The big forerunner this season? Girls in fantasy shows!
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!
Spoilers for episode four.
Cy: It feels… curious to be writing about the sub-genre of “Slavery Isekai” in, well… Black History Month. Curious because there’s a disconnect that happens as a Black anime viewer who can accurately trace their heritage back to plantations in Alabama. Curious because I don’t understand why this genre thrives other than the fact that, when mixed with romance, slavery isekai gain a certain taboo appeal.
In the weeks since Sugar Apple Fairy Tale premiered, the show has largely stayed the course. Which is unnerving, especially because there’s some really strong, emotional moments that pull it further from the premiere and establish both Anne and Challe as individuals, though the master/slave dynamic is inevitably threaded through every interaction they have. This even bleeds over into some of Anne’s major character growth moments, once more mingling compelling tidbits with… slavery.
This is still a pretty grim world for fairies: they’re likened to chattel, get routinely yelled at and brutalized, and just live a crapsack life, even if they fall for their enslaver, which yikes on bikes that’s fucked up. And sweet she may be, Anne’s kind of like a Southern Bell: party to injustice and cruelty because it serves her own end even if she becomes the Good Slave Owner who rejects the system and rewards her charge with freedom. And that does happen: Anne returns Challe’s detached wing back to him in episode 4 in a genuinely tense, emotional moment. Yet Challe’s emancipation feels very bittersweet because it’s still tangled up in the fact that Anne was his mistress and owner. (And that she frequently threatened to destroy Challe’s wing, which… yikes on bikes again, y’all.)
Given how the plot is progressing thus far, one thing is clear: Challe might one day become her romantic partner, but he’ll never be truly free even though the story seems to be arching towards a genuine relationship unbound by a cruel power dynamic. He’ll always be indebted to his owner, and that’s just not romantic at all. I do understand that the taboo here has romantic appeal: the show certainly wants you to feel that, and on a base level, I do. But I implore viewers to ask why you like this, and if it doesn’t bother you, why that might be the case, especially if you’re a North American viewer.
Chiaki: As scathing of a review Cy rightfully gave to ONIMAI, I’m here to say my piece. ONIMAI could have been better. At its base, it shares similar themes to shows like Hitoribocchi, being a show about an incredibly socially awkward person finding friends and breaking out of their shell. The greatest caveat, however—and one that cannot and should not be ignored—is the fact ONIMAI consistently sexualizes school-age girls, most of all through its bikini-clad OP and commercial bumpers.
While I can attest that the original comic features some adult situations, much of the fanservice is an anime-only addition. Still, that does mean that some of the weird fetishy things were in the original comic, and it’s that much harder to defend the show when its source material isn’t exactly squeaky clean. The added fanservice only serves to compound and highlight the show’s problematic aspects, whereas it was much less of a noticeable issue while reading the comic.
Yet ONIMAI remains strongly relatable and even wholesome when it’s not trying to sell you pictures of middle-schooler feet. Mahiro’s social anxiety closely mirrors anxiety and depression stemming from gender dysphoria, and much of what Mahiro’s sister Mihari and friends do for them are gentle and affirming acts engendering self-love. This show does a really good job eliciting that euphoric sensation of having your gender validated in a terrifying situation, whether it’s trying on a dress for the first time, meeting a potential new friend, or even just going out to the movies and shopping with “the girls.”
There is a high bar for entry, and I can understand that. It’s like wanting to laud Luc Besson’s The Professional, but you are constantly reminded Natalie Portman is 12 in that movie. A number of people have noted they appreciate my live-tweets given they do not want to watch the show themselves. But I think there’s some value here if you can stomach the problematic bits—or if all else fails, I urge you to read the manga instead.
Chiaki: It’s a serviceable rom-com with good beats in its humor, if you can get through the essentialist premise of Tomo being the quintessential tomboy. What saves it from going stale are its supporting characters, especially conniving Misuzu and air-headed Carol. The story primarily focuses on them to portray how three extremes in stereotypes—ones you might see in a shoujo manga—would interact with each other.
