We’re plagued with the best kind of problem: too much good anime to watch!
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. We’ve also excluded shows that are continuing on in basically the same vein as our premiere review to conserve space.
Due to the extremely staggered release dates for this season, some shows have barely aired three episodes while others are close to halfway through their run. That means that write-ups are done with a bit more foreknowledge than usual. However, unless specifically noted, we will not be mentioning overt spoilers for anything beyond episode three.
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: Like many, possibly even most anime fans of my age, the collected works of Takahashi Rumiko were absolutely formative to me as a fan. Urusei Yatsura is, of course, no exception, and I devoured whatever volumes of Takahashi’s screwball science fiction comedy I could get from the library, right up to the point where Viz stopped publishing them.
However, while nostalgia is a powerful thing, I am not blinded by it; I can see that parts of the series have aged like… maybe not milk, but perhaps that bottle of mediocre wine you bought because the label was pretty then opened to cook with and then forgot to drink the rest of? It’s not going to make you sick or anything, but it’s definitely not as tasty as it was when it was fresh.
But enough about the contents of my refrigerator. Urusei Yatsura continues on as it always has—an episodic goofball comedy about the world’s worst boy, an alien princess with lightning powers who is all tsun and all dere for him, and the motley collection of weirdos who keep showing up on their doorstep. There is little in the way of continuity besides the expanding cast of characters, and the second and third episodes introduce the priestess Sakura and spoiled rich boy Mendou who is gallant around women but a shrieking coward when it’s just other men around.
Each addition to the thieves’ gallery rounds out the crew a little more, making it closer to an ensemble comedy, but if you can’t stomach Ataru and/or Lum and/or Shinobu, it’s really not worth a recommendation. However, if you’re a voice actor fiend, Sakura is voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki and Mendou by Miyano Mamoru, both turned up to eleven. That alone might be worth taking a look.
Alex: Bibliophile Princess continues to give us shallow characterization and the shallowest possible version of court intrigue. There is a scene in Episode 2 that beautifully captures what makes this show frustrating. Lady Irene, the newcomer attempting to steal the Prince’s heart, flings herself down the stairs and blames Elianna. As a crowd gathers out of absolutely nowhere, she spins a web of lies about Elianna trying to sabotage her. Ah, but the handsome prince sees through this vixen’s vexations, and humiliates her in front of the whole court—arresting her father for attempted treason to boot! Oh, the drama! Irene’s just the worst!
Members of the court then start a discussion about how much Elianna has improved everyone’s lives by ordering books and keeping the library well-stocked. We love Elianna! She’s the best! Bookish girls save the day!
Elianna literally stands still without saying anything throughout this entire scene—looking mildly shocked while she’s accused of an assassination attempt and then looking mildly shocked (but in a more positive way) when everyone starts singing her praises. She’s the specialist, smartest, most cultured girl in the kingdom, but she doesn’t do anything. Her supposed great moments of diplomacy happen by accident and/or offscreen. The narrative seems much more concerned with introducing an inner court full of pretty young noblemen than it does with granting Elianna agency. Meanwhile Irene, the only other named female character thus far, is thrust into the role of romantic rival and then petty, scheming villain. None of these creative decisions are stacking up in Bibliophile Princess’ favor, and it’s honestly a disappointing use of the series’ premise and setting.
Dee: It’s a shame “Tanukigo” aired in a packed season full of dazzling animation that’s certain to overshadow it, because the source manga is really delightful and the adaptation is bright and charming, if not particularly dynamic. The anime is taking its time with the material, pulling details from later volumes to give our chipper protagonist a bit more emotional depth at the outset.
Throughout, the tension between humans and yokai—and, by extension, between the mundane and the fantastical, the modern and the traditional—remains a constant undercurrent, along with the show’s clear love for rakugo. The performances have also improved since the premiere, though they still can’t hold a candle to Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (but then, what can, really?).
It is worth noting that the theatre’s manager, Omatsu, aggressively hits on the young Mameda in one scene and the series plays it for laughs. It’s implied that she’s not serious (and the eye-catch art suggests Omatsu’s in a consensual relationship with the female musician Koito), but Mameda is also clearly uncomfortable and a minor, so it’s still a point of concern. Fortunately, it hasn’t come up again since.
Beyond that and some very occasional, very light fanservice, this is a fun little series blending fantasy, history, comedy, and a dash of hopeful melancholy to tell the tale of tricksters living in the modern era. “Tanuki performing rakugo in the Taisho period” is a premise that was basically custom-made for me, so there’s no question I’ll be sticking around all season.
