So I’m a really big fan of The Promised Neverland. It’s a pretty unconventional manga for something running in Shonen Jump, with its stellar artwork and equally strong storytelling making for an exciting read from week to week. However as it continues to grow in popularity and attract new readers, there’s been an ever increasing tendency to directly compare it with another unconventional Jump manga: Death Note. Given that Death Note is pretty much a cultural phenomenon at this point, and the manga is a series I still hold in pretty high regard (even if I don’t necessarily enjoy it for all the same reasons I did when I was 13) it’s not a totally unflattering comparison, but the deeper and deeper I get into Neverland’s run, the more it starts to feel like a pretty shallow one. Normally I’d just lay out the differences in genre and call it a day but that would be boring, so instead I’m here to talk about why TPN isn’t necessarily the “new Death Note” some people have claimed it is.
Before I start diving into the differences, it’s only fair that I point out some of the similarities first since it’s not like these comparisons are happening for no reason. Neverland’s writer, Kaiu Shirai has noted Death Note’s author, Tsugumi Ohba as one of his inspirations (alongside Naoki Urasawa of Monster fame, and Jojo’s Hirohiro Araki) and it’s pretty easy to see where that influence takes root. Both series employ “battles of wits” that are conveyed with all the intensity of a traditional battle manga, and both also share a love for being heavily detailed and analytical when it comes to conveying information. This gives both a pretty high level of appeal for those who are into those kinds of scripted layouts, as well as for anyone (like me) who prefers their shonen to have a clear sense of direction since the attention to detail means that both series have to be planned out pretty well in advance in order to work effectively. That however, is where the similarities end.
Thriller v.s. Thriller
We’ve already established that both series are “mind game” thrillers of a sort, but despite a few of the similarities I mentioned, the way in which they each choose the execute those elements is pretty different. Like I mentioned in a previous article where I briefly compared the two, Death Note starts out with Light having access to a notebook that can kill people, and by the time he comes across his rival L, he already has a pretty clear knowledge of how it works. This setup means that Light generally has to use his knowledge of the Death Note and it’s limitations to lure L and any of his other “opponents” into scenarios where he can easily dispose of them. Thus, most of the suspense in Death Note, comes from discovering just how far in advance, or how elaborately he or any of the other characters have planned ahead (all those “just according to keikaiku” memes exist for a reason after all).
Neverland in comparison, takes almost the exact opposite approach. Since it’s also a bit of a mystery series in addition to being a thriller, Emma and co, start off with almost zero knowledge of the rules and nature of their world. This means that rather than coming up with complex schemes, the characters are constantly on the search for new information and their wits are demonstrated not in how well they can plan ahead (though there are a couple of occasions where that factors in), but in how well they can piece together what they know, and how quickly they can learn from and adapt to unfavorable situations. There’s advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but as far as any direct comparisons go it means that whereas DN basically builds itself on long-term planning, Neverland is almost entirely unsuited to that approach, and is actually at it’s best as a thriller when the characters have to act from moment to moment.
Thriller v.s. Fantasy
I brought up the differences in genre earlier, and while it isn’t exactly the defining factor separating these two, it is a pretty big one. Death Note, in essence, is a thriller series with some horror and fantasy elements. The Promised Neverland on the other hand, is a dark fantasy/horror series with thriller elements. On the surface that might not seem like a particularly big contrast given that the same basic elements exist in both series, but that difference in priorities, makes them pretty different as stories.
In that respect, Death Note’s first and utmost priority is to be an entertaining thriller. While it does offer some musings regarding Japan’s views on capital punishment and vigilantism, most of that comes off as a byproduct how well constructed its thriller elements are rather than being the actual point. It’s also not particularly interested in exploring its fantasy elements either, as much of the lore surrounding the Shinigami realm from which the titular notebook originates is mostly just there to serve as a mechanic for how the rules of its thriller elements work, and matter so little to DN as a story that they could easily be swapped out for something else, and barely affect much of its goals. That heavy focus on thriller elements also carries over to how DN functions as an actual narrative since the basic setup for Light and L’s “battle” means that the story could only really end one of two ways (and made it pretty clear early on which of those two ways it leaned towards), so aside from having a couple of wrenches thrown in, the actual story of Death Note is more or less built on an inevitable outcome, and the most of the enjoyment comes from how crazy and elaborate each of its various setups are, rather then where they all ultimately lead.
Neverland, again, is pretty different in this respect as contrary to a lot of the buzz surrounding it: it’s a dark fantasy/horror first and a thriller second. The suspense thriller elements aren’t completely inconsequential, and they do add a lot to its appeal, but they primarily exist to move the story forward instead of being the actual point. Much like how Death Note’s fantasy elements barely affect any of what it actually does, Neverland’s “mind game” thriller elements mean so little to its long term goals, that it abandons them almost entirely after the first story arc, and it very frequently handles its big revelations in a way that would that would be detrimental if it were only interested in being a pure thriller, but make perfect sense in the service of telling a larger story. Instead its focus is on exploring its fantasy setting, and the nature of said setting is directly tied to it’s core themes regarding hope v.s. nihilism, which are ultimately at the heart of Neverland’s goals rather than just being subtext. The lesser focus on thriller elements also allows for Neverland’s story to have a broader sense of scope, and while it still has a pretty linear focus in spite of that, the extra flexibility gives it more room to go into the things it wants to say, and makes the story’s ultimate destination, a little harder to predict in the long run.
Emma v.s. Light
And now we’re down to the last, and perhaps most definitive thing separating these two: their protagonists. While that may not seem like it’d be as big a deal as anything plot-related, the elements that define a protagonist often reflect the values and ideals of the stories they’re attached to, and its there where you can really see how DN and TPN contrast. As far as all that’s concerned, Emma and Light Yagami are basically polar opposites, and so much so that they’d probably loathe each other on sight.
The elements that define Light as a character are his intelligence, arrogance, the ability to manipulate others, and his belief that the world is better off without those who he views as a hindrance. Seeing as Light is technically the villain of Death Note, its easy to make the argument that we’re supposed to hate every aspect of his character, but while it pretty much goes without saying that three of those four traits are bad news, (unfortunately not enough for some, but that’s a whole other debate entirely) the audience is at the very least, meant to be in awe of his intelligence and how effectively he can prioritize logic over emotion. The appeal of those final elements more or less carries over to the majority of Death Note’s cast in general, as personality traits are largely secondary compared to how “cool and smart” the individual characters are, with those who prioritize rationality being the ones who pull ahead, while those who are more emotional are generally dunked on.
Emma on the other hand, is generally defined by her empathy, willpower, and her desire to never abandon the people she cares about, even when it would be considered the “smart” thing to do. She’s certainly no fool, and her ability to read people is generally considered to be an asset, but her sense of compassion is at the core of what makes her a compelling character. Under the same token, while the story isn’t shy about challenging her idealism, it’s also continually shown to be in favor of it, and Emma is very much at the heart of everything the series wants to convey. All of this more or less puts Emma in direct conflict with the things Death Note values, as her emotionally-driven behavior is the kind of thing it looks down upon. Of course, Light wouldn’t exactly be at home in Neverland either, as pure rationality and putting oneself ahead of others aren’t stances it’s in favor of, and so much so that the character whose world view most closely coincides with that ends up having to realize how shortsighted that sort of thinking is in the long run.
So…yeah Death Note and The Promised Neverland are two different beasts. Both share a love for battles of wit and being heavily detailed, but their overall execution, characters, and themes, put them in pretty stark contrast with each other. There’s definitely things to appreciate in both series (as well as things in DN I kind of wish people didn’t appreciate), but as far as any direct comparisons go, it’d be nice if people could find a better point of contrast for Neverland than Death Note, because in spite of what’s been said it isn’t really the “new” Death Note. If anything, it’s the anti-Death Note.
Synopsis: Riko is a young cave raider who dreams of exploring the depths of the giant chasm known as the Abyss like her mother did. However only being ranked as an apprentice level raider-or “Red Whistle”- means that she has a long way to go before her dream can become a reality. Her fate suddenly changes when she comes across a mysterious boy named Reg, who has a body that seems almost mechanical. Reg claims to come from the depths of the Abyss, and when Riko discovers a letter from her missing mother claiming that she’s waiting for her at the bottom, Riko and Reg embark on a journey to reach the bottom together.
Horror has always been a bit of a tricky area for anime to traverse. There’s certainly no shortage of creepy stuff in anime, and I’ve come across more than a few things that kept me up at night, but anime is such a uniquely bizarre visual medium to begin with, that most genuine attempts at horror come off as cheap shock value, or worse yet: goofy. Much like any good horror film, horror in anime only ever really works when it can catch you off guard or present something familiar in a way that feels disturbing. Very few shows have been truly successful in that respect, but last year’s Made in Abyss stands out as one of anime’s best examples of how to do horror right.
The beginning of Made in Abyss starts out simple enough, as we’re introduced to our protagonist Riko: a plucky young girl who dreams of one day exploring a giant chasm known as the Abyss, where all sorts of unknown creatures and phenomena reside. After one day receiving a letter from her missing mother saying that she’s waiting at the depths of the Abyss, and coming across a mysterious “robot boy” named Reg, Riko and Reg embark on a journey to reach the bottom, and learn more about Reg’s past along the way. On the surface, this comes off as a simple, but fun setup for a big adventure story not unlike something you’d see in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump, and for the first few episodes it sticks to what you’d expect out of that formula. The first levels of the Abyss are lush and vibrant, and while the beasts that reside in them can at times be dangerous, there’s never a sense that the duo can’t overcome the danger, and the world it presents feels majestic, making the audience feel naturally inclined to want to see more of what lies beyond, much in the same way Riko does.
However as Riko and Reg head deeper into the Abyss’s depths and receive a startling revelation about Riko’s connection to it, a gradual, but very noticeable change begins to happen with the show’s atmosphere. The once colorful and intriguing world of the Abyss becomes dark and isolating, and the beasts that reside within become more and more dangerous as the feeling of security that initially surrounded our leads is suddenly stripped away. By the time the season heads into its final act and the duo encounters a threat far bigger than they can handle, the show pulls out all the stops in depicting just how unforgiving the Abyss truly is, including everything from the most visceral depiction of pain that I’ve ever seen in animation, to a character backstory so disturbing, that it left me with a chill in a way that almost no other anime has really managed to do.
With such a dramatic shift in tone from the season’s first episode to its finale, its easy to imagine this going off the rails pretty quick, but it manages to stay consistent and engaging from beginning to end. Even when the story begins to dip into some pretty bleak territory, it maintains the same spirit of perseverance and curiosity it began with, while also providing an infectious sense of charm in both its characters and atmosphere. While a lot of these elements are shifted more towards a horror perspective than the more adventure shonen one that it starts out with, these moments of dread always feel like a natural evolution, and the show never seems like it’s forcing its hand. All of this helps to make for a much more powerful experience than would be expected at first glance, and for a story that I’m already eager to get back to when the next season arrives.
As effective as the show’s storytelling is though, something like this can only ever really work when it has the right visual style to match and director Masayuki Kojima and the staff at Kinema Circus have achieved this in spades. While the character designs for most of the show’s human cast are almost purposefully cute and cartoony, the backgrounds of the Abyss feel more like something out a classic fairy-tale, going from vast and colorful, to hauntingly beautiful which allows each of its various environments to feel both fantastical, and very much lived in throughout any given scene. This same level of detail is also carried over into the designs of the creatures that live in the Abyss as each of them manage to feel like the sort of mix between wondrous and dangerous that can only ever be encountered in nature, even when the beast themselves look pretty out there. It’s all kind of magical to behold in a way, and all of this fantastic art direction is supported by an equally fantastic musical score courtesy of composer Kevin Perkin, who always manages to find the right track to fit just about any moment in the show and helps to elevate even some of its most simple scenes into effective tools for capturing its incredible atmosphere.
If there’s one negative point I’d have to give against the show, it would be its occasional moments of sexualization for its pre-pubescent leads. From my understanding, this is more an issue of the source material than anything the anime is doing intentionally, and it’s clear that the staff tried their best to tone this down as much as possible, but there’s still more than a few lingering shots and crude jokes that made me feel kind of uncomfortable. Given the show’s generally positive reception, I imagine this won’t be a deal breaker for most audiences, and its thankfully never played up enough to outright kill the experience. Still it’s there just enough to be noticeable, and it’s kind of a shame since the show otherwise feels pretty accessible to a more general audience than typical late night anime.
It’s a rarity for anime to ever truly get horror right, but Made in Abyss really managed to pull it off. Between its likable characters and incredible sense of atmosphere, there’s a whole lot to enjoy here, and its last few episodes managed to give off a sense of dread that I’ve almost never experienced in an anime before. While its unfortunate penchant for sexualizing the kids is something I wish was gone from the show entirely, it hits hard on enough levels, that it feels almost impossible not to get swept up in all of its charm and mystique. I certainly enjoyed my time traversing the Abyss, and with another season on the horizon, I’m looking forward to the chance to dive in once again.
