We’ve got almost too many great shows to pick from, whether it’s medical detectives or superheroines.
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 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!
“Staying the Course” Digest
We’re still enjoying and watching these shows and would recommend them to readers (barring any caveats or content warnings mentioned in the premiere review). However, they’re not doing anything dramatically different in terms of themes, characters, etc., so there isn’t anything new to write about them. Please check out the premiere review if you want to know more about them:
- The Apothecary Diaries
- Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is significantly further along than the other Fall shows (8 episodes versus 4), which makes it difficult to cover succinctly in a digest. We have added it to this list based on where it was as of episode 3. We will discuss later episodes in our midseason podcast.
- I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness
- My Daughter Left the Nest and Returned an S-Rank Adventurer
- Stardust Telepath
- The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons (note: the subtitling issues mentioned in the premiere review have been corrected)
Content warnings: Sexual violence against minors (played for laughs), slight fanservice, ableism (condemned by the text), child abuse.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 4.
Toni: Full disclosure: I liked 100 Girlfriends from the premiere. I thought its animation was stunning, its madcap satire of harem tropes was hilarious, and Rentaro was a compelling protagonist in the sense that he’s simply a thoughtful, kind person. But episode 3 changed my perspective fundamentally on what this show is capable of—and it all comes from Shizuka’s arc.
While it is likely Shizuka was intended to be merely disabled-coded, for the purposes of the show she is a nonverbal character—and the show completely respects it. In fact, from my limited experience as an autistic disabled person who works with many disabled students but is not nonverbal, Shizuka has one of the most compelling narrative arcs for a disabled character I’ve ever seen.
The expectation from society that she force herself to speak is framed as what it is—ableist abuse—and Rentaro immediately adjusts to her chosen mode of communication, which is speaking through excerpts she points to from her favorite novel. The flashbacks to her past of abuse and mistreatment, while certainly disturbing, are neither exploitative nor unrealistic. The climax of the episode hinges not on her being “fixed,” or fundamentally changing for Rentaro, but on the power of assistive technology to create deeper intimacy. It is an unambiguously disability-affirming arc, comparable to the ending of Akiba Maid War.
What makes her arc even better is that her disability is not what defines her inner life. The show has a strong ear for creating well-written interiority for its female cast, which pays off in spades as the show centers the girls’ relationships with each other as much as their relationships with Rentaro. The fourth episode is particularly compelling in this regard, as the girls confront the ways that monogamy culture’s ideas of competition and puritanical values pit them against each other and do a number on their self esteem, and they work through that together.
Now, of course, there are issues. Most notable is the comic relief antagonist, the lecherous hag vice principal of their school. She is drawn not dissimilarly to the hag monsters from Wonder Egg Priority and sexually assaults the male students regularly. This has potential to play into misogynistic and ageist fear of older women’s sexuality, and it’s frustrating to see sexual assault played for laughs. And, of course, this show is horny, as one might expect from a harem show.
However, this antagonist is a bit character with almost no screentime, and the horniness of the show never feels exploitative or mean-spirited—and, other than the scenes with the aforementioned predator, is always consensual and reflecting the mindset of the characters. (I have to give a special shoutout here to Hakari, whose horny, messy, and embarrassingly relatable inner monologue is an endless source of humor.)
I suppose what I’m saying is: 100 Girlfriends is the show I look forward to most each week. It’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry (on multiple occasions), and it’s made me cheer for its (in my mind) fantastic disability representation. Even if you’re not a harem anime fan, this is worth checking out.
Chiaki: MF Ghost’s first three episodes deliver what fans likely wish to see from Shigeno Shuichi: that is, eurobeat-fueled, rubber-burning racing. Tomohito Naka is in his element having directed the Initial D movies, so he’s no stranger to what made the franchise so popular in the first place. Having read the manga, I appreciate the technical savvy MF Ghost implements in outlining exactly why Kanata’s driving is impressive and bringing it to life on the screen. Kanata slamming on the brakes, throwing the car’s shift knob and screeching around a 90-degree corner in pea-soup fog makes me want to get in my own Subaru and blast the latest Odyssey Eurobeat track and do a time trial through Grizzly Peak. (I promise I’m not actually doing this.)
Yet the show is, at the end of the day, still something written by Shigeno Shuichi, and the guy was never too good at writing compelling human drama. Kanata’s character setting is strong enough. Kid wants to find his dad, easy enough to get. The central “love story” for MF Ghost, however, is lacking and somewhat forced as Ren simply has decided she is in love with Kanata and wishes to date him despite seemingly not knowing a single thing about him.
