There’s too darn many anime this season. Some of them are even really good! The team did their best, resulting in our longest check-in post ever.
The team split up the three-episode reviews between staff volunteers, with one person putting together a short(ish) review on each series. Like we do with our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up.
If we didn’t watch a show for at least three episodes, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice bold headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you’re interested in. Unless specifically noted, we’re only discussing the first three episodes, even if a show has released more than that.
Because it premiered so late in the season, D4DJ‘s check-in will be bundled into the mid-season podcast.
We don’t have the time to keep up with everything, so please let us know about any gems we might be missing in the comments!
Mercedez: Really, Assault Lily isn’t bad. It’s most likely going to end up somewhat average, but it’s certainly not bad. Yet the biggest thing holding this series back from being an easy recommendation, and maybe even a good show.
Copious amounts of thigh shots. Really, there’s a lot of leg shots in general, as well as panning shots that start at the knee and go up to the character’s faces and camera shots that leer on the character’s chests. Unnecessary scenes where the girls forget what personal space is. The list could go on.
Quite frankly, it all feels gross: the shots could easily have been structured differently and definitely didn’t need a dose of sexuality. The fan service adds nothing: if anything, it detracts from scenes that could have had a very different impact. And it does: when the fan service takes a back seat and the action shines through, the show is genuinely really good!
Assault Lily: Bouquet seems like a show that should be right up my alley, and to some degree, it is…when the fan service is removed. With its combination of action, sci-fi fantasy, and Yuri, it’s got all the makings of a really solid show, but the copious amounts of thighs and thigh-high socks really becomes off putting at a point. That might ultimately be the reason I stop watching, if it continues to be such a big part of the show.
Chiaki: The cheesecake eases up after the first episode and Last Crusade makes way for a decent Romeo and Juliet premise. The first three episodes wraps up the first arc of the story, so if you’re thinking of picking this show up, the three-episode test will serve you well. Of course, at the same time, I’m not sure what’s in store for episode four. It could be a total wild card.
The relative lack of fanservice starting the second episode doesn’t necessarily improve my opinion of the series. If anything I’m left wondering, “what the heck was that first episode butt shot anyway?”
Tonally, all three episodes feel different. The first one was a mix of horny, romance and action. The second was mostly romance. The third was mostly action. The show fluctuates between these mediums, and aside from the horny in the first episode, it’s not necessarily bad. I want to say this show is worth giving a try, but I have to slap that big huge “BUT” in to emphasize the first episode’s tacky fanservice really mars things.
Spoilers: This review discusses episode 4.
Dee: With its peppy leading ladies, clever aeronautic battles against aliens, and undercurrent of grief and loss, Sigrdrifa has all the markings of a “cute girls at the end of the world” show (think Sound of the Sky or School-Live! for reference). The juxtaposition of energetic antics with snappy, banter-filled action and melancholic introspection comes together to give the series a sense of weight, sincerity, and genuine stakes, while also keeping its archetypal (but also kinda badass) female characters from devolving into infantilized, idealized stereotypes.
It’s also mostly void of fanservice… at least until episode 4 concocts a cockamamie excuse to get the girls in swimsuits, leer at them from various angles, and make a tasteless “joke” about the plane’s center stick “defiling” one of them. At the same time, it’s also an extremely silly episode featuring a bunch of buff guys in fundoshi (loincloths) striking poses, slapping their asses, and being real happy about getting stepped on. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh quite a bit in between the occasional eye rolls and grimaces.
I dunno, y’all. Sigrdrifa is a strange one. It shouldn’t work for me, but it mostly does, and not even the fanservice episode could sour me on it (as long as the objectifying camera doesn’t become a trend, anyway). I’m hesitant to recommend it, but check back at the midseason—in a packed season, the Airplane Gurlz could be a pleasant (albeit problematic) surprise.
