Summer might be a small season, but that only makes its standouts shine all the brighter. Some for their ingenuity, some for… other reasons.
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.
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: Monster Girl Doctor hasn’t changed much since its premiere: all in all, it’s still an ecchi-heavy show about monster girls that offers little for fans who want a show in the vein of Interviews with Monster Girls. Much like Monster Musume, it leans heavily on the attractiveness of the “monster girl of the week”, whether they’re a centaur, mermaid, or one of the many denizens of Lindworm. It’s clear that Monster Girl Doctor isn’t going to shy away from all the tropes that come with the monster girl genre. However, it’s started to include world-building alongside the monster girls, which makes this series a bit more mild of a watch, at least for an informed viewer.
Glenn continues to care for the community of monster girls around him, Sapphee continues to fall into the same jealous friend tropes, and the monster girls continue to be monster girls without fail. Yet episodes 2 and 3 take us to different parts of the Lindworm, and as a result, we get to dive a bit deeper into the world building. Not only do we find out that it’s the only city where monsters and humans cohabitate, we also get a bit of monster girl biology too! Even better, viewers finally get to meet Lindworm’s leader: one Lady Skadi Dragonfelt, a character who seems to hint at a large, developing plot in the near future.
Let’s get real: Monster Girl Doctor is most likely not going to be this season’s best show at all. It’s most likely not going to be a break-out show, nor is it invested in trying to put a spin on the monster girl genre. If anything, it’s soundly established itself as “that horny monster girl show” for 2020. However, if it continues to build on the biology of the monster girls and the actual setting of Lindworm, it might become a pretty okay show, in spite of its muddy, unremarkable animation.
For now, I’m still keeping my expectations low: I’m not sure what will happen over the rest of this season’s episodes, but I really hope Monster Girl Doctor will untangle itself a bit more from the erotic aspects of its source material—namely, the light novels—and build up the world of Lindworm, along with the rest of the cast. I’m in it for the long haul so… I guess I’ll see how things come together, won’t I?
Chiaki: Anos remains brusque in character. He’s not starting over life as a reincarnation of the demon lord of two millennia before. He is the very same entity he was at his death, just reborn and comically having to go back to high school, because why not? However, with added context, you kinda start to realize he’s not just some kind of … Anos-hole—btw, in Latin his name literally translates to “anus,” you’re welcome.
Having transcended into a higher plane of understanding, akin to godhood, Anos thinks little of death, or labels, or human morals. Which means I’m inclined to say he’s at least interesting, even if he’s still kind of a dick, because basically he’s out there living in 4020 while we’re still trying to debate the morality of profits over human lives in 2020.
The show starts delving into how Anos being labeled a “misfit,” or one who is unfit to attend the demonic academy whereas he, if anyone, should be the most qualified being the reborn demon king himself.
Joining him are the twin sisters Misha and Sasha, whom I’ve affectionately named Icy and Hot, because they’re twins who use ice and fire magic. Misha, continues being meek and a trove of expository knowledge for the show while Sasha takes on the role of “rival” to Anos in ep. 2. She, too, is quickly overpowered, and finds herself smitten with Anos because he’s so~ powerful.
So if you like “smug douchebag” protagonists, Demon Academy is your show. If you’re looking for characters who convey human emotion, maybe check out How Not to Summon a Demon Lord instead.
Also, in case anyone was curious: yes, the parents continue to be really good, so at least there’s that.
Spoilers: This review touches on plot points from episode 4.
Dee: The God of High School has mostly stayed the course since its premiere, balancing between developing the main trio, teasing out larger mysteries, and duking it out in the arena. Tournaments in battle anime tend to be too predictable, repetitive, and low-stakes to hold my interest for long, so it says a lot that I’m still enjoying GOH.
The reason is twofold: one, it looks really good; and two, the main trio are pretty darn endearing. The character-focused segments are the strongest moments of the show, either for comedy, quiet drama, or both, building an easy camaraderie between our three heroes. They’re fairly archetypal, but they’re still fun to hang out with.
From a feminist-minded perspective, the series’ handling of its female characters is so far mixed. The two women we see in the tournament have wishes that revolve around finding men: the one-off character wants to build a harem, and our leading lady (Mira) is initially looking for a husband to become the successor of her father’s martial arts school.
Thankfully, episode 4 challenges Mira’s plans and strongly implies that she’ll become the school’s successor, so the series may have more in store for her than simply being the sidelined love interest. I’ve been burned by too many battle anime to get my hopes up too high, but so far, at least, GOH has enough points in its favor that I’m gonna stick around and see where it goes.
Caitlin: There’s a certain aesthetic that most otome anime seem to fall into. There’s a brown-haired heroine, and a number of broad-shouldered anime boys with either identical or only slightly-differentiated features. The animation is usually lower-quality and prone to going off-model, and everything has kind of a dull sheen to their otherwise-flat colors. Even good otome series like Code: Realize and Phantom in the Twilight trend toward this, although the former especially hid it well with a lot of creative embellishment. Mr Love: Queen’s Choice uses this aesthetic, much to its detriment.
