As 2020 rolls on, the question isn’t “what anime will air next?” but “will us two dorks live long enough to see it all through?” That’s the plan, even if the new normal is us being 48 hours behind deadline. Time isn’t real anymore anyway, but the takes? The takes never change. Except for when they do, and boy did some of them this month. Spring looked promising and still delivered a fair number of hits, but many of this season’s shows lost balance towards the end. Here to break down which ones did and didn’t (and what it all meant in the grand scheme of things), Yata and Haru are valiantly back with thoughts. Dig on in.
For months, the albatross around Bookworm’s neck had been if it could wrap its anime adaptation up with some semblance of finality or if it would remain open-ended enough to allow for the possibility of a third season. Now that it’s finally over—well, “over”—I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. There’s still no guarantee more material is on the way, rendering that “The story continues…” endcard nothing more than a recommendation to pick up the manga in the meantime, but if Bookworm had to stop anywhere, “Ferdinand synchronizing himself with Myne’s brain to get a glimpse of her past life” sure is a noteworthy place to halt. This series never faltered with cliffhangers, and after a season which wasn’t as eager to use them as its predecessor, that last little means of escalation worked wonders for going out with a bang.
So to recap, where Bookworm S1 introduced us to the key figures actually raising Myne—her family, Lutz, Benno, etc.—and getting her to a stable enough physical state to start gaining some independence, Bookworm S2 was almost entirely devoted to her initiation with the Church and all the social ramifications of getting whisked into a position of power uncharacteristic for someone of her upbringing. As such, it had far fewer peaks than season one, but it also rode a more comfortable and organic groove. The jarring tonal snaps were largely removed and the magic, while hardly bulletproof, felt a bit more ingrained into how the institutions of this world operate this time around. From a character standpoint, few scenes could hope to match the life-or-death stakes of a bedridden and completely flustered Myne from season one, but season two managed to come close via some of our protagonist’s new assistants at the upstart orphanage as well as her teary heart to heart with Ferdinand in the finale. Even if he’s essentially using her for the church and state’s own innovative ends, that relationship hasn’t turned truly sour yet.
Certainly not as sour as that whole arc near the end where a knight disobeys his orders to watch Myne as she tries to help them and ends up almost throwing their whole mission off course. Beyond Schicicoza’s remorseless class-coded anger, the trombe-hunting arc was just not a great use of time, serving mainly to justify Ferdinand’s connections and authority on-screen at the expense of better writing. But that was a slight bobble in what was otherwise a rock solid season of Bookworm, one that saw the anime adaptation cement itself as one of the more forward-thinking and widely-enjoyable isekai of the past several years. I’m hopeful we’ll get an eventual continuation, but I’d be satisfied if this is where the anime stops. Not sure I can ask for much more considering the light novels are right there.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
BNA: BRAND NEW ANIMAL
Well. Here we are. In the middle of the season, BNA looked posed to claim its place among Studio Trigger’s better thematic works, a title it’d earn not necessarily through hard work and clarity of vision, but by lack of competition and a ton of explosive enthusiasm. For what it’s worth, the baseball episode is still one of my favorite single episodes of anime this year, and many of the other offerings from the series’ first half stick up relatively well as episodic action-adventures.
But then the rest of the world moved on, and BNA’s shoddy metaphors did not.
I’ll try to summarize my understanding of it all—Michiru and her pal Nazuna were both accidentally transfused Beastman blood and thus turned into shapeshifting Beastmen themselves, nearly unearthing a conspiracy by Alan Sylvasta, a cocky “purebred” Beastman masquerading as a human, to enhance the “Beast Factor” in all the (lower-class) “hybrid” Beastmen of Anima City, rendering them all psychotic and lawless so that his human form can gain more social power in opposition to their rampages. Let’s not even touch on what the series does with this setup, because it sure as hell wasn’t enough to revert my attention back to its original inquisitive state. BNA’s thematic message was “genetically different people who are ostracized deserve to be ostracized because they’re more prone to violence than superior races.”
What in the fresh hell?
And like, yeah, that’s the villain’s attitude, but the protagonists don’t really destroy that for the racist logic it is so much as they express shock and rebel against the attitude of it; all series long, Michiru tries taking the hardline stance that no one of any race should hurt anyone, but is frequently complicit in the self-loathing of her non-human form and considers it a “disease” until the series’ final moments, where her change of heart is hardly convincing. Shirou was obviously Ginrou if you can put two and two together, but his sob story past is a piece of lore that serves more to give him a power boost late in the game than to dignify his identity as a near-immortal messiah figure. Oh, and let’s not ignore the “beastman on beastman crime though!” narrative that runs through the whole show. As aware as BNA is to a litany of social issues including systemic poverty, terrorism, and corruption, it struggles to weave its analysis of their causes together in any way that acknowledges their inherent intersectionality.
