2024 Spring Three-Episode Check-In

By: Anime Feminist May 3, 20240 Comments
a girl dragging her hands down her face in horror

A quarter done already? This is one oddball spring, though there are still some standouts worth investing your time in.

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 for details:

Sumireko leaps over Adashino

Mysterious Disappearances

Content Warning: Fan service, bodily fluids (excessive drool), bullying, predatory lesbian

Includes references to Episode 4

Vrai: Toni is not incorrect—Sumireko is, indeed, extremely relatable. While she gets to live out the fantasy of de-aging for short periods of time, it’s still nice to see a woman in her late 20s actively trying to push back against the idea that she’s socially worthless. It is somewhat complicated by the fact that she’s also designed to fit a kink of the “sexy older woman,” which Adashino is there to helpfully reiterate every episode. The fan service isn’t constant but it has shown up every episode, usually in the form of some shiny boob jiggle or the occasional panty shot. Maybe it’s my sanded-down exhaustion, but I did kind of appreciate that the art has at least some conception of how J-cup boobs might sag; and she even wears a bra when she’s not at home, so I don’t have to constantly feel secondhand back pain on her behalf.

In another minor tip of my hat, the fan service has only been of adult women (and one shot of Sumireko as she shrinks down to a teenager), which was a serious concern given how much time the school’s been spending at an extremely gay all-girls’ school. It’s mostly been good about that too…unless you count the reveal in episode 4 that one of the girls has some serious “lurking around the bathhouse” style predatory lesbian vibes. It’s kind of a mess, is what I’m saying. But it’s also a pretty compelling mystery-of-the-week series. It’s no Hanako-kun or Otherside Picnic, but it also isn’t constantly derailing the atmosphere with its horniness. It fits into that niche of moody urban legend hunting and acquits itself well enough that, combined with its great protagonist, I’m willing to stick with it for a while longer.

Tishana turns away from a seated Oscar in frustration

Unnamed Memory

Vrai: I’ve watched four episodes of Unnamed Memory now, and I just can’t put my finger on what feels slightly “off” about it. Maybe it’s that only Tinasha feels like a dynamic character. She’s changed her entire way of life and had to reassess her priorities in life repeatedly, all while struggling not to see the metaphorical ghosts of companions who’re long dead. The secondary characters are all fairly flat, with one-dimensional personalities that range from “fine” (sad undercover mage; frenemy witch who’s Flirty But Weak to contrast with Tinasha being Strong But Frigid, because there are two types of women) to “powerfully annoying” (cowardly manservant, sole female knight who hates Tinasha for no apparent reason).

The bigger problem is Oscar. To its credit, the writing has kept the tension of Oscar’s witch-killing sword–and the power dynamics it implies—central to the developments so far. For Tinasha, it’s insurance that if her powers ever went out of control, there’s at least one person who could stop her, and Oscar does seem to be uncomfortable with the power he wields over her in spite of his bluffing. Or, I think he is? For all that the writing is trying to convey a growing level of trust and communication between the two, Oscar’s expression and voice never waver from their setting of Dull Surprise. It’s a real problem, because his repeated insistence that Tinasha marry him (which has been exclusively been tied to ‘be a baby factory’ from the jump) is clearly supposed to become more of an ironic habit as they grow closer and he learns to actually trust her rather than trying to micromanage her every movement. I suspect it works better on the page, but here? He just seems like a smug asshole who’s not even getting his ass kicked to the degree of say, a Miroku or Brock. The heavy implication that Tinasha is a survivor of sexual assault really just adds a feeling of a false “bad pushiness, good pushiness” dichotomy.

This might be one where the novel or manga is more worth checking out, because I can see the shape of a fairly good romance here about two people who feel isolated by their power and regain a sense of humanity by finding someone strong enough to keep them in check, and I really do like Tinasha. But it’s hard to recommend over other Spring shows unless you have a desperate craving for a halfway decent, non-isekai fantasy show specifically airing in 2024.

Hobin with a black eye, grinning and holding up cash

Viral Hit

Content Warning: bullying (physical beatings, humiliation), blood

Discussion of Episode 4

Vrai: Well, fool me twice and all that. Like with Solo Leveling last season, Viral Hit’s premiere had an intriguing undercurrent of anger linked to the exploitations of capitalism—in Viral Hit’s case, to do with prohibitive health care costs and the predatory practices rife in the world of streaming (although for reasons I cannot fathom, the subtitles insist on translating the monetary values as “yen” rather than “won”). Unfortunately, what it decided to do with that anger is become an underdog story we’re meant to cheer for rather than “Breaking Bad but anime,” which means the implicit nastiness of the writing takes on a new tone.  