Caitlin: Call me crazy, but I think teen marriages are a bad idea. Teen marriages between two kids who have had exactly two conversations are an even worse idea. Teen marriages between two kids who have had exactly two conversations AND at least one party has spent years obsessing over the other one so badly that he has completely changed his life’s path? Not on board. Not at all.
Maybe I’d look past it if they were a cute couple or there was some follow-up on the first episode’s hints toward the supernatural, but they’re just so goddamn dull. About five times an episode, they talk about some mundane thing and Nasa thinks, “We’re muh-muh-married!” They have as much chemistry as argon and neon. The humor is either nonexistent or prosaic as all get-out, such as slight misunderstandings or sexual harassment/assault (against both male and female characters) getting played for laughs.
I love “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” especially Takahata’s film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, so I hoped for Tonikawa to offer a new spin on Japan’s oldest folktale. Instead, I got tepid teens looking at each other awkwardly.
Chiaki: Moriarty buried the lede when it first asked “hey you know Sherlock Holmes? But what if he was evil?”
The series quickly finds its feet in the second episode as William recounts his childhood. This is a rare show where I will tell potential viewers: just skip the first episode and go straight to the second since that sets up all the characters, the motivation, and the emotional investment. It also reveals, quite explicitly, that this is a story about class warfare and seeing corrupt rich people eat it.
The show, headlined by a criminal, also reveals another aspect beyond a typical “whodunnit?” mystery, but a “howdunnit?” William isn’t just solving crimes, he’s also helping people commit them, and Moriarty is happy to walk viewers through a “perfect crime.”
While the hook for the show improves, Moriarty still suffers from a lack of nuance. The villains are cartoonishly evil. The bad people are bad; the good people are good. Either the show is buttering up its audience for a major twist, or the
Hardy Moriarty Boys are going to be taking down a cartoonish entourage of kitten-kicking aristocrats all season.
Content Warning: Violence/gore (some very graphic).
Dee: While Jujutsu Kaisen’s premiere didn’t do much for me, its next couple episodes shifted tone and focus and immediately clicked. Blending exhilarating fight scenes, goofball comedy, character introspection, and eerie horror, the story endears the audience to its cast and then sets them on pins and needles as these kids get thrown into serious danger.
But what I really want to talk about in this check-in is Nobara, the main female character. She is (as I’ve said before) an angry idiot gremlin badass. She’s goofy and serious in equal turns; competent but with lots of room to grow; and thus far never sexualized (she’s not even really depicted as “cute,” honestly). In short, she’s great. If Jujutsu Kaisen can keep from sidelining or damseling her while also developing her alongside the lads, this series is well on its way to being my surprise favorite of the season. If you can handle gore, I’d definitely recommend giving this action/horror/comedy a three-episode try.
Vrai: Chalk this up to another halfway decent premise torpedoed because all the girls got infected with harem brainworms. I actually like the female cast—they’re somewhat developed, their outfits are reasonable by genre standards, and they pass the low bar of the Bechdel Test once or twice—but male lead Yuusuke became so exponentially worse that I can’t stand being around him another second.
How bad? After learning that he should stop being so condescending and dismissive toward his teammates, that development is promptly reset the next episode when the game demands he meet their next party member by hitting on her. Which isn’t great but becomes so much worse when he comes across her being assaulted…and is mainly worried about whether her potentially committing suicide might affect his isekai survival odds.
Just to add insult to injury, the episode then leans into some victim-blaming when new girl Yuka reveals she “deserved” being stripped and filmed by her classmates because she vagueblogged about them during a livestream. Sprinkle on casual sexism of the girls musing that Yuusuke is inherently stronger than any of them, and it’s enough to make me regret giving the benefit of the doubt to begin with.
Mercedez: I’ll be honest: I have a bias towards Maesetsu! Opening Act because I’m fond of its creator, Yoshimizu Kagami. Episode one is dangerously dull, painfully unpleasant, and makes you laugh at the main character more than with her. Thankfully, I soldiered on and felt the show sink its comedy-covered hooks into me well into episode two. Because reader: that’s where Maesetsu gets good.
