We’ve battled through the desert of the summer season to find out what shows have beat the heat.
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.
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!
Meru: Would it come as a surprise if I told you that Ayumu has basically stayed the course? It’s gender essentialism in a series, coupled with a dollop of blandness and the most basic characters I’ve ever endured. And it’s not that the show doesn’t look okay enough: in fact, the OP features a bit of Caramelldansen at a point, in terms of the dance itself, and yeah, I liked that. (Wait, does that count as looking nice though? Mmm, whatever.) Rather, it’s that When Will Ayumu Make His Move? doesn’t have a lick of innovation, and instead, continues to play straight the most played-out tropes. Basically, Urushi remains a capital-g Girl and Ayumu remains a capital-b Boy with each slotting into their very gendered boxes.
It’s this socially acceptable blandness that really got me, because there’s something mildly insidious about a heterosexual love story that keeps falling into these very ‘00s-feeling tropes. Call me a worrywart, or even way too critical, but I find it very discomforting to see “perform gender properly” packaged in such a benign, unassuming show. It’s gross, especially when you think back to episode one’s strong reinforcement of Urushi as a simpering, blushing, constantly flustered maiden and Ayumu as her only proper love interest, with a dollop of possessiveness to boot. Yet a lot of the concerns from Episode 1 fade into predictable “will they, won’t they” territory as the story finds its legs and becomes what it’ll probably be for the remainder of this cour.
Bland as it is, When Will Ayumu Make His Move? feels like watching the inevitable in slow motion: I know he’s going to make his move, that he’ll get his prize—and I do mean prize literally because that’s just the vibe in this weirdly bland game of non-sexual crush chicken—and then… and then something. This show wouldn’t know how to foreshadow and keep me interested even if it had a more sizable budget and better source material. It’s just so… unexciting.
That all said, this show is definitely in solid red flag territory as of episode 3, which includes forcing Urushi on a date. Okay, so yeah, she gives into it: so what? It’s creepy and forces her into this romance that I’m supposed to find charming, but instead, find numbingly alarming. Worse, Urushi has fun after being effectively convinced and coerced onto a date, which doubles down on the message that she doesn’t really matter outside of being an object of affection, which… sure is something, isn’t it?
Maybe I’ll stick around long enough to find out what that “something” is after the umpteenth time Ayumu makes the slightest of moves to see what that ultimate move will be in this very discomforting romance that shields itself by being disarmingly “just okay.” Or maybe I won’t continue with this series, since episode 3 kind of takes away the “make his move” aspect of the title, leaving me wondering what else can I “anticipate” with a show that basically feels like it’s already said and done.
Alex: There are parts of this I really dig: the visuals and color palette do some great work to establish the lonely, otherworldly atmosphere of the city at night, Nazuna can be a real dork in a way I find endearing, and there are occasionally some neat jokes. For example, Nazuna has a “cell phone” that is actually an impractical brick from the ‘90s. This would be pretty funny… if it didn’t unfortunately work to highlight the age gap between our nebulously immortal vampire and our fourteen-year-old protagonist.
Age-gap romances between human teens and supernatural beings are nothing new. In the same way, “blood-drinking equals sexual activity” is not this show’s idea; in fact in vampire media it’s pretty par for the course. But it’s still worth critiquing the way these elements are linked together here, and they’re still the biggest aspects of Call of the Night that leave a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps mercifully, we haven’t yet had a scene that zooms in on all the viscous, intimate details of a vampire bite. But we have had Yamori calling Nazuna a slut for drinking other people’s blood, and her dropping all sorts of flirty lines and innuendos as well as calling him a perv for walking around with his neck exposed.
All these “gags” are in service of building sexual tension between this middle school boy and adult (possibly ancient?) woman. There’s an argument to be made that Nazuna is meant to be an immortal teenager and thus the gulf between them isn’t so noteworthy, but scenes of her confidently chugging beer, calling him a “youngster,” and the aforementioned digs at her misunderstanding of modern tech all combine to code her as much older than him. Double standards would ask us to believe this is cool wish-fulfillment rather than creepy.
Like I said, there are likable aspects, and Nazuna and Yamori even have some nice dialogue sometimes. But I can’t help but feel that Call of the Night is going to lean harder into these uncomfortable elements, rather than away from them, the further it goes along. A sloppy, blood-licky kiss at the end of Episode 3 seems to cement this.
