Welcome to the season of rom-coms and gender feels.
The team split up the three-episode reviews between staff volunteers, with one person putting together a short(ish) review on each series. Like we do with our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up. If we didn’t watch a show for at least three episodes, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice bold headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you’re interested in.
Unless specifically noted, we’re only discussing the first three episodes, even if a show has released more than that.
We don’t have the time to keep up with everything, so please let us know about any gems we might be missing in the comments!
Mercedez: This sure is an anime, huh? In the premiere, Alex noted the dissonance between the lush, loving-crafted world of Akebi with… the jarring, record-scratching instances of middle school sexualization, not by the girls, but by the camera, the script, and the source material. I’m afraid to tell you that yes, it’s gotten a lot more… discomforting, if I’m being 1000% honest with you.
At base, this is a sweet show: it’s a study in middle school, a study in those last, tender years of being a full-fledged child child, a look at one girl’s hyperfixation with uniforms and idols and being feminine. It’s a positive look at being a girl, and while it may not resonate with everyone socialized with femininity, it is poignant. That is, until the camera leers and we see wet clothes sticking to children, wet lips, suggestive lip licking, intensely sexual lip gloss application, and get a cheesecake shot of a twelve year old.
Not so sweet anymore, is it?
Akebi, as a show, is complicated and full of the reddest red flags, which is a shame because a Wonder Egg Priority meets Super Cub grounded fiction show about femininity and friendship feels apropos in a time where friendship is hard to come by in physical form. It’s just that it’s so distinctly sexual that you’d have to be unaware to miss the Everything™ going on with how Komichi and her classmates are being framed.
Bad enough that marginalized genders are so often reduced to sex objects: now it’s animated and focused on seventh graders, who are one of the most vulnerable classes of people in any society. It leaves a foul taste in my mouth, which is something I have to contend with as a feminist reviewing this show professionally. I wrestle with it weekly, and still haven’t found a way to voice the intense discomfort welling inside my gut about the Everything™ in a way that feels just right. I hate that, because I like the parts of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform that aren’t sexual, but I have a duty and responsibility to see everything and have a conversation about it.
I can’t shake my discomfort with the deliberate “it’s not sexual” sexual intimacy of the shots of these, once again, children, and honestly, if you can’t either, drop this show like it’s hot and never look back. It’s gone past YKINMKATOK (Your Kink Is Not My Kink and That’s Okay) territory and hinges on being one of the most remarkable anime of the year, and not for a good reason.
Mercedez: Thank god I’m covering this show because whew! Finally, some good food, and y’all? Slow Loop is very, very good, with fading yuri-bait, earnest explorations of grief, and so much seafood you’ll start craving sashimi… or fried fish… or nigiri… or—okay, you get the point, it’s got food and I like it: I really like it, enough that I think Slow Loop is well worth a watch, even if fishing—or in this case fly fishing and its more technical aspects—isn’t your thing.
In the premiere this show was… pretty okay: for me, it was an immediate banger, but my playground is slice of life and girls getting really into specific hobbies. My larger qualm was the yuri-bait: the premiere really hints at these stepsisters being kissing sisters. Thankfully, by episode 4, that’s calmed down, opening the story to a series about grief and coping with loss as a young adult, a growing trend in slice of life series that I like. Slice of life has always been here for conversations about death and grieving, and Slow Loop is no exception, using fly fishing and new family members as a vehicle to talk about growing up fast, understanding death as a child, and surviving a parent.
Honestly, that’s all there is to say about this series: it’s simple, true, but it’s good, enough that there’s something special about it. Your Mileage May Vary, but it’s well worth watching until mid-season. Come for the non-existent plot, stay to watch two stepsisters bond and move through the hardships of being a teenager. I think it’ll be a nice way to spend the first few months of the year.
Alex: Monster Development Department continues to be a zany, oddly delightful comedy about the nitty-gritty of being a villain’s henchman. In concept, it’s very much the Lawful Evil counterpart to the Chaotic Good of Heaven’s Design Team. It pokes fun at corporate culture and affectionately takes apart the sentai and magical girl genres, with the evils of capitalism affecting both “the good guys” and “the bad guys”. The monster dev team is constantly run ragged trying to fit their cool ideas into a reasonable budget and deadline, and the superhero they’re up against has to work fast food shifts to make ends meet. Even beasties and creatures need to find jobs after their time as monster-of-the-week has passed. It’s hell! And it’s very funny, in an “ouch! Too real!” kind of way.
