Spring 2021 First Impressions

Hello everyone, and welcome back to For Great Justice! A couple brief weeks ago, Yata delivered some overdue final verdicts on the winter season solo, and with the turnaround to the start of spring being so quickly in tow, it’s once again just him covering this batch of first impressions.

But fret not—whether it’s due to prior COVID-delayed shows seeing the light of day or an unrelated uptick in interesting titles, this spring is stacked with hit sequels, reliable adaptations, and promising anime-original works alike, boasting one of the largest crops of Potentially Not Garbage synopses I’ve seen yet in my six and a half years of seasonal coverage.

Below are my first impressions on thirty—yes, thirty—premieres, and since the field is so large this time, I’ll give you an added bonus and tier-list them. Best of the best first, rest and the worst afterward. Keeping the explanations concise, here’s what I intend to watch this spring and why. A hellish schedule has never looked so heavenly.


SOME STELLAR STARTS OF SHOWS

SSSS.DYNAZENON


Summary:
The spiritual (but so far indirectly-related) sequel to SSSS.Gridman sees four kids pilot combinable mechs that form the larger robot Dyzanenon in order to defend their city from kaiju attacks: Gauma, an eccentric “Kaiju user,” Yomogi, a kid who wants to escape his family’s supervision, Koyomi, a NEET with a clingy school-skipping cousin, and Yume, an aloof classmate of Yomogi’s known for standing people up.

It’s no secret I enjoyed SSSS.Gridman’s hodgepodge of cool robots fighting giant monsters and tormented adolescent ennui, and the strengths of Dynazenon’s predecessor shine through once again, and this time with even less abstraction to blur the picture. If Gridman ultimately made sense of convenient tropes and dizzying dimensions, Dynazenon shows up with enough confidence to seemingly not rely on them at all; should the mind games happen again—and it’s a safe bet they will—they’ll feel more like a bonus than a last-ditch way to successfully make sense of under-performing elements. Its cast is a hook in and of themselves, tangibly trapped by their insecurities and radiating more nuance in three episodes than some of Gridman’s bunch did across twelve.

Which isn’t to say Dynazenon isn’t “fun” either; there’s obvious pain in the mains’ exchanges, but there’s also wit, sprinkles of fun, and just as much creative abandon as before. Someone really answered the prompt of “how can we make our heroes’ robot even cooler?” with “make them Transformers, and also a Charizard.” Genius. Akira Amemiya’s direction is on fucking point, Masaru Sakamoto’s character designs are superb, and every second of Dynazenon’s opening run has me convinced Trigger and Tsurubuya will not only go two-for-two on SSSS hits, but likely even outdo their first outing.
Still watching after 3 episodes.

VIVY: FLUORITE EYE’S SONG


Summary:
100 years in the future, artificial intelligence programs go on an unmitigated rampage, massacring humanity. To prevent that from coming to fruition, a scientist desperately sends a program into the past to convince Diva, the first multi-purpose AI, to help it alter the timeline which led to that point.

I’m not the most well-versed sci-fi guy out there but I love when a series addresses the theoretical through heart-on-sleeve theatrics. Are AI bound to be our downfall? Are we projecting the hubris of man onto machine? Once we’ve created sentience in a non-human being, can we really remove it without a struggle? There are clear answers to these questions—ones matter-of-factly espoused by Matsumoto, the program who tries to get Diva do to its bidding—but they’re clear only because we’re viewing the trolley problems through a human lens.

For these particular protagonists, the outcomes are cloudier, more subjective. Diva’s reluctance to go along with Matsumoto’s demands keeps in plain view a constant tug-of-war between autonomy and altruism. Matsumoto supposedly wants to guarantee the survival of humanity at large. Diva rightly mistrusts him and has her own personal connections she doesn’t want to sacrifice for a bigger picture that may or may not butterfly effect out of their control regardless of intent. Its scientific hand-waving may not necessarily appeal to the “hard sci-fi” crowd, but Vivy seems devoted to wading through the philosophical ramifications of its material no matter how uncomfortable the answers are. Even better, Diva and Matsumoto’s rapport is lively, the show’s direction is hard-hitting, and its visual aesthetic supports the uncanny humanity of its AI beings to great effect. I dearly hope it can maintain these strengths for the long run.
Still watching after 4 episodes.

ODD TAXI


Summary:
Odokawa is a no-nonsense taxi driver; reserved, cynical, and with his better days behind him, the old walrus-man mostly wants to not suffer other people’s trivial posturing. Tough luck, though; he’s stumbled into at least one and possibly several intertwined conspiracies involving stolen drugs, corrupt cops (redundant adjective), a missing girl last seen in his ride, and more.

