We may not be sure where some of these shows are going, but we can’t look away!
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.
In order to keep this post a semi-manageable length for both writers and readers, we’ve also skipped over titles in “Harmless Fun” or below that we’re watching but that are so far carrying on in the same vein as their premiere. This includes: SSSS.Dynazenon, Super Cub, Dragon Goes House-Hunting, and Backflip!!. You can check out our premiere reviews for more info on them.
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!
Caitlin: I keep thinking Tokyo Revengers takes place earlier than it does. Part of that is because of the nature of the story and characters; delinquents haven’t been a fashionable subject for anime since their heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, so it seems only natural that it would take place in that era and not in 2007. Another thing is the parachute pants and hairstyles the gangsters sport, because it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that looks cool in this post-MC Hammer world.
The story taking place a decade or two earlier than it does would also make sense considering Hinata’s attitude. As she tends to Takemichi’s wounds, she opines that she wishes she were a boy, because she’d be really strong and tough. She does karate, after all! In the far-off past of 2005, although gender roles were (and still are) a bugaboo, plenty of people were aware that girls were perfectly capable of being tough, especially ones who were trained in martial arts.
Alas, Tokyo Revengers is not interested in challenging gender roles. Instead of exhibiting her own strength, Hinata remains a goal for present-Takemichi and Naoto to protect with little agency. In 2005, she’s just the inspirationally strong-willed girlfriend, whose inner fire serves mostly to inspire the protagonist rather than anything resembling agency for herself. It’s a fun show, but it holds nothing of remotely feminist value.
Caitlin: One series this season really reminds me of Your Lie in April. No, it’s not Farewell, My Dear Cramer, which is from the same creator but otherwise bears no resemblance. It’s Those Snow White Notes, a series with no actual connection to it.
Believe it or not, this is not a bad thing. Rather, Those Snow White Notes is similar to Your Lie in April, minus the Manic Pixie Dead Girl, harem elements, and abuse apologism. What remains is a melodrama filled with characters making dramatic statements, imagery-laden musical performances, and an exploration of legacy and how music connects us all. It’s not a series for everyone, because like Your Lie in April it’s a touch overwritten, with characters prone to making loud declarations and waxing poetic at times where it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate.
But it’s beautiful and engaging nonetheless, with some truly show-stopping musical performances. The arrival of Umeko, Setsu’s mother, at the end of the first episode represented something of a reset; none of the characters from the first episode have returned, and it seems unlikely they ever will. Although Setsu is still by far the character with the most development, his enrollment in school has caused the cast to open up to a mixed-gender secondary cast. As yet, the girls, Yui and Shuri, haven’t gotten much development, but like I said, no one other than Setsu really has, and there’s a lot of potential in Shuri’s burgeoning interest in the shamisen and Yui’s hot temper.
The girls are good, the boys are good, and the music is stunning, making Those Snow White Notes a show worth paying attention to this season.
Dee: I hate PBDC for refusing to let me love it. I’d love to love it! It features a protagonist who’s about as canonically trans as you can get without having the character stand up and say “I am trans.” By episode 3, Dojima has joined the boys’ detective club, shifted to masculine presentation, and is described by another character as “having a boy’s heart.” A series about quirky aesthetes solving crimes and smashing gender norms should be an easy “W” for the AniFem audience.
But all that is balanced against consistent preteen fanservice, a lowkey fetishization of childhood, and a middle-schooler engaged to a freaking first-grader (and while he claims the engagement was against his will, it’s heavily implied that he’s actually super into her). And that’s to say nothing of Simbo’s increasingly exhausting directorial style, a constant barrage of shifting angles and distances so ostentatious it often eclipses rather than complements the characters and story.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s super cool that the series has a trans-coded character! But you know what else does? Lots of engaging YA stories that are more explicit about it and don’t include teens falling in love with babies or loving slow-pans up prepubescent boy legs. So maybe just check those out instead? That’s my plan, anyway.
Lizzie: When I first saw the dark gothic silhouettes visual for the series, it made me think about Lotte Reiniger’s work, and anything that reminds me of her is usually a win for me. The show has settled into gradually revealing the mysteries of the Shadows House, but one thing the dolls make clear is that they shouldn’t be asking too many questions because otherwise something bad might happen to them. It’s really eerie how eager all the dolls are to serve their masters to the point that they are willing to lose their individual identities. I mean, they even sang a creepy song about their undying loyalty.
While the camaraderie amongst the dolls was nice to see, there’s clearly some competition between them. I’m curious to see how that will unfold at the “debut,” since it’s being treated as an elimination round for both the shadow masters and their dolls.
