Feminist anime recommendations of Spring 2017

Now that we’ve knocked out the Summer 2017 premieres, it’s time to take a fond look back at our favorites from last season. We talked about three kinds of recommendations:

  • Feminist-friendly favorite (you would recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats)
  • Problematic favorite (you would only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats)
  • Surprise favorite (you expected it to have caveats, but actually would recommend it without)

We’re organizing things a little differently this time around. Rather than have people pick three favorites and wind up with repeat write-ups (a bunch of us really liked My Hero Academia and The Royal Tutor, okay), we had everyone list the shows they’d want to recommend to our AniFam and then divvied up the write-ups among the staff. The series are organized alphabetically below, along with the staff members who named it as a “favorite” and a brief review.

Here’s what the team thought – let us know your picks in the comments!

 Attack on Titan – Season 2

A tall dark-haired girl puts her hands on the shoulders of a short blonde girl as the sun rises over a mountain behind them

Problematic favorite: Amelia, Dee, Peter, Vrai

Attack on Titan’s second season one-upped its first in basically every way, embracing its over-the-top nature while also grounding us in the emotional stakes of characters not named Eren. The pacing was kept far tighter in this 13-episode run, and in that time Sasha, Ymir, and Christa all got to make significant contributions to the plot. Section Commander Hange also marks the first instance of translators acknowledging a character’s lack of gendered pronouns in the translation effort, making them an important benchmark in trans/non-binary representation. And finally, Ymir and Christa’s burgeoning romance drove quite a bit of the plot in the second half of the season.

The show doesn’t come without caveats—those with a low tolerance for gore are going to be turned off immediately, and Mikasa is once again sidelined at a crucial moment so that Eren can play hero. More generally, the series as a whole demands a responsible and critically-minded viewership, given Isayama’s past pro-Imperialist statements and how that might color the story’s explicit focus on militarism (as well as dog-whistle elements like Mikasa being named for a battleship from the Sino-Japanese war). Many seeking out the series for queer representation in particular may also want to know [MAJOR MANGA SPOILER]that the beginning romance between Ymir and Christa ultimately ends in yet another case of Dead Lesbians[/MANGA SPOILER]. A disappointment, given the many strong positives this season had to offer.

Vrai

The Eccentric Family – Season 2

A woman in a kimono looks down on a temple square where a young man kneels, a man in a white top hat stands to the side, and several tanuki cower in fear

Feminist-friendly favorite: Dee, Peter

It’s hard to put into words just how much I adore this series. The Eccentric Family has been seated comfortably on my Top 10 Favorite Anime list for the past five years, ever since the first season finished its magnificent run, and I’m happy to report it’s still very much there. Season 2 is more of everything I love about it: A fantastical yet emotionally grounded exploration of the complicated relationships within and among communities, the enduring bonds of familial love, and the magic that exists just beneath the surface of the everyday world.

While the series is largely told through the eyes of its male protagonist, The Eccentric Family is also full of diverse, layered female characters who are more than just their relationships to the guys. Whether it’s the mother who transforms into a prince and hangs out at pool halls, the courteous master shogi player, or the sharp-tongued protector on the wrong side of a family feud, the tanuki ladies breathe with just as much energy and life as the brothers at the heart of the story. And that’s to say nothing of Benten, a proud, capricious, lonely quasi-villain who may just be the secret main character of the series.

Season 2’s ending has as many question marks as it does periods (supposedly the original novel series is intended to be a trilogy), so I dearly hope P.A. Works will get a chance to complete their adaptation once the source material is finished. Open-ended finales aside, The Eccentric Family is the complete package, one of those rare, wonderful labors of love that wholly envelops its audience in its enchanting, ephemeral world. I can’t recommend it enough.

Dee

Kabukibu!

Feminist-friendly favorite: Amelia

I wasn’t caught up with this before we recorded our Spring 2017 wrap-up podcast. I deeply regret this because, having now watched the full show, Kabukibu! deserves the loudest heartfelt recommendation I can give it.