It’s one thing to boldly write a show that’s ostensibly about racism and have it blow up in your face from a lack of understanding. It’s another to do that when across the world, one of Earth’s most dominant superpowers is beginning its most pivotal civil rights and racial justice movement in over a half-century. The infamous, atrocious, and misleading recent NHK piece tells me that the general public over in Japan might not quite grasp the nuance of American race relations, and it’s sure as hell obvious that Trigger didn’t either. Their redeeming “get out of jail free” card is that nothing in BNA explicitly suggested it was a commentary on a multicultural nation’s handling of race—this was a Japanese view, but just because a country is well over 90% culturally homogeneous doesn’t mean they’re free from criticism when they bite off more than they can chew in the “understanding basic human empathy” department.
So what we’re left with is a string of solid early episodes in isolation and an increasingly convoluted and counterproductive “plot” that eventually spoils the show sour. BNA went from one of the studio’s more promising works to the one of their least effective over the course of about a month. External circumstances sure didn’t allow its weaknesses to slip by unnoticed, but regardless of how the rest of the world was doing, the central conceit of the show was just ramshackle and poorly-developed. The style it touts goes a long, loooong way towards keeping it inviting and entertaining (and it features one of my favorite soundtracks this season), but the aftertaste isn’t just one we didn’t need at this point in time, it’s one that completely missed the mark on its supposed goals. As such, the plummeting rating here is gonna seem harsh—but the actual real-world injustice that’s filling my attention the last few weeks is just harsher. Tough shit, anime.
Final score: 5.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
FRUITS BASKET 2ND SEASON
Well, I’m back, after taking a breather from writing due to some ongoing health issues unrelated to the plague affecting the world right now. Whether I’ve made any tangible improvements since that break is questionable, but anywho…
Right, the anime!
So, quite a bit’s happened since my last Froobs update at the beginning of spring. We were introduced to the remaining members of the zodiac that we’d yet to see, with Kureno’s clumsy run-in with Uotani at her part-time job, and Isuzu’s break-up with Hatsuharu sending the latter on a rampage through the school. It’s always gonna be a fun time when those silly Sohmas get involved, am I right? Especially now that summer vacation arrived for Tohru and friends, right?
I used the term “nitty-gritty” to describe the story in my prior write-up, and boy, did Fruits Basket deliver on that. What was supposed to be a relaxing getaway to the coast for Tohru and the Sohmas quickly turned sour after Akito, the head of the family, crashed the party. Akito wasted zero time laying into Yuki and the members of the zodiac present for the trip, causing a handful of them to go into meltdown mode. Even Tohru couldn’t escape Akito’s wrath this time, with the family head stating that they are the “God” of the zodiac legend, before scratching her face deep enough to draw blood.
This quickly turned into quite a lot. Was the sudden hyperfocus into the various fragile mental states of the characters the best thing for me to take in right now as I’m battling my own mental issues at the moment? Questionable. Was it somewhat encouraging to see them try to make the most of their time, making an effort to be happy living in their respective moments? Maybe. Do I adore these kids and want to see them overcome their abuser and break the Sohma curse? Absolutely. Seeing this cast try to make their ends meet while acknowledging their own flaws, whether actual or perceived, you can’t help but want to root for them. Something will have to give in the Sohma family, as despite their apparent inability to resist the God of the zodiac, some will push, as Shigure has attempted.
I’m so glad that this reboot happened, it’s really reminded me why I liked the original so much back in the day, while maintaining a fresh character all its own. TMS has done a fantastic job keeping this classic feeling familiar, yet brand-new. I can’t wait for the third season.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
This season it’s sadly not alone in this, but Gleipnir straight-up did not have enough allotted time to reach a satisfying conclusion. For all the simple charms that come with its messy psychological battle royale romance clusterfucknuggetry, the show did have a plot, and that plot progressed naturally for the first 10 or so episodes only to shove an entire episode of vital backstory at us and attempt to bundle it up with the present immediately thereafter. Add a crudely-conveyed amnesia phenomenon and some spectral beings with unclear, chaotic motives at the last minute and try as I did, Gleipnir left me with more questions than answers in its send-off.
Thankfully, the manga covers more material than this, but I can’t attest to where it goes from here, as I am Not Much of a Reader (my cardinal sin this season, apparently). What I can tell you is that despite the discombobulated writing, overlooking the series’ unglamorous and unappreciated sexual advances, and disregarding the fact that it, you know, doesn’t end, I uhhh, well,
…I think. I mean, I enjoyed Shuichi and Clair’s whole shtick, how it was both blatantly manipulative but also kinda endearing, just two weirdoes and their weirdly straight-faced plushie play. It’s just so unusual that any resemblance it might bear to other technically-not-a-couple outlaw duos didn’t quite matter later on. As for the rest of the cast, results widely varied. For the adaptation’s own sake, most of these characters frankly didn’t serve any crucial purpose; Tadanori tested the leads’ fighting ability but served no greater end, half of Koyanagi’s group just stood around venting, and the people who seemed really important to the narrative at the end of it all—Elena, her allies, Shuichi’s old friends, and the alien—were but an afterthought, and that’s a pretty damning indictment when the afterthought turns out to be the plot conspiracy itself.