If anything, in fact, the aesthetic is even duller than usual, because the characters wear mostly sensible business wear and work in office buildings. Most scenes are a parade of neutral hallways, gray conference rooms, and sparsely-decorated offices in greys, whites, and blacks. It’s a horrendously boring show to look at, to the extent that it’s hard to get totally engaged in the story. My eyes glaze over as two characters stand in a hall, barely moving except to talk to each other, and I just barely snap to attention when one of them does something like stop time or levitate.
It doesn’t help that the nameless protagonist, who shows up in the credits as “Watashi” written in hiragana, isn’t as active as I would have hoped. She has her own goals and ideas, as the director of a paranormal show, but mostly she’s prodded into place by the men around her. The CEO insults her and calls her, her show, and her audience “stupid,” but it’s all secretly to motivate her. Not to mention, since the show was originally her late father’s, she’s pretty much solely defined by the men around her.
I’m not totally done with this show. I’m reluctant to give it up entirely, because I tend to be a little extra charitable toward shows aimed at women, and I think the premise still has potential. But man is this show boring to look at.
Spoilers: This review discusses plot points from episode 4.
Mercedez: Lapis Re:LiGHTs is still an incredibly charming series, even after four episodes. While the plot remains basic and the antics are typical “cute idol girl anime” shenanigans, there’s just something so nice about the world it’s building. It helps that it’s a very pretty show with a solid voice cast, despite being made up of relatively unknown VAs.
So far, one of Lapis Re:LiGHTs’ strengths has been the general lack of fan service. It was really nice to find little to no sexualization of the girls that make up the main cast. I even remarked on this in the premiere digest, in large part because I was pretty shocked that there really wasn’t any service to be found. Well… that’s not the case with episode 4, which introduces Tsubaki, a girl with “an extreme sister complex,” which quickly rolls into said girl pulling a “handkerchief” from her pocket as she burst into tears… only for it to quickly be revealed that she’s crying into a pair of pink panties. But—naturally—they’re not just anyone’s pink panties: they’re her younger sibling’s.
It’s all very uncomfortable.
This, unfortunately, isn’t the only incident during episode 4: One of the students in the Art Club asks for her subject to strip without hesitation, and while it’s phrased to be funny… it just falls flat. The school inexplicably has a Cabaret Club for its teenage students, which made me do a double take. All of this at once made me wonder if I’d missed something in the previous episodes, though as far as I could tell, episode 4 really upended how it treated its female characters. It was jarring, to say the least.
It’s really is a shame because Lapis Re:LiGHTs is, at its core, a really, really enjoyable series with really sweet, pleasant characters. Episode 4 notwithstanding, It’s still mostly harmless fun, set in a pretty interesting world with neat magic and solid music. Honestly, the inclusion of a character like Tsubaki really took something special away from this series: her character feels explicitly predatory in a series where the majority of characters are genuinely good to each other. I fear that that won’t be the case going forward, though time will tell.
Lapis Re:LiGHTs is still very, very charming, but charm isn’t enough to keep this show interesting. The music scenes we got in episodes 2 and 4 were really, really good: enough that I found myself rewatching the performances on the official Youtube. Ultimately, I’d really like to see it grow the beard and show off more of the magic and music that make up this world. I’ll be keeping up with Lapis Re:LiGHTs until the end of this season, so hopefully, I’ll see all my wishes—or at least some of them—come true.
Dee: I considered posting a bunch of gifs and calling it a review (and the rest of the team damn near let me do it), because how do you write a review for Gibiate? How do you keep a wave upon the sand? How do you find the word that means Gibiate? How do you hold a spidermander in your hand?
As Vrai noted in their premiere review, Gibiate is not “good” by the usual metrics. It smooshes roughly six genres together, revels in self-seriousness to the point of camp, and does not give a single damn about explaining itself. The lengthy fight sequences are a combination of still frames and creepy-cute CG monsters awkwardly bumping into each other. All of which is to say that it’s a glorious mess, and I think I’m in love with it.
This is the perfect disaster because, though it is indeed Not Good, it is also not Awful. While I do wish the show gave its female characters more to do, they’re not routinely damseled or objectified either. Kathleen may not be a killing machine like the Edo Bros, but she can hold her own; and her mom is an intelligent historian and competent doctor (an impressive feat given that she mistook a boar-monster for the broody samurai at one point).
There’s also something surprisingly cathartic about watching an over-the-top post-apocalyptic battle anime about a viral outbreak in The Year of Our Lord 2020. “You can’t turn into a monster unless another monster stings you,” a doctor explains, and I throw up my hands and shout “See, this whole thing could’ve been solved with social distancing!” And I laugh, because, you know. Spidermanders.