Vrai: DIY is a real top-tier hobby show. Its color palette is soft and inviting, its vibes impeccably chill. It captures the sense of warmth that comes from bonding with other weirdos over a shared passion, and makes that central activity feel important in itself as opposed to an excuse to bring the gaggle of leads together. It’s a little strange that the series seems to consider “DIY” an activity that precludes homemade technology or phone cases, but I’m going to shrug and chalk that up to cultural difference. If you’re a fan of the genre, I can’t imagine you’re not already watching this one.
If I put my analytical hat on, it makes for a rather strange beast. On the one hand, it’s very cool to see a bunch of girls geek out about a variety of crafts, from ones that fall under expectations for “girly” hobbies like macramé to assumed-masculine stuff like wielding power tools. Hobby anime might be built on the back of the premise “cute girls enjoying an untraditionally feminine activity,” but it still feels worth mentioning in a field still as entrenched in gendered stereotypes as construction.
I’m of two minds about the show. If I’m enjoying it as a cute character comedy, I’ve got no notes in particular. If I put on the feminist analysis hat that appreciates the show’s pushback on gender stereotypes, I have to confess to being somewhat uncomfortable with how hard the show leans on Serufu’s “adorable klutz” schtick. Clumsiness is an eternal wellspring of physical gags, but with her constantly bandaged face, flashbacks to being disallowed sharp objects for crafting, and the overall gentle rather than slapstick tone of the show, it left the realm of “sight gag machine” and crossed the threshold into “uh, is this girl okay? Does she have a nonverbal learning disability (I say, nodding in recognition)?” It soured the comedy potential a bit, much as I very much enjoy Serufu getting gentle experience and confidence using those same once-hazardous tools.
Like the elements of “wacky foreigner” sprinkled on characters like Jobko and Kokoro—which are definitely there but I don’t feel especially qualified to speak on in the latter case—I detect zero malice from the show. But it has been a fascinating exercise in how assessment of a show shifts depending on what one is expecting of it. Call it “complicated,” maybe?
Content warning: Gore, fantasy racism
Chiaki: Teacher the sword and Fran the black cat keep on keeping on, and the first three episodes are very much a by-the-numbers effort to set the scene. The sword and cat meet. They join the guild. They get some gear and head out for a quest. No real major departures from the light novel here and nothing to really flag. At the same time, nothing to really write home about either.
Fran is a little taciturn, relying on Teacher to provide most of the chatty exposition or dialogue in the show, but she’s cute enough. There’s nothing wrong with Teacher’s fawning over her, because she’s a cute kid when she’s not hacking someone’s legs off. That said, Fran isn’t totally devoid of character either. She’s got a deadpan sense of sass and gets wholesomely cute at times, so she’s alright as far as heroines go. The dadly sword also isn’t just letting her coast on Easy Mode either, so you can kinda celebrate when the baby does a murder.
Gore does continue to be a thing in this show. Lopped off limbs, crushed skulls, maiming, it’s all there. It’s not ‘90s era blood mists, but you can probably expect it to continue being a thing throughout the show.
Fran’s background as a black cat continues to dog her as well. There’s some fantasy racism based on that, but that and her former time as a slave have yet to get any significant narrative play in the story. Whether this show will do anything deeper with this really will depend on how it handles the latter half of the cour.
Overall, it’s cute. It’s fine. It’s not bad.
Content warning: references to (offscreen) suicide, forced sex work, and genocide
Vrai: Well, at least one of the joseimuke series airing this season is getting some dignity in its production. It helps that Raven is a talky court drama, so some creative boarding is enough to smooth over the fact that many scenes involve sitting in rooms or reusing a stock effect of Shouxue summoning her magic. And I’m fine with it, because this is a compelling take on the case-of-the-week formula.
The biggest stumbling block of the first two episodes—love interest and new emperor Gaojun being a smug jerk who pushes Shouxue’s boundaries to fluster her—evaporated after the initial two-parter. They still have a prickly dynamic, but his teasing is gentler, and her annoyance doesn’t come at the expense of her competence.
Even better, tying up the initial succession plot allowed the next few episodes to shift focus to its female characters. A good amount of time has been spent on Shoxue’s developing friendship with her inadvertently acquired lady-in-waiting Jiujiu, and most of the mysteries Shoxue is tasked with solving involve women who have been wronged by the prevailing power structure—women the series treats with dignity. I was frustrated with the opening monologue’s assurance that Shouxue’s position is special in that it doesn’t involve “nightly duties,” but the show is pretty matter-of-fact about the women of court being expected to perform sex work, and it neither shames them nor lingers on lurid details. It’s just one more trap of the patriarchal system they’re all struggling to survive in.