Synopsis: Akira Fudo’s life is forever changed when he finds himself reunited with his childhood friend, Ryo Asuka and taken to an underground party called a Sabbath in the hopes of summoning a devil. After getting possessed by one of these devils himself, Akira finds himself with a powerful new body, but still manages to retain his human heart. Now living as a “Devilman”, Akira works with Ryo to hunt down other devils, and to keep their existence from being exposed by society at large, but can there really be such as thing as a demon with a heart?
It’s been a couple of years since Netflix first announced their intent to add their own exclusive anime to the service, and the first of these has finally arrived in the form of Devilman Crybaby. Crybaby serves as a brand new adaption of Go Nagai’s classic Devilman manga, and one brought to life through critically acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa, who has brought us such works as The Tatami Galaxy (still waiting on a physical release there, Funimation) and Ping Pong the Animation. Go Nagai is unquestionably one of the most influential manga authors to have ever been in the industry, and Yuasa has consistently been one of the most visually creative directors I’ve seen in anime, so needless to say that I was pretty eager to check this out. What I ultimately walked away with though, was an experience that both for better and for worse, was one I certainly won’t forget.
While I’ve ever actually had the opportunity to read the original Devilman manga, much less any of Go Nagai’s works in general, I do know that he’s had an almost infamous reputation for graphic content, and it certainly shows in this series. Right out of the gate, the show is an unapologetic storm of crazy ultra violence, and equally insane sexual imagery that feels more akin to a late 90’s OVA, than a modern anime production. Whereas it would normally be expected for Yuasa to tone down some of this material to make it more palpable for modern audiences, he instead chooses to do the exact opposite. Yuasa fully embraces the overly sexual nature of Nagai’s work to the point where he actually ramps up its intensity, and the result is equal parts fascinating, and understandably overwhelming. Make no mistake: this series is about as hard of an R-rating as it gets, and its easy to see how Netflix was an ideal platform for this project, because there’s absolutely no way it would have made it onto Japanese television as is. What keeps all of this from coming off as cheap shock value however, is that much of this imagery is framed as horrific and savage, rather than cool or stimulating, and that framing ultimately has a clear purpose, as it gradually becomes apparent that the series has quite a lot to say, underneath it all.
The show’s first few episodes are its most straightforward, as Akira finds himself transformed into a demon, and works with Ryo to both fight off other demons they come across, and to keep any involvement with them secret. As it progresses further though and we’re given more time to spend with the rest of the show’s cast, it begins to show an almost surprising amount of humanity. Some of it’s strongest examples come in the form of a Miko Kawamoto, a girl whose spent almost her entirely life hiding in the shadow of her friend Miki, and wants to be acknowledged by both her and the rest of the world as her own person, or a group of young rappers who are generally viewed as troublemakers based purely on their appearance. The show does it’s best to make you empathize with these characters and ends up placing a lot of importance on the power of empathy itself, arguing that underneath our individual differences, we are all capable of love, and that love should propel us to reach out and care for each other.
And then, as the show heads into its final act, and the existence of demons is exposed to humanity at large, that argument begins to shift. Hatred and discrimination quickly takes over, and while the importance of empathizing with each other remains as significant as ever, those voices of hope quickly die out in the face of overwhelming violence and cruelty. All of this ends up resulting in an ending so bleak that it’s hard not to walk away from it feeling uncomfortable, and Go Nagai’s ultimate message here seems to be that humanity will never be capable of placing love over hatred until the latter destroys us. As someone who does generally believe that the ability to love and empathize with each other can over come our baser tendencies, I certainly can’t bring myself to agree with this view point, but the presentation here is effective enough that if nothing else, I can at least respect it.
As I said before, Masaaki Yuasa, is one of the most visually inventive directors in anime and his aesthetic is all over this show, but his style can be a little polarizing to general audiences. The production by his studio Science Saru, provides a mix of 2D and flash animation, that manages to deliver on some impressive looking cuts, while combining them with his signature flat art style, giving the series a distinctive look, that while slightly goofy at times, generally helps in selling the show’s graphic imagery. Kensuke Ushio’s soundtrack for the series is equally impressive, as its mix of orchestral and techno music gives the series a sound that matches it’s 90’s OVA aesthetic, and the decision to include a few pieces of Japanese rap, not only helps to make the show feel more unique but allows it to better express its ideas. However the real crowner for the show’s music definitely has to go to it’s opening theme, “MAN HUMAN” by Denki Groove, an instrumental piece that manages to be equal parts catchy and haunting, and never fails to set the mood for the series’ heavier moments (even if Netflix’s autoplay feature insists on making you skip it).
The english dub for the series was handled by SDI Media, and it serves as a pretty good match for the material. Despite being a couple of octaves higher than Kouki Uchiyama’s performance, Griffin Burns is a solid match for the overly empathetic Akira, while Kyle McCarley makes for an equally impressive Ryo, making every ounce of the character’s twisted attitude a delight to listen to, and allowing the two performances play off of each other pretty well. The rest of the cast is also pretty solid, with some standout performances from Doug Erholtz as the sleazy reporter Nagasaki, and Cindy Robinson as the temptress, Silene, with the only major outliers being Dorthy Fahn as Taro, and Anne Yatco as Miki’s mother, as both sound a little too much on the stiff side. It’s hampered down a little by some multicasting for a lot of the bit parts, but all in all, if you’re looking to check out the show in English, you should be in for a good time.
Even with Yuasa’s general track record when it comes to interesting content, I was still pretty amazed at just how much was packed into this, and it made for one heck of a wild ride. While the show’s conclusion might have been a little too nihilistic for me, there’s no denying it’s powerful, and while I may have came in expecting mostly just violence and sex, what I walked away with was a much more human story than I could have possibly imagined. Devilman Crybaby is not an easy show to watch, both for it’s graphic content and its final moments, but it is undeniably a work of passion, and that passion shows. From it’s incredible direction, to the heavy hitting nature of the material itself, this show was quite an experience, and while it left me with a lot of mixed emotions, it’s one I’m ultimately glad I saw through to the end.
The wave of new anime continues as the Winter season hits it’s second week, and more premieres are coming down the pipeline. So far it doesn’t seem like this season will test the limits of my sanity, but there’s still plenty more to check out, so might as well get started
Bad: Stay away far away from this one. Not worth watching
Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a couple of episodes to see how it goes
Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now
Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance
Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .
All series synopsis from Anime Planet ———————————————————————————————–
Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san
Synopsis: Nishikata is a middle school student who has suffered humiliation due to being teased by Takagi, the girl who sits next to him. Since then, he has vowed to one day do the same to her and succeed in teasing her.
First Impressions: So this is a show I was a little more aware of going in, but I also wasn’t sure how much it was going to grab my attention. It’s premise is essentially based off of one joke and since I’m already kind of rooting for Nishikata to eventually succeed in getting one over Takagi, it’s hard to say how much mileage the show is going to get out of that one joke for me. For what it’s worth though, this premiere was certainly cute and the dynamic between Nishikata and Takagi works well enough that I’m hoping the two of them will eventually be more honest about their obvious crushes on each other even if that’s probably not going to happen here. It also managed to get a couple of chuckles out of me so, I might keep going if there isn’t much else to watch on Mondays, but since I’m not currently sure if this will actually be able to maintain my interest for a full 12 episodes, I’m currently on the fence with it.
Basilisk: The Ouja Ninja Scrolls
Synopsis: The battle for succession that continued for three generations of shogun in the Keichou era culminated in a gruesome battle of ninja arts between the Kouga and Iga clans. Amidst a rain of flower petals, a man and woman who had decided to live for love were separated once again, beautiful in their transience.
First Impressions: Of all the sequels coming out this season, this one is the weirdest. The original Basilisk anime was a manga adaption by Gonzo, and was essentially if Romeo and Juliet was about ninjas and the feud between their two families escalated into a battle royale. Needless to say that show ended pretty violently, so I was really surprised it got another series, and this already looks like it’ll be a similar setup. The main difference this time though (aside from the more generic character designs) is that the Romeo and Juliet ninjas of this story happen to be siblings which is uh…more than a little questionable (and no the weirdness of it being acknowledged by the other characters doesn’t make it any less so) and this first episode is largely just setup as it’s dedicated to showing off the various powers of these soon-to-be-dead warriors. I can’t exactly say that there’s anything in this premiere that would really be enticing to newcomers, and the actual character introductions here are pretty weak, but watching ninjas fight to the death again is bound to be entertaining if nothing else, so if my Mondays stay light, this’ll probably make for an decent distraction.
After the Rain
Synopsis: 17-year-old high school student Akira Tachibana is a girl who barely expresses herself. She harbors a secret crush on Masami Kondou, the 45-year-old manager of the family restaurant she works at part-time.
First Impressions: This was a title that I was kind of interested in checking out, but was also simultaneously very apprehensive about. While I wasn’t sure about the exact details behind it, I knew coming in that the basic premise was about a high school girl’s attraction to a middle aged man, and it’s not exactly a scenario that I imagine most folks are comfortable with, myself included. Having said that though, this first episode sure made a for a strong case in the show’s favor as it does a fantastic job of getting us into Akira’s headspace purely through her actions as we get an immediate feel for how isolated she feels thanks to an as-of-yet explained event, and the way in which she goes about dealing with her crush is equal parts cute and down to earth. Kondou himself comes off as pretty likable for the amount of time we spend with him, and the overall direction of the show feels downright pleasant, as it’s packed with solid character animation, and some shots that were so gently framed, I seriously forgot this was a WIT production. Of course, none of this really negates the fact that the show’s premise is a hard sell, and I’m still kind of worried about exactly what direction it’ll go with this, but this was such strong premiere that uncomfortable scenario aside, I’m willing to go along for the ride.
Synopsis: Hazuki Kagimura is a normal girl who is usually alone. With her relationship with her new family not going so well, she retreats every day to the world of stories and books. One day, after school, one of the library’s bookshelves sends her to another world with a magic school, where she meets Shizuka Tsuchimikado. She finds out that girls (called “mädchen”) who attend the school are selected by old fairy tails and folk stories to wield their magic, and are taught how to wield it in the school. The school has girls who are chosen by such stories as Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, Issun-boushi, Der Freischütz, Shuten-douji, The Little Matchstick Girl, The Gigantic Turnip, Arthurian legends, and The Ramayana. Hazuki herself is chosen by the Cinderellastory. She begins her new life at the school to become a magic user, and be friends with Shizuka.
First Impressions: This was another title I was vaguely aware of coming in, and one that I was interested in checking out. The idea of a magical girl show based on fairy tale heroines sounded like a fun premise, and it was easy to imagine what kind of crazy ideas they could run with it. Unfortunately the show I actually watched, turned out to be a pretty boring waste of 23 minutes. While “isolated losers with no friends” is a pretty common staple for main characters, Hazuki is quite possibly one of the single blandest anime protagonists I’ve ever encountered. Nothing about her personality comes off as particularly exciting or even endearing, and her obsession with books feels more like a wacky anime trait than an actual part of her character, and since that IS supposed to be one of the defining factors of her character that we’re given here, there’s not really much of anything to go on. To make matters worse, in addition to our ultra boring protagonist, the show is pretty bland looking too, with the character designs being pretty cookie cutter, the visual direction virtually non-existent, and the OP theme having some of the most embarrassingly lazy clip-show animation I’ve ever seen for an anime opening (and given Magus Bride’s second opening for this season is also a lazy clip show, that’s saying a lot). I guess if you’re REALLY interested in the show’s supposed premise (which it doesn’t even elaborate on much in this premiere) it might be worth sticking it out longer, but I’m slamming this book shut.
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody
Synopsis: “Satou,” aka Ichiro Suzuki is a programmer in the middle of a death march. He was supposed to be taking a nap but somehow wakes up in another world… What lies before him is what looks like the menu screen of the game he was working before his nap. He’s at a complete beginner stage at level 1. However, he had three “Meteor Showers” which could level a whole map. Suddenly, a whole group of lizardmen appears in front of him. In order to survive, Satou uses Meteor Shower, his level jumped to 310 and he became extremely wealthy. Whether it be dream or reality, Satou’s journey was now beginning.
First Impressions: After a couple of seasons worth of absence, a new “trapped in a video game” has decided to grace us with its presence. This one apparently stars a 29-year old man, working a thankless job as a game designer, and if that seems too realistic for a light novel protagonist, rest assured that he’s only a grown adult for the first 9 minutes of the show, after which he’s transported into the game he was working on and becomes 16 again, with all the in-game powers of a demi-god. I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed that the show didn’t actually decide to follow through on staring an adult protagonist (he still sounds like an adult when he’s thinking to himself, but it’s just not the same) but the show actually does seem to have a trick or two up it’s sleeve. The biggest point in its favor so far is that rather than having the main character be insanely overpowered purely for the sake of a convenient power fantasy, he has in fact become SO overpowered that a test of his powers nearly kills him, and he seems to actually be something of a danger to his new environment since he can casually shrug off dangers that would be disastrous for anyone else. I have no idea if the show is going to actually follow through on this idea, and I’d be very surprised if it did, but the novelty of it was more than enough to keep me entertained the entire time. It’s also a pretty decent looking show for what it is, and I really appreciate the use of darker colors in the MC’s real-world life to establish how much his job sucks. I’m probably giving this more credit than it deserves, but this was certainly an amusing enough premiere and I’ll likely keep going with this until I get bored.
