing its comic relief to be no less meaty than its grittier confrontations. Second, its characters are primarily agents in that broader ideological struggle, so their personalities are in constant development, slowly showing their hands in tandem with BNA’s unrolled ideas. Anima City is a place where weighty discourse on race-baiting social media influencers and Bad News Bears spoofs coalesce in unthinkable harmony. It’s easy to mess the metaphor up by relegating the status of “racial minority” to “organism with literal different D(B?)NA,” especially with how often the show milks its cast’s animal-isms for laughs, but the foresight is still there enough for the punches to land without feeling awkward.

…I say, as a white dude. But really, viewing everyone in this cast with equal agency, BNA’s done a wonderful job poking holes in Michiru’s unrelenting idealism, Oogami’s almost-unrelenting skepticism, and the mayor’s staunch liberalism, and that only looks to intensify in the midst of the ball really getting rolling: Michiru’s old friend, Nazuna, has found her way to Anima City, but she’s willingly shedding the old her in lieu of performing the role of a cult’s god. Distrusting, the government doesn’t initially want them to stay, and after briefly changing their minds, Alan Sylvasta, the human representative of the conglomerate funding the city’s infrastructure and political sanctity, threatens to pull his money if they don’t force the followers of Ginrou to hightail it outta there. Most recently (did I mention I’m taking this weekly even though it’s available in its entirety through certain channels? Well, I am), a mercenary played villain to a ploy where Nazuna saved Alan to bolster her public opinion and hopefully turn humanity in her favor as well.

As for Michiru’s role in all this? She’s mostly still stunned by her surroundings, failing to read the room for what it is, and seeking a cure for her “disease,” which it’s becoming clear to everyone but her doesn’t actually limit her mobility, health, or freedom the same way a “disease” would. She’s but one of many well-intentioned but stubborn characters in BNA, and as tensions continue to escalate between her, her peers, and the new city she calls home, the show looks set to deliver on the potential it’s been accumulating. My personal theory is that Oogami himself is actually some incarnation of Ginrou and the final act will pit him against the state he’s been trying to protect, but I’ve had more fun just letting BNA splurge in its ethics and lively animation than speculating what it’ll do next at every turn. Here’s to a final arc that’s hopefully just as solid as the rest of it all.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

GLEIPNIR


Yatahaze:
Maybe…just maybe, I over-exaggerated. I really wasn’t sure what to make of Gleipnir when it started, all I knew was that however cursed its premise was, its execution was better than expected and I was somehow having fun with its unrepentant smarm. And then the weeks carried on, and though I was totally ready for the prospect of dropping this edgefest the moment it went a little too far, the most recent episode featured an animal-eared rival love interest hopping into Shuichi and getting crushed into a graphic pulp. The episode before that featured a skeevy “ally” attempt to molest Clair for seemingly no reason other than her own horniness. If there were lines to cross, you’d think Gleipnir has crossed them by now.

You’d be wrong.

I mean, sure, you’re not actually wrong, the show has wandered into some iffy territory for seemingly no reason beyond titillation, but [gestures at the rest of the show] are you not entertained? I still am, and I can tie it down to the harmony of the following two reasons: first, it’s towed the line between dark comedy and body horror schlock well enough to the point that if a scene tries to be one thing and fails, it often accidentally ends up working as the other. Intent is important in the grand scheme of things, but moment to moment, scene to scene, Gleipnir’s two faces beneficially push the series outside its own (extremely wide) comfort zone and inject the paranoia and angst with a healthy dose of self-awareness.

And second, although it’s not one of the titles to announce ahead of time that they’re completely finished with production should COVID setbacks continue to ripple through the industry, Pine Jam’s absence from the community while working on this has aided the health of its schedule and it shows in how bulletproof the result is. From the shot direction and dialogue to the sound engineering and series composition, this show is by far their most esteemed production to date, giving me hope that even if they haven’t formally wrapped it up yet, there won’t be a dramatic snowball effect that sinks the series’ technical merits late in the game.

“But how’s the plot going,” you ask? It’s certainly going, though to where and why I haven’t the faintest idea. Neither do Clair and Shuichithe last several episodes, we’ve followed them on a search for information, and since they can barely trust anyone, they’ve had to spar to earn themselves the promise of survival and team up with a group of misfits with virtually no combat ability. Enemies and temporary comrades alike are all gathering coins near “the alien’s” crash site in the uninhabited forest, and for now, the less we see of the outside world, the safer. Everyone who’s in this mess may not be along for the ride willingly, but they’re at least socially distancing themselves (not sorry) from anyone who they could drag into the bloodshed. Not that our two protagonists have much to go back to in the first placeClair also wants to hunt down her elder sister Elena, who seems to be leading a small group of fiercer fighters and purportedly caused Shuichi’s transformation to begin with.