What helps keep the show on track, however, is that these extremes aren’t treated as normal, so whether it be Misuzu’s inordinate mean streak or the incredible lengths of ditzy that Carol displays (I’m talking Patrick from Sponge Bob Squarepants ditzy), the viewer is affirmed by everyone around the cast that, “no, these kids are kinda weird.”
Still, much of the show comes back to Tomo wanting Junichiro to recognize her as a member of the opposite sex (but also not really, because teenagers) and Junichiro doing everything he can to stay best bros because boys being able to express genuine romantic feelings is socially awkward. It’s obvious they’re made for each other, but without their adolescent bullshit, there would be no show.
Content warning, however, on a good portion of episode two being predicated on the terrors of sexual harassment as Tomo is groped on the bus. This sets off an entire story about Jun wanting to protect Tomo from sexual predators while Tomo mistakes his comments of “stop wearing skirts” to mean he doesn’t think of her as a girl, yet again. The storyline is ultimately sympathetic to Tomo, and Jun later apologies for trying to police her clothing choices, but the overall light tone might not sit well with viewers.
Also worth noting, Carol’s introduction as a character particularly focuses on her well-endowed chest, a common stereotype about foreign women in Japan. The show ultimately reveals she’s a bit more complicated than her ditzy characterization implies, but the opening introductions do lean in heavily on this assumption.
Chiaki: The season premiere left people wondering over its tone: “is 80k supposed to be a gory action or a light hearted comedy?” and the answer is: “yes.”
While being transported to another world would normally make it possible for a show to break away from reality and embrace fantasy or fictitious concepts like magic, 80k goes a measure beyond that by having Mitsuha being kind of a wildcard. Have you ever asked yourself: “If I gained the ability to instantly teleport anywhere, including other worlds. What would I do?” Well, in Mitsuha’s case it was: “withdraw my life savings, take a suitcase full of money to Thailand and learn how to shoot a gun so I can become a merchant in another world.”
Nevermind the fact her powers could probably make her rich without having to rely on Navy Seal training, Mitsuha’s actions are so extreme it’s hard to find where the stakes are. Is Mitsuha in trouble or not? Why do I have to care? This show is a cacophony of chaos, and while it is played for laughs, its pacing suffers as a result.
Spoilers for episode four.
Vrai: It’s tough to recommend Extraordinary Squire because it feels on the verge of falling on its face at any moment. A lot of what was enjoyable in the premiere is still there: it’s colorful with energetic fight scenes; Inglis’ bloodlust is amusing; and while dysphoria (and corresponding euphoria) in TSF stories is a core part of the appeal for many, it’s also neat seeing a protagonist who takes her new life in stride. Also, seeing Inglis meet a variety of cool ladies who she declares to be Worthy Rivals? Cool, fun, into it.
I also think the show is trying to say something. Inglis bemoans ogling women in her past life after feeling harassed at a ball, and that episode’s villain is a cartoon monster of a sexual predator. Meanwhile, there’s a growing political conflict where the sky city-dwelling Highlanders are oppressing the general populace because they control access to magic, and there’s a guerilla unit out there poisoning prominent Highlanders to try and unseat their supremacy… But also Inglis and her cousin make friends with the Highlander ruler of a local village, because her plan was definitely to keep her townspeople from being enslaved if the village was incorporated into Highland (she never has to make good on this plan, for Plot Reasons). Also, is it right to seek power for its own sake? Must it be used for a greater good?
It’s a lot, and I just don’t think a show as affectionately meat-headed as Extraordinary Squire is up to the task of handling the complex issues it’s laid out. Especially when it ultimately dismisses every issue it raises by having Inglis shrug and reiterate that she only cares about fighting the next strong opponent.
