2023 Summer Three-Episode Check-In

By: Anime Feminist August 4, 20230 Comments
Tsugaru sticking his tongue out while holding up Aya's head in her birdcage

Deeper themes are a little thin on the ground this season, but there’s still some very fun adventures to be had.

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!

Akira happily running away from zombies

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead

Spoilers: Contains discussion of Episode 4.

Toni: In our premiere review, we predicted that Zom 100 might immediately drop its anti-capitalist message and lean entirely into wish-fulfillment now that the apocalypse has occurred and the wish list has been made. This has turned out to be only half true: Zom 100 is a show that continuously gestures at liberatory anti-capitalist ideas and then immediately undermines them in the service of its male wish-fulfillment fantasy plot.

A case in point is Episode 4, in which Akira is barricaded in a department store with three flight attendants. One of them is given a thoughtful arc where she talks about becoming alienated from the care work she used to find meaningful due to the constant sexist abuse being hurled at her by passengers—and rediscovering that meaning in caring for Akira when he is in (self-inflicted) crisis. This both pushes against the demeaning male gaze on feminized care professions and also asks how one finds new meaning beyond alienated labor. However, this arc is undermined by the objectifying male gaze the flight attendants are viewed through for most of the episode, reducing them to a means to an end of Akira “scoring” (as he puts it) with a flight attendant. This culminates in a disgusting fanservice shot where a zombie sneaks up and puts its head between one of the attendants’ legs, and dear reader, I’m sure you can guess what this looks like. [Editor’s Note: Zombie fiction, please. This wasn’t cute when Re-Animator did it in 1985, and it isn’t cute now.]

Other episodes fare better, and of course the animation is unimpeachable–though cracks are showing with production delays)–but the show still has pitfalls. Tales of class resentment between the rich and poor become fantasies of toothless reconciliation (because we all hate our jobs, don’t we?). Women trying to survive through rational strategy have to learn lessons from the boys on how to let loose. It’s also worth noting that one of Akira’s bucket list items is putting his hair in locs—a culturally appropriative wish that will unfortunately come true later in the manga. In short, Zom 100 cannot get past its roots as a male wish-fulfillment fantasy. I will continue to watch, but I understand if many people find that to be a deal-breaker.

Eiko and Yayoi standing in front of Keitaro, who looks exhausted

Dark Gathering

Toni: This show has basically remained as it started: a spooky silly time. As with the first episode, for most of these stories the social issues that caused the curses and hauntings are left largely unpacked. The show seems largely uninterested to comment meaningfully on the topics of bullying, violence against women and sex workers, and many other roots of the violence that it is depicting. 

Eiko and Yayoi have begun to get some development, but it is not exactly extensive. Eiko in particular is becoming a character who seems to be at war with herself—projecting her own addiction to spooks and fear onto Keitarou, she still wants to keep him safe and support him. Their relationship remains essentially coercive, however, and involves frequent emotional manipulation on her part to get him to go with her dangerous spooky shenanigans. This emotional manipulation is largely played for laughs, but I don’t find it particularly funny, especially given Keitarou still trusts her. (He shouldn’t.)

It’s worth also noting that the production values, which were not fantastic at the beginning, take a significant dip in the third episode. I was starting to get flashbacks to Otherside Picnic, and its facile attempts to create horror that mostly just end up looking goofy. In general, the show is fine, but nothing to write home about.

a girl cheerfully punching through a boulder

Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon

Cy: Vending machines are pretty cool: they’re versatile things that can contain a bit of everything. Corn soup, crystal clear water, oden, diet cola, mentos, condoms…all of which we have the joy of experiencing through the first three episodes of Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon.

I’m glad to say that Chiaki’s initial concern that this show would just be about Boxxo vibing in an isekai fantasy village is slowly giving way to him exploring this massive underground dungeon in different locales. Sometimes, he’s helping soldiers: other times, he’s at the local bathhouse, doling out shampoo & conditioner sets (which involves a little joking about being around naked women but no fanservice). Slowly, he’s becoming more than a magical tool: he’s a part of a community, and his presence makes a place full of fantastical risks a bit easier to weather for those that plunge its depths and do important work.

Ultimately, Reborn as a Vending Machine remains the same goofy, chill show it was in episode 1, though it does promise to grow into something quite heartwarming between scenes of Boxxo vibing and thriving. I’m genuinely looking forward to this show stealing my heart each and every week.

Princess Pride looking serious and holding a sword.

The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Savior

Dee: As Alex noted in their premiere review, it’s tough to discuss Boss Queen without comparing it to other isekai villainess stories. Other than its more serious tone, what really makes the series stand out is Pride’s role in the game. Typically the “villainess” is the school bully and/or romantic rival, which allows the story to play with perception (was she truly bad or just misunderstood?) and keep the stakes relatively personal (“save my life,” not “save the world”).

In Boss Queen, though, Pride is an out-and-out despot who gleefully enslaves and tortures people. Our heroine has to grapple with being reincarnated as a truly heinous character, so she’s far more focused on protecting others from her tyranny than saving herself from a Bad End. There’s also a power-fantasy element that’s rare to see in this genre, as Pride’s role as the “last boss” means she’s also a naturally talented warrior. By Episode 3, she’s rescuing the knight captain from a bandit horde as an 11-year-old. How the series balances everyone’s desires to protect each other could make for some intriguing character conflict and gender commentary going forward.

That said, I wouldn’t describe Boss Queen as overtly progressive either. Pride brings modern sensibilities to an aristocratic setting with her “all lives have equal value” mentality, and it’s cool to see her saving the boys rather than vice versa, but it’s not like she’s out here trying to change the system itself. Still, I have an eternal fondness for sword-wielding heroines, and I’m curious to see how the new narrative in this “otome game” plays out. If you don’t already enjoy the genre then there probably isn’t much here for you, but if you’ve liked villainess isekai in the past, I’d say this one’s worth a try so far.

