2023 Spring Three-Episode Check-In

By: Anime Feminist April 28, 20230 Comments
Mitsuki hugs Hime amid a shower of lillies

It’s a lovely season for surprises, mess, and surprisingly compelling mess.

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!

Kiruko and Maru looking through a broken window

Tengoku Damaikyo (Heavenly Delusion)

Spoilers for episode four

Toni: I’m really torn right now. While episode three of Heavenly Delusion revealed a lot of the problems with the show that may or may not drive you away from it, episode four revealed a lot of potential the show has as well. 

When it was revealed after Maru attempted to kiss her that Kiruko is Haruki in a girl’s body, that was itself not so bad. But then in episode three it is revealed that the body was his sister Kiriko’s, who is given next to no development before being fridged via Get Out-esque brain transplant, reframing much of the fanservice self-admiring before as siscon. It also does not help that as we are watching him in grief for his sister and in pain from the brain-transplant surgery, the camera peeks through the hospital curtains to give us a shot of his buttocks squirming. At first I interpreted this shot as him writhing in pain or crying, which is in itself a bizarre thing to sexualize, but many people have interpreted it as him masturbating in his sister’s body, which is much worse. This interpretation is buttressed by manga readers’ testimony that the fixation on Haruki (Kiruko?) as a sexual object only gets worse and much more violent as the story progresses. It’s a concerning trend.

Maru’s reaction to Haruki’s story is complex, first asking Haruki if he should stop calling him “Sis,” then feeling embarrassed about trying to kiss Haruki and his lingering desire, and finally asking how Haruki feels about Robin. On one hand, it’s good to see him wanting to respect how Haruki/Kiruko describes their gender identity, even if he’s (understandably) taking a while to fully process everything he just heard. On the other hand, there is still a possessive streak to Maru’s way of talking to Haruki about Robin that feels unpleasant given the story of victimization he just heard.

Episode four, however, yet again made me rethink much of what came before through a beautiful storyline about Tokio navigating his crush on another boy, Kona. The conversations Tokio has with Kona represent same-sex desire as a normal part of a child’s sexual awakening, and their dynamic is cute, refreshing, and wholesome. This framing recontextualizes Maru’s confusion over his attempted kiss with Haruki as part of a larger exploration of sexual fluidity rather than him having gay panic, which is good! There is also a larger narrative in the heaven facility of resisting the ways social structures condition you to behave, represented by the adults surveilling and manipulating the children’s behavior and the adults’ bafflement over childhood sexuality, and especially queer behaviors. I am looking forward to seeing the children further explore queerness outside the reaches of the adults’ control.

All in all, Heavenly Delusion is an anime that each individual viewer is going to have to decide whether to trust to handle its heavy themes or not. I am not sure that it will, having been burned before, but I am willing to keep watching and find out.

Akane making the >:3 face

My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999

Spoilers for episode four

Alex: Yamada-kun is presenting a bit of a mixed bag. It has some cute and funny moments, but there are also a few things worth flagging for our purposes here—and the way these unfold might determine how well the series ends up sitting.

First of all, Yamada is in high school. Yes, if he’s in his final year of school and Akane is in her first(?) year of college, the age gap itself isn’t that significant, and indeed the show itself hasn’t made too big of a deal about it. I wonder if there’s a yet-to-be-explored narrative reason for this, or a certain significance to Yamada being so independent at a young age, but as of now I mostly just… long for the alternate version of this story where it genuinely was just a rom-com between adult characters.

The third and fourth episodes introduce us to the offline versions of some of Akane and Yamada’s online buddies, and while there are some sweet moments here (I need to know everything about the quaint strawberry-farming old man who also loves MMOs, please) there’s also yet more stuff that makes me wary and weary. A player with a cute bunnygirl avatar is a young man IRL, a shocking reveal (at least, to Akane) framed by a goofy, theatrical monologue from him about how much he loves inhabiting his rabbit-eared muse. Other characters make fun of him for this, and I unfortunately can’t 101% tell if the audience is meant to agree with them. I like this guy and find him interesting (playful experiments with gender expression in fantasy/RP contexts are always intriguing!) but the way he ends up as the butt of more than one joke doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.

And, finally, this character has a younger sister who is possessive of Yamada and cold and vindictive towards Akane. Credit where it’s due, her characterization does telegraph neatly as “teenage girl suddenly insecure and cranky when her role as The One Girl in a friend group is seemingly threatened” rather than being a Weird Little Sis archetype. Still, when there are so few female characters in a story, my hackles always go up when the narrative pits them against one another, especially in such petty ways that make me ask “but what does this add to the story?” As with the above two points, we’ll need to keep watching to see how the sister’s scheme to kick Akane out of the guild plays out and how this plotline resolves itself. There’s a lot that’s up in the air. 

