How’s life out there in lockdown land? For me, life is as busy as ever. As a healthcare worker, I don’t get to hide in my dark bunker - and for that I’m very grateful, as I think I might go crazy otherwise. For those of you locked away, anime is a useful anaesthetic - or would be, if - horror - half of this season’s shows hadn’t been delayed. Because of the way much anime is produced - seat-of-the-pants style, down to the wire - there isn’t much slack in the system to cope with adverse events like worldwide viral plague. So far, the only shows that were delayed that I cared about were Re:Zero Season 2 and the second half of No Guns Life. We’re only halfway through the season though, so other casualties may follow... Let’s examine the interesting shows that are still producing new episodes.
Safe from COVID-19 section:
The production staff on the following shows have claimed these were completed, or almost completed prior to broadcast:
Ascendance of a Bookworm Part 2 (eps 15-20 of 26), saturdays, CRUNCHYROLL
I included the first half of this show as one of my top 10 best anime of 2019. So far the second half has been equally charming. In some ways this barely counts as an isekai show, more of a slice-of-life about an adorable/smug little nerd who has joined the church as a priestess in order to gain access to their library. So far she has acquired an orphanage and put those kids to work for their food in a medieval sweatshop as sacrifices to the TRUE GOD OF FREE MARKET CAPITALISM.
It’s a gentle show that examines the power inequality between the nobility and peasants, and I’m sure will eventually build to a bloody revolution where the poor literally devour the rich, the rabid masses driven by a mild-mannered bookworm who desires peace and quiet to read her books (at all costs). In our 2020 nightmare end-stage crumbling materialistic corporate dystopia, we need someone like little Myne to weaponise the power of science and education to recalibrate society and destroy the selfish, incompetent ruling political classes, preferably by grinding all rich fat cat politicians, sociopathic CEOs and amoral corporate lobbyists into fertiliser paste.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All routes lead to doom! (eps 1-6 of 12), saturdays, CRUNCHYROLL
Another isekai show that surprisingly isn’t shit. Main character Catarina Claes is a spoiled little troglodyte of a child who one day trips over and the subsequent head injury triggers a flood of memories from her previous life as a 17-year-old Japanese gamer. With growing horror, she realises she has been reincarnated as the main villain in an “otome” (boy-harem romance visual novel/“choose-your-own-adventure”-esque) game she had played in her previous life. These sort of things seem to happen often to Japanese teenagers. I wonder if western teenagers are more likely to be reincarnated into Halo 5 or Red Dead Redemption II or something. Anyway, she recalls that in every possible route the main character can take through the “Fortune Lover” game, Catarina either ends up dying horribly or becoming exiled and destitute. Armed with her supernatural foreknowledge, Catarina proceeds to attempt to avoid every single “death flag” and change her fate.
Villainess is hilarious. Much of the humour stems from Catarina’s improbable density. So focused is she on the distant future, she fails completely to realise that in mending and enhancing the relationships of the characters around her, she is building her own harem of all the “conquerable” (ordinarily only by the protagonist) males, and most amusingly all the rival girls as well. This is an equal-opportunities harem where Catarina utterly fails to recognise that even all the girls have fallen helplessly in love with her. I’m not quite sure where this story intends to go, but so far it is very light-weight comedic fun with a soft, mushy heart. Catarina’s motives may be ultimately selfish, but when all she wants to do is be friends with everyone in order to survive, she’s hard to dislike. I hear that this story was the catalyst for a seething torrent of copycat isekai novels, so I guess we’ll have hundreds of inevitable identical anime adaptations to anticipate/endure.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War S2 (eps 1-5 of 12), saturdays, FUNIMATION
Season 1 of this fantastic high school romantic comedy was my number one favourite anime of 2019 and I am so hyped that it has returned for a second season so soon. Kaguya-sama’s closest anime equivalent is classic show Death Note, though instead of an insanely escalating battle of cat-and-mouse between serial killer and genius detective, it is an insanely escalating battle of wits, plans and counter-plans between two genius-level high school kids with their pathologically-elevated pride on the line. Both aristocratic, haughty ice queen Kaguya Shinomiya and workaholic, intense Miyuki Shirogane are so painfully obviously into one another, but neither is willing to flinch in the battle to force the other to confess their undying love first. It is an absurd premise, but it is explored with such clever characterisation and skewering of tropes and expectations that for me this is weekly appointment viewing. I love the manga and this perfect adaptation more than does it justice - it elevates it with incredible direction and pacing. This is an intelligent and hilarious show, and if they can persist with this level of quality it could qualify as one of the best shows in the entire medium.
