The deluge of spring left us with a light summer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems worth keeping.
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!
Peach Boy Riverside
Mercedez: I feel the need to tell you something: I’m kind of a big fan of Coolkyoshinja, the creator of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and also the writer for this series. This might come as something of a surprise, but like… when he’s on, he’s on. In fact, he’s the creator of one of my favorite manga: Ojojojo, which is a sweet little four-volume series that I recommend you read instead of spending time with Peach Boy Riverside. Heck, go read Momotaro: it’ll give you the OG story, though I’m sad to say it lacks Best Bunny-Girl Frau, who’s the sole salvation for this series.
At base, it continues to try and subvert aspects of Momotaro with its characters, to an often confusing, unenjoyable end. Anytime I think about the premiere, I get this tightness in my chest that could be called anger, because everything upfront feels like I should like it. Only I’m missing about half a season of background, table setting, and build up. Everything I’ve watched thus far feels like it’s the rising action—and the climax—to an arc… but it’s not. It’s absolutely not.
Of course, that mix of feelings are partially (mainly) due to the fact that the series is being aired out of order, which continues to wreck what could have been a middling, or even pretty okay, series. At its best, it’s confusing. At its worst, Peach Boy Riverside throws entire potential arcs out the window by muddling character growth from the get-go. Nothing that happens has impact because it’s out of order. Heck, it ruins what could have been a solid Summer anime! Well, aside from all the boob jokes that I’m 1000% sure come from writer Coolkyoshinja, who’s really not showing his writing chops here. Then again, Peach Boy Riverside’s manga might be much better, seeing as it’s probably chronological.
And look: I get that they’re avoiding an anime-original ending since the manga is on-going. It’s a struggle a lot of series face when they get adaptations without knowing the future of the franchise. But I feel like leaving the show on a cliffhanger is an option that no one thought to explore, whether or not there’s a “purpose and reasoning” to shifting the flow of the show into… this.
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom
Spoilers: Includes vague references to episodes 4-5.
Chiaki: Souma Kazuya stands peerless among his isekai cohorts in being not so much a realist, but a pragmatist. With his unparalleled ability to understand basic concepts of macroeconomics and a somewhat idealized neo-liberal worldview that just works for narrative convenience, he’s quickly cemented himself as the wildcard king of the Elfrieden Kingdom. Much of the first three episodes follows the first and just stresses how Kazuya is an adept ruler of a medieval kingdom on the verge of financial ruin because he’s probably played a few games of Tropico on Hard.
While in practice there’s nothing quite wrong with Kazuya, he embodies everything that is slimy about paternalism. Everything he says is somehow ingenious to these medieval barbarians, and his reforms leave the people smitten with him. Liscia, Kazuya’s arranged marriage partner and princess of the kingdom, has gradually warmed up to Kazuya and his ability to lecture that investing too heavily in cash crops has caused a market glut and exacerbated food shortages. Meanwhile, episode three formally introduces five additional core cast members who will no-doubt serve Kazuya’s rapid reforms, including Aisha, a proud elf who bows her head for no master, who—just minutes after meeting Kazuya—pledges her unconditional fealty to him when he advises the elves should thin their forests to practice sensible forestry management.
In addition to the women, Poncho is played up as a loveable and portly oaf. The show isn’t mean to him, but it does lean heavily into the fact that Kazuya recognizes his talents despite his looks. Likewise, Juna the singer is introduced to Kazuya boob first, namely because of her unparalleled beauty, but these characterizations at least aren’t persistent after the initial introduction.
And for that matter, I’d like to note I have been keeping up with this show, and I enjoy this show. Going ahead a little beyond three-episodes, Realist Hero brings in the concept of child marriages (which Kazuya says is a non-option) and polygamy (to which Kazuya isn’t quite against), but Kazuya remains miles above his competition as “not being a creep” only because the bar for isekai is buried under the ground at this point.
Chiaki: Naoya is the world’s greatest wife-guy and I can respect that since he puts his body on the line for his girlfriends. Yet, with only two braincells and each taken up by one girl each, his persistence and enthusiasm starts feeling a little grating, like driving across the barren wastes to the 5 from S.F. to L.A. with a busted CD player that has Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” stuck on repeat and a broken volume knob stuck at 11. At times, his persistence even feels unsettling, because his fervor seems to be about keeping the two girls as girlfriends, not so much actually being a romantic partner. We get it, my dude, you want to be the best boyfriend, so what does that even mean?
Everyone in this polycule is insecure. They’re teens desperate to experience romance, and at that they’re trying to make it work as a triad. I can understand what the kids might be going through as someone who’s been non-monogamous since high school as well. I actually really felt Saki’s own sense of inferiority comparing herself to Nagisa, and the accompanying fear that she might be abandoned for not being able to be “the best girlfriend” that fills a niche.
The show, however, does betray that all three of the main cast are disasters in their own way. Naoya’s single-minded drive to convince Saki to accept this arrangement is kind of grating, but it doesn’t excuse Saki’s own violent streak against her boyfriend. Nagisa also reveals herself to be obsessive and kind of a creep, but the show seems to give her a pass because she’s a girl. Overall, I’m watching this because I’m starved for this content, but I can always wish it could be better.
