Summer season is in full swing, and it’s time for me to give my learned/authoritative/misguided/wrong/whatever opinion on all the stuff I’ve watched. Winter 2019 was excellent. Spring 2019 was pretty good. Summer 2019... may well blow them all out of the water. There’s just... so... much... anime... I’m barely able to keep up with all the new shows I want to see this season, in addition to those continuing from the previous season.
Let’s break this down into individual streaming services:
We’ll start with series continuing from Spring 2019.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: up to episode 19
This otherwise excellent show has a big problem. No, make that two: the first is blonde buffoon Zenitsu, truly the Donald Trump of anime - pointless, offensive and irritatingly orange, every time he talks (OR SHOUTS!) I want to throw things at the television. He sucks all tension and interest from me like some kind of fun-devouring vampire. I cannot state accurately with words how much I hate him, despite a couple of admittedly cool action scenes where his unconscious self kicked ass. If there was a way for main character Tanjiro to separate Zenitsu’s body from his trash personality (perhaps by severing part of his spinal cord or carefully incising part of his brain?) then maybe I could handle him as a regular supporting character. Zenitsu’s prominence in episodes 13 onward almost made me drop this show completely.
Second problem: Boar-headed moron Inosuke is almost as annoying. Another “comedy” character who invokes an urge to stick pins in my eyes whenever he is on screen, he’s the worst kind of common shonen anime trope - the loud, violent idiot who listens to no one and cannot learn from his mistakes. Chop him up into bacon slices and feed him to the demons, he’s a total liability.
Main character Tanjiro is more interesting - he still has a touch of the typical shonen hero blandness, but I like his pathological empathy towards even the worst of his enemies. He’s a noble soul who does everything for the benefit of others. Sister Nezuko has been mostly sidelined in her little wooden box, though in the most recent episode 19 she actually did something despite being obliged to play the typical damsel in distress routine for a few minutes before making everything explode with her magic blood.
The action animation sequences are fantastic. Interstitial “antics” with Zenitsu and Inosuke... not so much. Hopefully they will meet horrible, tragic, painful, messy, visceral, graphic, blood-drenched, screaming, writhingly painful ends at some point over the next couple of episodes so that their short existences can be used to provide motivation for Tanjiro or something. He doesn’t need them alive. Only Nezuko. God bless Nezuko and her magic blood.
Fruits Basket: up to episode 19
Another series I have mixed feelings about. Main character Tohru still annoys me but I think she’s perhaps not as totally clueless as the first few installments made out. I enjoyed the episodes exploring the backstory of her ex-gang friend and how that tied into the story of Tohru’s cool (but sadly deceased) mother. Tohru is portrayed as emotionally strong and resilient, and the more fragile Soma family members seem to flock to her like moths to a flame. It seems she is able to give them all something that they lack. It does make me feel uncomfortable that this otherwise vulnerable girl surrounds herself with multiple people best described as emotional vampires... but perhaps that is the point of the story?
Some individual episodes were extremely dull and I cannot stand the obnoxiously overly-apologetic cross-dressing Ritsu from the latest episode. He reminds me too much of Tanjiro from Demon Slayer. I get he has a glaring, self-flagellating character flaw, but he’s just too much. Other installments were fascinating and desperately sad, especially the one about little-girl-uniform-wearing yellow bunny boy Momiji and his estranged mother. I have no idea where the overarching story is going, so I’ll probably stick with it for now. To be honest it’s a show I leave until I’ve watched almost everything else first.
YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World: up to episode 18
I almost dropped this one. It’s not that there’s any one huge problem with this time-travel/alternate world Steins;Gate-esque VN adaptation, it’s just not particularly special. I wonder if the original visual novel has the same uneven pacing? Main character Takuya Arima is searching for his missing father. Multiple other characters around him clearly know something, but for contrived plot reasons never seem to want to tell him anything. Stuff happens but the plot doesn’t progress all that much. And then there are the continued cliched high school/ecchi romance tropes recycled over and over again.
Blue-Haired Girl gets fevered? She immediately collapses. Of course, because everyone collapses as soon as their temperature spikes, don’t they? Takuya takes Blue-Haired Girl to the conveniently empty nurse’s office. Oh noes, nurse is gone. What to do? Yes, let’s sexually assault Blue-Haired Girl by stripping off all her clothes and wiping the sweat from her naked, shivering body. Of course a fever means she is powerless to resist, in fact “Anime Fever” tends to make people completely unconscious for no good reason. WTF? Is this some weird Japanese cultural thing? I’m so glad they didn’t go the Domestic Girlfriend route and insist Takuya inserts a rectal suppository. Maybe this stuff just bugs me because I’m a medic, but I hate the use of “generic illness” to set up creepy pervert scenes. Let’s not even start on the school nurse who turns up to work in bondage gear.