Backstory! Character Development! Laughs! Good jokes! Adult expectations and realistic goal setting! This show has it all, and it combines it in a way that feels like a very human quartet of nineteen year old girls versus a bunch of strangely youthful professionals. It’s not perfect, by any reason, but it is genuine. It’s the kind of episode that had me ready to support the girls of Maesetsu all the way to the top.
Maesetsu! Opening Act is a really, really good show: better, it’s the charming, slice-of-life anime that I look for in every season. If you’ve got spare time in your day, or even an empty slot on your watchlist, I’m going to gently push you to watch Maesetsu, specifically because the characters are so darn charming and earnest. I’m going to also encourage you to think of this as distinctly different from Lucky Star. Maesetsu isn’t going to be the modern version of that, which (trust me) is a good, good thing. I’m certainly here for the girls of Tokonatsu and RDeco until the end of this cour. Count me in for all twelve episodes.
Alex: While in episode one it seems that our heroine can log out of the game as she pleases, episode two instead confirms that Kuma Bear is a full-blown isekai situation. The narrative flashes back and reveals how Yuna got her superpowered bear-themed gear, and how she got stuck in a world that follows most of the same rules as her favourite VRMMO. It’s a bit of a shame that she didn’t choose her aesthetic, but hey, if your fifteen-year-old female protagonist is going to be forced into a costume for the sake of the plot I suppose I’d rather it be a bear onesie than, say, bikini armor.
There’s one short scene where we see Yuna in her undies as she’s getting changed, and a couple of skimpy costumes in the background cast, but generally Kuma Bear has been free of fanservice and seems instead intent on just being adorable. Between the kid Yuna helps in the first episode and the young girl she takes on as her assistant in the second, it seems like Yuna is unintentionally collecting a bevy of adopted siblings.
From what little we know of her offline life, she seems a relatively pragmatic and closed-off person, so the character arc to come could be one about accepting love into her life and letting her compassionate side out… while also fighting monsters with her cutesy and ridiculously strong bear weaponry, of course. As stuck-in-a-game power fantasies go, it’s a refreshing enough change from the usual fare.
Chiaki: While the first episode inexplicably dedicated itself to D.A.R.E., the second episode on at least feels a little less gross. Still preachy though, like it’s your dad telling you, “I don’t get this poggers business, but I just want you to be safe out there on the Internet.”
We have a rival gang of mysterious intentions that show up on the East side of Ikebukuro, and the G-Boys take on toxic work cultures by telling a fast food business to stop working their minimum wage workers to death. They also dedicated an entire episode to YouTubers.
Really, I’m not sure how many youths are actually in the G-Boys at this point, because I’m pretty sure it’s just a club full of Gen X dudes who want to blend in with the millenials, but really the real kids are the Zoomers and they’re totally off-screen, doing something else.
What did I get out of watching three whole episodes? Well, I guess the fact that: “Smoking Kills”
Chiaki: Hey Vrai, remember when you said this show was just a faithful re-adaptation of the 2006 Higurashi (localized as just When They Cry)? Boy howdy did things change.
A faithful updated retelling of the 2006 anime would likely have been somewhat slow for modern audiences and fans of the original anime themselves would be watching only to be thinking, “but I know what comes next.” Combined with an updated, higher budget animation that also paradoxically reduces the impact of some of the creepy faces characters made a decade back, GOU did well to pull a “fooled you, this is a new telling” starting episode two.
GOU seems to have rearranged the story so that it caters to fans who already know the late-game developments in Higurashi. Meanwhile, for people like me who have never read the visual novel nor seen the older anime, the show does not forget to continue giving an expository introduction to the story so that people totally new to the series can still follow along.
Overall, I think the new series stands up on its own and I’m excited to keep watching. The same content warning for gore persists.