Tower of God (eps 1-6 of 13), wednesdays, CRUNCHYROLL
This is the one show this season that I’ve been watching with all 3 of my kids. It’s cookie-cutter shonen action, adapted from a long running (since 2010) Korean Webtoon that is far better than I expected it to be. It shamelessly robs tropes from every other shonen show you’ve ever seen, but uses them so well. The world is mysterious and interesting, the character designs are creative and I have no trouble telling the any of the characters apart. Even the standard training/tournament arc that the show currently follows is implemented well enough to serve fleshing out motivations and identities. Main POV character Bam is a bit of a blank slate, but that’s ok when he’s surrounded by such colourful weirdos with their own agendas and secrets.
I love these kind of shows where there is a journey through some kind of fantastical setting, where there is a definite purpose and urgency to the narrative. Not much has been revealed so far, but I trust that this adaptation will continue to excel. In particular, the fight scenes are extremely smooth and well choreographed and the art style with its thick black lines and stark contrasts is visually arresting. I don’t think for a moment that anything will be resolved come episode 13, I hope this is renewed next year for a longer season.
Sing “Yesterday” for me (eps 1-6 of 18), saturdays, CRUNCHYROLL
A complete adaptation of a long-running 18-volume romance/slice of life manga originally published between 1997 and 2015, this has a slightly odd broadcast arrangement. In Japan the first 12 episodes are planned to air on TV and stream concurrently on the AbemaTV online video platform. The online versions include exclusive 2 minute post-credit scenes that are apparently plot-important. Crunchyroll in the west does not get access to these extra sequences. Concerningly, episodes 13-18 will be exclusive to AbemaTV, so what that means for Crunchyroll and western viewers remains to be seen. If this is anything like the Bakemonogatari fiasco, then western streaming services will only get the first 12 TV episodes and the only way to watch the AbemaTV web-exclusive episodes will be on any eventual blu-ray release. I sincerely hope this is not the case, because this is a very good show with well-developed characters that deserves a proper conclusion accessible to all viewers.
Rikuo Uozumi is a college graduate who drifts through his mid-twenties without a plan or ambition. He works part-time at a grocery store and procrastinates about what to do with his life. A reunion with his college crush Shinako Morinome gives him the opportunity to air his previously unspoken feelings and even though he is rejected, he feels better able to move on. Shinako’s feelings are complicated and although she seems to treat Rikuo more like a brother or platonic friend, she does seem to harbour some at least partially subconscious feelings for him. An eccentric crow-adopting high-school dropout, Haru Nonaka, is the fan-favourite upbeat younger woman who makes no secret of her attraction to Rikuo and with her confidence and upbeat personality inserts her way into his life. With each episode the cast expands, introducing previous acquaintances and new rivals whose presence tends to cause the main characters to re-examine their relationships, desires and drives. It’s an understated, thoughtful show that I’m sure is laying very careful groundwork for deep emotional pain and catharsis later. One to keep an eye on and pray we get the whole story.
Arte (eps 1-6 of 12), saturdays, FUNIMATION
16th century Renaissance Florence is an unusual context for anime and this show is a breath of fresh air in a medium saturated by high school or fantasy settings. Arte Spalletti (a very on-the-nose name if there was one) is the heiress of a noble family who is utterly obsessed by drawing and painting, skills that were encouraged by her late father who recognised how happy art made her. Her widowed mother despairs of an “unmarriageable” daughter and burns all of her drawings. Incensed, Arte cuts her long hair and leaves home to make her own way in the art world that is dominated by men and is inherently sexist and hostile to women.
