Let the battle for a spot on my watchlist begin!
This. Season. Is. STACKED. Or, at least, that’s how it looks after a deluge of strong premieres. Six shows impressed me enough to earn a guaranteed three episodes, not including the four sequels I’m locked into; and honestly, in a normal season, at least a few of the fence-sitters would have been “guaranthreed,” too. I eventually had to start dropping stuff not because I hated it, but because I was terrified my watchlist would topple sideways under the weight of all those shows and crush me beneath it.
Point being, there’s almost certainly something listed below that will catch your fancy as much as or more than it did mine. So let’s dive right into ’em, shall we?
The Ancient Magus’ Bride
Based on: The manga by Yamazaki Kore
Series director: Naganuma Norihiro
In a sentence: Hatori Chise, an isolated teenager coming off years of neglect and abuse, finds a home and begins to uncover her own power after she becomes the apprentice (and also bride?) of a mysterious mage named Elias.
I love this manga and am ridiculously happy to see it get such a beautifully produced anime adaptation. If you’re concerned about some of the more troubling elements in the premiere, maybe my full-length AniFem review will help set you at ease.
Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~
Based on: The otome visual novel by Otomate
Series director: Yamamoto Hideyo
In a sentence: A young woman possessing the destructive power of the “Horologium” finds herself in the company of charming thieves and criminals as she seeks out answers to her own murky past.
Not the “best” or even my favorite, but definitely the most pure, unadulterated fun I had with any premiere this season. I wrote about it for AniFem, too, if you want all the juicy details.
JUNI TAISEN: The Zodiac War
Based on: The novel by NisiOisin
Series director: Hosoda Naoto
In a sentence: Twelve of the world’s most talented fighters gather in an abandoned city to compete in a battle royale for the chance to have a single wish granted.
It’s the Monogatari writer, the Future Diary director, the Hellsing OVA studio, and a premise that’s basically Fate. There was no chance this wasn’t going to be an over-the-top trashy action spectacle, and that’s exactly what it is. The good news is it’s a very well-executed trashy action spectacle, reveling in its own absurd Zodiac-themed character designs and premise. The fight scenes look damn good, too.
JUNI TAISEN ain’t gonna win any awards, but it’s shaping up to be a real fun time. My trash pick of the season. Pardon me as I roll around in it.
Kino’s Journey -the beautiful world-
Based on: The light novels by Sigsawa Keiichi
Series director: Taguchi Tomohisa
In a sentence: Young traveler Kino roams the world on their motorbike, Hermes, visiting new countries but never staying for longer than three days.
I’m not a hardcore Kino’s Journey fan—the episodic format and somewhat distant tone made it difficult for me to every get truly invested in it—but I did enjoy the original 2003 anime when it first came out. Upon a recent rewatch, I’d say I appreciate it more now and it definitely withstands the test of time, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of Kino’s adventures brought to life in anime form.
I’m not counting this as a “sequel,” though, because they’re going to adapt several new stories as well as a few that were in the original anime, making it more of a “selective reboot.” This means newcomers to the franchise should have no trouble jumping right in. I’m not quite sure how to feel about the first episode, a wild west exploration of the difference between “prohibited” and “permissible” behavior… but then, exploring gray areas is Kino‘s bread and butter, so maybe that’s a sign this adaptation is on the right track.
Land of the Lustrous
Based on: The manga by Ichikawa Haruko
Series director: Kyougoku Takahiko
In a sentence: In a world where sentient crystals are on constant guard against “Lunarians” seeking to turn them into jewelry, one young gem, Phosphophyllite, tries to find their path in life.
Ugh, I’m gonna be That Guy: I was a little underwhelmed by this premiere because I’ve read the first volume of the manga and the anime’s CG art–while much smoother and more expressive than a lot of CG series–just can’t compare to the stark black-and-white, abstract aesthetics of the manga. That’s right, I’m hitting you with a double-whammy of “the manga was better” and “CG is bad” pretension! I’m so sorry. Send me to Otaku Hipster Jail.
That said, this is a real good story with strong characters who learn and grow over time, both as individuals and in their relationships with one another. It’s also pretty cool that the entire cast is agender. And, in the anime’s defense, the different colored hair does make it a lot easier for me to tell the crystals (who all have basically the same slim, androgynous body type) apart. Snobby comparisons aside, I’ll absolutely be sticking around, and I encourage you to do the same.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Based on: The manga by Kokuyo Rin
Series director: Yaginuma Kazuyoshi
In a sentence: 30-year-old gamer Morioka Moriko quits her soul-sucking office job to become an “elite NEET,” spending her days in an MMO exploring dungeons and making friends as the male character “Hayashi.”
Much like Code: Realize, this was a surprise favorite, cute and sweet and frequently very funny. I’ve already watched the second episode and fell deeper in love with it every minute. Talking about it is a little tricky, though, since there are some elements of it that you’ll either find charming or annoying, depending on your tastes. If you’re interested (and I hope you are!), I go into detail in my full-length AniFem review.
- Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond: Despite some finale hiccups, Season 1 made my 2015 Top 10 list thanks to sheer bombastic energy and artistic flair. Director Matsumoto didn’t return for this season, but I’m happy to report it is still a bizarre, frenetic, fun action series. Looking forward to more eldritch adventures with the BBB gang.
- ClassicaLoid: Y’all know how much I love this series, right? Good news: I still do. Get ready for more essays that nobody asked for about the best show nobody’s watching!