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens
Synopsis: At first glance, the city of Fukuoka seems like a peaceful one, but under the surface, crime is running rampant. The city’s Hakata ward is home to the professionals of the underworld: professional killers, detectives, informants, professional revenge seekers, those skilled in torture, and more. And according to urban legend, even a “killer of professional killers” exists in the city. When stories of the men in the underworld are told, a “professional killer murder” appears.
First Impressions: When I was checking out the lineup for this season, I didn’t give this one too much thought aside from its weird title, but this one could turn out to be interesting. It’s been a little while since we’ve had a “carnival of killers” show, and this premiere is largely about establishing all the different assassin factions based in this one city, and giving us the circumstances that allow the show’s two leads to meet. By far the most interesting thing about this premiere was how it managed to tie the individual factions together, and it could make for a fun Baccano-esque scenario, though I certainly wouldn’t expect this to be anywhere near as strong as that show was. Aside from that, I can’t say anything here was particularly impressive, but the show seems to be a lot more grounded than the premise would suggest, and I appreciate it’s more casual take on the seedy underworld of it’s setting rather than reveling in how dark it can be. Visually it’s a pretty by the numbers show, but it looks passable enough, and the music has a nice jazzy-vibe that fits aesthetic of the show. This certainly isn’t the most exciting premiere this season, but it more or less does what it needs to, and there’s enough potential for me to stick with it for a while.
Hakyu Hoshin Engi
Synopsis: A once thrived kingdom, In—now governed by an evil hermit, Dakki, and her party—is in a chaotic status with its people suffering Dakki’s oppressions. Seeing this, The Hermit Band took it seriously and planned a “Hoshin Plan” which is assigned to an apprentice hermit, Daikobo, who gathered partners, captured and sealed all evil hermits, and planned to establish a new kingdom. On the other hand, the strongest and an In- royal hermit, Bunchu, stood up against Daikobo to protect the old kingdom with all his might. Thus, the death battle among invincible hermits begins…
First Impressions: Of all the new shows coming out this season, this was probably the one that intrigued me the most. Ushio & Tora turned out to be a really excellent shonen throwback, so the idea of another classic shonen getting a revival seemed like something right up my alley. Sadly, though I’d have to say that this premiere is a mess. While my familarity with the manga only stretches as far as a handful of chapters I read way back when, I knew coming into this that it came to a grand total of 23 volumes, and since this is only slated for about 24 episodes, they were obviously going to have to cut a lot of material. Given that Ushio & Tora worked out well despite having to do the same thing, I wasn’t too worried about notable pacing issues, but it seems that rather than cutting out material to fit the story within the show’s episode count, the staff chose to do the exact opposite of that and are rushing through the plot at breakneck speed in order to fit in as much as they possibly can.
That approach works about as poorly as it sounds as this first episode moves a mile a minute, and things happen so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening in any given scene, and it gets to the point where I almost couldn’t tell who was talking with who. It’s a real shame, because the material I was able to piece together seemed interesting enough, and the show actually looks like a very polished production with gorgeous backgrounds, and some color visual direction, but things move so quickly that the show doesn’t give enough time to appreciate any of it. Sacrifices were to be expected when it came to the amount of material the staff had to compress, but this premiere felt like it should have been spread out into 2 or 3 episodes, and if it’s coming out of the gate this troubled, I’m scared how the rest of it’ll turn out. I might give this another episode out of sheer curiosity, but I can’t imagine either new or familiar audiences being happy with this, and this feels like it’s going to be a project under siege.
Synopsis: Killing Bites are underworld duels between human-animal hybrids. One beast who knows no fear will fight in this animalistic world full of fear and insanity. This ultimate battle of the beasts will shock you to your core!
First Impressions: All I really knew about this one coming in is that it had something to do with furry girls and ultraviolence, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised this was on the trashier side of things. The first minute of the show features attempted rape, and things don’t really get that much more wholesome from there, as the actual furry people duels teased in the show’s premise are on the gruesome side of things, and since Amazon seems to have the uncensored version available for streaming, it’s literally full frontal when it comes to fanservice. In any other season this might be my go to choice for trashy entertainment, but since Devilman Crybaby was filled to the brim with ultraviolence and sex while also being ya know…good, I feel kind of spoiled now, and this felt a lot more shruggy than it probably otherwise would have been as a result. This is another one where I honestly can’t say whether or not I’ll give it another episode, but I guess if you’re in the mood for crazy trash, this is the place to look this season.
Darling in the Franxx
Synopsis: Set in the distant future, the land is ruined and humanity establishes the mobile fort city Plantation. Pilots produced inside Plantation live in Mistilteinn, also know as the “birdcage.” Children live there knowing nothing of the outside world or the freedom of the sky. Their lives consist of battling to carry out missions. Their enemies are mysterious giant lifeforms known as Kyouryuu, and the children pilot robots called Franxx to face off against them. For the children, riding the Franxx proves their existence. A boy named Hiro is called Code:016, and he was once known as a prodigy. However, he has fallen behind, and his existence seems unnecessary. Not piloting a Franxx is the same as ceasing to exist. One day, a mysterious girl known as “Zero Two” appears before him. Two horns grow out of her head.
First Impressions: And ending out my first impressions for this season, we have what was probably it’s most anticipated show. Studio Trigger shows tend to get people excited, and generally for good reason, but for one reason or another I ended up not paying too much attention to this in terms of previews and came in completely blind. That may have been for the best as this premiere is certainly solid, but moreso in flash than substance. 2D mecha animation is something of a dying breed these days, but this show is out to make as strong a case for it as possible because it comes roaring out of the gate with some awesome looking robot designs, and equally cool looking monsters. The animation here is spectacular, from the action to the character movements, is incredible and really feels like it’s hearkening back to Gainax’s most acclaimed mecha shows like Gurren Lagann and Eva. As far as the actual story itself goes it’s…kind of hard to say how it’ll go thus far. We spend most of the episode in Hiro’s headspace as we learn that he doesn’t like the feeling of being another cog in the apparently messed-up system that governs the world he’s in but the exact details behind his current isolation are a mystery, and the exact details of the show’s premise go largely unexplained (though with the amount of unsubtle sex metaphors making up some of it’s terminology I can make a few guesses), making the visual flair it’s strongest hook. Fortunately that’s a pretty strong hook. and while it’s hard to say if this’ll actually cover any new territory as far as mecha stories go, it at least seems like it has a story to tell. I wasn’t quite as blown away by this as would generally be expected of new Trigger things, but it certainly looks cool, and there’s enough potential on display that this a pretty easy recommendation if you’re looking for something big to get excited about this season besides Devilman.
And that’s it for my Winter impressions. Aside from my disappointment with Hoshin Engi, I have to say that so far this seems like it could be a pretty decent season. There’s some pretty comfy shows to check out this time around, and a couple of things that seem like they could have some serious potential. Of course it’s hard to say if any of that will stick, but hey if it doesn’t, Devilman Crybaby has ensured that there’s at least one show from the season that’s bound to stick everyone’s heads for a while. Until next time, stay animated
It’s the start of a new year everyone, and that means a year of new discovers, new political scandals, new potentially world ending disasters, and most important of all, new anime. The winter season is generally a pretty sleepy one, and the division with certain anime streaming services could easily make this worse, but there’s actually quite a bit of potentially interesting stuff this season, and there’s always the possibility of a sleeper hit or two. As always there’s quite a bit of stuff to get through, so let’s get to it.
Bad: Stay away far away from this one. Not worth watching
Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a couple of episodes to see how it goes
Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now
Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance
Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .
Synopsis: Scenery that we have never seen. Sounds that we have never heard. Scent that we have never smelled. Food that we have never tasted. And the surge of emotion that we have never experienced. This is the expedition of recollecting the pieces torn apart and sensation left alone. When we reach that place, what will we think? Howling, 40 degree angle. Raging, 50 degree angle. Shouting, 60 degree angle. A wilderness beyond the heavy sea. The furthest south, far from civilization. At the top of the Earth. We will find lights through the girls’ eyes to live tomorrow.
First Impressions: This one kind of fell under the radar for me, as while it looked kind of interesting, I assumed it was probably going to be a cute girls doing cute things kind of deal. What I got instead seems to be something that could actually turn out to be really exciting. The feeling of having never done anything adventurous in life that helps to kick off this story is something I can relate to pretty easily (I’m quite boring in case you couldn’t tell) and the premiere does a great job of capturing that desire to do the impossible while also leaving me immensely curious as to how our two heroines will actually make their supposed journey to the Antarctic. In addition to it’s solid hook, the show also has a pretty nice visual aesthetic going for it, as while its director Atsuko Ishizuka is generally known for her use of bright and outlandish colors in her shows, this has a much more muted look to it, and it serves the angle of realism that the show is apparently going for. I sure wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it looks like our first new anime of the year is actually off to a solid start
Ms. Kozumi Loves Ramen
Synopsis: Koizumi is a high school girl who looks like a cool beauty at first glance, but actually has an unexpected side of her that loves ramen.
First Impressions: This is another show I didn’t give much attention to in previews, but Winter’s generally a decent time for anime comedies, and going by the incredibly stylish OP song, this seemed like it could be pretty entertaining. The actual show itself on the other hand, left me feeling a little mixed. It’s premise seems very straightforward as it centers around a girl named Kozumi who’s passionate about ramen, and another who follows her everywhere because she thinks she’s cute. On the surface that seems like an okay enough setup for a comedy, and the ramen itself is detailed enough to make for some solid food porn. The problem lies in that Kozumi’s admirer is basically a stalker, and despite being turned down at the end of each of the premiere’s three shorts, the “joke” is that she can’t take no for an answer, and keeps trying to hang around Kozumi anyway. This could kind of work if the show gave the impression that Kozumi tolerated her enough that she might gradually warm up to her or something, but she’s clearly disinterested and it just makes the stalker girl’s antics come off as more pestering than endearing. Maybe I’ll consider giving this another shot if the season seems light on good comedies, but right now this looks like something I’m gonna take a pass on.
Synopsis: Rin enjoys camping by the lakeshore, Mt. Fuji in view. Nadeshiko rides her bike to see Mt. Fuji, too. As the two eat cup noodles together, they behold the beautiful scenery around them.
First Impressions: Continuing the trend of things that fell under the radar for me was this show, which coming in seemed like it probably wasn’t going to be for me. Series about cute doing cute things have to have a really strong hook to maintain my interest, and while it certainly wasn’t a hook I expected, cute girls doing camping trips seems like something I can get behind. I myself am a former Boy Scout and go on yearly trips with my dad’s troop so I know a pretty good deal about camping and the show manages to capture that feeling surprisingly well. From accurately setting up an A-tent to acknowledging how much of pain it can be to start campfires, the attention to detail was really impressive and it really felt like the kind of experiences I’ve had going on weekend camping trips. It helps that the show has a nice visual atmosphere as while the character designs are pretty standard as far as moe goes, the backgrounds really capture the rustic beauty of nature, and the last shot of Mt. Fuji towards the end pretty much nailed it home. As far as the characters themselves go, so far nothing about them stands out to me enough to assume they’ll be much more than the usual moe archetypes, but the two girls we’re introduced to so far are likable enough, and the show feels so relaxing that I can probably get over that if it can maintain the overall aesthetic of this premiere. I sure didn’t have any real interest in this one coming in, but while it’s brand of moe just happens to be attached to something I’m actually familiar with, it captures said thing well enough that I’m more than willing to give it a few episodes.
Katana Maidens~Toji no Miko
Synopsis: Since the ancient times, the Kannagi priestesses have used their swords, or Okatana, to exorcise the creatures known as Aratama that brought chaos upon the world of man. These maidens were known as Tojis. They are a special task force within the police. They are allowed to have their Okatana on their person because they are government officials, but they mostly consist of middle school and high school girls who go to one of five training schools throughout the country. Though they mostly live normal school lives, if they are given a mission, they take their Okatana and unleash their powers, fighting to protect the people. This spring, the top Tojis from five schools across the country have been gathered for a customary tournament where they will use their abilities and fight for the top position. As the many Tojis trained and prepared for the upcoming tournament, there was one girl who was even more determined than the others on improving her swordsmanship. What lies before the end of her Okatana?