Meanwhile, Inglis herself is pretty well confirmed to be gay (at the very least, she’s visibly repulsed by men and “doesn’t mind” women looking at her), which is pretty cool. Less cool is the fact that the primary source of shipping material so far has been with her cousin. (There are some other girls their age in the opening credits, but I don’t know that it will pivot after emphasizing Rafinha and Inglis’ relationship so prominently up to now. I can hope?) Episode three even sees fit to throw in a tiresome “comparing/groping boobs in the bath” scene, which is part of the steady increase of Boob Nonsense as Inglis and Rafinha have grown into teenagers. I’m not ready to drop it yet, but at this rate the show is going to tip over on the quality-to-garbage ratio by the halfway point.
Alex: Endo and Kobayashi is proving a bit frustrating. On the one hand, there’s a lot to like here. The premise, in which two teenagers magically meddle with the plot of a video game in order to try and save their blorbos from a tragic fate, is very meta and fun, and I think captures quite earnestly the way teens get invested in fiction. The dynamic between Endo and Kobayashi is also really sweet, and I like that Endo can be so emotionally open without the series treating it like a weakness.
On the other hand, I wish the show was doing more with its “commentary” element. Beyond its affectionate genre parody, the story doesn’t seem intent on unpacking any of the tropes it’s playing with. Endo and Kobayashi shrug off the fact that there are romance routes for a teacher and a literal child. They tut about protagonist Fiene “leading on” her love interests in the harem ending. There’s a joke that the affection between Fiene and Liselotte might be “a yuri thing” that’s quickly brushed aside. Their ride-or-die fangirling over Lieselotte seems less about lamenting the polarized role of female characters and more about how she’s a super cute misunderstood tsundere. Maybe I’m just watching this with my editor’s hat on, but I can’t help but hunger for more actual analysis and critique in this story supposedly about meta-commentary.
Ultimately, I’m going to keep watching this one because when it’s charming—it’s very charming—and I’m intrigued by some things it seems to be setting up… but time will tell if the elements I’m enjoying outweigh the elements that are making me sigh.
Caitlin: All right Buddy Daddies, you’ve won me over. Over the past few years I’ve grown both wary and weary of the vast majority of single dad anime, wherein the majority of the time the young daughters (it’s almost always daughters, too; what’s up with that?) act more like a docile pet than a small human being full of thoughts, ideas, and feelings all their own. In the first episode, as the resident childcare expert, I was not impressed by how Miri wandered fearlessly through gunfire and panicked, angry adults.
In the episodes since, Kazuki and Rei’s perspectives have remained privileged over hers, with the focus on how she’s disrupted their lives, but I’m willing to offer some grace because, you know what? Children are disruptive. They make messes and don’t understand instructions and get into things you’d never expect them to. Miri is a whirlwind of chaos as her two new daddies struggle to keep up with her energy, eagerness, and curiosity, unprepared to give her an appropriate outlet for these qualities.
I can’t help but laugh as I see echoes of my own experiences getting to know how to work with that age. At the same time, though, it still has some of the same problems as the aforementioned single dad series. Miri is more like an untrained border collie puppy than a person, and I’d like to see more internality assigned to her.
By the way, if you’re seeking homoerotic tension, Buddy Daddies is not the series for you. Oh, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of doujinshi and fanart because shippers gonna ship, but Rei and Kazuki don’t come across as anything more than platonic partners. They’re coworkers who are cohabitating and coparenting, but there’s not a whiff of copulation between the two. Which to be honest, I might prefer over constant teasing and wink-wink, nudge-nudging at the audience.
Vrai: This is the biggest case of “shockingly non-indicative first episode” that I’ve seen in a minute. The grimdark tone of the premiere basically vanishes from the second episode onward and the story becomes a much more earnest little fantasy series about Wisteria going from place to place meeting various girls with demons and hearing their sad life stories. Meanwhile, something-something conflict between the demons and the templars, political intrigue, something-something.