Add to that the fact she is 17 years old and working as a race queen, it’s uncomfortable that the show regularly emphasizes her outfit, which Cy described as: “just wings on an Old Navy sports bra with a pair of Fruit of the Loom undies trying their damndest to convince viewers that they’re shorts.” In addition to her sexualized outfit, Kanata’s new friend and fellow racer Aiba has explicit feelings for Ren and will not shut up about it. He is 24. Chalk that up to ignorance, perhaps, but I do warn that Ren being underaged will continue to be an issue in this story.
It’s not a big secret, but I’ve been hemming and hawing about this series ever since its announcement for well over a year, so I’m going to say it here early on before people get hit with it mid-season: MF Ghost has a dude who loves 17-year-olds, that’s his schtick. Going beyond the three-episodes, or even the episodes currently aired, I’m going to guess around episode 6-8, you’ll be introduced to Sawatari Kouki. His whole thing as a 21-year-old racing prodigy is dating 17-year-old girls and dumping them as soon as they turn 18.
I dropped the manga around there. I won’t stop you from watching the show; I’m just giving you a healthy heads-up on what’s coming down the pipeline.
Content considerations: Depictions of violence, poverty, and illness; an extended bathing scene in episode 3 (everyone is covered by steam and it’s not sexualized per se, but the “camera” does linger at times).
Dee: Tearmoon Empire’s premiere kind of tricks you into thinking it’s a drama about a selfish princess learning the error of her ways and trying to become a better person. No no, dear AniFam. This is a comedy about a gremlin princess fleeing execution and bumbling her way into making friends and bettering the empire.
That’s not to say the series is pure fluff. The empire’s injustices create an undercurrent of tension and encroaching darkness, and Tearmoon Empire is perfectly capable of hitting those serious beats. But man, this show really shines as a comedy. From the anthropomorphized guillotine that chases Mia in her nightmares to the Arrested Development-like narrator who’s quick to call out Mia’s self-centered motivations, this is a clever and creative adaptation that walks a tightrope between satirical bite and emotional sincerity.
So far, the supporting cast largely exists to play straight-man to Mia’s clown, although her airheaded servant Anne has her goofball moments too. Mia carries the series, though, and she’s exactly my kind of trash girl: short-sighted and petty but without any real malice, and still capable of spontaneous kindness and gratitude. In short, she is endearingly, imperfectly human. Vive la révolution and all, but… I can’t help it. I’m rooting for her. I hope others will, too.
Spoilers: Contains discussion of episode 4.
Caitlin: A few more episodes in, and Paradox LIVE: The Animation has revealed its true nature: a melodrama where every character has ~trauma~ that they flash back to every time they use the Phantometal. Personally, I don’t think having a few cool flashing lights and holograms flying by onstage during your concert is worth constantly reliving your worst days, but maybe that’s just me!
Naturally, this, along with the promise of a huge cash prize, means a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s so overwrought that it’s easy to forget that even if it seems mild compared to, say, your twin brother having a terminal illness that you’re hoping to cure using your winnings, emotional abuse is still abuse, and I actually have to respect Paradox LIVE’s recognition of this fact. Allen watching his parents burn all his hiphop records because they’re a distraction from becoming the world-famous classical violinist they want him to be doesn’t seem like much within the scope of the narrative, but having your parents dismiss your passion and destroy your possessions is a real thing that happens and is traumatic. Hajun may come across as a poor little rich boy, but being abandoned when your adopted parents have a biological child is pretty terrible, actually.
And then, there’s Anne. Watching this series while I’m in the midst of a Fushigi Yugi reread continues to draw out a lot of contrasts and show just how far trans representation has come in anime. Anne isn’t trans because they’re traumatized or in denial of their masculinity or anything. Rather, their trauma stems from their mother denying their identity and forcing them into a more masculine presentation. Now that they’re an adult on their own, they seem to be nothing short of euphoric in their feminine presentation, and it’s nice to see them living their truth.
Spoilers: Contains discussion of episode 4.
Alex: The title of this one tells no lies: the boss is still goofy, and the show overall remains beautifully silly and sweet. The most exciting thing to note for our purposes here is the casual introduction of an explicitly queer character to the main cast. Out for after-work drinks in Episode 4, the conversation turns to romance, and someone asks the new employee Kinjo what his “type” is. Easy as blinking, he replies that he doesn’t really have a specific kind of partner in mind: “As long as they’re cute on the inside, I can go for older or younger, male or female.”