First Impressions: So I’ll be completely honest in saying that decided to watch this show literally immediately after going through the first 5 episodes of Devilman Crybaby and checking out the first ep of Maid in Abyss on Prime Video since Anime Strike finally kicked the bucket. That seems to have been a pretty poor decision because despite having spent 23 minutes of my life on this show’s premiere, I couldn’t really tell you anything that happens in it. It’s among the latest in the moe action show genre that seems to have gradually become a thing over the years and the plot has something to do with girls with swords fighting ugly CG monsters and apparently having rough internal politics. Even though my mind was admittedly elsewhere while watching I can’t say that anything about this really grabbed me. The characters introduced so far seem like the general archetypes you’d expect from this type of show and while it’s certainly not the ugliest looking show around, it’s pretty bland on a visual front, and that made it’s occasional instances of awkward CG stand out more. In fairness, the show seems harmless enough, and if moe action shows are your jam, then I guess you might get something out of it, but for right now, I have enough to watch for this to be an easy pass.
Junji Ito Collection
Synopsis: The works of one of the most famous Japanese horror manga artists, Junji Ito, finally gets animated! This will be an omnibus animation where each episode will star different protagonists such as the famous Tomie, Soichi, and Fuchi!
First Impressions: Junji Ito is known throughout the world as a master of horror manga, so idea of an anime adapting some of his best short stories certainly seemed interesting enough. The premiere kicks off with a short story about a creepy boy named Souchi who goes around placing curses on people he doesn’t like. It’s an interesting story in and of itself but admittedly it didn’t really work too well as a horror story, and the visual direction, while competent, didn’t do much to make any of it particularly scary. However I was a little more impressed with the second short, as even though it only went on for about a minute, it at least ended on a grotesque enough visual to make me feel like we could be in for some neat stuff later on. I’ve been curious about Junji Ito’s works for a long time, so it’s pretty much a given that I’ll keep up with this, but while I certainly wasn’t bored by this premiere, I’m hoping the next episode has some better stories to adapt.
Record of Grancrest War
Synopsis: The fantasy action light novel series takes place on a continent ruled by chaos. The chaos breeds disaster, but the Lords of the continent have the power of “Crest” (a Mark of the Saint) that can calm the chaos and protect the people. However, one day the rulers throw away their creed of protecting the people, and instead start to fight each other with their powers to gain dominion over each other. The novels center on Silka, an isolated mage who scorns the Lords for abandoning their creed, and a wandering knight named Theo, who is on a journey to train to one day liberate his hometown, which is under tyrannical rule. Silka and Theo make an everlasting oath to each other as master and servant, and work together to reform this continent dominated by wars and chaos.
First Impressions: So I knew going in that the author’s previous series, Record of Lodoss War (or more specifically it’s OVAs) has generally been held up by the anime community as something of a classic, and while I haven’t gotten around to that one yet, it certainly helped to put this show on my radar. I can’t exactly say that this premiere blew me away, but it certainly holds a decent amount of promise. The show’s fantasy setting seems a little on the generic side, and the rough looking quality of the production right out the gate certainly doesn’t help with that, but it makes up for these deficiencies in other areas. One point in it’s favor is that it at least does a semi-admirable job of making its magic elements stick out from the rest of the show visually, and it manages to avoid feeling too infodump-y when it comes to exposition, which is always something I’m happy to see dodged when it comes to LN adaptions. The thing that really works for me so far though is the dynamic between it’s leads, as while they meet under some pretty contrived circumstances, the chemistry between them works well enough to make me curious about what they plan on accomplishing together, while leaving plenty to be explored for both. Overall this was a perfectly competent premiere and while I can’t exactly say this show is a standout, it looks like it’ll scratch my fantasy itch just fine
Synopsis: The project’s premise follows Kouta Hasegawa, a high school boy that loves the yellow Pom Pom Purin dog. By mere coincidence, he ends up attending the same school as Yuu Mizuno, a boy who likes the bunny My Melody. Yuu tells Kouta that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for liking Sanrio’s cute characters. Together, Kouta, Yuu, Shunsuke Yoshino, Ryou Nishimiya, and Seiichiro Minamoto learn to accept their love of the characters instead of feeling embarrassed.
First Impressions: I’ve said this before in previous seasons but male idol shows generally aren’t my kind of thing for all the reasons you can probably guess and even the ones with a decent hook usually have to go the extra mile to impress me. So needless to say I was pretty surprised when I walked away from this premiere satisfied. I suppose the biggest point in this show’s favor is that rather than throwing out all the bishies to the audience at once, the first episode is instead laser focused on the protagonist and how his love of cute things helped to make him into an introvert. Nothing about his story is particularly unique, and it was pretty easy to guess where its big dramatic turn was headed, but it was told just well enough to make me feel for him, and that certainly works out better for me than most male idol things I’ve tried. It also helps that the show has some surprisingly solid animation for its genre, and the visual direction is pretty effective too, helping to give it something of a more distinct look compared to its competition. It’s entirely possible the rest of the show is going to be a lot more ensemble focused, and said ensemble could just be the usual archetypes for this kind of series, but enough about this premiere impressed me that I’m willing to go along with it for a while longer.
Pop Team Epic
Synopsis: The self-described “crappy anime” centers around two 14-year-old girls, the short Popuko and the tall Pipimi. The story summary on the anime’s website quotes William Shakespeare’s Tweflth Night play, “There is no darkness but ignorance.”
First Impressions: I’m not even sure what to write here honestly, and I probably shouldn’t even bother. Nothing I could write would accurately depict the kind of experience this show is, and anything I’m capable of saying would spoil it. Just…go watch it I guess?
Synopsis: Yuzuko Aihara, a high school girl whose main interests are fashion, friends and having fun, is about to get a reality check. Due to her mom’s remarriage, Yuzu has transferred to a new, all-girls school that is extremely strict. Her real education is about to begin. From Day One, happy-go-lucky Yuzu makes enemies, namely the beautiful yet stern Student Council President Mei. So what happens when a dejected Yuzu returns home and discovers the shock of her life: that Mei is actually her new step-sister who has come to live with her? Even more surprising, when Mei catches Yuzu off-guard and kisses her out of the blue, what does it all mean?
First Impressions: Well I knew going in that this was a yuri show, and giving that explicitly yuri based titles tend to be on the trashier side of things, I tempered my expectations accordingly. Having actually watched the first episode, I can’t exactly say it wasn’t what I expected but it was definently better than I thought it would be. For one thing the show surprisingly well directed. It knows its audience is here to see girls making out, and lays out the fanservice accordingly while never getting so explicit that it affects the context of whatever’s happening. The show also looks pretty good, given that yuri titles tend to look like lower end productions, and it helps in making the episode’s sexual moments to be a bit more effective. Of course while there’s certainly a lot of nice window dressing here, it’s still a pretty trashy affair, and the first episode even ends in a makeout session, so if you were somehow hoping for an earnest lesbian romance, you’re probably gonna have to look elsewhere. As for me, I wasn’t really expecting much, and I still kind don’t, but the overall presentation in this premiere was just competent enough, that I’m willing to take a plunge on another episode.
Synopsis: 16-year-old Hana Ichinose who unbeknownst to her classmates was a year late in enrolling into high school. Although it may not seem like a big deal, it is a big deal to her. She wants to catch up with everyone else someday.
First Impressions: Me and moe have had something of a rough relationship over the years, as “cute girls doing cute things” is not my cup of tea, but it has also generally gotten better about knowing how to throw in some kind of hook for wider audiences. This show however, feels as though I’ve somehow gone back in time 10 years because it almost the literal personification of stereotypical moe. The character designs have the absurdly big eyes that people used to poke fun at, the artstyle is pretty bland, and the girls themselves are walking archetypes to the point where the heroine’s defining trait is literally that she looks too young to be in high school. If there’s one bright spot here it’s the character animation, which is so good in some instances that it almost feels outright offensive given that the characters themselves don’t really display enough personality to justify it. I had thought moe was past being this by the numbers but I guess I was wrong. As always, I’ll be fair in saying that if cute girls doing cute things is you’re jam, this should do a perfectly adequate job of filling your needs, but I personally need a little extra spice in my cute girl shows, and this was just too much of a slow start to keep my interest.
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment
Synopsis: In order to save her brother and nephew who have been kidnapped by a mysterious religious group known as the Genuine Love Society, Juri and her family cast a spell using a stone hidden by her grandfather to enter the world of stopped time known as Stasis. However, when they infiltrate the kidnapper’s base, they’re met by other people who can also move about freely. With grotesque creatures lurking about, will they be able to escape the parallel world and return to their normal lives?!
First Impressions: Since I assumed this was going to be locked under the recently defunct Anime Strike, I didn’t pay any attention this one in previews, but now that I actually CAN watch stuff on Amazon without the double paywall, I figured I’d give this a shot. This is the first series by Geno Studio, aka the zombie version of the anime studio, Manglobe and for a first show this seems…pretty middle of the road. We spend most of this first episode getting used to the main character and her family, the latter of whom come off as intentionally unlikable, and from there it transitions into the setup for a strange sci-fi thriller involving the ability to stop time. As the show has yet to really clue us on on what the premise will actually involve, the premiere is very much on the slow side of things, and middling production values don’t really help it stand out visually with the exception of some strange looking 3DCG when demonstrating the effects of stopping time, and it’s outrageously cool opening theme. This seems like it’s going to be one of those cases where I can’t really give my two cents on the show until I actually know what the heck it’s about, and since that’s apparently going to require at least one more episode, I guess it has my attention for now
Synopsis: In a certain corner of a certain park in a certain Ueno area of Tokyo exists the secret base of the “justice organization” called “Colors.” A group of three elementary school girls lead Colors, and the members of the group roam the park day and night (actually just until evening) to protect the peace of the park.
First Impressions: I feel like someone in Japan must have heard me complaining about how boring Slow Start was, because every ounce of this show feels like the superior version of that. I may not be big on the premise of cute girls screwing around for 20 minutes, but “kids being kids” is one of my favorite forms of slice of life shows (part in part why Ed, Edd n Eddy remains my favorite cartoon of all time) so little girls, screwing around and generally just being goofy kids, is something I am absolutely down for. There’s always something magical to me about seeing how much excitement little kids can make out of mundane activities, and both of this episode’s two shorts do a really great job of demonstrating the different personalities of the main trio while also making, some of the most believable little kids I’ve ever seen in anime. Their interactions with one of the town’s lazy cops made for some consistently solid jokes, and I walked away from this premiere feeling way more entertained than I was expecting. If the rest of the series can be as charming as this first episode one, than this is absolutely gonna be a keeper for me.
Synopsis: Ryuichi and Kotarou are brothers who lost their parents in an airplane crash. They’re taken in by the chairman of Morinomiya Academy, who lost her son and daughter-in-law in the same crash, on one condition: Ryuichi has to babysit the kids at the daycare room in the school! This room was opened to help the school’s teachers who had kids to take care of, but it suffers from a lack of staff until Ryuichi becomes the first member of the babysitter club formed to solve that problem.
First Impressions: Well I guess this must be the season where children take over anime because here comes another show about little kids. At first glance this seems like a show dedicated to showing off how cute little kids can be, and as someone who’s actually helped out in a few preschool classes, I’ll admit I’m a pretty good target for this sort of thing, and much like with Mitsuboshi Colors, I was impressed with how well this was able to make the kids feel like well…kids. What I wasn’t expecting though, was for this show to actually have a pretty solid emotional hook. While the two brothers losing their parents in the beginning of the episode is shot through so quickly that it almost feels like an excuse for this premise to exist, it turns out to actually be a deliberate measure as Ryuichi doesn’t really realize the impact that the loss of his parents has had on him, until he’s in a situation where he realizes he’s the only one left who can look after his little brother, and the scene hit so hard that it had me tearing up a little bit. It’s hard to say how much that feeling of loss is going to end up ultimately playing into this show, and I really hope it does, but if it doesn’t it at least has a strong cuteness factor going for it, and that makes this a pretty good pick up for me.
Another year has come and gone, and even though the world is currently in toil, the anime train continues to chug along. Personally though, it’s been a pretty slow year on that front as thanks to the existence of a certain streaming service *cough*Anime Strike*cough*, I’m sad to say that there’s a pretty decent amount of offerings that I ended up missing out on, and probably won’t get to until they’re available elsewhere. As such, I almost don’t really feel confident in doing another one of these articles, but even with what I missed out on, there was certainly no shortage of anime this year with just enough good stuff to keep the bad from feeling a little too overwhelming. So without any further ado, let’s look at some of this year’s highlights in anime
This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but that I still wanted to give something of a shout out to. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to voice acting and dubs.
Best Opening- “Baton Road” by KANA-BOON (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations OP 1)
I’ll be honest in saying that this wasn’t a particularly good year for me when it came to what I’ve seen of anime openings. There’s definitely been plenty of strong songs, but the visuals have been pretty lacking and it’s given quite a few shows (looking at you Magus Bride) a lot less of an identity than they otherwise deserved. For what’s actually impressed me though, I actually have to give it up to The Son of Boruto’s Dad. It’s first opening is incredibly stylish, with a sense of flair that feels reminsicent of Bleach OP’s (though given Bleach’s director is helming the show, that’s basically a given) while also conveying how much of an ensemble show it is compared to it’s predecessor. The song itself mostly just works as a catchy shonen theme and there’s at least a couple of other openings that would beat it out in terms of music, but of all the anime openings I’ve listened to this year, this is the only that malways makes me think of the show it’s attached to, and there’s no stronger sign of a good opening than that.