And that’s the real bummer here, because let’s be real, if you have any inkling of an urge to check out Gleipnir, it’s probably on account of its evident weirdness. That its visual production turned out to be Studio Pine Jam’s best to date by a long shot (holy shit that finale sakuga) should be a selling point, but its many written detours only lead to an incoherent, enigmatic puddle of hinted-at motives. In a way (and especially after Sing Yesterday) it’s refreshing to see the series go out while leaving the possibility of a sequel open, but that currently comes at the cost of any overt or metaphorical resolution. It’s frustrating, and I don’t actually regret going along for the ride at all—but walking away with my enthusiasm scraped and bruised isn’t the best way to sell tickets, if you catch my drift.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR? (SEASON 2)
If a comedy anime is great—really, truly standout—then reviewing it three times a season almost feels like a moot point. The first impression is important; there’s a lot of media out there to get people through quarantimes and piquing your interest and making you laugh from the get-go is kind of essential. Kaguya-sama did that consistently enough throughout season one to earn my eyes a second time. Then there’s the report in the middle: last time I touched on season two, I couldn’t help but gush about how elevated and comfortable in its own skin the show seemed, like the setup of season one had blossomed into a more confident version of itself. The over-abundant narration and repetition had fallen by the wayside in lieu of more versatile punchlines, dramatic irony with lengthier builds, and just plain better character writing. At that point, if Kaguya wasn’t the seasonal highlight, it was only because its competition was so strong.
And then almost all its competition slipped up. I’d even argue Kaguya dipped a little bit in its final third, but its weaker portions remained far more rewarding than those of early frontrunners Yesterday, Wave, or BNA. Astoundingly, production woes aren’t one of those nitpicky flaws, and considering Kaguya was still in production throughout Japan’s spike of COVID-19, that’s really saying something. Not every series gets lucky enough to plan ahead to the extent that every episode has multiple key sakuga showcases. Not every series is directed with enough holistic foresight to maximize its crew’s talent and time. Kaguya was, and this second season only made it more apparent than ever. As has become the copypasta du jour in the Greater Justiceverse, “Mamoru Hatakeyama, take a fucking bow.”
Which isn’t to say that this series is wholly reliant on its animation and voice acting to be held in such high regard, but, well, this is a romantic comedy, and character expression is arguably the most essential component that can raise a solid title to an outstanding one. The one thing Kaguya’s first season frankly lacked until late was a stronger emotional core; it was tremendously easy to enjoy the Student Council’s shenanigans as characters, as roles with basic personalities that pitted up against each other in goofy ways, but Kaguya S2 took that established cast and really fleshed them out.
Side characters like Hayasaka, the greater Shirogane family, and Ishigami got much-needed additional screentime. Miko’s introduction threw a wrench into the Council and allowed us to see them cooperate as a team to overcome and then welcome her candidacy. Earlier gags got reframed or scrapped in favor of (just as funny) opportunities for new conversation as the bonds between characters deepened. In a way, it’s like smart fanservice, but virtually all of it (Ishigami’s backstory in episode 11 notwithstanding, though I’m too indifferent on it to commentate further) served the show’s greater good.
Coming from someone who still enjoyed season one to a healthy degree, I’m honestly stunned I’m sitting here with Kaguya S2 as not just my official anime of the season but also my tentative anime of the year. It gracefully grew into a fuller, more dynamic version of itself and in the process set the bar pretty fucking high for any other anime rom-com to come our way in the near future. With any luck, a third season will be among them, and god help us if the trend of improvement continues.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
A second chance at a show? At this time of year? In this fucked up hellworld? Localized entirely on this blog page? You’d better fucking believe it. I seemed to be the only soul not sold on Kakushigoto despite its strengths back when its pilot first aired, and that only continued to be the case through its finale. I had a fortuitously-timed week off, and instead of jumping straight into revisiting old favorites, I put it to good use giving one of the most widely-enjoyed shows of the spring another shot.
It deserved one—but frankly, maybe my initial trepidation was earned too. For anyone who needs a refresher, Kakushigoto is a comedy/slice-of-life about a young girl named Hime Goto and her single father, Kakushi, who is deeply embarrassed by his occupation as the author of a Captain Underpants-style serialized gag manga. He has some pride in the job and a relatively decent circle of collaborators, but there are some secrets even grown men wouldn’t want their children to know, and his penmanship of Tights In The Wind is one of them. Voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya in that chronically excitable Kamiya way, Kakushi himself was the main reason I wasn’t in love with Kakushigoto from the beginning; Hime was nice, the production was solid, and I adored the character designs and setpieces comprising the show’s visual aesthetic, but as a main character, Kakushi felt too jittery and out of touch with his surroundings for his earliest punchlines to land.