The recent surge of anthro shows attempting social commentary have ranged from atrocious in their entirety (Africa Salaryman) to well-meant but clumsy (Beastars, BNA). I’ve yet to find one that’s just flat-out great, but Odd Taxi is perhaps the genre’s greatest contender yet, and I’m not unconvinced that has to do with how little it addresses the fact that its cast is comprised of animal-people. Remove that from the equation and its strengths would be the same; a morbid bent to its wit, bouncy, conversational dialogue, deftly-woven plot threads, it’s all just spectacularly written drama with the added dissonance of being presented to us via cartoony non-humans. Odd Taxi has a firm grip on the wheel and is going for a vibe that feels completely alien to TV anime. Time will tell if the promise lives up to its bravado, but you’d be a fool to sleep in the backseat of this ride based on what we’ve seen so far.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

ALSO ABLE TO ADEQUATELY ACHIEVE ARTFULNESS

ZOMBIE LAND SAGA REVENGE


Summary:
The second season of Zombie Land Saga, occurring after a brief timeskip wherein Franchouchou’s manager, Kotaro, gets overambitious with a gig, plummets the project into debt, and spirals into a lunatic depression, prompting the girls to take odd jobs and practice without his help in an effort to get the ship righted.

Zombie Land Saga narrowly missed my Top 10 of 2018, but time has been kinder to it than some others from that year, and if I were to remake that list now it’d probably sneak in there. From the looks of it, Revenge is eager to demand a spot on 2021’s list in its own right. There were details left unspoken at the end of season one that beckoned for a continuation of its story, and now that Revenge is here, it’s continuing to tease toward them while pulling off killer concepts of one-off episodes.

Most of the first season revolved around Franchouchou’s individual members recommitting to their undead gig, so it was a hilarious inversion of power to see Kotaro being the one who needed to snap out of a funk in the show’s return. Following that up with a Saki focus episode and a suave old man that speaks in motivational nonsense is [chef’s kiss] exactly my shit. I’ve had to temper my expectations with hit sequels already this year, and Revenge is an open book with as much potential to sour as it could soar, but I’ll make that call at a later date. For now I’m just delighted these girls and their loudmouthed brat manager are back to show us a fun time.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT


Summary:
A rural area of Chiba starts emitting strange radio waves that no one is able to get to the bottom of. A nearby research facility brings in Mei Kamino, a young researcher standing in for her professor, and gets in touch with a band of eccentric engineers who once worked at the plant to try to figure the frequencies out. Before they can pinpoint the cause…pterodactyls show up and shit hits the fan.

So in addition to not being familiar with most of anime’s hard sci-fi, the historical “giant monsters attacking things” end of Japanese pop culture is pretty foreign to me. A quick Google search tells me that Rodan, the freaky dino-birds attacking the cast here, are based on a Godzilla antagonist from the 50s. Jet Jaguar, the engineers’ pet project robot, is another nod. That’s all nice window dressing, but it doesn’t matter to my ignorant ass. What matters to me is whether or not Godzilla Singular Point is a thrill, coming into it with little to no prior lore in my noggin.

And it is. The cast has already spoked off into several intertwining fields and motives, their back-and-forths flow naturally while conveying a ton of information, and the series utilizes newsreel cuts to fill in the bigger picture to great effect without veering into infodump territory. GSP’s pace is snappy, wasting no time and always either giving us a great character moment, brain-plucky context, or a wild action scene. The Rodan look…goofy and a bit incongruous, sure, but their presence is equal parts perplexing mystery and biological horror. Even in broad daylight and with less than world class CG, the beasts unnerve, and the increasing “us vs. them” dynamic GSP touts is surely just the start of a chain of eldritch phenomena for our heroes to untangle. Its scientific grounding might be for naught, but I can take a little jargon if it means the spectacle works. A fun thing is a good thing, and this show is fun.
Still watching after 3 episodes.

SHADOWS HOUSE


Summary:
In a mysterious, isolated mansion resides a ruling family whose soot-emitting bodies are shrouded in expressionless shadow. Attending to them are “living dolls” which bear their faces, and Kate, one of the family’s young girls, is getting used to her new jumpy, inquisitive doll.

But Kate’s doll, nicknamed Emilico, is…different. It takes until late in the second episode to see why, but during all the build-up Shadows House juxtaposes her naivete with a lurking sense of dread, promising without any words that there’s sinister puppeteering going on, and Emilico just doesn’t understand enough about the House to know that she’s an oddball to the ways of its world. With that second episode so recently in our rearview, it’s probably for the best I don’t spoil exactly what the hiccup is, and I don’t even need to in order to justify why sticking with Shadows House seems like a good bet; it’s dedicated to its haunted, regal setting and throws us into the hierarchies governing it with little to no explanation, priming us to discover its ways in real time along with its protagonist.

As far as I know, there’s no obvious in-genre precedent for what’s going on or the specific ramifications Emilico’s “failures” will have for the series. The set may be claustrophobically dim, but the sky’s the limit in terms of narrative possibilities, and should matters come to it, my tolerance for cute characters suffering misfortune is pretty high. Whatever the endgame, Shadows House‘s temperamental faces form an obvious seasonal highlight.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

BEGINNING TO BEND, BUT BREAK? BURDENSOME? BARELY!

TO YOUR ETERNITY (FUMETSU NO ANATA E)


Summary:
An immortal being enters this world as an orb, gradually taking on higher forms as a consequence of stimulation. In the polar cold, it eventually becomes a wolf who accompanies a lone human whose optimism to reunite with his community may be his downfall…and the orb’s next evolutionary step forward.