The fact that calling the antagonists two-dimensional is an insult to fine sheets of paper everywhere isn’t even the biggest issue, though it’s certainly true. It’s the female characters, who are as firmly divided as binary. On the one hand you have “good” women, like Hobin’s crush Bomi, the admiring background girl who still hasn’t gotten any lines, and Hobin’s offscreen sickly mother, who are quietly supportive and/or into him; and you have “bad” women like Hobin’s streamer classmate, who’s a rank opportunist implied to try and exchange sexual favors for viewer boosts. Add in Hobin’s training regimen from a chicken-headed streamer who feels on the cusp of monologuing about Sigma males, and it’s all got more than a whiff of Jordan Peterson about it. Sadly, I will be dropping out before Hobin learns the benefits of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system.

Kafka turning into a Kaiju

Kaiju No. 8 

Toni: Okay, to be clear, this is coming from the perspective of somebody who has not read the manga. But what can I say–I like what I’ve seen so far.

In general, Kafka is a wonderfully relatable protagonist–it is rare to find a protagonist Kafka’s age, let alone one who actually has a working class job. What’s more, the show seems to be interested in class and labor. It challenges the idea of skilled vs unskilled labor that is often used to denigrate the working class as Kafka’s work with the cleanup crew gives him the knowledge he needs to effectively support his teammates during the entrance exam. His dynamic with Kikoru leans into just what a difference it can make having access to elite resources, as is evident by Kikoru showing up to the first day in a Kaiju suit she uses to lord her prowess over everybody else. This is, of course, not a particularly sophisticated critique–it seems clear that once Kafka gets his role in the defense force, it is likely that the cleanup crew will be narratively left behind.

Aesthetically, this show is firing on all cylinders, which is very good when it has to carefully balance several different tones–along with its thrilling action sequences, the show blends the earnest body horror of inhabiting a newly infested body with the comedy that can come with discovering that body’s new ahem functions. The character based comedy doesn’t always work quite as well, with the bickering between Kafka and Kikoru particularly falling flat at points.

It is quite nice that Kafka has not one, but two female characters he can look up to as competent fighters. For now, they remain largely in the category of the “girlboss,” but hopefully we will see more interiority and complexity from them in the future and they stay relevant and powerful. Knowing the history of Shonen Jump series with female characters, I would be lying if I said I was optimistic.

Yasumi and Yuuhi arguing

The Many Sides of Voice Actor Radio

Content Warning: Fan service, unsafe working conditions, stalking

Chiaki: One thing you have to get while watching this show is that Yuuhi and Yasumi are, at the end of the day, high school girls fairly early into their careers. Their perspectives on voice acting seems to serve as a new generation’s counterpoint to Ise Mariya’s take on working as a voice actress versus today’s pressures to be as much an idol as an actor.

While VA Radio isn’t quite as critical or profound as other shows on show business, it still does touch upon the professional pressures talents feel in the field. That sense of “the show must go on” and maintaining the kayfabe is more than familiar, and the show sometimes lionizes the girls for doing it for the job. It’s an all-too-familiar sense of being a content creator in 2024 as it seems so many of the more successful talents coming up today are streamers, actors, singers and artists all in one.

I really do pause at Yasumi defending the state of the business and pulling Yuuhi to embrace being an idol as much as a voice actress, because there is no “correct” way to be a voice actor (although, okay, the industry cutting the checks define what’s correct these days and that now includes being an idol). I’m very much a fan of “do it your own way,” but I’m entirely cognizant that this doesn’t really guarantee me success either.

So I think there really are talents who want to do it all like Yasumi. They want to dance on stage, sing original songs, get roles in anime, talk on radio, but Yuuhi’s predicament of wanting to focus on voice acting and voice acting alone shouldn’t be treated as a flaw. And I say this as a baggy-eyed overworked writer who looks like she’s about to fall over at any given moment and writing this review late from her office because she, too, is working on her day off to maintain the kayfabe.