- Hozuki’s Coolheadedness: This weird comedy series about demon bureaucrats in Japanese Hell snuck onto my 2014 Top 10 list (back when JND was but a wee baby). I didn’t think too much about it after that—until I turned on the first episode of Season 2 and was immediately caught up in several fits of giggles. Good to have you back, Hozuki.
- Mr. Osomatsu: They poached the ClassicaLoid Season 1 director and I’m still kind of salty about that. Otherwise Mr. Osomatsu is the same show it ever was—crass and tasteless, sometimes sharp and sometimes extremely dumb, about awful people being awful to each other and then getting punished for it. Think Looney Tunes meets It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. YMMV for sure, but there’s just something about it that keeps me coming back for more.
On the Fence
These shows are all pretty solid, but they’re gonna really have to fight (or one of the shows above is gonna really have to fumble) in order to make the cut this season.
- Anime-Gataris: A series about a high school anime club led by an enthusiastic rich-girl geek… that may also be a magical girl series? This one requires at least one more episode to see where it’s taking its premise, but it charmed me way more than I’d expected.
- BLEND-S: As a show about waitresses playing out stereotypical cute-girl tropes at a themed restaurant, the series has a good grasp on the archetypes its teasing, does a solid job of giving the characters distinct, likable personalities outside of their roles at the restaurant, and frequently nails what it’s like to work in the service industry. There’s some annoying fanservice and the manager won’t stop flirting with one of the high school servers (it’s not as creepy in execution as it is on paper, somehow), but if it can keep those elements to a minimum I could see this being a fun way to spend 23 minutes a week.
- Girls’ Last Tour: A “cute girls at the end of the world” tale that’s more interested in tone than story. I read the first volume of the manga and appreciated its quietly melancholy atmosphere, but I struggled to connect with the characters and, again, there’s no real plot to speak of. I’m not sure I’ll keep reading, and the anime isn’t as well-executed as the manga (sorry, I’m doing it again! In my defense, I read the Magus’ Bride manga and still think the adaptation is stellar!). I might stick with it if the other shows in this pile take a turn, but it’s not looking great so far.
- Just Because!: A low-key high school slice-of-life following several students in their senior year as they stand on the cusp between child and adulthood, dealing with exams, lost opportunities, old friendships, and unspoken crushes. I’ve been off the “high school SoL” train for the past few seasons, but this one’s poignant coming-of-age focus might lure me back. I haven’t had a chance to catch the second episode yet, but I am planning on it.
There’s some decent stuff in this pile (or at least the top half of it), so take some time to read the descriptions and see if it’s something you’d be interested in watching. Like I said, this season is brutally good so far.
- URAHARA: This was “on the fence” until I watched Episode Two and kept finding excuses to pause and go do other stuff. I really, really wanted to like this series, but it’s just a little too one-note cutesy and directionless for my taste. Seems totally harmless, though, so if you have kids, this might not be a bad one to watch with them.
- Infiniti-T Force: A crossover series featuring popular Japanese heroes from the ’70s like Gatchaman and Casshan. The CG looks good and I enjoyed the cast despite not knowing a thing about their franchises, but with my schedule as packed as it is I doubt I’ll have time to come back to it.
- TWOCAR: A show about high school girl motorbike racers. I confess that I kinda checked out after they bludgeoned me with characters in the first 7 minutes. Other than some skeevy butt-focused camera angles, the show was basically fine and looks like it has some room to grow its characters and their sports stories. It just felt very by-the-book and so didn’t hook me the way some other shows did.
- Black Clover: I talked about this one over at AniFem. I won’t warn anybody away from it, but it’s nothing special either.
- DYNAMIC CHORD: An angsty, poorly animated mess that I ended up kind of enjoying—just not enough to come back to it. You can read my AniFem review for more.
- KONAHANA KITAN: A fun, cute premise marred by fanservice and a forced stripping scene. Oh hey, I wrote about it for AniFem, too!
- Garo -The Vanishing Line-: Lots of objectification and violence against women, but honestly, I clocked out halfway through because I was just plain bored.
- My Girlfriend is a Shobitch: A bawdy comedy about a high schooler and his studious new girlfriend who approaches sex like she’s studying for a history exam. The two protagonists are actually pretty fun, but the leering camera angles and insufferable supporting cast ruin whatever chance this might have had.
- TsukiPro the Animation: Another show about boy music groups like DYNAMIC CHORD, but so polished that it’s nothing but a glossy surface void of all personality.
- SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD: A passive protagonist, a million bland characters, and vampire attacks heavy on the sexual assault metaphors. Yay. Check out my AniFem review for more.
- Inuyashiki: People keep talking about this one, and the more I’m forced to think about it, the more reasons I find to dislike it. I wrote about it for AniFem, too, if you want to read me at my most critical.
- King’s Game: Horrible people being horrible to each other while also being murdered horribly. The second most unpleasant thing I watched this season.
- Dies Irae: The animation is bad and the story is incomprehensible, but it’s the transphobic rant and glorification of an actual historical Nazi that really make this a shit pile.
- A Sister’s All You Need: I got 10 whole seconds in—to a naked 14-year-old girl making out with her older brother, a spit trail gleaming between their lips—before I gagged and noped out. I think that’s a new record? Definitely the number one most unpleasant thing I watched this season.
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