It’s too soon to tell whether the series has its ambitions set on overthrowing the system or if its goals are more on the level of empathizing with those trying to eke out a living against unfair constraints, but if you like conspiracy thrillers and don’t mind a quiet pace, it would be nice to see this series get the love it deserves.
Spoilers for the entire 4-episode miniseries.
Content warnings: Gore and dismemberment; child death; depictions of racism.
Dee: I’m covering this one because I’m literally the only person on staff with easy access to it, so forgive me for not being the ideal reviewer in terms of either Cthulhu mythos expertise or lived experience with racial prejudice. Feel free to correct me into oblivion in the comments.
So, on the plus side, I’m pretty sure Housing Complex C wasn’t purposefully racist. It fell into an over-simplified “can’t we all just get along” mentality that ignored broader systemic issues, but the Big Bads were Japanese cultists and the only human deemed worthy of survival was one of the Muslim migrant workers, so at the very least it avoided overt racial vilification.
On the down side… it just wasn’t very good? The finale is a mess of info-dumping plot twists in between literal waterfalls of human entrails (urp), making it difficult to follow the unraveling of the central mystery. Because of its rushed conclusion, the series’ central message will likely be whatever perspective the viewer brings to it: either it’s condemning xenophobia or it’s implying that different cultures should never interact because it inevitably leads to conflict. I suspect the show intended the former, but it’s not difficult to read it as the latter.
Maybe a second viewing would help clarify, but you’d need to pay me more than these reviews net to watch a girl get turned inside-out again (double urp). I’d be curious to see Housing Complex C analyzed by a person of color with a detailed understanding of cosmic horror, but I won’t be recommending it or revisiting it beyond that.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode four
Content warning: gore, nudity, depictions of grooming, light fanservice
Vrai: Remember how I said that Denji kinda sucks early on? Now you know what I mean! It’s tough going following a protagonist whose entire stated motivation is “must touch boob,” and I don’t blame any viewers who want to bail out (I definitely would’ve bailed on the manga if I hadn’t been able to binge it). I’d hoped I could talk about the wrap-up on this exhausting subplot, but it seems that will be episode five material. That said, the adaptation has managed to calm some of my fears.
The direction is doing its best to distinguish Denji’s horniness from the general camera’s, keeping the scattered zoom-ins on boobs tied to POV shots; meanwhile, the lengthy flashbacks of Power living naked in the wild are drawn with a more distant, nondescript nudity. This doesn’t always extend outside the episode, with the bikini shot we talked about in the premiere and a more ogle-inclined Power-centric ending to episode four (and even that’s a lot more restrained than I usually expect of the genre). Generally speaking, I think it succeeds in being about a horny character without reducing its women to objects, especially because the Public Safety uniform looks the same regardless of who’s wearing it. And of course, Denji is a victim too, as the series has made no bones about how smoothly Makima has started grooming him.
I am rather annoyed at the anime for snipping Denji’s union-referencing dialogue, especially with how that moment ties into his character taking pleasure in things that are the bare minimum for human dignity (food, housing, a bed, labor protection), but doing so can’t dismantle the broader story about a character literally being forced to work himself to death (one way or the other) in exchange for basic care. There’s a lot going on in this series beyond “wow, cool chainsaw,” and I hope it can keep going strong.
Vrai: “Ah,” I think every week as I settle in to a new episode of GWitch,”this is why I watch anime.” It’s tough to vouch for where the series is going even after six episodes because Gundam series typically run a luxurious 50, but that also means we’ve gotten the rare treat of spending almost half a cour just getting to build the world and get to know the cast. Suletta and Miorine are wonderful leads, and the ensemble is quickly filling out with other kids who are just as damaged by the warmongering corporate overlords in their own ways. The character designs have also continued to be varied, both in terms of race and body type, and the shorts-as-uniform has meant no fanservice to speak of.
You will no doubt be shocked to hear that a Gundam series is political, and in addition to the themes raised by the premiere we’ve now touched on toxic masculinity, government abuse of protestors, communities harmed by resource stripping, and some good ol’ fashioned child soldiers. That’s a lot, but the writing has already shown itself to be strong, above and beyond the Utena homages it’s still definitely making. Even if it winds up stumbling down the line, there’s going to be no shortage of stuff worth talking about. If you watch only one anime this season, make it this one.
