Spring has sprung and brought a bounty of titles! Even with a few shows losing their luster, there’s still a wealth of weird, wild, and downright adorable options at our fingertips.
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. Series whose production schedules have been affected by COVID-19 are noted in the review. You can check for a more complete list of titles here.
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.
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!
Vrai: For all of those who wanted to know where all the missed opportunities for pegging metaphors in DARLING in the FRANXX went, do I have an anime for you.
Gleipnir trips into the same pitfall as countless shows about adolescent sexuality before it: that depicting horny characters doesn’t also always necessitate a horny camera. Since the premiere the show has thankfully sprinted away from any tension involving sexual assault—or rather, it began to take those fears about violation and loss of bodily autonomy very seriously… once they were happening to the male lead.
As it turns out, the reason protagonist Shuichi turns into a mascot character is because he can be “worn” by another person, a concept that opens up fascinating doors for conversations about boundaries of emotional intimacy as well as sex and consent. The edgelordy bits have also backed off somewhat in the third episode for actual character progression.
Unfortunately, the show also never misses a chance to shove a female character’s ass into the viewer’s face, either. It’s hard to trust that the show truly takes co-lead Claire and her trauma seriously when scenes of her and Shuichi mutually baring their souls also involve a lot of carefully detailed pans of her in lingerie—a fact that’s even harder to take seriously when the show is simultaneously proving it can do non-sexualized metaphorical nudity with Shuichi. The end of episode three also seems to be taking the setup of Claire’s relationship with her sister and boiling it to the two of them fighting over Shuichi, which is about as disappointing a turn as it could’ve taken.
There are enough interesting ideas in this mess that I find myself strangely fascinated, but my doubts that it will resolve its more promising themes in a satisfying manner keep me from suggesting it to anyone else.
Woodpecker Detective’s Office
Chiaki: I wasn’t going to write about this show, but having watched the third episode on a whim, I felt I had to give fair warning about the show’s graphic depiction of a suicide and a deeply misanthropic lead character. So here I am, hammering away at my keyboard at 1 AM on a weeknight.
The second episode starts a contrived mystery framing Kindaichi Kyosuke for murdering a sex worker. The two-episode mystery has the two writers, joined by an entourage of luminaries from the late Meiji era, concocting various ways the murder had likely taken place. Just as I thought to myself “this sure sounds like Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s In a Grove” the man himself appears to announce, “the truth lies in a grove,” and I groaned. I thought to myself, “I’ll scream if they get Edogawa Ranpo in here to magically solve this mystery,” and sure enough he showed up moments later and I screamed.
What’s more distressing is that the story ultimately turned into a tragedy. The ailing woman had fallen in love with Kindaichi some time before and enlisted Ishikawa to help her meet him before she dies of consumption. When Kindaichi refuses to sleep with her, even as he meets her in the brothel, she decides to take her own life. Not withstanding Woodpecker’s use of a woman’s death (in a graphic depiction of suicide) for stunning visuals to set the stage, it reveals Ishikawa knew all along she had committed suicide and that he framed his best friend for murder because… he was mad he wouldn’t fuck her? That’s really messed up.
Woodpecker may have aimed Ishikawa to be an “eccentric genius,” but he instead comes off as misanthropic. As Kindaichi waxes on about how much of a genius Ishikawa is, I can’t help but note the dissonance that he’s talking up the man that literally framed him for murder out of spite.
Sing “Yesterday” for Me
Caitlin: I’ve been having a hard time pinning my feelings about Sing “Yesterday” for Me down. It’s so clearly a product of its time, since the source material came out in the ‘90s. Between Rikuo’s sense of aimlessness and Haru’s alienation from her peers, it’s a classic example of that decade’s particular fascination with disaffected youth. Shinako stands alone as the one with a sense of purpose, but she’s still weighed down by grief.
The contemplative, meandering pace, marked by expressive animation and a color scheme made almost entirely of earth tones—save the fluorescent artificiality of the convenience store where Rikuo works—make it a gorgeous production.