The fanservice we flagged in the premiere has let up considerably, though there’s still the occasional shot that slices and dices the female characters’ bodies. And I say characters, plural, because Episode 3 brings in a childhood friend of Yamori’s in a way that whiffs of a love triangle. All this combined, and I’m ready to get out the garlic and ward off this particular vampire venture.
Chiaki: Teppen makes a bold statement coming onto the scene promising to make you laugh—but if it’s going to be so bold to promise that, it better be hilarious. Unfortunately, it isn’t. That is to say, it’s not that the show is devoid of humor, but its standup routines aren’t quite the focus of the show.
There are things Teppen does well, and it should be recognized for that. Hidden in a show that seems to just be about fifteen oddball girls trying to make you laugh, there’s a surprisingly heartwarming story of individual girls doing their best while confronting the worst of the Japanese mediascape. While the second episode never aired due to the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (the showrunners apparently cited the second episode was about the girls trying to stop an assassination), the third and fourth episodes touch on sexist casting decisions, celebrity influencers, and even cryptocurrency.
The series still likely doesn’t have time to meaningfully develop all fifteen of its main cast, but the episodes we’ve seen so far have heart and take a moment to delve into some real issues while delivering a few chuckles along the way. So yes, I laughed when the show did a bit lamenting that comedy “game shows,” once a violent source of physical and sexist comedy, have largely been sanitized by having the girls play “punishment games” where they get pampered as a way to sell the sponsors’ products.
But that ain’t manzai, and this is a show about manzai. Watching Teppen!!! feels like tuning into an episode of K-On!, but all the girls do is hang out and drink tea while talking about music instead of actually playing any mu—wait a second.
…Anyway, I just wish this show would commit to something. Either be a critique of society and a heartwarming series of stories about girls trying to make it in entertainment, or be non-stop funny. Right now, it hasn’t quite settled on either.
Content warning: Sexual assault.
Spoilers: Discussion of episode 4
Chiaki: Putting it front and center, episode three features a graphic flashback to sexual abuse. So think twice if that’s a dealbreaker. The show otherwise sticks to sword-clashing violence.
This is about what I would expect from an anime romanticizing the twilight years of the shogunate in Japan. As noted in the premiere review, Bakumatsu Bad Boys is a flashy and enjoyable take on the infamous Shinsengumi. The technicolor cast of misfits are easy enough to get and entertaining enough to like, so I’ve been having fun with it.
So far, the show has focused on three of the lead characters, giving their basic spiel while the newly reformed Shinsengumi figures out their rhythm. While Kondo nee Ichibanboshi is driven by revenge, Hijikata’s Sakuya has a shadowy past he’s trying to escape. The third episode introduces Akira, the crossdressing woman—and that is where the content warning comes into play.
Akira’s backstory, while inspiring on some level of girlboss, is ultimately concerning as the show seems to couch her character motivation in past trauma. On top of the regular sexism Akira must overcome in terms of “girls can’t swordfight,” she seems driven to cut down awful men because she was once cornered and raped by a gang of men. While I was initially intrigued by Akira potentially having some trans vibes, it seems firmly rooted that she is simply taking on the role of Okita Souji to prove “girls can be just as good at waving a sword around as boys.”
Meanwhile Katsura Kogoro comes onto the scene crossdressing as a sword-wielding geisha, and, as we hit episode four, we’re assured that’s his schtick. He serves as a counterpoint to Akira — the crossdressing samurai vs the crossdressing geisha assassin. I’d have kept it simple if he were just another effeminate crossdressing queer-coded villain, but Katsura goes out of his way to be the pot who calls the kettle black by telling Akira she looks better as a woman than a samurai, adding a nice shot of sexism to top this show off on the fourth episode.
Alex: Phantom of the Idol is fluffy and air-light; as incorporeal as its female lead. I get the sense I’m really not supposed to think too hard about any of the potential consent issues and power imbalances the supernatural setup presents, but oops, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
The first worry is how much power Niyoda, our living body, holds, and how he holds it over the ghostly Asahi. At the end of Episode 2 when Asahi starts to “move on” and ascend from this mortal plane, Niyoda manipulates her into sticking around so he can reap the career benefits. A voiceover kicks in and announces that he’s a dirtbag for this. So, great, the show is self-aware. The question is: what is the narrative going to do with this dirtbagginess now it’s been confirmed by the framing device?
