Spring 2020 has ended and although the constant spectre of COVID19 threatened to cancel or postpone all the shows we love, at least some of our anxieties proved unfounded. It seems that the upcoming Summer 2020 season will bear most of the brunt of the pandemic’s effects, with a substantially reduced roster of shows announced so far. A surprising number of productions managed to complete their Spring seasons, despite the worldwide disruption to normal working practices. Let’s dive into what turned out to be a pretty great season, at least anime-wise, if nothing else.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2: Funimation (12 episodes)
My top anime series of 2019 returned with a practically flawless second season that continued to mix screwball humour, Death Note-like mental gymnastics, delicious irony and heartfelt drama. The entirely serious episode 11 that delves into emo slacker Ishigami’s past was both heartbreaking and life-affirming, a testament to Kaguya-sama’s willingness to adapt its format to suit a variety of stories. If only there had been more Chika dancing. Maybe next time. Surely there must be a season 3 of this in the works? If you haven’t seen this hilarious, intelligent show, please just stop reading now and go do so.
Ascendance of a Bookworm Season 2: Crunchyroll, (26 episodes +2 OVAs)
Possibly the best isekai show this side of Re:Zero, Bookworm ended strongly with a heartfelt (if somewhat problematic) final episode that went full Evangelion with the... uh... (at least initially) non-consensual mind-rape and subsequent experimental, trippy visuals. I had not been expecting that. I’ll write in more detail about this in our upcoming AniTAY collab review...
Fruits Basket Season 2: Crunchyroll (13 episodes so far)
If you’ve read any of my previous season roundup articles, you’ll know that as someone unfamiliar with the original 2001 anime, I’ve been very on the fence about Fruits Basket. Season 1 was dull and I struggled to stay awake through some episodes. I found Tohru to be an insipid main character and the various cursed Soma family members to be a collection of emotional vampire character tropes. Yes, I got that they were damaged people with toxic interpersonal relationships and that even just sharing room space with Tohru seemed to heal them and make them better people, but, you know... *yawn*.
Thankfully season 2 kicks up a gear in terms of addressing some really screwed-up emotional trauma and it’s given Tohru some actual agency and direction. She’s evolved from inert hug pillow to probable key to the Soma Family’s salvation. Season 2 expands upon the careful character-building established in the first season’s 25 languidly-paced episodes and I am now fully on-board with Tohru’s determination to break the family curse, even if I do struggle to remember the names and identities of most of the huge cast. Also don’t ask me to remember which person turns into which animal. I need some kind of diagram. I do like Dark Emo Horse Girl. I want more of her. Also could someone please just stab Akito, incinerate the corpse and bury the ashes in an unmarked grave/flush them down the toilet or something? Thanks.
Psycho-pass Season 3: First Inspector: Amazon Prime Video (3 episodes)
I only caught up to Season 3 of Psycho-pass recently. I kind of wish I’d watched the generally despised season 2 now, because I admit I was initially quite lost as to who half of the characters were. I have seen the first season, the subsequent movie and the three Sinners of the System films, so they certainly did help. It’s a shame that Sinners isn’t legally available in the West as it does provide some useful backstory, especially in regards to the whereabouts of the original Section 1 characters from season 1.
The new Section 1 is headed by Mika Shimotsuki, first introduced as a schoolgirl in season 1, apparently played a main character role in season 2 and led one of the Sinners movies. She is accompanied by some of the enforcers from season 2. Despite the presence of these familiar-ish characters, Season 3 is led by a completely new duo - inspectors Shindo and Ignatov who bring a refreshing dynamic to the show. After some initial viewer disorientation, they really establish themselves as compelling characters and give the season 1 combination of Tsunemori and Kogame a run for their money.