The problem is that Rikuo just doesn’t appeal to me. I have little patience for Depressed Male Protagonists, especially when they’ve been done so much better in other stories. I’m relieved that Haru does seem to have struggles and an internality of her own, but I’m still not totally sold on her, either. Plus, with the reveal that Shinako is still in mourning for a crush who passed away years ago, I can foresee a lot of potential narrative pitfalls, such as every female character being defined by their relationship with men.
But the biggest question that weighs on my mind is: why does she like Rikuo? I know that they have some kind of past that she remembers and Rikuo doesn’t, but he’s about as lively and interesting as a sack of sawdust. The answer to the mystery of how they met better be damn interesting.
Sing “Yesterday” for Me has just enough aesthetic to keep me paying attention, and that’s largely because I have way too much free time these days.
The 8th son? Are you kidding me?
Chiaki: Well, it’s a show. That much I can say. Three episodes in and Well is pretty much where most heroes finish their journeys. He’s powerful, he has a nice house, he has all the money he could ever want. What more is there for him to do? It’s not really helped by the fact that Well’s character, aside from his unparalleled magical power, is just that he’s… nice?
The first two episodes dwell on exposition which ultimately feels too contrived when you realize none of the characters from those episodes really matter too much in the grand scheme of things, including his first master of the magical arts. The third episode, in turn, introduces more characters who appear to have a more permanent presence, but they largely have no real reason to be working together aside from, as Well put it himself: “maybe it’ll be fun.”
Perhaps there is something to be said on how Well’s new companions–all younger siblings who are strong but ineligible to claim their familial domain due to them not being the eldest in the family–share his plight, but I have a sneaking suspicion that 8th Son isn’t going to be about a band of adventurers turning the nobility on its head.
The animation quality also suffered greatly in the third episode, so top-to-bottom, this show is rough, folks. You want more from it, you don’t know exactly what, but it feels lacking no matter where you look.
NOTE: This series has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Caitlin: Of all the delays so far, this one probably hurts the most. After a strong first episode, Appare-Ranman has only accelerated, with a perfect mix of comedy and heart accentuated by striking visuals and excellent direction.
The show deliberately plays fast and loose with history and visuals, accentuating and twisting historical reality for the sake of inventiveness and energy. That over-the-top playfulness works with setting and mechanical design, but gets a bit hairy when it comes to its diverse cast of characters, especially Hatoto, who’s Indigenous American, and Xialan, who is Chinese.
After a few episodes, it seems more carefully thought-out than it first appeared. Most of the character designs are a wild combination of semi-stereotypical cultural elements, including Appare’s kabuki makeup and Al Lyon’s Little Lord Fauntleroy getup. In that context, it becomes clear that Hatoto and Xialan aren’t designed purely as over-the-top cliches… but that doesn’t totally solve the issue, considering how much these particular groups struggle to overcome inaccurate media portrayals.
Fortunately, the writing is much more understated than the design, and does a great job portraying Hatoto and Xialian as humans whose backgrounds inform who they are without defining them. The entire cast so far is great, in fact–while Appare may grate a lot of viewers, I appreciated that he’s not as over-the-top eccentric as his design would suggest.
I don’t know when we’ll get to see the rest of Appare-Ranman, but I’ll definitely be tuning in.
TAMAYOMI: The Baseball Girls
Dee: I only got through three episodes so I could write this review, so I’ll never see the animation nightmare that apparently was Episode 4. I’ve made peace with that choice.
Other than the one baseball fanatic who keeps feeling up the other girls’ leg muscles (it’s not sexual, but it’s still a violation of boundaries), there’s really nothing wrong with Tamayomi. But it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, the conflicts are too softly depicted and easily resolved for it to work as a thrilling sports series, there’s not enough romance for it to count as yuri, and it’s missing the charm and aesthetic needed for a proper chill-out show.
Tamayomi doesn’t seem to want to commit to being anything, which means it’s kind of nothing. I never hated it but I also kept zoning out about 10 minutes into each episode. I can’t recommend it to sports fans or yuri fans or iyashikei fans. Maybe moe fans? Maybe? I dunno. All I know is: this is not the lady-led sports anime I was hoping for.
