An autumnal chill hangs in the air as the remaining embers of Summer 2019 fade and die, their warm glow waning from scarlet red to the evanescent pallor of sepia memories. Yes, I’m feeling verbose and somewhat melancholy - what an amazing season of anime has just ended. Can Autumn 2019 possibly hold up to Summer’s delights?
Summer 2019 was marked by some incredible animated highs - so many in fact that I felt stressed trying to find time to watch everything. I had full intentions of finally watching Kakegurui XX - but gave up part-way through after realising I don’t really enjoy this repetitive, exploitative empty trash with nothing valuable to say. Shame, as I did kind of enjoy season 1 but I guess you can have too much of a... trashy... thing. Granbelm - I watched one episode, but it was terrible. I hear it gets much better, but when there were so many other shows that started well - why waste time on something that might not be for me? Maybe I’ll go back to it.
Season 5 of Symphogear looked interesting, but has a high bar of entry - I’ve not seen the previous 52 episodes. After watching the first three of season 1, I’m unsure if I’ve got time in my life for this show. Similarly with A Certain Scientific Accelerator - I’ve not seen any of this franchise. It sounds interesting, but the current season sounds like a terrible jumping-on-point.
In the AniTAY discord chat, Given, Mix and Demon Girl Next Door all had their evangelists - but none of these shows jumped out enough for me to want to spend time on them. Time. It’s all about time, and it seems I’ve spent most of the last 3 months of mine doing nothing but watching anime. Here comes a ranked list of the shows I watched, to better inform you of how your own time may be best spent.
13) YU-NO - A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World - Crunchyroll/Funimation (all 26 episodes, apart from upcoming blu-ray only episode 26.5/epilogue)
Please do not waste your time on this, perhaps the worst anime I’ve watched in years, certainly the most incompetently produced. I hear that this season’s Arifureta is probably the worst insult to anime in the past decade but I’m not one of those animasochist guys who gets off on anime-induced mental suffering, so I gave that a body-swerve. YU-NO is pure garbage in which every single aspect of the production is inept.
I gave this one a chance because I like visual novels such as Steins;Gate, with which this shares a similar theme of time travel/parallel timelines. Unfortunately I soon learned that YU-NO is not fit to lick Steins;Gate’s tragedy-infused otaku-culture-drenched boots. Main character Takuya is deeply unpleasant, a serial philanderer (and not in a funny way), plus all of the female characters exist purely to suffer and die so that he can be motivated. Truly this is Fridging - the anime. If you are a girl in YU-NO you are going to get sexually assaulted by alcoholic creeps, or tortured by sadistic prison wardens or abused/murdered by bad boyfriends or develop an inexplicable “illness” that requires glowy crystals to cure or sucked into an endless void or raped by soldiers or gored by monsters or flung into the eternal emptiness at the end of time, or stabbed in the back by inter-dimensional criminals or eaten by the main character in a tone-deaf, horrifying scene of CANNIBALISM that comes completely out of left-field. Does any female character catch a break?
And don’t get me started on the needlessly convoluted and poorly-explained plot, full of contrivances and macguffins that make little sense. Scenes of personal sacrifice that are presumably supposed to be affecting are so poorly telegraphed and completely unearned that they provoke bemused laughter rather than tears. The characters are dumb and they blunder through events so contrived I screamed at the screen in frustration during most episodes. I can barely express using mere words how pathetically, laughably crap this was. I feel sorry for the fans of the visual novel this was based on. But also, I am concerned because if this has the same plot beats and characters as the visual novel, then I say to those fans - your taste was shit to begin with and you need to like better things.
12) Cop Craft - Funimation (all 12 episodes)
This supernatural/buddy cop comedy-drama started out interesting but squandered its premise with boring, pedestrian plots and awkward humour that never landed for me. Alien fairy/mage/swordswoman Tilarna has a great character design, but she never develops very far out of her fish-out-of-water, stab-first-ask-questions-later persona. Co-lead Matoba is a stereotypical grizzled cop with a dead partner who of course is resistant to being paired with an outsider but then of course eventually learns to accept and rely on her. The show did touch on some interesting ideas about racism and politics but did very little to explore those concepts in worthwhile detail. Poor animation marred the entire production. They “animated” this thing on a shoestring, and it shows, with deeply embarrassing scenes where they move single images around to simulate walking movements etc. This is almost Berserk 2017 levels of bad. What a waste of good potential. I cannot recommend you waste your time with this.