In terms of story, this is fairly complex stuff that once again delves deep into the background and function of the Sibyl system that identifies “latent criminals”. Season 3 keeps its cards so close to its chest that on first viewing I found it difficult to follow, especially as a lot of the characters look very similar. More than once I realised I was confused by a character’s contradictory actions... because I mistook them for the wrong person. I guess this is why so many anime characters in other shows have colour-coded hair. As a more realistic show, that doesn’t happen here. Apart from one blonde and one red-haired character, this is filled with mostly dark-haired serious anime boys.
Season 3 comprises 8 double-length episodes and the pacing of these fit the cerebral nature of the show very well. Latterly, Amazon released the final 3 concluding episodes (simultaneously released theatrically in Japan as the movie Psycho-pass 3: First Inspector). Amazon erroneously labels this as “season 4". First Inspector is best viewed straight after the first part of season 3 as it follows on directly from episode 8's cliffhanger, making this essentially an 11-double-episode season, equal in duration to season 1. It would be worth watching season 3 all over again to gain a full grasp of the story, and I think it even challenges season 1 for title of “best Psycho-pass story”. If you have Amazon Prime, definitely look this one out. There’s a lot to chew on.
Netflix one-and-dump section
Dorohedoro: (12 episodes)
I took a while to warm up to this one. Based on a long-running manga with insanely detailed artwork, when I heard this was to be (at least partially) CG-animated, I feared a disaster of Berserk (2016) proportions. Produced by MAPPA, the studio that brought us good recent shows like Banana Fish, Dororo, Zombieland Saga and Sarazanmai, that pedigree convinced me to give it a chance.
Dorohedoro drops the viewer into a bizarre, chaotic and filthy world with minimal information or points of reference. Lizard-headed Caiman is the nominal main character, an amnesiac hunting for the Sorcerer who turned him into a monster. In the world of “The Hole”, normal human beings are preyed on by human-looking Sorcerers who emit magical smoke that can kill or transform unwitting victims in various imaginatively unpleasant ways. Even the rain in this strange city is toxic because of the magical smoke pollution. The Sorcerers live in their own separate dimension, and traverse between there and The Hole via magical doors. Caiman and his best friend Nikaido (a female chef who makes a mean Gyoza and who the gonzo opening animation reveals to be adept at... tenderising meat..) embark on misadventures through both dimensions - violent, whimsical and unhinged.
Backstory about the world and characters is drip-fed throughout the show, and even if by the end we don’t have a full explanation of any of the mysteries encountered, the story reveals itself to be much less of a random, unstructured mess than it first appears. I found the first couple of episodes a struggle to endure, but by episode 3 (a truly insane zombie invasion episode), I was all in on the lunacy.
With a varied cast of colourful, sociopathic and possibly mentally unwell characters, the show builds sympathy for even the apparent antagonists like mushroom-mage/gangster don En and heart-mask-headed Shin. I particularly liked monstrously strong Noi, who even though she appears very masculine displays more typically feminine traits later on, especially in the context of her sweet relationship with Shin. Nikaido is another physically strong female character, her character design presumably deliberately “plain”. For a violent, “adult” anime there is a refreshing lack of sexualisation of the female characters, who are equal to their male counterparts in terms of competence. Women are (relatively) realistically proportioned - no fetishistic hourglass figures here.
The CGI character animation is pretty distracting, but I was able to ignore it enough to enjoy the story, utterly bonkers as it was. I understand why CGI was useful for Caiman’s character, but I disliked the weird facial expressions, poses and motions that arose from its use in the “normal” characters. Not as incompetent as Berserk, nor as washed-out as Knights of Sidonia or as plasticky as Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045, it has an odd grimy aesthetic that means it isn’t particularly pretty to look at, but the breadth of imagination and sheer number of “what the hell just happened?” moments make this a must-see.