Is Niyoda going to learn a valuable lesson? Is the comedy going to keep relying on his dirtbagginess? I ask these questions not because I’m fretting about the writers’ moral compass, but because I’m curious about the vibe the show is going for. In Episode 3, Asahi steals Niyoda’s body to eat a giant parfait—a definite violation of Niyoda’s boundaries, also played for comedy. So maybe, then, this is going to be a show about these two screwing each other over for laughs. I can’t help but feel like the tummy-ache she caused isn’t quite comparable to the cosmic consequences of him tricking her into staying on Earth, but there’s… a degree of mutual destruction and greed happening here, at least?
Again, this is all delivered through a goofy tone, so I feel like I’m not meant to be scrutinizing these events, which unfortunately means I’m peering at them even harder. Supernatural body-sharing opens the door to all sorts of interesting dynamics, and it’s funny to note how Phantom of the Idol turns into a horror premise with only a few tweaks.
At this early stage, the series wants us to laugh at the shenanigans that occur when these characters betray and mess with each other. It isn’t a bad setup, but I worry that the show overall will end up with a weird, uncomfortable relationship to bodily autonomy and boundaries if it keeps using these casual manipulations and ghostly possessions as the butt of its jokes. I think the end result will depend on how their relationship develops and what the story wants to do with it, for which we’ll have to watch this space.
Content considerations: Brief fatphobia; workplace sexism/harassment.
Dee: Beneath Chimomo’s squishy mascots and fish-out-of-water premise runs a central joke: “the demons want to turn Earth into a second Hell, but the Earth is already full of a million tiny hells.” This gives the series opportunities for social commentary, with somewhat mixed results.
“Job Application Hell” pokes fun at the formulaic nature of job interviews and notes the subtle prejudices inherent in application forms (“What do age and gender have to do with applying for a job?” Hell-san wonders to a baffled young Mei). “Weight Gain Hell” is just an insensitive (albeit very brief) fat joke. “Shitty Boss Hell” sympathizes with Mutsumi’s frustration over her boss’s invasive comments about her appearance and love life, but ultimately decides he shouldn’t get thrown into Hell because he’s also nice to a baby and picks up litter. “Humans are too complex for absolute judgments” is a fair point, but the complete lack of consequences for his inappropriate behavior doesn’t sit well either.
When it’s not commenting on modern society at-large, Chimimo depicts the daily-life shenanigans of the Onigami sisters and their demon tenant, fleshing out the cast and their relationships. This also helps keep the series endearing even when it stumbles with its social commentary. I have a fondness for lady-led comedies that allow its cast to run the gamut of emotions, and Chimimo lets the Onigamis (especially Hazuki) be confident, competent, angry, selfish, gluttonous, cute, thoughtful, and more.
Despite its missteps, Chimimo is overall a fun series in a thin season. Each episode is split into two sketches, so you can treat it as full-length or shorts depending on your attention span. I don’t know if it’ll be one I remember when it’s over, but I’m enjoying it (and its infectiously upbeat opening theme) while it’s here.
Spoilers: Vague discussion of Episodes 4-5.
Dee: I volunteered to try discussing Yurei Deco in a few paragraphs. RIP Me. While it’s following the rule of “First, Be Entertaining,” with bright designs, energetic child protagonists, and a snappily paced adventure/mystery plot, it’s also juggling a lot of Big Ideas about social media, the surveillance state, undocumented civilians, and the perception of truth. You can’t fault it for lack of ambition, at least.
The series has so far taken a fairly nuanced stance on modern media. In one episode, it’s commenting on the monetization of leisure (“likes” as currency); in the next, it’s sympathetic to a male-assigned person who finds joy in presenting as a cute female avatar; in the next, it’s using cryptids to muse on the line between harmful and benign fiction and point out that misinformation was just as common (if not as easily spread) pre-Internet as it is now. At this point it’s asking questions without any clear answers, but with topics this layered I frankly prefer that to a didactic approach.
My biggest concerns are with the show’s handling of marginalization and oppression: the undocumented, socially invisible civilians at the heart of its tale (called “ghosts”); its depiction of Black characters; and the difference between state censorship and community moderation. It’s not really dug into these characters or topics yet, but it feels like it’ll have to eventually. Time will tell how it handles them.
On a personal level, I like Yurei Deco a lot. The cast is fun (and includes two gender-nonconforming main characters in the femme-leaning Finn and agender Hack), the story is compelling, and I appreciate that it tries to engage its audience in discussion rather than lecture at them. Each week I look forward to hanging out with the Yurei Detective Club and seeing where the series goes. But would I recommend it to others? Ask me again after the finale.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of Episode 4.
Caitlin: So apparently, Lycoris Recoil has been endorsed by Kojima Hideo, the man behind the Metal Gear Solid series and Death Stranding himself. In feminist terms, that information isn’t worth much—Kojima has a pretty checkered history when it comes to depicting women—but isn’t that a fun little factoid?