Mercedez: This is…a mildly funny series that just ultimately, didn’t satisfy me in the least. I came hungry for fruit tart and left wanting nothing for dessert. There’s an unfortunate amount of leering and a lot of Boob Nonsense that keeps getting in the way of a very straightforward series about a bunch of cute girls being cute. It’s really a letdown: there’s some genuine charm beneath the layers of lecherous, often jiggling whipped cream heaped upon this fruit tart, but unfortunately, I’m not really willing to dig deeper. I think I even shouted, “I do not like this!” early in episode two when the music went sultry for a fanservice-ladden gag. Why?
Because I do not like this. (Especially the ED which is just so, so uncomfortable to watch.)
In a way, the show is kind of like a professionally decorated cake: beautiful on the outside and just, like, the blandest white cake on the inside. With fondant. So much fondant. There’s not even vanilla extract in this cake, or really any flavor at all: it’s just sugar, flour, eggs, and too many boob jokes. I don’t know about you, but that’s not cake: that’s just fanservice, and when it’s paired with a teen cast and a more youthful design, it’s just not good. Even an idol fan like me can’t find much reason to continue, which is probably saying something quite scathing about this show.
While I’m not going to outright say don’t watch…I’ll tell you that this might be a struggle watch for me more than anything. I get the feeling that I’ve already abandoned this show in my heart, but…I suppose I’ll give it until mid-season before I decide whether to drop it or soldier on. After all…someone’s gotta do it, right?
Mercedez: Call me nostalgic, but I still have very fond memories of Angel Beats, which might be why I went into The Day I Became a God with a good deal of enthusiasm. I crave another heart-wrenching Maeda Jun joint that’ll tear my heart apart and also, remind me how wonderful love and friendship are.
That being said, The Day I Became a God is not that show…yet. It honestly might never be. Anytime there’s a genuine moment of emotion, or just a good scene, this pink-haired goblin child comes crashing in, in a way that mirrors Uzaki-chan from the previous season.
Episode three is where it all changed for me as the series really digs into the overall by introducing a rather mysterious character with somewhat godly–if not wholly technological–abilities. It’s a “What the heck?! Who is this?!” kind of moment that reminds me that this show has the potential to be really, genuinely interesting, if it lets the script breathe and grows Hina’s character by a mile.
Time will tell if The Day I Became a God rises to the occasion as another beautiful, evocative Maeda joint. Now that the plot’s veering hard into interesting territory, it seems that it might just achieve whatever lofty goals the plot is angling for with its child god lead. I’m reluctantly sticking with it, if only to see if the world really will end in t-minus seventeen days.
However, I think that this show is at high risk of being dropped by a lot of viewers unless episode four picks up the pace and grows the proverbial beard.
Chiaki: This show continues to be extremely by the numbers, but for better or worse, I also found this show’s “hook” that makes it stand out from all the other isekai: It’s cleaning.
Ryoma’s thing is that he has helped invent new slimes that will do the laundry and eat your poop, and I think this show means to go all in on this.
The one unfortunate result of this, is that the show hurtled itself into yellow flag territory by having Eliaria, Ryoma’s new found love interest, bathe and use her dirty bath water as bait to catch one of those cleaner slimes in the wild. For a show that several people said “maybe I can watch this with my kids,” I’d weigh whether you want to watch a young girl bathe and then see her carry her dirty bathwater into the woods with them. It’s… weird?
Content Warning: Depictions of slavery, abuse, and violence.
Spoilers: This review makes brief reference to episode 4.
Dee: Wandering Witch wants to be a show about unhealthy and selfish behavior, and specifically about how not considering someone else’s feelings or circumstances can cause lasting harm, even if you mean well. While the first two episodes weren’t perfect in execution, they both confronted the characters’ unhealthy or harmful actions, the character acknowledged they were in the wrong, and then worked to make amends.
Episode three takes a much bleaker outlook: Elaina flies into an abusive situation that visibly disgusts her and then flies out again with nothing changed. The narrative doesn’t condone the abuse, but it does allow it to continue with no consequences for the abuser. (Episode four is similarly grim, although at least there Elaina enters after most of the damage has been done, so her passivity is more understandable.)