The Duke of Death and His Maid
Chiaki: Unlike Vrai, I’m a fan of this stilted weird 3D aesthetic. Maybe it’s just my own personal quirk, but I very much got into it as I watched Hi Score Girl, which shares a considerable amount of pedigree with this show, starting with Director Yamakawa Yoshiki and art direction by Suzuki Akira. (And okay, I also unironically love Ex-Arm’s animation.)
Alice’s sexual harassment continues to be a theme for the series, but it quickly hammers down that the Duke and his maid are at least both mutually attracted to each other, and explicitly so. The Duke would love nothing more than to kiss and dance with his maid, but he pushes all physical advances away due to the fear he might accidentally kill her.
The first few episodes also introduce and establish a larger cast who support the Duke, including a mysterious butler, a tsundere sister and a cat. The bigger the cast, the less time we spend with Alice trying to tempt the duke with unwanted sexual advances. So that’s good. Overall, this is shaping up to be kind of like Nagatoro from last season, just with less blatant horny teen tension and more Mary Shelley.
The Case Study of Vanitas
Content Warning: Discussion of sexual assault and racial othering.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 4.
Caitlin: For two and a half episodes, The Case Study of Vanitas was sailing along quite nicely, keeping to its path offering gorgeously animated, homoerotically tinged vampire action in steampunk 19th-century Paris, without much change from what Vrai wrote in their premiere review. As a newcomer to the series, I was settling right in. Noé was an adorable, dorky sweetheart who gets excited over everything but at the same time is just the right level of haunted, while Vanitas was exactly the right kind of shithead for me to enjoy watching. Everything was chugging along like a happy little steam engine until…
Jeanne, with her reputation as a fearsome female knight and cool armor, has all the potential to be the kind of female character I love. Vanitas, aware that he doesn’t have the physical prowess to best her in combat, declares he’ll defeat her another way, pins her against the wall, and forces a kiss on her that lasts a full thirty seconds. A full thirty seconds (though it felt longer) of sexual assault, as the camera zooms on her tear-filled eyes and his hand wrapped around her waist, as she grunts in distress. It’s intensely uncomfortable, even upsetting, and only gets worse as he declares what a turn-on it is to see her flustered and upset, licks her finger, and eventually works his way up to a marriage proposal. I honestly can’t tell if it’s supposed to be comical, but it’s just creepy and does not endear Vanitas to me.
Noé as well is somewhat racialized, both as the only brown-skinned character and as the sole surviving member of a clan of memory-reading vampires known as Archiviste. This makes it pretty awkward when a woman named Dominique shows up, declares herself his fiancee, and latches a collar around his neck to force him to attend a ball with her, evoking images of oppression, whether intentional or not.
Episode 4 carries some of this through, but with a slightly different cast. Vampiric feeding has been a metaphor for sex for generations, and Vanitas leans in. Like, way, way, in. I’m not even into vampires and was fanning myself as the episode kicked off with a fully consensual feeding scene between Noe and Dominique that fans of light femdom will for sure enjoy. The episode also, uh, climaxes with a scene between Jeanne and Vanitas that still carries a hint of their fucked-up power dynamic despite their positions now being reversed, and even if it hadn’t, their relationship has been tainted from the get-go. But also, holy hell, the way his feet trembled.
In other words, Vanitas is shaping up to be the problematic fave of the season. I wouldn’t blame anyone who walked out after episode 3, but there’s enough good surrounding the blunders that I’m still excited to see more.
Remake Our Life
Chiaki: As Mercedez had mentioned, Remake feels grounded despite the fantastic element of time travel. The show also does not necessarily focus too heavily on Japanese otaku culture, even though it’s clear that Kyouya and company are all nerds to an extent. This isn’t a show about college students obsessing over anime and making more of what they love, and Kyouya’s college education is pointedly geared more toward general audiences than nerdom, which is good.
So instead of getting a show about college kids making nerd games, you have a group of kids making art school films. And with it, we’re treated to a dry look at the creative process. Moreover, it is a dry look from the perspective of a producer, since Kyouya’s unique skillset isn’t so much the creative components of the projects they work on, but as a manager that helps direct and bring together the work Nanako, Shinoaki and Tsurayuki do. And perhaps things go a little too perfectly for Team Kitayama, but I’m enjoying the chemistry the cast has in creating work.
It’s overall an interesting take that doesn’t feel too nerdy, until it is. Just when you start to forget this anime takes place in 2006, it comes at your jugular, playing “Sobakasu” (“Freckles”) in the year of our lord 2021. I’m getting flashbacks to ReLife again and my class of 2010 ass is instantly turning into dust.
Fanservice continues to be a minor theme. This show has its moments of lechery, but it’s far from the focus of the show. Could it do without? Yes. But if you got through the first episode, then you’ll probably get through the rest at this rate.