Yamada makes an encouraging gesture; Ichikawa is flustered

The Dangers in My Heart

Vrai: I’m happy to report that my optimistic hopes for this series have, more or less, borne out. With the “murder” device basically discarded now that Ichikawa’s realized he likes Yamada, the show settles into a dynamic of Ichikawa awkwardly lurking around his crush and tentatively managing some conversations while she, just as awkward, finds ways to “accidentally” strike up a chat. It’s sweet and accurate to the age group, and Ichikawa himself is a walking pillar of nuclear-grade accurate cringe. I had to stop and crawl under something more than once, so transported was I to the days of being a pretentious, awkward eighth grader pretending to definitely not be interested in sex.

Speaking of, the show’s handling of sex will be hit-or-miss for some audiences. Ichikawa himself is depicted as struggling with horniness in a way that’s restrained and lacks horny camera angles (barring one pretty unpleasant moment of Boob Nonsense in episode two), but the conversations between Ichikawa’s male classmates are gross in a pretty accurate way, and while the narrative is firmly in contempt of them it’s not necessarily fun to relive. A lot of what keeps this story is the source material’s compassionate but self-aware grasp on its protagonist and a great eye for writing dynamics between the girls in the cast. I did roll my eyes at Yamada’s protective best friend being referred to as her “boyfriend,” since there’s no chance that’s going to go anywhere, but their actual interactions feel like genuine platonic friendship rather than cynical bait. I’m dead surprised at how eager I am to continue on, but if it continues on this upward trajectory it’ll be downright great by the end.

Kizuna Ai asking what an NFT is

Kizuna no Allele

Chiaki: The show started shilling for N/F/Ts in the freetalk at the end of episode three. 

No Fucking Thanks.

Sagiri blocks Gabimaru's sword strike

Hell’s Paradise

Vrai: “What if Suicide Squad was set in Annihilation?” is a premise I’m prepared to get on board with. Hell’s Paradise continues to be good eating on the body horror front, but its combat suffers for coming out in the wake of Chainsaw Man. It’s a bit hard to take the text’s statements on the ugliness of killing seriously when the combat scenes are staged as flashy, graceful explosions of superpowers combined with theatrical fountains of blood.

A lot of that isn’t terribly different from the first episode, though. What makes it worth the check-in is the sense that the writing is doing… well, something with gender. Sagiri regularly gets sexist comments about how her gender should bar her from being an executioner, and because her struggles are paralleled with Gabimaru’s, it sidesteps the common problem of implying that a female character who struggles with the horrors of killing is too emotional because of her womanhood. Sagiri doesn’t want to kill, but both she and Gabimaru recognize that they must to survive. She’s done a lot of fainting in the past episode or two, but peeking ahead slightly in the manga reassured me that we’re going somewhere satisfying with her insecurities, and quickly. There’s also been brief mention of the Sanka (CW for anti-Romani slur at link), a semi-nomadic tribe that suffered discrimination then and now, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of that character.

At the same time, there is still some Shonen Jump Gender Bullshit at play around the edges. The other adult women besides Sagiri are among the condemned criminals, and both wear revealing clothing and immediately go to attempted seduction to get what they want; meanwhile, while I love Gabimaru’s wifeguy tendencies and his flashbacks are sweet, Yui is mostly there to be a saint on a pedestal. And if you guessed that Sagiri’s distressed visions of being drenched in the blood of those she’s killed involves her being extremely naked while Gabimaru is clothed, gold star for you! There’s enough to chew on here for action-horror fans, but people not inclined to the genre might give it a miss.  

Ai pointing at the audience

Oshi no Ko

Vrai: I am not, generally speaking, an idol guy. I’m very fond of a few titles like ZOMBIE LAND SAGA; If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die; and arguable contender (at least if you take into consideration the larger franchise marketing and gacha game) Revue Starlight, and I’ve learned a lot from Cy’s infectious enthusiasm for the genre. But it’s not my go-to, and I’ve always wanted an anime (more recent than the ever-referenceable Perfect Blue) that dealt with the industry’s problems and exploitation; not to replace the escapist fantasy works that have brought a lot of people joy, but just one major work grappling with issues that should be talked about frankly (or even just spends some time with the many great alt indie groups out there!). A The Woman Called Fujiko Mine to the genre’s Lupin III, if you’ll pardon the hack comparison.

Basically, I am the target audience for this anime, and I have to raise my hands in defeat. All the people who said “no, I swear it gets better after that extremely creepy premise”…you were right. I salute you. While Aqua is still basically the worst, having now decided to try and control Ruby’s life out of a patronizing sense of what’s best for her, he’s much more tolerable on his revenge quest than he was as a creepy adult. The show has also already surrounded him with three much more interesting women: Ruby, Miyako (who’s now in charge of the management company in addition to having raised the twins), and child star Kana.