It’s unclear exactly why Elaina, a powerful witch, routinely chooses not to help people—whether she’s afraid, or selfish, or sincerely believes she shouldn’t use magic to meddle. It’s also unclear if the story ever plans to have Elaina examine her policy of non-interference. What is clear is that it’s not especially fun or satisfying to watch. I can’t really fault Wandering Witch for wanting to depict injustice or tragedy—but honestly, if I want to see unapologetic cruelty with zero repercussions, I don’t need an anime for that. I can just turn on the news.
Spoilers: Discussion of episode one twist
Vrai: At the end of its first episode, Talentless Nana revealed that it was less My Hero Academia and more Danganronpa, its main character tasked with a secret mission relayed to us in red-washed interior monologues. That premise has morphed again into a Death Note-esque battle of wills and wits between Nana and the extremely autistic-coded Kyoya. Which…Death Note without the rampant misogyny? I’ve been searching for such a thing for ages!
There’s a lot of potentially loaded stuff in the show’s true premise, with the whole, “rounding the superpowered up to kill them,” thing. But the show does seem to be already seeding things for a reversal, given that Kyoya’s sibling is one of the disappeared kids, and he’s “Talented” himself.
It could break bad or simply run out of space to tell a satisfying story in a single cour, but if you’re down to watch dialogue ping pong matches and don’t mind the slightly clunky artistic direction (the fact that the red wash is the only way they can think to show Nana’s dual nature is, to me, very charming; but your mileage may definitely vary), this is some of the best doofy murder battle entertainment I’ve had in months.
Alex: As of episode three, this sits squarely in the category of “I want to like you, but you keep making me wince.” There are some genuinely charming moments between the climbing girls, but tired jokes and skeezy character interactions are making the series lose its grip.
On one hand, it’s sort of satisfying to see this show go the full sports route, as opposed to the “cute girls in a club” route, and focus intensely on athletic skill and sporting prowess with a realistic vigor. On the other hand, because this is a show about Girls™, there’s a needlessly long focus on how the protagonist is “chubby” and needs to shed a few pounds as part of her workout regime… despite her being drawn with the same rail-thin body type as every other character in the cast, save for her larger bust size. Maybe calorie-counting and weight goals are a realistic part of professional sports, but in this context it’s just a manifestation of one of the most annoying anime tropes around, and the protagonist’s insecurity about this is played as a joke.
Following in the tradition of sports anime, Sport Climbing Girls also seems to be setting up an eccentric cast of rivals, one of which has “intensely creepy towards younger girls” as her gimmick. I want to put in a few more episodes because I’m rooting for our gamer-turned-athlete heroine, but there’s enough icky and irritating content here that I wouldn’t fault anyone for dropping it.
Dee: Since long-time idol fan Mercedez covered the premiere, we figured a Love Live newcomer should tackle the three-episode review. And believe me, folks: I really want to like this show. It places a strong focus on individuality and being true to yourself while also showing how individuals can come together as a community to achieve shared goals. There are some genuine moments of connection, insecurity, and support between the girls. Some of the music is great. And there are cute ‘ships, although I doubt they’ll enter the realm of explicit romance.
But I can’t help thinking that an idol show actively promoting its cast as diverse (using rainbow imagery, no less) would be a lot more effective if its characters weren’t all conventionally attractive, able-bodied, ethnic-majority cis girls. Their personalities and performance styles are also all safely in the mainstream for the teen-girl music genre, a point the series underscores (somewhat uncomfortably) by repeatedly saying: “you can be whatever kind of performer you want as long as it makes the fans happy.” If the show wants to pat itself on the back for diversity, it needs to do a lot better than the wide-wide range of “cool femme girl” to “cute femme girl.”