Professional considerations aside episode 3 contains ample fan service as Yuuhi and Yasumi share a bath. Yuuhi shows she is definitely into girls as she gets way too excited to touch Yasumi’s chest, which feels a little strange since the rest of the episode is so focused on the two girls respecting each other as professionals. The yuri aspect is coming along, backed by the girls’ deep respect for each other as professionals, but their interpersonal chemistry stays rocky.

Finally, a stalker is introduced in episode 3. He hasn’t done anything directly to the girls just yet, but I can tell this is gonna be a whole thing by his obsessive efforts to track down who Yuuhi and Yasumi are too.

three girls in front of a wall with bloody handprints

Train to the End of the World

Includes discussion of episode 5

Toni: Choo Choo. 

I love this show so much. I love the girls frantically hammering out morse code on a train track. I love the girls, tied up by tiny Liliputians, threatening to pee on them to be released. I love the motormouth pace of the dialogue. More than anything, I love how I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next. 

The show is almost like a madcap Kino’s Journey–exploring a new capsule setting with its own strange rules and societal structure each episode. More than anything, the show seems interested with the different ways people cope with despair–whether they retreat into a narcotic stupor before quickly dying like the Mushroom town, succumb to authoritarian leaders like the Lilliputians, or casually accept their new existence as animals like the town of origin for the girls. The girls’ journey itself arguably represents their own way of coping, through their commitment to never leave anybody behind, neither each other in the town, nor their friend Yoka.

The girls themselves are slowly becoming more individualized–while the borderline Manzai style of the dialogue in the show keeps them slightly at arms length at times, through flashback we are starting to learn more about their relationships. While Shizuru and Yoka’s flashbacks are arguably starting to hint at more-than-just-friendly feelings between them, Akira and Reimi’s explore how two very different people could come together. Reimi is interesting, as somebody who is continuously referred to as a gyaru, but it seems like she is just that rare thing in anime—a well written naturally darker skinned character.

As I referenced earlier, it is honestly very satisfying to see girls be the protagonists in a show this bizarre and sometimes even gross–all while never feeling male gazey. These girls are messy! Loud! Argumentative! And yet, the show never treats them with contempt or condescension. It revels in their ridiculousness–because maybe absurdity is the only proper response to an absurd world.

Kano and Mahiro face to face

Jellyfish Can’t Swim in the Night

Alex: Three episodes in, we’ve met the four main characters, their introductory episodes each hingeing on the show’s central themes of social pressure, teenaged isolation, and the magic of art and friendship. Jellyfish clearly has big ideas, its storytelling is just… let’s say a little uneven, in how it addresses and unpacks them.

In Episode 2 we meet Mei, a fangirl from Kano’s idol days who offers to be a patron for the newly-minted group JELEE. Which would be lovely, except that Mei stalks Kano to her workplace to have this conversation, and demands that Kano go back to her old persona and ditch this new one that doesn’t live up to Mei’s expectations. Embedded in Mei’s episode is, honestly, an interesting story: a lonely girl struggling at school finds hope and happiness in fandom, and her devotion to her idol spirals into a sense of entitlement that threatens to dehumanize the person who brought her such joy. It’s an intriguing dive into the mentality of fan culture… except that the episode ends with Kano reaching out to reconcile as if she is the only one who’d done something wrong.

Mei cheerfully drops a line about how she loves both the old Kano and the new one, but it feels unearned—a designated sparkly, happy end to the episode so she can hurry up and join the cast. Mei’s earlier creepy behavior is shrugged off and they all become friends before the narrative can unpack any of the complexities it’s brought up. The third episode, which introduces Kiui, a vtuber starved for validation who retreats into a peppy online persona, is a much neater take on similar themes; both in that the writing is stronger and in that I’m not left with a sour taste in my mouth every time I see Kiui on screen.

So, it’s safe to say that Jellyfish remains Complicated. At least the out-of-place fanservice shots from the first episode have mostly dissipated. Now all we need to do is see how it handles these characters and the big ideas and big emotions it’s throwing around. 

Holo glaring at Lawrence with her hands on her hips, her wolf tail puffed up and huge behind her


Caitlin: I am a Spice and Wolf newbie – I have the blu-ray of the old series on my shelf but it is unwatched thus far – but I already knew a few things going in. For example, Holo spends a lot of naked but it’s fine because she’s a wolf god who doesn’t care about clothes, and not because we’re meant to be ogling her naked body. This is true. I knew that it was about medieval economics, which is also true. Finally, I knew that there was a lot of sexual tension between Holo and the male lead, Lawrence. Like the first two things, this also turned out to be true.