Kakushigoto had a choice, then; give this lead character room to breathe as his own person or shove his hyperactive humor into every scene. At first, it looked like it might do the former, and coupled with a rather tasteless transphobic joke via a side character, I assumed Kakushigoto might soil its potential on this stick in the mud of a protagonist.
Almost immediately after, I began to see it mellow out; the series’ web of side characters grew larger and more endearing, Kakushi’s “responsible father/overreacting dumbass” personality leveled off at both ends to a more natural and human degree, and most importantly, it steered clear of any real perversion. The adults of this show are, for better or worse, respectful, professional adults. It’s honestly refreshing to see an otaku-culture series not only not make excuses for childish or manipulative behavior but to more or forgo it outright. When Kakushigoto wants you to take its family conflict seriously—for instance, Kakushi’s strained relationship with his father-in-law, the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance, and any of the numerous late-episode flash-forwards to when Hime is a young adult—it has the capacity to make those moments land. Nothing hurts as sharp as a punch to the gut like a polite child feeling guilty over having her own birthday party for no reason other than reading the room wrong.
As for the humor, that’s a little more hit or miss, but unlike its rocky start, it mostly leans towards compelling antics—stuff like the incompetent and narcissistic editor Tomaruin setting his team up for failure, Hime questioning the adults in her life on matters they don’t feel comfortable answering, and an endless stream of mis- (or really, under-) communication between parties. That’ll happen when you’re a Koji Kumeta creation; the dude loves his wordplay, and while a fair bit of it is either lost in translation or gracelessly spelled out, that’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation when the jokes stack upon each other this stiffly. At the very least, it’s offset by universally fun details like the Gotos’ dog speaking only in onomatopoeias.
All of which is to say that while Kakushigoto isn’t a series where much presently happens, the shadow of events past and future loom large over the fun in a gripping way. Without spoiling the finer bits of its last-episode twist, fans of the show should understand what I’m talking about when I say its embrace of cliché didn’t necessarily work to the benefit of the series’ overall tone, but when built up to be a dramatic, crowning moment, I can’t blame the series for going big instead of going home. For all the slightly-heightened absurdity throughout Kakushigoto, it felt most poignant and entertaining when it kept a foot firmly planted in reality, and I started to find my interest drifting when it got a little too heavy-handed.
For that to only happen at the very start and very end of a series I otherwise enjoyed is a rare thing, and between that and my 24-hour marathon of all its material, I’m gonna be contemplating the extent of my praise for some time, but this much I can tell you now: Kakushigoto has a lot of heart, and though it lets performative zaniness occasionally sidetrack that, its soul is mostly kind. It’ll be hard for me to not ponder the slight “what if”s that could’ve elevated it even higher in my book, but the series is enjoyable and definitely worth your time if you’re into energetic dramas of the work and family variety.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
I have to begin this Listeners blurb with a disclaimer: though the first half of the series was able to keep my attention week to week with a vignette-focused streak of traveling episodes that facilitated decent enough unspoken worldbuilding, my interest waned considerably the more its well of inspiration began to run dry. Come the show’s second half, Listeners decided it had enough characters on its plate and ran full speed ahead with a sloppy and dry action climax where Mu gets manipulated into becoming a villain and Echo defeats her with an amplifier-robot and the power of Peace, Love, and Understanding.
At one point, Listeners delivered that ethos with palpable glee. By the end, it had lost me. What changed? It certainly wasn’t the team’s narrative, which never really took an unpredictable turn or digression from start to finish, and it wasn’t their mission to place their inspirations front and center like the word “subtlety” wasn’t a concept in their vocabulary. But if you can stir up enough passion, enough creativity to make the journey riveting regardless, Listeners’ brand of self-indulgence can work. It just didn’t. Almost immediately after a pilot that promised a world that could go a million different directions, it lumbered through detour after detour and tried bringing every face it met along the way back for a grandiose group effort epilogue. It would have all the makings of powerful finale, if only those characters themselves evolved into anything more than stepping stones for an underdeveloped lead duo to scrap against while the series’ writers grasped at straws for conflict with any potency.
Really, that’s where Listeners failed me: because its simplest character interactions turned out so distant and robotic, the broader web of causality between them felt dictated more by convenient whim than consistent internal logic. When it’s impossible to invest in the people of a world, it’s equally impossible to invest in the causes they supposedly stand for, and no amount of clever (or painfully obvious) references to Dad Rock can fix that fundamental flaw here. Nicholas Dupree over at ANN called Listeners the Be Here Now of anime, and I hate that, because it’s absolutely correct. Too shallow to say anything original, too indebted to its aspirations to stack up to them, this is an anime that’s all vision, no follow-through. Was it worth watching to the end? No, but the sunken cost fallacy is mighty compelling, and at the very least, I got some cool layouts and a fun soundtrack out of the experience. I’m now ready to forget that I watched this for a long time.
Final score: 4/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
MY NEXT LIFE AS A VILLAINESS: ALL ROUTES LEAD TO DOOM!