The most striking element of Kabukibu! is the atmosphere of acceptance it creates for characters to challenge expectations of both gender and sexuality. By the time the full ensemble is introduced, the high school kabuki club includes a Takarazuka-style woman who consistently plays male characters, and one character who is almost certainly a trans woman, speaking openly at the horror of feeling her male teenage body become more masculine. There isn’t any romance but there are several easily supported ships across genders. You get the sense that if any of the characters were out in queer relationships, they wouldn’t suffer for it socially.

This atmosphere of acceptance feels completely natural in the thematic context of Kabukibu!. Main character Kurusu, whose sweet determination pulls the kabuki club into being, builds the club around the idea that kabuki is for everyone. On the one hand, this means challenging the all-male tradition and approaching potential members regardless of gender. On the other hand, this means he enthusiastically explores options like translation and subtitles to make sure his high school classmates will be able to enjoy kabuki as much as he does. By the end of the series the characters are all full of love for the artform and affection for each other, and I enjoyed every step of their journey to get there.

Amelia

KADO: The Right Answer

A pale white-haired man and a dark-haired man lean their foreheads together

Feminist-friendly favorite: Vrai
Surprise Guilty favorite: Dee

KADO is a mess; you have to know that straight away. It is a majestic, ambitious failure which does a few things quite well and others quite poorly (including stumbling hard at the finish line with a deus ex machina). But for me anyway, it was well worth the journey. When KADO was on-point it raised interesting questions about cultural exchange, gave its lead female character a proactive and effective role in the plot, and did some truly impressive things with CG animation in terms of both uncanny body horror and increasingly subtle interaction.

It also shone bright as a stealth harem series of sorts, with several characters of varying genders expressing attraction for the male lead without being shamed for it. (Now, granted, one of them turned out to be quite the yandere, but these are the things you can do when you have more than one queer individual in the cast.) Ride on, KADO, you beautiful weirdo.

Vrai

My Hero Academia – Season 2

A girl in a school uniform extends her fist as if to say "let's do our best," with several other students around her

Problematic favorite: Amelia, Caitlin, Dee, Peter

My Hero Academia is an example of mainstream shonen moving in a positive direction. Horikoshi tackles the themes of both the shonen genre and western superhero comics in ways that often shine a spotlight on their problematic elements. It may be the most genuine shonen to date, portraying characters who show their emotional vulnerability as worthy of admiration and, in so doing, confronting themes of toxic masculinity in both genres.

MHA boasts a large and gender-balanced cast of immensely charming characters who each feel as if they could headline their own series and are given opportunities to shine. The series also never loses sight of its core message: that the true nature of heroism is in recognizing those in need a providing aid unasked.

The series falls short in a few ways, such as the central three-way rivalry featuring only male characters, the relative lack of combat-focused female characters, some out-of-place fanservice, and the entire existence of Mineta. Still, it’s a marked improvement over its predecessors and has a great deal to offer a broad audience.

Peter

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Season 6

A long-haired girl in a kimono stands against a brick wall, eyes closed, with blue flowers surrounding her

Feminist-friendly favorite: Dee, Lauren

I reviewed this warm hug of an anime for Anime News Network, and every week it was like enveloping myself in a cozy blanket while watching rain fall outside. Over the past six seasons, I’ve become familiar with the story of Natsume, an orphan who’s overcome a traumatic childhood and come to terms with his ability to see yokai, making friends in the spiritual and secular worlds all the while. Now, even this late in the game, Natsume’s Book of Friends still has a lot to reveal and does so tantalizingly, one tidbit at a time.

During this season in particular, we learned a lot about the matriarch of the show, Natsume’s deceased grandmother Reiko. Seen in flashbacks as a playful teen wearing a brave face, Reiko is spunkier than her grandson, barreling into yokai life in a way Natsume is still hesitant to do, and every flashback to her life is a treat. There’s also a great queer-friendly moment in which Reiko rescues a kidnapped yokai bride by stepping up to the plate as a more desirable suitor.