I won’t even bother insinuating otherwise in that summary for two reasons: first, To Your Eternity is one of the most hyped premieres of the season, an adaptation of a manga by A Silent Voicefamous Yoshitoki Oima. Lots of people already love this franchise, and thus likely already know to some extent what happens in it. If you don’t, well, second, the first episode largely stands alone to set the stage for the orb-in-human-form’s interactions with the rest of the world.

As the self-contained experience it is, that pilot is pretty straightforward, and I’m actually glad the boy is already done for in his own right; his perky self-talk felt mostly at odds with the bleak atmosphere the show was trying to create, and while it worked in a narrative sense, that didn’t make him any more endearing to listen to. I know this was supposed to be a massive tear-jerker of a first episode, but its outcome seemed too obvious for catharsis. With him out of the picture and nothing really questionable about To Your Eternity’s opening act, I’m hopeful the series can hone in on less transparent strangers to come. The production is ever-so-slightly rough around the edges, but if the writing going forward is anywhere near as solid as I’ve been lead to believe, that shouldn’t pose too much of a problem. It doesn’t have to be a personal highlight to remain worth watching.
Still watching after 1 episode.

86


Summary:
San Magnolia has gotten used to peace—due to drone technology, years have passed since any of their citizens perished at war, or so the propaganda states. With the end of the armed conflict in sight, Vladilena Mirizé, a high-strung and family-entrenched major, gets reassigned to the position of Handler for the Spearhead Squadron, a position which notoriously drives officers mad. Will Lena fare worse or better there, knowing as she does that San Magnolia’s “drones” are in fact oppressed human beings stripped of their rights whose lives she’s responsible for?

It’s my understanding that 86’s writer was inspired to explore this plot in part by the Obama administration’s drone strike strategies in the Middle East and American indifference to a war with limited ground combat, so credit where credit’s due, we’ve got a genuine Thanks, Obama anime on our hands!

Subtlety isn’t exactly its strong suit, between the drunken arrogance of San Magnolia’s domestic troops, the “PIG” corpse chilling in the Spearhead Squadron’s courtyard, or Lena’s glaringly impractical (albeit hot) uniform design, but subtlety isn’t necessarily essential to a good hook. 86 has enough small moments of shock and intrigue that make me want to dig into how this “solution” came to be, what its long-term ramifications are, and what life is like beyond the sterilized, uniform streets of San Magnolia. Crucial to my decision to stick with it, it’s also my understanding it will not only show us, but strengthen itself as it goes. It’s nice to have friends who read LNs.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

SUPER CUB


Summary:
A depressed, aimless high school girl named Koguma has no parents, friends, or hobbies, but she’s had enough of her cruddy bicycle, and a total steal falls into her lap; a Honda Super Cub 50 for 10,000 yen (90~ USD). The catch: it’s that cheap because it killed three people, but with little to lose, Koguma soon realizes her new deadly motorcycle can ironically give her something to live for.

Hesitant as I am to sing praise over brands, I don’t really care that Super Cub is effectively a series of 24-minute Honda advertisements. Aggressively muted and with an air of downtrodden despair, I legitimately thought our soft-spoken protagonist was going to attempt suicide or something as desperate at points during the pilot episode. It was that suffocating, that uncomfortable despite nothing really being amiss. Lacking overwrought dialogue and instead tracing most of Koguma’s decisions through well-placed incidental shots, it made for a captivating, atmospheric premiere.

The mood never harshly 180’s—its uplift comes gradually as uncertain sighs of relief give way to her simply smiling over the joy of discovering, through minimal drive of her own, something that can be hers. The second episode replays Koguma’s nerves but ends with her making a new friend, Reiko, a classmate and fellow Cub rider. So far Super Cub’s power stems from its simplicity—its listless pace, delicate, extended piano passages, and grounded scenery. I don’t know how long it can keep making that formula feel this lovely, but the second episode proved the first was no fluke. I’ll give it the chance it’s earned. Don’t let me down, marketers.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

CREATURES OF COMFORT CRADLE CRINGE AS CONCESSIONS

HIGEHIRO: AFTER BEING REJECTED, I SHAVED AND TOOK IN A HIGH SCHOOL RUNAWAY
(HIGE WO SORU SOSHITE JOSHIKOUSEI WO HIROU)


Summary:
Yoshida, a 26-year-old salaryman, wanders the streets one night after getting dumped and drinking his brains out. Well, almost all his brains—he runs into a runaway high school girl named Sayu, who thrusts herself at him in return for a place to crash for the night, but Yoshida, you know, isn’t a total scumbag, so he declines her sexual advances and simply lets her stay free of charge, on the stipulation she’ll eventually work an honest job and leave.

