This season truly encapsulates the duality of anime: almost everything made us either really excited or really tired.
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 of its unusual schedule, updates on VLADLOVE will be included in the midseason 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!
Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies moved to a starter town?
Chiaki: Lloyd is a good kid. He really is. I can’t fault him for a single thing in this show, and that’s frankly amazing when I don’t even like him. He’s a total non-character. He’s strong and amazing, but he does nothing for the story whatsoever in three episodes. They even make it so that he’s not allowed to have anything to do with the plot. And it’s infuriating because you still have characters like Selen creepily obsessing over the guy when he’s not doing anything.
The worst offender, however, is Alka, Kunlun’s village elder. Looking like a small child and also being several hundred years old, Alka’s openly sexual crush on Lloyd is kinda creepy any way you cut it. The predatory nature of Alka’s adoration for Lloyd culminates in episode 3, when she mischievously eyes his crotch while holding a tub of melted chocolate, announcing she loves chocolate covered bananas. They do not go any further because a monster thankfully starts attacking the town to stop that nonsense.
In a case of “totally wasted potential,” Lloyd’s landlord, Alka’s former student, and resident straight man Marie turns out to be the biggest narrative force in the story, pushing the story along and having some of the most interesting aspects of Sup Kid from Boonies’ story. Seriously, just give me an anime about Marie without these other kids mucking about.
Sk8 the Infinity
Caitlin: The premiere of Sk8 the Infinity was almost exactly what I wanted in an anime from the director of Free! and Banana Fish and Studio Bones, which famously gives their directors a lot of creative freedom. It had creative, well-executed sports action, an instantly endearing cast of characters, and more energy than it knew what to do with. I was all in. However, in her premiere review, Dee correctly pointed out that women barely seemed to exist in the world of underground skateboard racing, and the only ones that did were subject to edgy misogyny in a way that really dampened her enthusiasm.
I’m happy to say that, while the S race is still almost totally male-dominated, there hasn’t been any similar plot points. The only female characters in the second and third episodes are Langa’s mom and Reki’s mom and many sisters. Langa’s mom in particular stuck out to me as a widowed single mother trying to navigate moving back to her home country with her teenage son, worried about the effects of losing his father and being in a new environment may have on him. Reki’s family, by contrast, is big and boisterous and I really hope we get to spend more time with them.
By the way, if you ever watched Free! and craved Utsumi’s particular brand of fan service of muscular men but with the camera pointed at adults instead of teenagers, meet Joe. Joe is an Italian chef. Joe is big. Joe likes to skateboard with his shirt open. I like Joe, and you probably will too. Meanwhile, the teens keep their clothes on.
So I’m a Spider, So What?
Dee: If avant-garde stream-of-consciousness arachnid survival drama is your jam, then have I got a show for you! This is an odd one, folks. Half of each episode is the tale of an unnamed spider living in a hostile world. Thanks to Yuuki Aoi’s fantastic performance and some delightfully expressive spider faces, it is unique, endearing, funny, harrowing, and kinda gross in equal turns. I suspect the experimental narrative style will turn some folks off, but I live for this kind of weirdness and am 100% on-board for it.
The other half of Spider fares less well, as it follows the human characters and is pretty much just a beat-for-beat Magic High School series at this point (although thankfully the casual misogyny and lolicon comments from the first episode have vanished). There are some glimmers of originality: one character, reincarnated as a pet dragon, has to reconcile with the violence between dragons and humans; and another, a boy reincarnated into an AFAB body who switches to masculine speech patterns when he’s around trusted friends, may resonate with some trans viewers (though the series never phrases his situation in those terms). But it’s mostly rote magic battles, asshole rivals, and a little sister who’s a wee bit too obsessed with her big brother. Waiter, there are LN cliches in my spider anime!
Ultimately, how Spider balances these two stories (and how quickly it ties them together) will determine its overall tone and the audience it attracts. I don’t know how long it’ll keep me, personally—but episode 3 ended with Spider-san in peril, so y’all know I’m here for at least one more.