Thankfully, Emilico’s optimism brightens up the otherwise creepy atmosphere and her developing relationship with Kate is interesting to watch. I have a couple of theories already about what’s happening behind the scenes, but for now I think Kate knows more than she lets on and she too is learning new things about her “family.” I’m rooting for Kate and Emilico to survive whatever nightmare awaits them. The series has been consistent since Episode 1, and I’ll definitely be tuning in again next week.
Dee: I regret to inform you that Maeda hasn’t gotten any more engaging, but fortunately the characters and plot points around him are capable of carrying the series. Mars Red is embedded in its Taisho era setting, using its supernatural premise to explore the tensions of the time period. The traditional clashes with the modern as increasing cultural exchange with the West leads to new forms of entertainment, scientific advancement… and imported threats to the populace, which seems to be the focal point of the series.
Mars Red is primarily about Maeda’s “Code Zero” squad of all-male vampires, so while I wouldn’t describe the show’s female characters as badly written, exactly, they do tend to be defined by their relationships to men (and a fair number end up dead for various vampiric reasons). Even intrepid reporter Aoi became a journalist in part because she’s searching for her lost childhood sweetheart. It’s not outright offensive, but it is a bit annoying.
That’s not enough to keep me away, though. Like Vrai, I have a weakness for artsy supernatural shows. I’m even weaker to historical fantasies. Toss in Ishida Akira playing a gremlin scientist, and I’m on this train til it reaches its final stop. Mars Red won’t be for everyone, but I personally appreciate its grounded, moody take on vampire mythology and look forward to seeing where it goes.
Caitlin: I’m scared, y’all. I finished out the first episode of Higehiro cautiously optimistic, both for its nuanced understanding of Sayu’s precarious position as a teenage runaway engaging in sex work in exchange for food and shelter, as well as its unwillingness to give protagonist Yoshida a free pass for showing the bare minimum of decency in not taking advantage of a vulnerable child. At the same time, I was thrown off by how, even as the writing acknowledged Sayu’s youth, the camera panned eagerly over her underwear and cleavage.
I’ve been white-knuckling it through episodes 2-3, and I’m still not sure exactly what Higehiro wants to do. The opening theme, which presents not just Yoshida and Sayu but three other women, gives me some uncomfortable harem vibes. His interactions with the two other women to show up—Gotou, his supervisor who initially rejected him but seems way too invested in his love life, and Yuzuha, another coworker who couldn’t be more obvious about her attraction to him if she did cartwheels in her underwear in front of him—do little to assuage those concerns.
And then, there’s Sayu. Poor Sayu, who up until now has only been treated as a sexual object and is completely confused by Yoshida’s attempts to feed and house her without trying to get into her pants. The third episode is a particularly tough watch, since it opens with a graphic and depressing scene of one of her first sexual encounters and closes with her actively trying to seduce Yoshida because she hasn’t had any trusting relationships with men that didn’t revolve around sex. While he admits to being attracted to her, he says that he isn’t in love with her and thus refuses to sleep with her. This invites the question: if the series goes in the direction of him falling for her over time, will he start thinking it is okay to have sex with her?
There’s a lot to unpack, way more than I have space for here, so let’s just leave it at this: there’s a delicate power balance at play, and Yoshida and Sayu entering a romantic and sexual relationship would destroy it. I’m still watching, but it’s incredibly touch-and-go at this point. Oh, and the fan service is still there.
Vrai: Episode 3 marks the end of the introductory arc, with our protagonist finally admitting that he likes kabaddi and opening himself up to working with others again. Like most of the series so far, it hits its beat well, but I’ve found my excitement for the show dropping off. Part of that was episode 2’s humor leaning on homophobia, both through Yoigoshi’s unwillingness to do certain moves because he’d have to touch his teammates and a running gag about teachers overhearing innuendo-laden comments during practice; though at least the former has (for now) been overcome.
But beyond that, it’s hard to overlook how stiff the show can be. While it has tricks to hide its minimal animation, the small handful up its sleeve have already started getting old, and episodes feel like an almost cyclical grind of “practice session, real-world outing, practice session” with the same struggle-stills and 3D visualizations of moves over and over. It’s not a bad show, but it’s straining at its own limits technically and narratively. While I continue to wish the best for it (I’d love to see more positive representation of kabaddi in future shows), I think I’m tapping out here.
(But seriously, how messed up is it that the show isn’t streaming in the region where it would likely be the most popular?)