Sigh. I miss Chihayafuru.
Princess Connect! Re:Dive
Dee: Princess Connect came out of absolutely nowhere to become my second-favorite new show of the spring. It’s not the best show, mind you, but it’s exactly the kind of Slayers-esque fantasy antics I love and very much need right now.
Caitlin talked in the premiere review about its delightfully self-aware approach to the blank-slate male protagonist, but what’s become increasingly clear is that Yuuki’s not the protagonist—it’s Pecorine, a cheerfully dense swordswoman with an appetite as big as her blade. Energetic and foolish, powerful and warm-hearted, she steals every scene she’s in and sets the tone for the entire series.
The opening theme promises a lot of girls in absurd, revealing outfits, but so far the fanservice has been minimal, mostly in the form of Pecorine’s brightly bouncing boobs. It’s playful instead of leering and the girls are all written as rounded characters otherwise, so it doesn’t bother me personally (yet). Still, it’s worth mentioning if any fanservice is an automatic dealbreaker for you.
Beyond that, though, Princess Connect is good clean fun about a group of goofballs going on quests to eat delicious food together. I’m looking forward to hanging out with the Gourmet Guild for the rest of the season.
Caitlin: Listeners hasn’t done much to change my initial evaluation, and I very much consider that a good thing.
The story’s world has opened up considerably now that Echo and Mu are on the road, and we’ve met several of the Players that Echo has spent his young life worshipping and reading about, including a trio of Nier: Automata wannabes and a married couple who once piloted their Equipment together, but are no longer in sync. The show looks to be following a semi-episodic structure, where Echo and Mu meet new Players each episode and deal with them, while slowly gathering clues to the larger mystery.
It’s not the deepest thing, but it’s a ton of fun. Each episode’s aesthetic is informed by a different piece of art, with tons of references to modern art and popular music. Although we haven’t met him yet, the opening and ending themes promise appearances by Anime Prince.
On top of that, everything seems to be refreshingly non-gendered. Yeah, Mu is nervous about Echo sneaking peeks that he’s definitely too timid to try for, but considering how she first met him, that’s understandable. Most of the Players so far have been women, with the exception of Kevin Valentine; but so far nothing about the nature of Equipment or piloting has been connected to their femaleness, and the Valentines’ dynamic has hardly a whiff of gender roles or expectations.
Listeners probably won’t rock your world, but it’s a good time. I’m excited to see where it goes.
Dee: Kakushigoto is the kind of show that I enjoy while I’m watching it and then immediately forget it’s on my watchlist. Which is fine, honestly—things are depressing enough right now that I’m happy to escape for 22 minutes each week into a “pretty good” comedy. The blend of manga-industry goofs, workplace comedy, and father-daughter shenanigans keep the pacing snappy and the jokes varied, and the bursts of bittersweet family drama give the story a solid emotional core.
It’s got its problems, mind you. There’s a side character who’s a gay stereotype (though outside of one uncomfortable sketch in the first episode, he’s handled casually enough); Goto has two female assistants and one’s entire schtick is basically “hot ditz” (the other female assistant is likably snarky, though, so there’s variety, at least).
I’m also still trying to figure out its gender politics. The third episode featured an extended sketch about how Goto feels like all children need a mother, but then at the very end his daughter tells him she’s perfectly happy with just the two of them. So, maybe Kakushigoto is trying to push back against cultural norms about family units and gender roles? I’m not sure yet, but I like it enough that I’m gonna stick around to see how it shakes out.
Gal & Dino
Vrai: I might’ve been too hasty comparing this one to Pop Team Epic. It’s true that they share the same director (who is also the series composer) and the same general mixed-media aesthetic. But while PTE was determined to simultaneously smack you in the face with rapid-fire gags and test your patience with its mirrored structure, Gal & Dino is not in a particular hurry. If PTE is a kick of amphetamines, G&D is a chill afternoon on weed.