Mercedez: I don’t remember why I wanted to watch this show. Assumably, it was because of Vrai’s review of the premiere, but like… I’m three episodes in and still can’t concretely remember why I was like, “LBX Girls? That’s gotta be on my watchlist this season!”
LBX Girls is, for all intents and purposes, a very flashy toy ad, only it’s based on a video game of the same name. Still, that ain’t enough to sway my opinion here. Overall, the episodes aren’t unbearable: however, the gratuitous fan service certainly is. It always feels unnecessary, especially when the girls bust jiggle while they’re transforming, which… please, don’t hurt me further LBX Girls. You’re already unenjoyable enough as is.
I could name a dozen more instances where it didn’t at all seem necessary to leer at the girls, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll say that they all drag a pretty average show with some solid tidbit down to being unenjoyable. In a way, I lament that: a sci-fi isekai-esque battle series has a lot of potential at base.
It’s a shame that this turned into a wasted opportunity.
In the end, LBX Girls‘ greatest sin is that it’s just really, really boring and very uninspired. It’s a shame because there’s definitely some science-fiction elements that could work. I actually got a bit of a Symphogear light vibe from some of the better parts of these first few episodes, which… is good for Symphogear, but bad for a show that so obviously isn’t.
If you can’t tell by now, I’m solidly done with LBX Girls. I certainly hope that someone out there is really enjoying this series. Just know that that person isn’t going to be me.
Caitlin: It’s not a secret by now that I love Horimiya with all my heart. I think Miyamura and Hori are an adorable couple and wish them nothing but the best, but the manga always had some issues that struck a dissonant note in what is generally a story about two nice kids and their friends, getting to know each other and falling in love.
Suffice it to say, the central couple of Miyamura and Hori are totes adorbs, and the third episode’s bit with them touching hands genuinely touched my heart, which has grown withered and cold from quarantine-induced ennui. Miyamura’s wondering about whether or not he’s really part of the group and gradually accepting that maybe these people actually like him struck a chord in me as well. When this show is good, it’s really good.
But, it’s still not perfect. For better or worse, these teenagers can get rowdy and there are multiple fights even in space of just three episodes. I’m personally of the opinion that sometimes people deserve to get punched, so I found it to be generally warranted, but it’s something to keep in mind for people who are particularly sensitive to violence. There were some changes I disagreed with as well; while I found the anime to generally be softening to Hori, it covered her backstory with Sengoku in greater detail. The extended flashbacks painted her as, rather than an unempathetic and kind of entitled child, a full-on bully. It was uncomfortable and a poor choice on the part of the writers.
But still, I’ve been enjoying it. The manga’s been spinning its wheels for the last few volumes, so watching the characters fall in love with each other all over again has been lovely.
Dr. Ramune: Mysterious Disease Specialist
Lizzie: I had a hard time figuring out how to talk about this show in my premiere review because it falls under the “this feels dumb and entertaining so let’s see where it goes” category. I think it’s hard to talk about the tone of the series because it really depends on what kind of problem Dr. Ramune’s clients are dealing with on a weekly basis. Sometimes, Dr. Ramune gets sympathetic patients like Koto, who’s having trouble dealing with her emotionally abusive mother; then sometimes he gets shitty people like Kengo, who juggles seven girlfriends. I can definitely understand why folks would drop this or just not watch it because the crude and gross humor can be a hit or miss depending on the viewer’s taste. I mean, at the very least I wanted to know how Dr. Ramune was going to solve the chikuwa fish cake situation.
Kengo was the “lucky” client with the chikuwa fish cake problem and honestly, I enjoyed seeing Dr. Ramune’s sadist means of “helping” Kengo because he deserved to suffer the consequences for his actions. Aside from the clients, I guess the only nice thing I have to say is Dr. Ramune and Kuro’s teacher-pupil dynamic is interesting to watch, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be enough to keep me watching.
Unfortunately, any enjoyment I felt was immediately ruined during Episode 2’s after credit scene with a loli grandma and a pervert. There wasn’t any reason to introduce this character like that because surprisingly, Episode 3 was just fine and allowed us to learn more about Dr. Ramune and the rest of the main characters. Throughout Episode 3, the loli grandma was shown to be more than what she seems, BUT DID SHE HAVE TO BE INTRODUCED IN SUCH A GROSS WAY?! In general, I hate loli characters because they are so often used for perverted jokes and if that’s the route Dr. Ramune is going for then I will most likely drop this show in a couple of more episodes.
Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki
Mercedez: In my premiere review, I was somewhat cautious about the arc of this story, particularly because of Tomozaki. His initial impression was… less than stellar, and episode one offered up a pessimistic, misanthropic teenage boy who had little to like. Yet with the help of Hinami Aoi, his classmate and newfound friend, Tomozaki started to open up and engage with his classmates and the world.
Thankfully, this continues into the next few episodes. In fact, with help, Tomozaki has proven to be quite self-aware. He realizes that he needs to practice being himself, which is genuinely something we all do from time to time. This subtle change actually makes him come off more as an awkward teen than a genuinely misanthropic person. It’s a breath of fresh air that makes the series much more enjoyable.
There’s a bit of fan service in these next few episodes that’s… off-putting and unnecessary. For example, there’s a scene in episode two that focuses on Aoi and her friend, Minami, or Mimimi. The animation goes into syrup-y slowmo, there’s a bit of groping and a very leering camera because… that’s how all girls play around, right?
As I said: unnecessary, and gross at that. I just hope that that element of the show drops off in favor of more character growth. This kind of gross stuff never adds value: it only detracts.
Flaws in mind, I still think Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki has a lot of room for growth. Perhaps that’s why I’m still watching it. I want to see Tomozaki continue to grow into a more multifaceted character. In fact, given the progress he made in these first few episodes, I have a lot of hope for him. Surely there’s going to be lots of foibles—and probably fan service, ugh—but honestly, Tomozaki gives me hope for anime teens.
The elements are all there: it’s just a matter of the show getting there and giving me the heartfelt story, sans weird fan service moments, that I’m craving this Winter. Consider me an on-going viewer, simply to see where the story -and Tomozaki- go. I’m really starting to think it’s going to be somewhere great… if it can stick the landing.
Caitlin: I continue to boggle at the fact that this season, referring to “the skating anime” is just too general and you need to specify which kind of skates you’re referring to. That said, Skate-Leading Stars is for sure the lesser of the two. In fact, I’d rank it third out of the four new sports anime airing, although it’s certainly head-and-shoulders above the devastatingly dull Wave!! Let’s Go Surfing!!
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a watch; I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit, in fact. Most male sports series bank on having a team of good boys that are easy to root for to draw in fans. It’s a legit strategy, which has worked time and again to make shows that are engaging and lovable. Kensei, on the other hand, is a hot-headed brat, his self-worth inflated from his high scores in single figure-skating as a small child, and clashes constantly with the rest of the team, many of whom he’s known since they were small. The deuteragonist, Hayato, is an absolute mess of a human being, and not in the “safe” ways usually seen in the genre, making him unpredictable.
The skating action is kind of lacking to be honest; while it does have a nice sense of motion and weight when it’s portrayed, the camera tends to focus more on the people on the sidelines reacting.
From a gendered perspective, there are absolutely no women to be seen so far… basically. There is one character, Yukimitsu, who is so femme in presentation that a lot of viewers mistook him for a girl at first, and I’ve already seen people reading him as a trans girl. I like the way he’s written; he’s not an “oneesama” stereotype and his interactions with other characters are as human and natural as any other cast member. While I doubt there’ll be any canon reference to him being trans, it’s nice to see a GNC boy treated so casually and comfortably.
Mercedez: Okay, I’ll give it to you, Idoly Pride, you got me. You made me commit to watching this series to the very end, no matter what happens. Looks like my prediction in the premiere review of Idoly Pride was right: this is idol goodness, and I’m absolutely invested.
Idoly Pride is, for all intents and purposes, the story of two people grieving someone they cared for deeply. It’s the story of Mana’s manager, Makino, and her sister, Kotono, doing what they can to preserve their memories of her. It’s also the story of two people trying to cope with her literal ghost, which continues to be a significant presence as both Makino and Kotono start to work together as manager and idol themselves.