When Reiko isn’t up to her usual antics, viewers will also appreciate the fluidity of gender in the yokai world. Natsume is regularly mistaken for Reiko by yokai who don’t care to discern the difference between men and women (and are also pretty bad at keeping track of time). Yokai may present as more masculine or more feminine, but rarely identify with one gender. In a mystical world where human concerns and yokai troubles overlap, it’s no surprise that identity as it is portrayed in the show can be liminal in more ways than one.

Despite its ghostly themes, Natsume’s Book of Friends is a story about what it means to be human, to emote and to love one another, whether in this world or the next. Natsume’s empathy is next-level, but he’s still learning to let others care about him as well. Every episode in this too-short season is relatable and bittersweet, but the real gems are the glimmers of character development that happen when Natsume opens up himself.

Lauren

The Royal Tutor

A redheaded chibi man in glasses stands at the center of a posh room; an angry blonde boy points at him, a white-haired boy crouches beside him, a brunette boy runs behind him gleefully, and a long-haired boy sits next to him grinning

Surprise favorite: Dee, Lauren, Vrai

I wrote weekly commentaries on The Royal Tutor for Anime Evo and made no effort to hide my giddy love of the series. This cute, silly comedy about good good boys and their magnificently deadpan teacher filled me with joy and giggles just about every week, and even managed to hit some heartwarming, sincere emotional beats along the way.

I’d expected it to be a fun watch right from the start, but what I hadn’t expected was how much meat was gonna be on these chibi bones. Over the course of the series, The Royal Tutor impressed me with its optimistic-but-nuanced look at privilege, prejudice, and class differences, as well as the way its characters dealt with anxiety (both social and academic), public expectations, and self-doubt. It was also the most focused series thematically that I watched this season, finding a way to tie its favorite message—never judge a book by its cover—into the story just about every week.

Despite a somewhat underwhelming two-part anime-original finale, The Royal Tutor is still a series well worth your time. It’s bright and silly and thoughtful and sweet, and charmed me so thoroughly that I immediately went out and bought the first volume of the manga. If that ain’t a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Dee

Tsuki ga Kirei

A girl and a boy in winter clothes stand back to back, glancing at each other, the girl with her hands clasped to her chest

Surprise favorite: Amelia, Peter

Tsuki ga Kirei may be one of the most unique love stories to come out of anime in some time. In a genre focused on circumstance, often overblown in the name of creating a dramatic narrative, Tsuki ga Kirei eschews these typical obstacles to focus on more realistic barriers. It tells an introspective story of Akane and Kotaro, two middle schoolers trying to navigate their first relationship, growing up as they awkwardly overcome their doubts, anxiety, and ignorance to grow closer to one another.

It’s a slow, deliberate story that allows you to experience both their uncertainty and their emotional heights as they discover love for the first time. Although there is a bit of a melodramatic bent with the inclusion of the character Chinatsu, the narrative remains strong throughout the series. It’s an anime just as unlikely as it is charming, with a gender-balanced cast and a focus on emotional intimacy and self-improvement. A great recommendation without caveats.

Peter

 

What would your picks be? Let us know in the comments! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

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  • Moni

    Well that’s disappointing for me on attack on titan. Then again I called at least two Chekhov’s plot devices from the first season alone so I was already kinda losing interest. I’m definitely going to give some of these series a watch.

    • T.B.A.

      MANGA SPOILERS BELOW
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      To be fair, by the time *spoiler* happens, a lot of other really prominent and popular characters die. But considering Ymir & Christa are the only couple in the show, its still disappointing.

      • Moni

        It’s more that it follows the whole “you’re queer you die” trend common in Japanese manga representations of lesbians in particular that irritates me. There’s plenty of academics who’ve talked about the link between lesbian representation and tragedy in manga (though it’s just as much a thing in western media).