11) Fruits Basket - Crunchyroll, Funimation (all 25 episodes)
As always, I maintain mixed feelings about Fruits Basket. I can appreciate the emotional complexity and intelligence behind how the author explores their chosen subject matter, but sometimes this show bores me to tears. The last few episodes showed an uptick in terms of intensity, and now I think I am fully on the side of team Kyo, which is not something I’d have said even three or four episodes previous. Tohru still irritates the hell out of me, but I like how the show calls her out on her self-sacrificing schtick. Was I supposed to cheer when monster-Kyo launched her into the air in a pure violence-comedy-arc towards the pond? Probably not, but I did. I am a bad person. I’ll hang on for season 2 next year, if only because I have uncovered a dark side of myself that enjoys Tohru’s suffering. It thirsts to drink the fresh tears of the innocent and stupid.
10) How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift? - Funimation (all 12 episodes)
I watched this with my 14-year-old daughter. We laughed at the harmless fanservice and amusingly dumb jokes. I don’t think it motivated her to take up regular gym-going though. This exercised-based edutainment/character comedy is lightweight (pun intended) fun, though becomes more of a slice of life show as it progresses and the gym/exercise stuff becomes more incidental, even with the obligatory tutorial spots that become less and less relevant to the “plot”. This was an enjoyable way to spend 25 minutes watching lithe anime girls learn to exercise while surrounded by men too busy admiring their own overdeveloped musculature to perv on the females in their midst. I’d probably watch more of this.
9) Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - Crunchyroll, Funimation (all 26 episodes)
Of all the mainstream Shonen shows I watched this season, Demon Slayer is the one I left until last each week to watch. It’s enjoyable enough, but I never felt I truly engaged with it emotionally. I like selfless and determined main character Tanjiro. I like his demonic sister Nezuko even more, but she barely features after the first few episodes, as the plot incapacitates her. Noisy and obnoxious blonde idiot Zenitsu should just die while being dismembered, set on fire and stabbed with rusty nails. I hate him and he ruins the show for me. Boar-headed Inosuke is only slightly less irritating. I liked him more after he had the stuffing beaten out of him and he lost his overconfident idiocy.
After a spectacular fight scene in episode 19, the rest of the season plummeted into Generic Shonen Anime Training Arc of Interminable Despair. Couldn’t they have covered that entire thing in a single episode and moved onto the next arc? No? Because the next arc will be a movie? Oh. So almost no-one in the West will ever see it then, unless Crunchyroll does a Tanya the Evil and streams it. No-one’s going to pay Aniplex’s 90-dollar Blu-ray tax to see it, are they?
8) DanMachi 2 - Crunchyroll (all 12 episodes)
As I wrote previously, I am new to the joys of Boob String. Season 1 was great fun, and season 2 was possibly even better, with great action, despicable bad guys and great character development. Bell Cranel is a perfect audience-insert character in that he actually has a personality, independent will and determination. He’s an underdog that is easy to cheer for. His motivations are understandable and believable. He’s a good boy and you can almost accept why all the girls in his “harem” love him. His main love interest Ais is made of cardboard, I’m not entirely sure what attracts him to her. Perky goddess Hestia is kind of awful on first glance, but I think her heart is in the right place. I’ve lost track of who most of the rest of the characters are, they introduced so many. I’ll go back to watch the Sword Oratoria spin-off soon, that’ll probably help. I’m glad that season 3 has been confirmed for next year. Heartily recommended for some easy-to-digest sword-and-sorcery-with-cheesecake fun.
7) Dr Stone - Crunchyroll, Funimation (up to episode 13 of 24)
I know that many of my fellow AniTAY authors cannot stand this show. I understand why - it’s formulaic, the main character Senku is irritating, the animation is pretty basic and it is barely concealed wish-fulfillment. However, I love Dr Stone. It places science front and centre and that interests me greatly. For me it has that narrative hook that you find in the best RPGs - a sense of progression, that if you keep going, yet more interesting things are around the corner. I love problem-solving, and that’s more-or-less what Dr Stone is about - Senku solving stone-age problems with the power of friendship and science. What is there to hate about that (apart from Senku’s ridiculous green hair)?
6) Fire Force - Crunchyroll, Funimation (up to episode 11 of 24)
I really struggled with where to place this on my list. This show has problems, most prominent is its increasingly offensive treatment of its female cast members who exist only to be stripped or abused. Seriously, I have never seen a show so tone deaf as to have a female character distressed by the fiery abuse of a child (and subsequent personal assault) by her previously trusted superior, then during the following action sequence be “accidentally” groped twice, presumably for comedy, in what should be a deeply serious scene. I don’t think poor Tamaki has been in a scene yet where she hasn’t been embarrassed or abused in some way. I hate this.