Everything changes with episode 18 as the setting drastically alters: YU-NO goes Full Isekai as Takuya finds himself in a parallel world, complete with new opening sequence composed of every generic fantasy world trope ever. What? I guess I’ll keep watching this odd car-crash-in-slow-motion show towards the end to see if they can make anything even remotely cohesive from all the bizarre conflicting story genres they have so far failed to meld convincingly together.
And now for this season’s new Crunchyroll shows. (Some are also available on other platforms)
Lord El Melloi’s Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note: Up to episode 6
Fate/Zero is one of my all time favourite anime series. I love it despite TYPE-MOON’s predilection for filling their work with deliberately obtuse, arcane magecraft world-building bullshit. Just as well really, as this unusual sequel series is full of it. The closest equivalent I can think of would be the “Paradox Spiral” episode of Garden of Sinners mixed with Scooby Doo, Miss Marple and Supernatural - the TV series (itself bizarrely adapted into anime by Studio Madhouse a few years ago.)
The more Fate stuff you’ve seen, the more you’ll get out of this. Timeline-wise it’s set 10 years after Fate/Zero, therefore occurs almost immediately prior to Fate/Stay Night. There are cameos from Fate/Apocrypha characters, plus some from Fate/Hollow Ataraxia and/or Fate/Kaleid Liner: Prisma Illya appear too.
Waver Velvet wasn’t my favourite Fate/Zero character, but his story was probably the most empathetic. In the original series he was an ambitious teenage mage who was clearly out of his depth and lacking in confidence. He became embroiled as a Master in the Holy Grail War and summoned Alexander the Great (Iskandar) as his Servant. Their relationship was fascinating, with Alexander acting like a mentor and father figure. Waver was heartbroken to lose the war mainly because he lost his best friend, and it seems he has spent the following ten years scheming to return to another Grail War so he can summon Alexander again.
Of course in typical Fate fashion there is much more to the story than that, though how much of it is inconsequential window dressing is hard to say when everything is couched in Proper Nouns and Complicated Magecraft terms. As always with Fate, it’s probably best to let the verbose nonsense wash over you - most of it is meaningless word salad. Instead marvel over the pretty images, cool music and fun characters. I’ll be intrigued to see where this goes. Probably all the way to The Root via the Application of Third Magic or other somesuch overwrought TYPE-MOON gibberish.
Fire Force: Up to episode 5
I originally had next-to-no interest in this. The promo pictures looked like “Firefighter Heroes - Saturday morning cartoon for kids”. I am so glad that I took a chance on the first episode. Fire Force is AWESOME. Animated by David Production, they of JOJO’s and Cells at Work fame, the screen pops and crackles with hyperkinetic incandescent energy during those spectacular action scenes. Yes, it’s pretty much cookie-cutter action shonen anime, but it is quite literally on fire.
Main character Shinra rockets through the air, propelled by the explosions erupting from his flame-spewing feet. Idiot colleague/rival Arthur uses a plasma lightsaber. There’s even a fiery cat-girl. Fire Force is a lot of fun due to its characters alone, but the setting is intriguing as well. Some unspecified disaster seems to have made much of the world uninhabitable and in the city where the story unfolds, Fire Soldiers help keep the peace by hunting and neutralising terrifying fire elemental-type monsters who are the result of spontaneous human combustion. These guys aren’t run of the mill firefighters who douse flames with hosed water - nope, they fight fire with fire. Perhaps a US remake could use the appropriately named Scissor Sisters track as a theme tune?
The fire soldiers are split up into divisions that seem hostile to one another - some accountable to the government, private companies, the church, or only to themselves. Fire Force keeps its odd religion setting front and centre as one of the main characters is a nun, and the main (so far) antagonist seems to be a sadomasochistic ex-nun with... uh... issues. I’m intrigued to see where they go with the religion angle, though I’ll be disappointed if it turns out to be a stereotypical “Uh... like... organised religion is bad, dudes, cus, uh... poorly conceived, ignorant and prejudiced reasons.”