There’s a quick aside where protagonist Momose thinks “He just said something mind-blowing like it was nothing!” but otherwise there’s no comment on this chilled-out admission of bisexuality. It’s not treated with shock or scandal, nor is it presented as a joke (the joke of the scene, as always, is that the boss is a goofy disaster of a man). Kinjo is one of the four main characters on all the promo material, too, so it’s not as if he’s a random person we’re never going to see again.
Maybe it doesn’t sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nice, especially given Toni’s initial concern that this was going to be an endless parade of M/M ship-teasing with no actual queer payoff. I can’t and won’t make any promises about this turning into a full-fledged romance between our anxious hero and his adorable boss, but hey, the narrative has taken the time to textually include men who like other men in its world, and that’s cool. In a similar vein, you’re probably not going to find deep critiques of the more systemic issues with corporate culture here, but the show is still a soothing balm and a fluffy escapist fantasy for anyone who’s ever been stuck in a stressful job.
Oh, and also, most important update: now the goofy boss has a cute pet kitten!
Content warnings: Gaslighting, child kidnapping, child abuse, violence, adoption/foster care system, and bullying.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 5.
Toni: Migi&Dali is a difficult show to write about because it is simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It is the blackest of comedies, with much of the humor hinging on characters deceiving each other in ever increasingly devastating ways. It is deeply unsettling, with many of the characters aside from the exceedingly sweet (but also wildly clueless and helpless) parents seeming to have something profoundly wrong with them. It is also an, at times, too-real story about the struggle to survive and be loved in systems built on scarcity.
Watching Migi&Dali often reminded me of my years performing improvised comedy, in which we would often talk about “The Game,” or the strange thing about a scene that you are playing with and from which you derive the humor. Part of The Game is that it always escalates up to and past the point of absurdity; similarly, the experience of watching Migi&Dali is to watch the main protagonists’ absolutely bizarre and often cruel schemes spiral to the point where you think they’re about to lose control, and somehow they don’t. As The Game ratchets up, so does the dissonance between how Migi and Dali perceive their actions and the people around them—sometimes successfully fooling them, sometimes making themselves look utterly bizarre. Your enjoyment of the show will largely hinge on whether you enjoy this kind of secondhand embarrassment-laden comedy.
In terms of its engagement with social justice themes, it’s hard to really pin down what this show is trying to say, per se. It seems much more interested in ambiguously exploring the psychic space of victims of organized abandonment than it is in making explicit statements about said abandonment. However, I think that’s for the best.
Worth noting: I wrote this review before episode 5 aired, which was a significant shift in tone and content for the show. The depictions of kidnapping and general sexualized violence against children in that episode, including Migi’s kidnappers strip searching him and then forcing him to pretend to be a baby, may turn off some viewers. I did not personally find it funny—more disturbing—but, as always with this show, much of the humor hinges on being unsure if you’re allowed to or even supposed to laugh.
Caitlin: There is, sadly, not a whole ton to report about Firefighter Daigo. The first episode left me with a lot of questions about the role of Yuki, the sole female candidate for the rescue squad who only had one or two speaking lines. What would her role in the series be compared to the two male characters who are more prominently featured? The Love Interest? The Girl with Something to Prove? Or a fellow member of the squad not defined by gender?
Turns out, it’s “Girl with Something to Prove,” but in the most frustrating way possible. Yuki is well aware of how her genetics make certain things harder for her, and works hard to make up for it. Her efforts seem to be bearing fruit, as she does well during the training. She has good instincts and steady nerves, in addition to the physical strength that she has put countless hours of work toward obtaining. I’ve grown up with countless narratives like this: the hypercompetent female candidate who must work several times as hard to be seen as equal to her male colleagues. In the end, it always pays off, right? Right??
Nope. Not here. Turns out, societal limitations are much harder to overcome than personal and physical ones, and Yuki doesn’t end up being recruited to the rescue squad, despite passing training with flying colors and surpassing Shun, who does get a position. It’s a huge bummer, and one that forces the question: is it better to depict things in a realistic way, or in an aspirational way? The answer is, of course, “Neither, because each one has its own merits depending on the kind of story they’re trying to tell.”
