Don’t mind me, I just fell over under the weight of my watch list.
I hemmed and hawed about exactly when I should post this sucker. Due to a combination of already offset premiere dates and delays caused by the Kumamoto Earthquake (a list of ways you can help here, if you’re interested), some of these are into their fourth episode while a couple have only aired two. So consider this more a rule of three-ish review, I s’pose.
The number of shows that made it this far is, uh… not insignificant, with a good mix of comedy and drama (or at least loud glorious trashy action) to offer a little something for everyone. Even the stuff on the bubble is pretty solid, and would have been a lock during last season’s sparser schedule. I’m going to try to be brief here so as not to overload you on word count, but let’s see if I can’t praise some favorites and maybe point you towards your next favorite along the way.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)
This blurb is largely about why Tanaka-kun reminds me of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun; but first, let me explain how they’re different. Tanaka-kun is more of a straight high school comedy than a self-aware genre parody. It’s less wacky and gag-focused, more relaxed and story-focused. Matching those changes, the characters are more laid-back and generally nicer, too. Tanaka-kun also seems to be a bit more inclusive, featuring what sure looks to be a canonical lesbian couple early in its run.
So, if their tones are so wildly different, why does Tanaka-kun remind me of Nozaki-kun (other than that “kun” in the title, of course)? Because both are good-natured comedies intent on laughing with their characters rather than at them. Because at heart they’re both about accepting others and supporting them in their goals, even if those goals seem odd to others. Because they’re both focused on celebrating a variety of interpersonal relationships that don’t necessarily fit into neat boxes. Because they understand the central tension in high school between the person you are, the person you want to be, and the person the world wants you to be, and explore that with equal parts humor and affection.
And, of course, because they’re both expertly directed for maximum comedic effect, with a good ear for silences, a good feel for repetition, and a great eye for facial expressions. Even the eye-catches sing with cleverness. Tanaka-kun makes me giggle more consistently and more gleefully than anything has since Nozaki-kun. I love its silly cast, I love its sleepy sense of humor, and I love its simple, subtle themes. This is the happiest I’ve been about an anime comedy in a long while. I sure hope it lasts.
I was on the fence about this one a few weeks ago, but it’s thoroughly won me over with its understated comedy and realistically quirky cast. There’s a down-to-earth quality to flying witch that you don’t often see in anime, integrating rural realism with magical realism in a natural way that makes the oddity of the magic seem as normal (or maybe as strange) as weeding a garden or trying to catch a wild pheasant. I have a weakness for quiet, “realistic” fantasies, and flying witch fits squarely into that category.
It’s even more laid-back than Tanaka-kun and more slice-of-life than a pure comedy, so it likely won’t work for everyone. But if you want an upbeat, amusing, and soothing way to end your day, I can’t think of many shows better than this right now.
Attack on Trains Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
I hate how much I love this show. It’s an enthusiastically stupid series about superpowered steampunk nerds battling prejudice and hordes of the mindless undead. It shoots forward like the train its characters are riding, pausing for the occasional familiar-but-well-staged emotional beat before careening off again with slapstick (not good), angry redshirts being angry (repetitive), or wild, giddy plot twists (glorious!). Kabaneri often feels like the stitched-together, reanimated body of the apocalyptic action series that came before it, but whoever reanimated that body sure put a lot of juice in it, because damn can that corpse dance! Production values are high and I’m having a ton of fun. Let’s see where this runaway locomotive takes us.
My Hero Academia (Boku no Hero Academia)
I really like MHA, although it’s such a “what you see is what you get” kind of series that I never have much to say about it. The series has the same buoyant energy and earnest love of the superhero genre that you’ll find in some of the more optimistic, YA-focused comics on the market in the U.S. (like Squirrel Girl) that I adore. The action scenes are exactly what you’d expect from BONES–bright and bouncy with just the right amount of sketch and stretch for effect–and it balances a cheerful sense of humor with a ridiculous amount of heart. I’ve both laughed and had misty eyes through all four of its opening episodes.
It’s still too early to say exactly where Deku’s story is going, but I’m enjoying the cast and the show’s sincere, simple message about the value of helping others. Check your cynicism at the door and then buckle in for a fun, heartfelt ride.
Bungo Stray Dogs
Igarashi’s latest project is kind of a mess. It’s visually busy to the point of overload at times, galloping forward at a mostly-silly, sometimes-touching pace that leaves little room for character development and often drops reveals and exposition loudly into the audience’s laps. I’m not even sure it’s coherent at this point.