The biggest caveat remains poor Wolf Bete, the big growly wolf-man who was retrofitted into a sexy wolf-girl’s body at the last minute. As Chiaki has discussed with academic rigor, this kind of instantaneous body-switch can be a trans power fantasy… but that doesn’t seem like the case here. Wolf Bete overwhelmingly reads like a trans man whose discomfort in his body is played for laughs or skimmed over entirely. There’s a one-off joke about him not knowing which bathroom to use. Every time he notices his breasts, he goes into despair. A co-monster calls him an “animal boy-girl”. Characters assure him that “diversity in the workplace is important” but no one offers any support for his obvious unhappiness. A co-worker even, essentially, pats him on the back and says “Listen, kiddo, we’ve all got our flaws around here—make the most of what you’ve got!”
While it’s not constant, it is the central joke surrounding Wolf’s character, and it’s disheartening to say the least. Episode 3 introduces a pair of magical girls, one of whom is very masculine/androgynous before transformation, so this show is clearly intent on playing with gender. Whether the results of that playfulness will amount to any kind of social commentary or will just end up being jokes about suddenly having boobs, well. I want to say it will improve, but the treatment of Wolf Bete doesn’t give me a lot of hope, putting a sour aftertaste on an interesting series.
Vrai: Chiaki called it right in her premiere review – this show has absolutely no right to be as good as it is. I feel like I’m living that one Knives Out meme on a weekly basis, between the shockingly good production and moments of real sweetness the show whips out when I’m least expecting it. Which is why it’s a little frustrating that this show also constantly gives me whiplash. The concept of the probably fake “curse” is great as a rom-com setup, and Tachibana and Jinguuji have solid chemistry in the “bickering underpinned by trust” way. So why, Fantasy Knockout, do you insist on going so hard on Jinguuji insisting that he’s always, in all previous circumstances, disgusted by women’s bodies? It’s a joke that forces the show into an unnecessary hard line stance where either Jinguuji is being “fixed” by being attracted to his cute girl friend or it’s proof that Tachibana is still “really” a guy no matter how much she warms up to her new body. And the “we can’t admit we like each other” joke would work just fine without it!
Meanwhile, I am totally down to roll with the fact that part of the stealthy trans wish fulfillment of the show and TSF in general is that Tachibana gets to indulge in the stereotypical social signifiers of femininity: she’s the prettiest, the most desirable, she’s soft and delicate and guys rush to her aid. But she’s also a total gremlin, and her growing joy is so palpable that I’m happy for her. But I wish that the show didn’t feel compelled to throw basically every woman who isn’t Tachibana under the bus, whether it’s the faceless slavering hoards who apparently pushed Jinguuji to relentless misogyny or the fact that the new recurring cast member is a vain exhibitionist who immediately feels threatened by Tachibana’s beauty and popularity (again, funny in isolation; in context…). The show’s also pretty free of fanservice! But also, Tachibana mentions that her new body reminds her of her little sister’s (and thus does nothing for her, sexually speaking…unlike apparently everyone else in this world). And then the show throws in a very sweetly well-intended line about how gender is about whatever makes you feel comfortable.
Like I said. Whiplash. I think I’d pretty strongly recommend it for folks looking for transfemme wish fulfillment, and a good deal more caution for other audiences. But the good outweighs the bad for me, at least right now.
Chiaki: I’m having fun with this series. Perhaps owing to this originating from an isekai novel written before the drudgery of the current boom, Leadale has so far shown Cayna to be a friendly but independent protagonist and the story has—as of yet—not introduced a romantic interest, which feels fresh.
The tone of the series is overall: comfortably slapstick. The characters around Cayna and the heroine’s own obliviousness to being over-powered means we get memorable and funny chemistry between the characters. And yet it also has its moments of emotionality that reminds Cayna that much of the life and people she knew in the past has since gone away.
The spectre of the politics over Cayna being “cured” of her disability to enjoy her new life in another world haunts Leadale’s story as its writing continues to treat Cayna’s past life in terms of how she is living a “better” life now being able to eat food, get drunk and experience other things she was unable to do while bed-bound.
Another criticism I have for Leadale is its fantasy racism against beast people. A feline inn proprietress says not all humans treat beast people kindly in this world, to which Cayna casually responds, “Don’t worry. I’m not actually human, either,” showing off her elf ears. Nevermind the fact she had been human just a few nights before waking up in the game world, it’s a questionable response to say Cayna is exempt from racial hate just because she’s an elf.
Also introduced are Cayna’s “children,” retainers she had created while playing the game as an MMO. Though cute that these 200+ year old leaders of the nation have an overly sweet spot for their beloved mother and a great source of slapstick, the High Priest Skargo has an unhealthy mother complex played for laughs. His doting comes off as kind of creepy given how nonstop he is about wanting to honor his mother.