(OTOME GAME NO HAMETSU FLAG SHIKA NAI AKUYAKU REIJOU NI TENSEI SHITESHIMATTA…)
Yep, it’s me this time. Haru covered Villainess (Hamefura) back during first impressions and we each watched it completion, but schedules are a fuck and that’s left me with the task of wrapping up the show. There’s just one problem, and it’s the same one my co-writer ran into before:
What exactly is there to say about this show?
You’ve read the synopsis? Good, because it’s honest advertising; Catarina said from the outset that all she wanted to do in this world was avoid death flags, and in the process she made good friends with the characters who would’ve otherwise led her to her downfall and enjoyed a ton of sweets and gardening along the way. The Big Bad Serious Dick was turned back to the light without a hitch, no romantic partner really made enough of an advance to register the series as a proper “romance,” and the production stayed serviceable the whole way through. Long story short, Hamefura was plainly, modestly, and sometimes tediously fine.
There’s not anything ruinous about that, and Catarina at least has the charisma to compensate for nearly all of her potential suitors and besties’ lack of nuance, but it’s hard to come out of the show feeling anything but indifference, perhaps because it was nigh-impossible to be surprised by anything from it. We’re slated to get another season of Hamefura sometime next year, and to put the quality offered here in perspective, I never had a doubt in my mind I would finish Hamefura, but I am doubtful I’ll continue it past this point. A popcorn show isn’t gonna wow everyone but its longevity is to an extent dependent on the competition it faces in its airing season. Though plenty of shows left a bitter aftertaste this spring and Hamefura didn’t, the latter was more of a side dish than a main course, and if a promising bundle of shows is going to air alongside its sequel, it needs to ride on more than just its main character and the bare minimum of aesthetic grace.
But that’s partially because, lack of ambition be damned, Hamefura delivered exactly what it suggested it would: an okay time with a novel idea. That’s about all I’ve got in the tank for it.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
PRINCESS CONNECT RE:DIVE
Yep, our resident FGJ isekai stan watched PriConne, more or less enjoyed it, then said “pass.” So here I am, wishing I could do the same. This genre isn’t exactly my forte, but I managed to marathon the series about a week ago, and
I’m already struggling to remember anything beyond “oooooh pretty sakuga.”
And let’s be clear, that’s more than enough reason to check something out and PriConne does regularly feature some of the slickest and most fun animation to come out of this season. The story, on the other hand, is aggressively hit or miss, which won’t be a surprise if you follow these mobile game adaptations closely and hang onto half a neuron of critical thinking. The more bombastic efforts here were my personal favorites: no character in this show is particularly deep (though Pecorine and Karyl each develop through the overarching plot in satisfying ways) and so the wackier and more absurd the series gets, the more memorable and unique it became. Stuff like the witch hospital episode and the crew struggling for odd jobs were, for better or worse, where the fiery passion of PriConne matched the wit necessary to tell a gripping story.
This was interspersed with a handful of episodes starring chirpy side characters who barely did a thing, however, rendering the show something of a grab bag. My attention span is pretty well-suited for weekly viewing but not ideal for marathons of shows where half the episodes fail to grab me and I’m still able to get the gist of the series without missing anything substantial while distracted. Some might level that as a flaw against PriConne, but I’ll give it some props; this series knows that it’s popcorn, and if it ain’t gonna be particularly creative or deep, the least it can do is not overburden the viewer with lore. You can jump into this show just about anywhere and immediately catch the lead group’s dynamic, their place within this world, and the tone of the world at large. The meatiest drama came concentrated right at the end, allowing that accessibility to linger well into the series’ run while still letting it go out with a bang.
But at the end of the day, much like Hamefura, I was rarely amazed by anything here, and unlike Hamefura, a few episodes were complete liminal experiences. This isn’t genre territory I frequent in the first place, so that’s as much on me as it is on the show, but alas, I’m the one writing the blurbs and giving the score. If you dig the look and hook of this, more power to you. I entered with nothing but community hype and skeptical expectations. That it made a believer out of me a few times is more than enough, even if it came nowhere close to my favorite shows of the season.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
SHACHIBATO! PRESIDENT, IT’S TIME FOR BATTLE! (SHACHOU, BATTLE NO JIKAN DESU!)
For the sake of getting the writeup done on Wednesday, as we’d originally planned, I originally intended to just write a quick blurb about how or why I dropped Shachibato on the seventh episode and moved on, but you know what? I’m glad I asked him for an extra day so that I could marathon this show to completion.
After completing the twelfth episode, I can assuredly say that Shachibato was completely slept on. Is this a masterpiece? Absolutely not, but this show is far better than its meager scores on MAL and Anilist would suggest, and I’ll explain the reasoning behind my conclusion.