What’s slowly but surely won me over is the show’s love for its artists. Each YouTube-style short and interstitial credits the name of the artist who made it, allowing even non-sakuga fans a chance to begin processing the faces behind the art. It’s a small touch, but in step with the show’s overall cheery mood it feels like a continual celebration of collaborative art.
Not every joke lands, but it hardly matters—this isn’t Tanaka-kun, but the lackadaisical surrealism it aims for at times feels similar. This is especially true of the live-action sequences, which fill the second half of the episode. Weird and fascinating, this is where Aoki returns to his fascination with audience patience and trained expectations.
It’s definitely an acquired taste, but without anything to really warn for (in fact, it’s quite sweet to its protagonist despite gal characters usually existing primarily as a punchline), I’m surprised to report I’ll be sticking with this one.
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater
NOTE: This series has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Vrai: Did the premiere review for this show hook you? Then good news, it’s pretty much stayed the course.
The fishing demos are truly where the visuals shine: it’s effectively educational in a clear and memorable way, with an appealing knack for playing incongruous visuals off each other. This is a show with a bit of tongue in its cheek when it comes to showing its cute characters interacting with the gross, weird, messy facts of sea life and fishing.
There’s still a strong emphasis on the fact that this is a sport about killing animals in a way that refuses to treat that responsibility lightly, and it takes a few sly opportunities to undercut its own food porn with things like an overly detailed fish head staring right into the camera. The backgrounds are gorgeous too, with a great eye for the texture of muddy banks and the sparkle of the horizon at sunset.
In fact, the show is most at a loss when it has to deal with its human characters, who barely exist outside of their roles as mouthpieces for the edutainment sections. This is fine enough when they’re out on the water, but classroom and nighttime scenes begin to drag quickly, and it leaves little for the viewer to remember the show by. It’s a pleasant diversion to pass the time, but tsuritama doesn’t need to worry about its crown any time soon.
NOTE: This series has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Vrai: It’s hard to pinpoint what Colon (as the team has taken to shorthanding that abominably misleading title) intends to be as a remake. The overall experience is engaging in the moment but baffling on reflection. The pace is breakneck and studded with action scenes and near-cataclysms; the glimpse we get of the Digital World (thankfully a different entity than the blue-toned spaces inside the Net) downright lovely; and Taichi and Izumi (and Yamato, to a lesser degree) really get a chance to shine. In fact, the entire cast is really likable… when we get to see them, that is.
On the one hand, the first three episodes have functioned as a prequel of sorts, ultimately depositing Taichi & Co. back at the first day of summer camp where the original series began. On the other hand, it’s also raced through some significant battle power-ups, which the series historically tied to big moments in character growth across its 50-episode run. To see those powerful bonding moments checked off like a list so early on isn’t a gamebreaker, but it begs the question of what they intend to replace it with. What does Colon have to offer when it’s not showing off its combat?
The decision to stagger the team’s introduction means that the gender balance of the cast is even more weighted than it originally was, with Sora and Hikari getting a small handful of lines in episode 3 and Mimi not appearing at all. If the series will be two-cour, there’s a lot of potential here. But if 12 episodes is all we get, then this is another case of a story with too much cast and too little time trying to skate by on aesthetics.
Tower of God
Chiaki: Bam continues to have a rather unhealthy obsession with finding Rachel, but the story fleshes him out to read not as possessive but lost—the poor boy knows very little else. He’s chasing after her like a puppy the family forgot to load into the carrier at the beginning of the movie.
What our protagonist lacks in worldly experience, however, he makes up for with what appears to be innate ability. As the show settles into a series of trials to test whether a pool of candidates are capable of climbing the tower, Bam passes them with relative ease through a streak of either inexplicable luck or a hidden true strength that even the amnesiac boy cannot recognize in himself. As much as the story is about Bam’s journey to reunite with Rachel, it’s also in search of an answer to who the kid really is.