Chiaki: This is a show I thoroughly wish I could enjoy, but its first two episodes did everything it could to discourage that. By sheer willpower, I stayed on (perhaps foolishly). The good news is, episode 3 finally feels like a marginally consumable piece of media. The CG isn’t noticeably awful, there’s the makings of an actual story and the characters are more than a bunch of cardboard cutouts.
As episode 1 did everything it could to set up Danblf in the before times, episode 2 spends its time setting up Mira, Danblf’s new assumed identity—and telling you almost nothing from the first episode matters. I might be so bold to even suggest: you can probably just skip the first two episodes and go straight to the third if you want to watch a middling fantasy isekai about a frumpy old man RPer in the body of a cute girl.
I’m also generally here for the gender antics, but it almost feels like the show is embarrassed by that entire aspect of the story. I, too, think Pupil’s larger world and story is relatively interesting, but that is in addition to the fact that you have a dude stuck in a girl’s body as the central premise. The anime’s flow feels like it would sooner focus on anything but that if it could get away with it.
Adding to this lackluster report, I have one more downer to add on this already glowing review. Halfway into episode 3, we’re introduced to Flicker, a predatory lesbian. Her immediate reaction to seeing Mira is expressing how much she wants to touch her soft virgin skin. Cool, cool, cooooool.
Chiaki: As action-packed as the first episode was, the show takes a moment to delve into its characters in the second episode, which is a nice way of getting to know the larger cast of Tokyo 24th Ward. The show takes some time to focus on Shirakaba and Mari, who support the RGB boys, which is nice after Mari was so thoroughly damseled in the first episode. It’s also nice to find out Ran, renegade artist and hacker extraordinaire, is an absolute gremlin who eats bread crusts dipped in energy drinks.
Of course, at the end of the day, the RBG boys are the ones who take any real action in the story, so just how much will the characters surrounding them matter?
The show finishes its first three episodes with a second trolley problem and more death. It’s a development that I want to feel more invested in, but it’s also still the 3rd episode and feels a little premature for me to feel any real attachment to the story. I just hope these deaths were not in vain for what’s to come.
Moreover, the third episode ends teasing viewers that there is yet another twist, revealing a “villain”. It’s a lot going on in a show that was already full of themes and concepts established in the first episode, and it remains to be seen if it will all come together.
Perhaps the real trolley problem was the anime we teeter between dropping or keeping on our watch lists along the way.
Dee: At this point there’s not much I can say from a content perspective that resident manga-reader Vrai didn’t already mention in the premiere review. From a production perspective, though… oof. Episode 2 was a mess, barrelling through a sequence of disjointed scenes only made clunkier by severely limited animation. The show fares better during quieter moments when it slows down and focuses on its characters, but the artful aesthetic of the premiere has been lacking and feels less purposeful when it does crop up, leading to a product that’s often stiff and at times cringe-inducing.
The show’s strongest through-line so far is the intimate relationship between Richard and Henry VI, a Shakespearean slashfic dripping with dramatic irony and poignant longing. It would also be mega-creepy if Rose King were sticking to history, but since it isn’t, I’m allowing myself to enjoy their bond through rigorous mental gymnastics regarding how old everyone actually is. It’s still an issue, though, and as with the show’s other major issues—the threats to Richard’s body as a source of (sometimes cheap) drama; depicting practically every woman as a conniving villain—I wouldn’t blame anybody who tapped out because of it.
Their relationship is also a perfect encapsulation of the way the series rides the line between trashy melodrama and sincere character study, grounding its cast’s feelings and motivations even as they monologue and chortle and argue with their inner demons personified as a sneering Jeanne d’Arc. Put simply, Rose King continues to be exactly as compelling and problematic as Vrai promised. I’m not sure I’d recommend it and I emphatically wish the production had more resources (or at least a director better-suited to its style), but I’m still engaged enough to stick around and see how Richard’s tragedy plays out.
Caitlin: When the second episode of My Dress-Up Darling aired, it was pandemonium! People who watch fan service anime were complaining about thin characterization and too much focus on Marin’s titty, while people who tend to avoid fan service anime were talking about how they adored and related to Marin! Cats chasing dogs! Mass hysteria! The world turned topsy-turvy! Nobody could agree if Marin was a dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl who existed mainly to help Gojo develop a functioning social life, or if she was a developing character who showed signs of her own interiority and motivations; if it was realistic or not that she was so excited about cosplaying a porn game; or if her running around Gojo’s room in a swimsuit was a thin excuse for fan service or made narrative sense.
Then the third episode aired and everyone agreed that it was really good, so things calmed down.
