Toon Talk- 25 Days of Anime: The 25 Best Anime of the 2010’s (#25-11)

The year 2019 is slowly winding down, and with it, the end of this long, long decade. There’s been a lot of wild changes in the world over the past 10 years, some for the best and others…not so much. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that there’s still a ton of anime coming out every single year and way too much of it for any one person to see no matter how much free time you have. Since we’re getting ready to head into a new decade, I felt like it was only proper to talk about some of the best anime the 2010’s had to offer, and while there was a lot of great stuff that came out during this time, I’ve managed to wittle it down to what I thought were 25 of the strongest shows to come out of the decade.

In the spirit of the season, I’ll be listing off one show per day between now and December 25th, so there’ll be something new here every day until then unless my schedule gets weird. With all that out of the way, let’s hop to it

*All series synopsis are from Anime Planet

Attack on Titan

Synopsis: Over a century ago, mankind was devoured by giant beings of unknown intelligence and origin known as Titans – creatures that eat humans alive indiscriminately and for no apparent reason. The remaining population has managed to survive the last hundred years only by building a multi-walled city capable of keeping the Titans at bay, training military recruits to patrol the perimeter and gather intelligence about their mysterious foe. Eren and Mikasa have lived a relatively peaceful life behind the city’s walls, but when a massive Titan appears, smashing the outer barrier and unleashing a wave of terror, their lives are brutally changed forever…

Why You Should Watch: While my feelings towards the series have kind of diminished over the years, it’s hard to deny how *pardon the pun* colossal of a hit this show turned out to be. The series starts off with a strong hook regarding humanity’s fear of the Titans and Eren’s desire to fight back against a seemingly unstoppable threat and only gets more intense from there as the scale of the story escalates the deeper it goes in, until it eventually evolves into an exploration of military fascism and the demonization of other races. It’s also cool as heck to look at and chief director Tetsuro Araki of Death Note fame, and Studio WIT did a fantastic job of transforming the manga’s unique, but kinda ugly art, into a glorious action spectacle with some city scaling parkour that would make Spiderman blush, and the battles between the Titans themselves constantly hovering somewhere between giant mecha battles and wrestling matches. Sadly the show’s very…messy mixed messaging regarding it’s darker themes kept it from making the cut for this list, but when it comes to the biggest hits of the decade, almost nothing’s managed to scale up to this one.

GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018)

Synopsis: Nearly twenty years into the 21st century, people have forgotten the existence of Yokai. When a number of unexplainable phenomena plague adults of the human world with confusion and chaos, thirteen-year-old Mana writes a letter to the Yokai Post in search of answers, only to be greeted by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro… 

Why You Should Watch: With how much Dragonball fans have been screaming at Toei to put out a sequel to Dragonball Super, you’d be forgiven for thinking Kitaro was a lame replacement with not a whole lot to offer. However you’d also be dead wrong as while the show carries itself with the outward charm of a fun kids’ show, it’s also one with a pretty good horror aesthetic, and uses it’s episodic premise to explore themes such as human trafficking, worker exploitation, and how hatred can spiral violence. It can pretty dark for a kids show, and never pulls any punches despite its target demographic, as not all of it’s stories have a happy ending. Even with all that in mind though, it still knows how to cut loose and be fun, and Kitaro and his band of yokai pals make for a pretty charming cast of characters to hang out with every week. This might not be the most exciting show out there for most audiences, but if you aren’t afraid of checking out kids’ shows, and you’re in the mood for something spooky, Kitaro’s been one heck of a ride, and it could certainly use more love

Stars Align

Synopsis: The teen adolescence story revolves around the coming-of-age of boys in a junior high school’s soft tennis team, which is on the verge of shutting down. Touma Shinjou asks Maki Katsuragi to join the team for his vaunted abilities, and mentions a summer competition. Katsuragi asks for money in return for joining the team.

Why You Should Watch: Honestly it really feels like this show should have made the cut for this list, and I was very tempted to put it there, but as of the time this has been written the show hasn’t ended yet and since there’s still the (slim) possibility it could faceplant in the final act, I’d feel weird including it on something like this. All that said, this is still more than worth checking out. Series director Kazuki Akane had a pretty good track record going for him with his work on The Vision of Escaflowne and Noein to your other self, with both shows mixing cool fantasy elements with heartfelt coming of age stories and solid character drama. While Stars Align is a lot more grounded than either of those shows it certainly isn’t any less lacking in the drama department and has used its premise of a dysfunctional middle school soft tennis club to discuss abusive parenting, and LGBT topics, with episode 8 in particular offering one of the most gentle looks on transgender and non-binary people that I’ve ever seen in an anime, and it was more than a little eye-opening for me. Again, I feel pretty bad not having it on the proper list here, but if you haven’t already checked the show out, it’s far and away the strongest thing the Fall 2019 anime season has had to offer, and it’s more than worth your time.

Vinland Saga

Synopsis: Around the end of the millennium, Viking, the mightiest but atrocious tribe, had been outbreaking everywhere. Thorfinn, the son of the greatest warrior, lived his childhood in the battlefield. He was seeking the land of reverie called Vinland. This is the story of a true warrior in an age of turmoil.

Why You Should Watch: This is another one I’d include if the show wasn’t still airing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. Historical fiction isn’t exactly an uncommon topic for anime, but the time of the Vikings is one that media barely covers in general, despite the myths about them, and this series dives headlong into their culture and the various conflicts of that time period through the eyes of Thorfinn, a young boy who wants revenge for his father’s murderer, and Askeladd, the guy who killed Thorfinn’s dear old dad and runs his own band of Vikings who pillage the countryside, and hire themselves out as mercenaries to whoever pays the highest. While all of that sounds like a formula for some testosterone-fueled action, and there’s certainly no shortage of that given that this is a Studio WIT production, it places even more emphasis on the futility of violence, and how it’s a cycle that can only be escaped by making the conscious choice to live for something better. It’s a lesson that hasn’t quite hit Thorfinn just yet, but the path to him getting there has been a fantastic watch, and with how effortlessly the show’s managed to go into it’s heavier topics, it’s not hard to see why it’s source material has been held in such high regard, and so far, the anime adaption’s proven to be one of 2019’s strongest offerings.

Synopsis: 30 years ago, a massive firestorm tore through half of the world’s cities, bringing the planet to its knees and giving birth to fire-wielding mutants known as Burnish. Now, a powerful mutant terrorist group who calls themselves Mad Burnish, lead by the soft-spoken Lio, threatens to destroy the earth again in a blaze of hellfire. The only thing that stands in their way is the Burning Rescue Fire Department and their hot-headed leader Galo. As these two burning forces collide, with the world as their battlefield, who will come out victorious?

Why You Should Watch: While I wouldn’t exactly call myself the biggest fan of Hiroyuki Imaishi or the general aesthetic he’s helped make Studio Trigger known for, I’d be lying if I said his stuff wasn’t a whole lot of fun to watch, and Gurren Laggan and Kill la Kill are two of my favorite action shows to watch if I want to get my blood pumping. Still even with that in mind, it’s hard to think of anything that quite encapsulates Trigger’s style quite like Promare. Like it’s aforementioned predecessors, Promare is a loud bombastic action spectacle filled with even louder characters and some incredibly stylish battle animation cuts, while also having a unique visual style that blends 2D animation and 3DCG in a way that gives the film an almost comic-book feel not unlike Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. What really makes this particular project special though is that while Imaishi certainly hasn’t been shy about addressing topics like the power of non-conformity in his previous works, this one is definently the most blunt about what it wants to say, and dives surprisingly deep into the treatment of minorities by government enforcers (they’re called the Freeze Force for a reason guys) and the looming threat of global warming, all while maintaining the usual level of fun and high energy that Trigger productions are known for. Sadly it’s commitment to the typical Trigger aesthetic kind of cuts some of it’s thematic ambitions short, but it manages to cram everything great about Trigger shows into a tidy 2-hour package so it’s hard to be too critical about it. Plus it’s given us the most popular gay pairing to an action thing aimed at dudes in recent memory, and anything bold enough to be as unsubtle about that as possible is pretty cool in my book.

Synopsis: In Japan’s Warring States period, Lord Daigo Kagemitsu makes a pact with 12 demons, exchanging his unborn son for the prosperity of his lands. The child is born malformed and is set adrift in a river, while Kagemitsu’s lands thrive as promised. Years later, young thief Dororo encounters the mysterious “Hyakkimaru”, a boy whose arms are blades and whose visionless eyes seem able to see monsters.

Why You Should Watch: I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of the show’s director, Kazuhiro Furuhashi, since a lot of his work on the Rurouni Kenshin franchise made the series needlessly edgier than it’s source material and subsequently misunderstood it’s ending (the less said about Rurouni Kenshin: Reflections the better). Still, it’s pretty hard to deny he’s talented so when I heard he was doing a new retelling of the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka’s, Dororo, I was pretty curious to check it out. What I got ended up being one of the strongest shows of 2019, as Furuhashi and the staff at Studio MAPPA took the interesting but kind of tonally inconsistent manga, about a boy with puppet limbs hunting down the demons who took it alongside his scrappy orphaned companion, and turned it into a thoughtful look at how one’s humanity can be maintained in a world where everyone has to dirty their hands for their own survival, and if sacrificing the few to save the many can ever truly be justified. Hyakkimaru’s battle to regain his humanity by reclaiming his body, leads him down a path that ultimately threatens to take that humanity away from him, and seeing where that journey takes him can be equal parts horrific and triumphant as nearly every character in the show’s cast carries their own struggles in how they’ve made their way through such turbulent times. The series also has a pretty good visual aesthetic going for it, in how it chooses to display it’s violent world, and it helps to give the series a bit of a retro feel, while still feeling more than suitable for modern audiences. While I doubt this series would have been high on anyone’s list of manga properties to revive, this reinterpretation turned out to be one heck of a ride, and reminded me that not every adaption needs to be direct to it’s source to be great.

Synopsis: When the girls in the literature club ask themselves, “What do you want to do before you die?” one of them gives a most surprising response. Now they’re all preoccupied (for better or for worse) by their friend’s unexpected answer! Soon each of these very different young women find themselves propelled along the uncertain road to adulthood, their emotional journeys taking them down paths as surprising as their friend’s unconventional wish. 

Why You Should Watch: Ah, puberty. It’s one of the most awkward and confusing times in any person’s life, and media has exploited that awkwardness for nearly all it’s worth, as stories about horny teens aren’t exactly uncommon, especially in anime. However while fiction about puberty is often tackled from a male perspective, very rarely is it done from a female perspective (at least not without the added condition that it’s at least partially played for titillation) and O’ Maidens in Your Savage Season holds nothing back. Penned by the original manga’s author and prolific anime writer, Mari Okada, O’ Maidens follows a group of young girls in a high school literature who seem to want nothing to do with boys until one of them declares her desire to have sex. The ensuing whirlwind of chaos from that declaration, pulls the girls into various love triangles, strange relationships, and just a general mess of awkwardness.

Mari Okada’s work is both famous and infamous for how melodramatic her stories can get, and while there’s a whole lot of drama going on in this show, what really helps to set it apart from similarly sex-charged stories about puberty is that it has a surprising amount of levity, and often has you laughing at some of the girls’ crazy antics as much as it does wanting to make you give them a hug and tell them everything will get better with time. It’s also one of the rare stories that tackles how a queer teen handles puberty, and while her arc isn’t exactly the happiest, it’s empathetic in a way that dramas like these aren’t always the best at. The relationships in this show can also delve into some very uncomfortable dynamics as the girls deal with the men in their lives (as a word of warning one of them involves one of the girls dealing with her abuser who is a literal pedophile) but it handles them very delicately, and never crosses any lines it can’t walk back from. It’s a pretty messy series, and the slightly anti-climatic conclusion might not sit well with everyone, but puberty is messy, and this show understands that in a way that very few other works of fiction have shown successfully, and that makes it both an impressive piece of art, and one Mari Okada’s strongest works to date.

