It’s that time again - another season has finished and before we rush headlong into the shiny, colourful delights of Summer, we should pause to treat the PTSD caused by exposure to the Spring season of anime.
As always, there was so much to watch. In my halfway assessment (here) I said that Spring 2019 was not as good as Winter 2019 - I stand by that statement, but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything worthwhile.
Due to time constraints caused by the unwelcome encroachment of Real Life, I didn’t manage to catch some series, namely:
Hitoribocchi (Crunchyroll) - light-hearted anime about a socially inept schoolgirl. Apparently not that bad. I’ll probably never get round to this one unless someone makes a really great argument for it in the comments below.
Senryu Girl (Crunchyroll) - short anime about a schoolgirl who communicates only in poems. Odd concept. As it is short, there’s more chance of me randomly watching this on a whim. Why should I bother? Let me know in the comments.
Bungo Stray Dogs (Crunchyroll) - I have to catch up on previous series first. This looks pretty good. It’s pretty low down though, likely to be added to my Eternal Streaming Backlog of Shame.
Kakegurui XX (Netflix) - this is a definite - I loved the first series, I’ll probably ignore the fact it came out during Spring and count it as a Summer series.
Carol and Tuesday (Netflix) - released in the West in August, so I’ll cover this hopefully as part of Summer 2019.
Nothing I watched this season jumped out as being particularly exceptional, so I found it almost impossible to rank the following shows. So, in no particular order, with an obligatory SPOILER WARNING:
JOJO’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind
Despite running for three full cours, JOJO’s still hasn’t ended. It feels like it has been on forever. I don’t know whether the delay in the final two episodes was due to production problems or whether it was always planned that way. (The presence of three separate recap episodes point to the former.) The quality picked up somewhat with the final battle with the Boss, some weird body-swapping hijinks notwithstanding. The concluding two episodes 38 and 39 will air as a one-hour special on the 28th of July. I am not hopeful that it will be able to do enough to overall redeem this series for me, which has had some excellent highs but also some ghastly lows.
So far my favourite JOJO’s series has been the 4th arc - Diamond is Unbreakable. That series’ Jotaro and Koichi both made early cameos in the 5th arc, and latterly Polnareff from the 3rd Arc - Stardust Crusaders - made an extended appearance - mainly in the form of a turtle, while his Stand went berserk and made everyone swap bodies. JOJO’s is always reliably insane and runs to its own bizarre internal rules that often only become apparent after the fact. I do wonder if the author makes this stuff up completely as he goes on? Most of the cast is now dead as we approach the finale and I find myself somewhat relieved as I found almost all of them annoying. The only farewell that evoked any emotional response from me was Bucciarati’s - I’ll miss his zipper-related problem solving escapades.
They deviated far from the manga with this one - especially as - spoiler - Hyakkimaru’s edgy younger brother Taromaru dies early on in the manga, here he survives until the final episode. Some neat narrative tricks brought closure to Tezuka’s unfinished/prematurely rushed original with an ending that was apocalyptic both materially and personally for the characters. Taromaru gaining Hyakkimaru’s eyes and his servants gaining the arms was clever and in many ways the story progression was far superior to the original.
Hyakkimaru finally faced off against his father, but instead of a battle, he demonstrated how much he had learned and rejected the path of the demons - no more sacrifice. I felt the climactic deaths of his brother, mother and adoptive parent were pointless, though the narrative gained a fairly clean ending as a result. Hyakkimaru leaving Dororo behind to wander the land alone seemed odd at first glance, but when one recalls the original manga, this adaptation stayed true to the spirit of its frustrating and unfulfilling ending if only in that small way.
Dororo comes highly recommended to fans of historical fantasy anime, Tezuka fans and those who enjoy visceral bloodshed to accompany emotional knife-twisting narratives.
