It doesn’t seem like that long ago I wrote about Autumn 2019's shows, but here we are in mid February, halfway through the Winter 2020 anime season. With an overabundance of returning champions and interesting new properties, I’m here to help you sift through the morass to find your new anime obsession.
My Hero Academia Season 4: Crunchyroll (sub)/Funimation NOW (dub)
If you’re not already watching this fun Shonen action show, halfway through season 4 is not the place to start. I recently began re-watching this from the beginning (dubbed, this time) with my 8-year-old son. He loves it. I wish there wasn’t (admittedly mild, but irritating) frequent use of profanity. I really don’t need him copying phrases like “I’ll kill you, you bastard!” or “Shit! He got me again!”. Though I imagine he hears worse in the playground, there’s no need for it in this show. I don’t know how the dub for the current S4 is, as I prefer subs when watching alone.
Season 1 reminded me how effectively the show invests the viewer in main character Izuku Midoriya/Deku’s story. It seems trendy in these parts to hate him, but to me he’s a perfectly empathetic hero - a normal kid with dreams of greatness who is offered an amazing opportunity but yet must still expend incredible effort to realise his ambitions. I think he’s a great role model for children, maybe apart from the self-destructive streak he demonstrates in the first couple of seasons that the show itself directly addresses. Overall, My Hero Academia is probably my favourite long-running mainstream shonen show of the past few years as it engages me emotionally far more than the other shows I enjoyed, like Demon Slayer and Dr. Stone.
At this point in the show we’ve just finished the Overhaul arc, which I found overlong and tiresome in the manga. As I expected, I found this much more entertaining in animated form. This season has been quite uneven, with a very slow start, then a few episodes of intense action then it has slowed right down again. I like the characters enough to stick with it, and I enjoy the little hints of deeper world-building in the background, like the recent suggestion of an upcoming “quirk apocalypse” as each successive generation of kids becomes more powerful than the last. That is a very interesting concept that I hope the show is able to explore in more depth later.
Fate Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia: Funimation NOW, Crunchyroll (30 day delay)
As a confirmed FGO junkie, I love this show - an effective adaptation and improvement upon what was probably already the best storyline from the billions-of-dollars-earning behemoth of a mobile game. A non-Fate fan could probably quite easily follow the superficial plot, though would be mystified by some of the story conceits and completely ignorant of the deeper lore. This is perfectly enjoyable as brightly-coloured, at-times-spectacularly-animated, action anime fluff. If you’re already heavily invested in characters such as Mash Kyrielight, Grand Caster Merlin or King Gilgamesh, then this is a top-tier high-potency fan-service sugar-rush. Also it has two characters with Rin Tohsaka’s appearance and personality. You cannot get better than that. Unless there were three, but that’s crazy talk. (Sweating profusely, he furiously types inappropriate FGO fanfiction.)
Babylon: Amazon Prime
Where to start with this? Perhaps go and read AniTAY’s lengthy therapy article that followed on from the traumas inflicted by episode 7 of this polarising show. Then endure the upcoming podcast of despair where we desperately try to process where it all went wrong. Yes, Babylon, that once promising and apparently smart show underwent a complete intelligence-ectomy operation that left it a drooling, incoherent mess with no clear purpose and nothing but inane ramblings in place of the missing substance we were promised. It truly did peak with the famously brutal episode 7. What a waste of time and the worst anime disappointment of the past year. Don’t even bother to finish watching this utter garbage. The last few episodes are boring, meandering, pointless and insulting sludge that waste the viewer’s time and patience. What is Good? What is Evil? Oh, shut up, Babylon. You’ve nothing useful to say.
I’ve heard rumours that the Mado Nozaki is writing a 4th Babylon novel, and this show only adapted the first three and substituted an anime-only ending. If that’s true, I could almost forgive this.... No, screw that. This was the worst piece of shit ending I have ever witnessed, even worse than last year’s YU-NO. There is no excuse. I’m sorry I ever recommended this. AVOID.
Blade of the Immortal: Amazon Prime
We’re now well past the point in the manga where I stopped reading this due to licensing issues leading to its disappearance from UK bookstore shelves in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Dear Lord, does this get grim. What started as a fairly simple revenge tale has grown arms and legs, severed them, sewed them onto new people, cut them off again and burned the corpses. The episodes with Manji imprisoned beneath Edo Castle while a very creepy doctor of ill repute experiments on him were incredibly dark and upsetting, though that made Rin’s eventual rescue and Manji’s revenge all the more cathartic. In typical Blade style, though, every action has a price and nothing is ever achieved easily. I can’t honestly predict where this show is going, but I’m there for the blood-soaked, cynical and disturbing ride. I have to be in the right mood to appreciate this one, and I’d say it’s definitely an acquired taste, not for everyone. My main struggle is keeping up with the peripheral cast - the story is so compressed that multiple plot points sweep by in a flash and I have no idea who half of these people even are any more. A second viewing may be required - but I’m not sure I have the stomach for it.