Arte herself is almost impossibly upbeat and hardworking. She tackles every setback by basically just working harder, pushing and winning over adversaries until she gets what she wants. So far this hasn’t been too repetitive but she’ll have to come up against more significant drawbacks or this could become stale. Other than “sexism hundreds of years ago was bad”, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to this yet, but it is gently entertaining and vaguely educational. I don’t think the setting has been explored as well as it could have been, and it is a fairly by-the-numbers story, but it’s a bright, breezy and optimistic show that’s an inoffensive way to spend 24 minutes per week.
We live in hope that they will continue section:
Gleipnir (eps 1-6 of ?), sundays, FUNIMATION
Oh boy. So I hope you like malformed furries, because there’s a lot of (semi or completely) naked females entering moist fur boys in this. I could write a lengthy review about the use of squelching sounds and the intricate animation of dripping bodily fluids, but that might put you off. Look, if you liked Mirai Nikki - The Future Diary you should just go watch this now. It is an incredibly gross and weirdly horny show. Shuichi Kagaya is an academically gifted high school senior who prefers to appear average to fit in with his peers. Unfortunately he’s cursed to transform into a hollow, meaty, furry animal mascot costume with huge teeth and massive revolver. Yep.
He meets Claire Aoki, a sociopathic 15-year-old who knows his secret. She blackmails him to help her, and is inordinately excited to discover in his monster form he has a large zippered cavity in his back which allows her to “enter” him and pilot his body from within, their thoughts and feelings becoming accessible to the other. Now there is almost no direct sexual activity in this show, but it is the most ridiculously horny non-hentai anime I have ever seen. Not something to show your gran, it is however ridiculously entertaining. And insane. I’ll write more about it in the upcoming AniTAY seasonal collaboration article.
Wave, Listen to me! (eps 1-6 of 12), fridays, FUNIMATION
Can you believe this is based on a manga by the author of last season’s Blade of the Immortal? 6 episodes in and there’s been no beheadings, eviscerations or limb severings at all yet. Similarly to Sing “Yesterday” For Me this is a show that follows a twenty-something woman with no firm plans or ambition who... Yes, this does initially sound like a gender-swapped version of the the aforementioned show, and it is weird to me that there are two high quality slice-of-life anime shows about non-teenagers in one season, but this is something really quite different. For one, this is very much not centred on complicated romantic feelings and love polyhedrons.
Minare Koda lives in Sapporo, largest city in Hokkaido, the northernmost main island in Japan. She works as a waitress, recently endured a messy breakup where she was scammed out of her savings by her scummy ex-boyfriend, and whilst drunk at a bar was recorded ranting by an opportunistic radio producer who (with her drunken consent) broadcast said unedited rant on the radio in the 3am graveyard slot. There starts the story of the unlikeliest minor radio celebrity, full of insane improvisation, inspired bullshitting and starring one very loud, very intense woman. Your tolerance for this almost indescribable show will hinge on whether you find Minare’s voice and her extended rants hilarious or painful. Her voice actor has provided the best performance of the year already, barely pausing for breath during her epic delivery of these dense, insane soliloquies. With one foot in the macabre and bizarre (so far it has featured apparently contemporaneous attempted murder and possible haunted houses with blood-dripping ceilings juxtaposed with the radio recording scenes) and another in goofy character comedy, this is a magnetic show to watch and ponder over. I have absolutely no idea where this is going but I am along for the ride.
Listeners (eps 1-6 of 12), fridays, FUNIMATION
Written by Dai Sato, perhaps best known in the west for Eureka Seven, this shares many themes with his earlier show, most prominently the (over?)use of very obvious musical references. Instead of studio BONES, MAPPA is on production duties, and the show looks predictably slick and colourful. Set on a post-apocalyptic world, main character Echo lives in a backwater town dreaming of greatness in his chosen skill, when the arrival of the mysterious and beautiful amnesiac girl Myu upends everything he thought he knew about the world and together they embark on a journey to discover the truth of their world. Substitute Echo with “Renton” and Myu with “Eureka” and you’ll see my point here. Seems like writer Sato has only one groove, and he’s sticking to it, baby.