Synopsis: Frustrated with her thankless office job, Retsuko the Red Panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out death metal karaoke after work.

Why You Should Watch: If you told me a couple of years ago that one of the best shows to tackle millennial work life and the anxieties of adulthood would come from the same company that makes Hello Kitty, I would have thought you were off your rocker. Sure enough though, Aggretsuko is one of the most relatable shows out there, and one of the few anime comedies to penetrate mainstream consciousness in the west, and for good reason. Regardless of gender, I’m pretty sure just about every young adult trying to make their way through an early career can see themselves in Retsuko, a red panda who has to put up with all sorts of garbage from her co-workers and chooses to vent via death-metal screaming sessions at her local karaoke bar about how much she hates her life. It can certainly be cathartic if you’ve ever found yourself in similar situations but what really makes Aggretsuko shine as a series is how Retsuko learns how to navigate her way though the problems with her life with the first season tackling the workplace sexism she constantly finds herself under and how marriage might be her only means of escape, while the slightly more uneven but still solid second season, has Retsuko looking more at what she wants out of life in the long term. These aren’t easy things to deal with, and Retsuko never manages to overcome these problems so much as she does learn to take the good with the bad in her life, and head towards her future at her own pace. As someone who shares in at least a few of those struggles, these feel like surprisingly honest conclusions, and that honesty has probably contributed at lot to it’s current success. Workplace comedies may be nothing new, but few speak to the millennial experience quite as hard as Aggretsuko, and while we can’t always scream out our frustrations, at least this show is willing to do plenty of the screaming for us.

Synopsis: Izuku has dreamt of being a hero all his life—a lofty goal for anyone, but especially challenging for a kid with no superpowers. That’s right, in a world where eighty percent of the population has some kind of super-powered “quirk,” Izuku was unlucky enough to be born completely normal. But that’s not going to stop him from enrolling in one of the world’s most prestigious hero academies. Now, the only thing standing between him and his first class is the academy’s formidable entrance exam—nothing a little private tutoring from the world’s mightiest hero can’t solve.

Why You Should Watch: So I might have tried pretending to be smart with some of these other entries, but anyone who talks to me online knows I’m a shonen junkie at heart, and few series this decade have given my inner 12-year old their fix quite like My Hero Academia. While the first season kind of stumbled out of the gate with some wonky pacing, and a more conservative looking production than the general pedigree Studio BONES has made themselves known for, every season afterwards has only gotten stronger and the anime staff has brought Kohei Horokoshi’s original manga to life with the kind of high energy many shonen adaptions of the past could only dream of, with consistently strong animation, and some killer direction. The material itself of course, is no slouch either, and while a lot of its base appeal lies in how well it’s refined the typical Shonen Jump formula down to it’s lovable cast of characters (and Mineta I guess) and well paced story structure, what really makes this series shine is that’s well…actually a pretty good superhero story. Even though on the surface, a lot of it’s superhero elements feel like they’re there to add some flavor to it’s shonen formula, in many respects, it’s usually the opposite, and the series has quite a lot to say about how true heroism comes from a desire to help people, and how that desire can conflict with a society held up laws and regulations, as well as acknowledging both the good and bad in having superheroes as symbols for the people. Even if you don’t care about any of the deeper stuff though, My Hero is just a really fun time, and while it’s not the most sophisticated thing on the planet, it’s kind of like having your favorite bowl of cereal. It might not be a full-course breakfast, but it always puts a smile on your face, and as this decade’s big tentpole battle shonen, hopefully it can keep bringing those smiles for a few more years to come.

Synopsis: When Mutta and Hibito were children, they made a promise to become astronauts together after spotting a UFO one night. Now adults, the duo’s path couldn’t have diverged more – Hibito is about to travel to the moon with NASA to help simulate the future exploration of Mars, and Mutta is unemployed, having recently headbutted his boss at an auto company. Still, the man can’t shake his desire to surpass his younger brother, and soon, he becomes an applicant for Japan’s JAXA space program. His ultimate goal, to get one step ahead of Hibito and go to Mars. But the path to becoming an astronaut is long and fraught with tests and challenges. Will Mutta and newfound friends Kenji and Serika manage to persevere and achieve their dream?

Why You Should Watch: As kids we’re often told that there’s a certain point in adulthood by which we should have our lives together, and that anyone who fails to do so by that point is doomed to amount to nothing. However as many struggling folks (myself included) in their late 20’s and early 30’s would tell you, real life is a lot more complicated than that, and getting one’s life together can be a constant work in progress. This rings especially true in the story of this show’s protagonist, 35-year old Mutta Nanba, who after getting fired from his job as an auto engineer, is forced to rethink his life trajectory, and decides to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, alongside his younger brother Hibito, who’s already living that dream. His journey towards that goal has a lot of ups and downs, and along the way we’re introduced to a variety of other characters, some who have been constantly beaten down by life, and others who have loving families and stable careers, who all still similarly yearn to achieve their dreams of going to space, and there’s a level of humanity to just about everyone Mutta meets that really helps to demonstrate that being an adult doesn’t always mean you’ll be fulfilled.

While that description makes this series sound pretty dry and serious, a lot of the time it’s really funny, and while it never sugarcoats the struggles the adults of this show face, it also has an abundance of child-like optimism that keeps things from ever getting too dark, and it rarely fails to be entertaining. It also presents the inherierant romance of space and adventure with the kind of wonder that can easily capture the hearts of kids, as well as the adults it’s more grounded elements are tailored to, making it one of the rare anime that you could actually put on for the whole family (well minus one racially insensitive joke that’s mostly skippable, and a potential age-gap romance that might not sit well with everyone). Unfortunately it didn’t really gain much traction in the west, much less a dub, so the series has sadly remained kind of niche here over the last few years, but it’s well worth your time regardless, and while it’s a little long, the show never feels like it’s dragging it’s heels. Whether you’re young or old, Space Brothers is here to tell you that it’s never too late to start over and pursue your dreams, and as someone who’s sadly gotten more jaded about life with age, it’s the kind of optimism I could certainly use more of.

First Impressions- Fall 2019 Anime

Yet another new season of anime is upon us and honestly…it doesn’t look terribly interesting to me. While some years have had better prospects than others, Fall is usually the season where a lot of heavy hitting titles come out, but it seems like production commtties decided to flip the script and dump out all the really promising stuff in the Summer so what we have left seems kinda shurgy save a couple of sequels. As I’e said before though, sometimes having lower expectations means there’s more room for surprises, so I guess it’s time to dig and see whether or not that ends up being true.

Ratings Scale

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. Definitely worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

Ahiru no Sora

Ahiru no Sora

Synopsis: He may be shorter in stature, but Sora Kurumatani can soar and score on the basketball court! With a passion for the sport he inherited from his mother, Sora vows to her that he’ll take top prize at a high school basketball tournament… but there’s one problem. His new school’s basketball club has turned into a hangout for delinquents! Will Sora’s sheer tenacity and amazing three-point shooting change their minds and get the club up and running again?

First Impressions: While I can’t say I was excited to check this one out, I was definitely pretty curious about it. Although this is a 2019 anime, the manga for this has been running since 2004 and is still ongoing, so the fact that it’s been seralized for so long and is somehow only now getting an anime made me pretty curious what it’s deal is. So far it’s…pretty much an early-mid 00’s sports anime. Kurumatani is more or less your average shonen sports anime protagonist, being short and seemingly unsuited to his sport of choice, but has a heart of gold, and hidden talent beneath his unassuming exterior. His “teammates” are a bunch of as-of-yet unreformed delinquents who are all assuredly about to get some comeuppance (though the episode stops just short of that so it’s possible that could get subverted a bit) and you’ve even got cliches like Kurumatani and one of our other eventual male leads Chiaki, spying on the girls’ locker room. All those story beats really do feel like they walked straight out of 2004, and while that seems like that could be pretty grating, I had a decent time with this. Nothing it did felt terribly original or set the world on fire, but these were and still are pretty popular genre cliches for a reason, and while I’m not super invested in Kurumatani just yet, I’m at least a little curious to see the full extent of his skills next week. It helps that diomedia’s production for the show is pretty solid, and even features some surprisingly good ball animation in a few instances. Of course I could already see where they were cutting corners, and this show is running for a full year so there’s no way they’ll be able to maintain this, but at least it’s off to a nice start. Even if the production does implode though, it at least has an opening by The Pillows going for it, and it’s hard to knock anything that could get them attached to it. This wasn’t the strongest premiere in the world, but there’s some room for promise here, and it was decent enough that I’m pretty willing to give it a few more episodes to see what it has up its sleeve

Rating: Decent

Oresuki: Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?

ORESUKI: Are you the only one who loves me?

Synopsis: Kisaragi Amatsuyu thinks he’s hit the jackpot after popular upper-class girls Cosmos and Himawari invite him out! But to his sheer disappointment, they spill a juicy secret: the girls are into his friend and not him. Overhearing this reveal, a girl in the shadows begins to pester Amatsuyu, finding enjoyment in his lady woes. But he’ll soon find out this girl is the only one who likes him!

First Impressions: This was another thing that was at least partially on my radar though mostly because I had seen a couple of trailers for it. Highschool romcoms are practically the most common form of anime in existence, so subverting expectations by having MC-kun (or more accurately, Incel-kun in this show’s case) be a scumbag, and his potential “harem” members instead being interested in one of his other friends is a pretty good hook to say the least. I’ll admit the lead up to said twist feels a little by the numbers even if it’s obviously setting up a punchline, but once it reveals the twist it goes all in on it, and I spent the entire second half of the episode hoping Incel-kun would get hurled into the sun and that both girls ditch him before he has the chance to enact his “plan” of trying to hook up with whichever one loses out on dating his friend. This is where Incel-kun’s stalker comes in, and where I find myself at an impasse about what this show might pull. On the one hand, Incel-kun sucks so the idea of him getting made as uncomfortable as possible by his stalker could work as some funny comeuppance, especially since she already seems like she could be a pretty amusing personality. On the other hand this is based on a light novel and it’s still a romcom so there’s a very real chance Incel-kun will just end up falling for her without having to ever reevaluate himself or improve as a person. I’m cautiously optimistic that it won’t pull that, but the possibility existing makes it hard for me to get 100% behind this. Still, this was a pretty amusing premiere and while that danger could still lurk beyond the horizon, I’m at least curious to see where the next episode takes this, so I guess I’m on board for now.

Rating: Good

Ascendance of a Bookworm

Ascendance of a Bookworm

Synopsis: Avid bookworm and college student Motosu Urano ends up dying in an unforeseen accident. This came right after the news that she would finally be able to work as a librarian like she had always dreamed of. When she regained consciousness, she was reborn as Myne, the daughter of a poor soldier. She was in the town of Ehrenfest, which had a harsh class system. But as long as she had books, she didn’t really need anything else. However, books were scarce and belonged only to the nobles. But that doesn’t stop her, so she makes a decision… “If there aren’t any books, I’ll just create some.”

First Impressions: It’s everyone’s favorite time of the season, isekai time! Although by favorite, I mean the genre that never ever seems to go away. This time around though there’s a few interesting twists. For one thing this one stars a female lead reincarnated as a little girl, and the fantasy world she’s been trapped in doesn’t seem to have any RPG elements, or even monsters for that matter. Instead it seems to be a medieval fantasy world where printed text is rare, and books even more so as only the rich have the privilge of owning them. This sucks for Myne because she’s a total bookworm, and being stuck in a world without them is like her own personal hell, so she’s willing to go any lengths to spread them through the world. That setup more or less establishes the first episode which takes things pretty slowly and doesn’t offer too much worldbuilding aside from what I already mentioned. With that in mind, how much mileage you’ll get out of this premiere probably depends on how much you like Myne since it’s all about her coming to terms with her new world. As for me, while I found her obsession with books to be a little one note in the beginning, her antics are cute enough, that by the end of the episode I just wanted someone to give this kid a book to read, so I guess it succeeded in it’s goal. Isekai have gotten so repetitive at this point that I’m up for just about anything that’s actually committed to doing something different rather than simply making do with poking fun at existing cliches, and this is certainly different. Since this show seems like it’ll move pretty slowly, it’s hard to say how much long term investment I could get out of it, but the prospect of Myne theoretically toppling this world’s class system to spreak knowledge to everyone certainly seems like something that would be right up my alley, and it’d be cool if the show actually committed to that. Not sure if I’ll be keeping up with this in the long run, but I had a decent enough time with this that I’m willing to at least give it another episode.