I’d love for Nijigasaki to really interrogate the girls’ vague concept of “the fans” as some kind of hivemind unit, acknowledge the validity of niche/indie fandoms, and discuss the relationship between artist and audience. I’d also love to see it explore a broader range of gender expression or actually commit to one (or more) of the yuri couples it’s hinted at. But I also get the feeling Nijigasaki isn’t interested in any of that. It’s interested in being a light, feel-good story about socially acceptable “diverse” girls making socially acceptable “diverse” music to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. If I keep watching it while expecting something else, then I’m likely going to be disappointed.
I don’t hate Nijigasaki, and I don’t begrudge anyone who likes it. I know a lot of people have found a lot of value in this franchise, and I’m happy for them, truly. But I also can’t seem to stop thinking about the deeper implications of the series, which makes it nearly impossible to treat it like the fluffy cotton-candy treat it’s intended to be. I wouldn’t tell readers not to try it, but at this point I can’t enthusiastically recommend it, either.
Mercedez: Adachi and Shimamura is, at its core, a very simple show about two girls who are clearly quite attracted to one another. It’s also a show where sometimes, the girls go to class. Most times, however, they’re just together, exploring a sapphic friendship that seems to be on the verge of becoming more.
Unfortunately, the camera still continues to occasionally linger on shots of the girls thighs, the curve of their hips and rear ends, and even upskirts, which is unnecessary and just weakens what is a really beautifully animated show. It all comes off as very male gaze-ish, which is extra off-putting in a series about queer women.
Thankfully, the quiet, thoughtful nature of the series wins out big time, showing that a story about love doesn’t need to have a gimmick: it just needs to be well done. Coupled with our soft duo’s genuine struggles to connect with the world, their own fraught emotional growth, and their peers, Adachi and Shimamura has a lot to offer for viewers craving something peaceful and pleasant in a year riddled with unpleasantness and chaos. Additionally, Chikama Yashiro–the strange lil’ astronaut from episode one–really is the biggest mystery in what is, by and large, a very appealing slice-of-life yuri.
Ultimately, Adachi and Shimamura is the yuri series I’ve been craving for a long time: it looks at two girls genuinely falling for each other in a way that doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. Just really, really gay, which is all I ask for at the end of the day. This show is definitely a candidate for every Yurijin’s list, and really, anyone who wants to see the start of a genuine love story come together: I get the feeling this series is about to be something quietly special.
Caitlin: If nothing else, Akudama Drive is one of the most visually arresting anime I’ve ever watched. Like, top ten, easy. There is a pure visual pleasure in watching a fast-paced, no-holds-barred fight scene play out over a holographic koi pond in a hotel room where the color of the lights shift at the press of a button that few other works can match. It’s simply stunning, and that alone will make the show worth paying attention to for many, myself included.
While most of the appeal thus far is stylistic, there are a few tantalizing hints at substance as well. Episode two introduced a children’s puppet show expositing the history of Kanto and Kansai, which parallels the post-WWII relationship between the US and Japan especially blatantly. Things in Kansai just feel… strange. The population worships the Shinkansen as a god, but the opulent station was completely empty and there doesn’t seem to be any passengers. Things are wrong, and not just in the typical cyberpunk way.
It’s only in this kind of world that such a rogue’s gallery of a main cast could be so endearing. Brawler and Hoodlum especially have developed an adorable relationship, where Hoodlum brags about some complete bullshit accomplishment and Brawler accepts it without question. This group does not have a lot of brain cells to rub together, which is for the best, because if they were smarter it would be a lot harder to forget that most of them are literal murderers.
Caitlin: I don’t blame Vrai, or anyone else, for being skeptical about MAGATSU WAHRHEIT based on its staff, even after a strong first episode. After all, would you trust the guy who wrote the aggressively nasty My First Girlfriend is a Gal to turn a mobile-based MMO into a complex science fiction/fantasy epic? I wouldn’t, and yet, that seems to be exactly what’s happening.
First things first: we have here a fantasy world where women actually wear pants! Incredible! Schaake may have been the only girl in the first episode, but a few more have been introduced since; and sure, some of them may be wearing the skinniest of skinny jeans, but their outfits are overall much more pragmatic than the miniskirts that so many fantasy anime heroines seem to sport.