I can’t write about Fire Force without mentioning the massive, semi-clothed and suggestively posed elephant in the room. Fan Service. Ok, I get it, it’s an integral part of many a decent anime, but this is too much. It seems like the females in this show exist only to be ogled at, stripped, sexually assaulted or entered into Holy Orders Wet T-Shirt Competitions. What is going on with this? It’s demeaning, distracting and seems so ridiculously out-of-place. I hope they tone this aspect down, it only detracts from what is otherwise a quality show.
Dr Stone: Up to episode 6
I admit it. I have always daydreamed of myself as a Senku-like person. I wonder how I might survive after an apocalypse where society crumbles, very few other people are left and all I can rely upon is my own ingenuity and scientific knowledge. Dr Stone indulges this fantasy to the Nth level - I feel that it was practically written for me. Although I’ve got a very broad grounding in multiple sciences, I could never aspire to be as resourceful or knowledgeable as the ridiculously prodigious polymath main character Senku, who finds himself released from his stone imprisonment 3,700 years in the future before anyone else awakes from their mysterious petrification affliction. He sets about rebuilding society using SCIENCE, persistence and dedication.
Senku is not a character. He’s a walking plot device, and if you can get over that, Dr Stone is good fun. The other characters are similarly drawn - Taiju is dumb as a box of frogs but he’s strong and loyal. Main girl Yuzuriha is there mainly to look pretty and act as motivation for Taiju. She also has HUUUUGE eyes that freak me the hell out. Tsukasa wandered in from Fist of the North Star and his main trait seems to be “Fascist Ageist Badass”. I don’t give a shit about any of these characters or their conflicts, all I want to see is Senku science the hell out of the stone age using first principles and grit. I can see why some folks can’t stand this, but I love it. The concept of accelerated scientific discovery promises to keep the story moving, and I love to see how Senku applies logic and basic science to solve the problems he faces. Just don’t rely on this like a textbook, ok?
By the way, if you like Dr Stone - take a look at the book How to Invent Everything by Ryan North. Dr Stone is basically the unofficial anime dramatisation. (I think the manga probably precedes the publication of this book though - sorry, Mr North.)
Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon 2: Up to episode 5
I never knew how much I needed boob string in my life until I recently marathoned the first season of this show on a random whim. I’d read sneering reviews about how it was dumb and how annoying the character Hestia was that I’d avoided it for a while, and that stupid title didn’t help.
I’m glad I ignored the haters - this is a fun fantasy series with a great central story of personal growth in the character of Bell, who is adorably clueless about how overpowered he really is. The cast has grown rapidly to the point where I can’t quite remember who everyone is, but the story remains thankfully focused on the central group of characters. Some background concepts are quite dark (like a guild or “Familia” where the members are all addicted to special alcohol and act like total shits to everyone), but the parts that I appreciate best are when Bell inevitably overcomes all odds to succeed, often after exciting, tense battle scenes and the help of all his friends.
There’s not a lot else to this, it’s like a sweet dessert with minimal nutritional value that doesn’t leave any kind of aftertaste or lasting impression other than a short time spent pleasantly.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season: Up to episode 6
Written by Mari Okada, she of recent Maquia fame (Blu-ray review from me coming soon - honest!), this is an unusual High School slice-of-life show. It’s like an inversion of the common cute girls doing cute things trope - in this case the 5 main girls all belong to their school’s literature club. Instead of following a typical male-gaze-centric moe trajectory, this is something far more interesting. Drawn presumably from Okada’s own adolescent experiences, these characters seem more real, with raw emotions and proper hangups that define their personalities.
The literary works the girls read are full of sensual, sexual references that they are ill equipped and too inexperienced to fully comprehend. Each in her own way starts to explore her individual feelings and desires. It makes for uncomfortable but deeply identifiable viewing that at times is hilarious, other times cringe-worthy. Even as a male, I can see my adolescent self reflected in these girls’ struggles. Heartily recommended. I hope that as it is exclusive to HIDIVE that it is not completely ignored.
I’ve already documented my struggles and frustration while attempting to access the shows listed below here. Feel free to take a look and understand the above naming convention. Let it act as a warning to you.
Astra Lost in Space: Up to episode 6
This was probably my most anticipated show of the season, and my struggles to legally access this stream have left me scarred and bitter. Anyway, this is as good as I hoped it would be. I’m a sucker for golden-age style spacefaring Sci-Fi that’s all about exploration and survival against enormous odds. Astra gives me good vibes reminiscent of the magnificent manga 2001 Nights by Yukinobu Hoshino, They Were Eleven by Moto Hagio and the brilliantly inventive French comic series The Worlds of Aldebaran by Brazilian writer and author Leo. Seriously, if you like Astra, check those books out. Fans of No Man’s Sky might also want to take a look. (I have lost hundreds of hours to that game.)