Rating: Decent

Kemono Michi: Rise Up

Kemono Michi: Rise Up

Synopsis: Professional wrestler Genzou Shibata was preparing for his next match, when suddenly he was summoned into another world. He’s asked to defeat the magical beasts that roam the land, but as an avid animal lover, Genzou would rather help these creatures. So after a short stint as a hunter, the man opens the Kemono Michi pet shop. There, along with his part-animal employees, he hopes to adopt out rare beasts and foster a pet culture in his new home. 

First Impressions: Hey, it’s another isekai, but this one I was actually kind of anticipating. I didn’t know much about it going in other than the base premise, but since it’s from the author of Konosuba, I figured it could make for a pretty solid isekai parody. What I actually got was…something. The concept of having usual MC-kun instead be a buff wrestler is a pretty unique change in expectations, and him both turning on the princess and more or less outting himself as a furry is even more out of left field. With all that it mind it seems like it could have been a riot, and I definently did get a few laughs out of it, but something about it just didn’t totally click with me. Mainly that Genzou’s shtick of petting/harassing every beast or animal-eared girl he comes across already felt like a little much before the episode even ended, and this seems to more or less be his one joke aside from people assuming he’s a pervert based on his costume. It doesn’t help that while the show’s heroine seems snarky enough, she kind of pales in comparison to Aqua from Konosuba proper, and didn’t bounce off of Genzou’s antics as much as I’d hoped she would. This feels like a case where a dub might be where I give it a second chance because it certainly seems like the kind of thing that would probably be funnier if it spices up the jokes a bit more, but for the time being, I wanted to like this show more than I actually did and while I wasn’t bored with it, I don’t feel as inclined to watch more it as I hoped I would. Eh, I guess I’ll see how I feel in a week.

Rating: Decent

Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious

Kono Yuusha ga Ore Tueee Kuse ni Shinchou Sugiru

Synopsis: In the world of Gaeabrande, Goddess Ristarte is tasked with summoning a hero to save her world. The hero, Seiya Ryuuguuin, is an OVERLY cautious hero who’s obsessed with muscle training and buying armor before setting out to deal with low level creatures. It’s simply one overly cautious mission at-a-time for this invincible hero!

First Impressions: And here comes isekai #3 which seems to be the true darkhorse of the bunch. I didn’t know anything about this one going in other than it’s title, and while it’s title seemed like it could be a decent enough idea for an isekai comedy, previous attempts at “subverting” isekai tropes have been a mixed bag, with only Konosuba really taking home the crown in that area. Konosuba seems a pretty apt comparison though, because this premiere gave me some pretty similar vibes. Like Aqua, Ristarte is an incredibly smug goddess who’s only following around the hero Seiya because it’s part of her job description, with the only major distinctions being she’s not nearly as mean-spirited and she seems more than little distracted by how ripped Seiya is. She’s a lot of fun to watch, and Seiya’s no slouch either, as while his primary joke of being overly paranoid seems like it could get old quickly, it’s well matched by how snarky he is towards Ristarte about basically everything, and watching the two bounce off each other was pretty hysterical. It helps that the show looks pretty good and White Fox went all in on the visual comedy, as this show has some of the best squash and smear animation I’ve seen in an anime comedy in a good while, and it even gives the intentionally janky expressions of Konosuba a pretty good run for their money. It’s possible this show could lose steam pretty quickly, and having one of the Demon King’s generals show up right in episode 1, makes me a little worried about that prospect, but I’m pretty optimistic that it’ll hold up, and I got enough laughs out of this that it’s a pretty easy recommendation for this season.

Rating: Great

High School Prodigies Have it Easy Even in Another World!

High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World!

Synopsis: Seven high school students are involved in an airplane crash. When they woke up, they found themselves in a parallel world where magic and beastmen exist. Of course, they panicked at their sudden unexpected predicament… or not? Instead, they create a power plant in a world that doesn’t have electricity, they did a little extra work and managed to take economic control over a metropolis, they managed to repay their gratitude to some oppressed citizens by upending a corrupt government, and basically do whatever they feel like?!

First Impressions: We’ve reached an Isekai Quartet, and I honestly wish I were watching that show instead. While Cautious Hero was a pretty fun comedy, this is more along the lines of what I tend to associate with isekai these days and it’s pretty bland. The gimmick of having seven characters travel to another world together and having all of them be insanely skilled (the fact that they all know each other is some incredible plot convience, but I guess you can kinda roll with it) seems like it would be an interesting hook, but there’s an obvious lead, and he doesn’t feel terribly different from your typical isekai MC-kun. The other members of the group haven’t really been developed beyond their gimmick yet, which would be fine if their gimmicks weren’t kinda bland, and the fact that it doesn’t really introduce us to them despite moving pretty slowly, made this premiere feel like a total slog. That it’s also pretty bland on the visual front doesn’t help things either, and while nothing here looks awful, it doesn’t have any real distinction from the dozens of other isekai in existance, and at this point it’s hard not to knock these shows down for that.

About it’s only merits are that it has yet to establish any RPG mechanics meaning this could be an actual fantasy world and therefore present a more interesting challenge in how the heroes manage their way through it, but with how obviously powerful they already are, I don’t have too much hope it’ll follow through. The other thing is that it seems like it’ll be pretty fanservice heavy as a lot of the animal-eared girls have some big knockers, and one of them even gives MC-kun a rather sensual mouth-to-mouth feeding, so if that sounds up your alley, it might be worth giving it a peak. That’s kinda where the show lost me though, since throwing in that last bit not even 10 minutes into the show didn’t do much to make me think this was going be anything better than a boring power fantasy, and nothing in the rest of the episode did anything to change my mind. This is far from the worst isekai premiere I’ve sat through, and it certainly could get stronger later on as the other members of the group get developed, I only but so much patience, and with the ever increasing number of isekai anime in the wild, first impressions matter to me a lot with them, and compared to Cautious Hero, this seems like a giant shurg.

Rating: *blah*

Azure Lane

Azur Lane

Synopsis: Azur Lane, a combination of all the different Camps in the world, was once successful in repelling the underwater menace, the Siren. Now splintered, they must face a new threat in Red Axis, former allies who crave to wield this otherworldly Siren technology for their own nefarious desires! Who will be victorious in the never-ending war between these battleship girls!?

First Impressions: And breaking away from isekai, comes our mobage adaption of the season and uh…it sure is a mobage adaption I guess. Like Kancolle Collection from a few years back this involves naval carriers being antropomorphized as anime girls with the main difference being these girls don’t seem to be based on real world ships like the ones in Kancolle were, and the girls seem to be divided into factions despite sharing a common foe. The whole factions thing probably makes this sound like it could be more complicated than it is though, because the show is so unconcerned about that plotthread that the members of the opposing faction to our…heroes (?) (there’s not much in the way of PoV here) literally announces how the two factions are opposed to each other, as though they’re explaning it to the audience, which I guess would make more sense than them explaning this to the people who are already opposed to them.

If there’s any “plot” you’re coming to this show for, it’s the character designs, and while I wouldn’t knock that too much normally, this kinda loses out in two big ways for me. One , aside from the two fox girls, a lot of the character designs look pretty samey and mostly boil down to either giant boobs or lolis with not much room in-between (and there were a few too many of the latter for my liking which felt a little uncomfortable). Secondly, despite the girls being the obvious marketing point of this show, there isn’t a whole lot of cheesecake in this premiere, so if you were looking for any decent fanservice, this doesn’t have much there either. The one big thing it has going for is that it looks gorgeous, and in addition to some pretty good character animation, the 3DCG used for the action sequences is actually pretty impressive by anime standards. Still, that’s not quite enough to elevate how blah the rest of this was, and while I imagine you might be pretty happy with this adaption if you’ve played the mobile game, I haven’t so this an easy skip for me.

Rating: Bad

Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun

Mairimashita! Iruma-kun

Synopsis: Suzuki Iruma, human, 14, one day finds himself taken against his will into the world of demons. To add to his predicament, his doting owner and self-appointed “Grandpa” is the chair-demon at his new school. In order to survive, Iruma must deal with a haughty student who challenges him to a duel, a girl with adjustment issues, and so many more scary beings! Can this ultimate pacifist dodge the slings and arrows that are flung his way? As he struggles frantically, Iruma’s innate kindness begins to win over enemies.

First Impressions: Didn’t know what to expect from this going in other than that it was probably a kids show going by the character designs, and yeah it’s basically that. While that sounds like it would be a knock against it, kids anime can be surprisingly entertaining when the execution’s there, and sometimes even more so than the otaku-centric stuff that we tend to get injected into our veins on the regular. Iruma’s overall character felt like a mix between Hayate of Hayate the Combat Butler fame (for anyone who remembers that franchise since kinda died down it’s last few years) and Deku from My Hero Academia, which seems like a weird combination, but somehow it works and my brain immediately latched onto this poor kid. All his life he’s been suckered into doing what other people wanted and now he’s found himself getting sold by his parents to a demon. Fortunately it turns out to be a very nice demon who just wants a grandson to call his own, and this turns into a weird but charming unreluctant power fantasy as Iruma inadvertendly makes himself into the most frightening being at demon school. While there’s nothing particularly original about this show’s humor or concept, I still somehow found myself pretty amused by it, and the execution on the jokes was just solid enough that I got a few good chuckles out of it, which is something I kinda needed with how drab the rest of this anime season looks right now. Production-wise this looks about like what you’d expect from a kids show not attached to a major franchise in that it’s competent but lacking in polish and probably isn’t gonna ever set the world on fire. Still, what it does have it uses well, and while in a more packed season, this might be have been something I’d be a bit more on the fence about, it was one of the better premieres I’ve come across so far for the fall, and I’m in the mood for it, so I’ll probably stick with this until it gives me a reason not to.

Rating: Good

Africa Salaryman

Africa Salaryman (2019)

Synopsis: Imagine your co-workers–a lion, toucan, and lizard! Hey it can happen right? Africa Salaryman is a comedic take on office life of three African jungle animals who could be your potential co-workers in corporate America. It’s full of ridiculous office place antics and hilarious scenarios, that keeps things quite entertaining, while the animals cope with their working environment.

First Impressions: While I didn’t know what to expect from this, I’ll admit I was at least mildly curious about it because well…how could I not be with its premise. The show itself is certainly…something. We have animal salaryman and animal high school girls which is more or less the main joke, and while I wasn’t sure how much mileage it was going to get out of that I had a few good laughs at things like the lizard getting his tail violently pulled out, or the whole mixer scene in the third act where the toucan inadvertendly tries hitting on a non-sentient pig. It’s…pretty weird, and the animation style only makes it weird as the show shifts between heavily blended 3DCG, wacky 2D animated cuts, and even possibly some flash animation. The constant art shifts certainlhy got my attention, but if there’s one thing that kinda held me back from giving this a full recommendation, it’s that most of the chararacters introduced so far are a little annoying, with the toucan in particular being obnoxious in a way that’s not always funny. Granted I did laugh at this regardless so I might keep up with it in spite of that, but it does make me worry about how this’ll hold up in the long term. For now though, I guess it was passable enough, so I guess I’ll at least give it another episode or two.