That said, Bam alone would make for a rather boring show, and the true charm that keeps me watching is the quickly growing ensemble of challengers about to embark on the climb with him. At their base, many of these characters are one-note caricatures. You have the tough guy who really wants to fight Bam because he wants to fight strong people! The weak guy! An extremely powerful lizard girl with no social skills! A prince with a traumatic backstory! Everyone is at least pretty fun to hang around for now, and that’s enough to keep me coming back.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Caitlin: Before the anime adaptation came out, fans of My Next Life as a Villainess nicknamed the series “Bakarina” because of its heroine’s complete lack of sense.
It’s true, Katarina has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. She’s the kind of person who plans to defeat a possible foe by throwing an obviously fake snake at him and hoping he’s freaked out long enough for her to get away. She’s the kind of person who, when someone she cares about is locked away in a room, pulls out an axe and chops down the door. And that’s exactly what makes the show charming. The end of episode 3 featured a time skip to her 15th birthday, and I’m sure adolescence hasn’t changed her a bit.
The series also had a reputation as a “bisexual harem,” and I’m glad to see that this hasn’t been lost in adaptation either. It’s a bit more subtle so far, but there are definitely hints. She befriends Sofia over their shared love of romance novels; eight years later, Sofia is excitedly telling Katarina about a story she read apparently featuring two girls.
But more than anything else, My Next Life as a Villainess is a joy, a bright bit of escapism in a dark world. Katarina is changing her fate not through plotting and subterfuge, despite her truly terrible attempts at it, but through kindness. It’s not exactly complex or challenging, but it makes me smile every week. Really, can I ask for much more?
Wave, Listen to Me!
Vrai: At the beginning of episode 3, Our Heroine Minare is fired from her restaurant job. She gets drunk with her still-employed coworker that night and we learn that her former boss is gay and handsy; this reveal is framed as a vengeful dig Minare is sharing so her drinking buddy will be uncomfortable in his continued employment.
Anyway, I’m kind of cooling on this show.
What’s frustrating is there are still things to like here. Minare is fun to watch, not just for the novelty of an anime protagonist who’s a grown woman and a disaster, but because of the boundless energy put into her animations and vocal performance.
The show is clearly angling for a structure that mimics the pace of its radio broadcasts, with bursts of incessant chatter and energy followed by rolling lows of quiet contemplation. When it’s on, it’s good stuff, particularly the latter—for all the focus the show puts on Minare’s rants, her quiet night drinking with Mizuho was one of my favorite scenes. And the actual scenes in the booth, when the show can really cut loose, lend themselves to the wild and weird.
The trouble is that Wave struggles to hang onto that balance. Too often its slow scenes drag and its cast seems to burst with unrepentant assholes–a fact that would be fine in a show like Asobi Asobase but grates when Wave insists I invest in this cast and their struggles. It becomes not just hectic but abrasive, a wall of noise that pushes me out of its world rather than coaxing me along for the ride.
It’s frustrating, because I want to like this story. But with the casual homophobia, prickly writing, and the increasingly frustrated realization that Minare is an awfully passive and reactive protagonist at the end of the day, it’s edging ever closer to my drop list.
Dee: Probably the most damning thing I can say about Arte is that I’m totally lukewarm on it. History-inspired fiction about marginalized people fighting to make a place for themselves? That’s my jam! So why does Arte leave me feeling more irritated than inspired?
Unwinding all the reasons in a few paragraphs is impossible, but I think it comes down to the fact that the show is trying to ground itself in actual history (instead of historical fantasy) while also over-simplifying systemic oppression. You can have one or the other and create an effective (or at least entertaining) series, but when you combine the two, you end up with a story that wants to talk about real-world prejudice but does so in frustratingly shallow ways.
Arte keeps brushing up against resonant points about Arte’s struggles and then veering away into bootstrap mentality, as if sexism exists because women haven’t been working hard enough to prove themselves. It’s disappointing how close it is to being a charming, inspiring historical fiction, and how it keeps just missing the mark.
Add to that a potential romantic subplot between Arte and her teacher, and I’m struggling to find reasons to come back. I really want to love this one, so I’ll stick with it til the midseason mark at least. But right now I can’t muster more than a “meh,” and that’s a real shame.
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