Structured episodically, every week our main duo travel to a new town, interact with some characters that are either named for or heavily allude to famous musicians or bands, get into mecha fights, solve whatever problem they’re faced with, and move on. There is a slow-burning background story, but so far we’ve learned very little about the state of the world other than there is a preponderance of Proper Nouns to make everything sound important - Earless, Players, Equipment etc. One episode featured spray cans labelled with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and had background characters literally smashing pumpkins. It isn’t subtle, but it is quite fun. I’m unsure how much I like this. I don’t find the background story at all interesting or engaging, but the main female character design is great and she has a fun, fiery personality. Echo is a wet blanket who sucks all joy from the screen. I’ll stick with it, but it’ll have to introduce some pretty mind-blowing twists or meaty plot to really justify my interest.
Kakushigoto (eps 1-6 of 12), thursdays, FUNIMATION
MOST. ADORABLE. ANIME. OF. THE. SEASON. Kakushi Goto is an ecchi manga artist and (presumably widowed) single father who would die of acute mortification if his daughter Hime ever discovered his true profession of drawing naughty pictures. A mix of gentle humour and genuine sentiment with a subtle undercurrent of sadness and mourning, this show appears to function on two timelines. The first concerns Goto balancing working life as a moderately successful mangaka and caring for his innocent little 10-year-old daughter. He goes to extreme, humorous lengths to hide his occupation from her. Just as well she isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. The recurrent joke of him accidentally flirting with adult female acquaintances (like his daughter’s teacher) is awkward and funny, and he has a strained relationship with his young editor that is a fertile ground for misunderstandings and panic.
The other timeline seems to be when Hime has reached early adulthood and it is heavily hinted that she has now also lost her father and is only now discovering the secrets he kept from her. This light peppering of grief and loss helps to ground the humour. It’s clear the characters truly love one another and the gentle, heartfelt humour that arises from their relationship is very different to last year’s Ao-chan Wants to Study that explored a superficially similar familial circumstance. Kakushigoto is full of Japanese puns and in-jokes that will fly over the heads of most Western viewers, but that aside it is well worth watching. Just be warned - I’m pretty sure it’s building up to a heart-wrenching conclusion.
Shows that have completed broadcast section:
Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 (all 12 eps) NETFLIX
Due to the way Netflix tends to dump their shows out in one single unholy splurge, it’s easy to forget them when compiling a list like this. If you can get past the horrible CGI designs, this is worth watching, though doesn’t yet equal the storytelling of the original Stand Alone Complex. Read my overview of the franchise and review of the new show here.
Hi Score Girl II (all 9 eps) NETFLIX
Another Netflix splurge, this show is unmissable. I love it so much and wrote about it here. Please go watch it. Make sure you watch the 3 OVA episodes that follow season 1 first.
Re:Zero OVA 2: Frozen Bonds: CRUNCHYROLL
Season 2 of the best isekai show may have been delayed until at least Summer 2020 (I wonder if it may end up getting pushed back any further?), but until then we have the streaming premiere of this OVA/theatrical release from 2019. It’s essentially a companion piece to the earlier OVA Memory Snow that was inserted chronologically into the Re:Zero Director’s cut after episode 6 (episode 11 of the original series).
Frozen Bonds shares a wintry aesthetic with its fellow OVA and some scenes tie in directly both in terms of continuity and theme. In tone it is far more serious, as an examination of the interdependent relationship between main heroine Emilia and furry familiar/World Ending Demon God Puck. Set well before the beginning of the series, it explains only a little of Emilia’s mysterious origins and unfortunately leaves many questions unanswered. It looks to be essential viewing prior to second season, and it’s an entertaining watch in itself, even if it seems an oddly structured, uneven story. At 76 minutes duration, it’s as long as three standard-length anime episodes though doesn’t have the plot to fill half of it. What it does fill that time with is some delightful scenes of Emilia surviving alone in a frozen forest interspersed with jarring, horrific violence and extended fight scenes. I do love Emilia’s character and she gets a lot of development in this, even if at times she does still seem to lack agency.