Rating: Decent

Val x Love

Val x Love

Synopsis: Takuma Akutsu has a “unique” appearance that, unfortunately, leaves him feeling isolated and alone among his high school classmates who shun him. Enter the Valkyries sent by Odin himself! Once they descend into Takuma’s life, he discovers they aren’t scared of him one bit! In fact, they’re super keen to get to know him better. As the intimacy between the Valkyries and Takuma grows, so too do their powers. And that’s a good thing, because they’re on orders to slay the vicious monsters intent on destroying the earth. How far will they go to deepen their connection, level up, and save the world… by any means necessary!?!

First Impressions: I’m uh…not totally sure what I just watched but I guess it’s an action harem anime? The basic gist here is that Takuma is a dude who looks big and creepy and is a social recluse thanks to that but also has a group of pretty valkyries living with who grow stronger through intimacy and all want his spear, if you know what I mean. If what I just said sounds like a bunch of confusing nonsense, don’t worry because I’m just as confused as you are. There would be something potentially interesting in having an unconvientional harem protagonist who isn’t much of a looker, and wants no part of his harem or people in general but the problem here is that in addition to this show’s premise being a bunch of weird nonsense, the weird nonsense isn’t even explained until the last two minutes of the episode. Up till then we’re just told that Takuma is a recluse while the show proceeds to have all the girls living at his house like it’s normal and not even allowing us to get a decent grasp of their personalities. Although I guess even if it didn’t start in media res, I’m not sure how much personality these girls would have to offer because they all seem like pretty standard anime girl archetypes, which would normally be pretty par the course for a typical harem anime, but feels a little weird contasting off of how actually interesting Takuma is, instead somehow making them feel bland in comparison. On top of all the plot confusion, the show itself looks pretty medocre, and the opening is barely animated in some areas which doesn’t feel like a promising sign for the rest of it’s production cycle. I guess if there’s any appeal here it’s that it’s got plenty of fanservice on display, and since that more or less seems to be the goal here anyway, I can at least give it some minor props for cutting right to the point. Still it’s kinda sad seeing something that could have possibly been interesting if handled better be so all over the place, but alas this is what we got, and I’m pretty sure this is getting a big pass from me.

Rating: Bad

Special 7: Special Crimes Investigations Unit

Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit

Synopsis: In the year 2×19, the last of the “dragons” have banded together and taken the form of humans. A group known as Nine is after the dragons’ power. To combat Nine and protect the dragons, the police create the Special Crime Investigation Unit – Special 7. Seiji, a bright and knowledgeable rookie, joins Special 7 and is tasked with solving cases about Nine, alongside his unique new teammates.

First Impressions: Welp it’s finally time to break away from isekai and into detective dramas because that’s another genre that seems to be (weirdly) plentiful this season. Like summer’s Cop Craft, this one takes place in a future where supernatural beings came to Earth at some point and began diplomacy with humans. Unlike Cop Craft though, any conflicts between humans and the supernatural seem to have been mostly resolved so this isn’t likely to serve as an awkward metaphor for race relations, and the cops we’re following are all clearly supernatural beings themselves, minus our lead who’s seemingly human (I say seemingly because he mysteriously survives getting shot in the chest and the show is vague about the details on that). This makes the show decidedly less commentative than Cop Craft tried to be which also makes it a little less immediately interesting, but since Cop Craft wasn’t exactly nuanced with that subject, I’m pretty willing to take a safe buddy cop drama starring vampires and elves among other things. Most of the premiere is pretty formulaic for this kind of story down to main character being a rookie cop who gets roped into joining the unit with all the presumably wacky supernatural characters, but the execution was solid enough that I never found myself getting too bored with it, and while the visuals of the show aren’t exactly awe-inspiring it looks decent enough for the kind of show this is. I wish I had a stronger opinion on this other than “this is fine” but well…this is fine, and given the season hasn’t particularly wowed me so far, I’m willing to take fine over bad, and this seems decent enough to warrant a couple more episodes.

Rating: Decent

Kandagawa Jet Girls

Kandagawa Jet Girls

Synopsis: “Jet-Racing” has become a mega-popular extreme sport across the world, and with good reason! The “Jetter” pilots a high velocity watercraft and is paired with a “Shooter” who blasts rival teams with a hydro gun. It all adds up to explosive, wet-and-wild action as they race to the finish and compete to earn supremacy. Among those competing is Rin Namiki, and racing is in her blood. Rin aspires to become a legendary Jetter just like her mother, and after meeting the cool and gorgeous Shooter Misa Aoi, it looks like Rin’s dreams are finally in reach with a partner who shares her passion! Every race brings them tighter together as a team and closer than ever to their dream of becoming the best Jet Racers on the water.

First Impressions: I knew going into this that it was a new franchise behind the vreators of Senran Kagura, meaning that whatever else this show might have to offer, the one thing I could definently expect were boobs. Given that I’ve been pretty outspoken about fanservice at times, you’d think a thing centered around just that wouldn’t quite be my cup of tea, but I’m still a hetero dude so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the occasional big slice of cheesecake, and since the cheescake here is the main attraction rather than a side dish, it’s a lot easier to roll with so long as the execution feels fun. Having said all that, I was a little less amused by this premiere than I was hoping to be. This indeed has plenty of fanservice going for it, and just about every camera angle is framed in a way that makes it clear this show knows its audience, and yet it didn’t feel quite as over the top as I was expecting. Much of the episode plays out like you’d expect of any basic sports anime premiere, which would be fine if this was that, but provides a little bit of whiplash when from a girl innocently dreaming of riding on a jet ski someday to cloth destroying lasers. Also gotta say that the limited looking production kinda hurt things a little too, as while there’s plenty of detail in the fanservice shots, the actual jet racing sport looks a little underwhelming, which kind of makes both that and the accompaying fanservice, feel less fun than it should be. Plus if you are here strictly for the fanservice, this is definently a “buy the blu ray” kinda deal, which is a little annoying even as someone who isn’t totally here just for that. In the grand scheme of things I’m pretty sure all my complaints here will hardly matter to the people who were anticipating this show since again, it’s got plenty of big boobs, but since I was also hoping to be at least a little entertained outside of that, I don’t know if this quite did it for me enough to watch more of it.

Rating: Decent

Stars Align

Stars Align

Synopsis: The teen adolescence story revolves around the coming-of-age of boys in a junior high school’s soft tennis team, which is on the verge of shutting down. Touma Shinjou asks Maki Katsuragi to join the team for his vaunted abilities, and mentions a summer competition. Katsuragi asks for money in return for joining the team.

First Impressions: So while there honestly wasn’t much of anything I was actively looking forward to this season, this show was one of the things I was the most curious about. Mainly due to it’s director, Kazuki Akane. For those unaware, Kazuki Akane happens to be director behind a little known show called The Vision of Escaflowne, alongside Noein-to your other self, both of which are very strong shows that mix together cool fanatastical concepts with compelling character drama. Going by the previews, this show looked like it was going to be focused squarely on the latter, and while I slightly suspected this might pull some kind of bait and switch since there wasn’t much promotion behind it, this is indeed a sports drama, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Right off the bat there’s a sense of energy to this show’s direction that makes everything here feel very naturalistic, and especially in regards to boys’ tennis team largely being comprised of a bunch of slackers who don’t take any of this seriously. In a lot of other sports shows that sort of thing would be heavily dramatized, and while the threat of their antics getting the club shut down is a pretty big part of the episode, it’s used more as a springboard to introduce us to our leads Toma and Maki. Both boys seem to come from troubled homes with Toma apparently having issues with his mother, and Maki having to take care of the house by himself to help support his single mother. The latter of the two is definently the most immediately interesting as Maki’s dad comes into the picture at the very end of the episode, and he’s an abuser (also possibly a yakuza member) who only ever comes home to take money , which immediately paints a much darker picture of his family’s financial situation. The tension of that last scene in particular is pretty well done, and I really dig the whole set up of Maki only joining the tennis club under the condition he’s paid, which could certainly make this more than a little atypical for a sports drama. Good as the story setup here is, it helps that whole show itself looks pretty good, with the only real nitpick being that the show doesn’t quite have the level of character animation it’s clearly trying to display, and it makes a couple of scenes look slightly wonkier than intended. That aside though, this was a pretty good premiere and while I wasn’t sure what to expect, even with a trusted director, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought I would, given that it looks like this’ll stay pretty grounded. Since it is a sports drama, I don’t know if it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in the mood for one, this is definently one to keep an eye on

Rating: Great

No Guns Life

No Guns Life

Synopsis: Humans that have been physically altered and turned into dangerous weapons are known as the Extended. Juuzou Inui awakens as one of these weapons—with amnesia. But his job as an agent investigating the Extended leads to a mysterious child with Extended ties showing up at his office. Now Inui must keep the child away from street gangs and the megacorporation Berühren, and it won’t be easy.

First Impressions: I’m not sure if I was necessairly looking forward to this one but I was certainly curious about it because well…how could I not be when the main character has a literal gun for a head. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but putting aside that bit of weirdness, this is pretty straight forward noir stuff. Juuzo is about as much of a walking hardboiled detective cliche as you can get from his mannerisms to his dialogue, with his most distinguishing characteristic being that he doesn’t seem to be very good with women, which makes some his facial reactions pretty amusing. Beyond that the setup here is pretty straightforward as Juuzo stumbles onto a case that ends up tying into a much larger conspiracy, and about the only thing seperating this from just about any other noir movie is that the world is one where Juuzo’s very existance somehow isn’t out of the norm, and while most of what we get in the premiere concerning Extendeds feels like technobabble, I’m at least mildly curious to learn more about them. Aside from the noir cliches, the other knock I’d give this premiere is that the show’s overall visual aesthetic looks extremely middle of the road, which normally wouldn’t be too big a deal, but for the kind of setting this has it’s a little underwhelming and about the only thing that stands out visually aside from Juuzo are the character designs for all the women, which are at least more up my personal wheelhouse than Jet Girls ironically enough. Putting all those complaints aside though, while something this by the book would be kinda bland in most genres, noir is something we don’t see a whole lot of in anime, so even a super textbook one is still something different than what typically comes out in a regular anime season. Plus while I was never really wowed by anything in this show’s plot, I certainly entertained by it, so that at least gives it an edge over some of the other stuff I checked out. Since this show is set to run for two cours, hopefully it manages to impress me a bit more sooner rather than later, but for now this seems like a perfectly fine genre thing, and if you’re in the mood for anime noir, this is pretty much your one-stop shop for the season.

Rating: Good

Blade of the Immortal

Blade of the Immortal (2019)

Synopsis: Edo, an era of warriors. There lived an immortal man, the Slayer of Hundreds, ‘Manji.’ He meets Rin, who has sworn vengeance for her parents. Rin’s grudge is against a group of swordmasters – Ittou-ryu. She asks Manji to be her bodyguard on her journey. He refuses, but then sees his late sister in Rin. So began the violent struggle that would bring even the immortal Manji to his knees

First Impressions: I didn’t know too much about Blade of the Immortal going in, but I knew it had a solid reputation as a prestige seinen manga, which definently put it pretty high on my list of things to check out this season. I also knew that it had an earlier adaption by Bee Train that apparently wasn’t very good, so this new one had a lot to live up to, both in attracting newcomers, and pleasing manga fans who weren’t happy the first go around. The show itself is a samura revenge drama, which isn’t quite what I was expecting, but samurai films are some of the coolest pieces of cinema out there, so that at least helped to grab my attention. Our basic setup is pretty straightforward for a samura revenge drama as our heroine Rin watched her father get killed and her mother raped and kidnapped, and now she’s out to kill the group of swordsmen responsible. Unfortunently while she’s spent time training in the sword, she isn’t nearly skilled enough to take down elite swordsmen so she’s left with no choice but to hire a bodyguard. Said bodyguard is Manju, a man known as the 100-man killer, who also happens to be immortal (though this certainly doesn’t stop his limbs from getting chopped off a lot) and that more or less explains this show’s title. Aside from setting the basis for this revenge plot, much of the show’s first two episodes are spent establishing the dynamic between Rin and Manju, which is certainly an interesting one, as while Rin intitally offers herself up in exchange for Manju’s help, she reminds Manju of the younger sister he lost to his violent past, and the end of episode two finds Rin taking on the role of his new sister. It’s a little strange for sure, but I like both characters so far, and while Manju is a bit of an enigma outside of his prickly personality, the show’s opening sequence made me more than a little curious as to what circumstances led to his sister’s death, so I’m looking forward to finding out a little more about that.

