Panning the Stream: Winter 2020 Premiere Digest

Winter snows, meet winter shows.

Yashiro clenches her fists together and sparkles happily. Hanako watches with a small smile in the background.

While I didn’t write any premieres this season, I did watch far too many of them—and enjoyed quite a lot of them, too. Read on for my own brief first impressions, and if you’re curious to learn more, click the show’s title for a detailed review from one of my AniFem teammates.

Guaranthreed

There’s an impressive pile of shows that charmed me enough for me to commit to a full three episodes.

  • In/Spectre: Yes, I know this premiere has problems. It’s front-loaded with exposition, there’s strong hints of a central age-gap relationship, and it has a “trauma gives you superpowers” undercurrent. But it’s also a supernatural action series with male and female co-leads; the girl is delightfully matter-of-fact and straightforward; there’s some good goofs; the body horror elements are well-done; it’s by the author of Blast of Tempest—and agggh, dammit! This is my exactly my brand of shounen. So, I guess I’m here for this? ‘Scuse me while I burrow into this here trash bin.
  • Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!: You’ve probably heard the hype around this one, and yes: this story about three high school girls making anime is exactly as visually imaginative, charming, and unconventional as people are saying. It’s so nice to see Director Yuasa (Ping-Pong, Tatami Galaxy, DEVILMAN crybaby) turning his signature sketchy style to something joyful.  I’m all-in on this one.
  • Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: I’m one of the three weirdos who doesn’t have any strong feelings (positive or negative) about the original Madoka (“messy but worthwhile” is more-or-less where I stand on it), so I wasn’t exactly hype for this new project. But dang, the first episode is really well-staged, creating a sense of surreal, creeping wrongness in just about every frame. If it devolves into suffering porn, I’ll nope out, but until then I suspect I’ll be around to enjoy it for the awesome cinematography and unsettling tone if nothing else.
  • number24: A college rugby sports anime I almost didn’t realize existed because nobody’s talking about it. Which is a shame, because the premiere is quite good. The series stars the rugby team’s manager, Natsusa, a former player who had to end his career due to a serious motorcycle injury. The premiere establishes Natsusa as a layered protagonist (cheerful and clever, with a hint of frustrations about his injuries), and other than some unpleasant fat-shaming of one of the supporting characters and some very mild college-aged fanservice (so many abs!), there’s really nothing to warn folks about. Maybe this little mini-review will put it on a few more people’s radars, ’cause it really does deserve it.
  • Somali and the Forest Spirit: When I wasn’t drooling over Somali‘s background design, I was enjoying its slow-paced, gentle tale of a forest golem and the young human child he adopts. I loved this premiere, but it’s hard to get a grip on the series at-large. It has the feel of a laid-back iyashikei (healing/soothing series), but the episode is full of lurking dangers thanks to the violence and prejudice baked into its setting (humans have been hunted almost to the point of extinction, and those left either serve as food or “pets” to the various monster races). I’m not sure where it’s going, but I will absolutely be here for at least a couple more weeks to find out.
  • Smile Down the Runway: A well-paced premiere about a short girl who wants to be a supermodel and a poor boy who wants to be a fashion designer. There have been very good critiques of this premiere regarding the fact that it claims to be about “challenging the modeling industry’s standards of beauty” but stars a conventionally attractive, thin, wealthy girl who just happens to be on the short side. Nevertheless, I immediately liked its dual protagonists—both the determined but entitled Chiyuki and the passionate but realistic Tsumura—and I’m usually on-board for stories about boys in femme-coded professions. I doubt it’s going to be a progressive manifesto, but it looks like an enjoyable watch even so.
  • Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun: Gorgeously designed and storyboard, Hanako-kun is the story of a misfit girl and the ghost-boy she befriends. It also it flew out of nowhere to become my favorite premiere of the season. It’s delightfully silly, with great comedic timing and charm coming out its ears; but it also has a strong undercurrent of melancholy, some low-key critiques of gender norms, and some quietly unsettling paranormal elements. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where it takes our two lonely oddball protagonists next.