Tardiness corner of shame:
Last time, I mentioned some shows from the Winter 2020 season that I started but was unable to finish (mainly due to boredom). I decided to give them a second look, assuming that everything due to stream in Spring was likely to be delayed.
Bofuri (all 12 eps)
So normally I’d be allergic to this sort of show about a game genre I couldn’t give a crap about (VRMMORPG) and with typically low stakes and a generic setting, I had no intention of even touching it with the longest bargepole. However, with multiple rabid worshippers in the AniTAY chat continually praising what looked like an empty garbage show, I’m glad I gave it a chance during a moment of weakness.
Bofuri is delightful fluff about Maple, a VRMMORPG newbie who starts a newly-released title that is so badly balanced by the inept developers that during her initial character creation she completely breaks the game by piling all of her stat boosts into defence/vitality. With each unintentional victory multiplying her stats to insane levels she becomes a world-class behemoth of a player, nigh invincible. To be honest that doesn’t sound like a promising premise. In execution it plays much more as a slice of life about a loveable clueless n00b and the weird friends she chooses to have fun with along the way. What little plot development exists focuses on the reaction of the developers and other players to Maple’s burgeoning, pseudo-apocalyptic powers. It’s funny and sweet, a low-effort watch for when you want to switch off your brain, eat sweets and pretend we’re not all hurtling towards socio-economic doom via plague.
Darwin’s Game (all 11 eps)
I finally finished the second half of this show after initially bailing out halfway through. It was... ok. It has nothing worthwhile to say and it’s not something you would watch for comfort or education. Shows like this live or die by their entertainment value. Compared to the pinnacle of the Death Game genre - Mirai Nikki, Darwin’s Game is found hopelessly wanting. Mirai Nikki is never boring, with ever insanely-elevating stakes driven by unpredictable, bonkers characters. Darwin’s Game by being so unimaginative and derivative somehow manages to make this genre dull. It perks up a bit in the last few episodes, but I have no desire at all to watch any more of this. I just don’t care about the characters, I can’t even remember their names or defining features and it’s only been about 2 weeks since I finished watching it.
In/Spectre (all 12 eps)
Another show unquestioningly worshipped by the AniTAY hive mind, I survived the first 3 episodes before getting bored. I returned to it, and perhaps I was a little hasty in my original judgement. It was fun, and I did learn to appreciate the main “gremlin” character a bit more. The central will-they won’t-they relationship was irritating in its lack of development, reminiscent of the eternal shonen non-couples from shows like Ranma 1/2 and Inu-Yasha. I found the central conceit interesting, that by essentially lying to the internet, Kotoko Iwanaga was able to manipulate the main evil apparition into a state of non-existence via plausible disbelief. Not sure if I could be bothered with another series though. Again, I found this merely... ok.
Asteroid in Love (Stalled at 6 out of 12 eps)
This was my second attempt at getting through this series after originally bailing out after episode 2. Sorry guys, but I just don’t get the love for this series or for the genre of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things as a whole. So... dull. I couldn’t tell some characters apart, and I know one of the “hooks” of the series is a potential yuri romance between the main couple, but there were some other really uncomfortable scenes with at least one of the other girls being slightly predatory and grabby towards the other characters that seemed so out of place. Not sure I’ll ever finish this.
Still on the (recent) backlog:
Perhaps if some of my favoured shows this season get cancelled, I’ll get around to watching some of these leftover from the Winter 2020 season: Toilet-bound Hanako-kun, Smile Down the Runway, ID: Invaded, Pet. I’ve always wanted to watch Chihayafuru, and it recently completed its third season. I also plan to catch up on Psycho-pass season 3 after the 3-episode conclusion First Inspector appeared on Amazon recently. I’ll get into that next time, at the end of the season. Finally, I’ll get around to watching Fruits Basket Season 2 as soon as my daughter can bothered to catch up with the first season so she can watch it with me. Let’s hope that the Spring anime season survives the pandemic (as do I hope all of you reading this also stay healthy and well).
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