It’s also the story of untangling a lot of emotions surrounding Mana who, for all intents, kind of gets canonized as a superb idol singer, leaving dozens of girls with an impossibly high standard to meet, including said sister.
While those plot points are nothing new, Idly Pride does it well enough that I’m willing to stick around through the cour. I want to see this story unfold. I really think it has a lot of potential to be a genuinely heartwarming story about growth and healing. Whether or not it’ll go that deep is yet to be seen. Good thing I’ll be continuing my watch.
Mercedez: Is it bad that I sighed when I started writing this? Probably, but that’s the feeling I★CHU has instilled in me after three more episodes.
In my premiere review of this series, I mentioned some very mixed feelings on if I’d keep on watching this, or even if I’d come to enjoy it. I decided to hinge my hopes on the show’s first challenge to the idols, which was making and selling CDs. I was hoping to feel that wonderful “spark” that I get when I listen to idol music, or watch idol anime that are really well executed.
Unfortunately, I★CHU doesn’t spark a lick of joy inside me. In fact, this show is spectacularly boring. It’s just… not fun to watch. The boys don’t connect to me at all, even though there’s a lot of them that I, ideally, should like. Yet I don’t like a single boy, nor do I remember any of their names.
Here’s the thing.
I’m earnestly glad this exists. All too often, fans of male idol series get bashed on simply for liking a show that is more centered on appealing to a gendered demographic. But I think if you’re not already invested in the gaggle of boys presented in this series, you most likely won’t stay on board for the entire cour. There’s little here for fans who aren’t already into the I★CHU universe, which really… is kind of a shame. Still, count me out on this one.
Spoilers: This review discusses episode 4.
Dee: After a decent premiere that set up Alfred and Marius as co-protagonists, Hortensia Saga fell into pretty routine monster-hunting and party-gathering RPG adaptation patterns with Alfred squarely placed as the main character. This wouldn’t be so bad if Marius got to do things instead of mostly standing around open-mouthed or actively screwing up so Alfred can play hero. The show doesn’t seem interested in those early declarations about them “growing strong together.”
Add to that the new characters in episode 4—a pair of scantily clad, brown-skinned foreign kids working for the antagonist and a naked dragon-lady—and I’m struggling to find reasons to come back to this one. I didn’t expect Hortensia to do anything new, but it’s also not doing anything especially engaging or endearing. Despite early potential, there’s really nothing here for any but the most dedicated of European-inspired fantasy fans.
Caitlin: I wasn’t going to write this — my interest in Gekidol based on the premiere ranked somewhere between “low” and “nonexistent” — but we got a hot tip on Twitter that episode 3 broached some feminist issues. I figured, hey, first impressions aren’t everything and maybe it’ll touch on something interesting, maybe even bring up the massive hole in the middle of the city.
Just so you know, they don’t go into the big hole. It’s very annoying, knowing that there’s something genuinely weird about the world but having the story focus on vaguely homoerotic idol shenanigans.
The aforementioned feminist issue is that one of the members of the Allicin Theatre Troupe was a junior idol as a teenager, meaning that as a middle school student she posed for and acted in material aimed at pedophiles, including topless photos. She did it so she could afford nice things, but quit and started acting instead when people’s stares made her feel bad. It’s an extremely sensitive subject that requires a deft touch, which Gekidol fails at completely. Did she feel bad because she was being exploited, or just regret doing sex work? Or because people stared at her? By the end of the episode she’s on friendly terms with her fan, but wasn’t he participating in the system that hurt her? When she unties her bikini top in a flashback he stops and looks sad, but he was there in the first place.
It’s just so slapdash and messy, I don’t think the writers put much thought into it at all. It’s just backstory for how she got into the theater, and why she was so dependent on Izumi, the former member who recruited her. It’s a one-off character background episode designed to be resolved in the space of 25 minutes, and considering the ED animation is (CW for borderline child porn) so icky that Funimation replaced it with a clip show, they’re clearly trying to have their cake and eat it too. It’s just insulting at that point.