I’ve tried to simplify as much as possible in that summary, but let’s address your inevitable question: “Does Yoshida actually want to fuck the child?” His mouth says no. His brain, as far as I can tell, means no. The show’s direction says no too, but eyeing her up? Apparently that’s fair game. Why does it do this? The worse-faith among us would say “because he actually wants to fuck the child.” I see no evidence of that. Instead, I’d argue it’s trying to convey just how persistently she’s throwing herself at him. Instead of male gaze that betrays his self-conceived morality, you could read it as him being very aware and uncomfortable with the bed he made for himself. Or—and this is probably closest to the truth—the directors just want us to be horny, and Yoshida’s libido is an afterthought.

A little insulting? Sure, but I’ve seen less tasteful age gap romance premises—some of them this season, in fact—and HigeHiro navigates that space with a lot of klutzy tripping, just never into deal-breaking directions. The psychology between the two leads makes sense, and though their living conditions could be contorted into perversion, it’s entirely one-sided (and waning!) on behalf of the younger character. Instead of raising the alarm over that, I’m more skeptical about Yoshida and his boss chatting about cup sizes and invading each others’ privacy. HigeHiro is horny, but by giving us all manner of adults to thirst after instead, I want to believe its heart is in the right place enough to be audacious popcorn. Fictional characters making taboo moves and freaking out over the inevitable escalating consequences makes for great television, and HigeHiro shows just enough savvyness to cajole me into hoping it’s worthwhile. For now, it can stay.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

DON’T TOY WITH ME, MISS NAGATORO (IJIRANAIDE, NAGATORO-SAN)


Summary:
A socially awkward amateur manga artist gets relentlessly teased by an imposing underclassman.

In a dramatic betrayal of expectations, I’ve not only heard this thing’s manga is good, I’ve actually read up to date with it. A blessing and a curse, really—all that means is I know Nagatoro eventually “gets good enough” to want to stick with this totally-serviceable adaptation. If I didn’t know that, I’d be tempted to throw it away in much the same manner I did last year’s Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out; a premiere entirely dedicated to one person belittling another is borderline insufferable. On the surface, the only difference between this and that are the age of the characters and the female lead’s tit size.

Neither of those things are essential to what makes Nagatoro’s premiere the better of the two, though. Our bespectacled senpai quickly has something awakened in him through these teasing episodes, and as the series goes, he becomes able to give back a fraction of the fun poked at him. Sooner or later, he and Nagatoro hit it off for good, and while the role reversal power play rarely evolves into anything truly out there, it isn’t static either. I’ll be watching the Nagatoro adaptation because I enjoyed it in one form and this anime has thus far preserved everything that makes it the decent, low-maintenance rom-com it is.
Still watching after 2 episodes.

KOIKIMO (KOI TO YOBU NI WA KIMOCHI WARUI)


Summary:
Womanizing salaryman Ryo Amakusa almost trips down some stairs only to be saved at the last second by a bland-looking high-school girl named Ichika Arima. Once Ryo finds out that Ichika is friends with his younger sister, Rio, he starts showering her with unwanted gifts and attention, refusing to back down on his love at first sight. “It’s Disgusting to Call This Love,” the series’ title says. It’s not wrong.

HigeHiro makes the age gap concept palatable with a little restraint and a genuinely endearing cast. Nagatoro does its “femdom verbal abuse” thing to reverse the power roles that’d otherwise make its concept hard to stomach. Neither of these justifications holds true for KoiKimo, which essentially just combines the smarmiest parts of both those premises.

And wooooo boy is it smarmy. Like, so smarmy I have to pinch myself as a reminder that Ryo isn’t being painted as a full-on villain. Whether or not the age gap ship sets sail or simply remains anchored as bait, I can’t watch KoiKimo and not envision Ryo as an unrepentant antagonist. His advances are too overbearing, too clingy, too…desperate, and with nary a hint of the authorial tact that a better story might be able to convey. It is indulgence incarnate. I am slightly relieved to know its original mangaka is a woman. And from sheer bewilderment, I’m…kind of hooked. KoiKimo isn’t a show I’d proudly boast as a seasonal highlight, but I can’t deny that though everything else about it is simply so-so or milquetoast, the sheer audacity of its concept has made it a successful horror thing instead of the romantic drama it’s trying to be. I get it, but I don’t get it. I’m lost for an explanation. I’ll be watching KoiKimo. Thankfully, my keepers don’t get worse than this.
Still watching after 3 episodes.

THE LINE FOR THE RESTROOM DURING INTERMISSION

THE WAY OF THE HOUSEHUSBAND (GOKUSHUFUDO)


Summary:
Ex-yakuza Tatsu was once known as the Immortal Dragon, but he left his old criminal ways to eke out a modest life as a househusband to his bread-winning wife. The dissonance of his intimidating appearance and actual intentions lead to many, many misunderstandings in the neighborhood.

Everyone went apeshit when a promotional video came out a few weeks back revealing that The Way of the Househusband’s adaptation wouldn’t really be an “anime,” but a “vocalized comic,” that is, a barely-animated slideshow with voice acting and sound effects played over it. That disappointment was understandablefew manga seemed to garner as formidable a cult following in my corner of the internet as Househusband, and seeing the team cut corners in its presentation took the wind out of its hype sails.