But boy, it sure is a lot of fun. With the exception of one male character who keeps getting “comically” sexually harassed, I’m pretty much unreservedly enjoying this one. Brightly and expressively animated, frequently funny, and never dull, it blazes forward confidently, dragging hapless protagonist Atsushi and the viewers along on a disorienting but exciting trip. I’m conflicted about its overall quality in terms of both what it’s trying to say and how well it’s saying it, but I can’t deny it’s one of the shows I most look forward to each week. Watching Japanese writers duke it out with supernatural powers is just my kind of goofy action series, I s’pose.
Two shows written by Okada Mari. Two shows about less-than-likable people having bad things happen to them. Two shows that fall somewhere between a guilty pleasure and a hatewatch…I’m just not sure where yet.
The Lost Village (Mayoiga)
See above tweet. That pretty much covers it. The Lost Village feels like intentionally bad suspense/horror, featuring a cast of characters that are more like over-the-top online personas than actual humans, a meandering plot, and a total lack of concern or affection for any of its people or plot points. It’s a mesmerizing, expertly crafted pile of mystery trash, and I can’t stop watching the damn thing. Mizushima and Okada win, those jerks. I’m likely stuck with this one till the end.
I truly believe Kiznaiver has good ends in mind, but man, am I not okay with its means. The second episode is a “wacky” torture session to force the kids to reveal their deepest secrets and therefore tighten their bonds with each other. It’s a pretty sickening breach of privacy, a forced confession that viciously undercuts the show’s (apparent) message about the importance of personal bonds, the inevitable effect each person (no matter how isolated) has on others, and understanding someone else in order to better understand oneself.
Human connection can be forged out of overcoming difficulties, sure, but real emotional bonds are created through choice–out of freely choosing to trust someone with parts of yourself, whether vulnerabilities or flaws or ideals or hopes. And no one should be forced to do that against their will. This staged, manufactured “connection” built on physical pain and coercion is unhealthy and superficial, and no amount of colorful Trigger art or stretchy animation can gloss over the troubling methods on display here.
So why am I still watching? Because the conversation is an interesting one, no matter how clumsily (and unethically) Kiznaiver is expressing it, and it is evoking an undeniably strong reaction, even if it is a negative one. Mostly, though, a part of me hopes the show knows this set-up is as fucked up as I do, and is heading towards a twist that will express that. I can’t guarantee I’ll be here till the end, but for now I want to see where Kiznaiver intends to go with its bright, goofy, disturbing little story.
While I haven’t officially dropped any of these yet, don’t be too surprised if they aren’t a part of the midseason review:
- Joker Game: I’m interested in this one from a very clinical, “ah, so this is how a writer from another culture depicts and discusses World War II” perspective. I’m completely uninterested from an emotional perspective, given that this isn’t a show about people so much as one about riddles and political plots, nor is the art/animation (while perfectly competent) much of a draw, either. Also, intelligent shows that think their audiences are dumb and have to lay everything out through copious flashbacks and exposition are one of my biggest pet peeves. There’s a decent chance I’ll keep watching out of intellectual curiosity, but I doubt Joker Game will ever be a show I wait for excitedly each week.
- Shonen Maid!: It’s hard to judge a show after just two episodes. So far Shonen Maid is silly and feel-good, but not nearly as silly and feel-good as Tanaka-kun or flying witch. Plus there’s still that whiff of “cuteness” fetishization with Chihiro not dissimilar to the cute-girl genre that just doesn’t sit right with me, even if it isn’t sexualized. I appreciate that the story’s trying to do something different with gender roles, but I’m not sure that’s enough to keep me around for the whole season.
- Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto (Sakamoto desu ga?): Like Shonen Maid, we only have two episodes to go by. It’s funny but more mean-spirited than I generally want out of my anime comedies, and the second episode tackled both bullying and relationships between girls in rather unsympathetic ways. I laughed, but I was irked in retrospect, and don’t have any burning desire to watch the next one.
I’m only watching two sequels this season: Concrete Revolutio (still good!) and, surprisingly, Sailor Moon Crystal. I never finished the Black Moon Arc, but there was enough buzz around Season Three that I figured I’d give the premiere a try. And it’s actually pretty…fun? Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have near the level of style, depth, and silliness that the S anime did (so far anyway), but it has energy and personality, as if the staff finally gives a damn. As long as that keeps happening, there’s a high probability I’ll keep watching.
You know what’s becoming a fun and occasionally insightful story about (hetero) female teen adolescence? Space Patrol Luluco. You know what’s a cute kids’ show about an adorable seal? Shonen Ashibe: Go! Go! Goma-chan. Because this watch list didn’t have enough shows on it already, doncha know.