More than anything though, what really endeared me to this first two episodes is the show’s art design because HOLY CRAP does this show look gorgeous. Everything from the line art to the backgrounds gives the show a very unique sense of flair that almost feels like you’re watching a painting come to life, and the actual direction’s no slouch either, as the show is littered with impressive shots, and manages to use the heavily stylized artwork both for dramatic, and in one instance, comedic effect, which makes it far and away the most unique looking show of the season. Admittedly I’m onboard for this more because of the art design rather than the story, since it hasn’t completely grabbed me yet, but even with it’s straightforward premise, there’s plenty of potential in the actual writing, and even in the event it doesn’t quite deliver on that end, despite the manga’s reputation, at least this’ll be super pretty to look at, and I’m still totally floored LINDEN FILMS was able to put together such an incredible looking production. If you’re hunting for an easy recommendation for this season, look no further than this.

Rating: Great

True Cooking Master Boy

Shin Chuuka Ichiban!

Synopsis: During the 19th century China, the protagonist, Liu Maoxing, wins the title of Super Chef and is the youngest to do so in history. His master, Zhou Yu, suggests that he broaden his skills as a chef even more, so he goes on a journey around China with his friends Shirou and Meili. After returning, he also teams up with Xie Lu and Lei En to fight the Underground Cooking Society. He then learns the secret about the 8 Legendary Cooking Tools. In the past, Mao’s mother, Bei, had wished for everyone’s happiness and fought against the Underground Cooking Society. In order to continue his mother’s wishes and protect the Legendary Cooking Utensils from the Underground Cooking Society, Mao and his friends go on a journey…   

First Impressions: I don’t know much about the original Cooking Master Boy, but from my understanding it’s a pretty well known cooking manga in Japan, and I certainly like food so I was a little curious about this one. This premiere follows our protagonist Mao as he and his companions end up in a town that specializes in making dishes centered around chicken, and ends up befriending a restaruant owner. Unfortunently her restaurant has a bad reputation because they raise black feathered chickens that are considered bad luck, but Mao sets out to prove otherwise through his cooking skills as he enters the local cooking competition, and demonstrates the real value behind that chicken. It’s a pretty basic cooking show setup but it was a pleasant little watch regardless. Mao feels like a pretty likeable protagonist, and while we don’t know much about his past yet, the snippets we get indicate that he had to clear a few trials to get to his current skill level, and I’m a bit curious what the deal is with that. I also appreciate that the food in this show looks really good, and while I was lucky enough to be eating dinner while watching this, if I hadn’t I can almost guarantee that looking at some of these dishes would have made me hungry.

If there’s one serious hurdle for this show, it’s that it had the misfortune of being out in the same season as the last season of Food Wars and feels a little redundant next to it, since both seem to have pretty similar forumlas down to the wacky foodgasm reactions (though this show’s doesn’t lean into the lewd like how Food Wars does), and Food Wars is pretty well-known by this point, so this seems very easy to pass up. Having recently finished the manga though I know that the material in the last season of Food Wars is gonna be lame at best, and a dumpster fire at the absolute worst if it actually covers the final arc, so I have no real desire to watch it. With that in mind, this seems like it’ll work as a decent substitute, and while I know a lot more folks will obviously lean towards Food Wars, if you’re looking for another fun cooking show, this seems pretty solid, and I’m up for giving it another episode.

Rating: Good



Synopsis: Zen Seizaki is a prosecutor with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’ Office. While investigating illegal acts by a certain pharmaceutical company, Seizaki stumbles across a conspiracy over an election for an autonomous “new zone” established in western Tokyo.

First Impressions: This show wasn’t particularly on my radar, but I’m always down for new original anime projects, so I’m glad I went to check this out. This is the second of several detective shows for this season that I actually checked out (well third if No Guns Life counts), and this one seems to be really by the book. Anime is certainly no stranger to dipping in procedural cop dramas, and even big franchises like Ghost in the Shell have quite a bit of that going on, but I’m used to it being done through the lens of cyberpunk and/or a distinctly western setting. This show however seems to center around goverment-salaried Japanese investigators, and the politics of the show are kept strictly to the Japanese government, which I certainly haven’t seen one of these do before on the anime front. That gives this a bit of a unique edge in terms of what it could actually explore but the core of the material itself isn’t terribly different from anything you’d see in your average episode of CSI, and this dumps you straight into the procedural stuff without even bothering to fully introduce the central characters, so how much you get out of this is quite literally dependent on how much you enjoy these kinds of dramas. They aren’t exactly my jam to be honest, but I at least like anime cop shows well enough, and while I didn’t latch onto any particular part of this, I was at least pretty engaged with it, and the production is certainly pretty compared to some of it’s competition. There’s certainly no shortage of detective shows this season, and I can’t even declare this to be the best one since I’m not totally sure I’m gonna check out the last one, it was certainly the most polished of the ones that I’ve seen so if you’re really in the market for this kind of show, this feels like it’ll be a good genre watch, and I’m probably keep up with this for a couple more episodes at least

Rating: Good

Astra Lost in Space Episode #12 (Series Finale)

After a long journey, our kids have finally reached their destination, and with it, the end of this show. With how strong last week’s climax was, it was up in the air how much more of a punch the finale could bring, and especially if it would be enough to justify being an hour long, but fortunately it has more than a few tricks up it’s sleeve. There’s still a few lingering questions to be had here, and the show does a great job of not only tying in the answers to everything its had to say so far, but in giving us a few more good gut-punches for the road, as it heads into the finish line at full speed.

Before we get deep into the show’s final big twist, there’s still the matter of what’s to be done about Charice. While the kids understand his motivations, and sympathize with his harsh upbringing, there’s no changing the fact that he betrayed them, and that his actions cost Kanata his arm. Quitterie in particular seems to be the biggest voice of resentment on that end, but Kanata refuses to allow Charice to take the blame for what happened to his arm, since Kanata sees that whole situation as a choice that he made, and he’s prepared to live with the consequences. He also doesn’t want Charice to get taken down with their originals as a part of this whole conspiracy since even with everything that happened, he still considers Charice to be one of them, and while Ulgar decides to play devil’s advocate about it, in the end, he and the others decide to forgive him as well. Honestly with this show’s optimistic tone, there was really no way the other kids weren’t going to ultimately forgive Charice for betraying them, and it’s sweet they did, but I’m glad to see that there was least a little bit of resentment there. It would have been weirder had the show just glossed over the whole thing with how much that subplot was built up over its run, and taking the time to address it helped in making this whole situation a lot more nuanced than it could have been.

And with all that settled, the kids finally decide to grill Charice about what he knows about the truth behind Astra’s history, and strap yourselves down kids because it’s quite a doozy. Polina was right about an asteroid heading towards the Earth, and humanity seeking out new planets to colonize, with Astra being the one they found. However when the foundations for the migration were settled and it came time for the world’s governments to tell everyone about the move, chaos broke out as people started fighting over who would gain territory in the new world, and the fighting that broke out wiped out half the Earth’s population in just two months. The survivors colonized Astra and established an era of peace, but to maintain that peace, they orchestrated a worldwide cover-up, by deciding to tell future generations that WWIII was the cause of humanity’s downfall, and rolled back the calendar by 100 years in order to ensure their descendants wouldn’t be able to piece together the truth, and instead live in blissful ignorance.

Once again, there’s a heck of a lot to unpack with this twist, and it’s a heck of a number for the show to drop at the last minute for how dense it is. Luckily, while the details of this can be scrutinized to death, the part of this that’s actually important to the show’s purposes is more or less spelled out by Aries: the adults lied future generations about their history, and restricted their choices, robbing them a certain sense of freedom and identity. While they might have done this for purely benevolent reasons, as they genuinely thought this was the best way to ensure a lasting peace, it’s ultimately not much different from what the king did to Charice by raising him with a total lack of identity. Framing it this way adds a lot of substance to what would have otherwise been an unnecessarily convoluted revelation, and seeing it from that point of view makes the decision that the kids come to on it a lot more understandable, as they decide it’s their duty to inform the people of Astra about the truth so they can all decide for themselves what to do next. Whether or not you agree with the conclusion they came to is something I can see a lot of potential debate over, but given how well it ties into the show’s pre-established themes, and the amount of issues we face today because of people in power rewriting or obscuring history for later generations (and often for far less benevolent reasons), I can behind their decision pretty easily. It’s certainly something to chew on, and even with how strong the show’s writing has generally been up till now, I’m still pretty impressed that it was able to bring such a complex issue to light in a way that’s fairly easy to understand, and it just makes me appreciate even more how strong it’s turned out to be from it’s relatively simple origins.

Of course while the kids might have resolved to tell the world the truth, the question remains if the people will be ready to hear it, or if the government won’t just attempt to finish them off before they get the chance to spread the word. While we get just enough tension about this potential hiccup to make it seem like the kids could get assassinated right before they land, they manage to make it safely back to Astra thanks to some careful planning, and their originals are all sent to prison for their crimes. As the kids eventually persuade the government to release the truth about Astra’s history to the pubic, anti-government protests inevitably break out, and a wave of discontent sweeps the entire world. However when Kanata releases a novel about his adventures in space to the public, and ends it on the importance of going out to see what’s beyond the horizon with your own eyes, the discord gradually dies down, and the people decide to do their best to uphold the peace they have now. Admittedly this outcome is a tad overly-optimistic for this show, since it’s hard to believe the fallout from such a giant conspiracy wouldn’t have lead to a massive revolution, or at least some serious political upheaval, but it’s handled just well enough that it doesn’t feel irresponsible, and this outcome pretty much works the best with what the show’s themes were aiming for, so I’m more than happy to give this a pass.

The rest of the finale is pretty much a victory lap as the kids all start their new lives. Quitterie and Charice go on to become famous models, with Charice in particular eventually taking over as Vixia’s king in order to shut down the monarchy and help make the wormhole technology that they were hiding away public. Funi enters high school, and Polina becomes a teacher, deciding to use her knowledge to help teach the younger generation about the Earth she knew. Yunhua of course, becomes a famous singer, while Aries and Kanata eventually get engaged before Kanata sets off on a new journey through space with Zack and Charice as his crewmen. Normally these kinds of epilogues can be a little too clean and idealized for their own good, but in this case it’s both pretty well deserved, and arguably more important to this story’s goals than similar ones have tended to be. Seeing all this helps to drive home the idea that the journey the kids went on allowed them to break from their parents and be their own people, and seeing how much happier they are now because of it makes the entire journey of the show feel even more rewarding

If you do need a little something a little less fluffy from this epilogue though, it mostly comes from what we see of Ulgar as he lives out his goal of becoming a reporter. He decides to confront his father in prison to learn the truth about his brother’s assassination, and he was indeed taken out by Luca’s adopted father Marco after coming too close to the truth about the cloning conspiracy and Astra’s history at large. Ulgar’s father was of course, aware this happened, and while he claims to have been sincere in his wish that Ulgar had died instead of his brother, that he saw Ulgar’s brother as disposable enough to be sacrificed at all, speaks to the reality that not even their blood relation was enough to actually see Ulgar’s brother as his own person and not merely his offspring. While this might have been a tougher pill for Ulgar to swallow in the past, he’s become enough of his own person that he’s long since moved past his father’s cruelty and no longer desires his approval. This is something that his father realizes all too late as he briefly sees how much Ulgar has become like the son he lost, and it’s as strong a note as any to ride out this show’s core theme of how our experiences and the people we connect to can be a bigger part of our identity than how we’re raised.