Honorable Mentions: “Fighter” by KANA-BOON (Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans s2 OP 2), “Imawa no Shinigami” by Megumi Hayashibara (Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju OP), “Soredemo Boku wa Ikiteiru” by NormCore (Evil or Live OP)
Best Male Character- Shoto Todoroki (My Hero Academia s2)
In some ways this feels like cheating given that he was technically in season 1, but he only really comes a character in season 2 so I suppose that balances itself out. Todoroki is introduced to MHA’s story as a secondary rival to Deku, and one with a giant chip on his shoulder as he has more than his share of issues with his father. However as the show dives deeper and deeper into said issues, it’s hard not to sympathize with him, and his big fight with Deku is easily the biggest emotional highlight of the show as he realizes he’s more than just a product of his parents. Seeing him reach a stage where he can separate the valueof his dad’s work from the cruelty of the man himself is a level of emotional complexity that I generally don’t see much in shonen, and I’m all for getting more of it. There’s been a lot of fun characters this year, but the heart of Todoroki’s story is really in a league of it’s own.
Honorable Mentions: Sword (GARO: Vanishing Line), Elias (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Mitsuki (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)
Best Female Character- Moriko Moritsuka (Recovery of an MMO Junkie)
Adult protagonists are a rariety in anime and anime following adult women are even rarer, but MMO Junkie provides one of the few examples in the form of Moriko Morioka: a salarywoman turned NEET who just wants to spend time doing what she enjoys. There’s a lot of ways in which her character could have easily been used to either romanticize the NEET lifestyle or demonize it, but her story is thankfully a much more personal one, and focuses on her using her online social interactions to come back out of her shell. Moriko herself is a geek through and through, and the show does an excellent job of making her feel relatable without going overboard, and as someone who’s formed a few meaningful friendships online, a lot of her feelings on the subject really resonated with me. I still kind of wish we could get shows about adult geeks more often, but even if we don’t, I’m glad we got Moriko, and boy howdy does she look great in a hoodie.
Honorable Mentions: Atsuko “Akko” Kagari (Little Witch Academia), Chise Hattori (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Sarada Uchiha (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)
Best English Dub- Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Your Lie in April managed to stand out as the strongest dub from last year, so it’s not much of a surprise that the same director managed to pump another winner. Even with that in mind though, it’s really hard to understate how well this turned out. The effects the loss of a loved one has on our lives can be tricky to convey, but the cast manage to convey that whirlwind of emotions beautifully with great performances from actors like Ray Chase and Erica Lindbeck, and a surprisingly energetic performance from Kaiji Tang as Poppo , who I’m far more used to hearing in less emotive roles. Even though the dub was my first time experiencing the show, there was never a moment where I couldn’t feel the heart of it’s story wasn’t shining through, and by the time I reached the finale, it was easy to understand why this had become such a beloved series. I’m sure praising Patrick Seitz’s directing abilities will get repetitive at some point, but when he continues to put out stuff that sounds this strong, it’s really hard not to.
Honorable Mentions: Fate/Apocrypha, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Best English Voice Actor- David Matranga
While there’s been a lot of individual performances I’ve enjoyed from anime dubs this year, there weren’t too many actors who I felt like they were on a consistent high. Of the few that were though, I really have to say that David Matranga really impressed me this year. He’s had two really big roles this year in the form of Todoroki from My Hero Academia and Ushio from Ushio & Tora, and both turned out to be some of his finest work. As you can obviously tell by the fact he made my top male character spot for this year, Todoroki’s character arc stood out a lot to me, and David Matranga managed to get across all of the character’s inner turmoil without skipping a beat and it helped to make the climax of said arc one of the most satisfying moments of the year. Even more shocking to me though, was how well he managed to pull off Ushio, as while David Matranga wasn’t exactly who I had in mind for a brash shonen lead who wears his heart on his sleeve, he totally nailed it, and it turned out to be one of the most emotional performances I’ve seen from him a long time. That he was able to put out such great work twice within the same year is honestly incredible, and I really can’t recommend enough that you check both of them out.
Honorable Mentions: Erica Lindbeck, Ray Chase, Caitlin Glass
Best Japanese Voice Actor: Akira Ishida
I very nearly gave this to him last year for his work as Yakumo in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju but it was one really good role versus a few from Tasuku Hatanaka so I had to go for the latter. However over the course of Rakugo’s second season earlier this year, the depth of his performance became so apparent that not giving it the praise it’s due would be downright criminal. Voicing a character from their youth into their twilight years is something that frankly very few actors can really pull off believably, but he manages it without skipping a beat, and as Yakumo starts to crumble from the weight of the struggles that defined his earlier years in life, you can really feel the weary nature of his soul in Akira Ishida’s performance.
On top of handling all of that though, Akira Ishida has to also attempt to make all of Yakumo’s rakugo performances feel as authentic as possible, and the level of acting he has to do gets to the point where he has to make to make the characters in each rakugo story sound distinct while still making them feel like they could come from Yakumo, and the fact that he managed to pull all of that off while consistently keeping Yakumo in character is one of the most impressive feats of acting I’ve seen not just in anime, but acting in general. Akira Ishida has always been a great voice actor, but his work here is pretty much the absolute highlight of his career, and even if the subject matter might be a little slow for most audiences, it’s absolutely worth giving a listen to.
Honorable Mentions: Atsumi Tanezaki, Mamiko Noto
This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:
Best Comedy- Osomatsu-san s2
This has been the year of sequels as far as anime comedies go, and for better or worse I currently don’t have any stakes in the likes of Umaru-chan or Konosuba (though I probably should get around to the latter). Of the non-sequels/continuations this year, Magical Circle Guru-Guru really deserves some props for its lovely parodies of old RPG’s but it’s really hard to deny the magic of Osomatsu-san. Given that the first episode of season 1 was so riff with parodies that it actually ended up being banned, it was hard to imagine how another season could possibly top that, but s2’s opener somehow goes nuts with even stronger parodies and one of the most absurd 4th wall breaks I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly the rest of the season hasn’t quite lived up to that level of magic, but even at the middle of the road by it’s own standards, Osomatsu-san is one of the most consistently funny anime sitcoms out there, and there’s never been an episode that didn’t have at least a few jokes that made me burst out in laughter. I feel kind of bad giving this up to a sequel, and especially one that isn’t quite as strong as it’s first entry, but when you’re as funny as these six losers, it’s hard to sweat the details.
Honorable Mentions: Gintama, Magical Circle Guru-Guru
Best Action Series- Fate/Apocrypha
It’s been a good year to be a fan of action anime, whether you’re a hardcore anime fan or more on the casual side, odds are there’s been at least one or two shows this year with action sequences that left you floored. From the continuations of Attack on Titan and MHA, to some surprisingly strong cuts from The Son of Boruto’s Dad, there’s been a lot of stellar stuff, but when it comes to pure action shows, nothing stands out this year quite like Fate/Apocrypha. While previous Fate entries have been more on the philosophical side, and overly concerned with detailing their mechanics, Fate/Apocrypha slashes out 90% of the pretense, and instead puts all of it’s focus into how impossibly cool it can make its fights between legendary heroes look. The result is a rip-roaring good time of crazy fight scenes and spectacles that rarely fail to impress, and while the show may not have as much to ponder as it’s predecessors, it has just enough thematic weight and depth to it’s characters to avoid feeling completely shallow, and it’s easily the most digestible a Fate anime has ever been, even if it’s not exactly the best story. I can’t exactly say that this was one of my top shows from this year, but when it came to raw action, pretty much nothing else could compete
Honorable Mentions: GARO Vanishing Line, Attack on Titan s2, My Hero Academia s2
Best Romance- Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Romance anime has really flourished this year, and while I unfortunately haven’t been able to see all of these years entries, I feel pretty confident in believing nothing else can really compete with the charm of MMO Junkie. Like I said in Moriko’s best character entry, anime with adult protagonists, and adult geeks no less, are rare and the show does a great job of making both her and her romantic counterpart Sakurai, extremely likable in that regard. The way in which they have to struggle in deciding how close is too close when it comes to online relationships, is something a lot of people can relate to these days and seeing these two dorks sort out their feelings was just the right amount of sweet and hair-pulling for a rom-com. As people continue to become more and more engrossed in technology, the significance of our online relationships have gradually started to become as valuable as our real life ones, and it’s really refreshing to have a romance centered around the subject, and one that treats said subject as another aspect of life, rather than with caution like a lot stories about online social interactions do. I was really cautious about this show coming in, but I walked away with one of the cutest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen in anime, and one that I’d highly recommend.
Honorable Mentions: Tsuredure Children, World End: Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?
Best Drama- Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Again I’m kind of cheating here since I’m having the same show take this two years in a row, but gosh darn it, Rakugo is just that good. The majority of season 1 was a compelling extended backstory on our protagonist Yakumo and the tragedy that led to him deciding to take his art with him to the grave, but the second season shifts things to the present, and shifts to a story about Yakumo finding peace with himself as his craft is passed down to the next generation, however unwillingly that may be. It’s an incredibly beautiful tale, and one that’s told lovingly both through the show’s strong writing, and it’s equally outstanding vocal performances, as I like said before, Akira Ishida’s delivery is really something to behold. While the show does stumble slightly, in briefly teasing a possible scenario that would undercut most of what the show had established up to that point, it does so many things right that it’s hard to consider it anything less than a masterpiece, and one I’m glad I stuck with.
So bad it’s good is a tricky area to traverse for anime. If it goes too far in being awful, then it’s just well…AWFUL, but if it tries to hard to be sincere or serious, it can quickly become boring. Somehow though we’ve manages to have several shows that managed to successfully walk that fine line this year. Of all these titles though, I really have to give props to the one that went the most unnoticed (likely due to the lack of a simuldub): Evil or Live. Whereas Neo Yokio was magnificently bad up until it’s last two episodes where it tried too hard to be sincere and lost some steam, and Hand Shakers was just a mismash of bad anime tropes underneath it’s garbage visuals, Evil or Live is a magical experience and one that hasn’t lost any of it’s luster (well aside from a random recap episode).
The show uses its premise of a world in which young people are too addicted to the net, and need to be sent to a special institution to be “rehabilitated” to execute a edgy thriller that’s wholly convinced its “social commentary” is the smartest thing on the planet, while being almost unbelievably dumb at every opportunity. From a host of unlikeable and silly characters, to its outright pretentious shot composition and use of letterboxing for every scene, every second of this show is practically begging it’s audience to ask how it got made, and even its slowest episodes never fail to entertain. Competing with the likes of Hand Shakers and Neo Yokio is no easy feat, but this scrappy underdog was easily the most magically bad experience of the year, and more people really need to bask in it’s absurdity.
Honorable Mentions: Neo Yokio, Hand Shakers
And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:
Best Anime Series (Adaption)- The Ancient Magus’s Bride
As I said when I was giving my first impressions on it, back at the start of the season, there was really very little chance I wasn’t going to like the show, and the real question what exactly how much it was going to impress me. The answer as it turns out, is quite a lot. While I initially expressed disappointment at its conservative visual direction, it managed to steadily improve with each passing episode, and has delivered on more than it’s fair share of impressive shots, grand use of color, and some rock solid art direction overall. Even more impressive is its music, which despite coming from a first time composer, has one of the most distinct anime soundtracks I’ve heard in recent memory, and it really helps to enhance the show’s sense of wonder and mystique.
Of course all the bells and whistles in the world can’t compensate for a weak story, but fortunately Magus Bride exceeds in that area too. The story of Chise’s struggle with her depression and learning to open herself back up to the world around her is incredibly compelling, and while it’s beauty and the beast style romance isn’t exactly the most original concept on the planet, the dynamic between her and Elias works just as effectively, and the bond that gradually forms between them is certainly touching, if not explicitly romantic. It helps that the world of Magus Bride feels magical in a way that frankly very few anime actually do, and it approaches its supernatural elements with a sense of awe and fear that can make some of the show’s moments feel as breathtaking as they are frightening. I certainly didn’t doubt this show would impress me, but even with how high my expectations were going in, I’ve been finding myself getting more and more engrossed in its atmosphere with each passing episode, and while it’s second half will continue into next season, what I’ve seen is more than enough to convince me that it’s one of the most worthwhile anime adaptions of the year
Honorable Mentions: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Best Anime Series (Original)- Little Witch Academia
I guess 2017 was a good year for magic shows, because somehow both of my favorites ended up being centered around it. Much like with Magus Bride, this was one of those things I was pretty certain I’d like going in (and it helped that the OVAs were a good time, even if their dubs were kind of lacking) and ended up getting pretty much exactly what I wanted and then some. Little Witch Academia’s world is full of charm, as it manages to successfully combine all the wonders of magic, with the energy of a classic Saturday morning cartoon, and rarely an episode goes by where the show isn’t fun. The visual style certainly helps with that aesthetic as the character designs themselves also manage to capture the feeling of a zany cartoon, and the animation is chockful of impressive cuts that can range anywhere from hilarious, to some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen in TV animation.