Re:Zero Director’s Cut: Crunchyroll
By far the best show in the Isekai (transported to/reincarnated in another world) genre, this is a welcome victory lap for the highly regarded first season, before the sequel starts airing this Spring. Each Director’s cut episode of 50-55 minutes comprises 2 episodes of the first season sewn together. There appear to be minimal additions - minor detail edits here and there, occasional very slightly extended scenes now and then. I’m enjoying reminding myself of all the little details I’ve forgotten, and it really does show up how crap most of the other derivative Isekai shows are. In Japan, this week’s episode 6.5 was the previously home-video-only OVA episode Memory Snow that I was looking forwards to seeing, as it has not been released legally in the West. Looks like Crunchyroll is skipping it though, and I am deeply disappointed. I don’t want to have to Sail the High Seas to watch this, but I guess I have little option. I suppose we can rule out any hope that the second OVA will be released here either, which is a shame as apparently it will tie into the season 2 story very nicely. Damned complicated licensing garbage.
Also: the entire OVA Memory Snow episode builds up to Subaru and Emilia’s first date, but (spoiler!) ends before this even happens. To watch the date itself, you have to play a Japan-only Pachinko arcade/gambling machine. Oh, Japan, you are insane. For your viewing pleasure, I found this on twitter. Scroll through the link and you’ll find the second part. Sorry for the poor quality, but this seems to be the only way us second-class, non-pachinko-obsessed Westerners will get to see this. Watch Memory Snow first (through the... uh... usual routes) before watching this:
UPDATE 19th Feb 2020: Memory Snow has turned up on Crunchyroll a week late, alongside episode 7. Panic over. Please watch via the now legally available stream!
Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun! Crunchyroll
I was a latecomer to this surprisingly charming and wholesome comedy that began in Autumn 2019. The initial setup seems to prime the viewer for a dark show about child abuse and suffering. Young lad Iruma is neglected and abused by his parents who send him to work in dangerous jobs while they presumably spend the money he earns on booze or drugs or something. In a fit of desperately poor parenting, they then sell his body and soul to a Demon. Unexpectedly, Iruma’s life takes a turn for the better, where instead of being subjected to episode after episode of glistening, throbbing demonic tentacle-torture, his new owner and high-ranking demon Sullivan declares himself Iruma’s adoptive Grandad, spoils him rotten and packs him off to Demon School. Um... ok?
I guess this is best described as a lighter-hearted Harry Potter with more horns. The bulk of the plot progresses at the extremely Hogwarts-like Babylis, premier academy for Demonic Studies. Iruma is terrified that he’ll be exposed as the only human being among multitudinous demons, but via some ridiculous comedically contrived shenanigans he instead becomes popular and feared as the heir to his adoptive Grandad, the school’s Chairman. He makes some goofy friends, survives the attentions of his Severus Snape-alike teacher and generally has a lot of fun with mostly low-stakes adventures. Iruma-kun’s humour is broad but always good-natured, and once the whole thing is dubbed I’ll probably go back and watch it again with my son. Green-haired bundle of energy Clara is an utter delight as Iruma’s scatterbrained, bouncy best friend. In a lesser show, I’d find her irritating, but even the comedy characters are drawn with deep pathos unusual for this genre. Asmodeus is an initially threatening antagonist/rival who turns out to be as dumb as a box of rocks, but a supportive friend/cheerleader for Iruma. I have a particular soft spot for Mitsuru Kirijo-alike head girl Amerie Azazel, superficially intimidating and officious but with a melting heart that loves romance manga. You will not regret watching this delightful show.