“Not great” section:
Listeners: Funimation (12 episodes)
Ugh, what a disappointment. I had high hopes for this show from the writer of Eureka 7, and it started out... ok... but I don’t think it ever figures out what it’s meant to be about. The narrative is vague and unfocused, the main character annoying, stuff just sort of happens without any good explanation and none of the underlying “mysteries” about the state of the world are addressed in any meaningful way. The action scenes are bland and uninspired, the mecha designs awkward, the musical references at times overly obvious, groan-worthy and plot-irrelevant, merely a chance for the author to waggle his music-snob dick in public.
I don’t know if the original intention was for a longer story that had to be crammed into 12 episodes late into production, but the ending is trite, feels un-earned and leaves me completely cold. I don’t care for the central characters and the show fails to communicate enough about the setting to adequately explain the stakes. Sorry, but having characters spew Proper Nouns and technobabble at one another does not make for good plot exposition. At least some of the music is good... but for a show ostensibly about music... not good enough. It doesn’t even clarify the importance of music to the plot or setting, it’s all empty window dressing. An incomprehensible mess and a waste of my time, it’s been years since I watched anything that failed at such basic storytelling.
Princess Connect: Re Dive: Crunchyroll (13 episodes)
The anime equivalent of candy floss (cotton candy to you weird colonials), this light and fluffy show is as insubstantial as air but incredibly sweet. Based on a sequel to a failed mobile game, it is another isekai where this time the main character Yuki (from the previous game) is reincarnated in a new setting but with his memory of the previous game’s events wiped from his memory, basically making him a vegetable. He barely speaks and acts only as a fulcrum around which multiple gacha girls congregate. Wacky hijinks ensue. There’s very little plot to speak of for the majority of the show. It’s mainly about turnip-boy and his cute girl harem travelling the land sampling different types of food. The characters are fun and distinct - Kokkoro the elf girl wins extra points for her frequent shock/disappointment face (usually when turnip-boy gets eaten by a dragon or turned into edible dessert or something). Cat-girl Karyl is a stereotypical tsundere with something to hide and enormous-boobed glutton Pecorine provides much of the comedy.
It’s a fun, completely non-challenging way to spend 24 minutes each week. The final couple of episodes are more action-packed, and look great, especially considering this is mostly a slice-of-life/comedy fantasy show. Much like the earlier Rage of Bahamut, this is a gorgeous production, built from salt (and cold, hard cash) harvested from countless imprisoned raging gacha-addicts. Of course it ends without resolving any lingering plot threads. It’s basically a very pretty, entertaining advertisement for the game. I’d watch a season 2, though.
Arte: Funimation (12 episodes)
A fun little historical show that probably should be more substantial than it is, I did enjoy the proto-feminist story of spirited Florentine noble girl Arte who rejects her family and society’s expectations of her to forge her own path towards becoming a painter. I don’t feel it has a lot to say other than “sexism bad, let pretty girl paint” and I doubt it will win any awards for historical accuracy (certainly not in terms of the preponderance of Japanese mannerisms that would have been very foreign to Renaissance Italians). If you’re looking for gritty realism in a historical Italian setting, go watch The Borgias or something. You won’t find any of that here. During the latter half of the season, Arte moves to Venice for a change of scene and she interacts with a new and interesting cast. I have to admit the sentimental final episode did make me tear up a little. If Princess Connect is candy floss, Arte is treacle. I probably couldn’t watch more than one episode at a time, but it’s a nice dessert after some of the heavier drama show portions on this list.
Tower of God: Crunchyroll (13 episodes)
Based on a decade-running Korean Webtoon, this is a very standard shonen action show with an interesting setting and a colourful cast of characters that almost make up for the fact that main character Bam is a personality vacuum. Perhaps he’s deliberately written that way. I can’t stand his one-sided infatuation with shifty-eyed freckle-faced blonde femme-fatale Rachel who radiates nothing but “I’m just not that into you” energy that he is too dense to recognise. I understand why the Webtoon fandom at large can’t stand her, but seriously, Bam, move on with your life.