I don’t really have much experience with C2C’s works—I never watched Harukana Recieve or Hitoribocchi, despite them seeming far more popular than Shachibato could’ve ever dreamed of being. Save for watching one episode of WorldEnd, one of the studio’s co-pros with Satelight, the last C2C show I watched was Onee-chan ga Kita, a 3 minute short that ran back in winter of 2014. Holy shit, how time flies. It seems like C2C is doing pretty well though, as Shachibato’s visuals remained rather sharp and unexpectedly consistent through its entire run. A side benefit of this show’s slightly-above-average production value is the ever-appreciated trove of reactions featured therein. Having a couple of earworms set to snazzy OP and ED credits helps out, too.
Despite the company-oriented focus of the show, I was not expecting Shachibato to turn to a lampooning of corporate culture, with the two ominous dungeons the Kibou Company encountered over the show’s course being staffed by burnt-out mobs exhausted by main bosses who slave-drive their underlings. Now, I have no idea how the conditions at C2C are, but there is some bit of irony in a mobage anime roasting so-called “black companies,” what with some of the stories we hear about work conditions in the animation and game industries. Still, I’m all here for any roasting of corporate culture, and this show actually had me cheering when Minato motivated the final dungeon’s masses of overworked mobs to take collective action and ditch their toxic boss. Viva la revolution.
Also, shoutout to Minato’s swimsuit in the beach scene in the closing credits of the final episode. As I mentioned in my prior writeup, I was already down with MC-kun being the most adorable member of a cast full of adorable folks, but I uh, certainly didn’t expect the Borat swimsuit. 10 out of 10, perfect show.
Spring of 2020 truly has been something of a bizarro season of anime. I mean, two good mobage animes in a single season? Who would’ve ever thought that’d happen? Not me. It’s a different show entirely than PriConne, but I got far more enjoyment out of Shachibato than I could’ve ever expected.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
SING “YESTERDAY” FOR ME (“YESTERDAY” WO UTATTE)
Really—how was your personal life then? What were your relationships like? Was your trajectory positive or negative? It’s important, and may even make or break whether Sing “Yesterday” For Me’s adaptation can be considered a success. See, someone mistranslated information pertaining to the show at the start of the season and the English-speaking public took the report to mean that it would get a bizarre 18 episodes to work with. What that actually meant, as we realized come week 10 or so of the season, was that the little “extras” that had been airing alongside the full episodes proper counted in that announcement. There would not be 18 full episodes of Yesterday. It would end when everything else did this season, six short of our expectations, and frankly, six short of what its story necessitated. You can—and I will—make excuses for this, but there’s no denying reality: Yesterday’s pacing caught up to it.
Whether rightly or not, “pacing” is often interpreted among amateur critics as the forgivingness of a work of fiction to hold one’s attention, but when I say Yesterday’s pacing caught up to it at the last minute, what I really mean is that whoever composed the series to fill a 12-episode framework did so by providing close to 11 episodes of sensible and sensual romantic drama at a consistent rhythm and then skipped over a bunch of (from what I’ve heard, extremely important) context in order to present the audience with a scene of finality. I haven’t personally read the Yesterday manga, but that’s the unanimous conclusion I’ve witnessed from devoted fans of the source material. Adaptations can, and often should, change to fit the format of the medium they’re being transposed to—but when that change comes without justification, it threatens to derail the whole story up to that point. Signing off with indecision can bode better for an adaptation’s long-term reputation than rushing to reach an ending that pleases nobody.
So here we are. Contrary to all the glowing praise the series had earned since April, and despite the frankly spectacular voice acting and character animation we got for three months and in elevated form during the finale, Yesterday simply dropped the ball.
Or…did it? Beyond the visual realism, the exceptional acting, and the sublime, understated soundtrack (none of which faltered, like, ever), Yesterday’s brand of character drama was very “fly on the wall.” It made few judgments, rarely verbalized them, and framed conversations inconspicuously, allowing its characters to slowly ruminate themselves with more space than an empty Kansan field.
The show regularly skipped ahead in time from episode to episode, just in subtler ways than what this finale attempted. And all things considered, it scrapped the Shinako and Rikuo ship at a crucial time with its point well-made; they’re too similar to function smoothly as something beyond friends. They have the same hesitance, the same doubts, and really, the same gut feeling that they were pursuing this in order to shy away from truths that made them uncomfortable. Though they weren’t unhappy together, the chemistry wasn’t there, and an acknowledgement of that would’ve been a fine place to end it for them, Haru and Rou be rather brutally damned. One of Yesterday’s key strengths this whole time was its laissez-faire approach to drama; if something it depicted resonated, it might be worth exploring, but it wasn’t going to push the issue for you. It’s too hushed a series to attract people that just want juicy gossip flung around. Sitting with it, parsing it, taking what you can from it to redirect what you learned back to the real world—the people who do that will maximize what Yesterday was offering.