  • GreyLurker

    The most recent manga chapters of My Hero Academia have been realy nice, showing how one of the male characters in the class was inspired to become a hero largely because of one of his female classmates. It was a really neat background story.

  • Adam Jenkins

    I can’t disagree with Kabukibu! in the least – that was our favorite new series of the season, with only My Hero Academia beating it overall. However, I’d drop Sakura Quest into the list – not perfect, but very good overall. The characters were a nice and complex mix of differing personalities and skills, and while it took them a while to find their feet they always gave the impression that they were doing the best they could. And while I haven’t finished watching it – so there is a chance there’s something in the series that will dramatically change my opinion – we’ve been enjoying Granblue Fantasy The Animation for what it is.

  • Lily

    I don’t want Natsume to ever end. It’s just so lovely. I also can’t wait to see how Natsume and Natori’s relationship developments. I’m assuming they will be doing another series? (please please please!)

    Amelia’s summary of Kabukibu! makes me want to try watching it again (I stopped episode 2) and Vrai’s take on KADO has left me intrigued to experience it for myself. Thanks guys!

  • AsteriskCGY

    I think I’m going to do a dedicated run for Natusme. I’ve caught a bunch of it but lost track a while back.

  • Champ Buch

    I’ve adored Natsume Yuujinchou for years and it’s no longer blogged about much, so it’s nice to see the warm praise. Although the series is one of my top favourites I do feel like it has lost some steam, perhaps inevitable in a long-lived show with a slow, meandering character growth arc. So part of me was hoping they would wrap things up this season, even though I felt it was overall a more consistent one than last fall’s cour. I realize this is tied to the manga still being a WIP, but it does feel like some episodes were treading over well-travelled ground. Still, they did set up the mystery re: NT’s father (and Reiko’s life certainly has some mysteries still) and we still have the “innocence” of the Fujiwaras hanging over Natsume and the fear of the Matoba clan discovering the book. So I’m not opposed to another season, but perhaps they might make shorter cours that focus more on the central questions? I don’t know. YMMV. But I think many don’t want this lovely series to end with a whimper.

    I need to finish Kabukibu!, which charmed me, despite its sadly low budget that made the physicality of performance much less striking than it should be. I found myself wondering how brilliantly Sayo Yamamoto would do with a kabuki-centric tale.

    KADO unfortunately I feel no desire to finish. I felt it was too much of an ambitious mess, plot and characterization wise. Having the male PA crush on “Gary Stu” I mean the male protag without turning it into a joke or something worth condemning was refreshing, but PA like the other characters felt more like a type, so I never connected with them.

  • ImaniToo

    I’ll have to check out Vrai’s writings to see if she’s published anything substantial about KADO as I could not disagree more about its feminist aspirations. Or rather, I think the writer had good intentions, but the execution was so flawed it undermined any positive development made. I haven’t seen the last episode because I haven’t heard a positive thing about it. Maybe it could change my mind.

    It definitely improves when taken as a dating sim.

    • Please note that Vrai is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

      As for their assessment, by all means disagree but Vrai is one of the most thoughtful, analytical and accomplished anime bloggers I know (not to mention hugely entertaining) and I back their review 100% despite having pretty different tastes in anime to Vrai.

      In general, the AniFem line is that you don’t need to have publicly written about a specific property before to have solid views on it that deserve respect – this goes for our contributing writers as much as the core team. Disagreement with any writer’s view here is absolutely fine and encouraged; questioning their credentials is not.

      • ImaniToo

        Oh! I’m sorry, first, for the misgendering, but also for the impression that I was questioning their credentials. I really do want to see what they had written up about it elsewhere because they weren’t in the Spring Wrap up podcast and I don’t think that they ever did a full-length article about KADO on AniFem. So, instead of expecting them to reply to me here, I would search for myself. I respect Vrai’s opinion a whole lot which is why I was curious. I’m sorry if that came off as disrespectful.