Vrai: Yup, it’s still sad. But if you were scared off by the waterworks reputation the first episode accrued, I can report that the subsequent two episodes instill a much-needed undercurrent of hope alongside the sadness. The focus has shifted to a child named March, a village girl chosen as a sacrifice at the behest of the ruling power, and her sister-figure Parona. The pair happen to cross paths with the alien creature, which changes their fates. While March’s dream is to grow up and be a mother, it balances against Parona’s role as an active combatant.
This is the show that basically broke our “Harmless Fun” category. It’s too heavy to really call “fun” but it’s also not tackling any overtly progressive themes beyond simply including some well-depicted women this arc. This is a well-executed humanist story trying to explore Big Ideas about life and death, and how the latter gives meaning to the former. It meditates on grief and loss without feeling saccharine, and its spot-on production is versatile at using silence both to heighten tension and let an emotional beat settle.
Everything I know about it suggests it’s bound to get heavy again, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who’s not in a good place right now (for any of the many available reasons this year). That said, I’ve been glad I picked it up.
Chiaki: A show only can do so much with a witch sitting around at home all day. Inevitably, Azusa has to do things, no matter how much this show stresses she doesn’t want to work too hard or anything. A dragon, some spirits, an elf and a demon lord join the cast and this show looks to be picking up.
But I’m faced with the harsh reality that maybe this show isn’t as idyllic as I wish it could be, as we’re introduced to Halkara, the well endowed apothecary elf. The camera takes a moment to introduce her boobs-first, with a series of bon-kyu-bon shots to accentuate her bazongas, her tight waist, and her plump butt. The show has commented on Azusa’s chest-envy with Laika the dragon already, but Halkara’s overwhelming size becomes a constant punchline in the third episode, even repeating the bon-kyu-bon joke twice to drive home her figure.
Objectification being eye-roll worthy as it is, the show also treads into homophobia for a quick stint as Halkara takes center stage after eating a poison mushroom that makes her horny for Azusa, an attraction that the Witch of the Highlands does not want to reciprocate in anyway whatsoever. Taking on the role of a sexual predator, Halkara spends half of her introductory episode as one big sex joke, and honestly, that’s exhausting.
Everything else about this show is fine. It keeps doing what it did in episode one. There’s no real stakes in the story as far as I can tell, but Halkara’s introduction is a flag worth mentioning in an otherwise chill show.
Lizzie: As I mentioned in the Tokyo Revengers review, time traveling stories can be really difficult to write because there are so many factors to consider when trying to change the future. Fortunately, this story is doing a decent job showing that only certain major events can be changed while the rest of history can only play out. However, I do question the scale of the events, since it can range from saving the life of a small-time politician to stopping an entire hotel space station from crashing onto Earth (I mean, that’s a big jump, if you ask me).
The arguments between Vivy and Matsumoto are interesting to watch because, while they are programmed differently, there’s a real sense that Vivy questions the morality of the things she has to do to save humankind. (And no, I don’t trust that bear). While Vivy herself hasn’t really grabbed me yet, her journey to understand human emotions is pretty to look at (and the show has been really good at avoiding fanservice) so I’ll definitely stick around for that if nothing else. The action sequences are top-tier, but I can’t imagine it’ll be easy to be consistent on a weekly basis, so I’m hoping they spread them out to make it easier for the animators.
Since two A.I.s are tasked to destroy other A.I.s, does that mean if they accomplish their mission, will they destroy themselves too? Or are they going to be the exception? I have a lot of questions and, assuming I don’t drown in a sea of anime, I hope to keep watching.
Mercedez: As an adaptation, TWEWY feels tailor-made for someone like me, who became deeply invested in the video game as a teen and has carried a torch for the series ever since. I’ll admit, though, that I worry about how well the series works for newcomers. These first three episodes have a frenetic pace, jamming in plot point after plot point with little breathing room or time to connect with the characters. As a fan, I still felt the same emotions I felt during my multiple playthroughs, but anime-only viewers may be waylaid with in-world jargon and no time to digest it.
Because of this, some of the dramatic moments fall flat… and also make the game’s flaws more obvious, most notably when episode 3 rather brutally kills off both of its major female characters and doesn’t give us much time to mourn either of them. Rhyme dies protecting Beat, and then Shiki gets sacrificed so Neku can have a second chance at the game. I didn’t like Shiki’s death even as a teenager, but it hits very differently for me now, especially during a pandemic where the gendered cost for anyone tangential to femininity has been greater than that for masculine folks. Even though I knew it was coming, it felt so utterly wrong—I’d even say deeply sexist—for her to die for a boy she barely knows so that he can grow as a character.