Spoilers: includes discussion of episode four
Caitlin: I fell in love with I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss when I got a review copy of the first manga volume; the moment I finished it, I had placed preorders for all three volumes. While I enjoyed Aileen as a character and how the story confronts the sexist casting of driven, capable women as villains, I did feel like it had issues. There was a serious lack of other female characters, the pacing moved too quickly, and the story had some abrupt twists that didn’t really work out. So, when the anime was announced, I figured twelve episodes would be a perfect length to give the first story arc some time to breathe.
…Except that it’s over now, and already moving on to the second. Well, so much for that.
If the manga went at too fast of a trot, these four episodes galloped through the first arc, tossing out story beats one after another without stopping for a single breath. I don’t feel anything for the characters or the main couple, since we had approximately 80 minutes all told to get invested in their romance among everything else going on. Themes? Character development? Tone? Letting a moment land? No time! What’s that, the climax revolves around one of the characters trafficking sentient demons? Well, forgive him quick because we have to move on to the next thing. Sure, we could spend some time considering how women are pitted against each other and the cruelty inherent in assuming oneself the protagonist but time’s a-wastin’! *taps watch*
It’s incredibly frustrating, especially with how joseimuke media gets the short shrift over and over again.
Vrai: I’m not typically drawn to “let’s form a band” stories unless they also promise to be queer (hey, given!), but the buzz around Bocchi’s first episode caught my attention. What if Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu put on a K-On! hat? Sure, I like watching socially anxious teens try their best. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be so visually bombastic in its comedy, with some great inclusion of mixed media that keep its central gag fresh. The direction is lively and inviting even if music anime aren’t typically your thing, focusing on the feeling of connecting with music rather than a more hobby anime-style edutainment approach.
It even did me a solid by sprinkling in a bit of gay on top—episode three (re)introduces the band’s last member, Kita Ikuyo, who joined up explicitly because she has a crush on cool bassist Ryo. It’s adorable, and Kita’s warmth and social awareness has also been the shot in the arm the show very much needed. The depiction of Hitori’s social anxiety was already toeing the line between “relatable” and “a little insulting” when every single conflict resulted in a cataclysmic meltdown and broad-strokes lines like “nobody with social anxiety could ever go into a clothing store.” Social anxiety has shades! Comedy requires peaks and valleys rather than going to 12 every time!
Thankfully, Kita and Hitori’s dynamic gives the latter more room to have small shows of confidence without tilting full-on into “magic cure” territory. Going forward, I’d like to see Kita get a chance to develop some actual rapport with Ryo, lest the character slide into the Comedy Hell of “token queer character whose unattainable crush is both their entire personality and an inherent punchline.” But beyond that? This is some solid, surefooted work.
Content warning: gore, gun violence
Alex: Even as it settles into a formula, taking its main cast on episodic misadventures into different corners of Akiba’s seedy underbelly on zany money-making schemes, I’m happy to announce that Maid War has kept up the startling energy and pizzazz of its premiere. Like, holy shit.
Honestly, it feels too early to judge if this series is attempting to Say Something or just out to be high-octane batshit-bonkers entertainment. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if the latter were the case—attempt at social commentary or no, it’s still a lot of fun watching female characters get up to the kind of raucous, explosive, blood-splattered action-movie shenanigans usually associated with male anti-heroes.
Still, amidst the chaos emerge some pretty solid stances on some pretty heavy issues, like “gambling is a predatory industry that deliberately ruins the lives of vulnerable people” and “human trafficking is bad and the people who do it are bad.” Amidst the action it even touches on themes of beauty standards and ageism. There’s also something to be said for how this is a narrative about women having to navigate extremely dangerous environments, performing (literally) to protect themselves and falling into tight-knit, ride-or-die camaraderie with people in the same position.
While everyone, so far, has gotten out safely to moe-moe-kyun another day, the show has still placed its characters in some frankly frightening situations with regards to their bodily autonomy. Situations call for the gals to gamble with their organs or their “future as maids,” almost getting shipped off into forced labor. As I said, everyone always escapes, often in a blaze of glory, but Maid War certainly isn’t shying away from some intense subjects.
There’s still plenty of room for it to fumble—and indeed the dark comedy tone might already seem in poor taste to some viewers—but I’m along for the ride. Even if this show doesn’t end up Saying Anything, it may still shine through as a bizarre and enthralling romp with a cast of likable and unhinged leading ladies. And that, I reckon, is still something worth highlighting.