2022 Spring Three-Episode Check-In

By: Anime Feminist May 4, 20220 Comments
Kana of Healer Girl triumphantly bursting through a finish line with a bread loaf in her mouth

Spring is shaping up to be packed with excellent heroines and good kids.

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, like SPY x FAMILY, to conserve space.

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!

Kongming in a crowd of Shibuya Halloween partygoers

Ya Boy Kongming!

Spoilers: This review discusses plot points from episode 4-5.

Vrai: Somewhere around episode four I realized this show was starting to bum me out. I really like aspiring singer Eiko and her dynamic with strategist-out-of-water Kongming, and it’s always cool to see music anime that focus on more specific or niche genres (EDM, in this case). But it’s starting to feel like a case of diminishing returns. Kongming’s super competence can be entertaining, but because he always succeeds there’s not much chance for Eiko to teach him anything in return. 

The hapless protagonist/hypercompetent assistant dynamic is one thing in a comedy like Dragon Goes House Hunting, which is mainly about gags and the general vibe of the setting. But here I’m meant to be invested in Eiko’s career, and the stakes don’t really stick when Eiko feels like a passenger in her own story. Sure, she tells Kongming that she wants to be a huge star, but she also seems to know almost nothing about the field she’s supposedly been trying to break into for years. 

It doesn’t help that Eiko’s still the only female character who’s both prominent and sympathetic. The only other woman who’s had a significant role is a rival singer in one episode who uses underhanded tricks and spends more time working out and posting selfies than practicing her singing (and I don’t love the contrast between her as muscular and husky-voiced versus traditionally feminine Eiko). Episode 5, meanwhile, throws in a Black thug stereotype whose entire role is to threaten a new major character and then get his ass kicked. They’re weirdly mean-spirited moments for a show that mainly lobs comedy softballs like “middle-aged man is obsessed with Three Kingdoms” and “Kongming combines his traditional outfit with a piece of clubwear.”

Single-gimmick series like this live or die by their ensemble casts, and Kongming’s weakness on that front has let some once-funny jokes start to go stale. At this rate, not even that top-tier opening theme will be able to save it from hurtling toward my drop list. 

the three girls of Healer Girl looking shell-shocked and bedraggled

Healer Girl

Dee: Healer Girl’s premiere felt like a chill-out show, but over the next couple episodes it reveals itself to have bright energy, a strong sense of humor, and loads of spontaneous musical numbers. It’s somewhere between a magical girl and an iyashikei (healing) series, as well as one of those rare shows about girls that feels like it’s actually targeted at girls. I really hope Crunchyroll ends up dubbing this one, because if it stays the course it would be a great anime to show your preteen relatives.

I was slightly worried that Healer Girl might lean into harmful pseudoscience rhetoric in the vein of “cure your cancer with a relaxing song,” but the series is thankfully smarter than that. Our magic healers work side-by-side with traditional medical doctors, pharmacists, and surgeons, allowing the series to take a refreshingly nuanced, holistic approach towards health care. Plus it gets bonus points for showcasing plenty of adult women as respected leaders in the medical field, too.

If the show has any noteworthy flaws, it’s Reimi’s obsessive crush on her female mentor. It’s realistically intense for her age but can occasionally veer into uncomfortable territory, especially when you consider the long history of the “gay creeper” trope. It’s balanced somewhat by an implicit, healthy partnership between two adult women, but that relationship needs to become more explicit before I let Healer Girl off the hook entirely.

But really, that’s a minor critique in an otherwise cheery, good-hearted show about likably flawed girls learning medicine and music from their skilled female mentors. Healer Girl wasn’t even on my radar a month ago, but now I look forward to it a little more each week.

A baby-faced girl with white hair sitting at a school desk, curling back her hair as it blows in the breeze

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai

Content considerations: A teacher who’s a bit too invested in her students’ love lives; a short sequence about weight gain and dieting (episode 5).

Dee: The next time someone claims the AniFem staff is a hivemind, just compare this three-episode review to our premiere review—because folks, this laid-back, silly comedy about two straight-faced kids trying to understand and support each other is one of my favorite shows of the season.

Rather than infantilizing or sexualizing Aharen, the series uses her petite stature for two purposes: visual gags with her tall classmates (boys and girls) and, more importantly, as a vehicle for gently critiquing people’s preconceptions. Aharen’s friends think they need to protect her, but she’s actually pretty self-sufficient for a teen, revealing herself to be a talented cook and clever strategist with impressive concentration skills. She has her inept moments, but so does everyone else, and she’s often more self-aware (and anxious) about her perceived weaknesses than the rest of the cast.

This is a comedy of misunderstandings, as both Aharen and Raido get judged by appearances, struggle to express themselves, and navigate personal space, but it never veers into cringe humor because Aharen-san is just so darn fond of its cast. While it’s not explicit in-narrative, I’ve seen autistic folks vibe pretty strongly with Aharen, so it’s particularly heartening to see how the series pushes for accommodation and consideration as our two leads try to find ways to connect that work for both of them. (And do I have a personal weakness for functionally asexual love stories focusing on casual intimacy without sexual tension? Why yes, yes I do!)