And for naught too, ‘cause despite the minimal animation, every single joke of this adaptation lands. Two episodes in, and not knowing the exact punchlines beforehand, I hollered my heart out to more of its skits than not, amused by the perfect pacing (Kenjiro Tsuda as Tatsu was a match made in heaven) as much as how the intentionally lowbrow art kinda bolsters its silliness. I didn’t expect this to work and I’m relieved that it does…but Netflix is doing their characteristic “releasing the series in halves” bullshit once more, and in a season this tight, I have no problem waiting until a future, less time-consumed date to marathon the full thing, entirely released by then, in one go. If you’ve been hesitant to give Househusband’s adaptation a chance, don’t let its aesthetic dissuade you. Let corporations dissuade you…for now.
On hold
after 2 episodes.

MY HERO ACADEMIA SEASON 5


Summary:
The fifth season of My Hero Academia, you know the drill. This time we’re kick things off with Midoriya seeing visions of the previous One For All users in his dreams and a friendly contest between class 1-A and 1-B. Shinso also steps up into the hero course and Hawks may or may not be a double agent. There, saved you the recap episode.

Once considered my Saturday morning staple, HeroAca falls through the cracks this spring as too many fresher properties air, not only in general but on Saturdays specifically, the day of the week I’m already most cramped for time. Not enough of my mutuals are still active HeroAca nerds either, meaning I won’t have to worry as much about getting spoiled on S5’s events, nor will I have to force myself to cover it in writing when at this point there isn’t much to say about it that hasn’t already been said. Whether you’re a HeroAca diehard or a more casual fan of the franchise, a relatively weak arc to open the season shouldn’t be the downfall of your time with itand it probably won’t be the end of mine, eitherbut it’s just not a priority with so much else on my plate.
On hold after 3 episodes.

THE SLIME DIARIES (TENSURA NIKKI)


Summary:
A gag comedy spinoff of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime.

To my surprise, The Slime Diaries isn’t a priority either. I loved Slime’s slice-of-life-oriented scenes and assumed a full series of them would provide a pleasant opportunity to see a different side of some of its cast now that it’s so large, but this spinoff’s first episode lacked skit-to-skit flow, failed to bring anything new to the table, and didn’t really contain a hook of its own, either in individual scenes or as a full package. More episodic cohesion would help, as would slashing some minutes off each episode’s runtime, but a completely inessential, time-biding version of a show I otherwise love just ain’t doing the trick for me in a season so stacked. It’s fine waiting on the back burner, should I ever feel compelled to revisit it.
In limbo after 1 episode.

MINI DRAGON


Summary:
A 2-minute skit series featuring the cast of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid in preparation for its upcoming full-length sequel season.

If The Slime Diaries needs some trimming, Mini Dragon needs some elaboration. When I say these episodes are just a couple minutes long, that includes the opening montage and credits sequence. There is virtually no time for an actual skit to occur. What little you get per episode is completely trivial…which means you might as well just wait for them all to air and marathon them over the course of a half-hour. That’s my plan, assuming I remember Mini Dragon even exists. You won’t lose anything by checking it out, but you’ll lose even less by remaining completely unaware of it.
In limbo after 1 episode.

DILIGENTLY, I DON’T DAWDLE. DO-OVERS DEPEND ON DISTINCTION

I’VE BEEN KILLING SLIMES FOR 300 YEARS AND MAXED OUT MY LEVEL
(SLIME TOASHITE 300-NEN, SHIRANAI UCHI NI LEVEL MAX NI NATTEMASHITA)


Summary:
Azusa Aizawa died young from overwork, and a benevolent (horny) reincarnation goddess gave her the power of immortality in a peaceful fantasy world. For 300 years, she’s modestly watched over the mountain village of Flatta, and after killing low-level slimes for daily exercise, she’s maxed out her power level! She could do without the attention, though.

“Life in a fantasy world” adaptations have almost no novelty left, meaning you’ve gotta knock your premiere out of the park and promise loads of potential if you want to impress someone like myself who does not give a flying fuck about LN sales. If you dig that scene for what it is, I’ve Been Killing Slimes is pleasant enough to charm; Azusa just wanting to be left to her peaceful mountain life works as a once-unique hook on paper and she’s inoffensive enough that I wouldn’t mind spending more time watching her, but that seems to be the extent of Killing Slimes’ creativity in the early stages. “Decent, but bland” can be a hard sell on genres I love, let alone ones I’m ever-increasingly disinterested in. If I hear glowing praise that it shoots for and excels at something truly unique later on though, I wouldn’t mind picking it back up. In the meantime, genre purists, eat your heart out.
Dropped after 1 episode.

MARS RED


Summary:
With the intent of forming a super-soldier unit, Japan circa 1923 initiates a military project called Code Zero, which recruits mentally-capable survivors of vampire bites into its ranks. Its new colonel, protagonist Yoshinobu Maeda, is first tasked with determining where a string of victims has obtained necessary blood from before they run amok in the public eye.