As I noted in the premiere guide, female firefighters in Japan struggle to be taken seriously and even to get the most basic of facilities, like restrooms in fire stations. Yuki’s frustration and rage is far closer to what her real-life counterparts experience than any kind of pat inspiration about how if you try hard and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. I guess we’ll just have to sit back and see how her story plays out.
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 4.
Alex: In the premiere, Our Dating Story provided a refreshingly frank discussion of adolescent sexuality and touched on the sexual pressures teenage girls might face when entering relationships. Has that intriguing thread followed through into subsequent episodes? Well, sort of, but not really.
Engagements with Runa’s complicated relationship with sex have been largely watered down to a pattern of “Kashima does something nice, Runa is surprised and delighted because All Those Other Boys never treated her so well.” Which isn’t to say this is wholly bad—sometimes it’s even quite cute, like when Kashima becomes an impromptu bubble tea expert so he can find the perfect café, and Runa’s stoked that a boyfriend poured so much time and energy into appealing to her tastes and desires, for a change. But it hasn’t gone any deeper than that.
Runa, unfortunately, is largely a prisoner of the protagonist’s perspective, and any interesting aspects of her character (or the social commentary they might bring up) are ultimately filtered through her role as The Love Interest. She doesn’t get any interiority because the story is framed so exclusively from the point of view of the boy who likes her. As the opening credits highlight, this is a series where the audience is invited to look at her rather than relate to her or see the world through her eyes. A problem unique to this series? No, but it is something that undercuts the potential themes and nuances we picked up on in the premiere.
To top it all off, episodes 3 and 4 start to set up a petty, vengeful love triangle. With all that going on, I really don’t think this is going to explore gender roles or expectations around sex in a meaningful way—while Runa has talked a little about her possible motivations for “rushing in” to relationships, it really doesn’t seem like something the narrative is interested in spending a lot of time on or delving into beyond surface level. This leaves us with a pretty middle-of-the-road rom-com. You could do a lot worse, but unless the show really changes tact in the next few episodes, I’m going to say you can do a lot better, too.
Content warnings: Fanservice, romantic antics, and sexual harassment (Rae using her position as maid to ogle Claire while dressing and bathing her in episode 2).
Spoilers: Includes discussion of episode 4.
Cy: At first glance, I’m in Love with the Villainess is all antics. It’s easy to perceive it as just another slapstick series with some magic, a bit of world-building, and a protagonist who is relentless in her desires towards Claire Francois, villainess extraordinaire. Like Alex mentioned, it’s an awkward dynamic with a hapless girl practically drooling over her favorite fictional beauty come to life, only it’s more putting Claire on a pedestal than anything else. And worse, Rae is kind of pushy—you know what, no. She’s really, really pushy, and it’s not my favorite thing.
But all of that changes with episodes 3 and 4, thanks to Rae’s very candid look at her own sexuality and how painful it is to be queer, both in another world and in her birthplace of Japan—where, currently, same-gender marriage is still illegal despite ongoing work by activists. Rae is painfully human, fully aware that her love isn’t the kind of “proper” love a girl should have: she’s aware that she’s always liked girls, that she’s solely attracted to them and will never like men. It’s something that is deemed okay when it’s play, but there’s a line in the sand and crossing it is a point of no return, not just for Japan but many societies.
And yet Rae is so deeply open about how she is who she is. The show is honest about it, the dub especially so—there’s no tiptoeing around Rae’s lesbian identity. There’s explicit use of the word “gay” and discussion of identity labels, which even a lot of anime with same-gender romance avoid (though this is less the case in the world of manga). It’s all out there now and the show is so much better for grounding itself in authentic sexuality instead of nonspecific shipping fodder. I think reluctant viewers will see a palpable shift as Rae finds herself, likely toning down her more over-the-top behavior. Where it will go in regard to her and Clair’s dynamic remains to be seen, but I have a feeling that things can actually move in a more natural direction now.
The further I get into the series, the better I can see the trajectory and, more importantly, the better I can understand how this series has deeply moved so many people. Yes, the gags remain, and at times I’ll admit to wanting Rae to be more mature. Yet I understand why she behaves the way she does; I understand why she’s a bit over-the-top. It’s hard to be yourself—to be young and queer and so painfully aware of how unfair the world will be to you—at any age, so why not be a bit silly? Why not be a bit foolish? Why not, when you know that the love you so earnestly desire will likely be denied to you?
I think that there’s something important in that, especially since so many queer people never get to be playful or goofy or even get to express one iota of their sexual orientation. I just hope we actually get to see more of that, because I think that would make for an incredibly strong story rather than a slapstick romantic comedy, which is kind of where the show is right now.