Silly with a warm heart, Aharen-san pushes all my favorite anime comedy buttons. If you’re a fan of understated school comedies like Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, I’d highly recommend giving this one the ol’ three-episode try.

Akari smiling and leaning close to Menou

The Executioner and Her Way of Life

Alex: I’m pleased to announce that Executioner is not just coasting along on the genre-bending appeal of its premise; it’s using the “sacred duty to kill isekai protagonists” setup to unpack some intriguing plot, character, and world-building developments. Menou’s latest target, Akari, possesses a mysterious time magic that renders her functionally immortal—making it somewhat difficult for Menou to assassinate her. The two set off on a road trip to the capital, where Menou’s holy order can use advanced magic to “send Akari home.” Menou has always been dedicated to her work, but maybe spending more time with the bubbly, sweet-natured, and affectionate Akari will make her knife hand a little less steady.

It’s all set up to get deliciously complicated, against the backdrop of a pretty fascinating fantasy world. Akari has a heart of gold and a head full of air, though I wonder if she knows more than she’s letting on. What seems evident right now is that she digs Menou and isn’t shy about it, sleeping on her shoulder, demanding they have a date when they arrive in the city, and generally being cute enough that Menou’s assistant, Momo, is getting jealous.

Momo hasn’t grabbed Menou’s thigh again, so far, but there have been flutters of fanservice in other areas. Train robbers order the girls to strip, and we get a shot of Akari’s unbuttoned cleavage before Menou dispatches the fiends. Akari drops her towel when she gets out of the bath, though her nude body is mostly concealed from the camera by an awkward Menou. The nation’s princess has a ridiculous outfit, but hey, at least she’s using all that exposed midriff to show off her abs.

Overall, nothing too gross thus far: just a compelling fantasy series with an almost entirely female cast and some cool magic to boot. I’m trying to keep my expectations tempered as I’m not sure how the story is going to unfold, but so far Executioner is really impressing me, and I’m coming back to it hungrily every week. 

An intense action shot of a woman hitting a golf ball with a golf club

BIRDIE WING – Golf Girls Story –

Spoilers: This review discusses plot points from episode 4.

VRAI: I have good news for the folks out there who’ve been starving for girls’ sports content. The central rivalry between Eve and Aoi gives this show an unexpectedly solid core; it’s the kind of earnest, homoerotically-charged mutual respect that sports anime are made of. In some ways, it’s worth recommending to genre fans for that alone.

But I’ll level with y’all: the reveal that protagonist Eve is only 14 kinda took the wind out of my sails. So far the show’s been pretty good about not doing fanservice of the underage characters, but the undercurrent of sexual menace that surfaced during that gunpla/virginity joke in the premiere has unfortunately held strong. There’s something pretty sad about Eve brazenly offering to pay a mob boss with her body before being brushed off (but only because “no homo”), but the show about extreme golfing is simultaneously too wacky to deal with that seriously and not wild enough for the dark content to feel totally disconnected from reality a la Kakegurui. The issues of police brutality and Eve’s family probably being undocumented has also faded completely into the background.

Even the extreme sports angle feels a bit not-quite-there after a few episodes. It’s flashy, but in a way that’s pretty comfortably within the parameters of the genre. I found I was having more fun joking about the show afterward than actually watching it. By the time episode four trotted out a snake-themed woman who pervs on Eve and whose schtick is literally identical to an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh!, all I could offer was a bit of a shrug. I love weird anime, but this one has slowly been trading out the goods for fanservice. I’ll give it a few more episodes because I’ve ended up surprisingly invested in Eve and Aoi, but it’s strayed pretty far into the rough.

Shikimori blushing and holding Izumi's hand

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie

VRAI: Shikimori has come along to sidle into the “unhurried, gentle rom-com about Nice Kids” space that Sasaki and Miyano left vacant, and I am here for it. This is a single-gimmick concept (“the boy is soft and clumsy and the girl is protective and gallant”), but it’s smart enough to introduce a solid friend group for Shikimori and Izumi to bounce off and keep the writing from getting stale.

A hefty chunk of the skits start from the premise that Izumi wants to do something that would be considered “manly” only for the situation to end up somehow reversed. What makes it feel sweet rather than skin-crawling is that Izumi inevitably ends up happy rather than resentful by the end of the sketch. He might despair at his supernaturally bad luck, but he’s always excited to fanboy over how cool and capable his girlfriend is, and even his initial goals are rooted in his desire to be a supportive partner rather than trying to prove that he’s a Real Man.

The show’s gender commentary is a light touch, but so far it’s managed to prod at societal expectations of both masculinity and femininity, whether it’s Shikimori’s friends telling her she should lose at bowling to stroke Izumi’s ego or Izumi feeling embarrassed that he’s scared of horror movies. For anyone who wants a chill rom-com with a focus on good communication, this has been a surprisingly soothing watch.  