And it’s precisely those sort of people that I think have an ability to recognize this finale’s flaws if they make it that far. When any series goes for an “easy” ending (albeit in this case, only one way, because Rou was not given anywhere near enough time to become a likable character) there’s a tendency to assume that people who enjoyed the ending can’t discern the “better” alternative endings that awaited. In no way do I think Rikuo “earned” his renewed relationship with Haru based solely on what the anime showed us, and much like Shinako giving Rou a second shot, I can’t see their fling resolving with a happy ending. Rikuo rattled off a monologue about how going through with this was itself a selfish endeavor because he likes hearing praise, and the age gap skews the dynamics of this crush in his favor. Everyone in Yesterday getting what they want feels…wrong. It feels like it betrays all the bumbling around and indecision until this point. It feels like it could be earned, if only there were some richer context before it (and the manga readers insist there is).
But most importantly, these characters still haven’t gotten what they need, just moved past one of several potential ways to avoid digging deeper. As such, I’ve decided I don’t really care. What makes Yesterday’s yearning so compelling isn’t that the characters don’t receive what they desire—it’s that they see no easy path to it, or the one they think will lead them there instead sends them in circles. Though the anime ends where it does, no dramatic kiss changes the fact that its four leads still have a lot of self-discovery to do, and no soul who resonated intensely with Yesterday is blind to that.
If the media we love does something questionable, it’s right to question it—but if, upon questioning it, you can excuse it because its in-universe ramifications matter less than its externally applicable lessons, that’s okay to admit. That’s where I’m ultimately at with Sing “Yesterday” For Me; a recommendation will always come with caveats, and at the risk of parroting the “you need a very high IQ to understand X” copypasta, I won’t be suggesting it to people who I think take every action depicted in a show as heroic gospel. But subpar ending aside, Yesterday meant and still means a lot to me, even in this canonically “lesser” form. Consider me one of the lucky ones.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
THE 8TH SON? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (HACHI-NAN TTE, SORE WA NAI DESHOU!)
It is time for the Spring 2020 edition of my time-honored tradition of sending off a season’s token par-for-the-course isekai with the same set of phrases of resigned mild praise I tend to throw at them.
Except I’m not doing that this time around.
Hachinan’s final arc was supposed to be this dramatic succession crisis, but it never really grabbed my attention. After the subjects of the Baumeister’s domain expressing their displeasure with the eldest brother Kurt’s heavy-handed and unsympathetic method of ruling, Wendelin and friends getting an assignment to purify a horde of undead soldiers in the unexplored region of the domain adds fuel to the fire, and before long Kurt plots to kill his younger brother in order to seize his influence on the capital, and on the vast untapped resources of the undeveloped region.
This culminated in what can only be described as the most underwhelming final battle I’ve seen in an anime that I can recall in recent memory, with possibly the most unjustified use of the “you know shit’s going down when the OP music plays in the final battle” trope I’ve ever seen. On top of how I’ve already mentioned how fucking goofy and try-hard the OP is, there was zero strategy to the battle, zero flashiness, just a monster-fied Kurt blasting away at Well and Elise before the two use their purifying magic to blast him off into the sky. The battles were always the least interesting part of this show, but this was just the icing on the boring cake.
On the other hand, Hachinan’s final scene featuring Well and his party happily chowing down on the very same meal he prepared before getting isekai’d was an unexpectedly nice touch, one I probably got more appreciation out of than most who stuck with this show to the end. Hachinan’s stronger moments were always with Well and crew bumbling about their duties as nobility and being chums with one another as Well introduced his favorite foods from his previous life to the group. Maybe this series should’ve stuck with food rather than nobility squabbles, but even then, there was a better fantasy show about a foodie guild that aired at the same time.
I can’t say I’m disappointed, as I had no experience with any of the literature that preceded the anime, and thus, very few expectations of it. Still, there are much better isekai shows out there, and just better shows in general to waste your time on. You can safely pass on this one, you’re not really missing anything.
Final score: 5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
TOWER OF GOD (KAMI NO TOU / SIN-UI TAP)
It’s kind of amusing seeing how Tower of God’s final act had its newfound anime fandom completely up in arms one way or another, as if Rachel’s “heel turn” wasn’t foreshadowed from very nearly the beginning of the damn show. She played her part pretty well, but this was always going to be the end result. That’s all that I’ll touch on as far as this topic goes, because hoo boy, there’s some nasty comments going around in the Tower fandom and I want absolutely no part of it.
Anywho, despite its generous peppering of many of the tried-and-true shounen tropes, like the happy-go-lucky naive protagonist Bam, the cool and calculated Khun, the boisterous hothead Rak—the list goes on— Tower of God did make a novel use of the beloved shounen Exam Arc trope, as this whole season was simply the trials for prospective climbers to earn the right to climb the Tower. Usually by the time we get an exam arc, we already have a well established cast and plot, but this time around, the exams are what establishes our cast and sets the stage for the future. A bold move, and I think it worked wonderfully.