Much like with Magus Bride though, the real core of Little Witch Academia lies not in its visuals but in its heart. Akko’s story of learning the value of perseverance in achieving her dreams might be pretty simple, but it’s simple in all the best ways and has just enough weight behind it to be more than capable of charming both kids and adults alike. Some parts of the second half stumble in a few areas, but the show really hits home in its final act, and the overall experience makes for some of Studio Trigger’s finest work yet. It’s really rare to come across an example of a family friendly anime that isn’t asome pre-established franchise with little pull in the west (look no further than Glitter Fo-I mean Precure) ,but I’m glad this show managed to be one of the few exceptions because its one of the most downright fun experiences I’ve seen in anime in a good while, and something perfect for just about everyone.
And that’s it for me and 2017. While the divide between legal streaming services has been a thing with anime for a while now, this was probably the first year where said divide really impacted my perception overall, and just based on what I was actually able to get around to, it came off as pretty slow. As with every year though, there’s always at least a few good shows to keep me from writing off the year entirely, and just going off of the current announcements for the Winter season, and the stuff I already know is going to services like Netflix, the split is already looking to be a lot less painful than it was this year. Hard to say if I’ll still be so optimistic this time next year, but until then, stay animated.
So if you’ve followed me on Twitter any time within the last year and you’ve heard me talking about manga, odds are pretty good you’ve seen me dumping on Black Clover’s lack of originality, or talking about a little manga series called The Promised Neverland. The Promised Neverland, debuted in Shonen Jump a little over a year ago now, and caught my attention with it’s unique art and rather strange decision to center around a female protagonist, which is a pretty big rarity in JUMP for obvious reasons. Since then, its captivated me with it’s strong storytelling and equally solid worldbuilding, quickly transforming it into one of the most consistently enjoyable manga reads I’ve experienced in a long time. Now with the first volume of the series set to hit American shores very soon, I figure now is as good a time as any to why you should try to and get an early jump on this series before it becomes the next big thing.
Before anything else, I should probably give a brief synopsis, though that’s a bit of a spoiler in and of itself. Neverland follows the story of a young girl named Emma who enjoys a peaceful life in an orphanage with her fellow orphans and surrogate mother. However one day, she stumbles upon a dark secret: that her world is inhabited by man-eating “demons” and her orphanage is actually something of a meat farm, with her and her siblings being next on the menu. Thus begins a desperate battle for survival as Emma, alongside two of her other siblings named Norman and Ray, work to find a way to escape with the rest of their family. To give away anymore than that would ruin the experience (and the build-up to the revelation about the nature of the world’s setting is a strong hook in and of itself) so rather than going too deep into plot elements or characters, I’ll instead talk about the three major elements that really help to make the series work.
A World of Horrors
Well I might as well start this off by mentioning the biggest hook of the series, which is that it can be well…scary. Neverland’s world is one of constant dangers where one misstep could result in the kids becoming dinner and where hope can be as much of a luxury as it is something to strive for. All of this comes to life through artist, Pozuka Demizu’s fantastic artwork, which can be equal parts breathtaking and horrifying, helping the aesthetic of the series and creating an overall sense of atmosphere that feels more akin to a storybook or fantasy novel than a traditional shonen. Of course, despite the general stigma associated with the Shonen Jump “brand”, this series is far from the magazine’s first horror-related entry (it’s the same magazine that ran Hunter X Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc after all) and ever since Attack on Titan took over the anime sphere a few years back, JUMP has made more than a few attempts at trying to publish something that could compete with it. Where Neverland succeeds however, is in it’s commitment to maintaining a relatively grounded horror aesthetic. Similar dark fantasy or thriller attempts by shonen have often stumbled by reveling too much in their darker elements or being overly reliant on shock value to maintain interest, but series author, Kaiu Shirai, manages to strike a fine balance, avoiding darkness for the sake of being edgy, instead presenting it as the nature of the story’s setting in general and being careful not to go too far.
The Quest for Answers
Even though Neverland’s primary hook centers around its horror angle, it wouldn’t be much of a shonen if the characters didn’t have some method of fighting back. Rather than a traditional battle shonen setup though, Neverland instead opts for a battle of wits , where our protagonists have to stay one step ahead of their enemies, and sometimes each other to achieve their goals, and almost every member of the story’s core cast starts off with their own personal agenda. Though unlike say, Death Note , where Light Yagami starts off with a magic killer notebook and a pretty solid grasp of its rules, Emma and her fellow orphans know very little about the true nature of the world they inhabit. This makes the series’ battle of wits more a battle for information, and the kids have to make use of each new scrap of knowledge they acquire to better ensure their survival. This works wonders when it comes to the story’s worldbuilding as we learn new information at pretty much the same time the characters do, making for more natural exposition than similar series are usually afforded, and helps to create a natural desire to want to learn more about Neverland’s world and the many mysteries surrounding it. That search for answers also helps in Neverland’s effectiveness as an ongoing story as almost every new chapter brings new information that helps to make things just a little bit clearer while also building upon past events, as new revelations can drastically alter how you view them on a second reading. This all comes together to give the series a sense of forward direction that’s frankly pretty rare for a weekly serialization, and while the pacing an feel a bit slow at times, it never feels like Shirai is dragging his heels, and there’s almost always some form of payoff just over the horizon.
The Power of Hope
As strong as Neverland’s combination of horrors and mysteries are though, those elements alone can only carry it so far. After all if it were just a Gothic horror/thriller series that happened to be featured in JUMP, it’d basically just be another Death Note (and despite the numerous claims to the contrary, the structure of this series is about as opposite of DN’s as it gets, but that’s an article for another time). Like any good shonen, its core comes from its sense of heart, and Shirai himself has stated that his hope is that the traditional Shonen Jump values of “Friendship, Effort and Victory” shine through in this series, despite its unconventional nature. Neverland’s world can be dark and cruel but Emma’s optimism and desire to protect her siblings are ultimately seen as positive traits rather than something to smash into pieces (which, if I’m being honest, is a direction that I was worried the series might go into during its early stages). Even when things are at their bleakest, the story does a great job of making you want to see the kids continue to fight back against their cruel circumstances, and while this can at times, get a little cheesy, it instills the series with a sense of hope that can make it feel as triumphant as it is frightening, and helps to make it an immensely satisfying read.
The Promised Neverland has been a pretty exciting read for me thus, and hopefully there was something in my ramblings that convinced you to go check it out. It’s certainly not a flawless series (its biggest issue being how it balances the screentime of its characters) but it has a lot of interesting strengths, and it’s something that at times I’m still surprised managed to get greenlit in JUMP of all things. I’m glad its continued to find success despite how different it is for a shonen, and I’m hoping that success will carry through into an eventual anime adaption. The Promised Neverland’s first volume hits U.S shelves December 5th, but if you’re interested in peeking at the series beforehand, the first three chapters are currently available for free on Viz Media’s website, and new chapters of the full series proper are available each week through Viz’s digital Shonen Jump subscription. Thanks for reading and until next time: stay animated.
The fall anime rollout continues as a pile of new premieres comes out of the woodwork. So far the season’s been off to a pretty solid start with a couple of standouts, some decent looking stuff and only a couple of real stinkers. Now let’s see how well it can keep up that momentum
Bad: Stay away far away from this one. Not worth watching
Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a couple of episodes to see how it goes
Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now
Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance
Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .
All series synopsis from Anime Planet ———————————————————————————————–
Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth
Synopsis: I want you to touch me. I want to feel your warmth. Claudia is a girl who possesses a toxin that melts everything she touches. Feared as a monster, she spent her days in isolation. One night, just as she is about to be captured by the British army, she meets a man who calls himself the gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin. She arrives at London, where she meets many people and experiences many things. In her adventures with Lupin, she comes close to discovering the truth about her body and her missing memories. What is the truth that this so-called “monster” of a girl finds?
First Impressions: This show is our second otome game adaption of the season, but where Sengoku Night Blood felt a little too auto-piloty and dull for how goofy it’s premise could have been, this one seems thankfully seems to be trying a little harder. The premise this time centers around the protagonists from classic British novels teaming up to protect a mysterious waif from the government and some nebulous evil organization, and the show properly capitalizes on that goofiness with Arsene Lupin being a showboat tsundere and Victor Frankenstein publicly regarded as a terrorist despite apparently being a sweetheart. Aside from those crazy asides there’s not a whole ton to this one, but it kept me relatively entertaining, and the female lead feels a bit less like an insert character compared to Night Blood so there’s at least the hope the story might try to build some actual chemistry between her and her harem. The direction also leans in favor of this one making an attempt to sell some kind of story so all in all it feels like a pretty workable premiere. How long I stick with this probably depends on how much mileage they can get out of the novel character inserts, but for the time being, I can give it a few more episodes
Synopsis: Yuri Miyata and Megumi Meguro are two girls who enter the world of competitive motorcycle sidecar racing on Miyake Island. While they are the complete opposites of each other, and often butt heads, they complement each other well during races. The team will fight other motorcycle sidecar teams from all over Japan, each with their own opposing traits, such as honor student and working student, sadist and masochist, and a funny man and straight man.
First Impressions: Slapping moe on top of different genres has been a trick that anime’s been pulling quite a lot recently, and this isn’t even the first time it’s been racing related. However while I haven’t seen any of the other moe racing titles, the general reception has been pretty negative so I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into this one. What I actually got was pleasantly surprising as the first episode managed to capture all of the appeal of a good sports anime, and makes the racing feel as exciting as possible despite some of the obvious visual limitations. It helps that the episode also does a solid job of introducing us to our two heroines and does a great job of selling their dysfunctional friendship and making the dynamic between them feel totally believable. So far the rest of the racer girls just feel like a checklist of popular archetypes from goth lolis to mature lesbians, but hopefully the show will manage to expand on them as it goes further in, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I ultimately did, but it was a pretty pleasant premiere and I’m certainly up for more of it.
The Ancient Magus’s Bride
Synopsis: Chise Hatori has lived a life full of neglect and abuse, devoid of anything resembling love. Far from the warmth of family, she has had her share of troubles and pitfalls. Just when all hope seems lost, a fateful encounter awaits her. When a man with the head of a beast, wielding strange powers, obtains her through a slave auction, Chise’s life will never be the same again.
First Impressions: I’ll be blunt here. There pretty much wasn’t any way I wasn’t going to like this show. The manga’s come highly recommended by folks whose opinions I generally trust, and I recall really enjoying the bits of it I skimmed through a few years ago back when I used to read scanlations. The real question is how MUCH I was going to like this show, and the answer is quite a lot. The premiere does a wonderful job of introducing us to our depressed heroine Chise, and while we’re never given any specific details as to how she ends up in her current situation, we’re given just enough information to get an idea of how rough her life was before giving herself away to Elias, and I’m already looking forward to learning more about her. That of course speaks nothing for the show’s fantasy world which is of course going to be the biggest draw for most people. Admittedly even without being that familiar with the source material I was a bit apprehensive about Wit Studio handling this given that this seemed like it could really use a fantastical visual aesthetic, and their stuff generally looks too clean to properly handle that sort of thing. I can’t say this premiere completely removed those feelings as some parts of it looked a little too anime for what I was hoping to get (looking at you fairies) but the overall presentation creates a solid sense of atmosphere and sells the fantastical nature of its setting as both beautiful and dangerous. All in all this premiere was pretty much what I was hoping I’d get and while I’m a little nitpicky on how this is being drawn, everything about it works so well that it’s really hard not to get sucked in. I’m in this one for the long haul
Synopsis: Just as soon as she enters Sakaneko Private High School, Asagadani Minoa is dragged into the anime club by her classmate, Kamiigusa Arisu, even though she knows next to nothing about anime. A classmate, Kouenji Miko, along with other anime-loving senpais, quickly turn her into an anime fan. Fighting off the incessant shut-down threats of the student council, and completely oblivious to the coming apocalypse, the anime club talks about anime in the club, at Akihabara, at anime Meccas, and at hot springs.
First Impressions: A lot of international fans tend to make this mistake, but anime isn’t really as big in Japan as you’d think. They’re certainly surrounded by it more, but outside of household stuff that everyone knows like One Piece or Sazae-san, it’s a niche thing the same way it is in the rest of the world. Given that, a series about a girl with only an extremely casual interest in anime suddenly finding herself thrust into an anime club sounds like a pretty fun premise, and while the show seems to have a bit too much anime style wackiness for how grounded of a premise this should be (did we really need super flamboyant teacher man?), and wasn’t as funny as I’d hope something like this could be it seems amusing enough to at least have a bit of fun with this idea. All of this…is what I would like to say but the the last 3 minutes or so of the show suddenly shifts gears by introducing a talking cat and some kind of magical beret that can stop time. It comes off as pretty weird, even on top of some of the out of place wackiness that was already in there to begin with, and I left unsure of exactly what kind of show this is going to be. At the same time though, it’s so out of left field that it did leave me genuinely wanting answers as to why it’d suddenly pull this sort of stunt, so I guess much like MMO Junkie, I’ll be giving this another episode if only to see what the heck the actual show will be.