Dee: Oh, Ex-Arm. Your production is such a trainwreck, you accidentally came across as homophobic. If only your writing could be as incredible as your animation. Unfortunately, the story has turned into a thoroughly mediocre sci-fi police procedural with vaguely xenophobic undertones, cheesecake eyecatches, and an android co-protagonist who is allergic to pants.
I’d like to believe it will go somewhere with the Alma/Minami shipteasing or Akira’s co-habitation of a femme-coded robot body, but based on what it’s given me so far, I don’t have any faith that it actually will. That leaves me with an uninspired story with hilarious animation—and I can enjoy the latter via Twitter threads, so, I’m gonna tap out. Alas, my search for another delicious Gibiate-level disaster continues.
Vrai: “Traumatized misfits investigate supernatural cases that vaguely stand in for social ills” is a subgenre I’m quite fond of when it’s done well, but while Kemono Jihen knows all the beats about contrasting melancholy episodic stories with small moments of growth among the main cast, there’s something that keeps me from really immersing in it. I think it’s all the gender shit.
There’s just something weird about the way this series has treated femininity so far. One of Kabane’s new housemates, Akira, is a long-haired boy who loves Instagram and cute things and is introduced being angry that Kabane mistook him for a girl. Adults in general are untrustworthy figures here, but so far it’s only mothers that have been spotlighted as either faceless saints or evil abusers. Fox demon Inari enthralls others with her sex appeal and—say it with me now—is constantly insulted for being “old,” and these things stand out more when scruffy guardian Inugami (who has thankfully lost the vaguely “creepy uncle” vibes of the premiere) is the only trustworthy adult around.
Episode three does bring in Inari’s ward (servant?) Kon, who is clearly carrying her own burdens of abandonment and abuse. But even that is weirdly played for comedy by episode’s end (which the show has so far not done for the male characters) as Inugami and his crew use her desire to live up to Inari’s descriptor of her as a “good girl” to make her clean up around the office.
There’s not enough that stands out as uniquely excellent to keep me around, but as long as you have a solid tolerance for the kind of low-grade sexism common to shounen anime, this is a solid supernatural action series.
Heaven’s Design Team
Note: Episode 4’s subtitles switch to using the characters’ localized manga names.
Vrai: As another enthusiastic fan of the manga, I couldn’t be more pleased to watch HDT find its footing over the last few weeks and show off what really makes the material shine. Having longer, more intricate chapters to work from helps the show feel less like a bunch of shorts haphazardly stitched together, though it is still very sketch-based, and the ensemble cast has finally gotten a chance to show what makes them so likable.
The pint-sized and Wednesday Addams-esque Meido (now once again Pluto), with her love of all things gross and monstrous, makes a great foil for gentle giant Unabara (Neptune), and so on. Its combination of weird animal facts pairs well with its sly humor on the trials of commission work and the fantastical absurdity its “animal prototypes” allow for. It’s just a soothing watch.
While casting a cis man to play trans woman Kanamori (Venus) remains a disappointment (albeit one I was basically resigned to), the show has also continually improved alongside its source material in how it portrays her. There’s a brief tired joke about how she wishes she could’ve “died” in some Strong Manly Arms (which was also basically the manga’s one misstep that it then completely abandoned), but from there on things have been on the ups.
Kishio Daisuke has ditched the “make my voice very deep and masculine when upset” trick that plagues so many portrayals of trans women, and the anime has kept Kanamori’s outfit changes into more obviously femme clothing rather than just the plunge-neck jumpsuit. I’ll echo Dee’s sentiment that if the show gets a dub they have no excuse not to fix the casting, but otherwise this one is really looking to live up to its potential.
Cells at Work! CODE BLACK
Spoilers: Discusses episode 4.
Vrai: I’m not sure CODE BLACK has the strongest grasp on its own identity. While the second episode was a strong follow-up that basically said “don’t be an asshole to service/sex workers, we all labor under the oppressive boot of capitalism,” episode three is a move of purest Abenime. The cells labor under crushing pressure to produce an erection, only for Red Blood Cell to despair that the terrifying corral of moe sperm might not be on their way to meet the ovum after all—because (gasp) some sex isn’t procreative.