Even with these (pretty major) flaws, TWEWY still has an overall story that I deeply, truly love. And, other than the pacing issues, it’s a solid adaptation, with smart art direction, flashy fight scenes, and lots of ’00s flavor (though it’s a shame they didn’t update and adapt the original soundtrack from the DS release, which still remains one of the most flavorful OSTs to date). I’ll be watching until the end. I just hope the anime can slow down a little and become less of a taste of the video games and more of a standalone adaptation.
Spoilers: Includes brief reference to episode four.
Vrai: ODDTAXI reminds me a bit of Paranoia Agent: a carefully constructed and occasionally brutal ensemble piece about our anxious relationship to technology, the way we construct ourselves in our relationships with others, and the social ills that underpin both those things. This is the kind of show that will have an intense driving sequence with our main character, Odokawa, and then spend an entire episode with a guy he happened to pass on the street during that drive.
It’s in no hurry to tip off the dominoes it’s setting, which means it’s a show one appreciates more than loves at times. It holds the viewer at arm’s length, though that distance is slowly starting to decrease, and most of its characters have an unpleasant stripe of some sort. It’s not a style that will interest everyone, given how much it lives and dies on its dialogue, but I’ve come to love it more each week.
It helps that, in addition to the missing teenager, we’ve met a few more women—a nurse who might be stealing medication from her clinic, an idol trio, and the owner of a local bar; all interesting characters with no fanservice to speak of—and the slightly aloof writing style means it can handle heavy content without feeling lurid. Not every storyline has been a winner—Episode 4’s decision to touch on problem gambling was arresting, but the ongoing played-for-sympathy plot about Odokawa’s middle-aged friend going out with an 18-year-old is tiresome stuff.
It still remains to be seen if the show has a grander thesis or stays situated as a series of character studies, but as long as it continues pulling it off with this much style, I’m here for it.
Mercedez: I wanted to say something witty about Fairy Ranmaru, but honestly… y’all this show slaps and is really hitting all the marks I need for something as extra as a show about fairies and and butts. Which I’m pretty sure is the actual plot of Fairy Ranmaru, and not five young fairies fulfilling a quest by their queen. Oh, all that, and eating curry on a daily basis.
It remains incredibly bulge-forward in a vividly queer, Magic Mike meets Call Me By Your Name kind of way. Heavy emphasis on that Call Me By Your Name vibe, because Fairy Ranmaru feels like queer culture at its most fashion-forward and spectacularly messy, which also happens to be its most enjoyable. I think that’s lovely too, because even though Fairy Ranmaru isn’t perfect–it does take a shockingly homophobic stance at the end of episode 3, when the villain-of-the-week’s post-battle comeuppance (or, at best, ironic twist) after being a cheating creep to his girlfriend is that he comes out as gay–it’s unashamedly itself, from start to finish each episode.
There’s something so funny to me about a bunch of fairies attending high school and, essentially, being magical boys. It’s got all the good elements of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! packed into a show that has a distinct late ’90s/early ’00s vibe. That being said, that vibe can sometimes work to Fairy Ranmaru’s detriment, especially when the plot starts to drop some anvils about its morals.
Then again, I think part of the fun of Fairy Ranmaru is letting yourself come along for the ride: allowing yourself to get swept up into the goofy antics, the over-the-top drama, the messiness, the musical fight scenes, the transformations. I’m here for every bit of it, and am also deeply invested in a show that pushes back against traditional masculinity by letting its male leads be pretty and powerful at the same time.
One day, when I’m old and grey and wise and, assumably, sitting in a rocking chair, The Children (whose children, I don’t know, but The Children) will gather around me, and I shall tell them of Fairy Ranmaru, the show that could and absolutely did. It’s safe to say I’m here for the rest of the cour. It’s just too over-the-top to drop.
Lizzie: What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? I mean we have a spy woman wielding an umbrella crossbow and a genderqueer (or not?) character wielding a light saber (or at least it looks like one). Plus, I’m a sucker for revenge stories, so I’m rooting for Yuki to enact her vengeance on everyone who ruined her life together with her ghost-bird.
While an alliance of convenience is fun for now, I’m interested in seeing these characters fighting it out just for the sake of how cool it will look (let’s be real, that’s where it’s going). The paintbrush style of animation during Yuki’s fighting sequences are still so pretty, and I’m really hoping the quality is consistent without having to sacrifice the well-being of the animators involved in this production.
Yuki and Asahi’s complicated sisterly relationship is my favorite so far. Yuki doesn’t have a reason to live beyond her revenge and Asahi isn’t sure how to feel about her parents being killed by the person she loves like an older sister (her parents deserved it, though). There’s some good drama here, so I’m excited to see how their relationship is handled.