Astra follows a group of eight High School students (plus a younger sister character) as they find themselves mysteriously warped thousands of light-years from home during a space-camping trip. They find a suspiciously empty starship waiting for them that has had its communication array sabotaged, perhaps by one of their own. What follows is a record of their journey home, planet by planet as they stock up on food and water for each successive leg of their trip.
The characters are well drawn and easy to tell apart, each has their own strong personality, behavioural quirks and motivations. A background hint of conspiracy adds some spice, as does the simmering menace of an undisclosed antagonist in their midst. So far the alien planets have been interesting and varied. I like their edibility testing device that shouts “Yummy!” if a food is safe to ingest, even if this does stretch credibility. I’d be more worried about whatever terrifying micro-organisms exist on each planet and what new diseases they might suffer, but that’s just me. I can’t wait for the next episode.
How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift: Up to episode 6
This is like Cells at Work - Gym and Boobs Edition. It has a similar edutainment vibe to last year’s animated human biology lesson, along with some sparkling humour, running jokes and plentiful sight gags. As others have mentioned already on this site, Dumbbells gets a lot right about exercise, giving great advice about form and intensity. It does not get nutrition right however, and I’d advise anyone interested to look at my esteemed fellow writer Ishamael’s article here.
Dumbbells follows a group of schoolgirls (and their teacher) through their quest to get fitter at their local gym. Wait - come back - it’s really not as boring as it sounds. For one, there’s lots of chest-close ups, slender thighs and toned butts. Yes, that got your attention didn’t it? The producers of this know what they’re doing. If lithe schoolgirls’ bodies perspiring and groaning don’t get otaku weeb nerds into exercise, nothing will.
The fanservice in this is fairly prominent, but it could be so much worse. It’s innocent for the most part. Trainer Machio is rarely to be seen clothed, so girl viewers aren’t left out - they get to ogle muscle dudes. Even the slightest hint of excitement (always non-sexual, always exercise-related) and his improbably proportioned muscles ripple and explode out of his tracksuit, shredding his clothes like those of your average abused Hentai heroine. Machio’s muscled form is mostly played for laughs, none of the girls look as remotely shredded because if they did, I expect the viewership would plummet.
Cop Craft: Up to episode 1
So I would have watched more of this if F***mation had let me. They didn’t. Bastards. Anyway, this looks interesting. It’s a buddy cop drama with a typical grizzled veteran Police Officer who’s lost his partner in a bust gone wrong and been assigned a replacement - and she’s a noble caste alien fairy with magical powers. Surely nothing can go wrong? The first episode set the scene effectively, if not in overly exciting fashion. I’d like to see more. Hell, I’ll probably have to torrent it unless F***mation fix their broken streaming apps. That I have paid for. Bastards.
Vinland Saga: Not started
I so, so, so want to watch this, but it looks like the sort of show better served by watching in larger chunks. I’m not going to delay this article for it but I expect I won’t be able to wait much longer, the hype for this one is real on the AniTAY chat. I wonder if because it is buried on Amazon Prime, does that mean no-one else will watch it? Will this gem be buried?
Kakegurui XX: Not started
So I said last time that as this sequel series to the bonkers High School Predatory Lesbians Who Gamble was released so late in the Spring season in one of Netflix’s typical random binge splurges, I would treat it as a Summer season show. I’ve... not got round to it. There’s only so many hours in the day. I’ll watch it... eventually.
Symphogear XV: Not started
I had never heard of this series. Some folks are almost bursting with excitement that this show is now available to stream legally in the West. I think it is the 5th season that’s currently airing weekly on Crunchyroll, along with a week-by-week release of the 4th season (Symphogear AXZ) in tandem. Wait... what? Surely it would make more sense for all of the previous seasons to be available prior to the latest? I desperately want to try this show as its evangelists are rabid in their devotion, but... I’ll wait until I know its all available first. What a weird broadcasting decision. I wonder if this was at the request of the Japanese licensors who perhaps have little grasp on the workings of reality?
Thanks so much for reading to the end of my fevered ramblings. Let me know in the comments if you’ve watched any of these shows, what you thought of them, and also if you have any recommendations for me. I’ll be back at the end of the season for a postmortem examination of Summer’s bloated corpse.