The episode sits in a lose/lose niche: if it’s meant to be satire, it follows poorly on the earnest commentary of the previous episodes and does little to differentiate itself; if it’s meant to be taken at face value… yikes? Yikes. And episode four, which is about phallic, be-tentacled gonococci, does indeed contain several scenes of sexualized violence.
What sucks is that the show continues to show just enough smart commentary about toxic work culture that I’m not quite ready to write it off yet, but those wins continue to come further stretched out with more fumbles in between (not to mention the continual threat of ableism bursting out when it comes to the subject of a “failing” body). Even with its high points, it’s tough to recommend.
WONDER EGG PRIORITY
Alex: Wonder Egg continues to impress: it’s a little bit Ikuhara, a little bit Yamada, and is altogether reminding me of FLIP FLAPPERS but without the pervy camera. Protagonist Ai is—dare I say it—coming out of her shell, and feels like a very authentic portrayal of a young person trying to reckon with a world in which she’s powerless. Two other Egg Warriors have been introduced thus far, but Ai and her relationship with Koito feel like the real throughline. The emotionality of it all feels very down to earth despite the reality-bending dreamscape of the show’s setting.
As the series seems set on exploring the various traumas that can afflict teenaged girls, there’s no telling how long the list of content warnings will be by the end of the season. Thus far it’s looked at bullying, physical and emotional abuse from a coach, fatphobia and eating disorders, toxic idol culture, self-harm, and a mysterious backstory that looks an awful lot like it involves a teacher preying on a student. The demons themselves are surreal and grotesque, and twice now have exaggerated female-coded traits to monstrosity. If you’re not a fan of body horror, maybe give this one a miss.
Stylish as it is, making a monster-of-the-week scenario from the manifestations of things that drove young girls to suicide seems like risky business. While I feel like these first couple of episodes are handling things with heart and grace, there’s always the worry that this will end up schlocky rather than sincere; that Wonder Egg might have too much on its plate and end up dropping the whole meal. I’m definitely fascinated enough to check back in every week, but it would be understandable if you wanted to hold off to see how things shape up—and hey, that’s what resources like AniFem are here for!
Alex: Otherside Picnic has settled into a pattern as a delightfully uncanny and eerie monster-of-the-week show, propped up by the growing relationship between the two leads. Sorao’s crush on Toriko seems to be increasing every episode. A shapeshifting spirit even takes Toriko’s form to lure Sorao into its trap, creating a direct parallel to the lovelorn, dedicated husband who chased a vision of his wife into the same illusion just before. Now that’s romantic and terrifying!
Aside from a little blush, we haven’t seen much of Toriko’s feelings, but it’s fair to assume this has more to do with Toriko being an enigma than Sorao’s affection being one-sided. The benefit of this being an adaptation of a yuri work is that we know these two will fall for each other at some point, taking that “is this queer, or am I getting my hopes up?” guesswork out of the game. The question instead is when and how, and whether or not the anime will wrap up with a satisfying conclusion to their relationship arc.
Thus far I’m happy to report there hasn’t been any fan service or leery content to make note of. Though I feel it’s worth mentioning the researcher Kozakura, where the show commits to the sigh-worthy trope of the adult professional who inexplicably looks like a middle schooler. The content warnings for discussions of death and suicide remain, and there is some inherent body horror in some of the monsters that live in the Otherside.
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
Vrai: In some ways the volleyboiz have continued on as they started, where the “sport” in “sports anime” is mainly a means of exploring emotional conflicts. Each episode so far has spotlighted a character’s relationship to Haijima, their conflict, and how they grow from it, with the strained relationship between Haijima and Yuni a continuing background thread. It’s engaging in the moment, and still lovely to look at, but it’s also a bit hard to get a bead on. The first two episodes were essentially an extended prologue covering nearly two years of time before what now seems to be the main setting of the show.
I hope so, anyway; the show’s at its strongest in its character moments, while the rapid time skips led to some weird leaps of logic on the court (in six months nobody told Yuni the basic rules? Really?). The homoerotic subtext continues apace, even if I doubt the show will address it in an overt way; I could do with fewer of the weird pseudo-love interest flags they’ve also placed around Yuni and his cousin, but beyond that this continues to be a solid weekly watch.
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