The recs lists just keep on comin’! Last week, we celebrated the end of the decade. This week, we’re zeroing in on the season and year that was, starting with our short-but-sweet list of Fall 2019 picks.
We talked about three kinds of recommendations:
- Feminist-friendly favorite: You’d recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats.
- Problematic favorite: You’d only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats.
- Surprise favorite: You didn’t expect it to be something you’d recommend, but it was (either with or without caveats).
The titles below are organized alphabetically. As a reminder, while we’ve made an exception for split-cours this season, ongoing shows are NOT eligible for these lists. We’d rather wait until the series (or season) has finished up before recommending it to others, that way we can give you a more complete picture.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Ascendance of a Bookworm
Feminist-friendly favorite: Chiaki, Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? Having just landed a job as a librarian, all Urano wants is to spend the rest of her life surrounded by books. But after a freak accident, her soul is whisked away to another world where books are rare and bookstores don’t even exist. What’s a desperate bookworm to do? Why, make her own books, of course!
Content Considerations: Animal death (used for food, not shown); hints of an age-gap romance; discussions of child death and slavery.
Ascendance of a Bookworm is an atypical entry to the isekai genre. There is no heroic journey in a fantasy landscape, as Main is confined for much of the series to her home and bed due to a particularly weak constitution. However, while she lacks the ability to venture out and find the books she so covets in this new world, Main makes up for it with knowledge from her old one and an intuitive knack for substitution in an unfamiliar place.
Main being mentally an adult both adds depth to her character and some complications. Part of the reason why I love her is because of her ability to read between the lines. She comes off as an incredibly precocious child, harping on the adults and inviting the audience to giggle with her.
At the same time, her relationship with Lutz, a boy the same age as her in the fantasy world, seems to conveniently forget that they are mentally years apart at times. Though Lutz and Main should not be a couple given our heroine’s mental age, they do make a good team. Their partnership also illustrates one of the strongest elements of the show: its truly supportive cast.
Starting with Main’s family, Bookworm’s cast is thankfully filled with people who do not wish to outright take advantage of Main. Though somewhat inconceivable, given Main is often dealing with shrewd merchants and politically inclined nobles, most of the people she meets along the way are surprisingly wholesome and pure of heart. These characters are jarring in a sense, but they ultimately help make for a relaxing series that keeps me invested in all of the characters.
Outburst Dreamer Boys
Surprise Favorite: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Hijiri Mizuki wants a peaceful life at her new high school, but she just had to go and get an eye infection before starting. The eyepatch she’s temporarily wearing catches the attention of Noda Yamato, a superhero tokusatsu nerd who immediately pegs her as a fellow geek. Will she be able to make any “normal” friends now that he’s begun recruiting her to join the Hero Club?
Content Considerations: Mild comedic violence.
An infectiously enthusiastic comedy about helping others and being true to yourself, Outburst Dreamer Boys swept in like a super sentai squad to become not only my favorite show of the fall, but one of my favorites of the entire year.
As a story about nerd boys, Dreamer Boys walks two impressive comedic tightropes. First, it pokes good-natured fun at its cast without veering into cruelty, always tempering its humor with a genuine beat of humanity. And second, it encourages its audience to be honest about their geeky passions without snubbing its nose at anyone who doesn’t share those passions. It’s enthusiastic but never smug; silly but never mean; an upbeat exploration of what positive nerd masculinity can look like.
And, as a story about a girl finding her place in a new community, it’s slow-moving but deeply satisfying. As the passive, reluctant Mizuki gradually develops genuine affection for her new friends, she shifts into a more active role in the story, working to protect the club and the people she cares about. Whether Mizuki has actual superpowers is up for debate, but by the time the credits roll, there’s no doubt the Hero Club is her home.
At a crisp 11 episodes, the series tells a complete story that’s joyfully accepting, quietly affirming, and a whole lot of fun to watch. Don’t get caught sleeping on the Dreamer Boys, folks.
Feminist-Friendly Favorite: Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? When the notoriously terrible boys’ soft tennis club is in danger of losing their student council funding, team captain Toma Shinjo manages to recruit (or rather, bribe) his old friend Maki into joining and lighting a fire under the team. The club may be on the rise, but the boys face as many challenges in their homes as on the court.
Content Warnings: Depictions of emotional and physical parental abuse, implied spousal abuse, fat shaming, dissociation, compulsive lying, stalking, queerphobia, transphobia, anxiety, depression, and bullying.
Stars Align is an easy show to love. Its depictions of middle school awkwardness are painfully and warmly familiar by turns, and its ensemble cast is made up of good kids who’ve gravitated together because it often seems like the rest of the world won’t have them.
It’s also a show determined to talk about important and sometimes difficult issues. This includes representation of trans characters (one who is x-gender/nonbinary, one who is a trans man) as well as an exploration of the many faces of parental abuse, from neglect to physical abuse to controlling helicopter parenting.
The show’s determination to bring light to these issues, many rarely discussed in TV anime, often leads to earnest monologues written with all the bluntness of a two-by-four. It’s the kind of show that will hopefully look clunky in a decade, when other series have been given space to explore the same issues with further nuance. But that shouldn’t at all discount its power now, which is to make anyone who relates to its characters feel seen.
It’s also a difficult show to recommend, because it’s literally unfinished. The series was apparently cut from two-cour down to one mere months before it was meant to air. Rather than try to chop it into something that would fit 12 episodes, the crew proceeded as planned. It ends on a brutal cliffhanger, and because it’s an anime original, there’s no guarantee we’ll ever get to know how it ends. Still, I don’t regret one moment of the time I invested in it.
What were your favorites this season? Let us know in the comments!
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