A big chunk of the first three episodes have been Lawrence explaining economic concepts to Holo, which with a less deft touch would be unbearably mansplainy. Yes, cute wolf girl, please smile and nod while this man tells you all about the silver content of newly minted coins! And yet, it works. Holo is a quick study and genuinely curious, so it doesn’t take long before she starts contributing to Lawrence’s enterprise in her own way. As Alex commented in their premiere review, Holo has her own agency and motivations, trying to find a way to survive in a world where she has been crowded out of relevancy by the growing omnipresence of a monotheistic Church. Plus, as the series points out, her old-fashioned pagan wisdom, borne of an understanding of the rhythm of nature, the seasons, and rural life, are still important in their own way.

Plus, she really wants to hit that. It’s quite fun, seeing some good old-fashioned flirtation in an anime. It doesn’t feel like a romance yet, although I know things will go that way; just that Holo thinks Lawrence is interesting and cute, and she wants him to look at her the same way between all his wheeling and dealing. There’s a naturalistic element to it that’s lacking in most anime romances, all but the best of which tend to indulge in tropes and adolescent awkwardness. I ended up watching the dub, and Brina Palencia’s performance as Holo is a stand-out: in turns wise, arrogant, flirtatious, weary, and vulnerable. Everything a wolf god in a monotheistic world should be.

Oh, and as an aside: that town they visit in episode three? That’s totally Florence, which I took a trip to a year ago. 

Chibi versions of the main three characters

Tadaima, Okaeri

Caitlin: I think it’s been a bit since I’ve mentioned this, so in case you’re new here (or just don’t pay attention to the personal lives of writers on the internet, which is healthy and normal and I applaud you): I am a toddler teacher with over a decade of experience under my belt. That means the moment a cute kid appears on-screen, how believable I find them can make or break how much I enjoy a series. And Tadaima, Okaeri? This ain’t it. 

I mean sure, if you’re just here for a show about two men living in wedded bliss with their cute kid, it’s fine. But as someone who loves children precisely at Hikari’s age, I found him maddeningly dull. He’s overly precocious in his verbal skills, just so he can lisp out adorable sentiments and make his fathers weep with joy at how precious and sweet he is. He thinks only of the happiness of his family, without any of the developmentally-appropriate self-centeredness that characterizes the age. He just toddles around being adorable, a tepid little angel of watered-down, saccharine cuteness with none of the salt or spice that make that age interesting.

It’s a shame, because for all that my opinion on omegaverse ranges from neutral to vaguely negative, depending on how salty my mood is at the time, I like Masaki and Hiromu’s relationship. The two are a believable married couple – coparents by day and lovers by night. Although Masaki is the stay-at-home parent, the two seem to be equal partners in raising Hikari, and their own relationship balances emotional support and physical intimacy. I had a jumpscare when they showed Hiromu standing at the front of a college lecture hall with Masaki in the audience, but it turns out Hiromu was there as an alumnus speaker and not a professor.

The alpha-omega power dynamic doesn’t really seem to play too much into their relationship, which I found a bit surprising because I thought power dynamics were the whole point of omegaverse. As Tony noted in their premiere review, the series doesn’t seem interested in the main hallmarks of the kink; instead, when it’s not trying to get us to gasp over how adorable Hikari is, it’s using the universe to explore societal oppression. The alpha/omega divide doesn’t map cleanly onto one real-life marginalized group, and for that I am grateful – in fact, the same-sex nature of Hiromu and Masaki’s relationship doesn’t seem to matter at all, and the series being iyashikei also means its examination of that fantasy marginalization remains rather tepid.

Hotaru holds an umbrella over Hananoi in the snow

A Condition Called Love

Alex: As our two young leads start dating and grapple with that condition called love, it’s clear that they’re each tangled up in expectations: Hananoi launches himself into extravagant acts of devotion like getting up while it’s still dark just so he’s early enough to wait for Hotaru at the train station, while Hotaru frets that she’s not doing enough “girlfriendy things” and tries to establish a relationship “policy” just for some sort of structure. Both are so fixated on an idea of what will work in romance that they’re largely forgetting to actually have fun with each other. Hotaru’s scientific approach and Hananoi’s over-the-top, possessive behavior all comes to a head at the climax of Episode 2, an uncomfortable clash where, after Hotaru asks him to hover his face near hers to see how she instinctively reacts, he instead pushes her down and almost kisses her… before fainting dead away because he’s gotten sick from exposure to the cold and lack of sleep. It seems pretty clear that he’s trading “selfless” acts of love for self-care, and this is not something Hotaru—or the narrative overall—is happy with.