Attack on Titan S3 part 2
AOT Season 3 provided everything I wanted from this series - fluid animation, extreme soldiers-on-titan violence, plot-twisty insanity, horrified facial expressions and satisfying explanations to series-wide mysteries. Eren is still an idiot. Armin is still clever. Mikasa is still absurdly protective of her idiot friend. Levi is still cool yet creepy. If this series stopped here, I’d be happy. I think the author originally planned this to be his stopping point, but his publishers “encouraged” him to continue (perhaps with the threat of an inverted anal feeding system, like earlier in Season 3?)
I’ve only read a little further ahead into the manga and I’m so far ambivalent about it. It reads like a loosely-associated sequel. A lot of words have been spewed online by critics about this series’ use of holocaust imagery - namely the oppressed Eldian minority who are kept in ghettos in the country of Marley and made to wear armbands. For the moment, I don’t have a huge problem with this. I don’t feel that any historical subject matter should be essentially “off-limits” for fiction - authors should be allowed to explore complex, difficult and painful things, as long as their work does not trivialise the real-life suffering of others. So far I do not see AOT as antisemitic - if anything the author seems to be deeply sympathetic and angry about the way oppressed minorities are treated. I certainly do no see it was pro-war either. Yes, the main characters are all soldiers, but much of the story if about exposing corruption within the military and government. Each character has a healthy mistrust of authority.
It remains to be seen whether the next arc changes my opinion on AOT, I’m glad it will be made, but I’ll be happy to ignore it if it’s crap.
The Rising of the Shield Hero
Hmmm. This is a difficult one. So much could be written about this series and its approach to topics like gender politics, victimhood and slavery, but does it warrant it? As it progressed towards the end of its second cour I wondered if it was ever going to capitalise on the interesting premise it started with - namely that the main character was falsely accused of rape and ostracised from society. Officially that plot point has been dealt with and now the queen who is sympathetic to the Shield Hero is in charge. Unfortunately it also means that the other heroes have been denigrated into comic relief imbeciles who seem unable to learn from past mistakes. Yes, I get that they have acted like entitled idiots, but now it almost seems too easy for Naofumi to best them. Any points the author wanted to make are undercut by these characters’ idiocy. Primary antagonist princess Malty/Myne now just comes across as a stupidly spoiled child rather than a dangerous, conniving villain.
The introduction of rival heroes from another world is an interesting touch that I hope will revitalise the storyline, but I worry it will degenerate into “Generic Isekai Power Fantasy Number 26". I hope they make a second season, and that it isn’t crap.
One Punch Man S2
Even before season 2 of OPM started airing, it was mired in controversy. Season one was spectacularly animated by Studio Madhouse and won many fans over. Season 2 was assigned to JC Staff after Madhouse declined to make the sequel. The drop in quality is obvious - though not an immediate deal-breaker. What was once a powerhouse of innovative and flashy animation has now become merely average. Sometimes even a bit boring. Compared to Mob Psycho 100 season 2 (by the same author), and despite some of the same self-effacing humour, OPM2 comes off as a damp squib. Some moments are still awesome but it lacks sparkle. I hope they make more effort if season 3 is made.
Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba
This season’s obligatory Shonen Jump adaptation. Nowhere near as compelling as The Promised Neverland but still very good, expertly animated action. Probably written alongside the Dummies Guide to Shonen, it nonetheless utilises common tropes well enough that I’ll probably follow it until the conclusion of the first season’s second cour at the end of Summer 2019. Main character Tanjiro is a very typical protagonist who loves his family, works hard at bettering himself and tries to make friends with everyone. Little sister Nezuko whom he keeps in a box and keeps mute with a ball gag (shaped as a cylinder) is quite cute but hasn’t had much personality development. She is essentially the main plot MacGuffin who occasionally fights to get him out of tight spots. I’ve never hated a character so much as blonde sidekick Zenitsu though, and unless he either dies painfully eviscerated with sharp things inserted into every orifice or shuts the hell up sometime soon, I may be forced to drop the show, no matter how great the rest of it is.
This turned out to be a lot more straightforward than I was expecting, given what I’d heard about the complexity of director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s other works (that I haven’t seen). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite so incredibly, floridly gay. Trying to explain to my eldest son what I was watching when he entered the room during one of the shirikodama extraction scenes was... interesting.