A Sister’s All You Need
Synopsis: Itsuki is a novelist and “modern day Pygmalion” who works day in and day out to create the ultimate younger sister. He’s surrounded by various other characters: a beautiful genius writer who loves him, his big-sisterly classmate from college, a fellow male writer, a sadistic tax accountant, and his editor. They’re all looked after by Itsuki’s perfect younger step-brother, Chihiro, who has a serious secret.
First Impressions: I’ve been a hardcore anime fan for roughly 12 years, and in that time I’m come across my share of irredeemable trash. In all that time however, I’ve never seen a show actually attempt to stockholm syndrome the audience into accepting it until now. The first 90 seconds of this premiere is the comprised of the grossest “imouto/little sister” fantasies imaginable, and to the point where I’m sure even real life creepers would cringe a little. It’s all mercifully revealed to be something of a bizarre fakeout though, as we then transition to a less gross, but still kinda gross story about a light novel writer with an extreme imouto fetish and his fellow author friends, one of which happens to include his jokes around about wanting to get in his pants . Admittedly her antics and the semi-decent conversation the group has while just lazing around with each other was almost tolerable enough to trick me into getting over those first 90 seconds, but then the show reveals the MC’s junior is horny to the point of acting sniffing his dirty undies, and the show has the gall to immediately try and shift into being a “sincere” romance between the two of them. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a level of whiplash this fierce but this show certainly accomplished it, and while that might seem like an endorsement to at least watch this first episode before checking out. Do yourself a favor and don’t. Transitioning from the quality of the show from the lowest circle of Hades to purgatory was a clever ploy, but even with that in mind, this isn’t worth giving the time of day. I need some brain bleach.
Rating: WELCOME TO PURGATORY
Evil or Live
Synopsis: In this modern society, a new kind of “illness” is striking young boys and girls; Loneliness, disbelief and outrage push this generation to get more or more attached to Internet and technologies. The experts called those symptom “Net Addiction”. To prevent that, a certain Rehabilitation Facility has been set up to “Lead the young man back to the right path”. Enrolled to treat is addiction, Hibiki had no idea that this Rehabilitation Facility is nothing more than a prison. In this place where it’s not permitted to escape, how will Hibiki challenge despair in this hell?
First Impressions: And to close on my fall show impressions, we have our obligatory Chinese co-production of the season. As always I approach these with a sense of dread since with the exception of A Centaur’s Life (which never quite lived up to its premise) they’ve generally been pretty awful. This show however is truly special. And when I say “special” I mean this may well be the single most pretentious anime I’ve ever seen, and given I’ve seen upwards of 500 shows, that’s saying a heck of a lot. This series is based off the wonderfully archaic premise of young people being so addicted to the internet that they can barely function and have to be sent to a special facility to be rehabilitated. If this sounds like a 50-60 year old man’s idea of “edgy social commentary” rest assured that this plays out exactly like that, and I could almost literally feel the author yelling “these young people and their gosh darn internet!” though my screen.
To “add” to all of this, we have the show’s visual direction, which is shot in letter-boxed format for whatever reason and occasionally incorporates shots from real world environments and some other crazy visual cues, which feels like it’s supposed to give the show a look to match the weight of it’s “message” but it just makes the show seem even more full of itself than the writing already does, and these tricks don’t do much to match the low-end character designs and choppy animation that continually plagues every chinese co-production that’s come out to this day. All of this comes together to result in a show that’s convinced it’s the smartest thing ever made, and in the face of such bold stupidity I couldn’t help but be amused. Everything about this premiere is dumb and terrible, but it’s ridiculous that I’m genuinely curious to see how far it’ll go in it’s soapboxing and it’s certainly entertaining if nothing else. It’s rare that any of these chinese co-productions leaves me genuinely wanting for more but this is such a unique brand of bad, that I can’t help but be curious about where it’s headed. I’ll probably regret strapping myself in for this one, but you’ve won me over . Evil or Live. I look forward to mocking you for weeks to come
And that’s it for my first impressions this season. I was honestly ready to write off 2017 as the weakest year of anime I’ve seen since I started keeping up with seasonal stuff, but fall might really be able to turn it around. There’s a lot of extremely promising stuff this time, and I’ve only really come across a couple of things that really rubbed me the wrong way. It feels like it’s been a long time since I started off an anime season with this positive of an outlook but it really seems like they’ve got all the bases covered this time, and if even half of these shows manage to avoid imploding on themselves, this could turn out to be an extremely memorable one. Only time will tell how it all pans out so till then, stay animated.
The fall season has finally arrived and it’s looking to be packed to the gills with anime. There’s a ton of cool sequels coming out, and some potentially exciting new stuff as well so it seems like it could be a season with something for just about everyone. Let’s get started.
Bad: Stay away far away from this one. Not worth watching
Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a couple of episodes to see how it goes
Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now
Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance
Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .
Synopsis: In a world where magic is everything, Asta and Yuno are both found abandoned at a church on the same day. While Yuno is gifted with exceptional magical powers, Asta is the only one in this world without any. At the age of fifteen, both receive grimoires, magic books that amplify their holder’s magic. Asta’s is a rare Grimoire of Anti-Magic that negates and repels his opponent’s spells. Being opposite but good rivals, Yuno and Asta are ready for the hardest of challenges to achieve their common dream: to be the Wizard King. Giving up is never an option!
First Impressions: *sigh* Of course we’d start off with this show first. So if you’ve been following my Twitter feed for the last year or so you’ve probably seen me ranting about the Black Clover manga, and dreading the fact that it lived long enough to see an anime adaption. Ideally I would steered clear of said anime adaption for my sanity, but for reasons I can’t yet disclose I’m obligated to watch it for at least a little while so here we are. This first episode features the exploits of Naru- I mean Asta who wants to be the Hoka- err… “Wizard King” and has an introverted rival named Sas- I mean Yuno. Asta is constantly made fun of for his inability to use magic and the big dreams he has in spite of that. On the day he’s supposed to receive his magical grimore which signifies he’s become a mage, he fails and falls into despair, but it turns out there’s a bit of a technicality there because he does have a grimore: an evil one, hosting a demon inside of Asta.
Does any of this ring any bells? It should because outside of a few setting details these are almost all of the basic beats of the beginning of Naruto with the exception of the Sasuke knockoff appearing in the first episode rather than later on. To the anime’s credit, it does it’s best to try and tone down some of the beats that were literally ripped straight from Naruto’s first chapter, but even with that it still feels like an incredibly auto-piloty battle shonen, Asta is an archetype we’ve seen a million times before (not to mention having read the manga I know he only gets worse as a character, not better) and done to better effect, and the show does a pretty lazy job of getting the audience invested in his dynamic with Yuno (which looks to be spread out into the next episode) or its universe, and both elements come off more as a checklist of obligatory tropes than something heartfelt, which is kind of a dealbreaker for me with any shonen thing. Combine all this with the fact that the show looks like a pretty rushed production (complete with blatant CG towards the end), and there’s not a whole ton of appeal here for newcomers. I suppose if you’re new to anime, and you’re looking for a new battle shonen to seek your teeth into you can always do worse, but if you’re looking for one with a bit more originally or heart, I’d recommend My Hero Academia, or Boruto, since even the latter doesn’t pull as much from Naruto despite being an actual spinoff of that franchise. Again this show is far from the worst thing out there, but as offering anything new as a shonen, it definitely doesn’t leave a good first impression
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War
Synopsis: For one wish, they’ll risk it all. The time has come for the Twelve Tournament—held every twelve years. For twelve proud warriors, each baring a name from the Chinese Zodiac, they’ll prepare to fight in a bloody battle royal. The victor gets any one wish they desire, but they’ll have to do whatever it takes to earn it. Blood and tears will flow on this battlefield—who will be the lone survivor?
First Impressions: Nishioshin is a pretty notable name in the Japanese creators sphere, and his work on Bakemonogatari and to a lesser extent, Medaka Box, have been generally well regarded material. The latter happens to be one of my favorite manga ever made, so needless to say that the prospect of him doing his own weird spin on the Fate franchise seemed like it could be a pretty good time. This episode certainly delivered on that promise as it was a rip roaring ride from start to finish. The show looks downright fantastic and now that director Naoto Hosoda (best known for 2011’s Future Diary) can stretch his wings, on a better scheduled production, he really makes the most of it, and the opener delivers on some fantastic action sequences that I’m slightly worried it won’t be able to maintain. The actual story itself is a pretty straightforward tournament thing, but direction does a great job of explaining everything through natural dialogue rather forced exposition, and the cast of bizarre killers all seem like they’ll each be entertaining in their own right. My only real point of concern here is that material might go a little overboard on the edge factor and risk harming the broader level of appeal this could deliver on, but Nishioshin’s track record is consistent enough that I’m not too worried about that, and I’m curious to see just how strange some of these character’s backstories can get. There’s still plenty of new stuff to check out this season, but this one’s certainly off to a promising start, and very much worth a peek
Sengoku Night Blood
Synopsis: One day, Yuzuki is enveloped by a mysterious light suddenly emanating from her cell phone and finds herself in an unfamiliar place. The scenery spread out before her almost resembles Sengoku period Japan– But this is another world known as “Shinga” where non-human creatures such as vampires and werewolves reside. Long ago, the various tribes of Shinga lived together peacefully under the protection of the Himemiko who possessed special blood. However, one day the Himemiko suddenly vanished. With the protection of the Himemiko gone, the world has fallen into a period of strife.
First Impressions: And here’s our otome game adaption of the season. Sengoku era stuff generally bores me to tears unless someone puts a really fun spin on it, and otome adaptions generally aren’t my cup of tea either, but the premise of figures like Totomi Hideyoshi or Nobunaga being vampires sounded like enough of a dumb fun idea to be worth a peek. Unfortunately the show doesn’t really seem interested in fully capitalizing on that and instead just focuses on showing off the boys and awkwardly tossing in the female-insert who they’re all meant to faun over. Needless to say I didn’t have a particularly good time with this one, and found myself checking the runttime counter halfway through it. That’s okay though, because I’m not really the target audience for this kind of thing, and I’m sure those who are interested will get their mileage out of it. As for me, it’s a pass.
Synopsis: The story of the original manga begins when a girl named Emi uses a pencil that can grant any wish. Emi gets caught up in the robbery of a convenience store, and her life is in danger. She uses the pencil to wish for a “hero that will save everyone.” Four heroes appear in response to Emi’s wish to change the course of the future.
First Impressions: Tatsunoko superhero properties have been a staple of anime for decades, but they’ve always been pretty obscure in the west, with the closest to any significant level of relevance being Casshern Sins and to a lesser extent Gatchaman Crowds. With all that in mind, a Justice League esque team up of their most iconic heroes seems like as good an introduction as any and as far as that goes this is off to a pretty okay start. The biggest point of note here would be the show’s 3DCG animation which looks surprisingly solid compared to 90% of its anime contemporaries, and a lot of the action sequences actually managed to look pretty cool. It helps that the character designs lean more towards actual CG models than trying to emulate the 2D anime look and while it’s still a bit choppy in a few places, this is probably the best implementation of it I’ve seen on a TV budget production. Storywise things are a bit more of a question mark with things involving a few rumblings of a mysterious villain who wants to destroy other dimensions for some unknown reason, but it’s not too difficult to follow, and the personalities of the individual heroes seem interesting enough that I’m sure we’ll get to know them beyond their costumed personas. For now, I’m mostly just in this for the prospect of watching a CG anime that actually looks like a proper CG production, but hopefully this’ll evolve into something interesting
Synopsis: Harajuku… The place where culture, kawaii, and fashion come together. Three high school girls Rito, Mari, and Kotoko are planning to open a temporary store called Park. One day, aliens from space come to Earth to take away the culture of humans. That’s when a mysterious girl who calls herself Misa appears. Now, in order to protect the Harajuku that they love, these three girls must be prepared for anything!
First Impressions: I recall skimming through the manga (?) to this a while back on CR’s manga app and thinking it was pretty weird, but while cute girls doing cute things can be something of a mixed bag in execution this seemed like the sort of thing that could be amusing in animated form. It certainly still feels weird in animated form, but not necessarily in a good way. The show’s animation is…limited to say the least and the direction feels kind of maniac with transitions that make things feel more like a motion comic than a show, and combined with the intentionally scribbled looking backgrounds, it didn’t feel as energetic as it was clearly meant to. It doesn’t help that for a cute girls doing cute things esque show, the girls don’t feel particularly endearing in any major sense, and the seiyuu performances felt kind of dull, which sort of seems like it’d defeat the purpose here. The one saving grace of this whole thing is the wonderfully cartoonish premise of aliens who literally suck up other cultures, but the overall aesthetic weirdly serves to hamper rather than elevate the fun to be had, and it all left me feeling rather cold. If you’re down for moe for moe’s sake, maybe you’ll enjoy this, but I think I’m gonna move on.