The narrative doesn’t (at least thus far) treat those elements as important compared to Wisteria finally getting to make friends with other girls her age, and I’m inclined to agree. The narrative seems to be building to a story about demons as a broad metaphor for social outcasts that will no doubt eventually lead to war. It isn’t bad, but it definitely isn’t going to win awards for innovation. Any enduring appeal is centered solidly in the cast.
While this is a shounen, Wisteria is very much written in the model of a certain type of shoujo heroine—a bit naïve and trusting; determined to use the power of friendship; big appetite—but she doesn’t feel cloying and the show has thus far been sparing about using her as a damsel. Her loss of sight has also continued to be a part of her character, with continual background focus on how she navigates large spaces or adjusts when Marbas isn’t there to serve as an assistant.
On that front, Marbas and Wisteria’s relationship has kept pretty platonic. The show definitely knows what it’s doing in leaving room for the teenager at home to imagine themselves being protected by a big strong demon bodyguard who values them more than anything else in the world, but the text itself stays away from seeding romantic coding into Marbas’ growing protectiveness. Overall this is somewhat middle-of-the-road fare, but it’s come out with a lot more promise than it might’ve initially seemed, and fans of supernatural Victorian-flavored series (who don’t mind some blood) might get a kick out of it.
Vrai: What a delight this series is. Aside from the minor bumps in episode two (a couple gay panic “jokes” on Euphy’s part after she learned Anis is a lesbian and treating the king hitting his daughter as slapstick), it’s basically been going from strength to strength. It can look dazzling when showing off magic or combat, and its solid sense of comedic timing was evident from the premiere with Anis’ spectacular pratfalls. But the most recent episodes have shown of that it has emotional chops too.
There’s a lot of time devoted to Euphy’s struggles with depression after losing her role, and how living with Anis and Ilia gives her a safe space to begin picking herself back up. The progression of Anis and Euphy’s romance has likewise been slow but sweet. Despite what I’d feared after episode two, there are zero groping jokes, and the growing sense of both emotional intimacy and attraction that grows between the pair is a satisfying slow burn.
The heavy focus on character dynamics has meant that there’s barely any time to get into the larger political conspiracies beyond Algard’s raging inferiority complex and its likelihood of being weaponized by nobles trying to defend the status quo. Because the series is based on ongoing light novels, I suspect these grander machinations are the most likely to suffer in terms of development and closure. But I honestly can’t say I’m all that bothered when the central relationships are this compelling.
Spoilers for episode four.
Vrai: I would like to applaud Kaina for achieving the low bar of executing its reversal of competencies, allowing Ririha to be confident and accomplished (and Kaina in need of rescue) once the duo get down to an environment she’s familiar with. Granted, she still gets taken hostage almost immediately, but at least it was by a cool lady warrior?
The trouble here is that, four episodes in, I’m still having a tough time drumming up much enthusiasm for the cast. The beating heart of this show is its uncanny flora and weird wildlife. Now that Kaina has entered the city and Ririha is locked on a boat, there are significantly fewer opportunities to appreciate those elements. And while the series definitely wants to say something about resource scarcity, without either better storyboarding craft or investment in the characters, it’s just a lot of noise (it did not help that I caught up right after finishing Vampire in the Garden, which is also a pretty broad take on similar subjects but at least had the power of sakuga and lesbians on its side).
I’m not ready to give up on the series yet, but it’s tough to recommend when The Fire Hunter is touching on similar environmentalist themes and almost every other show this season either looks better or has stronger character writing to back it up.
Chiaki: I’ve been around to watch an idol show or two, and Technoroid fits the standard pacing and quality of storytelling while taking the effort to do a little more. Although it’s not a scathing and dramatic critique on how we’re destroying the planet through climate change, Technoroid stays peppy and charming amidst a world literally drowning in its own hubris. The scathing critique is indeed there, but not in the storyline or dialogue—it’s instead presented in the matter-of-fact alien society we observe as window dressing to a show about four pretty boys trying to dance their way to the top.