The both-sides split between the soldier working for the controlling government and the scrappy rebels works because there’s no ambiguous both-sidesing going on; the smugglers are 100% on the right side, and sweet sweet child Leocadio signed up for the military mostly because he wanted to contribute to the household, and is shocked and horrified by its realities. Innumael, meanwhile, may have gotten pulled into the conflict against his will, and is in completely over his head, but at least he’s on the right side.
Caitlin: So I might have spent the last ten minutes of the premiere crying about how Inuyasha and Kagome love each other so much and how they’re such a good couple. What of it? Like you weren’t doing it too!
Inuyasha was instrumental to my early anime fandom days, and I’m pleased to say that Yashahime seems to be a worthy successor. Towa, Setsuna, and Moroha are all very good girls, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a sucker for intergenerational stories. Normally with shounen action you get two girls at best: the girly-girl and the tomboy who ultimately learns to embrace her feminine side. Not so here; the three are all distinct and individual without leaning on such stark archetypes. Towa, who is gender nonconforming, even explicitly says that she has complicated feelings about her presentation and gender roles.
Outside of the interesting gender stuff, it’s just a rollicking good time. The action is pretty strong, if not earthshaking or on the level of certain other battle shounen out this season. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about the circumstances surrounding our trio, and I’m not just talking about who fucked Sesshoumaru. I’m excited to see where it goes next.
Alex: As we noted in the premiere, Sleepy Princess may be the most relatable anime of 2020. Are we not all sleep-deprived, beset at every turn by dark forces, and determined to be a menace to the destructive powers that be?
At three episodes in, this show seems to be continuing along the track it laid out in its premiere. Princess Syalis is a delightful little gremlin of a protagonist, by which I mean it’s actually very rewarding to see her be so resourceful and cunning in the face of her harrowing situation. All the girl wants is a good night’s rest, and the way she subverts and ignores the fantasy tropes surrounding her to achieve her priorities is still pretty funny and charming even if it is, essentially, the same joke over and over.
There’s one odd shift in episode three, where the guards misinterpret her request for a massage (she’s heard that touching certain pressure points will help her sleep) as a request for a sexual rendezvous. It’s mostly icky because it’s not entirely clear how old Syalis is meant to be, and she at least looks very young and cutesy. At least the demons have the decency to be horrified by the idea. It’s nothing serious to worry about, I don’t think, but it was enough of a shift in the subject matter of the comedy that you might want to keep an eye out for if you were planning on watching this with younger folks.
Vrai: GymSam is composed of bits from many things I love: an older man feeling pushed out of his highly physical field (Tiger & Bunny); a spacy and encouraging Manic Pixie Dream Boy who is almost certainly a literal alien (Tsuritama); a rising athlete and little shit who challenges the protagonist to a high-stakes exhibition match in episode three (Yuri!!! On ICE); and a casual weirdness that refuses to quit (Samurai Flamenco). But as fascinating as it is from moment to moment, when the episode is over I’m left uncertain as to what identity GymSam wants to call its own. For all its echoes, the multitude of new elements every episode means the show has yet to commit to one as its emotional core.
I’m also conflicted by the introduction of Jotaro’s acupuncturist Britney (whose pronouns aren’t yet established, so I’ll use “they”) in episode two. Their introduction involves feeling up Leo’s butt at his new job, and their design involves the extreme mismatch of hypermasculine features (they’re bald and muscular) with hyperfemme presentation (garish and almost clumsy-looking eye shadow) that anime often leans on when depicting transfeminine adults. It’s the kind of thing that I usually grumble through as a minor annoyance, but it has an extra sting here because series composer Murakoshi so recently proved he could write a trans character sensitively in ZOMBIE LAND SAGA.
But by that same token, the actual writing makes no jokes at Britney’s expense and they’re respected as a professional, so this might be another case of an insensitive design redeemed by good writing. I come back eagerly every week, but only time will tell if GymSam can stick the landing.