On the Fence

  • BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense: A gosh-darned nice little comedy about a girl who rarely plays video games getting into an MMO and accidentally stumbling into creating a super-powerful defensive character. Nothing much happens in this premiere, and it definitely needs to start expanding the cast if it wants to stay fresh, but this first episode was charming and goofy enough that it I’m curious to see more.
  • Hatena Illusion: This show has such a great premise. Stage magicians who use actual magic, and their teen daughter with an alter-ego as a “phantom thief”? Sign me up! But the actual episode is bogged down in tired anime rom-com cliches, from the relentlessly hostile protagonist to the girl-on-guy slapstick to the “boy accidentally walks in on the girl after a bath” (this is a PG show, so she’s wearing a towel, but still). I’m gonna give it another episode to see if it can focus on the cool stuff and drop the trite stuff, but no promises past that.
  • Uchitama?! Have You Seen My Tama?: In a season full of shows about anthropomorphic animals, this soft, soothing slice-of-life following a bunch of neighborhood cats and dogs is by far the nicest. It definitely should have been a short instead of a full-length show, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to get bored with it. Still, the first episode was a nice little 22-minute chill-out. I’ll  give it at least one more.

Wobbling Off the Fence

  • Asteroid in Love: This pleasant school story about an earth sciences club and the two girls who want to discover an asteroid together is… fine,  I s’pose. It feels like a very by-the-book yuri-flavored club show, which tend to bore me, personally, so I doubt I’ll be back. If this is your jam, though, by all means, enjoy.
  • The Case Files of Jeweler Richard: I had this one in “On the Fence,” then stared at it for a minute, shrugged, and dropped it a category. Episodic mystery-of-the-week stories are a hard sell for me. The premiere’s one-shot story was fascinating on paper, as it dealt with historical sexism from two angles (surviving as an unmarried mother and being forced into an unwanted arranged marriage), but the execution was a little too clinical and clipped for it to land emotionally. I might give it another one to see if the recurring characters can hook me… Maybe.
  • A Destructive God Sits Next to Me: A story of a snarky “normal” boy who sits next to the resident stereotypical chuuniDestructive God seems like a less-charming, more-mean-spirited Outburst Dreamer Boys. The chuuni kid is kind of a puppy-dog and it made me giggle just enough that I haven’t officially ditched it, but the anime higher on this list would have to face-plant pretty hard for me to come back.
  • ID: Invaded: A team of detectives access a virtual space called the id-well to literally get inside the minds of serial killers. Director Aoki Ei (of Fate/Zero, Aldnoah.Zero, and Re:Creators fame) is hugely hit-and-miss for me, oftentimes within the same series. His talents and weaknesses are on full display in this pilot, as it blends a neat concept, entertaining action, and clunky over-long expository dialogue. The characters failed to grab me at all, but eh… there’s enough here. Maybe I’ll give it one more.

Tossed on the Ground

  • Darwin’s Game: I watched this because somebody said it had “Future Diary vibes,” but that level of Peak Entertaining Hot Trash was sadly not achieved. This hour-long premiere about a kill-or-be-killed mobile game is rushed, fails to make any of the characters sympathetic, and ends with the murder-girl nakedly asking the protagonist to “make a family” with her. Yeah, I think I’ll pass.
  • Oda Cinnamon Nobunaga: I’m sure there’s an audience for a comedy about famous warlord Oda Nobunaga getting reincarnated as a dog in the modern-day with all his memories intact. I thought I might be part of that audience. It turns out I am very much not.
  • Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It: I have a pet peeve for shows that equate romance with lust, and lemme tell you: this anime is not about love. It’s about two not-very-likable, one-note people who really want to bone down. And hey! Power to them! I wish them luck! But the repetitive science-adjacent jokes about whether or not they can quantify their “love” (read: horniness) for one another got stale about 10 minutes in, so I’ll be showing myself the door now, thanks.

Sequels and Carryovers

Haikyu!! has returned and the volleyboiz are back in town, so y’all know I’ll be keeping up with them. Chihayafuru and Radiant are also continuing into the winter, much to my delight. Even if the new stuff doesn’t pan out (though experience tells me at least a few of them will), it’s nice to know I have some excellent old friends to keep me cozy through the chilly months.


If you thought some off-the-cuff initial thoughts were fun to read, you should see what my AniFem colleagues and our contributors can do. Help support them by becoming an AniFem patron today!

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