I’m scared to say the mystique has worked so far, and I’m even more scared to admit I don’t have any reason to doubt Gleipnir will pull off a satisfying synthesis when the time comes. Though the weeks since its introduction were spent in confusion and chaos, everyone’s motives and emotions remain intact. I can follow the story Gleipnir is trying to tell. Sometimes that’s enough on its own, and this series gives me way more than that bare minimum price of admission.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR? (S2)


Yatahaze:
Real shit, I feel duped. I expected Kaguya-sama’s second season would simply continue executing its source material to the enjoyable standard set by its predecessor. I was not prepared for what it’s given me since.

That is to say, it’s only gotten funnier, bolder, and more ambitious than it hinted in all but the wildest scenes of season one, all without sacrificing what makes the series so itself. One episode in, I wasn’t sure whether this season’s crucial punctuation mark would make any difference. Since then, it’s only delivered standout after standout. The first half of this sequel is by far the franchise’s best work to date, pushing Kaguya and Miyuki closer together as they (mostly Kaguya) begin to let their guard down more easily. Part of this comes down to mere exposurethe more time they spend together, the less they’re able to get their minds fixated on anything else, and with a whole cour of time spent feigning interest, their narrow last-minute saving of face is truly last-minute now. Where before Kaguya-sama treated us to over-narrated monologues where the charade of disinterest lasted a bit too long, at this point the lovebirds are just internally losing it 24/7 until a solution, coincidental or not, arrives in their lap and they barely escape the situation without total humiliation.

But that’s still selling S2 short, not just because the already-esteemed direction has become even more versatile and ambitious, but because for all its refinement in that niche, Kaguya-sama is increasingly fine with being a show about some dorks in a student council and not exclusively a romantic comedy. Every skit had to have a punchline before this, and they were all tied to Kaguya and Miyuki one-upping each other. In a way, they still are, but this recent Student Council Re-election arc brought out the best (and worst-best) of our main quartet’s ability to work as a team. I won’t try to pretend that Chika’s erratic spotlight-hogging, Yuu’s misanthropy, or Ai’s deadpan counseling don’t still play second-fiddle to the central dilemma, but at long last, their presence in these skits has evolved past the point of setting up or dismantling gags from a core aspect of their personality. They’re now able to carry skits on their own, broadening the series’ options at every turn.

What I’m trying to say is that Kaguya-sama has not only aged well (its empathetic depiction of self-serious rival candidate Miko Iino has more grace than I’d have thought possible from this when S1 aired last year), it’s peaked late. With a newfound wide range of scenarios and tones any given week, it picked a wonderful time to blossom artistically. As much as I enjoyed Kaguya-sama last year, I spent much of it pestered by the nagging sensation that it could be something even greaterand now, it’s consistently delivering. Better late than never.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

LISTENERS


Yatahaze:
When it first sprung into existence, Listeners rode high on a stellar pilot episode that promised a captivating, contagiously fun adventure through a world of autocracy, music-themed rebels, and endless jargon. In the weeks since, the series has delivered plenty on those three aspects of its worldbuilding, almost to a fault. I joked that Listeners seemed born to run, and that was originally meant as praise, though it’s since become its most glaring obstacle to finding its groove. There’s undeniably an adventure herebut captivating, contagious, and fun are adjectives it’s only sporadically earned.

To say nothing of the to-be-determined destination, our “heroes” Mu & Echo have ridden backseat for almost the entirety of the show. Their scavenger hunt travels serve to introduce locales and the Totally Not Just The Actual Musicians who reside there more than they wring some actual character development from our protagonists. Their initial rapport was loving, in a finicky way, but it abruptly caved under the pressure of the show needing drama, and so it’s directly pitted Mu’s hot-headed goodwill against Echo’s cold-footed geekiness ever since. That might’ve been an inevitable progression, but it was hardly graceful; much of the actual traveling is passed over, so we only see their relationship as it’s depicted when they reach their next lead. It’s happened enough times that I can now infer how these characters act around each other, but their exchanges ring hollow since they rarely show the nuances of their bond.