Me? I’ve been into it pretty much from the start, including pretty much the whole of the second episode. Marin is adorable and pretty much lines up with loads of real people I’ve met through cosplay, including her cavalier attitude toward displaying her body and her being too dense to notice Gojo’s shyness. The two are settling into a comfortable dynamic, bolstered by incredibly strong character writing and animation, and it’s a joy to watch them interact as their relationship develops and they work side-by-side on Marin’s cosplay.
There is, however, the issue of the fan service. Every time Marin’s breasts jiggle, every time there’s a detailed shot of her underwear, I whisper to myself, “They’re in college.” This is my own way of justifying it, substituting problematic canon with something that suits me better but otherwise has little effect on the narrative. But there’s no arguing around the fact that they’re first years in high school, no room for interpretation or discussion that can change that this girl running around in her skivvies is no more than 15 years old. The only question is whether or not you can look past that.
Alex: Three episodes in is the halfway point of this series, and at this stage it’s yielding some intriguing stuff. It quickly becomes a tense thriller about a group of young people trying to survive in the dark and with dwindling oxygen, so whoof. Heed that “children in peril” content warning if that’s something that affects you, because it only gets more tense the further things progress. They’re plucky kids, though, and it seems like the narrative is about celebrating their courage rather than making them suffer.
Something I didn’t flag in the premiere review is the fact that Orbital Children has not one but two disabled heroes: having been born on the moon and raised in low- or zero-gravity, Touya and Konoha have bodies adjusted to different forms of movement, and the series highlights how this makes their experience different to the abilities of their co-stars from Earth. Touya uses a wheelchair when he gets fatigued, Konoha’s friendly robot is effectively a respirator system, and both undergo regular physical therapy. Not to mention the implant in their brains that allowed them to survive infancy on the moon… but which may now be slowly killing them, due to design flaws from a tech company that has since gone under.
This tech has allowed these kids to grow up and live, but they’re caught up in human error and human follies. Take out the rogue AI that helped design the implants, and here lies a question about how intertwining life-saving medical science with capitalistic greed can leave vulnerable people in the lurch. I would be fascinated to hear thoughts from disabled writers about how the series depicts and explores this, both the more day-to-day representation of disability and the philosophical sci-fi element that is the brain implant (and its relationship to the story’s big questions about AI). As always, we’re open for submissions, and the bigger the range of perspectives the better.
Vrai: Thank you, DEEN, for this delicious food. While it might not have the dazzling animation of My Dress-Up Darling, SasaMiya is easily holding its own in this season of rom-coms. A lot of that is down to the dynamite visual direction, which makes the characters’ world warm and inviting. Sunlight streams in through a window to convey a moment of quiet intimacy; bubbles and flowers scatter the screen to convey the butterflies of connecting with your crush.
Unlike the source material, which started out primarily as a four-panel strip affectionately ribbing BL and its fandom, the anime leans heavily into the character-based romance that grew out of those initial gags. It’s a smart, subtle take on the material that doesn’t discard the jokes but weaves them through strong visual storytelling with a focus on character body language. It has a real gift for capturing the quiet realness of its leads, whether it’s Sasaki struggling to keep a respectful distance when Miyano remains oblivious to his (pretty direct) flirtation or Miyano displacing anxieties about his own queerness into the safety of fictional romance (and his slightly creepy hobby of shipping his classmates together).
As a comedy it’s more “knowing chuckle” than “laugh out loud” levels of funny, and the romance is the slowest of burns, but every episode continues to be better than the last. If you’ve got any interest in character study anime or queer romance, I really can’t recommend it enough.
Dee: Bisco’s first three episodes are mostly about establishing the premise: a buddy road trip quest to find a cure for a plague, with Milo serving as the level-headed brain and Bisco the hot-headed muscle. They have a solid give-and-take that has a lot of promise for both future conflict and collaboration. And, while I don’t expect it to go anywhere in-canon, Milo spends enough time blushing at Bisco that I wouldn’t blame anyone for shipping them along their journey.
Bisco is the epitome of the Anime Redheaded Lad, blustery but caring, so your mileage will vary on whether that makes him abrasive or endearing. He also comes with a sprinkling of casual sexism and misguided chivalry, but it’s a light enough touch that it feels more like a single character’s prejudice than a narrative one. The rest of the cast (including the women) have mostly existed as obstacles or motivations at this point, but their personalities are distinct and there’s room for them to grow (Tirol in particular is a trash-disaster I very much hope we get to hang out with more).
The optimal word in our Feminist Potential category is “potential,” and there was plenty baked into Bisco‘s dystopic premise. At this point it hasn’t really tapped into that potential, but it still remains an entertaining romp with minimal caveats thanks to confidently absurd world-building, tight plotting, and engaging co-protagonists. I wouldn’t call it the next Akudama Drive, but if you’re looking for a fun action series with a dash of social commentary, Bisco could be right up your alley.