Mars Red may be a vampire thriller, but it’s hardly indebted to the pop culture lineage most associate with them today. The story was originally conceived as a stage play and pays heavy, direct homage to Salomé in its first episode, opting for a theatrical timbre that leans more on dramatic, moody dialogues than high-octane action or heart-throbby wooing. Whether or not it really nails what it’s going for, though, that’s a bit up in the air; for one, there are too many moving parts two episodes in, and I’d like some confirmation it has a grasp on its thematic goals before I devote any more time to it in a season this jam-packed with more obvious highlights.

Still, there’s plenty that makes it worth keeping an eye on; its direction is artsy enough to match the flavor of its influences, and a versatile, noir-styled soundtrack courtesy of Toshiyuki Muranaka is up there among the best of the spring. Someone let me know come June whether I need to catch up with Mars Red or if its aspirations outran its ability.
Dropped after 2 episodes.

JOURAN: THE PRINCESS OF SNOW AND BLOOD


Summary:
In an alternate past, it’s 1931 and the shogun still rules Japan, in part because the nation discovered a mystical energy resource of its own that pushed forward technological advancements. Still, dissidents fed up with the government’s isolationist policies are vocal, and to weed them out, a secret police force carries out espionage and assassinations. Yukimura, a cold young woman who runs a used bookstore, is among their members, but hides other secrets as well.

Not unlike Mars Red, Jouran is a period piece with otherworldly embellishments that pits a military force and their secret super-soldier ranks against a still-enigmatic enemy. When stacked up side by side, it’s the weaker of the two in just about every measure; its direction is less ambitious, its dialogue more stilted, its ethics all the more questionable and its characters too cold and dry to love right off the bat. In spite of all that, it’s also not so far gone that it couldn’t eventually blossom into a story worth seeing through. As is, there’s just no guarantee it’ll capitalize on its perks. Fans more into action/thriller/historical clusterfucks might as well give it a try though.
Dropped after 1 episode.

LET’S MAKE A MUG TOO (YAKUNARA MUG CUP MO)


Summary:
The Toyokawas just moved from Tokyo to the Gifu countryside, and while her grandmother and father set up a brand new café, high schooler Himeno discovers her school has a pottery club…and that the work of her late mother was an inspiration for its members. Taking up a forgotten family lineage, Himeno joins the club and starts to learn the craft herself.

Productions that spotlight a local commodity or industry are at the very least unique enough to catch my eye, even if the character dynamics they feature often fail to do anything particularly special. Such is this case with Let’s Make a Mug Too, which is a roughly half-episode-length series about a pottery club that indirectly promotes Tajimi pottery at a time when the trade there is apparently declining in real life. That inspiration makes for a feel-good backstory, and nothing about Mug (save for its silly translated title) detracts from its cutesy, kind-hearted aesthetic, but it very much feels like the seasonal filler it is. Hardly bad enough to mock nor gripping enough to stick with, it just does its thing. And that’d be fine, if only it didn’t air on one of the most stacked anime Mondays in recent memory.
Dropped after 1 episode.

THOSE SNOW WHITE NOTES (MASHIRO NO OTO)


Summary:
Shamisen prodigy Setsu Sawamura received mixed messages about his talent from his recently-deceased grandpa and tutor, and at an impasse about his future with the instrument, he runs away to Tokyo. From temporary housemates to estranged relatives and peers at his new school, his encounters in the city only make him re-arrive at the inevitable conclusion: the shamisen is Setsu’s lifeline.

Those Snow White Notes seems to awkwardly flinch backward for every stride it confidently steps. And that’s really frustrating, ’cause there’s a mine of renewable material present; the shamisen performance scenes in its first two episodes stun with emotional, immersive playing, succeeding as climaxes in their own right that prove this ostensibly music-based show has the melody to match its mouth. But when it, you know, speaks, the results are way shakier: Setsu simultaneously comes off as a cold-hearted curmudgeon and a blank slate, the show failing to articulate the internal strain he’s apparently battling.

Its attempts to remedy this often have the opposite effect of making him less empathetic, and I feel like I have to just take the writing’s word for how certain characters feel, because it either demonstrates their thoughts with no grace or waffles while trying to support their actions after the fact. The running away from home, ultimatum of how to stay in Tokyo, and conversations with some of the less immediately-important cast members all work, but they’re also pulled off better in other shows this season. As much as I wanted to enjoy this, an ugly duckling with an inclination towards getting lost in its own weeds has no chance in a season this loaded.
Dropped after 2 episodes.

EXCESSIVE EPISODES EXACERBATING MY EXHAUSTION

BACKFLIP!! (BAKUTEN!!)


Summary:
Two members short to compete at their full potential, Soshukan High’s men’s rhythmic gymnastics club is in need of some fresh blood. Luckily for them, the incoming class includes Ryoya Misato, an accoladed ace, and Shotaro Futaba, a newbie with some insecurity but a lot of promise and determination.

Just about every season I go out of my way to check out the most-hyped show about a sports club, praying it’ll impress. Rarely do they, and sturdy and serviceable as Backflip was, an exception to that rule it was not. If you want to learn about men’s rhythmic gymnastics, this show might do the trick for you. If you want some unique characterization on top of that, well, don’t put the cart before the horse, or whatever the applicable proverb would be for gymnastics. Two exclamation points doesn’t make your content more memorable, it just makes you seem more desperate to be heard. It takes more than desperation to nab a spot on a roster as full as this spring’s.
Dropped after 1 episode.