Obviously not everyone will find comfort in the absurd, and it’s totally valid if you don’t. But for me (and a decent chunk of the AniFem staff), Gibiate has been the ridiculous balm we needed. Fingers crossed it can keep up this level of sincere nonsense for an entire cour.
Caitlin: So remember how in the premiere review I said SUPER HXEROS didn’t have a ton of fan service? Yeah, ‘bout that…
I’m not terribly surprised, or even mad that once all the plot setup was out of the way, it was titty time… just disappointed. I joked about making a drinking game every time there’s a censored shot, with sparkles over their crotches or nipples or butts, but I think if anyone tried playing it for real, they’d pass out halfway through the episode. “Gotta get that blu-ray,” I mutter sarcastically roughly every thirty seconds, as Kirara’s crotch thrusts toward the camera.
So I’m ready to eat my words… but not all of them. Because, despite the near-constant fan service, HXEROS has an unusually healthy attitude toward sexuality across the genders. Kirara is still struggling to overcome her repression and get comfortable with her own libido, which will be familiar to a good portion of the audience, particularly any female viewers.
What I especially like about this is that it doesn’t involve men pushing past her boundaries, but taking cues from the other girls around her. One of her female teammates lends her porn, and she buys sexy underwear after her classmate talks about picking her underwear for a date. Her repression has made her ignorant of her own sexuality, and it’s more about figuring out what works for her as opposed to how to be sexy for a man.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how queer-positive the show has been. That hot date Kirara’s female classmate had? It was with another girl. And when their friend group realizes, there’s no slapstick, “EHHHHHHHHHH??” or “But that’s a girl!” They’re mildly surprised, then realize that it makes sense for that friend. Meanwhile, I have a sneaking suspicion two of the members of the HXEROS team are girlfriends. While nothing is confirmed, their body language and lack of interest in Retto points in that direction.
So far, what I like about HXEROS outweighs the fan service, but I’m not sure when or if it’ll push past my point of tolerance. Here’s hoping it never does.
Dee: What makes Rent-a-Girlfriend so frustrating is how close it is to being a refreshing—even progressive!—rom-com. Chizuru is a fantastically layered character, navigating a fine line between her job and her personal life. She’s sympathetic to Kazuya while still maintaining boundaries and ground rules for their relationship. Even when she gives in to his pleas, she never forgets the itemized bill.
Kazuya himself had potential at first, too. The premiere laid bare his internalized misogyny, had him recognize and apologize for it, and then spent time digging into his severe anxiety and low self-esteem. He was well on his way to satisfying character growth, and he and Chizuru had a charming back-and-forth that gave the series a warm heart beneath the bawdy shenanigans.
Then along came Mami to suck all the joy out of the series. It’s too early to know what RaG’s end-game is with her, but right now she is relentlessly two-faced, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. I’d sympathize with Kazuya if the third episode hadn’t stripped him of his humanity and turned him into a boilerplate Hapless Harem Protagonist, farcically horny and always doing exactly the worst thing in any given situation—not because it fits his character, but because it generates cringe-inducing conflict.
Add in a slew of storyboards that could not stop leering at the girls’ sandy crotches (even when we weren’t explicitly seeing them from Kazuya’s point-of-view), and episode 3 punted all the good will I had extended to RaG straight into the ocean. Chizuru deserves better, and so do we.
Dee: After a relatively straightforward premiere introducing Natsume as our plucky protagonist, episode 2 throws in some fascinating twists with one major impact: Natsume is now sharing the spotlight with Kaburagi, her surly mentor with a complicated past. Thankfully, they seem to be true co-protagonists, as the third episode shifted us back to Natsume and her determination to become a warrior.
Kaburagi and Natsume’s teacher-student relationship is cheerfully combative and void of romantic tension, although Kaburagi’s poor communication skills do lead to Natsume getting dragged around sometimes. It’s played for laughs and Natsume doesn’t really seem to mind (and she certainly drags Kaburagi around as well), but given the power dynamics between the two, viewer comfort levels may vary.
Deca-Dence also directly addresses Natsume’s disability and how it impacts others’ perceptions of her as well as her own sense of self. It’s fairly thoughtful and nuanced, with Natsume expressing both a fondness and frustration for her prosthetic arm, and the series overall showing how increased access to resources can improve accessibility options. We’re likely veering into Super Robot Arm territory, but overall I’ve been pretty pleased with the show’s depiction of Natsume as she navigates an ableist world. (That said, I’m by no means the final authority on this, so disabled readers, please let us know your thoughts in the comments!)
With an immensely likable disabled female protagonist, an anti-corporate undercurrent (that I absolutely cannot talk about without spoiling plot points), and stellar animation and direction, Deca-Dence is the best new summer show by a wide country mile. Here’s hoping it can maintain this momentum all season.