Not that Listeners really has the time to show it if it wants to keep prioritizing its small-picture worlds and episodic characters instead, and therein lies the second problem: the series is increasingly hinging its long-term “plot” on Mu’s blood connection to the mythic Jimi Stonefree, even though that plot isn’t really what gives the show its legs. Its episodic adventures, though sidestepping the original goal, have become Listeners’ gravitational pull in lieu of a more concrete causality of events or depth from its leads. I tune into Listeners now expecting little from its actual writing or animation, rather, what I gain from it is an appreciation for its unabashed musical meme material (they made Kurt Cobain a tween girl who pilots a mech. If nothing else, the show has that). Really, the audacity of plopping her, Prince, the Sex Pistols, and more into this show is borderline-litigious and 90% hilarious, barring the occasional weird suggestion that some of these real musicians’ misdeeds should be attributed to their romantic partners.

As one would imagine, the references it makes on a weekly basis vary in strength given how familiar you are with say, My Bloody Valentine, The Who, or Pink Floyd’s discography, but the depth of those references isn’t exactly the point in the first place, is it? Listeners is clearly a passion project intent on warping the history of rock and punk’s pillars to its own whims. I’d say watching it is like trying to wrap your head around someone else’s elaborate fan-fiction in real time, but the reality is even murkier: this team is trying to create multiple people’s visions for this show at once, and from the verbal mumbo-jumbo to the gratuitous mech scenes, the criss-crossing of half-developed paths and the underdevelopment of its ostensible central figures, it’s amazing that I keep coming back to Listeners at all. At this point, I expect very little from it, and I’ve dramatically tempered my expectations that it will resolve in a coherent manner, but I’d be lying if I said its weekly offerings weren’t diverseand most importantly, in the name of good funenough to keep me curiously coming back for more.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

SING “YESTERDAY” FOR ME


Yatahaze:
It’s already eschewed convention by forgoing an OP and airing an unusual slate of 18 episodes, but less have noted that Sing “Yesterday” For Me is presenting itself at curious arm’s length. Not that this is a detriment by any stretch of the imagination, just something to adjust toits painfully-grounded pilot didn’t spring any suspension of disbelief upon us and its hesitant cast makes moves at a snail’s pace, not really for the show’s sake of dragging out the present, but for their own. To keep things moving, episodes have begun functioning more like vignettes with slight but vital timeskips in between. Despite the show’s framing of each installment as a “scene,” it’s more realistic to view each episode as a chapter, some self-contained, others working forward elements of our protagonists’ hang-ups.

For example, episodes five and six brought in Kouichi Minato, a pretentious (I said the P-word, sorry) junior who interns at Rikuo’s gallery while trying and failing to slide make Haru fall for him, and Chika Yuzuhara, an ex who endearingly but platonically stays at Rikuo’s apartment for a few weeks between jobs. Both disappear en route to their next destination by their respective episode’s end. This is important. This is important not just because Yesterday channeling a whole cour’s worth of drama from 20-odd minutes is impressive, but because it deepens our understanding of the protagonists, not just for what they say when new people enter the picture, but for what they don’t say. When questioned why Chika ended up back with Rikuo during that transitional period, the old flame relays that she could trust him to not act upon any urges. That checks out: Rikuo is afraid of being unprepared, prefers stasis he can handle over situations that might ask too much of him, and is only just starting, after meeting with Kouichi and Chika, to take some initiative, landing a recommended gig at a professional photography studio and considering quitting the convenience store side-job altogether.

In her own way, Shinako is also beginning to find the resolve to move out of the comfortably numb present and into the uncertainty inherent to growth. Haru’s clinginess to Rikuo comes off as charming in part because Haru is optimistic by default, but she’s placing undue energy in chasing a crush who doesn’t seem any more likely now to reciprocate those feelings than he ever has. Haru can continue to chase this all she wantsit’s up to her to decide when enough is enough, and so far her determination isn’t abusive in any way that could really hurt Rikuo’s guarded human decency, but the same cannot be said for Rou’s laser-focus on getting Shinako to notice him in a way beyond their current relationship as childhood friends. Though it backfired for him, Rou’s recent aggression was what Shinako needed to break out of her delusion that the status quo was in any way healthy. Just as chasing ghosts is a path to doom, so is denying the existence of other paths besides that and staying still. Her heart may not be 100% ready to see Rikuo out as an alternative, but the fact that they’ve stayed on close, friendly terms bodes well, and as she makes a timid first move, I’m finding myself more enthralled by Yesterday than basically any “serious” romance anime in years.