Unlike Kojima, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Lycoris Recoil. It is, without a doubt, a fun series. The visuals and script are both sharp: well-staged and witty, respectively. Takina and Chisato have settled into a solid buddy-cop dynamic, with strong chemistry and replete with queer subtext to the point that there is very little heterosexual explanation for their relationship. The cafe has a comfortable, cozy atmosphere, with after-hours board game nights for regulars. In terms of sheer entertainment factor, Lycoris Recoil is undoubtedly among the top-ranked for this season.
There’s a tonal dissonance that it just can’t seem to resolve. There’s something amiss about a shadowy agency that turns orphaned little girls into trained child assassins responsible for maintaining order, and the script seems aware of that. However, I’m not sure how willing it will ultimately be to reckon with the moral implications of its premise. As of Episode 3, the main issue seems to be that the agents are snotty and elitist toward the two heroines.
And while I appreciate that the show is willing to depict girls with unconventional appearances and hairstyles, I can’t help but notice those are mostly mean girls and the Chief, who looks like Anime Tilda Swinton with a bowl cut, while Chisato and Takina are standard anime-pretty. The show clearly wants to build a dark, morally ambiguous setting, but might be settling into the more relaxed vibe of “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things,” except the cute things include extrajudicial killings.
Oh, and Episode 4 is entirely about Takina’s choice of underwear. Let the girl wear her damn boxers. They’re comfy and easy to wear!
Caitlin: There’s not getting around this: Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer is ugly. Like, remarkably so. Not the ugliest anime ever made, but it does not even begin to approach average. A ton of scenes are practically monochromatic, not in a way that’s effective or impressionistic but rather with an ugly brown-orange shade that looks like the animators were basing their color palette on the baby food aisle at the grocery store. The motion is stiff, the action dull, and the monsters look like lumps of nothing that lumber around, without ever looking cool or intimidating.
The story’s themes themselves are strong. If you’re familiar with Mizukami Satoshi’s work, you’ll be aware of the space he likes to write in. The characters may not be kind or likable, but their justifiable anger comes from a place of trauma, and the story emphasizes the importance of healing while also being honest about how forgiveness is not always something that comes easily, even when the subject of your anger has changed.
While I’ve never read the original manga, my understanding was that it had a) a lot of panty jokes, and b) pacing more akin to a typical battle shounen. Knowing those things explains a lot about this adaptation, now that a more mature Mizukami is helming the scripts. The panty jokes aren’t fully cut out, but they’re brief and never actually show anything. The writing is more economical and pared down from the manga version, but at times that leads to big character moments feeling unearned, and the direction definitely isn’t up to scaffolding the script using visual storytelling.
Meru: Tokyo Mew Mew New has so far stayed the course from its dazzling premiere, albeit with some significant changes to the characters’ ages, tweaks on the foundation of how the team gets together, and the initial dynamic of the team overall. It’s still in keeping with TMM’s turn-of-the-millennium origins, which is to say that the show remains very pro-environment, pro-animal, and also has a good dose of ‘00s Girl Power that still feels genuine in 2022. It’s a refreshing blend of seeing the GOATs of ‘00s magical girls back in matching outfits, fresh animation, and with an entire rebranding, and it just feels great.
As Vrai noted, I have Very Big Feels about this reboot. It feels like the beginning of an era, a revival of one of my favorite series. Yet I’m not willing to be obscured by nostalgia: TMM New has a long way to go to untangle some of its more capital-B Bad aspects, namely Aoyama’s possessiveness and the general way that Ichigo gets tossed about between numerous potential love interests. Unfortunately, the uncomfortable thigh shots in the transformation sequences are here to stay, though they’re truncated for the sake of time now that each Mew member has been introduced. While I’d like to say it won’t get any more leery than that, I do remember instances of nudity in the manga, though it’s not necessarily framed in a sexualized way there. I don’t think we’ll need to worry about it in this cour either way, but it’s something to keep in mind if you stick with the show.
Still, I do believe that TMM New can overcome this. This new reboot really does have the power to be a really great feminist-minded show if it sticks the landing. Perhaps bringing it into the 2020s with a bit more modernity to Ichigo’s story and the girls’ individual arcs will be just what it needs to avoid its previous pitfalls. It’s got the foundation to be a really dynamic, powerful series about female friendships and protecting the planet: it just has to continue to iterate on the source, which is truly the delight of revisiting this franchise.