I suspect I’d get more out of this series by watching it a second or a third time, it seemed so dense with imagery and hidden meanings. The central story about friendship and connection between the three main characters Kazuki, Toi and Enta was simple enough to follow though, and as three individuals their personalities were sketched very well. I felt irritated by the frequent repetition of the music sequences in the first half of the series, though I understand why they were important.
Sarazanmai is certainly not for everyone, but it is colourful, funny and intriguing. If you can get over the gross and plentiful rivers of anal fluids, you’ll perhaps have fun with it.
Ao-chan Can’t Study
Much less pervy than I feared, this was a delightful and heartfelt show that only had a couple of duff episodes. As it was a short anime, no episode ever outstayed its welcome even though most of it was a variation on one joke - main character Ao Horie has been ruined by her perverted father into thinking that every boy is as sex-obsessed as he is. She comes out of her shell somewhat as the story progresses and her relationship with would-be boyfriend Takumi Kijima develops slowly but satisfyingly despite all the daft drama, misinterpreted actions and contrived nonsense the show throws between them. A surprisingly sweet confection.
Ho-hum. Perhaps I’m not the target audience for this - but apart from the occasional vaguely interesting hint of Dark Tragic Backstory this has been dull “romantic” comedy without the romance and with characters who I don’t see a lot of progression in. Main character Tohru is so utterly clueless and grating that my 14-year-old daughter who I watched this with gave up in disgust. Episode 12 which properly introduced main antagonist Akito was pretty good. Episode 13 which introduced Yuki’s comedy brother literally put me to sleep. (Perhaps I need to stop watching anime at midnight). Surely there must be something about this series that makes it so perennially popular, but honestly I am finding it so booooring. Clearly I am a Philistine.
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World
I’m only watching this because of one or two rapid apologists in the AniTAY discord chat who got so unfeasibly excited about it. It’s based on an ancient visual novel I’d never heard of (which is apparently getting a remake with an English translation and Western release later this year). The original sounds like barely disguised porn, and the only remnant of that left in this modern adaptation is some out-of-place off-colour humour that frankly could be removed completely and you’d have a far better show. The time-travel/parallel world mechanics are interesting, even if the main character is a deeply irritating pervert. Some of the more tragic plot elements remind me of some of the better parts of Steins;Gate, so that’s a big positive for me. Some episodes seem pretty pointless and meandering, but I’ll probably follow this to the end of the summer season’s second cour, if only to find out what it’s ultimately all about. I hope they stick the landing on this one.
Surprisingly deep lore cuts in this - I got most of the Overlord references, had to remind myself about some Re:Zero and Tanya the Evil stuff and had to consult a wiki about Konosuba. This was funny, better than I was expecting and rewarded faithful viewers of the contributing shows. It was still another dumb school comedy though, so nothing to challenge the old brain cells. Not sure I’d bother watching a second series of this.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru - nothing else this season has come close to the cuteness and warmth of this short Netflix series. I hope so much that they make more of this. Even if they don’t, the 13 episodes that do exist are practically perfect. I’ve already written about this twice - here and here - and I do not feel much else other needs to be said than please watch it.
And finally, a bonus mention:
Neon Genesis Evangelion
You may have noticed this little-known 90's robot show got inexplicably licence-rescued by Netflix and released in June.
Who am I kidding? I freaking love Neon Genesis Evangelion. This was one of the most important things in my life as a teenager and I am beyond ecstatic that it is now so widely available for all and sundry to see.
Existential angst. Complex, twisting plot. Fantastic action animation. Flawed, believable human characters. True avant-garde direction. Trippy psychedelia and creative use of religious iconography and ancient mysticism. Detailed exploration of raw, bleeding emotions. Watch it.
This is the real winner of the Spring 2019 Anime Season. It is not over-hyped. It really is very very good. And what an ending. Both of them.
Thanks for reading and feel free to offer comments, criticism or recommendations below. Some of my favourite anime shows were those recommended by passionate fans - I want to hear what you think.