Spring has sprung, the last vestiges of cold and darkness swept away by longer, sun-filled days. The world is alive again and we’re all trapped inside by quarantine, unable to enjoy any of it. Console yourself by catching up on the winter season shows you may have missed. I’ll tell you what was worth watching and what wasn’t. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste those valuable quarantine months that stretch on into infinity by watching garbage, would you?
Note: because of real-life demands on my time and energy, (unsurprising given my profession and the ongoing pandemic) I’ve been far more ruthless with my time than usual. Whereas before I may have stuck out until the end of a mediocre show, I was far more likely to drop something uninspiring. You can read my initial impressions of these shows here.
Additionally, Funimation NOW continues to be an aggressively shit service. I didn’t even start some shows because they were only accessible via their offensively broken app. The PS4 app continues to fail to work with any premium content at all, airplay via Apple TV is an exercise in aggravating failure and the iOS app itself crashes, jumps to the wrong episode, forgets language settings or mysteriously loses episodes (or even seasons) entirely. Streaming via my laptop is a painful experience when all I want to do is lie on the sofa, turn on the TV and watch a show with minimum hassle. Constantly reloading and fiddling with devices is not relaxing. I pay for this service. Why do I put up with this, again?
Asteroid in love: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
I wasn’t overly excited by the premise of this one, but as one of the first shows available at the start of the season, I thought I’d give it a go. Two episodes in and I was done. Look, I can enjoy a Cute Girls Do Cute things anime when it is filled with interesting characters or has a good atmosphere (cf. Yuru Camp). However, Asteroid in Love was aggressively boring. I don’t get the appeal. I thought I should at least try to give it a chance and watch more episodes, but when I kept finding excuses to put it off, I realised that was my gut warning me that this was derivative, plotless, yuri-baiting ephemera - a waste of my time.
In/Spectre: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
This seemed to be a popular one this season in the AniTAY discord chat. I don’t get the appeal of this either. I survived 3 episodes, found it boring as hell and then when I heard that the remaining episodes stretch out a single dull-sounding plotline until the end, I dropped it like a steaming turd. Sorry, guys. One vaguely amusing “gremlin” character does not a good show make. Yawn. For a far superior show about Yokai (Japanese mythical creatures), watch 2015's 39-episode Ushio and Tora as it is anything but boring.
Darwin’s Game: 11 episodes, Funimation, Crunchyroll
I had such high hopes for this one after the entertaining double-episode premier. Unfortunately this death-game show degenerated into the most generic battle anime with dull characters and little story momentum. I decided instead to watch 2011's Mirai Nikki: The Future Diary and I can barely put into words how so much better it was than this disappointing wannabe show. Dropped after episode 5.
Heya Camp 12 (extremely short) episodes, Crunchyroll
The sweetest of ephemeral candy, there was only enough material in the entire show to fill maybe two full-length anime episodes. Give us more Yuru Camp! This left me feeling empty inside. Bring on the main course, already.
Isekai Quartet 2: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
IQ2 remained insubstantial fluff until the end. Sometimes quite humorous, always disposable. They’re making more but I wonder if the joke is getting tired now? I may not bother with season 3.
Endured to the end:
Magia Record: Madoka Magica Side Story: 13 episodes, Funimation/Crunchyroll/HIDIVE
So after 13 episodes of wheel-spinning, time-wasting drudge, what was all that about then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Confirming the fears of Madoka Magica fans the world over, this was a soulless cash grab, worthy of a gacha game adaptation. I say this as a captive of the game. If only they’d been brave enough to transcend the limitations of its origin. They didn’t need to make such a slavish game-to-anime transliteration that succeeded only in exposing the limitations of gacha story generation. At once empty and overstuffed, it crammed too many ill-defined characters into uninspiring join-the-dots scenarios.
They did not need 13 episodes to tell this half of the story (yes, a presumably equal-length concluding second season is forthcoming), when a brave editor could have cut out the fan-servicing shite and done it in six. What did we discover about cipher-tastic main character Iroha other than she had pink hair and was missing her sister? Nothing. Compare with the original, infinitely superior series where each character was ruthlessly interrogated and disassembled by the narrative, every one with a crucial role in the plot progression and theme. What the hell was the theme of Magia Record? YoU LiKe mAgiCaL GiRl? YoU hAvE MoAR MagGiCaL gIrL!
Who was this show even for? It did little to explain its world’s lore, assuming familiarity with the origin show. Newcomers were lost. However the plot built to a big “reveal” in episode 12 where the characters discovered the true nature of their predicament, none of which was news to viewers of the original series. It completely robbed the narrative of any meaning or urgency. I’m sorry to report that Magia Record’s story and structure was hopelessly inept and in trying to please only hardcore gacha gamers they pleased no-one. What a wasted opportunity that only besmirched the name Madoka Magica. I hope they tear up the rule-book for season 2 and salvage what little dignity and meaning remains from their premise.