Astra Lost in Space is a series I’ve been fond of for a good while now, and while I was happy with how impressive it was as a manga, I’m happy to say it’s just as impressive as an anime. From beginning to end, Masaomi Ando and the rest of the anime’s staff at Lerche have had a really solid grasp of what made this such a compelling story, and have done an excellent job of presenting its themes and characters, with an especially good eye for pacing and direction. While it’s not quite as detailed as it’s manga counterpart, his has been a strong enough adaption overall than I can safely say it’s worth checking out the story in either format, and that the presentation is strong enough that you’ll get some mileage out of it even if you already sat through the manga. It’s a good thing too, because while Astra may have started off as a relatively straightforward tale of kids going on a journey of survival through space, it grew into an surprisingly hefty sci-fi narrative that highlights the importance of how overcoming trials and hardships are what ultimately allow us to form our own identities. It’s a message that’s delivered with an unbridled sense of joy and confidence, and I really hope that message will continued to be talked about, not just for the rest of this year, but for many years to come.

Rating: 10/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost In Space Episode #11

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

We’ve finally arrived at Astra’s pentulmate episode, and if you’ve been a little overwhelmed by the show’s seemingly endless barrage of mysteries, you can rest assured this one dials things down considerably to focus on it’s latest revelation. That doesn’t mean this one is any less intense though, as the real truth behind Charice is a pretty wild ride of it’s own, and manages to throws a couple more curveballs into the mix. More importantly, it manages perfectly encompass all of the show’s themes up until now, and makes for not only it’s hardest hitting episodes to date, but one that has helped to firmly set the series into one of this year’s strongest anime offerings.

As we learned last week, Charice is a clone just like the rest of the kids, and specifically a clone of the king of Vixia. He was raised with the knowledge that he was a clone, and therefore worthless outside of his value as an eventual replacement body, and the only real freedom he knew growing up, was in the time he spent with the kingdom’s princess, Seira. Seira was opposed to her father indulging in cloning since she believes that clones are just as human as their originals, and when she discovered that her father had made a clone of her in secret to use for spare organs , she had that clone taken away to be raised by one of her handmaids in secret. That clone was Aries, and while Charice’s original mission was in fact to kill the others and die along with them, he decided to change plans upon realizing Aries true identity, since the real Seira was assassinated long ago, and he sees her as a replacement that could help the king to get over his grief.

Even when I first went through the manga, I was kind of curious how throwing a king into this show’s giant conspiracy would shake things up, but as it turns out he’s just as vunerable to the possibility of being outed as a criminal by the recent Genome Act as the rest of this show’s horrible “parents”, and by all accounts he’s easily the worst of the bunch. While the others also didn’t see their clones as anything but replacements, they at least gave them some semblance of an identity, even if it was one their parents could literally project themselves onto. Charice was told right from the start that he was nothing more than a tool for his original, and has been so thoroughly brainwashed by this that he has pretty much zero sense of self. Even with how messed up some of the other kids have been Charice feels especially broken, and what’s really sad is that he’s been so indoctrinated into the idea that he’s just a shell for the king’s use, that he doesn’t even realize how he’s been harmed, and that his desire to see Aries as a replacement for Princess Seira is effectively perpetuating the same kind of horrible projection the king forced onto him all those years. It’s pretty much the ultimate culmination of all this show’s themes regarding how a parent who doesn’t see their child as their own person, can destroy that child’s sense of identity, and it feels especially fitting that this struggle serves as the final major obstacle for the kids to overcome.

Charice’s story would feel like a tragedy in a less optimistic show, but this is still Astra, so even he manages to find some hope to latch onto. That hope of course, comes from Kanata, who cuts straight through Charice’s facade to reveal his true emotions. While Charice might have only thought he was pretending to be a part of the team throughout this whole journey, he truly did come to care about the others, and his joy at constantly discovering the unknown was just as sincere. Charice really just wants the chance to live his life just like anyone else does, and while he still tries to convince himself that dying and allowing Aries to placate the king’s grief would be the best outcome, Kanata gets him to realize that he’s the one who’s grieving the most over her. It’s clear that at least part of Charice’s self-loathing is rooted in the idea that he can’t forgive himself for watching her die in front of him, and even if he does ultimately want to be happy, it’s not something he feels he deserves, especially since the king opted to directly place the blame for Seira’s death on him.

Unfortunately, this is all way too much for Charice to process at once, and when his conflicting emotions become too much for him, he attempts to commit suicide via the portable worm hole. Kanata manages to beat some much needed sense into him before he gets the opportunity to follow through on it, but this comes at the cost of Kanata losing his arm in the process as it gets sucked through the wormhole. The shock of this whole situation convinces Charice that he wants to live after all, and since he previously expressed interest in being Kanata’s second in command someday when Kanata achieves his dream of being a proper space captain, Kanata convinces him to quite literally dedicate himself towards being his right-hand man. Subtle this is not, but it drives the show’s point home, that people don’t have to be a product of their parents, and that people don’t have to be blood related to be truly considered family. Something that’s best exemplified not in Kanata and Charice’s shouting match, but in Aries’s earlier flashback to her memories with her mom after discovering the two of them weren’t related after all. While the timing of that flashback would give the impression that Aries feels a strong resentment towards her mom for lying to her all those years, even through her tears, it’s more obvious that Aries feels gratitude for all the love her mom showed her, and that she’s who she is now because of it. It’s a wonderful moment that really speaks to the heart of this show, and I’m glad that so much care went into it’s execution since it helped to bump up this episode from a merely great one, to one of the best episodes of anime from this year in general.

On the whole this episode was fantastic, and I really can’t stop thinking of reasons to gush about it. Everything from the direction to the pacing was really on point this week, and I have to give some especially strong props to the great performances from Yoshimasa Hosoya and Nobunaga Shimazaki as Kanata and Charice respectively, since the raw energy of their delivery during that whole conversation really helped to give it some extra punch. Even though this was only the second-to-last episode of Astra and we still have a whole hour-long finale to get through, this one really felt like the climax of the story, and it resonated with so much of an emotional punch, that’s pretty hard to believe anything that happens in the actual conclusion could top of it. Whether or not that actually proves to be true though, one thing that’s for sure is that regardless of what lies in next week’s finale, this show has already proven itself to be an absolute standout, and if it manages to stick the landing, it could have all the makings of a classic.

Rating: 10/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost in Space Episode #10 Review

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

Astra might be heading into its home stretch, but the show certainly isn’t slowing down because the mysteries just keep on coming. At this point, the extent to which the show is able to one-up itself with dense plot twists is kind of impressive in and of itself, and this episode’s showings really take the cake in that area, as we not only deal with last week’s giant cliffhanger, but the long awaited answer of who the traitor among the kids is. Unlike with last week’s shenanigans, this doesn’t quite leave enough room for any of the show’s trademark character drama, but what we do get here certainly helps in setting up this show’s endgame, and it’s looking like it could be a whole lot bigger than expected.

Jumping right into what was established with last week’s bombshell, the kids are from a planet called Astra while Polina is from the Earth we all know. Kanata briefly suggests the idea that she could be an alien (by their point of view), but that theory doesn’t hold much water. She definitely speaks the same language they do, and when Polina brings up that she was originally from Russia, Aries has at least heard of Russia, even if the very concept of countries (and religion by the looks of things since none of the kids have ever heard of “God” before) is considered outdated by Planet Astra. After Polina and the kids compare their worlds’ timelines side-by-side it seems as though history on Earth and history on Astra are roughly similar until about 1963. While we had the Cuban Missile Crisis that threatened to cause World War III, Astra actually did experience WWIII, and the devastation was so massive that humanity gave up on the concept of war entirely and formed one unified world government, with countries and guns being abolished.

Meanwhile in Polina’s timeline, which is presumably the same as ours, around 2049, it was projected that an asteroid would destroy the Earth in eight years. Humanity then began a mass exodus plan to search for a new world using several ships, among which the Astra was one of them. This was done via artificial wormhole technology which was likely the same as the sphere used to warp the kids into space to begin with, and the icy planet where the kids first came across the Astra was likely the ravaged planet Earth after the asteroid hit. However on Astra, the year 2057 has already passed, and while Polina concludes that it’s likely Astra was one of the planets that the Earth colonized, the fact that it seems to have put together such an organized civilization in a just a few years is more than a little bizarre.

Woof. If that all seems pretty dense and confusing to you, rest assured that the actual explanation is even more complicated than my summary, and even with Astra technically being a sci-fi anime, this is still a lot to take in. Long story short though, it’s almost certain that the kids and the other citizens of planet Astra are descended from humanity on Earth, but the question remains of why Astra has such a convoluted timeline to begin with, and why the kids have no knowledge of the threat that caused humanity to vacate Earth in the first place. As Ulgar aptly puts it, “the adults are always hiding something” and given that the citizens of Astra seem to have been carefully educated not to dig too much into history, it’s likely that some other catastrophe happened that the world government decided to cover up.

Whatever it is they’re hiding is anyone’s guess at this point, and given that we only have two more episodes to address it, I imagine we’ll learn about it sooner rather than later. Regardless of what the truth might be though, one thing I can say for sure is that I once again have to give the show some serious props for its foreshadowing. As ridiculously complex as this whole twist is (I mean seriously, just look at it), the show’s dropped more than enough hints here and there that it all still feels like it makes sense, and that the show is rewarding your patience. Granted it still feels like there’s more questions than answers here, but this is all fascinating enough that seeing where this will all lead still feels exciting (even if I do know the answer already).

But while there’s plenty to chew on with that, the show still has other mysteries to address as it’s finally to end the game of “spot the traitor” that’s been building over it’s run. As the crew heads towards the final planet, Kanata goes what happened when they all got launched through the wormhole, and asks Aries to do a favor for him
(as well as offering to walk her home when this is all over, which might be his indirect way of asking her out, but it’s hard to tell with how dense he generally is) and identify who was the last person to get sucked through the wormhole since they’re probably the traitor. Thanks to that ,he deduces the traitor is none other than Ulgar and comes up with a masterful plan to catch him in the ac- alright let’s not kind ourselves here folks. The traitor is actually *surprise* Charice, and Kanata’s “plan” to catch Ulgar was really just his way of getting Charice to slip up and reveal that he’s been carrying the artificial wormhole that’s been following them around this whole time.

As impressive as many of this show’s mysteries and revelations have been up until now, Charice being the traitor was almost ridiculously obvious in comparison. Even putting aside how overly melodramatic his “backstory” was compared to everyone else’s and that it had nothing to do with this show’s consistent theme of bad parenting, neither his folks or Aries’s mom showed up to last week’s League of Extraordinarily Evil Parents meeting. This left either him or Aries as potential traitor suspects and as wacky of a twist as Aries being the traitor might have been, we’ve seen way too many of her thoughts for that to be plausible, so it only left our favorite blond. Luckily if you were a little underwhelmed by how obvious this answer was (I would be, but again, it just demonstrates that this show actually understands good foreshadowing with mysteries) the truth behind his reasoning might actually be the bigger twist here. Like the others, he’s a clone, and he was dispatched to make sure the others were dead before dying himself. Specifically though, he’s a clone of Noah Vix, the king of the Vixia Royal Quarter.

Given that the girl from Charice’s fake backstory seemed to be real, it’s interesting, but not super surprising that he at least wasn’t lying about where he was from. However, this just raises more questions. While all of the kids “parents” have been shown to be influential members of society in some way, throwing an actual king into the mix changes up the dynamic behind this conspiracy considerably, and begs a few questions. Mainly, why he’d risk getting involved in a plan like this to begin with, as well as whether or not he had his own agenda in doing so. It’s quite a lot to think about. Heck this whole episode is a lot to think about, so it should certainly be fun to see how the show hopes to answer all the new questions its raised with the two remaining episodes it has left. Of course, if what went down here is any indication, this show’s story seems more than well thought out enough that there’s hardly any room to doubt those answers won’t be satisfying.