Hiyori from Heroines Run the Show with sparkle-filled eyes

Heroines Run the Show

Alex: I love Hiyori so much. I love how expressive she is, I love how she loves bread, I love how she’s an athlete and a bit of an airhead, and I love her scribbly eyebrows. I love that after she has a cutesy romantic dream, she wakes up yelling “WHAT?!” I especially love that the darn rowdy boys she’s been tasked with overseeing are starting to soften and treat her with the respect she deserves, making her experience (and the viewing experience) much more rewarding.

The fact that Hiyori is hired because she couldn’t give a fig about idol culture, and is essentially planted to humble the cocky members of the boy band, is deeply funny, and I think that should be a designated role in every entourage. Jokes aside, said idol boys are still prickly and downright rude behind their sparkly stage personas, but they’re gradually warming up to Hiyori and remembering to treat her like a person… dare I say, a friend? We’re also getting more glimpses into each of the boys’ backstories and issues, suggesting we’ll soon learn why they are the way they are and maybe explore some of the vulnerabilities behind their standoffish exteriors.

While they haven’t gotten as much focus, the female characters are also still wonderful, although episode 3 introduces a classic instance of the Mean Pretty Girl archetype. She’s petty, jealous, and nasty to Hiyori before ultimately being humiliated and chased off when the boys come to Hiyori’s defence. The juxtaposition between the two girls is a “she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts” sort of deal that I’d find uncomfortable if there weren’t also a variety of other girls and women with different personality types, roles, and relationships to Hiyori, meaning this designated Mean Girl is far from the only other female character besides the heroine. 

It’s worth noting, too, that Hiyori never seems to hold any ill will against this girl, nor does she seem to judge any of the band’s fangirls just because their interests are different to hers. She’s got a heart of gold. She’s possibly also got a foot injury, and I am worried about her, so stay tuned to see how the narrative surrounding that unfolds.

Itsuka looks up in surprise at Nagomu, who is wearing a puffy hat shaped like a chestnut and holding a guitar

Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness

Spoilers: This review discusses plot points from episode 4.

Alex: Deaimon is a treat, though its flavors don’t always blend together. So far, the series is definitely at its strongest when it’s focusing on Itsuka and the juxtaposition she represents: a little girl doing her best to be Mature and Independent while also clinging to the fantasy that her biological dad will turn up to carry her home. She’s still clashing with earnest, airheaded adult Nagomu, but we can see the beginnings of their found-family-hood forming as he does his best to step into that paternal role for her.

Where the series is less strong is when it comes to some of the side characters. Episode 2 focuses on a teenaged employee of the sweets shop who’s secretly posting music videos to the Internet… a wholesome little plotline that takes a sharp turn when she nearly gets doxxed and fans start calling the store looking for her. Bizarrely, this traumatic event is brushed over in favor of a “follow your dreams!” message, mostly spearheaded by Nagomu, who rather speaks over this poor girl when she expresses her fears about pursuing a music career. The whole thing is shrugged off as “your parents approve, and people got bored and have stopped searching for your true identity, so don’t worry about it” by the end of the episode.

Similarly, episode 4 introduces a male character who dresses in feminine clothes and makeup when he gets stressed out. While he’s not mocked or treated as something weird, his story is also breezed over very quickly. I’d have liked to get more of a glimpse into his interior world!

So is Deaimon handling its dips into serious issues well? Yes, but also no, but also yes? As Dee pondered in the premiere review, it remains to be seen how well this series will balance its upbeat tone with the dark themes that its storylines touch on. As I said, Itsuka is still being treated with nuance, but the way that subplot about the potential invasive horrors of Internet fame is breezed away doesn’t make me super confident that Deaimon is ready to tackle everything it might bring up. We’ll just have to see how things evolve: I, for one, am super interested in the dynamic Nagomu will have with his newly arrived ex-girlfriend. 

Junpei on one knee kissing Miyako's hands as they rehearse Swan Lake

Dance Dance Danseur

Content warnings: Depictions of bullying (episode 3) and child abuse (episode 4); a girl with a crush on her cousin.

Dee: D3 (as I’ve been calling it) continues to be a compelling, character-driven narrative exploring both healthy and harmful expressions of masculinity. In episodes 2-3, Junpei struggles to reconcile his passion for ballet with his flawed ideas about what it means to “be a real man” while also juggling a bunch of complicated adolescent feelings about his classmates along the way.

This is not a gentle story. The main characters are messy teenagers, and they can be downright unlikable at times. This includes a bullying arc in the third episode that serves a thematic point, furthering the story’s critique of toxic masculinity, but may be too much for some viewers. That said, the characters are also three-dimensional, their actions understandable if not always laudable, and the narrative understands how to depict harmful behavior without actually promoting it.

D3 has earned my trust in handling its boys’ arcs, but as much as I love Junpei’s take-no-shit female ballet teacher, I’m still concerned about how it’s going to handle its main female character and love interest, Miyako. So far, we know she’s serious about ballet, but it’s been tied so closely to her crush on her cousin Luou (a crush that seems unlikely to go anywhere, but still, why) that she feels more like a plot device than a person at this point. If Miyako can get the same development as Junpei and Luou, D3 could be one of the strongest shows of the season, but it needs a little more time to know for sure.

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