I have been in love with anime since I first caught Miyazaki’s Laputa, Castle in the Sky (presumably the old Streamline dub) on UK terrestrial TV in the 1980s. A few years later, my folks moved to the city where I gained access to cable TV and all manner of obscure channels. Some channels showed anime like Gall force and Locke the Superman, most of which I found utterly incomprehensible, though the exotic aesthetic attracted me.
In the mid ‘90s, BBC2 broadcast Akira, which for many of my generation was the seminal moment that anime came alive. The manga was serialised in the monthly Manga Mania magazine and from there began my long descent into madness and obsession, helped along by Project A-ko, Ranma ½ and Evangelion. In my house I now have a “study” full of anime DVDs and blu-rays, its shelves bloated and heaving with manga volumes. The 2000s was a fallow time for anime and manga in the UK but with the advent of easily accessible streaming in the 2010s I got back into anime in a big way.
I’m really enjoying the current season. Most seasons I’ll follow 4-5 shows and catch up on others after they’ve finished. This time I’m following 8, plus there’s a few more that look interesting. In no particular order, here’s my thoughts on the shows I’m watching. (All are available to stream on Crunchyroll)
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
The Promised Neverland
I already read the manga up to volume 8. This is a masterful adaptation of a great source material. The cinematography is interesting, with odd skewed angles that add tension to an already taut story. All that mars the excellent presentation is some pretty janky CG for the indoor moving camera scenes. With a constant, evolving sense of dread and a focus on smart characters and their plans and counter-plans, the show is reminiscent of the work of the better western YA authors like Philip Pullman. And that awesome theme song…. Nananananananananana indeed.
I don’t normally like over-emotional soap-operas dripping with hysteria and contrived shenanigans, but I was tainted by Scum’s Wish from a few season’s back and thought this sounded similar. It’s definitely even more trashy and exploitative, with a ridiculous premise that stretches credulity past its limit. The teenage main character’s long-term teacher crush and his anonymous one-night stand (to whom he lost his virginity) both become his surprise step-sisters and both want to pursue a relationship with him? Really? However this is highly entertaining car-crash TV, even though I sometimes have to watch through clasped fingers while groaning and cringing at the terrible decisions those characters make.
Rising of the Shield Hero
I’m not a big Isekai fan either, though I did enjoy Re:Zero and I’ve got a soft spot for Overlord. I had no intention of watching this show until I read Nick Creamer’s rating of the first episode on Anime News Network’s Winter 2019 preview guide: “Burn it and salt the earth”. I really respect that site’s reviewers, though I often find my opinions diametrically opposed to theirs. In that case, I thought, I’ll probably like it. And I do - it’s an engaging premise with a few… ah… problems that have been widely discussed and dissected in anime fandom. It’s a bit tone-deaf in the era of #MeToo to start your story with a false rape accusation, and I wonder if this plot point could have been handled better. That does give this story something of an edge and an identity of its own however, and who wouldn’t feel righteous indignation at the wrongs visited upon the hapless main character Naofumi? I get a warm feeling inside when his good nature shines through his affected gruff persona and he (re)gains other characters’ respect. The less said about this show’s bizarre attitude to slavery the better. In a modern time of sexual slavery and people trafficking, the issues around deuteragonist Raphtalia happily agreeing to return to bondage leave a very bad taste in my mouth.
Kaguya-sama - Love is War
I love this to the point I just bought all of the currently available manga volumes off Amazon (other online retailers are - apparently - available). It’s like a mix of Death Note with a sappy cliche high school slice of life romance that’s been injected with just the right amount of paranoia, subterfuge, weirdness and oddball craziness. This might be my favourite show this season. The ridiculously unhinged main characters truly deserve one another and Chika’s amazing dance-meme-thing has been shown to all my friends and family. “Look - a single animator spent 3 months animating this entire thing at 24fps!!! Isn’t it awesome!!!” They tend to shrug, give me a funny look and back away slowly saying “That’s nice, Kev,” while they try to either escape or change the subject.
Mob Psycho II
The first series of this I loved even more than One-Punch Man by the same author. Mob as a main character was something of a cipher to begin with, but he’s become so relatable that I want to cheer him on through his troubles. The other characters are flawed but very human and those who take advantage of Mob either get their comeuppance or become allies and friends. These characters grow and develop, with a great sense of justice and progression in the story. You wouldn’t think it to look at the simplistic character designs, but Mob Psycho II probably has the most technically impressive feats of animation this season. Detailed, psychedelic, creative and exciting, I’d recommend this to anyone.
Boogiepop and Others
I was aware of the original light novels and Boogiepop Phantom anime series from the early 2000s but hadn’t got round to checking them out. This mysterious and atmospheric series captured me with its labyrinthine, non-linear approach to storytelling. The sheer number of characters is so dizzying that I had to consult an online character “cheat sheet” to keep track of what was happening to whom and where and when. The series is so well-paced and constructed though that I didn’t care. The extra effort one has to put in to follow the story I think actually enhances it in this case. And those opening and ending songs are amazing and have been a permanent part of the YouTube playlist on my work PC. Boogiepop themself’s cute smug smile with voice to match is nothing but icing on the cake.
That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime
Another Isekai. I’m not really a fan. Honest. Last season I enjoyed the first few episodes of this oddball fantasy for the way it inverted common cliches. I like how the narrative progresses mainly through negotiation and compromise rather than basic shonen-style fighting and power escalation (though there is a bit of each). This approach can rob the narrative of urgency though, and the plot often ambles from one low-stakes character introduction to the next. If you accept it as “making pals in a fantasy world”, then I guess it’s ok. I’ll keep watching in the hope something more dramatic will happen in future. The episodes pass quickly and easily, so it’s not a chore.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5
The other series I’m watching that carried on from last season is the perennial JoJo. (Or Gio Gio in this iteration.) I’ve mixed feelings about this. It’s probably my least favourite of the shows I’m following this season. I loved part 4 for its weird characters and (relatively) down-to-earth story. This time it’s taken me awhile to get into the heads of the characters and GioGio himself often has only a bit-part in his own story. Though saying that, the last couple of episodes (20 and 21) have been pure dynamite and a friend who’s read far ahead into the manga assures me that the best is yet to come. I just wish Trish wasn’t such a non-character at the moment. She’s a walking plot device with no agency of her own. I suspect this may be a deliberate story choice so I live in hope she’ll be kicking Stand ass herself soon.
Eight shows is a lot to keep track of, yet there are other shows this season that have piqued my interest. I’m a fan of the original Tezuka Dororo manga, and I’ve heard good things about the anime adaptation. I’ll wait until a few more eps are available and binge it then. “The Price of Smiles” looks interesting and everyone in the AniTAY group chat raves about “the Quintessential Quintuplets” so I guess I’d better get over my visceral revulsion for harem anime and give it a try.
I’ll try almost anything, as long as it’s legal. (With everything streaming now I don’t have to torrent iffy fansubs anymore!)