Rating: 8.3/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost in Space Episode #09

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

I guess it’s pretty much to be expected with an episode literally called “Revelation”, but it’s great to see that all of this show’s mysteries are finally paying off. After last week’s twist regarding Quitterie and Funi being genetically the same person, this week’s events dive into the full implications of what that means for everyone else, and how it all ties into the larger conspiracy that’s been looming over things the last few weeks. While this sounds like it would be a lot (and it is), this all actually results in one of Astra’s quietest episodes to date, as the fallout over the big revelations ends up taking center stage. It’s certainly not a bad thing though, as the show allowing itself to be a bit more focused than usual makes this episode a real knockout.

So now that I’m done being vague, we might as well get down to it: after seeing that Quitterie and Funi have the exact same DNA, Zack comes to the conclusion that all of the kids are clones. Zack knows that his father has been experimenting with memory transplants meaning that it would be possible to take memories, and place them onto a clone, effectively allowing the original person to be reborn with a second chance at life. This was the goal of the kids’ “parents” who all came together to use their individual spheres of influence (Zack’s dad’s research for the plan, Quitterie’s mom providing a hospital for the surgery, etc.) to make this plan a success. However, the government’s recent Genome act, requiring citizens to have their DNA tested to help snuff out illegal cloning put a wrench in that, and they decided to chuck all the kids into space to kill them and get rid of any evidence.

It’s…quite the conspiracy, and I gotta say that in a lesser show this would probably be the moment where the series would be officially seen as going off the rails. Fortunately this revelation not only sticks the landing, but it actually feels like a natural conclusion for the audience to come to based on how carefully the show has laid out clues about this whole situation. Pulling off this kind of gigantic twist while making it feel like what everything’s been leading up to is usually what ends up causing a lot similar mystery-thrillers to fall flat on their face, so I’m glad this didn’t fall into the same trap, and having read the original manga, I can actually say that hindsight allowed for clues like the parents’ general apathy towards the kids having gone missing, or Yunhua’s mom immediately shutting down any chance for her to stand out, to stick out a bit more and on the whole, this all feels pretty earned.

Speaking of the parents, we do get to see them sitting around as they deal with the aftermath of their plan. This scene helps in filling in some of the blanks in Zack’s theory, such as why some of the “parents” were around their kids more than others, and we learn that Quitterie, Kanata, and Zack’s specifically needed to pass their skills onto their “vessels”, but didn’t have any emotional attachment towards them beyond that. While the way they discuss this whole thing makes them feel a bit like mustache-twirling villains at points (complete with Luca’s original not being his adopted father, but an artist who wanted an intersex body in order to “transcend gender and be a perfect being”), it helps to get across the message that not a single one of them had any love for their children and that they’re all pretty despicable. Terrible as their plan was though, the kids are still alive, and if they can successfully return home, they get their originals exposed and arrested, and then start over their lives as literally new people. It’s perfect revenge for the kids after everything they’ve gone through, and even though they may not have the love of their parents, the experience they’ve had together has allowed them to become a real family, and Kanata’s bold declaration of this helps to soften the emotional blow of this whole thing for the others.

Neat as all these answers are though, the real heart of this episode lies in how each of the kids reacts to the revelation afterwards. While Luca and Yunhua were both troubled by their pasts, the two of them are looking forward to their new future, with Luca wanting to enjoy himself as much as possible, and Yunhua wanting to stand out and live her dream of becoming a singer. Ulgar and Charice on the other hand are a bit more indifferent about it, as Charice had already cut ties with his family, (though considering no one “related” to him was spotted in the League of Crappy Parents earlier in the episode, this only raises the question of what he’s still hiding) while Ulgar feels relieved that he won’t have to feel guilty about sending Luca’s father to jail, and can take solace in that even though he’ll be separated from his family, he’s found a new one in Kanata and the others. With how much material this adaption has had to cram into 12 episodes, I’m honestly a little amazed it was able to give time to let each of the kids have their moment to sort out their feelings, but I’m glad it did because each of these scenes serve as a testament to how much these kids have matured during their time together, and it’s hard not to feel proud of each and every one of them for how well they’ve overcome the pain their parents put them through.

However while the other crew members are mostly one one side of the fence or the other with their reactions, Kanata and Aries takes turn out to be the most interesting. Aries has the hardest time accepting this whole conspiracy, considering that her mom definitely seemed to care about her (considering that like Charice, her mother doesn’t show up to the evil meeting, this would seem to be accurate and makes her role in this thing as mysterious as his), and while she still isn’t totally sure how to process everything, she knows that the love her mother had for her was real and decides to trust in it. As for Kanata, he lived most of his life being forced to live out his father’s dream of becoming a great athlete, and even when his father gave him his blessing to go after his dream, he only okay-ed it because Kanata would still have a strong body for him to hijack someday. But for as much as he suffered under his father’s training, doing it was also what made him capable of being able to push towards his dream, and so he’s decided not be dominated by resentment for his father’s abuse and to instead continue pushing forward towards becoming a space captain.

Given that these two are by far the most straightforward members of the main cast, I can’t exactly say I was expecting them to have the most nuanced reactions of the bunch, but this show’s been full of surprises so far, so in hindsight I guess this is pretty much in-brand for it. Kanata’s scene in particular seems to best exemplify how kids don’t have to be defined their parents and must still ultimately choose for themselves the kind of people they want to be, and it’s a great way to wrap up that particular theme. While the effects of abusive parenting is far from new territory for anime, this show has handled it with a lot more grace than a lot of similar melodramas have, and it really speaks to original author, Kenta Shinohara’s writing ability, that he’s been able to tackle the subject from various angles so effectively.

Still, as heavy as this all is, it wouldn’t be a proper episode of Astra Lost in Space without at least a little comedy, and that comes in the form of Zack and Quitterie’s reactions. While the two of them are as torn on their feelings about their “parents” as the others are, the two of them still have a future together to look forward to, and decide to publicly say as much, as they announce their engagement to the rest of the crew. The others are of course appropriately shocked, and seeing them all flip out over the news is both pretty hilarious, and helps in breaking the earlier tension of the episode a bit. While a tone shift like that sounds like it would be annoying for such a serious episode, it was a good call because it also wouldn’t be an episode of Astra without another potential game changing twist in the mix. When the ship finally gets close enough to the Earth for the kids to see it on their monitor, Polina is confused because the planet doesn’t seem to quite resemble it. The kids on the other hand, are even more weirded out by her reaction as they’ve never even heard of the Earth before, and the home planet they belong to is known as Planet Astra.

WOW. That one’s even more of a mouthful than the whole cloning thing, and while this is yet again going to be another one of those things to be answered in the coming episode, what exactly this means is a bit more unclear. Given that Polina was involved in some kind of space exploration project, and Planet Astra’s timeline seems to be different from the one we know on Earth, it’s entirely possible she was asleep for a heck of a lot longer than just 12 years and Astra is a colonized planet, but it wouldn’t quite explain why the kids don’t have any knowledge of Earth at all. It’s a lot to chew on, but for whatever mysteries lie ahead going forward, I’m pretty satisfied with the time the show took to stew on the answers it offered this week. This has been a pretty solid show up till now, but this episode in particular made it feel really special, and if the show can carry that momentum into it’s final act, I have now doubt this could hold up as one of the strongest anime of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost In Space Episode #08

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

Well kids, it’s time to hop into the mystery van again, because we’ve got some mysteries to solve. With how big last week’s cliffhanger was, it’s not too surprising the show would opt to focus on it’s mystery-thriller angle for this week, but even though we get a few answers here and there, this episode only ends up dishing out even more questions, including one that could very well shake this show’s entire premise on it’s head. It’s pretty exciting stuff, and while the emphasis on this means we’re once again short changed in the character drama department, there’s more than enough to chew on here to help balance that out.

Before we get too deep into this episode’s biggest revelation, we should address last week’s twist. Upon stumbling upon what seems to be a second ship identical to the Astra, the kids find a woman named Polina who shut herself in that ship’s hibernation pod waiting to be rescued. As it turns out, Polina was an astronaut on a mission to colonize other worlds, and when her crew landed on the planet the kids are currently stuck on, they were attacked by the same plants that damaged the Astra, and the rest of her crew died trying to search the area. While Polina herself doesn’t seem too interesting of a character so far, the mysteries surrounding her certainly are, as when she asks the kids about the current year being 2063 A.D and learns that it’s only been 12 years since she was frozen, she seems to express some kind of major regret about that. There’s been a few hints here and there that there could be something up with this show’s timeline, and this raises that suspicion to a certainty. While we’re not likely to get any immediate answers on that since Polina seems to be suffering from partial memory loss, it definitely seems like her past could be pretty important, and that could factor into some of the larger questions surrounding this show.

In terms of more immediate issues though, Aries quickly realizes that while Polina’s ship has also been damaged, it wasn’t in the same spot the Astra was, and if they were to combine the functional parts of both ships together the Astra could be repaired. It’s a bit too obvious a solution to feel super satisfying, but it seemed like the show got any mileage it was going to about the danger of the kids being permanently stranded in last week’s episode, so I guess I can appreciate that it’s kind enough to keep things moving along. We also get a nice little moment between Zack and Quitterie afterwards where Zack talks about his dream of becoming a space pilot and how he decided not to be like his father. While his father wasn’t particularly abusive to him growing up, it seemed like he never viewed Zack as anything more than an object, and he never quite got over that.

Once again this is pretty in-line with the show’s ongoing theme concerning bad parenting, but since Zack seems to be pretty well-adjusted despite his father’s neglect, his flashback doesn’t quite have the same level of emotional impact the other kids’ did. What saves it though, is how this leads into Quitterie confessing that her dream is to become Zack’s wife, only for him to respond that he thought they were already engaged since they promised to marry each other when they were kids. I can’t quite say I was expecting this show to use a sad backstory for a punchline, and given how seriously it’s taken everyone else’s, this really shouldn’t work as well as it does, but boy did it work, and it was by far one of the funniest scenes in the series thus far.

From there, things transition to the gang making a pit-stop before leaving the planet in order for Polina to go to the last known location of her missing comrades. While they’re all obviously long dead, Kanata manages to retrieve their ID tags from some of the killer plant life, allowing Polina to get a bit of catharsis. It’s a nice scene, and it does help to give a bit more character to Polina, but the show also using it as an excuse to have Kanata show off his athletic skills again kind of undercuts it a little bit, and that rubbed me the wrong way enough that I didn’t get quite as invested in this scene as the show probably intended me to be.

What did win me over though, was this episode’s final twist. As the crew makes way for the last planet on their journey, Quitterie notices that when she was collecting blood samples from everyone, her and Funi’s blood types appeared to be perfectly identical. Since the two of them aren’t actually blood related, this is more than a little strange, and when Zack decides to run a DNA test on them to see if they’re actually real sisters after all, he stumbles upon something else entirely: The two of them are genetically the same person. Since this show at least seemingly takes place in the future (depending on how the whole timeline mystery pans out) and this at least something of a sci-fi setting it wouldn’t exactly be out of place for some kind of advanced cloning shenanigans to be going on, and if they are, it would certainly explain why someone would at least want the two of them killed. Of course if they’re clones, this also raises the question of whether or not they’re the only ones, and if they aren’t it could certainly shed some interesting light on this whole assassination plot, and the kids’ varying parent issues. We’ll have to wait to next week to get an idea of what the full implications of this might be, and while I do already know where this is all going, having read the manga, it’s clear that regardless of the details, things are only about to get even more wild.

