Lady Leads & Sidekick Lads: Flipping the script in Team Rocket’s “Training Daze”

The lovely, charming origin story.

The Team Rocket trio stand together, wearing red training uniforms. Jessie clenches a fist and looks at James, who looks back at her with a determined smile. Meowth stands between them, grinning wide.

The Team Rocket trio have never been your typical villains. With a tenacity only matched by their incompetence, an enduring love for one another, a closet full of exquisite crossplay, and enough puns to sink the St. Anne, they’re about as charming as “bad guys” can get.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that their special backstory episode defies as many conventions as they do, taking the classic team origin story and turning familiar gendered archetypes cleverly on their heads.

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All Folks Bright and Beautiful: The casual gender diversity of Heaven’s Design Team

How to succeed at inclusivity without really trying.

A group of people sitting around a meeting room table. A man and woman face each other in the foreground.

The Heaven’s Design Team manga follows God’s R&D Department as they take requests from on high (literally) to populate the earth with new animals. Similar to Cells at Work!, it’s an edutainment series that balances comical interactions between coworkers with mini-lessons about some of the world’s most unique, clever, or just plain terrifying critters.

As the kid who devoured Zoobooks and the adult who’d rather visit a new city’s aquarium than its art museum, the series sounded like my jam, but it wasn’t exactly waving its arms and shouting “I’ll make great AniFem content!” either. Which was part of what made it such a pleasant surprise. I may have come for the neat animal facts, but I stayed for the charming cast breezily ignoring gender norms.

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Emma’s Choice: The gender-norm nightmare at the heart of The Promised Neverland

Some monsters aren’t just under our beds.

A sketch of two girls, Emma and Isabella. Emma is crouched and facing the left, looking determined. Isabella is standing and facing the right, looking sorrowful.

Since it began serialization in Viz’s Shonen JUMP, The Promised Neverland has garnered well-deserved praise for its twisting narrative, tense story beats, and compelling characters. But this series is more than a page-turning thriller. What begins as a sharply crafted horror story soon reveals itself to be a sophisticated critique on restrictive social practices—including the hellishly limited roles expected of girls.

CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of sexism and violence against children; disturbing imagery. SPOILERS for The Promised Neverland, Volumes 1-5 (Chapters 1-38).

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After the Rain, Ristorante Paradiso, and the delicate art of the age-gap romance

Power, perspective, and how little decisions can make a big difference.Two side-by-side shots of a young woman with short hair (Nicoletta) and a teen girl with long dark hair (Akira). Reflected in both of their eyes is a different middle-aged man.

At first glance, Ristorante Paradiso and After the Rain bear remarkable similarities. Both are anime adaptations of manga series written by women that center around a May-September romance. Both star a young woman and a middle-aged divorcee. Both even feature characters who work at a restaurant together! So why does Ristorante Paradiso leave me with the warm fuzzies, while After the Rain just leaves me feeling vaguely skeevy?

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Panning the Stream: Fall 2017 AniFem Premiere Review Digest

Crawling the dungeons for anime treasure.

A young man and woman dressed in fantasy garb face away from the camera; across from them is a small treasure chest and a giant, fluffy gold mouse. They appear to be standing in a dungeon.

I picked up another batch of full-length premiere reviews at AniFem this season. You’ll still get the usual Premiere Review On All The Things post later this week (once I’ve had a chance to sleep a little), but as has become tradition, I wanted to make these available in a nice digest post.

As has also become tradition, they’re organized by how highly I’d recommend them, from “a whole lot” to “not at all”:

  • The Ancient Magus’ Bride – A beautifully animated adaptation of one of my favorite ongoing manga series. That opening chapter sure is side-eye-tastic, though.
  • Recovery of an MMO Junkie – I found it super cute and charming, but YMMV if you’re bothered by its somewhat shallow handling of gender and sexuality.
  • Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ A fun otome VN adaptation with smart pacing, a solid plot, strong aesthetics, and good boys? Folks, we found The Unicorn!
  • Black Clover – A paint-by-numbers shounen fantasy series, but harmless enough.
  • DYNAMIC CHORD – A poorly plotted, cheaply animated, angst-riddled mess. I kinda liked it.
  • KONOHANA KITAN – A neat premise hamstrung by assault “jokes” and fanservice. Sigh.
  • SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD – The other otome VN adaptation. Almost hilaribad, but alas, not quite.
  • Inuyashiki – Better executed than a lot of the shows above it, but so viscerally unpleasant that I just don’t care.

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Know When to Fold ‘Em: Princess Principal and the feel-good feminism of “Loudly Laundry”

Working girls working together? Works for me!

In case you missed me heaping praise on it in my midseason review, I’m pretty fond of Princess Principal. It’s an entertaining spy caper with an unexpectedly progressive core, not just because of its cast of capable, complex female leads and light yuri undertones (although all of that is pretty great), but also because of its central focus on tearing down barriers. Some of those barriers are literal, like the wall that splits alternate-history London into two warring nation-states, but most of them are figurative, dealing with the sharp social and economic divisions present in this world.

Many of Princess Principal’s stories discuss the hardships inherent in these divisions, such as the poverty that’s influenced many characters’ lives or the walls that prevented our two protagonists from being together. All of that is valuable, as it both shows how these barriers negatively impact individuals and helps explain why Princess Charlotte is so determined to change things. But it’s the upbeat and inspiring Episode 7, “Loudly Laundry,” that offers perhaps the show’s most nuanced depiction of inequality to date, asking our central cast to acknowledge their own privilege—and encouraging them to find a better way forward.

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