Science Fell in Love: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
I almost dropped this one after the first three repetitive, uninspiring episodes. I’m happy to report that it got better once the show introduced new characters and had them interact in entertaining ways. For two genius-level intellectuals, the main characters were ridiculously dumb to the point of caricature. Although this mined a similar comedic seam to the far superior Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Science did not have the wit or creativity to sustain its premise, nor did it have the flair for escalation that Kaguya perfected in its first season. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this, but it is worthwhile to stick it out until the surprisingly cathartic ending. Just please don’t make any more. I’ve had enough of this.
Blade of the Immortal: 24 episodes, Amazon Prime
This will probably be the most complete adaptation we ever get of this series. What prevented it from being a truly great show was how rushed it was. Entire volumes of the manga were compressed into single episodes (or less), removing much of the nuance and context. There were entire episodes towards the end where I did not know who a single character was, nor why they were fighting or what sides they were on. I did not appreciate being made to feel dumb by a show that cut so many corners and sacrificed narrative clarity. It would be best to view this as a mere “greatest hits” compilation suitable only for those familiar with the entire sweep of the manga’s story. Unfortunately as I’ve read only half of it, I was completely lost by the end. What should have been emotionally cathartic became merely thematically fitting. I so wish this had been given an extra 12 or so episodes for the story to breathe. I did enjoy Blade of the Immortal but it could have been so much more.
Fate Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia: 21 episodes (plus episode 0) Funimation, Crunchyroll
Several orders of magnitude superior to Magia Record, this is how you adapt a gacha game. I love the Fate series anyway and am willing to forgive even its most egregious plot contrivances and deep lore bullshit. Babylonia was pure entertainment from beginning to end, though. It adapts one of the most dense sections of the game’s story and in some places even improves upon it. With breathtaking animation for many of the battle scenes, this was probably the most beautiful anime of the season. It’s best not to ponder too deeply on the plot, it gives the impression that it was made up on the fly with whatever contrivances were lying around at the time. Anyway, the bad guys are bad until they aren’t, the good guys are unshakably good, King Gilgamesh is a surprisingly sympathetic character and there are two versions of Rin Tohsaka. I can’t wait for the upcoming two movies adapting the Camelot arc plus the eventual adaptation of the concluding Solomon battle. Fate/Babylonia was first-rate comfort food, and I very much appreciated that this season.
Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun! 23 episodes, Crunchyroll
What an utterly delightful show. I am so glad that season 2 has been announced. There’s not a lot to say about this lightweight fantasy school comedy that I didn’t already say in my previous article, though the last few episodes had a hilarious cross-dressing scene with Iruma as a surprisingly cute idol singer. Uh... what? I’m watching this over again, this time dubbed, with my 9-year old son. It’s still funny and entertaining second time around.
My Hero Academia: Crunchyroll/Funimation: 25 episodes, Crunchyroll, Funimation
I was on the fence with season 4 of MHA until I started re-watching the dub from the beginning with my son. I have concluded that this season, or at least the first half, is much better consumed in multi-episode binges rather than week-to-week. The Overhaul arc started slow, but built in intensity and was a far superior version of the story compared to the original manga. Midoria’s final battle with the overpowered Overhaul was fantastic - I don’t think my son blinked even once during the entire episode. Both my son and I love the little girl Eri, and I appreciated that since Midoria was given someone to protect, it improved his focus - he no longer had just the vague goal of “being the best”, he realised that in aiming to save one person he could learn how to save others too. I also appreciated the general absence of Bakugo from the story because I mostly can’t stand him.
As seems standard with MHA seasons, one half was intense plot-driven FIGHTING and the other half was slower, character-building stuff. The second half of the season mostly followed this trend with the school festival arc, though it introduced two very atypical “villains” in Gentle Criminal and La Brava. I wasn’t sure how to take them when they were first introduced, but they became such tragic, sympathetic characters that I almost wanted them to succeed in their mischief as much as I wanted Midoria to win his battle against them. I’ve not reached this part of the dub yet with my son, it will be interesting to see what his take on it will be. I really hope these two characters return later on, as it is hinted that perhaps they might get a second chance.
My son also liked “Buff Tintin” Lemillion/Mirio and in another show he could easily have been a main protagonist character. I enjoyed his sunny optimism and hope he’s able to stick around. As a counterpoint to that, the final two episodes focused on Number One Miserabilist Endeavor. He’s a divisive character, both in the show and in fandom. As an abuser, he’s easy to hate, but as in the real word no-one is truly completely bad or good. I wonder what the author’s intentions are with his character? I kind of hope he gets a redemptive arc that isn’t too easy - I want him not just to acknowledge his wrongdoing but to repent from it, make reparations and become a better person. The author must be careful to do this without making light of his family’s suffering, but hopefully also make the point that no-one is truly beyond redemption. I look forwards to where this unexpectedly deep subject matter will take us in future.