Content considerations: Comical alcoholism; depictions of trauma and violence (kids/teens); YMMV on if the “camera” occasionally focuses on Shy’s leotard in a way that veers into leering or fanservice.
Dee: I wasn’t sold on SHY after the premiere, but I decided to stick with it largely because of how much I enjoy Ando Masaomi as a director. I’m glad I did, because the second episode goes hard: an intense, strikingly animated tale of survivor’s guilt, trauma, and recovery that cements compassion as Teru/Shy’s greatest strength.
The focus on Teru’s ability to care about (and for) others continues as a major throughline, as do the yuri undertones between Teru and Iko. I expect their relationship to remain nebulous (which doesn’t bother me, though it might others), but their bond still forms a strong core that helps ground the action in emotional stakes.
If the second episode doesn’t hook you, then SHY likely isn’t your thing. Personally, though, the whole premise of “Big Bad monsterfies people by preying on their emotional trauma and Teru helps them work through it using empathy and communication” is filling a Sailor Moon-sized hole in my life that few series do. I plan to stick with this one.
Vrai: The question of whether newbies can enjoy Precure Full Bloom has gotten thornier with the end of episode 3, which introduced the lead duo from Splash Star (the second series) as probably-recurring characters. I think that rounds out all of the Pretty Cures who’ll be returning, from the looks of the opening, but it’s definitely a bit of a strain for someone watching without the benefit of nostalgia.
That said, the writers have thrown out olive branches, including bite-sized explanations and relevant footage every time there’s a major callback. The explanations seem primarily for audiences who haven’t watched the series since they were kids, but it’s enough to undergird my understanding of these women as “new” characters. (I deduce, for instance, that there were really gay vibes between Kurumi and Karen—and if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.)
In a less engaging show, I’d likely have given up by now, but I really want to keep trying with Full Bloom. The writing continues to walk a line of being for returning viewers while also being PG enough that they could share it with young relatives or kids of their own. Each episode so far has focused on each of the Cures battling some kind of entrenched cynicism in order to become a supportive role model for a young girl in their life, giving back to the next generation on a personal level. The monsters of the week, meanwhile, are all older men actively upholding decaying old systems and often exhibiting a fair bit of sexism along the way.
I’m a little bit disappointed that the Cures de-age to their middle-school selves to fight. I know it’s probably as much about reusing the stock footage library as anything, and maybe something about being young at heart—but dammit, I want magical women punching monsters! But even with that quibble, I’m really touched at the story shaping up here about adults being hero(ine)s for the next generation.
Alex: 16bit Sensation is shaping up to be something entertaining and pretty interesting. I won’t spoil the details since it’s fun to discover for yourself, but it seems like this isn’t going to entirely be a straightforward “stuck in another time” sci-fi story. In any case, it’s clearly a love letter to the 1990s and the specific intricacies of its programming, pixel art, and pop culture. I’m not overly familiar with this niche, so I’m sure there’s heaps of Easter Eggs and homages that I’m missing, but I’m still having a whale of a time.
Most importantly, I’m enjoying the characters. While Konoha’s character design and voice performance make her seem younger than her 19 years in a way that’s sometimes irritating, I have to say I admire her passion, resilience, and the absolutely blasé way she (and the show’s framing overall) approaches eroge as any other form of art. 16bit Sensation very matter-of-factly shows both men and women working passionately to make 18+ games without any stigma attached, which is honestly pretty nice.
Episode 3 touches on some of the gendered assumptions around being a gamer that have historically provided a barrier to entry (in a cute scene where Konoha’s 2023 confidence helps a ‘90s girl get brave enough to go into a game store), but generally this is setting itself up as a show where you can just enjoy seeing women working in the games industry without prejudice being a big part of the story. The show generally is also staying fanservice-free save for the ending credits, which feature some lovingly-crafted pixel art pin-ups of the female cast.
The one aspect that’s bugging me is Mamorou, a grumpy programmer who plays the cynical straight-man to Konoha’s passion and high energy. He’s a stick-in-the-mud who has, more than once now, needed Konoha to sparkle her hardest and convince him to keep making games, which is not exactly how I’d prefer this bright young woman spend her screentime. If they end up as love interests, I’m going to sigh. For now, though, it looks like he’s at least not threatening Konoha’s spot as the protagonist, so here’s hoping that continues.