However I cannot deny that Fire Force is also ridiculously good fun. The action scenes are spectacular and wildly animated. The plot moves at a ridiculously fast pace, though I wish it would slow down a bit to lend weight to some of the developments - some of which, like former antagonist Princess Tachibana’s inexplicable conversion to “good guy” are so random that they invalidate any possibility of believable character development. It does mean it is never boring, but the lack of depth will probably be to its great detriment later on. I’ll keep watching in the hope it will improve, but I can’t believe it’s on a break until the first of November.
5) Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note - Crunchyroll, Funimation (all 14 episodes - including episode 0)
O, Detective Waver. You do speak almost entirely in contrived gobbledegook, but I love you anyway. This show was basically “What if Fate bullshit, but detective?” I watched the whole thing and still could not explain to you what actually happened, nor who exactly did it or why. Something about the perpetrator being a character we’d never seen until the penultimate episode with only very oblique hints prior. This is not the sort of detective show where you can pick up on clues and come to the same conclusion as the characters. They seem to invent the rules of magecraft as they go, and those rules are hopelessly arcane and malleable.
Just as well it looked beautiful, with a gorgeous soundtrack and a colourful and interesting cast of characters. It was fun to play “spot-the-minor-Fate-spin-off-character”, though this would be lost on anyone not already steeped to the point of drowning in glutinous, stodgy Fate lore. I hope this returns for a second season, as I need more of Shy Blushing Gothic Hooded Death Loli Gray in my life.
4) Vinland Saga - Amazon Prime (up to episode 12 of 24)
Vikings and Violence! Amazon Prime’s only offering this season is a compelling and bloody period drama set at the dawn of the 11th century, a full millennium ago. The first four episodes are a lengthy prelude to the real story, but the whole thing is so well-made that it doesn’t matter that it takes ages for the plot to start. Innocent Icelandic lad Thorfinn witnesses the brutal murder of his retired warrior father at the hands of Viking pirates and tags along with his father’s killers, becoming a revenge-obsessed assassin/edgy murderboy. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and mostly scowls his way through the story. Currently he and his enemies/companions are embroiled in Danish/British war intrigue, and meeting up with historically significant figures like the worryingly effeminate Prince (soon to be King) Canute.
At this mid-point in the story, wily Viking leader Askeladd is more-or-less the main character, as his actions drive the plot. He’s an abrasive but interesting character with multiple layers - intelligent and calculating, he seems to be several steps ahead of everyone else and even when events surprise him, he thinks on his feet to turn the tide in his favour. As Thorfinn’s father’s killer, he makes an odd choice to become a surrogate parent - as he is a particularly shitty one - and it’s more or less his fault that Thorfinn grows up into such a damaged young man. I fully expect him to suffer a gore-spewing comeuppance at some point in the future.
Animated by Studio Wit between seasons of Attack on Titan, this show deserves a bigger audience than it will get in Amazon Jail. I can’t imagine another 12 episodes will be enough to finish the story, I really hope this is successful enough for them to make more. Please watch this.
3) O Maidens in Your Savage Season - HIDIVE (all 12 episodes)
Imagine if the cringe comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm was forcibly married to the heightened teen drama of Clueless. O Maidens would be the dysfunctional, confused and perpetually embarrassed child of their bizarre union. Based on the manga written by sometimes amazing and always prolific Mari Okada, this show explores the messy sexual thoughts and feelings of teenage girls trying to navigate first crushes while maintaining friendships with one another.
This is not your average high school anime romantic comedy bullshit - O Maidens deals with some deeply painful subject matter, and some scenes exploring relationships between girls and their older role models dredge up challenging moral quandaries.
Nominal main character Kazusa Onodera’s story is the most vanilla, following her blooming relationship with her childhood friend and boy next door Izumi Norimoto after she catches him masturbating to bus porn. (He loves trains but is too pure to sully his chosen vehicular obsession with lewdness. Hence bus porn instead. Note this still contains naked women. Not only naked vehicles. He’s not that perverted.) Short-statured smut-novelist Hitoha Hongo has the hots for her (frequently terrified) teacher which leads to some hilariously uncomfortable scenes in his car and at a love hotel.
Niina Sugawara is the haughty Ice Maiden with real human feelings who is the unfortunate focus of her former mentor’s super-creepy lolita complex. She presents as the most broken of the characters, and I did not like her choices but fully understood why she made them. Buttoned-up bespectacled Rika Sonezaki probably changes most as a character in that she starts as incredibly repressed (and repressive) but mellows as her relationship with her boyfriend progresses. That leaves the 5th character, the token lesbian Momoko Sudo whose story feels least developed and rings least true. It almost feels she was crammed in to make some kind of point about diversity or inclusivity but really she feels superfluous.