Re: Zero Director’s Cut: 14 double-length episodes (including OVA), Crunchyroll
I am so hyped for the upcoming season 2 (now unfortunately delayed until Summer 2020), especially after watching season 1 all over again. The double-episode format worked well and the OVA was placed perfectly within continuity. That final episode ended on a new cliffhanger scene that recontextualised a couple of “huh?” moments from earlier episodes that had hardly registered with me. Re:Zero is so much better than every other isekai anime I’ve ever seen purely because the story is so clever and intricately constructed. Subaru’s character development is amazingly written, as he improves himself and his attitude only through great suffering and sacrifice. Yes, he’s an idiot, but he’s an idiot who learns his lessons and puts them into action. I really really hope that season 2 can live up to this, one of my top 10 anime of all time.
Somali and the Forest Spirit: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
In my halfway seasonal article, I lauded this as the standout show of the season. Somali was a stunningly beautiful fantasy journey that followed a small, defenceless human child, protected by a forest golem who became her adoptive father. It was wholesome and heartbreaking in equal measure, with intermittent brutal interludes that illustrated the horror of a world where human beings were hunted to extinction. The show took pains to show both the humans and the monsters in alternately positive and negative lights. Humans were portrayed as loving and caring to their own families, but hateful and suspicious of anyone who didn’t look like them - very on the nose. The monsters were portrayed as generally more accepting of differences but hostile towards humans and wanting to eat them. There were exceptions to the negative portrayals on both sides, and the show was careful to point out that the children characters had not yet learnt prejudice from their elders, indicating that these conflicts were not innate - hatred must be learnt. Golem’s development into a caring father was slow but steady as he learned to recognise that he did indeed have emotions and cared for his adoptive daughter very much, even if he made bad decisions he thought were in her best interests. The only thing that spoiled the series for me was the rather inconclusive ending. The whole show foreshadows something awful will happen - but it never does, all that buildup dissipated in a contrived and irritating scenario that was a climax only in an emotional sense, with no resolution in plot. I guess I should have expected this as the source manga is still ongoing. It’s best to view this as a journey without a definitive destination - as long as you don’t expect an ending, it’s a wonderful series.
Get Your Hands Off Eizouken: 12 episodes, Crunchyroll
Finally, this amazing show about the joy of (and limits to) creativity surpassed all others this season. What a showcase of imaginative world-building, concise character work and holistic storytelling. Every single component of this show built on the others to construct a tight, emotional and coherent narrative about the three main characters and their dreams and ambitions. Masaaki Yuasa restrained his more “out-there” impulses to bring what is perhaps his most accessible TV production yet. From the ramshackle futuristic setting to the wildest flights of fancy that erupt from the characters’ imaginations, everything was so well-constructed, so meaningful, so alive. Nothing I have ever seen so captures the drive and excitement of creating something. Even the non-creative producer-type character was extremely sympathetic and even though her job was to restrain the excesses of her comrades, she was never portrayed as the “bad guy”. I hope that Eizouken goes on to inspire the next generation of anime auteurs, by screaming “Look! Put the effort in and you too can make something as amazing as this!”
Stuff that looked vaguely interesting that I never got round to because FUNIMATION IS SHIT AND WHO NEEDS THAT HASSLE IN A PANDEMIC (all covered on AniTAY’s Winter 2020: What You Should Be Watching article.)
Fantasy MMO/isekai that apparently wasn’t that bad, honest, and supposedly was more of a humorous slice-of-life. Maybe I’ll get round to it eventually. If it becomes available some way that isn’t Funimation.
Smile down the runway: Funimation
Modelling: Shonen-anime-trope-style. Interesting. But not interesting enough to suffer Funimation’s app.
Toilet-bound Hanako-kun: Funimation
Supernatural comedy from the same studio that made great series like Assassination Classroom, Scum’s Wish and Astra Lost in Space. I heard this was good, but barely-animated. Maybe later.
ID: Invaded: Funimation
Detective show that sounds kind of like a mix between Inception, Silence of the Lambs and Psycho-pass. Hmmmm. Not worth the Funimation nonsense.
That brings us to the end of Winter 2020. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll have a lot of time to watch anime in Spring 2020, though there’s a lot of great sequels coming up. I’ll probably never get around to my backlog of Winter 2020 shows unless I end up catching the dreaded COVID-19 and lay coughing and drenched with sweat, fevered and weakened on my sofa. Screw that, even if I get sick I’ll probably still have to work remotely, plus I have kids that need home schooled now that all the schools are closed. Real life really sucks right now for everyone, doesn’t it? I’m off to drown my sorrows in Persona 5 Royal. How better to drown out the horror of real life by living someone else’s?
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