Not that I expect Shinako’s moves to be smooth—even should she and Rikuo commit to trying, it’ll be a lot of unspoken trial and error, and Haru and Rou’s respective doting seems bound to throw a wrench into the newly-greased gears. That’s the most stereotypical “romance” trope Yesterday’s got in its playbookso far, its subdued, steady start has been all about depicting how the present will never satiate forever, how moving forward through unease or self-doubt is healthier than pretending there will ever be an “optimal time” to take difficult steps. It’s a never-ending process, and procrastinating on it rarely results in anything other than regret and a fear of falling irreversibly behind.

In between the sowing of its romantic seeds, the episodes with Kouichi and Chika, on their own somewhat divorced from the “meat” of the story, actually pull a lot of thematic weight. These two people intersecting with our leads have committed themselves to moving forward without much second guessing, and while that presents its own set of challenges if not approached with moderation, it only reaffirms Yesterday’s massive heart, portraying all manner of lost young adult with multi-faceted, organic grace. It’s been a highlight of my week thus far and I expect that to continue as the whole adds up to much, much more than the sum of its parts.
Current score: 9/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

WAVE, LISTEN TO ME!


Yatahaze:
Seven episodes in, I didn’t think I’d start this update on Wave, Listen to Me by reminding you about the pilot’s cold open wherein Minare appeared to commentate over an encounter with a bear in the woods only for the scene to fling back to reality and clarify that it was all a metaphor. That was a fantastic starting point, but I sang its praises during first impressions, and a lot….a lot…has happened in the month and a half since then. However, that switcheroo wasn’t a one-time trick, it was but the first instance of an ethos that Wave has near-flawlessly maximized every step of the way afterward: complete unpredictability.

I can feel you rolling your eyes, but hear me out. Some things stay the same from episode to episodeyou can’t change Minare’s headass big mouth, for instancebut for what began as a coming-of-adulthood workplace comedy, Wave’s head pokes into the clouds so often and so devotedly that every time it plummets back to Earth, I wind up genuinely shocked that it didn’t escape into orbit completely. This isn’t the sort of show with gags built out of a character’s overactive imaginationits direction, dialogue, and delivery all commit themselves so fervently to each ludicrous twist that Wave makes you believe it’s really going there.

Where’s “there?” Basically anywhere the show feels fit. One week, “there” is a vengeful woman attempting to murder her partner while Minare narrates the scene across town in unflinchingly accurate detail. Another, “there” is the apartment of Minare’s old landlord, who thinks he’s been cursed by his ex, though the culprit has actually been under our noses since the series’ first episode, marking what has to be one of the best brick jokes in anime history. How could I think Wave would actually turn tail on its tone and jump ship into irreversible horror or mystery territory? Well, because it already has, in some manner of speaking. Ghosts and manslaughter are far from out of the question when even the “grounded” parts of this series involve a turtle shitting into Minare’s open, snoring mouth and Makie confessing in shifty deadpan that her brother lorded over her entire life due to overprotective delusions until he got in an accident himself and a chance of freedom landed on her doorstep.

These obscene, sometimes downright uncomfortable traces of dark humor just come second nature to Wave, which always manages to give just enough information away beforehand to justify the punchline without obviously being setup for a punchline. Things don’t “just happen” in this series, but it acts like they do with such conviction that even knowing better, I still fall for the mundane charade time and time again, only to be blindsided by each rapidly escalating turn. Minare herself is a character forged in the fires of sass and chaos, the daughter of a strong independent woman and a sad-shack gambling drunk of a dad, but while she’s the perfect vessel to ride the show’s…well, waves, at this point my praise really goes to the original writing and the team at Sunrise directing this series into the utter genre buffet it’s revealed itself to be. That I can’t see the conclusion until it arrives is impressive enough, but that said conclusion is always a step further and funnier than I expected is becoming downright legendary. If it can keep that momentum up all the way to the end, we might be looking at one of the year’sand decade’sfirst classic comedies.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.


And with that, I don’t want to jinx anything, but all my shows continue to air for now, and I’d be remiss if I took that for granted in this very volatile time where entertainment is at a premium but should honestly come second to the safety of its creators and the public health of the world at large. We here at FGJ hope you all continue to stay well and be smart. Opinions about art are kinda second fiddle right now, but I’m sure you have them just as we do, so feel free to leave a comment below or give us a shout over on Twitter, and until next time, thanks as always for reading.

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