As much as Hananoi’s intensity and clinginess gives me a claustrophobic shudder now and then, I’m convinced that the story is doing something with this set-up rather than presenting this characterization without comment. Hananoi’s single-minded quest to woo Hotaru is slowly revealing the cracks in his own perception of relationships—for example, he seems baffled and pleasantly surprised whenever she tries to reciprocate his (again, ridiculously intense) kind deeds, and states outright that he thinks it’s “not normal” for her to apologize to him, make an effort to try things he likes, or basically just treat him with empathy. 

We know that Hotaru is coming at this experimental relationship from a newcomer’s perspective, with no idea what love is “supposed to” be; but it’s increasingly clear that Hananoi has had some sort of hurtful experience that’s cemented an unhealthy model of romantic relationships as “normal” in his mind. This is a really interesting theme and social issue to explore, and, after they talk some things out and their dynamic settles into something a little more even (I’m a big fan of Hananoi doubling back and promising to only touch Hotaru with her direct permission), I have some confidence that the series will make the time to dig into it. 

a flustered Himari imagining kissing her crush

Whisper Me a Love Song

Alex: Some romantic comedies would be content to drag out a miscommunication like the one that happens in Whisper Me a Love Song’s premiere forever. I’m happy to report that this series isn’t taking that track (well, unless you like drawn-out miscommunication plotlines—which case, I’m sad to report this, and Whisper might not be the yuri for you!).

Yori suffers through another episode of supposedly one-sided pining, blushing as Himari fires off endless cute compliments and rolling around in agony as she tries to work out if hanging out on the weekend is like, a date-date. However, by the end of Episode 2 she puts her foot down: when Himari cheerfully agrees that she’d totally love to be Yori’s girlfriend, Yori catches her and gently but firmly clarifies her feelings. She like-likes Himari, and needs to know if Himari feels the same.

From here, a story that started with a miscommunication becomes about communication—Yori is determined to woo Himari, but sincerely gives her the space to unpack her feelings. Himari gets some more interiority as she spirals: is the love she feels for Yori romantic? What even is love, anyway? And is trying out a relationship based on such wobbly feelings worth the risk if it all goes wrong in the end? These kinds of messy but earnest teenage dilemmas seem like they’re going to be at the heart of the show. Rather than a goofy comedy about an oblivious girl-crush, it looks like Whisper Me a Love Song is unfolding into a sweet story about a budding relationship, with a surprising amount of introspection and talking things out for its “love at first sight” set-up. 

Headshots of four different women in elaborate kimono and headdresses overlaid over an ink and watercolor map of a fantasy kingdom, each superimposed over one of the four quadrants it is divided into

YATAGARASU: The Raven Does Not Choose Its Master

Vrai: It may disappoint readers at home to know that since the premiere, Akebi has been largely pushed to the sidelines. Instead, we’ve followed male (co?) protagonist Yukiya, another rural outsider who’s thrown out of his depth when he’s made an attendant to the elusive Crown Prince. The show hasn’t forgotten the cruelty the system is imposing on the brides (in that Yukiya briefly opines about it), but current discussion has shifted to potential usurpers of the throne.

It’s still plenty engrossing if you’re fond of courtly intrigue stories, but one of the best parts of the premiere was contrasting the forced passivity the brides were stuck in with the emphasis on their inner lives. Now that we’ve shifted to characters with more agency, and given the excuse that the Prince is trying to keep the brides from becoming assassination targets by avoiding them, they effectively cycle back to being secondary damsels; meanwhile, the most notable women of the last two episodes are the scheming Empress and her envoy.

Still, the pacing so far makes me feel like things will cycle around again, ideally in the next episode or two. There’s been some talk that this show will get two cour (though I’ve not been able to get firm confirmation), which makes me inclined to extend it some time to build out its ensemble cast. It’s still probably not going to appeal to those who dislike very talky dramas, but fans of titles like Raven of the Inner Palace and The Twelve Kingdoms might want to keep an eye on this one.

Editor’s Note (5/3/24): Article was edited after posting to add a check-in for The Many Sides of Voice Actor Radio.

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