Sort of sequel/sort of new:
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Funimation NOW, Crunchyroll and HIDIVE ( 1 week delay)
Brightly Coloured Studio Shaft Dark Magical Girl Show. This is fun, Madoka Magica Lite as it were. No-one’s head has been bitten off yet, and several characters are already aware of the dark fate awaiting Kyubei’s magical girls, so it lacks the tension of the original series. Newcomers might be a bit lost by some of the lore, but otherwise the general plot is pretty easy to follow and is more of a standard magical girl show than its progenitor (at least so far). I wrote about this in the season preview sequel guide and I’ll write a bit more about it in AniTAY’s upcoming current seasonal article.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Crunchyroll
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa (Devilman Crybaby, Ride Your Wave, The Tatami Galaxy) and produced by his own studio, Science Saru, this could be his most accessible TV show yet. We follow three girls in the “Eizouken” (audiovisual club) as they attempt to fulfil their ambition of producing an anime. What could be a rather dry or overly technical show is full of delightfully quirky touches, unusual characters and beautiful flights of fancy powered by an infectious enthusiasm for both the medium of animation and the artistic process that fuels it. Tall, grimacing Sayaka Kanamori is the standout character - she’s gruff, no-nonsense and driven by profit, yet respects the artistic visions of her friends enough to drive them to do their best - to time - with the available resources. She’s the epitome of a producer who gets the damn job done. Midori Asakusa and Tsubame Mizusaki are the artistic engines with complementary skills and obsessions - one loves backgrounds, settings and intricate world design, the other makes wonderful and expressive character animations. Both would drown in details without firm direction, and that’s where a hard-faced producer like Kanamori shines. Acting as both a commentary on the anime industry and on the joy (and limits) of creation, this show is something very special and I look forwards to every new episode.
Somali and the Forest Spirit: Crunchyroll
Without a doubt the standout show of Winter 2020 is this beautiful and emotional fantasy. Somali is a little girl found abandoned and chained up in the forest by an unnamed Golem. Golem’s job is to oversee the health of the forest and its ecosystem, and does not normally concern himself with the wellbeing of individual organisms. He makes an exception for the vulnerable Somali - she is the only human he has met in many years, and he had thought the entire race to be extinct. He takes it upon himself to be her protector, to help her find more of her own kind before... well, before he crumbles into dust and dies as he has only a limited time left of his allotted 1000 year lifespan.
Everything this show does is in service of the central adoptive parent/child relationship. Golem has no idea how to be a parent, other than he knows he has to protect Somali from harm. He does not understand her emotional needs nor what drives her, but as he slowly learns to parent effectively, he also learns to recognise and experience his own emotions, those things he once denied the existence of. Bittersweet without being cloying or sentimental, this show is building up to a likely tragic but cathartic ending. Golem promises Somali and he can stay together for ever, but Golem and the audience know this is a lie.
Somali’s world is a gorgeous fantasy landscape full of colourful plants, exotic animals and strange peoples. It is full of horror and danger, and the most recent episode 6 is difficult to watch in a very Made In Abyss kind of way. I worry how much my poor heart can stand the suffering that is destined to come before the end of this show. A wholehearted recommendation from me, I hope this show continues to excel.
Darwin’s Game: Funimation NOW, Crunchyroll (30 day delay)
I only watched this because Kinksy begged me to. I’m glad I did, though. This is one of those “death game” shows that are apparently pretty common, but I’ve never watched one. The Future Diary seems to be the commonest point of comparison with those in the know, and I plan to watch that as soon as I can get my hands on the extremely scarce UK DVDs. For now, I’ll make do with Darwin’s Game, which is basically “what if mobile gacha PVP MMO, but real?” The main character is pretty bland so far, but there is a blonde crazy girl, and sometimes that is all one needs to enjoy a show. If it gets boring I’ll drop it, but so far it’s a low-effort watch.
Heya Camp: Crunchyroll
A short version of Yuru Camp (Laid-back Camp), a lovely relaxing show about winter camping, this season of very short 3 minute episodes that makes me pine for a proper second season. THIS. IS. NOT. ENOUGH. Give me more comfy camping girls.
Isekai Quartet season 2: Crunchyroll
This Isekai anime mashup show now adds some Rising of the Shield Hero characters to its roster - though for now they have been kept very much as background players. This remains another lightweight, fun comedy though the jokes can be repetitive and don’t always land. It is never first on my list to watch, but it isn’t a chore either. Again, the more you know about the featured characters from their original shows, the more you’ll get out of this. Don’t bother if you’re unfamiliar with the source material, it’ll be incomprehensible.
I watched a couple of episodes of nominal yuri cute girls do cute things Asteroid in Love (Crunchyroll) but it bored me to tears. I may not go back to watch any more. Kaguya-sama lite Science fell in love (Crunchyroll) has an amusing concept, but as of episode 3 has failed to grab me. I’ll probably watch a bit more, I hear it gets funny later. Other shows that look interesting this season include: ID: Invaded, IN/SPECTRE and Pet, but I’ve not had the time to check them out. Look out for AniTAY’s upcoming Anime You Should Be Watching article, where some of these will be discussed.
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