If you have ever spent any time as a confused adolescent, you will see yourself reflected in some of these characters, or in the people they interact with. It is hilarious, heartfelt and not in the least exploitative. I found the female perspective of the show liberating - I tend to dislike the prominent male gaze so endemic in moe schoolgirl shows. You should watch this.
2) Astra - Lost in Space - Funimation (all 12 episodes)
For most of the past 12 weeks, Astra was far and away my number one choice for Anime Of The Season. This is pure, unashamed Golden Age Sci-fi, full of the wonder of exploration, with colourful characters overcoming all obstacles with the power of mutual respect, teamwork and resourcefulness. I can’t discuss too much without unearthing major spoilers, but suffice to say there is a lot of Plot with a capital P in this, although you wouldn’t think so from the fairly generic setup in the (still compelling) opening episode.
Astra makes the best use of devious cliffhangers I think I’ve ever seen in anime, and that made the wait for each subsequent episode almost physically painful. I had to forcibly restrain myself from splurging on all the manga volumes to find out what was to happen next. The revelations in each episode build on all of the previously revealed information in a logical yet surprising way, even if the eventual resolution is somewhat far-fetched.
Every character has unique traits and skills and each gets a chance to shine in the spotlight. Unusually for an ensemble, there were no characters I disliked. Characters’ problems and secrets are all intricately woven into the story progression seemingly effortlessly and the ending does wrap everything up in an emotionally satisfying (if perhaps slightly contrived) way. As much of the enjoyment from this show hinges on the elements of suspense and surprise, I imagine it may not be quite so good again on a re-watch, hence why it was demoted to second place. However I have no qualms about recommending this fantastically well-structured and exciting story filled with likeable characters.
1) Carole and Tuesday - Netflix (all 12 episodes)
Finally, the show that eclipsed all others, Shinichiro Watanabe’s (Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope, Terror in Resonance, Space Dandy, Samurai Champloo) latest production. I was not prepared for how much I would fall in love with the main characters - tanned, independent, streetwise pianist Carole and pale, doll-like sheltered guitarist Tuesday. They’re so different yet complimentary as a duo. This is the story of their rise from humble obscurity to (presumably) become musical mega-stars on the future colony planet of Mars. This seems to share a similar setting to Cowboy Bebop, in that there are hints that Earth is a wreck and the human race has migrated out into the solar system. Carole is an orphan and a refugee from Earth who was resettled into a Martian orphanage. Tuesday is the daughter of a rich and prominent politician. Both have been trapped in life, unable to unlock their true potential, until they have a chance meeting and start to make beautiful music together.
Watanabe’s shows have always been marked by his astute ear for music, and in Carole and Tuesday this becomes more of a focus than ever. Their songs as a duo are fantastic. In particular, the opening and closing themes are standout tracks that I’ve been playing on repeat constantly. I’ve got more mixed feelings about some of the other musical acts - model-turned-idol Angela’s voice is amazing, and her songs are top-tier idol material, but aren’t to my taste. Later in the show during an American-Idol style “Mars Brightest” talent contest, I was less sold on some of the other contestants’ tracks.
This is a fairly standard rags-to-riches underdog story, but with plenty of twists and turns and wonderfully sympathetic characters - not just the main two. The production design is beautiful with eye-popping colour and incredible animation, particularly prominent during the song and dance numbers. With charming and at times chaotic humour plus dramatic emotional stakes, Carole and Tuesday is never anything less than supremely entertaining and compelling. I want these girls to succeed. I want anyone who harms that precious girl Tuesday to be ground into mincemeat and fed to rabid pigs. You know who I’m talking about, creepy stalker lesbian psycho-bitch Cybelle.
The long wait for episodes 13-24 to be unleashed from Netflix prison is almost enough to corrupt an upright citizen like myself into wanton piracy. I hope they are worth it. If they are anywhere near as good as the first 12, then this is anime of the year contender, right here.
That takes us to the end of this ridiculously long list. Thank you, as ever, for reading along. I wonder if I should take a break from anime now and do something more productive, like play some of my backlog of visual novels. At least I now know to score YU-NO off my PS4 wanted list. That was probably the opposite effect to what they had planned for that adaptation...
Is there anything that you watched this season that you are scandalised that I missed? Or have you burning disagreements with my choices? Let me know in the comments. Until next time, thanks for reading!