Dee: This season’s Cute Boys Do Sports anime remains (heh) a pleasant weekly watch with little to warn folks about. It’s mostly lost interest in its trauma-recovery story now that Minato’s returned to water polo, so at this point his memory loss feels more like a gimmick than a thoughtful narrative element. It’s a shame, but not a dealbreaker for me. (And hey, it also meant the stalking stuff from episode 1 vanished, so that’s cool!)
In more positive news, RE-MAIN also indirectly addresses racial stereotypes through the character of Yutaka, a mixed-race Black student who feels pressure from the other students to be a great athlete when he’s actually a big clumsy cinnamon roll. I’ll leave more detailed conversations about his characterization to Black writers, but personally I like him a lot, and nothing about the way he’s written jumped out as cringe-worthy (although if I’m way off-base here, please do let me know in the comments).
Anyone who’s watched more than a couple shows in this subgenre will recognize RE-MAIN‘s “coming together to form a team” story beats, from the senpai desperate for friends to the jaded veteran who you’ll never get back into the pool, nevar! Still, the characters are likable and the humor goofy, so the familiar beats mostly work. I doubt it’ll blow anyone away, but if you enjoy sports anime, this is a fun way to spend a half-hour each week.
Content warnings: Depictions of CSA, fatphobia, and eating disorders.
Spoilers: Includes vague references to episodes 4-5.
Alex: In spite of its theatrics, Kageki Shojo remains strikingly down-to-earth. This first arc has done an amazing job exploring Ai’s trauma without sliding into melodrama. Episode three’s flashback to her childhood experience being preyed on by her stepfather is appropriately chilling to watch, and the storytelling continually centers her emotions and her experience without the framing becoming exploitative.
Even a plotline that ultimately humanizes a stalker stays grounded in Ai’s feelings. Maybe this guy meant no harm and apologized, but that doesn’t mean Ai’s reactions and the trauma response that spurred them are invalidated. It’s a refreshing amount of victim-centered nuance to see this topic handled with (particularly when another series’ fumbled handling of similar issues is still fresh in my mind).
This show is also maintaining a delicate and interesting balance between showing performance as a worthy, heartfelt dream and the performance industry as a rigid, competitive, sometimes downright predatory world. Episodes four and five explore, in some visceral detail, the disordered eating and body image issues encouraged by the entertainment industry. It remains to be seen if this problem is “solved” for good, or what other traumas and tribulations the rest of the cast will go through, but I can only cross my fingers and hope they’re handled as delicately as Ai’s backstory.
I’m an anime-only viewer and so far I’m hooked on Kageki Shojo. It will be interesting to see how it progresses now that leading lady Ai—and her co-star, child of sunshine Sarasa—have gotten some emotional set-up that will likely propel the development of their friendship. The road to their stage girl dreams might be rocky, but I want to be there every step of the way.
The Aquatope on White Sand
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 4.
Vrai: With the news that Aquatope will be 24 episodes rather than 12, I find myself at something of a loss for how to read its trajectory. The Vibes are still extremely queer, both between the main girls and their slacker-with-depths coworker who falls into the subtexty “prefers hanging out with good-looking guys over girls” category.
But two dozen episodes is a long time, particularly in a show that’s so driven by (platonic and romantic) relationships, and I’m pretty used to anime romances planting “close relationships with the same gender” early on as something for a character to be shaken out of with the sudden advent of a heterosexual crush. Episode four ends with a lot of tender face touching, for example, but also ties their increasing closeness to Kukuru thinking back on her previous revelation about a dead sibling. Basically, my gaydar is going off here, but I’d discourage people from getting their hopes up this early and ending up disappointed.
Because, questions of romance aside, this is shaping up to be a lovely series. The narrative is goofily predictable but also expertly executed, to the point where, when I called the plot of episode three five minutes in, it was with fond laughter, and knowing what was coming didn’t dampen the joy of seeing it unfold. The visual composition is expert at creating a mood piece that welcomes you every week. Most crucially, it clearly loves its cast and invites the viewer to do the same. All of the most important players so far are women, with great interiority and empathy placed on their experiences and relationships. Right at the sweet spot between melodrama and iyashikei, this is my most pleasant surprise of the season.
Caitlin: I’m still not entirely sure what Sonny Boy is about, and you know what? That’s fine. It’s definitely about something, which is what I keep yelling about wanting in shows, and I’m okay if I have to wait six, seven, even twelve episodes to get that figured out. Like the school, the students find that the world they’ve been transported to has hard and fast rules beyond the laws of physics, like “if you take something without giving something else in exchange, it will burst into blue flames and burn up.” And just boy, there is a lot going on, way too much to unpack in just a few hundred words.
And I don’t even know if I would be unpacking it correctly, or if it would force me to take everything out again and put it back in different spots like Wonder Egg Priority did (although that was more taking out everything we had unpacked and strewing it all over the floor and furniture). There seems to be something about authority and individualism, about transactional relationships, about hidden potential, but it’s entirely too soon to say just what. Whatever it’s trying to say, I’ll be sticking around to hear it.
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