Rating: 8.4/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost in Space Episode #07 Review

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

Boy, that escalated quickly. If you thought last week’s episode of Astra was pretty packed, this one is even more stuffed as we dive into Charice’s backstory and the kids find themselves in their greatest crisis yet. This all leaves the show with even more than usual to accomplish in a single episode, and while not everything here sticks perfectly, it manages to lay some pretty good groundwork for what’s to come

Following up on last week’s cliffhanger, as everyone grills Charice for answers regarding his lie about being in the same class as Aries, we learn he’s actually a transfer student and he came to the school around the same time she did. This automatically makes him the most suspicious person in the room, and when the others proceed to immediately point this out, he’s left with no choice but to talk about his past. Charice was born into the royal family of Vixia, the last nation on Earth allowed to be ruled by monarchy after the rest of the world merged into one unified government after a World War in the 1960’s (more or less confirming this show takes in some kind of alternate timeline, rather than the distant future). His childhood friend, Seira, on the other hand, was a commoner, and when she was found sneaking into the nobles’ territory with Charice, she ended up being horribly injured in an accident and is now in a coma. Eventually her family moved her away, and Charice decided to throw away his nobility to start a new life.

This makes Charice’s story one of the most immediately interesting ones compared to what we’ve gotten with the other kids, but at the same time it’s also the most lacking in substance. While it does help to explain more of the show’s setting, and it does kind of break the ongoing chain of having every character’s backstory connected to bad parenting in some way, the whole bad parenting angle also helped to give the other stories a little more weight, and this feels a little too cliche and melodramatic in comparison. At the same time though, while the kids all seem to be pretty moved by this story, it’s clear that there’s probably more to it than what Charice told them, so hopefully whatever that is ends up being more interesting than what we’ve gotten so far.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately for the kids) Charice’s story is far from this episode’s biggest development. When the gang arrives on the fourth planet of their journey, they run into some unexpected trouble when some of the plant wildlife attacks and damages the ship, leaving them stranded. On top of that the planet itself is the most inhospitable of the ones they’ve landed on, with everything outside of its epicenter being either too hot or too cold for most life to survive in. Even though they’ve faced plenty of dangers up until now, this the most hopeless the kids have ever felt about their situation, and Quitterie in particular has an especially bad time accepting her new reality. However, Zack mentions that there is one potential way for her to escape this crisis: going into the Astra’s hibernation pod and hoping that someone someday comes across the ship and rescues her. Of course, while this would save her, it would also leave her alone as the others are left behind to die, and she sees this as too terrible of an option to be worth considering. It’s not a particularly big scene in and of itself, but it at least helps to demonstrate how much she’s come to care for everyone compared to where she started at the beginning of this show.

Dark as things are though, there is some potential light at the end of the tunnel for the kids, as they happen to stumble across what appears to be a second ship that resembles the Astra. The ship itself is even more damaged than the Astra, but it does seem to be inhabited as it also has a hibernation pod, and a mysterious woman inside of it. As many questions as this development raises, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed at how little time it took for the kids to find a possible way out of their current crisis. Ideally, I kinda wish the episode had ended before this little discovery, just to make the stakes here feel heavier, but I’m also aware that there’s still plenty of the manga left for this show to run through, and only so much time to spare, so I can live with it. Crammed as some of this episode was, everything here still more or less worked, and with an even bigger mystery now being dangled in front of us, I’m plenty excited to see how it all unfolds.

Rating: 8.3/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost in Space Episode #06

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home

The Review

Woo boy. So even though I’ve been pretty pleased with what the Astra anime’s had to offer so far, this episode was the one I was anticipating the most. Luca and Ulgar’s stories take center stage this week, and Luca’s in particular covers one of the most sensitive topics this show has dealt with so far. With how consistently the anime’s been knocking it out of the park, I was excited to see how this would be handled, and while the execution here didn’t quite meet my expectations, what we do get still makes for one of the show’s strongest entries to date.

Before we get into Luca’s story though, let’s talk about Ulgar’s whole deal, which is also quite a lot. Where we last left our local edgelord, he was holding Luca at gunpoint, and we discover that he holds a grudge against Luca’s father. Ulgar’s brother was a journalist who was investigating Luca’s father for campaign finance allegations, and ended up “mysteriously” commiting suicide. This pretty much screams covert assassination, and Ulgar believes that since Luca is the heir to his father’s political dynasty, killing Luca will cause Luca’s father to feel the same pain he does. As is pretty much par the course for this show, Ulgar’s thirst for vengeance doesn’t exactly feel fresh (if anything it just makes the Sasuke Uchiha jokes even more on point) but it’s elevated by how well the show manages to contextualize Ulgar’s feelings.

Ulgar says that he’s always felt like an outcast in his family compared to his near-perfect older brother, but his brother was also the only person in his family who actually cared about him. He feels like his brother mattered to the world a lot more than he did, and it’s a sentiment that seems to at least partially stem from his father literally telling him that he should have been the one to die instead, making us 4-0 on the scoreboard of crappy parenting in this show. Needless to say that while he hasn’t been as big on showing his emotions as the rest of the cast, Ulgar has about as big a chip on his shoulder as the rest of them, and Kouki Uchiyama’s performance here really did a lot to make me feel for this kid.

Neat as this all is though, the big attention grabber here (and something I expect will garner a lot of…discussion) is in regards to Luca, as he claims that Ulgar’s master plan won’t work because he isn’t actually his father’s heir. That distinction belongs to his younger brother, and it all has to do with a secret he’s been hiding from the gang all this time: he’s intersexual. An intersexual person, as the show itself explains, is someone born with both male and female sex characteristics, and cannot be strictly identified as either of those genders (not to be confused with hermaphrodites who are biologically both). While Luca was raised as a male and identifies as one (hence why I’m still using male pronouns) his body meant that he could never take over his father’s position and was viewed by him as disposable.

So…yeah this is a lot. While anime’s certainly no stranger to tackling LGBT topics, it’s rare for a shonen to dive into them, and the topic of intersex people in general is even rarer, to the point where I wasn’t even familiar with it until I came across it in the original manga. It’s honestly pretty cool seeing a series aimed at teens going into a subject even a lot of media for adults hasn’t ever seemed to really talk about, and hopefully like with me, this’ll help to educate people on it a bit. Speaking of the manga though, if there’s one point I have to knock the anime down for here, it’s that it omits a few lines of dialogue where Luca goes into his sexuality, and mentions how he’s found himself attracted to both Kanata and Aries, more or less confirming he’s bi. While the anime does leave in a line where Luca remarks about how “cool” Kanata is after he saves him and Ulgar from a sudden tidal wave, it’s a little more ambiguous if this means he’s attracted to him, and making that more vague where it was previously spelled out directly, is a little disappointing (especially since if this was a time constraint thing, the anime’s show that it’s more than willing to cut the OP and ED songs for a few extra scenes if deemed necessary). Still, as I said before it’s rare for this particular subject to get covered at all in media (and as a hetero dude I’m obviously far from the most qualified person to talk about this anyway) so it’s not a dealbreaker or anything for me, but with how much the anime’s knocked things out of the part in almost every other instance, it’s a little shame it didn’t completely deliver on this one.

At any rate, Luca’s big confession about his identity ends up being enough for Ulgar to give up on killing him, and while Ulgar still doesn’t feel he’s really worth anything, his feelings change a bit when Kanata saves him, and reminds him of his older brother. While Ulgar hasn’t completely given up on his desire for revenge, he decides to do it as a journalist, and vows to expose the crimes Luca’s father committed, which seems about as good a way to wrap that up as any. He’s still a bit prickly, but the experience here does get him to open up to the others a little more, and it’s pretty nice. As for Luca, while he’s clear that he’s always been comfortable with who he is, it’s refreshing that the others choose not to think of him that differently, and still opt to treat him as a boy. This isn’t totally perfect but it’s certainly sweet, and if nothing else I’m glad the show was able to make both Ulgar and Luca’s stories feel satisfying.

Far as the broader story goes, we also get a few more advancements on that end towards the end of the episode. Kanata slowly realizes that all the kids seem to share a mostly similar connection in having issues with their parents, but it doesn’t quite explain why anyone would want them dead over it. However it does lend a little more credit to the theory that their parents are all hiding something, as the kids realize that Luca’s father likely had Ulgar’s brother killed for something much larger than a campaign finance scandal. That leaves us quite a bit to chew on with the bigmystery surrounding this show, but there’s more immediate things for the kids to worry about as Charice is now starting to look a little suspect. When Quitterie notices that Charice seems to fawn over Aries a lot despite having only met her during this camping trip, he attempts to deflect this with a lie about having known her from school, and it quickly becomes obvious he’s holding onto some kind of secret of his own. As for what said secret is, we probably won’t know till next week, but whatever it is, it’s bound to be pretty interesting. Far as this week’s events are concerned though, while this was still a solid episode overall, it’s also probably the first time I was a little let down by the anime’s execution. That said, it’s track record up till now has been consistent enough that I’m not super worried about how it’ll handle what lies ahead, and I’m still very much looking forward to the rest of this adaption.

Rating: 8.5/10

Available on Funimation

Astra Lost in Space Episode #05 Review

Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home.S

The Review

Even when they’re set in the vast reaches out outer space it seems like its impossible for just about any anime to escape an obligatory beach episode. Having the characters get some downtime seems a little at odds with the show’s basic premise, but with how hectic the last couple of episodes have been, it’s not like those kids haven’t earned it so I guess I can’t complain. On the downside, things being low-key here sure doesn’t leave me with much to talk about, but even in a breather episode this show still has a few things going on, and most of them seem like a pretty good set-up for what’s to come.

Before we get too deep into the nitty-gritty here though, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that the show actually does take a few minutes to follow up on things with Yunhua from last week. After soothing everyone with her singing and revealing her dream of becoming a singer, it’s confirmed that Yunhua’s mother is indeed a famous singer herself, making her actions to snuff out Yunhua’s ambitions all the crueler. Even so, Yunhua’s experiences during last week’s adventure taught her the importance of self-expression, and she decides to try standing out a little more, starting with a new haircut. It’s certainly nothing original, but if it works it works, and I thought it was a pretty good way of wrapping up Yunhua’s character arc for now.

From there we shift perspectives back to Earth as we see how the kids’ parents have been reacting to their disappearance. Since its been a good 40 days since the kids have vanished, the government has stopped their search for them, and only Aries’s mom seems to be holding onto the hope that the kids are all still alive. The rest of the parents on the other hand, seem to have already accepted the supposed fate of their children, and seem almost a little too uncaring about the whole situation, even with how strained some of the relationships we’ve seen with their kids have been. It seems like there might be something bigger going on here, because when Ulgar’s father attempts to console Aries’s mom by telling her how much he feels like his heart has also been ripped in two over the disappearance of his son, Luca’s father, a politician, says something similar to the media when asked about the situation, and it sounds almost rehearsed. Piecing all that together, it sure seems like at least some of the parents might have an idea of the circumstances behind whatever plot is behind the kids’ space warp in the first place, and it’ll certainly be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

Aside from that though, the rest of this episode is pretty lax as the kids’ latest “adventure” finds them on a planet so peaceful it almost feels like a resort. This of course, means plenty of fanservice, and while the show certainly hasn’t shied away from it before, the amount on display here, does kind of feel at least a little at odds with the general tone of the show up till now. If bikins aren’t you’re thing though, this episode is also pretty heavy in the shipping department, as it also spends a good amount of time on the possibility of Kanata and Aries hooking up. Since it’s well…Kanata and Aries it pretty much goes without saying that they’re both suck dorks that this ship doesn’t look like it’s gonna sail anytime soon, but Aries’s awkward attempts to ask Kanata about his love life do make for some pretty good laughs. In general, it’s kinda nice seeing all of the kids getting along better here, and even Ulgar seems to be slowly fitting in as Luca makes an extra-effort to try befriending him. That friendship might be pretty short-lived though, because when Luca reveals his last name, and his father’s identity to Ulgar, he ends up holding Luca at gunpoint. It seems like whatever Ulgar’s been hiding is about to come out, and whatever’s in store for the kids next, it’s pretty clear this week’s shenanigans were just the calm before the storm.

Rating: 8/10

Available on Funimation