The show does a good job keeping its environmental storytelling compelling while its narrative focuses on the boys of KNoCC developing their latest song and dance routines. However, as the third episode explicitly delves into racism as a theme through android-stand-ins as the dominant society’s “other,” the show does flirt with danger. When the victims of racism are strawmen, it’s easy for a show to write it off as “fantasy” ultimately, or in the worse case: find a solution where everyone holds hands at the end to sing “Kumbaya.”
It still remains to be seen if this show has the chops to be meaningful in message, but it’s a cut above many others, perhaps being more relevant and compelling than Cyberpunk Edgerunners. Mike Pondsmith once said Cyberpunk “isn’t about saving humanity, but saving yourself,” and Technoroid takes that credo well without sacrificing itself to grim-dark melodrama. Cobalt and company aren’t here to save the world from sinking into the sea; they just want to pay their electric bill by joining the circus in a society that’s kept afloat by bread and circuses.
Content consideration: Episode four introduces butt-slapping as a form of encouragement between the girls; it’s not played as sexual, but Sanae is (at least initially) uncomfortable with it.
Alex: Ippon is staying strong, maintaining the earnest warmth and solid action that made the premiere stand out. Its sincere portrayal of youthful ambition and big-hearted friendship reminds me a little of A Place Further Than the Universe except, you know, with more judo and less Antarctica. The main cast is settling into a sweet dynamic, with everyone characterized by a neat balance of grounded motivations and goofiness. Even the rival characters feel solid, as opposed to the zany caricatures sometimes pitted against the heroes of sports anime.
I think the main thing to flag is that… well, it sure does seem like these girls all have crushes on each other, and I’m not sure if the show intends to treat that earnestly or if it’s a side effect of sports anime being homoerotic by nature. As in the first episode, romantic implication is quietly built through characterization, subtle dialogue, and the way the storyboarding frames and draws the eye to certain things (for example, lingering on a message from Michi on Towa’s phone when Towa’s mother playfully asks if she’s fallen for someone at her new school). Sanae and Michi also go googly-eyed over their club instructor (who, in fairness to the sparkly-eyed teens, is an extremely cool lady judoka).
I feel like that last one, at least, is rooted in admiration (and the fact that the girls had just been playing a mobile game starring a bishounen teacher) and it’s not going to be treated as even a semi-serious plot piece. The other flutters and blushes, though? Well, that’s up in the air. While I don’t feel like the narrative would be enhanced by a romantic subplot between the club members—much less a love triangle—it would feel like a missed opportunity if the sheer amount of longing on display isn’t even acknowledged. Ippon is still a joy to watch regardless, so let’s put this in the “we’ll see” basket.
Vrai: Watching this show, I am consumed with the thought: “I wish I had access to the source novels.” Not because the anime is bad, but because it’s clear we only have time to see a fraction of the worldbuilding and character work that’s been put into the story. Touko is also a pretty quiet protagonist—understandably, since she’s 11 and has clearly been through a boatload of trauma—and I wish I could spend more time getting to know her interior life. Deuteragonist Koushi likewise tends to bury things down inside, and while the storyboards do their best to convey thought through motion, I sometimes feel shut out at the exact moment I want to get closer to the cast.
The series has continued introducing female characters at a steady rate in a variety of roles, and the themes of classism have only gotten stronger. There’s also at least some awareness of the gendered component of these hierarchical societies in the form of several conscripted brides Touko meets on her journey.
I just wish the series didn’t look like it was so clearly struggling. There are a lot of resource-saving techniques on display in The Fire Hunter, even after only three episodes. Some of them, like the use of illustrated stills or stylized cut-ins to convey motion in only a few strokes, feel like intentional artistic decisions. But the combat scenes range from “rough but functional” to “bag of yikes.”
It doesn’t completely derail the show, but the demon fights are meant to be high-stakes and terrifying for the characters, and it can be hard to take them seriously when they reach a certain nadir. Still, it’s not enough for me to consider dropping the show, and I’ll definitely be adding the novels to my licensing wishlist.