King’s Game: The Animation
Synopsis: Kanazawa Nobuaki has transferred to a high school far from where he used to live. Due to an incident at his old school, Nobuaki is afraid of getting close to his new classmates and keeps himself at a distance, but he starts opening up because of a sports day inter-class relay. Then, a single text message from someone calling themselves the “King” is sent to everyone in class. Nobuaki’s classmates think it’s a simple prank, and don’t take it seriously but Nobuaki knows that a death game is about to begin, and struggles to oppose it…
First Impressions: So with Juni Taisen out to fulfill everyone’s needs for a crazy over the top battle royale thriller, this show comes off as the unfortunate other of the season. Though where Juni Taisen manages to impress as high quality trash, what we get here is pretty boilerplate and bar the course for this sort of thing. Loner MC who knows how this all goes down and fears the inevitable? Check? Everyone quickly turning on each other? Check. Girlfriend who’s clearly meant to be stuffed in the fridge as “motivation” for our MC? Checkity, check, check. Stupid as this all was though (and boy howdy is it stupid) it certainly wasn’t boring, and the execution is so incredibly off the walls that it all came off as unintentionally hilarious and Mamoru Miyano delivering his finest quality ham as the MC of this show only served to add to the silliness. If it had more to compete with I’d probably give it the boot right here, but I’m pretty sparse on Thursday shows for the moment, and if this show can maintain it’s level of a “quality” for the remainder of it’s run I can at least have a few good laughs if nothing else.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Synopsis: Morioka Moriko (♀) is 30, single, and a NEET. She has dropped out of the real world. Searching for a safe place, the place she ended up… is the online world!! In this online game, Moriko starts a new life as a handsome young man with silky hair named Hayashi. However, she’s an obvious noob and ends up dying numerous times when a lovely girl named “Lily” lends her a helping hand. Meanwhile IRL, she ends up having a shocking encounter with a mysterious handsome salaryman named Sakurai Yuta. After meeting him, the real world starts to change and starts affecting her online world as well?!
First Impressions: I was kind of wary about checking this one out as everything about its premise was giving me PTSD flashbacks to spring 2015’s Netoge, and that show was…problematic to say the least. Far as this show goes though its…really hard to say just exactly what its goals are. The episode partially introduces to our heroine who seems to have quit her office job to become a NEET, but the majority of its runttime is spent building up a romance between her male avatar, and a female avatar she befriends through an MMO. The obvious twist here is that the female avatar belongs to a guy (and given our heroine seemed to be really into the idea of romancing “her” I’m kind of curious what her reaction will be when we get there) but it’s hard to say if the show’s going to use this for something cute, or potentially meanspirited. The developments between the two are handled well enough that I don’t think it’ll opt for the latter, but Netoge exists and the cynic in my heart can’t help but be worried this could turn into something weird and gross. Either way there’s not really enough to make any kind of serious guess about its future so I suppose its earned another episode from me.
Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World
Synopsis: In an imperfect world, the stories make it beautiful. Meet Kino, a traveler exploring beyond her boundaries into unknown mystical places! With only her guns and talking motorcycle Hermes by her side, she learns about unique people and their customs through the fascinating stories they weave. But to see everything, she can only spare three days to each land before moving on to the next adventure.
First Impressions: Throughout my years as an anime fan, Kino’s Journey is a title I’ve often heard celebrated as a beloved classic but one I’ve never had the opportunity to get around to. Now that the show’s been “rebooted” in a sense, now’s as good a time as any to check it out, and the first episode impressed. Going off of my understanding of the show’s premise, the story follows a young traveler named Kino who travels to different countries in order to observe their lifestyles, with each one centering around some sort of theme or philosophical debate. This first episode starts with Kino going into a country where murder isn’t prohibited by the law, and where I could have seen this story easily diverge into over the top silliness, the way it handles the concept, and the last minute twist regarding how this law actually works is all handled well enough that I walked away from this with quite a bit to think about, and this is apparently something that happens quite a lot in this show.
Even putting aside it’s interesting philosophical intrigue, the show itself looks incredibly gorgeous. While Twin Star Exorcists was a very uneven show to say the least I’d always thought that Tomohisa Taguchi’s visual direction really stood out in spite of the show’s scripting problems, and he really gets to show a lot of his full capabilities here as the show’s backgrounds really help to create a wonderful sense of atmosphere that makes the world feel real, and the more maniac camera movements towards the end do a lot to sell the tension of the episode’s twist, and it all comes together to create something that can feel as haunting as it does pretty. All in all this was an impressive premiere, and while I’m a newcomer to Kino’s Journey, this certainly helped to make me a fan.
Synopsis: At the start of a great war, an important leader in the German security bureau takes on a mission to fight supernatural mutants himself.
First Impressions: This was another show I was kind of wary of for a couple of reasons. Firstly that it involves the literal Nazis and secondly that it’s apparently so self-indulgent, it can give the Fate franchise a run for it’s money. Still I figured I should give it a fair shot, but I mostly walked away from this episode feeling…confused more than anything. It seemed like this episode was supposed to be centering around some perfect definition of a supreme Aryan Nazi deciding he wants to be an evil overlord, but this got shuffled between a couple of out of place characters duking it out for some unexplained reason, and mountains of meaningless prose. Goung by the fact that this was titled episode 0, I can only assume this was meant to be a prologue of sorts but even then it felt unnecessarily jumbled and the fact that has the visual aesthetic of an low-end early 00’s anime doesn’t help much either. I suppose the one bright spot here is that I didn’t walk away from this feeling disgusted (which is what I was expecting) but I sure wouldn’t call this an entertaining experience. In a weaker season I’d give slight consideration to giving this another episode, but there’s already enough interesting looking material that there’s honestly no real need. Pass
GARO: Vanishing Line
Synopsis: Highly advanced town – Russel City. While people enjoy its prosperity in the town, there is a huge conspiracy secretly going on which will shake the world. Sword, a man who notices its movement determines to throw himself into battles and reveal the conspiracy, but only to find a clue – “Eldorado”. At that time, Sword happens to meet a girl Sophie who has been looking for the meaning of “Eldorado”, a message left by her missing brother. These two, attracted by the word “Eldorado”, somehow feel invisible ties each other and start to act together. Their journey with mixed feelings now begins.
First Impressions: When Vanishing Line was first announced a few months ago, it seemed like it could be interesting, but didn’t particularly grab my attention as something to be excited about. However when it was later confirmed that this was going to be the newest GARO anime, my interest piqued significantly. While GARO’s pretty popular as a tokusatsu series in Japan, the anime versions have been a little more troubled. The first anime had cool aesthetic and some solid writing but didn’t particular stand out in the season it debuted in while the second anime Crimson Moon, was a dumpster fire that tried to make GARO a little more “anime” but felt all over place, and looked pretty ugly. It seems the third time might be the charm though, because everything about this premiere comes out of the gate full throttle (and given the biker motifs this probably won’t be the last pun I make about this) with some great looking character designs, stellar animation, and an overall aesthetic that pretty much screams western appeal. We’ve got everything from a beefcake protagonist with a love of bikes and pretty girls, to a super jazzy soundtrack and while this first episode doesn’t offer much in the way of setting up the story, the amount of flair in brings is more than enough of a hook to draw in interest. Given MAPPA’s current workload it’s hard to say how much they’ll be able to keep this up, but given the director, was responsible for the best episode of the first GARO anime, I’m at least sure it’ll cram in as much visual spectacle as it can in the meantime. With how packed this anime season is, it’s anyone’s guess if this’ll get looked over the same way the first anime did, but it’s definitely got a better aesthetic going for it as far as drawing in bigger crowds goes, and however this turns out, I’m certainly ready to go along for the ride
Synopsis: Long ago the leader of the Galra race, Emperor Zarkon began his conquest of the universe, and the extermination of the Alteans. The only force capable of stopping him was a weapon known as Voltron, but it was sealed away along with the Altean princess, Allura. 10,000 years later, a group of young space pilots from Earth stumble upon one of the robot lions that form Voltron, along with Allura but soon discover that Zarkon is still alive, and has already seized control over most of the known universe. Now these pilots must become the new Paladins of Voltron and use it’s power to defeat Zarkon once and for all.
And so after a…surprisingly short hiatus Voltron: Legendary Defender is back with it’s third season. Given that the second season debuted earlier this year, I was honestly shocked to see this one coming down the pipeline so fast, and even more to learn the fourth season is already planned for later this year. All that surprise was suddenly made clear when it turned out that this season is noticeably shorter than either of the previous two, only totaling in at seven episodes, and the fourth season may end up turning out the same way. Needless to say that made things a little disappointing, and with the episode count being so low, I was able to burn through the whole thing in pretty much a single morning even while having other stuff to do. Of course, annoying as the shorter run time is, new Voltron is still new Voltron, so how it’s time to see exactly how well it stacks up to the first two seasons.
I suppose that first and foremost we should talk about the most interesting thing this season: the introduction of Prince Lotor. While I’m pretty ignorant on most things related to the original version of Voltron, I do know that he was a pretty important presence there, and was about as significant a villain as Zarkon himself. As far as this version goes, he’s certainly a welcome presence as he’s by far the most interesting antagonist the show has offered so far. Even though season two did more to flesh out the Galra as a whole, Zarkon and Haggar themselves were still pretty one-note as far as villainy goes. Lotor on the other hand is a much more charismatic figure, knowing how to stay one step ahead of the Paladins by exploiting their weaknesses, and playing both sides of the conflict to his advantage. Given the history of the people penning this show, it’s pretty easy to see him as something of a male counterpart to Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but so far he seems a lot more composed and unlike Azula who was pretty loyal to her father, Lotor’s true motives remain a mystery even by the end of the season.
In comparison I’d have to say that his four female generals are kind of a bit boring, and despite being given clear character archetypes to work off of, they feel pretty interchangeable and didn’t leave much of an impression. It’s a shame since I really like the idea of them kind of functioning as a foil to the Paladins so I’m really hoping they’ll be given more to do in later seasons. On the bright side, the season’s finale does a lot to flesh out our two biggest baddies as we’re given more information on the history between Zarkon and Allura’s father as well as Haggar’s real identity. It’s an interesting bit of backstory that does quite a bit to explain Zarkon and Haggar’s origins, and while it doesn’t totally humanize them, it certainly gives them a lot more to work with than either of the previous seasons did and paints them with at least a few shades of grey (albeit very dark ones). It’s another area where I’ll be curious to see exactly where the show takes things, and I’m happy to see the show doing more with its antagonists.
Unfortunately the downsides to this season mostly come from the Paladins and it’s a shame since they’re generally the best part of the show. The best character arcs of the season involve Lance having to come to terms with the fact that he’s just not leader material and having to humbly accept Keith taking the position, as well as Allura managing to come into her own as a Paladin. However the big issue here comes down to the incredibly short time gap between Shiro’s disappearance and Keith’s taking his position, and Shiro’s official return to the team. While there was pretty much zero room to doubt that Shiro had actually died last season, (and I appreciate the show not talking down to its audience enough to think that kids would either) bringing him back into the fold so quickly feels like a waste. We do get a few episodes in the beginning dealing with Keith’s hotheaded nature being a poor match for leadership but parts of that new team dynamic coming together feel rushed, and by the time Shiro returns it doesn’t feel like the team has been without him long enough to have truly accepted Keith as their new leader. It’s possible this is intentional given that the one episode we do get with Keith and Shiro together shows a pretty clear wedge in the group’s ability to get things done but for right now it feels kind of awkward and I can’t help but think that the show would have benefited from keeping Shiro away from the group for at least half another season.
On a technical standpoint the show looks as sharp as ever, in terms of both action sequences and mecha design and there’s a few cool sequences mixed in here. However the shorter timestamp for this season means that there aren’t as many opportunities for it to show that stuff off, and what we get isn’t nearly enough to compensate. As a plus though, I can at least say that out of all of the character designs I’ve seen for the show thus far, Lotor’s is definitely the one that feels the most “anime” inspired and I’m always happy to see the show get closer to that general aesthetic since that’s clearly what it’s aiming
As a whole a lot of what feels off about this season partially comes down to how short it is, and even with the significance its supposed finale offers, it’s pretty hard to escape the feeling that this is merely half a season that was divided because someone at Netflix thought it was a good idea. I doubt it ended up affecting much in terms of actual content, but it does make things here feel kind of incomplete even with the big cliffhangers the last two seasons ended on. There’s enough solid material sprinkled through this season to work, and the weaker parts don’t yet feel like they’ll be enough to hinder the show’s current momentum, but I’m really hoping that season four will feel a bit more balanced that what we ended up getting this time around.