PRETTY BOY DETECTIVE CLUB (BISHOUNEN TANTEIDAN)


Summary:
Mayumi Dojima vowed to become an astronaut after being amazed by a star she saw in her youth, but approaching age 14, she can no longer find it and considers seeing it again paramount to keeping her dreams alive. Just in time, a so-called “Pretty Boy Detective,” Manabu Sotoin, enlists his club, the Pretty Boy Detective Club (creative) to take up her case.

I’ve long heard detractors of writer NisioIsin complain that his dialogue is too longwinded and meandering to hold their attention, and that’s a grievance I’ve never personally been able to fathom; before now, all his characters’ introductions captivated me with intrigue at best or left me cautiously bemused at worst, and I’ve given him the earned benefit of the doubt that time will paint his casts in a favorable light if they don’t immediately appeal to me. His strategy hasn’t seemed to change with Pretty Boy Detective Club, and Studio SHAFT’s trademark directorial finesse remains well-suited to bring his worlds to our screens, but for the first time, Nisio’s characters have left me not enthralled, not skeptically curious, but actively annoyed.

I have to imagine that’s by design, as Mayumi herself almost redeems the tone, questioning their motives and internally belittling the pretty boys’ haughtiness, but it’s too little too late, especially when “I hate these gremlins, they’re great” seems to be most people’s takeaway from the show. I really don’t care enough about any of these brats to put up with their punchable faces and gloating grins for another episode, let alone a full cour. It’s probably a Me issue. This has its audience and I don’t doubt the series knows what it’s doingbut I also know I aggressively didn’t vibe with it.
Dropped after 1 episode.

THE SAINT’S MAGIC POWER IS OMNIPOTENT (SEIJO NO MARYOKU WA BANNOU DESU)


Summary:
A fantasy kingdom summoned a saint in a time of crisis but accidentally whisked to their world two normal citizens from ours. Only one can be the supposed Saint, and nobody prefers young office worker Sei Takanashi, who with no way to get home decides to spend her days making potions and whatnot for the kingdom. Her concoctions inexplicably end up stronger than usual though, and attention begins to drift back to the once-disregarded “Saint.”

Yeah, it’s basically Snow White With The Red Hair watered down with less romantic tension, a run-of-the-mill isekai setting, and a cast bereft of distinguishing characteristics. Nothing to write home about, nothing to mock. If the premise alone and some completely average production value can sustain you, watch it, I guess? I wish they used some of that omnipotence to foresee the competition they’d be dealing with and try a little harder to leave a mark.
Dropped after 1 episode.

TOKYO REVENGERS


Summary:
Mid-20s slob Takemichi Hanagaki sees on the news that his ex Hinata and her little brother Naoto were indiscriminately murdered by a gang he used to serve. While bitter from the news, he gets whisked 12 years in the past and seizes the chance to warn them, but upon re-awakening in the present, only Naoto made it. He and Takemichi swear to get to the bottom of all this and save Hinata.

It’s not necessarily Tokyo Revengers’ fault that I have next to no faith whatsoever it’ll pull off its time travel mechanics in a way that isn’t convoluted as hell, but that’s also not really the problem with it; rather, it seems completely invested in being able to redeem our once snot-nosed delinquent dork and turn him into a mature, initiative-taking character you can root for. That could not come soon enough, as I spent most of the first episode wanting him to shut his yap. His relived cringe years don’t convey much actual remorse when they’re set up like a caricatured gag, nor is the universal embarrassment of that time reason enough to convince me he’s turned into a good guy. Little about Tokyo Revengers’ concept is a deal-breaker in theory, but this particular execution of it, with the aesthetic and tonal preferences it seems to enjoy, doesn’t give me much hope for the ideas it juggles around. A less obnoxious cast would’ve gone a long way too.
Dropped after 1 episode.

FULL DIVE: THIS ULTIMATE NEXT-GEN FULL DIVE RPG IS EVEN SHITTIER THAN REAL LIFE
(KYUUKYOKU SHINKA SHITA FULL DIVE RPG GA GENJITSU YORI MO KUSOGE DATTARA)


Summary:
Gamer Hiroshi Yuki is excited to purchase the new title of a hit series, but he gets swindled by a game store clerk, Reona Kisaragi, to play a 10-year-old “hardcore virtual reality game” that she loves instead. Past its cultural prime and aggravatingly realistic, Hiro isn’t fond of the experience…and that’s before he gets labeled a murderer.

Daiki Yamashita has more range than most of my mutuals seem willing to admit, but that’s partially because his typecast knack for “smartass prick protagonist” precedes him enough to make him a prime contender to lead a brand of shows that’s largely fallen out of favor with critics. That he’s that fucking good at this role seemed like Full Dive’s saving grace, but alas, the only thing more tedious than playing a hyper-realistic VR RPG is watching someone else play that hyper-realistic VR RPG. All Full Dive’s punchlines are obvious from a mile away. The genre-savvy know what’s coming. That doesn’t mean it can’t manage the occasional zinger regardless, but if this isn’t scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, it’s only because said barrel reaches depths murkier than the Mariana.
Dropped after 1 episode.