Crucially, the writing treads a fine line with Ruby’s desire to follow her mother as an idol by underlining the risks of the job—the pay is low, there’s a hard age ceiling, employers can be predatory, stalking and harsh public scrutiny are likely—without dismissing or mocking her passion. Having noted all the risks, the goal becomes finding (or rather becoming) safe management to help her kickstart her career. The show’s not just picking on idols, either; it has plenty to say about exploitation of young actors and burnout pragmatism behind the scenes, but the overarching tone isn’t so cynical that it treats its teen cast like fools for their dreams. It’s a tough recommend in some ways with potential icebergs on the horizon (if Ruby finds out Aqua’s pre-death identity and falls for him I will flip out), but right now it’s about as engrossing a ride as I could ask for.

A boy with glasses and a girl with her hair back in a ponytail standing side by side looking off into the distance. The backdrop is midnight blue but they are illuminated from in front

Insomniacs After School

Vrai: Three episodes in, Insomniacs After School has ripped off its mask and revealed its true identity: an astrophotography hobby anime. The issue of insomnia is still around the edges, and it’s touching to see the school’s teachers come together to provide a cover for Isaki and Ganta’s sleep space in the form of the astronomy club, but the focus has shifted away from mental health and toward extensive explanations of how to do exposure on nighttime photography. It’s beautiful to look at, but it’s also a bit on the sluggish side; I wonder if the production team knew this too, since they started throwing cute cat antics at the screen to try and keep my attention. In fairness, it did work.

Ganta is still much more the focus than Isaki, but she has a sense of interiority and pathos outside of magically improving his life, and episode three introduces a cool female senpai for the kids to look up to as well. Her introduction is a much-needed shot in the arm, even if it means the back half of episode three inexplicably becomes a lost episode of Laid-Back Camp. It seems on a steady course to be a nice, grounded romance, and the primary pacing issues could well be solved by continuing to expand the cast. Still, with its manga still ongoing, I’m not sure how grand the thematic ambitions of this adaptation will end up being. Mainly, I walked away feeling sort of nostalgic for the underrated Just Because; though in fairness, that series contained no cats.

They’re very cute cats.

Yano hugging Hime, whose face squishes right into Yano's boobs

Yuri is My Job!

Spoilers for episode four

Vrai: With episode four, we’ve finally reached a key part of what makes this series so special. YIMJ is a story about miscommunication, but not because of a misunderstanding that could be solved with one good conversation. It’s a story about characters who have drastically different means of processing the world, at an age where it’s exceptionally hard to grasp other viewpoints. This is especially true of the socially-driven, hungry-for-approval Hime and the blunt, strongly autistic-coded Mitsuki, who manage to hurt each other despite each simultaneously trying to do what they think will best protect their relationship. If that episode doesn’t click the story together for you, this probably isn’t your series.

Outside of the central relationship, it’s still a smart work of genre commentary, with plenty of affectionate jokes on Class-S as a genre and the series to blame for its modern resurgence (Maria Watches Over Us) in particular. There are minor quibbles I could make with the adaptation—it leaves out some small details like Hime receiving and not bothering to read the employee handbook, which drives a lot of Mitsuki’s frustration with her server skills; there’s an inexplicable bit of stocking fetish in episode three, and I sort of wish the voice actresses were allowed a bit more variety in their vocal range to highlight the theme of putting on various personas a la Akiba Maid War—but overall this is a solid adaptation of one of the best yuri manga currently running.

Mitsuki happily hugging an unimpressed cat

Skip and Loafer

Toni: Skip and Loafer remains one of the standouts of the Spring Season. Unlike many romantic comedies, Skip and Loafer uses its surprisingly naturalistic dialogue to explore not only the central pairing but also the relationships between girls—how they subtly push each other away and invite each other into intimacy, even when they are remarkably different people. Of particular note is Yuzuki, a pretty girl that in a more poorly written show would be either haughty and vain or perfect and charming, but turns out to be a nuanced representation of a brutally honest girl who just wishes people would cut the shit. Watching her relationships with Mizumi and Makoto grow is a particular joy, especially as the girls learn to let go of how they have been taught to be in competition for male attention. This ideology is represented strongly by Mika, whose constant negative self-talk harms both herself and the girls she externalizes it onto. 

Worthy of additional praise is the show’s casual representation of queer characters. While they lean hard into common archetypes, they lean hard into my common archetypes, thank you very much. Nao-chan is a wonderful trans surrogate mother to Mizumi, and, while transmisogyny does occur to her on the train, Mizumi supports her through it, and it doesn’t take over her character arc. The drama club captain who has a lot of Gender going on is also painfully relatable—especially when he’s constantly bugging Shima to join like I used to badger my students to join school productions (it’s hard to get actors on stage!). Shima himself remains an enigmatic source of quiet support for Mizumi. Much of his character seems to revolve around the contrast between the sweetness of his friendship with Mizumi and his grim desire to keep his mysterious past at bay, which keeps him compelling even as the plot remains mostly focused on the girls’ relationships.

My advice: Watch Skip and Loafer. Savor it. Love Nao-chan. It’s a good show.

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