Although the show is enjoyable, it does a godawful job of explaining its setting, the context in which its characters are acting, or even what the hell is actually going on most of the time. I get it - there’s a huge cast, a lot of moving pieces, but sometimes I wish the show would focus for one goddamn second on one particular plot point rather than jumping from place to place to place like a demented chimpanzee with ADHD hopped up on ecstasy while smoking crack.
This lack of focus and detail is likely a function of the source material, but surely there is a way to preserve future secrets and revelations without sacrificing clarity? The show sorts characters into classes like “Fisherman”, “Light Bearer” and “Wave Controller” without bothering to adequately explain what these concepts mean. I don’t mind putting in a bit of extra work to enjoy a competently written show, but no matter how much effort you expend, if the information isn’t there in the first place, no comprehension will come. I’m hoping for a second season, if only so it can clarify what, if any, the point of all this is.
Kakushigoto: Funimation (12 episodes)
As a dad, I loved this. As a frustrated creative, I loved this. The titular Goto-san is such an adorably goofy but devoted father who clearly loves his job as a creator of uh... slightly rude manga, and will do anything to protect his cute little daughter Hime from learning the truth of his occupation. It does help that Hime is as dumb as a box of rocks, though her misunderstandings are so precious. Idiotic editor Tomaruin is already a candidate for 2020's Worst Boy with his thoughtless and irresponsible behaviour wreaking generally unintended chaos in his wake.
Kakushigoto’s tone walks a fine line between warm sentimentalism, cool melancholy and screwball humour that it mostly navigates without stumbling. Every episode filled with gentle-slice-of life, quiet humour and funny misunderstandings is bookended with flashforwards tinged with wistfulness and longing that underscore the lighter moments with a a feeling of... if not quite dread, then a certainty that things will inevitably come to an end, life will move on - childhood and parenthood are not forever. Not many anime shows explore these themes with any subtlety, making this something quite special. This is an anime you could probably watch with your parents or grandparents, and everyone would find something to enjoy. Despite Goto’s paranoia about his occupation, his manga is only a little smutty - mostly schoolboy humour. Thank god there is no hentai, no tentacles and absolutely NO incest in this. I feel weird that I even have to suffix a review of a father-daughter relationship show with a disclaimer about incest. Oh, anime. Sometimes I fear you really were a mistake.
Sing “Yesterday” For Me: Crunchyroll (12 episodes + 6 very short 2 min “extras”)
So, first of all, like everyone else on the internet, I expected this show to last another six episodes, mainly due to what seems to be a translation error from the promo material that confirmed “12 episodes plus 6 extras exclusive to the Abema TV streaming platform after the show completes broadcast.” Turns out those 6 extras were not full episodes, just the very short epilogues that 6 of those 12 episodes got that are currently unavailable in the West unless you view them illegally.
Yesterday is a realistic romance set in 1990s Japan that follows twenty-something part-time grocery store worker Rikuo who must navigate confusing relationships, grow out of his adolescent ennui and embrace adulthood with the responsibilities that entails for his own life and for the people around him. It’s a gentle, slow-moving and quiet show that explores the interactions of several characters who are each lost and broken in their own ways. Sometimes they act in counterproductive, self-sabotaging manners and although this makes them less endearing, their portrayals are painfully true-to-life. More than once I saw myself reflected in Rikuo’s ineffectual drifting, Rou’s unreasonable possessiveness, Shinako’s regressive nostalgia and Haru’s immature neediness.
I wish Yesterday had 18 episodes to complete its story, because the final two feel rushed. Also the decision to hide essential character beats in the extra scenes is incomprehensible. Shinako and Rikuo’s relationship almost had me screaming at the screen in frustration, but that’s a mark of skill on the writer’s part and is not a negative criticism. Sometimes this show is uncomfortable to watch, but it is never lurid or sensational - it treats its characters with respect and allows them to make bad decisions for understandable reasons. I wish it focused more on Haru, I love that upbeat, strong-willed, crow-fancying girl.