FORGO FLATTERING FUTILE FAILURES

OSAMAKE: ROMCOM WHERE THE CHILDHOOD FRIEND WON’T LOSE
(OSANANAJIMI GA ZETTAI NI MAKENAI LOVE COME)


Summary: Sueharu Maru is one of the only boys in school that esteemed model-author Shirokusa Kachi will talk to, and that makes him think he has a chance at dating her. Turns out she already has a boyfriend, though, so seizing the opportunity, Sueharu’s childhood friend Kuroha Shida devises a plan: pretend to date each other. She’ll get to flirt with her own crush, and he can get “revenge” on Shirokusa not reciprocating his interest. What could possibly go wrong?

Rom-coms, especially of the “slightly angst-riddled” sort, are my bread and butter. Do you have any idea how many 6 outta 10-ass versions of these I’ve seen? I live for these. And despite that, OsaMake‘s premiere simply struck me as dreadfully boring. The production is middling. These characters are husks. Their chemistry is uninspiring. I have no anticipation to see what happens next here. I’ll probably have to be reminded it even exists before too long. Pass.
Dropped after 1 episode.

BATTLE ATHLETES VICTORY RESTART!


Summary:
In the distant future, after mankind has populated the extent of our solar system, young girls from each planet compete for the crown of Cosmic Beauty, a renowned athletic tournament. Kanata Akehoshi, a humble potato farmer from Hokkaido, discovers a participant crashed in her field who tells her to carry on her dream. Some years later, she becomes Earth’s representative at the tournament.

This is a reboot of the original Battle Athletes OVA and series from the late 90s, which I have not seen, but looks like the poster child for late 90s “cute girls in space” shit from the little research I did. Reimagining what I assume to be the same core story with a different, less-dated (though “fresher” might be a stretch) look, this adaptation doesn’t enthrall in the least; its characterization is very bare, it drags through predictable plot beats and infodumps with crumbs of payoff, and it fails to entice at the level of spectacle it’s supposedly all about. It’s never a good sign when you’re checking the timestamps out of boredom before the episode is even halfway over.
Dropped after 1 episode.

DRAGON GOES HOUSE-HUNTING (DRAGON, IE WO KAU)


Summary:
After raiders steal a family egg he left unattended, a young red dragon gets disowned by his dad and wanders the land in search of a new home. Unable to adapt to the environments of those friendly to him (and on the run from the many who want him dead), he eventually meets an elf with a renowned realty business who offers to set him up with a good place.

You know the ProZD skit about the protagonist who you swear gets better, but at first can’t stop announcing how he’s scared and keeps peeing and pooping his pants? That’s the dragon of this show. And dragons don’t wear pants. What a taxing, momentum-devoid slog of a pilot this was.
Dropped after 1 episode.

THE WORLD ENDS WITH YOU (SUBARASHIKI KONO SEKAI THE ANIMATION)


Summary:
Neku Sakuraba awakens in an intersection with amnesia, unable to touch anyone. Well, almost anyone: a girl named Shiki Misaki shows up and explains they have to defeat “Noise” and reach a series of targets over the period of seven days to leave this game of a world. Other “Players” join the fray against the Noise and their “Reaper” overseers.

I’m just old enough to remember The World Ends With You being a fringe success among my fellow mid-to-late 00s Nintendo DS-owning peers, but I went into this pilot blind to its story. To this late adaptation’s credit, it very much carries over the narrative feel of a handheld game, paying dues to its origin medium. That’s also its downfall: faithfully adapting an introductory arc in this context means pacing it gracelessly, weighing it down with conveniently amnesiac lapses in exposition, and regurgitating the angst of its 14-year-outdated demographic. It moves half-decently, but that doesn’t matter much when it’s so ugly, more like an aborted Flash animation you’d stumble upon on Newgrounds rather than a modern anime production by reputable studios. Not to slight its remaining fans too hard, I won’t speak ill of the game itselfhow can I, having no experience with it?but this representation of its story just does not work at all. It’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of this list.
Dropped after 1 episode.


Gauma! Quit runnin’, boy! It’s over! I’m done! This is normally the part where I ask what your favorite premieres of the season were, what you’re sticking with, and what you think I missed, but this time I’m just gonna take a nap. (You can still tell me in the comments below or over on Twitter.) Until next time, whenever exactly that is, this has been Yata of For Great Justice. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the bountiful season of anime ahead.

One comment

  1. I think its pretty uncharitable and out of touch to say that most people’s take-aways from Nisio Isin show is “I hate these gremlins, they’re great,” 1) because we actually love Gremlins, 2) because the direction is the most compelling we’ve seen from Shaft since at least March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 and 3) Nisio Isin is finally playing with gender in the way that he’s hinted at for a very long time that I think has resonated with a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

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