Hikaru at a computer with an oversized moniter

The Gene of AI

Chiaki: Gene of AI comes out strong with some interesting questions on the continuity of consciousness and the ethics of sentient artificial life all set in a low-key late-stage capitalist hell that feels both futuristic but also timely in its themes and topics. And the series continues along asking some probing questions to philosophize “what makes something human?” These conversations aren’t particularly original, but Gene of AI shines in being able to competently address them in thought provoking ways.

Chances are, the real story about Sudo’s mother’s copied brains and the bigger story will likely come back to the forefront later in the series, but for now it’s an episodic “case-of-the-week” series. Because of this and the nature of the cases in the second and third episodes, Dr. Sudo’s double life as Moggadeet seems less mysterious now that he’s just giving teenage boys pep talks during their annual physicals and fixing a child’s teddy bear. But each episode ends with a teaser that something bigger is happening, even if they are never addressed in the ensuing episodes.

So far the characters, Humanoids and humans, have been good character studies, but there’s some concern over how the show will fair at the end of the day. Chief among my concerns is Kaoru, Sudo’s old coworker. While I’m inclined to celebrate an explicitly nonbinary character in anime, my endorsement is tentative as Kaoru’s fascination in being trans is mostly to present as female in appearance because they find it interesting that their feminine form is seen as sexually desirable to men–after groping Sudo’s assistant to compare boobs. 

Kaoru caps off their introduction by expressing how humanity constrains Humanoids from reaching their true potential, possibly setting them up as a villain. Notwithstanding the fact that the queer character is a Humanoid and therefore “not human,” it’s going to be equally frustrating if it turns out they’re also the transhumanist villain who finds conventional concepts of humanity “weak.” For now, however, I’m continuing to tune in.

Tsugaru cheerfully holding up Aya's head in her birdcage

Undead Murder Farce

Spoilers: Discussion through episode 5

Vrai: Looking at UMF’s episode count is making me a little anxious. Each episode has been an excellent time, still carried by its experienced cast and Hatakeyama’s kinetic direction, but I’m left keenly aware that we’ve got 12 episodes, and episodes two through four focus on a locked room parlor mystery that seems to have very minimal connection to the new arc that kicks off in episode 5. From what I gather, this mystery initially served as the opening to the source material, while the anime’s first episode is a later flashback, and it’s reflected in the way characters we already know are almost re-introduced. Maybe I’m wrong and this family of vampiric human allies will come back around, but for now it seems like engaging but secondary worldbuilding eating into a runtime that’s already almost certain to have an “advertisement for the novels” ending.

Episode 5 feels like the real start to things after that stunning premiere, launching the viewer into, as my partner termed it, “the League of Extraordinary Gentleman anime.”  It’s not developed any particular yellow or red flags, and the tensions of insider/outsider dynamics are still there in the background (drawing more than one comparison to Moriarty the Patriot), but its main concern is name-checking literary figures while relishing an aesthetic I might affectionately term Square Enix Victorian. Aya is valued for her intellect, even going head-to-toe with Sherlock Holmes, and while the male cast outnumbers the women, the rare moments of fanservice also mainly focus on Tsuguru. Carmilla’s outfit (yes, that one) is a bit absurd, but I’ll forgive a lot if her presence means more homoeroticism in future. Speaking of, UMF’s depiction of Arsène Lupin is, like all good Lupins, queer-coded to high heaven (thanks in no small part to Miyano Mamoru doing his thing).

Probably I should be on alert for what that means vis-à-vis the series tying queerness and villainy, but the series has played enough into sympathetic moral greys and tricksters that I’m withholding judgement. It might not turn out to have the thoughtful excellence of a Case Study of Vanitas, but there are still ideas to dig into in the background (certainly making the shunned Phantom of the Opera one of the cast’s few brown-skinned characters has plenty of room for reading). In the meantime, it’s having a lot of fun and looks good doing it. I’m here for the duration.  

a woman in a pink kimono surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms

My Happy Marriage

Alex: Where the premiere sets up the emotional landscape for our heroine Miyo, the following episodes show us more of the story’s world, introducing the fantasy element and the broader political machinations going on between the aristocratic families. Both of these aspects give the show a compelling dramatic hook aside from the central romance. 

Not that said romance isn’t also compelling: it’s following familiar patterns and playing out a pretty classic Cinderella story, but it’s executing it competently. Even if it’s tropey, it’s fun watching Lord Kudo’s cold exterior slowly melt as he becomes more affectionate and protective towards Miyo, and it’s rewarding watching Miyo slowly gain confidence now that she’s in a safer environment (with a startlingly beautiful, supernaturally gifted fiance to boot).

It’s not a magic fix, though, and Miyo’s trauma from her abusive childhood lingers and is easily triggered. Even if her stepmother and half-sister’s nastiness is a bit over-the-top, the depiction of Miyo’s emotional state feels very honest. It’s a little tempting to criticize her lack of agency, but I feel like it’s less a writing flaw and more the narrative trying to make a point: she’s a young woman suffering in a setting that only values her for her use as a social-climbing pawn and/or for the mysterious powers hiding in her bloodline, and she’s responding to this dehumanization. That said, I’m still holding out hope that we’ll get to see her express herself more and expand her characterization beyond the symptoms of her trauma. Watching Miyo come into her own and establish her own autonomy would make for a very satisfying arc, so I hope that’s the direction My Happy Marriage takes.

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