Wave, Listen to me!: Funimation (12 episodes)
What a weird show. My daughter sat down to watch a couple of the later episodes with me and asked afterwards “So what exactly is this about?” I did struggle to explain, but that isn’t a negative. Sometimes the best shows defy ease of categorisation. To oversimplify it, Wave follows the story of loudmouth twenty-something mess Minare Koda who inadvertently finds herself hosting a late-night radio show that relies on her overbearing personality and ability to improvise reams of far-fetched bullshit without tripping over her words, barely pausing for breath. Each of the background characters have their own stories and weird quirks that simmer along in the background, but mostly it focuses on several shaggy dog stories involving or invented by Minare herself.
Wave doesn’t conform to a classic story structure, probably because the manga (by Blade of the Immortal’s Hiroaki Samura) is still ongoing. I’m unsure if such an offbeat show like this is ever likely to get a second season, and seems tailor-made as an advert for the manga. It’s a wonder this was even produced - and as competently as it was - in the first place. With creative direction, hilarious facial expressions, frequent off-colour or even black humour, this was an unexpected hit of the season for me. The first two manga volumes are out in English, with the rest sure to follow. I guess the anime did its job as I’m a guaranteed customer.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!: Crunchyroll (12 episodes)
Never failing to make me (or my children) laugh, apart from a couple of throwaway fillers in the middle, every episode of this comedic harem/isekai show is a delight. Engagingly stupid until the very end, titular villainess Catarina Claes plots to avoid her destined “death flags” in the otome-game themed world into which she’s been reincarnated by winning the heart of every conquerable character (and their love rivals), without realising she’s done so. So focused on staying alive or at least becoming a farmer in exile, eccentric but gregarious Catarina charms her way into the hearts of not just the entire cast but the viewers too. Based on the first couple of volumes of an ongoing light novel series (up to 9 volumes now), the season as a whole wraps up pretty nicely and I’m unsure where it can go after this. Season 2 has been announced, though I wonder if it will be as fun as this season as it seems well-contained and the central concept has been explored about as far as I care for it to be. I hope it doesn’t degenerate into repetitive harem hijinks without plot or relationship progression, but from what I hear that may be what to expect... Still, this comes highly recommended for a good laugh with adorable characters. Also it has possibly the most insane opening song with at least 6 different musical sections, all with different tones. You need to hear this to believe it.
Gleipnir: Funimation (13 episodes)
I probably said all I needed to say about this insane show in the recent AniTAY collab article here. Suffice to say, Gleipnir continued to be insane throughout its second half, though it did conform more to standard tropes of the “death game” genre as it progressed. However, our main duo committing what amounted to a war crime by burning a forest full of toxic plants in order to poison all of their enemies was an interesting twist. Leaning more into conflicted feelings regarding friendship during war than into the earlier episode’s twisted psychosexual metaphors, I don’t feel it ends quite as strongly as it began, but it’s still a bloody good, moist and furry time.
There’s still a significant chunk of the manga left to adapt, so I do hope there will be a season 2 that will explain some of the confusing backstory that was loaded into the last few episodes. I’m not entirely clear about the roles of some of the newer characters and I’m not sure if that’s because I didn’t pay attention, or because the show didn’t tell its story clearly enough, or if we’re not meant to understand yet. That’s the problem with adaptations of ongoing manga - we rarely get adequate narrative closure. Still, if you like moist furry boys with gaping meat entrances and the dripping scantily clad busty sociopathic girls who penetrate them, then Gleipnir will be right up your orifice.
Summer 2020 doesn’t look to be anywhere near as interesting as Spring was, as comparatively few shows are due to air. At least we’ll finally get season 2 of Re:Zero, and Netflix has just dumped all of Trigger’s new show BNA: Brand New Animal, so at least that looks fun. Stay safe out there, thanks for reading and see you again soon!
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