The only gripe I have is that I don’t like the way Makoto was possibly outed. The “chest reveal” trope annoys the hell out of me and is just so unnecessary. Aside from that, this show has me hooked until the very end, even if it becomes a bloody mess.
Vrai: Once again I’m watching something to which “good” doesn’t necessarily apply but “fond” certainly does. This new Battle Athletes is clearly a strained production, a sports anime that barely animates its sports and maintains a certain stiff-jointedness everywhere else. Its writing also frequently punches way above its weight class, with many characters either survivors of or parties to war crimes matched to clumsy dialogue that sounds like this. It’s kind of ugly and a little bit of a mess, perhaps because studio Seven is more used to doing DTV hentai and most of its backlog (barring maybe Holmes of Kyoto) are dire on some level or other.
But it also feels strangely heartfelt, which charms me, especially combined with the ’90s visual gags and extremely transparent yuribait. By far the most heroic male character in the show right now is a Black detective who’s equal parts cheesy and skilled at his job. And the fanservice also drops off a cliff after the premiere, though in the oddest way: scenes where fanservice might’ve been included are in there, but the camera cuts off everything from the neck down, be that a simple changing scene or one where a character is forced to strip in front of the villains.
I think the best example of the tone I can give is that the show’s main cast now also includes a member of a religious minority from a war-torn colony whose star-crossed “roommate” is the daughter of a major arms dealer, and they’re both striving to end the war by winning this sports-slash-beauty competition while wearing pantsless jumpsuits. Meanwhile, a boxing kangaroo is there.
I’ll be back next week.
Dee: A few paragraphs is not enough space to untangle 86 and three episodes is not enough time to know if it’s worth watching. We’ll start with a simple thing: Episode 3 opened with the boys peeping on the girls while they splashed around in a stream with loving shots of their wet clothing plastered to their bodies. Voyeuristic fanservice is never good, mind you, but in a series specifically about condemning the dehumanization of marginalized groups, it feels exceptionally tasteless and out-of-place.
The rest of the show is more complex. One of the soldiers has a long, clunky speech to the effect of #NotAllOppressors that set my teeth on edge… but then the episode ends with another soldier ripping into his Handler for her virtue-signaling passivity that was pretty terrific to watch play out. Marginalized communities are not a hive mind and it makes sense that different people would have different attitudes, so I don’t mind that, exactly. The issue is that I still don’t know where 86 as an overall narrative is going to fall on all its Big Ideas.
I think this series has potential to do something really valuable with its story in terms of confronting saviorism and showing what true allyship should look like, but it’s just too early to say if it will. I like the cast and am interested enough to keep watching; I just don’t have enough confidence to recommend it to anyone else at this point.
Lizzie: I’ve been watching a lot of heavy hitters this season and, honestly, I needed a nice show like this to unwind. The show has settled into teaching Himeno the history of pottery and her slowly getting used to her new home city of Tajima. It’s been smooth sailings for Himeno, since she made friends fairly quickly and is learning how to tap into her creative side. I’m sure the backstory about Himeno’s mom will be centered in later episodes, but for now it’s just a cute slice-of-life show about girls bonding over their hobby.
I wasn’t expecting the voice actresses to go to the City of Tajima, but it’s been really cool to learn more about it since I really can’t go anywhere during this pandemic and at this point I’m just desperate to live vicariously through anyone. I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up with this series since there are so many anime airing this season, but I’ll try to check in every once in a while. If you want a break from all the intense shows airing, this is a good pick for harmless fun.
Caitlin: Farewell, My Dear Cramer, why are you making it so hard for me to love you?
Okay, I know it isn’t your fault. The original manga by Arakawa Naoshi has always come strongly recommended, and I enjoyed the prequel series quite a bit. On paper, I should love it, because it offers me everything I want in a girls’ sports series: a lovable cast full of big personalities that bounce off each other and a thoughtful examination of what it means to passionately pursue a sport that isn’t taken seriously on the world stage.
The problem? It’s butt ugly. The animation is so stiff that it looks at least thirty years old, and the flat colors and rendering completely fail to make it look like the characters are moving through three-dimensional space. The soccer matches are full of shortcuts like speed lines, or tricky moves rendered through stills instead of, you know, actual animation. The musical choices are downright baffling. The poor technical execution robs the games of any tension or momentum.
It hurts to say this, but I don’t know how long I can hold out on this one. I can’t recommend an anime on principle alone. Curse you, LIDENFILMS, and your wild overproduction levels. Something had to give, but why did it have to be this one?