As one of the few productions this season that was practically completed by the time the COVID crisis hit Japan, Tower of God was remarkably consistent from start to finish. I was quite satisfied by the balance maintained between its comedic elements and its dramatic moments, as even side characters like Shibisu, Hatz, and Endorsi had their highlights that endeared themselves to me. There was rarely a dull moment, and I do credit part of that to Kevin Penkin’s masterful soundtrack composition lending far more impact to each moment. While the perpetual kagenashi look of the show’s art style agitated some folks, I’d actually say Tower of God probably featured my favorite art of any of the shows I watched to completion this season. Generally speaking, it’s a fairly polished product, but not without a fault here or there.
I’m excited to see what the future holds, not only for this show’s inevitable sequel, but for anime adaptations of Korean titles moving forward. There’s a good number of manwha I’d love to see make the jump to animation, and there’s a ton of potential waiting to be tapped. I can hope Tower of God is only the beginning of a new trend.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
WAVE, LISTEN TO ME! (NAMI YO KIITEKURE)
Wave, Listen to Me! entered the season as a potential upset and it ends with that status too. For better and worse, this show tried its hand at quirky work drama, absurdist dream sequence comedy, and young adult romance and didn’t concentrate too hard on any of those faces to the extent it ever got dull. Provided you enjoy all of those buzzwords in any balance, there’s a good chance Wave will strike your fancy like it did mine.
But this is where I back up and acknowledge that its particular brand of comedy is one that can’t entirely be divorced from the show’s overall tone, even when it’s not trying to make you laugh, and that leads the series into thorny territory at times. For starters, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way; it’s not unsurprising that Minare is the sort of character who’d crack gay panic jokes about a boss she doesn’t like, but that doesn’t make their inclusion here any more comfortable. Considering they take up all of a minute’s worth of content across the span of the whole series, they’re not even important enough to be a backfired necessary plot point, so their place here has basically no redeeming justification.
Similarly, Makie’s backstory—either not given enough time or given too much time depending on who you question—was frankly unsettling, not just for the blatant emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her commanding, psychotic older brother, but for how said brother just…reappears later in the show and is mostly let off the hook since Makie’s making strides of her own thanks to his absence up to that point.
Are either of these cringy deeds severe enough to completely derail the show? For me they weren’t, and though I can recognize my privilege plays a role in that, I’d argue Wave’s directional style does too—enough of the ridiculous comedy lands that even when it ventures into what should be more grounded space, there’s an air of separation between the unfolding events and the real people actually writing this. While I’d certainly prefer a series that approached issues like trauma and homophobia with an actual point, what Wave gives us instead comes off like a boardroom threw a ton of ideas into a hat, picked some out at random, and had an underpaid, underappreciated intern attempt to string them into a coherent narrative. Sound familiar?
Exactly, that’s basically what Minare herself did on ad-lib after ad-lib of her program, minus the hat. The radio segments were just numerous and influential enough to follow through on the premise, while the broader ongoings of the cast took care of the surplus time. For a rather low-stakes job, Wave struck a good work-life balance on its runtime, as it wasn’t solely about Minare’s program or hosting radio as an art form, but about this particular stage of her life adjusting to the possibilities of this new opportunity while balancing other token young adult insanity like rent deadlines, shitty exes, and an ever-expanding web of eccentrics passing you by.
While not all of those threads were resolved—and god I’m hoping for a season two, even if I’m the only one—they got re-contextualized in the fantastic finale, where Minare found herself out of her element for the first time since her drunken on-air siege: walking the citizens of Hokkaido through an earthquake and ensuing power outage until another host could take over for the scheduled daybreak slot. Considering this was either eerily prescient of or loosely based on a real life earthquake in 2018, it lent a little reality to what was otherwise a totally head-in-the-clouds show.
And I really mean that as a compliment. Wave, Listen to Me sure as hell won’t be winning any Least Problematic Anime awards anytime soon, and I do bemoan that it sometimes went a little too far, but goddamn, when it hit the sweet spot as it did for about half its run in incredible peaks, it managed to be the most delightfully outrageous thing I’ve seen all year. Your mileage will definitely vary, but I’d often rather have a comedy unabashedly be itself with some drawbacks than satisfactorily play its ideas by the books with little individuality. So with that all said, I’m gonna retain this soft spot for Wave’s unflinching confidence to tell a tale that was both structurally riveting and superficially wobbly and never look back. If only it had a bit more quality control, it’d be an even stronger contender.
Final score: 8.25/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
Whatchu looking for next? A new civil war? An asteroid collision? I wouldn’t put it past us this year. But assuming we’re still breathing, there will still be Great Justice content. Next up: summer first impressions. We’ve got Oregairu 3, some promising ONAs, and…other things, presumably. It’ll be a time, don’t worry about it. Until then, look on the bright side, 2020 is half over! What were your favorite anime from this past season? Did we miss the mark anywhere or completely ignore something you loved? Reach out in a comment below or over on Twitter, where we’ll keep on keepin’ on until next time. Thanks as always for your continued readership. We’ll see you around.